by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Margot Cleveland of the Federalist discusses a consequential court case with implications for your wallet.
Joe Biden’s Dec. 29 signing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 was invalid because the House never actually passed the omnibus spending bill the president purportedly signed into law. At least, that’s what Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton claims in a little-noticed lawsuit he filed last week against the Biden administration. If a court agrees, the taxpayer-funded $1.7 trillion federal spending spree — and every other aspect of that bill — could be rendered void.
While the “if” in that sentence does some heavy lifting, it is not because Paxton’s lawsuit is weak on either the facts or the law. On the contrary, his complaint in Paxton v. Department of Justice makes a seemingly unassailable case that the House of Representatives lacked the constitutionally mandated quorum to pass the appropriations act. Nonetheless, the enormity of a court striking an omnibus spending bill may leave the judicial branch shrinking from its constitutional duty.
As Paxton’s lawsuit explains, the appropriations bill began its life as House Resolution 2617, which the lower chamber passed in September of 2021. The Senate passed a different version of the bill in November of 2022, and because the bills were not identical, the differences had to be reconciled and then approved by each body. The Senate approved the House’s amendments to the bill on Dec. 22, 2022, and the next day, members of the House met to consider the Senate’s changes.
Here’s where the constitutional problem arose, says Paxton’s lawsuit. When the House met on Dec. 23, 2022, to vote on the Consolidated Appropriations Act, it lacked a quorum to conduct business. Only 201 of the representatives were present. Nonetheless, the House proceeded with the vote. But it didn’t just count the votes of the present members. It added to the tally an extra 226 votes, cast by present House lawmakers on behalf of absent ones who had appointed them “proxies.”