[This article was originally published on April 28, 2006. The links were updated on June 13, 2018.]
Congressman John Conyers, Jr., the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, and ten other ranking members of Congress have filed a lawsuit to stop the federal government from implementing the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA).
The legislation was signed by President Bush on February 8 but it has since been revealed that the president, apparently knowingly, signed a version of the bill that was passed by the U.S. Senate but not the U.S. House of Representatives.
"Once again the Administration is playing fast and loose with the Constitution," said Conyers. "Anyone who has passed the sixth grade knows that before a bill can become a law, both Houses of Congress must approve it. That the Bush Administration is now saying otherwise underscores the Constitutional crisis we are facing in this country.
The House members' suit, filed in federal court in Detroit, is at least the third lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the DRA. Lawsuits have also been filed by ElderLawAnswers member attorney Jim Zeigler and by the consumer group Public Citizen. A Florida-based student loan consulting company has reportedly also filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the DRA.
Among numerous cuts in social programs, the DRA would place severe new restrictions on the ability of the elderly to transfer assets before qualifying for Medicaid coverage of nursing home care. The measure barely passed both houses of Congress. But the Constitution requires that before a bill can be enacted into law by the president, it must pass both the House and Senate in identical form. Due to a clerk's substantive change as the legislation passed between houses, the president signed legislation that was passed by the Senate but not the House. The House-passed version of the bill provided for 36 months of durable medical equipment funding under Medicare, whereas the Senate bill provided for only 13 months -- a roughly $2 billion difference. (For details, click here.)
According to public accounts, the Republican leaders of the House and the Senate, as well as the president, were aware the legislation before the president had not passed the House of Representatives before the presidential signing ceremony.
"After consulting with some of the foremost constitutional experts in the nation," said Conyers, "I determined that one group of people are injured by the entire bill: Members of the House. We were deprived of our right to vote on a bill that is now being treated as the law of the land."
"Republican leaders were in such a rush to ram this bill through Congress and get the President to sign it that they violated the Constitution in the process," said Rep. George Miller, Ranking Member of the Education and Workforce Committee. "And they were in a rush because this was a very, very bad bill. They wanted to spend as little time as possible having to explain their backwards priorities -- like cutting $12 billion from financial aid programs for college students -- to their constituents."
In a statement on the lawsuit, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said the suit is necessary to uphold the Constitution.
In addition to Rep. Conyers, the other plaintiffs include the Ranking Members on relevant committees and subcommittees affected by the DRA: Rep. John Dingell, Ranking Member on the Energy and Commerce Committee; Rep. Charles B. Rangel, Ranking Member on the Ways and Means Committee; Rep. George Miller, Ranking Member on the Education and Workforce Committee; Rep. James L. Oberstar, Ranking Member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; Rep. Barney Frank, Ranking Member on the Financial Services Committee; Rep. Collin C. Peterson, Ranking Member on the Agriculture Committee; Rep. Bennie Thompson, Ranking Member on the Homeland Security Committee; Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, Ranking Member on the Rules Committee; Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark, Ranking Member on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee; Rep. Sherrod Brown, Ranking Member on the Commerce Health Subcommittee.
The House members are represented by the Michigan law firm of Dykema Gossett PLLC and Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional expert at Duke Law School.
For a copy of the complaint filed by Rep. Conyers, et al, click here.