A federal judge granted a procedural victory Monday to House Republicans using the courts to attack President Barack Obama's health care law, denying an Obama administration request for a quick appeal of a recent ruling in the case.
U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary M. Collyer ruled last month the House could continue pursuing its claim that the administration is unconstitutionally spending money that Congress has not appropriated for the health law. On Monday, she turned down an administration request to swiftly appeal that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The administration says it's using other, previously approved money. At stake is $175 billion the government is using to reimburse health insurers over a decade to reduce co-payments for lower-income people.
Immediately shifting the action to the appeals court might prevent Collyer, an appointee of President George W. Bush, from issuing a future decision that the administration had violated the Constitution by spending unappropriated funds.
House Republicans called Monday's ruling a victory.
"It's another important step toward holding the president accountable for his unconstitutional actions," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a written statement.
The Obama administration has said the courts should not get involved in a political dispute between the executive and legislative branches, arguing that judges have never done so. White House spokeswoman Katie Hill said the GOP lawsuit was a "taxpayer-funded political stunt" and expressed disappointment with Monday's ruling.
"The House lawsuit undermines centuries of historical practice and the fundamental principles of our system of democratic government," Hill said.
In her ruling Monday, Collyer wrote that motions in the case can be decided "in a matter of months," probably faster than the quick appeal that the administration sought could be handled.
"The court is confident that the D.C. Circuit will be best served by reviewing a complete record" of the case, she wrote.
House Republicans filed the lawsuit last year after failing in over 50 legislative attempts to repeal or dramatically roll back the law, mostly thanks to Democratic blockades in the Senate.
The health care overhaul is one of Obama's primary achievements, one that all Republicans have voted against since it became law in 2010.
The disputed subsidies help lower-earning people afford out-of-pocket costs, including annual insurance deductibles and co-payments when they visit doctors.
These are different from the subsidies the law provides that lower the premiums lower-income people pay for coverage they buy from federal or state insurance market places. The Supreme Court upheld those subsidies this summer, rejecting a challenge from the law's opponents.