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House Seeks Quick Ruling in Suit Over Health Care Law Spending

By Todd Ruger, CQ Roll Call

December 3, 2015 -- The House asked a federal judge Wednesday to quickly rule in its favor in a lawsuit against the Obama administration over the 2010 health care overhaul and the appropriations process.

In a 58-page filing in Washington D.C., the attorneys for lawmakers lay out their claim that there is no dispute about the facts in the case and that the Obama administration acted unconstitutionally. The lawsuit alleges that the secretaries of Health and Human Services and Treasury are spending $175 billion over 10 years without congressional approval.

"The legal question now before the court—the sole remaining question—is whether the billions defendants admit that they have 'drawn from the Treasury' and paid to insurers were 'in consequence of [any] appropriation made by law,' as required by the constitution," the House filing states. "The answer to that question is an unqualified no."

U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer appears ready to rule within months. Collyer, in an earlier decision that allowed the House to pursue the lawsuit, wrote that the facts were not in dispute and the case could be decided on its merits in months. She rejected Justice Department lawyers' request to appeal her decision.

The Justice Department is all but certain to appeal if Collyer rules against the administration. The government has argued that the House should not be allowed to pursue the lawsuit at all. The department's lawyers called her earlier decision to allow the lawsuit to move forward "a momentous step" that unnecessarily plunges the judiciary into a dispute between the legislative and executive branches and said it "would invite litigation over numerous other disputes between the political branches."

The House suit asks the court to declare that the president acted unconstitutionally in making payments to insurance companies under Section 1402 of the health care overhaul and to stop the payments.

The dispute focuses on two sections of the health care law. The administration said it could make Section 1402 Offset Program payments from the same account as Section 1401 Refundable Tax Credit Program payments. House Republicans say the health care law doesn't permit that.

The Obama administration, during the fiscal 2014 appropriations process, initially asked Congress for a separate line item for 1402 payments. Congress did not include money for such a line item.

The case is U.S. House of Representatives v. Sylvia Burwell, et al., Case No. 14-1967.

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