In recent months, the press has focused on whether President Trump is “sabotaging” Obamacare—but in so doing, they’ve largely ignored a far bigger story regarding the rule of law. In attempting to defend Obamacare, Pelosi and several of her House colleagues have essentially sabotaged the Constitution, making claims that, if accepted into common practice, would cede massive power to the executive.
The charges of sabotage derive largely from Obamacare’s system of cost-sharing reductions, intended to help certain low-income individuals with deductibles and co-payments. While the law requires insurers to lower individuals’ cost sharing, and directs the Administration to reimburse insurers for those reductions, it nowhere gives the Administration an explicit appropriation to do so.
Questions about whether the Trump Administration might withdraw the cost-sharing payments to insurers therefore represent not sabotage, but a desire to comply with Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” The true sabotage comes not from the Trump Administration, but from Democrats themselves, when they failed to include an appropriation in Obamacare seven years ago. Did they have no time between writing Cornhusker Kickbacks and other parochial pork to notice their bill lacked an appropriation for, oh, say, $135 billion?
Democrats Are Sabotaging Themselves on Obamacare
Having first sabotaged Obamacare through their own incompetence, Democratic leaders in the House—bless their hearts—thought it would be a good idea to use the troubled law to give the President even more authority. In a little-noticed development the week before the election, Nancy Pelosi and 10 leading House Democrats filed an amicus curiae brief in an ongoing lawsuit regarding the cost-sharing reductions. The brief justified the cost-sharing payments by claiming “everyone understood” the law included an appropriation, even though the bill’s actual text did no such thing—“We meant to include it, honest we did!”
More importantly, the lawmakers’ brief claimed Congress has little judicial recourse should the executive exceed its authority. Pelosi wrote that not one but both chambers of Congress must initiate a suit seeking to protect the legislature’s prerogatives—which would, due to the Senate filibuster, effectively subject all such suits to a supermajority 60-vote margin in that body. Likewise, the belief that Congress should pass corrective legislation rather than initiating legal action would effectively give the President a veto over any attempt to constrain his power, necessitating a two-thirds majority to clip his wings.
One would have thought that submitting a legal brief giving the executive such broad power one week before last November’s election might have given Nancy Pelosi pause. Pelosi may have been “with her,” but—surprise, surprise!—the voters had other designs. And now Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues could find themselves in a dilly of a pickle.
Obamacare Set A Horrible Precedent
To use but the most obvious example, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi’s strong objections meant this April’s omnibus spending bill did not include funding for the Trump Administration to complete a border wall. But under the rubric laid out in the lawmakers’ amicus brief last October, President Trump doesn’t need such an appropriation—he can invent one out of whole cloth, and Congress would lack the power to stop him from spending money not appropriated.
Therein lies the danger presented by the Obamacare payment precedent. President Obama’s Justice Department and House Democrats both argued that the structure of Obamacare implies an appropriation that does not exist—giving future Presidents an opening to invent appropriations on any subject upon which Congress has previously opined. And with both the Obama Administration and Democratic lawmakers asserting that Congress’ failure to prohibit such spending permits the President to do so, only a supermajority of lawmakers could prohibit virtually unchecked spending by the executive.
In their attempt to justify their slapdash Obamacare legislating, Democrats have laid the legal groundwork for future administrations to create appropriations where none exist—we literally have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it. While Democrats’ inability to include a 12-figure appropriation in a 2700-page bill doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the legislative process, the answer lies not in yet another executive power grab of the kind Pelosi endorsed last fall. Democrats can whine about Trump’s supposed “sabotage” of Obamacare all they want, but their sabotage to our system of checks and balances would be far worse.