The House voted Wednesday evening to authorize civil legal action against President Barack Obama for his failure to implement Obamacare as it was passed by Congress.
The 225-201 vote means Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), can immediately begin work on filing legal action against Obama. Boehner spoke on the floor just before the vote, and said the resolution is needed so the House can defend the Constitution against Obama's attempt to ignore and even re-write portions of duly enacted law.
Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio, arrives for a meeting of the Republican Conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
"Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?" Boehner asked. "Are you willing to let anyone tear apart what our founders have built?"
"Think not only about the specifics of the oaths you took, but think about how you took it, as one body, standing together," he said. "That's all I'm asking you to do today — to act as one institution to defend the Constitution on behalf of the people that we serve."
The GOP has argued for the last few years that Obama has failed to uphold the law in a number of areas, either by ignoring it or selectively enforcing parts of it.
"The president has waived work requirements for welfare recipients, unilaterally changed immigration laws, released the Gitmo Five without properly notifying Congress, which is the law, and ignored the statutory requirements of the Affordable Care Act," House Rules Committee Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said.
The resolution approved Wednesday only allows the House to file a suit against Obama over his decisions to Obamacare. While some Republicans were hoping for a broader authority to allow suits on other issues, Sessions said Republicans believe their best chance of success in the courts is to focus on Obamacare.
Obama has unilaterally delayed several portions of Obamacare over the last few years, including the employer mandate to offer health insurance. Republicans have opposed these actions in part because they didn't give Congress a chance to provide its input into the change, and in part because of suspicions that some delays were political in nature, and were meant to boost Democrats in the 2012 election.
Democrats have tried to ignore those aspects of the delays, and have instead argued that the lawsuit makes no sense because Obama is delaying parts of a law that Republicans oppose.
"It is somewhat ironic that the Republicans want to sue the president for not enforcing a law that they want to repeal," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said during floor debate. "How ironic."
[sharequote align="center"]"It is somewhat ironic that the Republicans want to sue the president for not enforcing a law that they want to repeal."[/sharequote]
But Republicans said the issue is much broader than just the implementation of Obamacare, and gets to the heart of how Congress and the White House need to work together under the Constitution.
"Without enforcement of the law, there cannot be accountability under law, and political accountability is essential to a functioning democracy," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodatte (R-Va.).
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) added that opponents of the health law want to see if fully enforced so it can be shown how harmful it is to the economy, which would help build support for its repeal. "The best way to end a bad law is to enforce it strictly," he said.
Democrats have also argued that Republicans are using the lawsuit as a possible springboard to impeaching Obama. Hoyer said some GOP leaders have not ruled out impeachment proceedings, although Boehner said Tuesday that the GOP has "no plans to impeach the president."
Sessions further dispelled the idea of impeaching Obama by saying the House impeached former President Bill Clinton because he committed a felony — lying to an FBI agent and a federal grand jury. But Obama's failure to implement the laws does not rise to a felony, which means impeachment is not the appropriate remedy.
"So for the gentleman to suggest that this is going to lead to [impeachment] is simply not true," Sessions said.