WASHINGTON Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday took another step toward authorizing a lawsuit against President Barack Obama, claiming he has overstepped his executive powers in carrying out his landmark healthcare reform law.
In a partisan vote of 7-4, the House Rules Committee approved the legislation, likely setting it up for consideration by the full House next week. The Republican initiative already has spawned a bitter debate with Democrats less than four months before mid-term elections that will determine the political control of Congress next year.
Any lawsuit likely would take years to wind through federal courts.
While the lawsuit would focus on Obamacare, Republicans have complained bitterly about the president's actions on several issues.
For example, House Speaker John Boehner wrote in June that Obama's use of executive orders, including raising the minimum wage for federal contractors and stopping deportations of undocumented youths brought to the United States by their parents, risked giving him a "king-like authority."
But Boehner has tamped down calls from some fellow Republicans for impeachment proceedings against Obama, which would be a first step toward removing him from office.
House Republicans in 1998 spearheaded a successful drive to impeach President Bill Clinton, also a Democrat. Clinton served out his second term, however, after the Senate acquitted him of both articles of impeachment involving perjury and obstruction of justice related to a sexual affair he had with intern Monica Lewinsky.
The episode damaged Republicans politically.
The lawsuit, if approved by the full House, would focus on Obama's implementation of his landmark healthcare law, known as "Obamacare," which Republicans have been trying to repeal for years. Republicans claim Obama went beyond his legal authority and bypassed Congress when he delayed some healthcare coverage mandates and granted various waivers.
But Democrats have decried the suit as an election-year political stunt and a waste of time and money. "It's shameful. It's embarrassing and even the amount of time we're spending up here in this office talking about it adds to the fact that the American people are disgusted and have no faith in us to do anything,” said Representative Louise Slaughter, the senior Democrat on the Rules Committee.
In a tense hearing that deteriorated into name-calling and bickering over unrelated matters, from the administration's response to the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, to a highway funding bill, Democrats demanded to know how much the suit would cost taxpayers and which congressional accounts would see cuts to pay for it.
Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Republican from Texas, said funds would come from the House's Office of General Counsel. He said he anticipated the suit would not require any extra appropriations, but if needed, the Appropriations Committee could transfer money from other House accounts.
The committee's Republican majority struck down amendment after amendment offered by Democrats, including one ensuring lawyers with a conflict of interest could not be involved in the lawsuit and another that would trade some Democratic support for the suit for a House vote on immigration reform.