Sissel v. HHS: The Latest Constitutional Challenge to ObamaCare

Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justices, Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ), held a press conference on Thursday, May 8th. Speaking to the press just steps from the U.S. Capitol, Chairman Franks indicated that a new legal challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Cart Act (PPACA) has emerged in an attempt to uproot the controversial health care law.

Citing a violation of the Origination Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Plaintiff in the case, Matt Sissel, contends that ObamaCare’s very inception defies the powers granted to the U.S. Senate. According to the Origination Clause, “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” Chairman Franks expressed that “this clause was designed by the Constitution’s framers to bring the power to tax closer to the people by giving control over revenue bills to their immediate representatives, who are elected every two years.”

This constitutional distinction is particularly important to consider when reflecting on the process by which ObamaCare was conceived and contrived. The legislation that eventually became ObamaCare, H.R. 3590, the “Service Members Home Ownership Tax Act of 2009,” was intended “to provide tax relief for veterans, not to raise taxes,” Chairman Franks noted, and it “was passed by the House of Representatives by a 416-0 vote.” Once sent to the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) transformed H.R. 3590 into a completely unrelated piece of legislation that would radically overhaul the U.S. health care system – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Chairman Franks explained that Senator Reid “offered a substitute amendment to the 714-word House bill, thereby gutting its original tax-relief intent, by ‘striking all after the enacting clause and inserting the following [379,976 words of health care legislation and taxes wholly unrelated to the House originated bill].’” ObamaCare was passed without a single Republican vote in either chamber of Congress. In June 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately upheld ObamaCare and the individual mandate under Congress’ general taxing power. Regardless the Court noted, “Even if the taxing power enables Congress to impose a tax on not obtaining health insurance, any tax must still comply with other requirements in the Constitution.”

Joined by a host of other prominent Republican representatives at the press conference – including Mark Sanford (R-SC), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Ron DeSantis (R-FL) , Ted Yoho (R-FL), Joe Barton (R-TX), and Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) – Chairman Franks expressed his grave concern for the disregard many lawmakers appear to have for the Constitution today. Thirty-nine Republican members of Congress joined with Chairman Franks in filing an amicus curiae brief last November on the grounds that ObamaCare violated the Constitution’s Origination Clause because the taxing provisions were attached to it by the Senate.

Republican lawmakers hope to see the Origination Clause argument gain traction in the courts in order to overturn the president’s signature legislative achievement, which the majority of Americans continue to oppose according to national polls. “If the Senate can introduce the largest tax increase in American history by simply peeling off the House number from a six-page unrelated bill, which does not even raise taxes, and pasting it on the ‘Senate Health Care Bill,’ and then claim with a straight face that the resulting bill originated in the House, then the American ‘rule of law’ has become no rule at all,” said Chairman Franks.

Oral arguments were heard this week in the Sissel case by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. AMAC will continue to watch this case closely as it makes its way through the judicial process.

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