The Continuation of Executive Overreach: United States House of Representatives v. Burwell
On November 11, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives filed a complaint against Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. Recently, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued a memorandum opinion, declaring the House of Representatives has standing to proceed with the lawsuit. In order to have standing, the House of Representatives, as a collective body, had to show that the Obama Administration caused it a concrete harm.
The complaint alleges, Secretary Burwell, and Health and Human Services (along with the Department of the Treasury), have improperly used taxpayer dollars to pay for Affordable Care Act Programs. Two programs are at the heart of the House’s lawsuit.
The first program, section 1401, is a refundable tax credit program, which lowers the cost of insurance premiums for individuals. The second program, section 1402, authorizes direct payments to insurers that allow them to recoup losses, as result of lower insurance premiums.
The Constitution is clear. Pursuant to Article I, Congress has the sole authority to form and fund programs. It does this through “Authorization and Appropriation” legislation. Authorizations allow Congress to construct programs, whereas Appropriations allocate a program’s funds. Since Authorizations only enact programs, they cannot be construed as to automatically allow for funds appropriation.
The House of Representatives claims it authorized and appropriated the first program, but only authorized the second. Therefore, Congress claims that HHS and the Obama Administration overstepped their roles, by using public funds for a program that was not expressly appropriated.
Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 states, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”
It is vital to the nation that the federal government stay within its roles prescribed by the Constitution. Only Congress has the power to allocate program funds, via the “power of the purse”. The executive merely has the power to enforce the law as it is written and adopted; “…he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” (US Const. Art. II §III Cl. 5). In sum, according to the lawsuit, Congress has been stripped of its principal authority.
Congress should prevail in this case and dispel this unlawful overreach by the executive. Doing so would help to restore at least some of the balance of power in the federal government.