Breaking the Party Line: Why 5 Republicans Voted Not to Sue Obama
In May, Vox reported that Congress was not just dysfunctional, but also the most gridlocked, the least popular, the most polarized, the least productive, and the most expensive on record.It should come as no surprise then that -- in one of their last duties prior to their summer recess -- members of the U.S. House voted to authorize a lawsuit in federal court to “seek appropriate relief” for what they claim is Obama’s failure to enforce a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that could penalize businesses that do not offer basic health insurance to their employers.
The ACA requires all employers with more than 50 full-time employees to provide their workers with health insurance, or else they are forced to pay steep fines. The Obama administration agreed to postpone the provision after hearing “significant concerns from employers about the challenges of implementing it,” which included employers downsizing or cutting hours to avoid the penalties.
The U.S. House has voted 54 times since the law passed 4 years ago to, in some manner, dismantle the law. Thus, the irony of a vote to sue the president for delaying the implementation of certain mandates in the ACA is not lost on anyone.
The vote fell mostly along party lines, with a 225-201 split in favor of the lawsuit. However, 5 Republicans voted not to sue Obama. Who are these Republicans and why did they decide to break the partisan line?
Paul Broun (GA-10)
Paul Broun is a firm opponent of the ACA. He believes that since the law passed, Americans have “seen nothing but increases in health care costs, higher taxes, and piecemeal delays.” He favors a full repeal of the ACA and has proposed an alternative plan, the Patient Option Act, which would have “market-based reform policies.”
Broun is in the midst of his last year in the House, as he ran in a Senate primary for the Republican nomination on a hard right plank, but lost earlier this year. While he backs impeachment of the president, according to his spokeswoman, he opposes the lawsuit on the basis that he believes the bill will not pass the Senate. This is an interesting notion since the resolution authorizes House action and will not be sent to the Senate.
However, she continued that Broun “would rather see House leadership work towards practical solutions to shrink the size and scope of government wasteful federal spending.”
Walter Jones (NC-3)
Walter Jones also voted against the initial ACA and has, as he boasts on his website, “cosponsored and voted for every major legislative effort to repeal Obamacare in its entirety or to repeal provisions within the law.”
Jones explained his vote against the lawsuit stemmed from his belief that it was a futile method for fighting Obama. In a statement, he went on to say that he believes the lawsuit was “merely an act of political theater that is highly unlikely to result in any real consequences for an executive branch that continues to display a blatant disregard for the rule of law.”
Instead, he too endorsed impeachment as the best method to counter the president.
Jones is running for re-election for a seat he has held since 1994. After a difficult primary against Taylor Griffin, Jones is running against Marshall Adame in the general election and is widely expected to win easily. He won his 2012 campaign by a margin of 26.2 percentage points and has out-raised Adame by close to half a million dollars, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Thomas Massie (KY-4)Thomas Massie, a first-term congressman, also voted against the lawsuit. Since he is only in his second year in office, he did not vote against the original law. However, he has
said that he is against the ACA and “will therefore fight to repeal Obamacare.”
Massie argues that the issue belongs in the “private sector” and draws on the idea that there is no constitutional authority for the federal government to impose a mandatory health care plan.
In voting against the lawsuit, he argued that Congress should instead focus on reasserting “its power of the purse, an explicit authority the Constitution gives Congress to keep the executive in check.”
Massie ran unopposed in the Republican primary and received a strong endorsement from Rand Paul. For the 2014 election, Massie is running against Peter Newberry, a Democrat who thinks that Massie is not conservative enough. Instead, in an interesting twist, Newberry argues that as a lawyer, farmer, and small business owner, he will be a true conservative voice for the district.
Steve Stockman (TX-9)
Stockman has been firmly against the ACA and publicly protests the bill. His staffers have rejected coverage by it, and he even invited a “failed Obamacare signup” to join him at the State of the Union.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Stockman argued that the lawsuit would likely fail and that the premise of the legal claim, which castigates Obama for failing to enforce a law that he is against, is a poor idea.
Stockman is a strong supporter of impeaching the president, and circulated a petition to achieve this during his failed Senate primary campaign challenging incumbent Sen. John Cornyn earlier this year.
Scott Garrett (NJ-5)
Garrett is widely seen as one of the most conservative members of Congress. He has voted to repeal what he calls the “job-destroying health care bill” and on his website offers his own plan that he believes will not “come at the expense of American jobs and long-term economic prosperity.”
Garrett’s office did not return various reporters calls and emails to explain his vote. There were no statements on his website or social media accounts. Instead, he posted a press release on Thursday in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Sissell where he explained his belief that Obamacare was a tax.
Garrett has held this seat since 2002. He is running against Democrat Roy Cho, who won the primary in June against Diane Sare. Garrett has easily won every election since taking office and currently has a double-digit lead over Cho.
Despite Garrett’s silence over the exact reason he voted against the resolution, what is obvious is that these 5 lawmakers are not breaking away from the party line because they think the lawsuit is too extreme of an approach. In fact, some of them have said it does not go far enough and publicly support impeachment.
About the Author
Debbie Sharnak is a PhD candidate in history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a focus on Latin America and international relations. Her work examines the origins and evolution of human rights. She was a 2014 Fulbright Scholar in Uruguay.