Hey, remember the House GOP’s big summer announcement that it intended to sue President Obama for his purportedly tyrannical behavior? Whatever happened to that, anyway? Did John Boehner file the suit or not?
What a perfect metaphor for the big-talking, do-nothing Congress. Three months ago, the House Speaker was all hopped up about taking down the tyrant, like, pronto. Boehner declared: “The legislative branch has an obligation to defend the rights and responsibilities of the American people and America’s constitutional balance of powers - before it is too late.”
But something apparently happened on the way to the federal courthouse. I’m sure you are shocked to learn that the grandstanders never got there. Three reasons:
1. The lawsuit was a joke from the start. It accused Obama of abusing his executive powers because he had decided to postpone, by one year, the Obamacare rule that requires many employers to offer health coverage - or, as the House resolution put it, Obama would be sued for “a failure to implement...the Affordable Care Act.” I believe I speak for many when I suggest that there’s something perversely ironic about suing Obama for failing to speedily enforce a law that the House GOP has voted to derail or repeal 50 times.
2. House Republicans got a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which concluded that Obama was entirely within his rights to postpone the employer mandate by a year, and that he had followed the appropriate “informal rulemaking procedures” while doing so. In addition, the CRS said that these kinds of executive delays occur all the time, regardless of who’s president: “Often the (executive) has simply not been able to accomplish the required action within the time provided by Congress.” House Republicans got this report in early September, but because the report dumped on their lawsuit scheme, they naturally kept it under wraps. We’re hearing about it now only because it was leaked.
3. House Republicans can’t even find a lawyer to file the suit. The original law firm dropped out last month. A second law firm dropped out this month. The GOP blames the dropouts on pressure from “Democratic-leaning clients,” but it’s more accurate to say that these firms’ clients have stakes in Obamacare. Which is further proof that Obamacare is already well threaded into the national fabric - and that House Republicans, supposedly fiscal conservatives, would’ve been wasting money by paying those lawyers a reported $500 an hour for a long-shot case with a taxpayer tab running into the millions.
So much for Boehner’s summer theatrics. The official GOP fallback position, at the moment, is that it might tweak the lawsuit (drop Obamacare entirely? add immigration if Obama does an executive order on “amnesty”?) with the help of some in-house lawyer, and maybe file at the courthouse some time after the midterm elections.
What a great move that would be. Perhaps the party has already forgotten its current promise - to show the American people, in 2015, that it can actually govern with an affirmative policy agenda.
But Democrats shouldn’t smile too broadly about this latest Republican whiff - which brings us to a fourth reason.
This fall, the GOP didn’t need to file the lawsuit. The lawsuit was supposed to be a campaign talking point, but it turns out the GOP didn’t need the ammo. Obama is already a big drag on Democrats’ midterm prospects, and conservative voters already seem sufficiently energized. Plus, the anti-Obama narrative has fundamentally shifted. Three months ago, he was supposedly the uber-tyrant; today, he’s supposedly the un-tyrant, passive in the midst of crises.
And there’s no legal basis - and certainly no political need, given the midterm climate - to sue Obama for passivity.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.