Political News

New House rules to allow Democrats to defend Obamacare

Posted January 2, 2019 1:08 p.m. EST

— House Democrats are moving quickly to defend the Affordable Care Act once they retake control of the chamber Tuesday.

As part of its rules package for the 116th Congress, the party is granting itself authorization to intervene in the lawsuit that threatens to bring down the landmark health reform law. It directs the House's Office of General Counsel to represent lawmakers in any litigation involving the act and authorizes hiring of outside counsel.

The House is expected to vote in the coming days on the rules package, which the majority party -- now the Democrats -- adopts at the start of a new Congress.

Supporting the Affordable Care Act, including its popular provisions that protect those with pre-existing conditions, helped Democrats retake the House in the midterm elections in November. Since then, the party's leaders have repeatedly said they will swiftly work to uphold the law.

A federal judge in Texas last month ruled that the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, is unconstitutional because Congress eliminated the individual mandate penalty by reducing it to $0, starting this year. This rendered the mandate itself unconstitutional and the rest of the law therefore cannot stand. Earlier this week, District Judge Reed O'Connor issued an order saying that the act can remain in effect pending appeal.

The Trump administration is not defending Obamacare, prompting a coalition of Democratic states to step in. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading the coalition, plans to appeal O'Connor's ruling.

The move to intervene, however, is largely symbolic. Some Affordable Care Act supporters say that Democratic lawmakers would be better off passing legislation to address the lawsuit.

For instance, Congress could nullify the basis of the judge's decision by raising the penalty amount or declaring the individual mandate severable from the rest of the law, University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley and Richard Primus argued in The Atlantic last month.