WASHINGTON -- Republicans teed up House Speaker John Boehner's lawsuit against President Barack Obama Thursday, passing a measure that will likely come up for a full House vote shortly before lawmakers go on vacation in August.
The Rules Committee voted along strictly partisan lines on amendments to a resolution authorizing the lawsuit, ignoring the the arguments of four Democrats who called it a political stunt that even Supreme Court justices such as Antonin Scalia would not look upon favorably.
Boehner intends to sue Obama to require him to more quickly enforce all the provisions of Obamacare, particularly the sections that have been delayed. The House has voted repeatedly to repeal the law.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the committee, argued that the high court has repeatedly rejected such lawsuits. An equal branch of government -- in this case the Congress -- would have no standing to sue another branch -- the executive, she argued.
"Justice Scalia agrees with our explanation of why this lawsuit has no basis in precedent," Slaughter said. "Justice Scalia wrote that the framers of the Constitution emphatically rejected a, quote, 'system in which Congress and the executive can pop immediately into court, in their institutional capacity, whenever the president… implements a law in a manner that is not to Congress’s liking.'”
Slaughter also cited a ruling this week in Wisconsin against Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who tried to challenge a part of the Affordable Care Act that allows Congress to cover health care premiums for staffers. Johnson argued that he was personally injured because it affects how he pays his staff, but the court ruled he has no standing.
Slaughter didn't mention it, but she could have pointed to a lawsuit in 2006 that she and several other Democrats filed against President George W. Bush over the budget. It also was tossed because members of Congress lacked standing.
The fact that legal precedent is against them did not deter Republicans. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) noted that when he was a Florida state lawmaker, he was among only a handful who thought it would be worthwhile to try to overturn the state Supreme Court's ruling in the 2000 presidential election recount. The case was infamously decided in Bush's favor, despite the lack of precedent.
Webster said the issue was that the Florida judges had taken away the power of the state lawmakers, and the high court gave it back.
"The point is this: You have to stand up for the body," Webster said. He added: "I thought we ought to at least fight, and we did, and we won. That's the point."
Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Democrat from Florida, couldn't let Webster's remarks go without saying: "I was of the mind then and I'm of the mind now that that election was stolen, period."
Ulimately, Democrats said the Boehner lawsuit was a stunt designed to keep the tea party wing of the GOP in line.
"What frustrates us is you're acting like this is all on the level, when it isn't," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) told his Republican colleagues. "This has nothing to do with the law. This has everything to do with trying to manage some of the extremists in your party, some of the cuckoo clocks, who are talking about impeachment."
Democratic amendments to require cost estimates and weekly disclosure of expenditures related to the lawsuit were voted down, as were attempts to bar lawyers and consultants from participating in the suit if they stand to gain from work related to Obamacare outside the lawsuit. Republicans said such steps were redundant or unnecessary.
The Rules Committee is expected to take up the bill again next week to write the rules on how it will be considered, and then send it to the House floor for a vote.
Slaughter predicted that in the unlikely event a court actually grants standing for the case, it would be disastrous for the federal government.
"If this lawsuit is successful, it will upset the delicate balance in our separation of powers that has served this country well for over 200 years," Slaughter said. "Instead of Congress using the powers it was given by the Constitution to hold the executive in check, Congress will turn over its power to the courts to defend us every time we have a disagreement with the president. And my prediction is, the president will do the same whenever he doesn’t like how we are doing our job."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.