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House votes to intervene in Obamacare lawsuit

January 9, 2019

The House voted along party lines Wednesday to intervene in a lawsuit that threatens to kill off Obamacare, as Democrats tried to paint the GOP into a corner over its professed support for shielding people with pre-existing conditions.

Only three Republicans voted in favor of the measure, which passed 235-192 and allows Speaker Nancy Pelosi to defend the 2010 health law in federal court.

Newly empowered Democrats included the move in their House rules package after the Trump administration refused to defend the Affordable Care Act against the state-driven suit, which says Congress’ tweaks to Obamacare’s “individual mandate” made the rest of law unconstitutional.

A judge in Texas agreed with the GOP-led states in December, sparking an appeal and Democratic attempts to grab the upper hand, politically, after Republicans last year campaigned on making sure people with conditions like diabetes or asthma can get covered at an affordable price.

The lawsuit, however, argues the GOP’s decision to zero out the mandate penalty must cancel protections that forced insurers to accept sicker Americans and charge them the same price as healthy people.

“We worked very hard with the ACA to get rid of all of these discriminatory practices. They would come back again if this lawsuit succeeds,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat. “This lawsuit, brought by a group of Republican attorneys general, is nothing more than a continuation of Republican efforts to sabotage the health care of millions of Americans.”

Wednesday’s effort was largely a show vote to needle Republicans Democrats already filed a motion in the case after passing a similar measure last week, and blue-state attorneys general are defending Obamacare in court.

“The House’s intervention won’t make a practical difference to the litigation. It’s just a way for the House to signal its opposition to the lawsuit and its support for the ACA,” said Nicholas Bagley, a law professor at the University of Michigan who is tracking the case.

Republicans said the effort amounted to “political theater” and missed the point, since they’ve offered to backfill popular parts of Obamacare through an alternative system. They also said it’s not their fault if Obamacare is facing yet another court challenge.

“It should have been obvious to the majority that the Affordable Care Act was and is poorly written and precariously unbalanced,” said Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican.

But Democrats said Republicans were unable to pass an Obamacare replacement into law in 2017, when they controlled all levers of power in Washington, so they must defend President Obama’s law or pay a price.

“They never once came up with a proposal to help Americans with pre-existing conditions,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat.

Three centrist Republicans Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko and Tom Reed of New York voted in favor of the Democrats’ measure.

Democrats say House intervention will make it clear that Congress never intended to scrap all of Obamacare when Republicans knocked out the mandate penalty as part of their tax overhaul.

The administration opposes the House’s effort to step into the court battle.

However, the Justice Department asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to postpone further proceedings until the end of the government shutdown over Mr. Trump’s promised border wall, since attorneys are barred from working except in limited instances.

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