WASHINGTON — In January, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives will do what the Trump administration won’t: defend Obamacare against a lawsuit filed by 20 Republican state attorneys general.
Nancy Pelosi’s office confirmed Thursday that when Democrats take control of the House next year, they will quickly get the House counsel to ask a judge to allow them to intervene in the suit that seeks to toss out the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional.
The case could end up at the Supreme Court and has major implications for the country. If the lawsuit is successful, millions of people with preexisting health conditions would face premium hikes or be denied insurance altogether.
By convention, presidential administrations usually deploy their legal forces to defend existing law, but this time the Trump administration has sided with the Republican attorneys general. The House will become the first federal body to step in to oppose the lawsuit. The law is being defended by a group of Democratic state attorneys general.
“The new Democratic House Majority will move swiftly to defend the vital protections for people with people with pre-existing conditions still under legal assault by the GOP,” said Pelosi spokesman Henry Connelly.
Technically, the House does not need to hold a full vote to intervene in the lawsuit. But coming off a midterm election cycle where Democrats successfully hammered Republicans over the suit, Pelosi will almost certainly bring it forward for a floor vote to put Republicans in a difficult spot.
Currently the lawsuit is before District Court Judge for the Northern District of Texas Reed O’Connor, who has ruled against the Affordable Care Act in the past, and a ruling is expected any day. Regardless of the outcome, it will likely be challenged to the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit and many observers expect it to wind up before the Supreme Court.
The lawsuit was launched early this year after Congress effectively eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate. Led by Texas, the states argued this rendered the entire ACA is unconstitutional.
The Republican-controlled Congress attempted to repeal the ACA in 2016 but fell short because they could not agree on a replacement to preserve pre-existing condition protections. Instead, late last year as part of a larger tax bill they made a much more narrow move by eliminating the individual mandate tax penalty on people who could afford health insurance but chose not to buy it.
The states argue that because the individual mandate was based on Congress’s taxation powers, removing the tax itself makes it unconstitutional. On its own, this would be merely a philosophical question — legal or not, the mandate is not being enforced either way. But the states argue that the mandate is such a core part of the ACA that it renders the entire law unconstitutional.
This means even provisions such as Medicaid expansion and protections for people with pre-existing health conditions must be tossed out, according to the suit. The White House argues that the Medicaid expansion should stay in place, but the pre-existing conditions protections should be eliminated.
The House will likely join many legal experts who argue this logic perverts the will of Congress, which chose to eliminate the individual mandate while keeping those other provisions in place.