WASHINGTON (AP) — Obama administration attorneys urged a federal judge Thursday to throw out a politically charged lawsuit by House Republicans over the president's health care law but encountered plenty of skeptical questions.
"You don't really believe that, do you?" U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer interrupted Justice Department attorney Joel McElvain to ask in the opening moments of his argument when he tried to assert that the House hadn't suffered a particular injury in the case and therefore lacks any basis for suing.
"I have a very hard time taking that statement seriously," Collyer said. She ended the hearing without ruling.
At issue in the case is some $175 billion the administration is paying health insurance companies over a decade to reimburse them for offering lowered rates for poor people.
The House argues that Congress never specifically appropriated that money — and indeed denied an administration request for it — but that the administration is paying it anyway.
The House says this amounts to unconstitutionally co-opting Congress' power of the purse. The administration insists that it is relying on an existing pot of money that it is allowed to use.
Thursday's hearing focused on whether the House has legal standing to bring the suit.
The administration says it doesn't, arguing that the House has not been injured and that it is just advancing abstract complaints about the implementation of the law.
The administration says the House has many other remedies available, such as passing a new law.
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, arguing for the House, vehemently disagreed.
"We believe we have established what can only be viewed as a concrete injury," Turley said in court. "I find it astonishing that this can be viewed as an abstraction."
Frustrated House Republicans authorized the lawsuit over Democratic objections last summer.
Thursday's hearing, the first in the case, comes as the Obama administration and lawmakers of both parties await a Supreme Court ruling in June on a different lawsuit that challenges other portions of the health law and threatens insurance subsidies for millions of Americans.
Collyer, a 2003 appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, gave the House side reason to be hopeful with her aggressive sparring with McElvain. She will rule at a later date.
In addition to the issue over appropriations the House lawsuit accused the administration of acting unconstitutionally in delaying deadlines in the law for employers to offer coverage.
That appears to be a weaker claim and was not discussed in court Thursday.
House panel issues subpoena in spat with White House
WASHINGTON — The GOP-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee has issued a subpoena to the White House budget office about a new State Department security training facility.
At issue is the administration's plan to build a new facility at a military base in Virginia rather than a potentially less costly project at an existing law enforcement training center in Georgia that's run by the Department of Homeland Security.
Republicans suspect that the White House's Office of Management and Budget believes that using the Georgia facility would cost significantly less.
The panel, led by California Republican Rep. Ed Royce, asked for White House studies regarding the two projects but was refused.
That prompted the subpoena, which demands documents and cost studies by Tuesday afternoon.
Royce said that OMB staffers told his aides that the budget agency recommended going with the Georgia option.— The Associated Press