House Democrats target DOJ decision not to defend Obamacare

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats will scrutinize the Trump administration’s decision not to defend Obamacare in federal court, when Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives next year, a leading Democrat said on Monday.

In June, the Department of Justice declared the healthcare law’s individual mandate unconstitutional in federal court, which threatened to undermine insurance protections for people with preexisting conditions, and helped make healthcare a winning issue for Democrats in House elections on Nov. 6.

The decision was also a break with a long-standing executive branch practice of defending existing statutes in court and prompted three Justice Department career attorneys to withdraw from the case. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) known as Obamacare is a favorite target for Republicans, who have repeatedly tried and failed to repeal it.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, who is expected to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in January, said he is concerned about the Justice Department’s actions, which took place in a Texas court in response to a lawsuit brought by 20 state attorneys general.

“This committee expects to examine the department’s refusal to defend a duly enacted federal statute, the abrupt resignation of veteran department employees and an apparent determination by this administration to undermine affordable healthcare coverage for millions,” Nadler said in a letter to acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

The New York Democrat asked Whitaker to respond by Dec. 31 to two June 2018 letters sent to former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, seeking details about the decision as well as coverage for pre-existing conditions and cost-sharing subsidy payments provided by the ACA.

Democrats charge the Trump administration sought to use the federal courts to undercut the law.

In the Texas case, the Justice Department said in a legal brief the ACA’s individual mandate was made unconstitutional by a provision in the 2017 Republican tax law that eliminated penalties for failing to obtain health insurance.

Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool