Reality Check: Obama Lawsuit - Will it Cost Taxpayers? - NBC Bay Area
Reality Check

Reality Check

Vets the truthfulness of claims and measures the efficacy of public policy

Reality Check: Obama Lawsuit - Will it Cost Taxpayers?



    In this edition of Reality Check, Sam Brock finds out if public money is really on the line when it comes to the Obama lawsuit. (Published Thursday, July 31, 2014)

    We are hovering over uncharted territory, so to speak.

    In the history of modern U.S. government, individuals have sued the president, and congressional committees have done the same - but never an institution or body of government.

    Never, that is, until now.

    On Wednesday, House Republicans successfully engineered a floor vote authorizing a lawsuit against President Obama on the grounds that he has abused his executive privilege as president, delaying the ‘employer mandate’ portion of his signature health care law.

    "We don’t’ have the money to have this suit, they don’t have the money to [not] do better things for the American people, we shouldn’t be spending money on this," declared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, reacting to news of the lawsuit.

    Pelosi and her fellow Democrats have warned that this move will likely cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

    Is that claim true?

    Legal experts concur, it’s absolutely true.

    We asked Berkeley Constitutional Law Professor Jesse Choper if there were any other conclusion one could reasonably draw, other than a taxpayer tab at the end of the day?

    "No," Choper responded quickly. "No question. Who else is going to pay for it?"

    This is not a rhetorical question, either.

    The president will ultimately draw upon the help of the Department of Justice and its solicitor general, taking away services from other issues, “and that’s a cost,” declared Choper.

    But the biggest single expense will come from outside counsel hired by the House on behalf of its Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, or BLAG, to prosecute the case.

    The best comparison might be what took place last year, when House Republicans opted to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, before the Supreme Court when the Justice Department refused.

    The outcome in that instance? House Republicans called upon renowned attorney Paul Clement, at a rate of roughly $520 an hour, to represent BLAG and justify the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act.

    They lost the case [the Supreme Court found DOMA to be unconstitutional], but taxpayers did end up on the hook for about $2.3 million, a figure confirmed by Bloomberg Government.

    House Democrats, in an open letter to House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, implored that Republicans "provide a detailed budget for the lawsuit," because in the words of its Democratic authors, "The American people have a right to know- before the House votes to initiate such a lawsuit- how much money will be allocated to this exercise."

    The request was rejected and not included in the bill’s final version.

    We asked Professor Choper if there’s any way for the public to demand, and receive transparency on this issue?

    "Absolutely, we have every way in the world to do that," Choper said. "All you have to do is pass a law through both houses of Congress [requiring no spending of public dollars to sue the president]."

    That’s it?

    "Yeah, that it," he said with a wry smile. "Very simple."

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