Court Hears Arguments In Origination-Clause Challenge To Individual Mandate Tax

WASHINGTON, D.C. — (Mealey’s) A District of Columbia Circuit U.S.  Court of Appeals panel on May 8 heard arguments over whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s individual mandate tax constitutes a revenue measure and should properly have originated in the U.S. House of Representatives (Matt Sissel v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, et al., No. 13-5202, D.C. Cir.). 

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Matt Sissel sued the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the ACA.  Sissel says that he does not have, need or want to purchase health insurance and that he is able to pay for his medical expenses out of pocket.  He seeks a declaration that the mandate to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty and the act in its entirety is unconstitutional, invalid and unenforceable. 

Sissel’s case was stayed pending a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Kathleen Sebelius (No. 11-393), States of Florida, et al. v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al. (No. 11-400) and (United States Department of Health and Human Services, et al. v. State of Florida, et al. (No. 11-398).  The Supreme Court reached a decision in National Federation, holding that the Anti-Injunction Act does not bar challenges to the ACA, that the individual mandate contained in the act is constitutional and that the federal government can expand Medicaid but cannot withhold any existing funding from the states for noncompliance with the expansion.  In finding the individual mandate constitutional, the Supreme Court held that Congress was within its power under the taxing clause of the Constitution in implementing the mandate. 

Amended Allegations 

Sissel amended his complaint, saying the Supreme Court’s decision left several questions unresolved.  Among the new issues were whether the tax was lawful under the origination clause of the Constitution, which requires all revenue-raising bills to originate in the House of Representatives, Sissel said. 

On June 28, the District Court granted the motion to dismiss the case, holding that the suit was foreclosed by the Supreme Court decision governing the individual mandate and that the act was properly introduced in the House of Representatives. 

Sissel appealed to the D.C. Circuit. 

Origination

In oral argument, Timothy Sandefur told the court that the bill that became the ACA did not originate in the U.S. House of Representatives as a revenue or tax bill.  Instead, the original bill dealt with tax penalties, interest on payments and other nonrevenue measures, Sandefur argued. 

Sandefur told the court that while the Supreme Court in National Federation found that the ACA’s individual mandate was a tax, it did not address whether the underlying ACA bill was a revenue bill or not. 

All the Supreme Court said was that the measure was a tax and must comply with all constitutional requirements, Sandefur argued.  But the ACA bill was not introduced as a revenue measure and, thus, violates the origination clause of the U.S. Constitution, Sandefur argued. 

Even if the government hoped everyone would sign up for insurance and that, thus, the individual mandate tax would never be imposed, it is still a revenue measure, Sandefur argued. 

Precedent 

In response, U.S. attorney Alisa B. Klein told the court that the ACA bill originated from an IRS measure and clearly was a revenue bill under 200 years of House precedent. 

Further, the Senate is within its rights to amend a House bill, Klein argued. 

Klein urged the court to adopt the minimalist approach to avoid walking into disagreement between the House precedent and Supreme Court precedent. 

Sandefur, Paul J. Beard II, Luke A. Wake and Daniel A. Himebaugh of the Pacific Legal Foundation in Sacramento, Calif., represent Sissel.  Klein, Assistant Attorney General Tony West, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., Deputy Director Sheila M. Lieber and Scott Risner of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington represent the federal government.

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