The top Democrat on the House Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee took advantage of a rare opportunity to grill the chamber's top lawyer on the cost of Speaker John A. Boehner's lawsuit against President Barack Obama.
House General Counsel Kerry W. Kircher was called to the witness table by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who wanted an estimate of how many billable hours taxpayers would be on the hook for in fiscal 2016, as the GOP challenges the legality of Obama's executive actions and targeting implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"Setting aside the subject matter of the lawsuit," Wasserman Schultz wanted to know if Kircher had talked to D.C. law firm BakerHostetler, the outside counsel contracted to handle the lawsuit. According to the contract, the lawsuit will cost the House up to $350,000, billed at a rate of $500/hour. The Office of the General Counsel has only requested a $31,000 increase for "legal representation and advice" over the previous fiscal year, according to appropriators, for a total of approximately $1.4 million for the office.
"I do not know what the costs will be in 2016. I do not have a way to estimate those costs in 2016," a visibly frustrated Kircher responded. He said he could not ask appropriators to justify a budget for the legal costs at this point, "because I simply do not know where the lawsuit will be in the next fiscal year."
The case is currently in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In January, the White House filed a motion to dismiss, saying the lawsuit authorized in July by the House is based on a misunderstanding of the constitutional separation of powers.
“I do not have a contract with anyone for anything beyond the District Court litigation,” said Kircher, who has worked for the Office of the General Counsel for nearly two decades. During the exchange, Wasserman Schultz ripped the office for the $2 million price tag of Republicans' quest to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
Wasserman Schultz emphasized that the committee could not do its job of overseeing expenditures without an accurate estimate of the cost of the suit, and formally requested a budget justification.
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