WASHINGTON (CN) – Before grilling the attorney general about it in person Tuesday, the chairmen of five House committees fired off multiple demand letters on the government’s refusal to defend the federal health care law.
Each letter is different, with one addressed to the White House, another to the Department of Justice, and a third to the heads of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
They come ahead of a hearing scheduled for this summer where the Fifth Circuit will consider a state-led challenge to the law known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The law has been allowed to remain in place pending appeal, but the Justice Department announced last month that it would not defend it.
“If the administration’s new legal position prevails and the entire ACA is struck down, there would be catastrophic implications for millions of American consumers and the United States healthcare system,” the letter to the White House says.
Signed by the top Democrats including Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, the letter to the DOJ notes that, even though the attorney general serves at the pleasure of the president, he faces other duties as the litigator for the United States.
“Although there are exceptions to the rule that DOJ must defend a federal statute in federal court, none of those exceptions appear to apply here,” the letter states.
The letter to the Justice Department seeks a response to a letter the same lawmakers sent in June 2018 regarding its policy shift, plus a detailed explanation for the more position stated last month to the Fifth Circuit.
Attorney General William Barr, who took the reins at the Justice Department two months ago, told a House Appropriations panel Tuesday that the Trump administration’s move to invalidate the law was “legally defensible.”
“Once you do away with the mandate, the rest of the statute cannot stand,” Barr said, referencing a portion of the ACA that requires most Americans to be insured.
Over the last few weeks, the president has stumbled in his attempts to rekindle the fight over health care in Congress.
One week after tweeting that “Republicans will become the party of healthcare,” President Donald Trump said the issue would be better left until after the 2020 election.
With the Department of Justice opting not to defend the Affordable Care Act, 16 states and the District of Columbia brought the appeal now pending before the Fifth Circuit.
Texas-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor handed Republicans their biggest victory against the law to date with his December ruling that struck down the individual mandate as unconstitutional.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the letter.