Barack Obama

President Obama speaks at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich. on Wednesday. A federal judge has ruled that congressional Republicans have legal standing to sue his administration over spending related to the Affordable Care Act. (Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

By David G. Savage
September 9, 2015

House Republicans won the opening round in a lawsuit against President Obama over their claim that his administration spent money for health insurers under the Affordable Care Act without receiving needed approval by Congress.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled Wednesday that the lawmakers have the legal standing to sue.

The Constitution “could not be more clear: ‘No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of Appropriations made by Law’,” she said, quoting a key provision. “Neither the president nor his officers can authorize appropriations; the assent of the House of Representatives is required before any public monies are spent.”
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The judge rejected pleas by Obama’s lawyers to dismiss the House lawsuit on the grounds it involved a political dispute, not a legal one. Collyer noted that the House claimed it would suffer an “institutional injury” if the president and his aides could spend money on their own authority.

Her ruling is only the first step, however. She told lawyers she would hear arguments in the fall on whether the administration’s action violated the Constitution.

If Collyer, a judicial appointee of President George W. Bush, were to decide in favor of the House on the merits, Obama’s lawyers would appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where Democratic appointees are in the majority.

From there, the case could move to the Supreme Court. Unless the dispute moves with unusual speed, a final decision might not come until after Obama has left office.

Nonetheless, Collyer’s initial ruling is a victory for House Speaker John A. Boehner, and it is likely to be seen as endorsing the GOP’s view that Obama overstepped his authority.
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In a statement, Boehner said he was “grateful to the court for ruling that this historic overreach can be challenged by the coequal branch of government with the sole power to create or change the law. The president’s unilateral change to Obamacare was unprecedented and outside the powers granted to his office under our Constitution.”

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