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House votes to sue Obama over healthcare law

Last updated on: July 31, 2014 09:25 IST

The United States House of Representatives has voted to sue President Barack Obama for overstepping his authority in making unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

According to the resolution, the House authorised Speaker John Boehner to "initiate or intervene in one or more civil actions on behalf of the House of Representatives in a Federal court of competent jurisdiction to seek any appropriate relief regarding the failure of the President, the head of any department or agency, or any other officer or employee of the executive branch, to act in a manner consistent with that official’s duties under the Constitution and laws of the United States with respect to implementation of any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including any amendment made by such provision, or any other related provision of law, including a failure to implement any such provision."

The 225-201 vote is expected to generate months of bitter campaign rhetoric from both Republicans and Democrats ahead of November elections that will determine the political control of Congress next year.

Obamacare, passed in 2010, is intended to extend insurance coverage to millions of Americans who had lacked it.

Republicans have long opposed the law, particularly its requirement for Americans to carry insurance or face penalties Investigators found that the administration kept changing the contractors' marching orders for the website, creating widespread confusion and leading to tens of millions of dollars in additional costs.

Republican and Democratic congressional aides briefed on the report told the Associated Press that it faults the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services for ineffective oversight of contracts for the site's computerized sign-up system and its electronic back office.

Republicans argued that by delaying some healthcare coverage mandates and granting various waivers, Obama had bypassed Congress in violation of the US Constitution, a Reuters report said.

Republicans have complained about other unilateral actions that Obama has taken to advance his agenda, from executive orders on immigration policy to same-sex partner benefits.

During the hour-long heated arguments, Speaker Boehner indirectly accused Obama of leaving the Constitution in tatters.

"No member of this body needs to be reminded about what the Constitution states about the President’s obligation to faithfully execute the laws of our nation,” Boehner said from the House floor.

"Are you willing to let any President choose what laws to execute and what laws to change? Are you willing to let anyone tear apart what our founders have built?"

The Republicans have been targetting Obama ever since he threatened -- in his State of the Union address this year -- to use his executive powers to change policy when Congress would not act. They have been criticizing him as imperial, particularly with regard to his signing of executive orders to implement new regulations on politically divisive issues like gun control and pollution.

Speaker Boehner has been criticising President Obama for his "aggressive unilateralism"

In a letter on June 25 to justify why the House might have standing to sue the President for failing to execute the laws, Boehner had said: "President Obama has circumvented the Congress through executive action, creating his own laws and excusing himself from executing statutes he is sworn to enforce -- at times even boasting about his willingness to do it, as if daring the America people to stop him. On matters ranging from health care and energy to foreign policy and education, President Obama has repeatedly run an end-around on the American people and their elected legislators, straining the boundaries of the solemn oath he took on Inauguration Day."

Meanwhile, Democrats have slammed the lawsuit effort as a politically motivated waste of taxpayer resources while Congress has failed to act on other pressing issues, including emergency funding to deal with a flood of migrant children.

"This is the least productive Congress in decades," wrote White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer, in an email to supporters.

"And instead of doing their job, they are suing the President for doing his."

"This resolution is a waste of time and money," Representative John Lewis said on the House floor Wednesday.

"Today, Mr Speaker, we have reached a low, a very low point. This resolution to sue the President just goes a little too far. It is a shame and a disgrace that we are here debating the suing of the President."

Opinion polls suggest that the public is not behind a lawsuit or impeachment.

A CNN poll last week found that a majority of Americans oppose the lawsuit, 57 percent to 41 percent, while only 35 percent supported impeachment. Like many issues today, the breakdown is along party lines. A YouGov poll earlier this month showed 89 percent of Republicans but only 13 percent of Democrats believe Obama has exceeded his authority.

Rediff Newsdesk