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House's vote to sue Obama is historic foray into checks, balances

| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 10:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The House's vote to sue President Obama is the first such legal challenge by a chamber of Congress against a president and a historic foray in the fight over constitutional checks and balances.

The nearly party-line vote on Wednesday followed a feisty floor debate and offered a fresh example of how the capital's hyperpartisanship has led both parties into unprecedented territory, going to new and greater lengths to confront one another.

Two years ago, the Republican-led House became the first to hold a sitting cabinet secretary in contempt of Congress, as lawmakers accused Attorney General Eric Holder of defying their request to turn over records about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Fast and Furious gun-running operation.

Halfway across the continent, Obama almost gloated at the prospect.

“They're going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So they're mad I'm doing my job,” Obama said in an economics speech in Kansas City. “And by the way, I've told them I'd be happy to do it with you. The only reason I'm doing it on my own is because you're not doing anything,” he said of Congress.

Last year, the Democratic-controlled Senate changed the body's long-standing filibuster rules in response to what it said was blatant obstruction by the minority GOP of presidential nominations, including the first filibuster of a nominee for Defense secretary.

November's elections could exacerbate tensions in Washington, especially if Republicans — who hold the House — gain control of the Senate. They need a net gain of six seats to do so.

The House approved the resolution to sue in a near party-line vote, 225-201. It authorizes House Speaker John Boehner to file suit in federal court on behalf of the full body “to seek appropriate relief” for Obama's failure to enforce a provision of the Affordable Care Act that would penalize businesses that do not offer basic health insurance to their employees.

That provision's effective date has been delayed by the administration twice and won't fully take effect until 2016. The GOP-led House has voted to repeal the law, even as it seeks to sue Obama for failing to enforce it.

U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, said the House's action resulted from Obama's failing to follow his duties under the Constitution requiring that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

“Nowhere is the failure more clear in the way the President has manipulated and abused the implementation of his health care law,” Rothfus said in a prepared statement. “Imagine if a Republican president unilaterally decided to suspend parts of the Internal Revenue Code as this president has done.”

Yet, in the same statement, Rothfus added: “This is not about President Obama. This is about preserving our system of checks and balances, and separation of powers. This is about future presidents and future Congresses.”

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