POLITICS

U.S. Judge Grills Lawyer Defending Obama's Health Care Law Changes

05/28/2015 12:48 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2016

By Lindsay Dunsmuir

WASHINGTON, May 28 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday blasted the Obama administration's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives over the implementation of the Democratic president's signature healthcare law.

Republicans in the House filed a lawsuit in November, saying administration officials unlawfully bypassed Congress.

At issue are executive changes authorizing Treasury payments to healthcare insurers without the funding being agreed by Congress and delaying implementation of the law's employer mandate, which required employers with more than 50 employees to provide healthcare coverage.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer, appointed by Obama's predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, repeatedly interrupted U.S. Justice Department lawyer Joel McElvain during the hearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Justice Department lawyers argue that the House lacks standing to sue, citing a section of U.S. law that means the House would have to prove it has been directly harmed.

"So it is your position that if the House of Representatives affirmatively voted not to fund something ... then that vote can be ignored by the administration, because after all, no one can sue them?" she asked.

McElvain argued that the merits of the case were not being discussed at the hearing, and that any perceived injury was "abstract."

"I'm not asking you to give me your brief. I want you to explain ... why it's not an insult to the Constitution?" Collyer said.

McElvain argued that the House could pass new legislation if it disagreed with the administration's changes, which he said were legal under "pre-existing permanent appropriation."

At another point, Collyer admonished McElvain: "You can't just shake your head and not deal with the question."

The lawsuit is one of a flurry filed against the Obama administration in the past few months challenging executive actions on healthcare and immigration as Republicans seek to amp up pressure on the president.

Jonathan Turley, a lawyer for the House Republicans, said the lawsuit should go forward to show the power of the purse "should not be decorative."

The judge, while appearing sympathetic to the Republicans' decision to bring the lawsuit, said she had not yet decided on the standing issue before her.

The case is United States House of Representatives v. Burwell et al, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No 14-1967 (Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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