For the last five years, Republicans in Congress have adopted a rather simple and old-fashioned strategy for going after Obamacare: Throw everything against the wall and see what sticks.
They’ve tried to repeal it; defund it; shut down the government to block it; pray that the Supreme Court would overturn it (twice); persuade Democrats to help them undermine it; and most recently, sue President Obama over how the government chose to implement it.
On Thursday afternoon, House Republicans found out that something finally stuck. A federal judge decided in their favor and ruled that the Obama administration was spending money on insurance subsidies that Congress never specifically appropriated. Like several of the GOP’s previous maneuvers, this victory is tentative and may be temporary: Judge Rosemary Collyer, a George W. Bush appointee on the U.S. District Court in D.C. stayed her own ruling so the government could appeal, and a higher court might reverse the decision or find that the House of Representatives had no standing to sue the president in the first place.
Yet this latest legal threat to the Affordable Care Act seems to validate the GOP’s try-anything approach. When House Republicans first came up with the idea to take the president to court nearly two years ago, they planned to sue the administration over a completely different part of Obamacare. Then-Speaker John Boehner was, as usual, facing pressure from conservatives who were frustrated at Obama’s liberal use of executive authority and their inability to derail the hated health-care law. So he and his leadership team hatched a plan to file a lawsuit accusing the president and his administration of exceeding their authority by unilaterally delaying the implementation of the employer mandate in Obamacare. The requirement that businesses with more than 50 employees provide insurance to their workers had long been a big target for Republicans and one of the more contentious policies in the law. It was the middle of the mid-term congressional campaigns, and Republicans suspected the administration was delaying the mandate to put off the political pain of compliance until after the election.