The new Democratic-controlled House has moved toward defending former President Barack Obama's health care law against a federal court ruling that the statute is unconstitutional, part of the party's effort to use the issue to embarrass Republicans.
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The House has filed papers seeking to intervene in the case, Democrats announced Friday, which by itself is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the litigation. The House action's greatest impact is likely to be political.
The chamber plans to vote next week to authorize its attorneys to enter the case and defend the law. That is designed to force Republicans to choose between seeming to defend the statute they have long despised or supporting the demise of its widely popular benefits.
"While the administration refuses to meet its responsibilities to defend the laws, the House of Representatives is acting to uphold the constitutionality of this law and protect the health care of every American," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a written statement.
In June, Trump administration lawyers stopped defending key parts of the law, including its guaranteed access to health insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The Justice Department usually defends federal laws in court, but Trump has long unsuccessfully sought to repeal the health care statute. Congressional Republicans unanimously opposed the 2010 law and have voted repeatedly to repeal it.
The statute has gained public acceptance, particularly its protections for people with pre-existing conditions. To defend themselves during last fall's campaigns, many Republicans said they'd back legislation ensuring coverage for people with pre-existing medical issues.
A federal judge in Texas said last month that the law was unconstitutional because Congress repealed its fines on uninsured people. The suit has moved to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, and in the meantime the law's provisions remain in effect.
The House voted Thursday — the first day of the new Congress — to give preliminary approval to its attorneys to enter the case, a provision that was part of a broad package of rules the chamber adopted. Democrats intended the early vote to signal that health care is a high priority.
During that debate, Republicans offered a non-binding measure saying lawmakers should produce legislation protecting consumers with pre-existing conditions. Democrats blocked it.