Constitutional authority

On more occasions than you can count, the Affordable Care Act has proven anything but affordable. The legislation was built on a foundation of smoke and mirrors, and as that smoke continued to clear the past few years, what remained in the mirrors wasn’t a pretty sight.

Last week, another ruling exposed the flaws of Obamacare and highlighted more White House overreach into legislative authority — which seem to go hand-in-hand with this law. A federal judge found that the Obama administration has been improperly funding certain health-care subsidies.

Congress authorized the program but never actually provided the money for it, wrote U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, noting that, “Congress is the only source for such an appropriation, and no public money can be spent without one.” The judge stayed her ruling, pending the imminent appeal.

The decision would affect low-income Americans who benefit from the cost-sharing subsidies, which help people pay for out-of-pocket costs such as co-pays. Politico pointed out that the decision would not be a fatal blow to President Barack Obama’s signature legislation, but could push costs higher. That’s nothing new, though, as insurances costs have continually increased ever since Obamacare formally launched in late 2013. Between rapidly rising premiums and exorbitant deductibles, many people can’t afford to use their insurance — even some who are massively subsidized by the program.

At the core of this case, though, is the separation of powers. Congress, not the executive branch, has the power of the purse. The Justice Department argued the subsidies were funded appropriately because the program drew funds from the same pot of money as the law’s refundable tax credits — which help lower-income people pay those huge premiums. However, lawyers for House Republicans, who brought the suit, noted that the White House asked Congress to fund the cost-sharing program in its fiscal 2014 budget request, but was denied.

Despite the denial, the Obama administration ignored Congress and unilaterally paid for the program anyway, through the refundable tax credit account.

In the irony of ironies, Politico reported that the Obama administration’s defense relied in part on the contention that it had to act because the law was poorly written. No kidding.

It’s taken all manner of machinations and Supreme Court reinterpretations to keep the law intact, something that could eventually happen in this case, as well — especially since the case now goes to the uber-liberal D.C. Circuit. But for the time being, it’s encouraging that at least a few federal judges recognize there are constitutional limits to what the president can do with his pen and phone.

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