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United States House of Representatives v. Burwell (D.C. Cir.)
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In United States House of Representatives v. Burwell, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is considering whether the executive branch acted lawfully when it reimbursed health care insurers for cost-sharing reductions as it was required to do by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), as well as whether the House of Representatives has standing to bring such a case against the executive branch in the first place.
The ACA was designed to achieve near-universal health insurance coverage. Critical to ensuring that both health insurance and health care would be affordable for low- and middle-income Americans, the ACA created two complementary benefits: premium tax credits to help make insurance affordable, and subsidies to reduce cost-sharing (e.g., deductibles and copayments) to help make health care affordable. Although the ACA mandates that the federal government reimburse insurers for these cost-sharing reductions, and the Obama Administration has thus made them, House leadership filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that there is no appropriation to fund these mandatory reimbursement payments. On December 8, 2015, Constitutional Accountability Center filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Democratic leaders in the House, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi.
On May 12, 2016, the D.C. District Court ruled against the government, holding that the House has standing to bring its claim, and holding that there was no appropriation for the reimbursement of insurers for the cost-sharing reductions required by the ACA. The District Court stayed its decision pending appeal. The government then appealed the decision.
On October 31, 2016, as we did in the lower court, CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the House Democratic leaders, urging the Court of Appeals to reverse the District Court’s decision. Our brief first argues that the House of Representatives does not have standing to bring this case and that this dispute should be resolved not through the courts, but through traditional legislative and executive processes. As we explain in the brief, legislators’ allegations that a member of the executive branch has not complied with a statutory requirement, which is all the House alleges here, do not establish the sort of “concrete and particularized” injury sufficient to satisfy Article III’s standing requirements. Indeed, allowing suit here would encourage lawsuits over a virtually limitless number of inter-branch or partisan disputes traditionally resolved outside of the courts. Further, as our brief explains, Congress has numerous tools at its disposal to resolve routine disputes over the scope of applicable spending authority such as this one.
Our brief then turns to the merits and explains that, as the legislators filing this brief know from their involvement in the debates and deliberations over the ACA in Congress, both the premium tax credits and the cost-sharing reductions are critical to the effective operation of the ACA’s legislative plan. The law therefore established a unified system for payment of both the tax credits and the cost-sharing reductions, and it funds them both out of the same permanent appropriation. Further, as the brief explains, subsequent actions by Congress served to confirm what everyone understood at the time the ACA was enacted: there is a permanent appropriation that funds both the tax credits and the cost-sharing reduction subsidies that are at issue in this case.
Oral argument has not yet been scheduled.
Briefs filed by CAC