First Lawsuit Filed to Challenge Deficit Reduction Act

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Students and concerned citizens may see some recourse after the upset of the passage of the Deficit Reduction Act, S. 1932, that was approved narrowly Dec. 21 by the Senate and then signed into law Feb. 8 by President Bush.

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I’ve had four inquiries from other states about joining this suit or filing a separate lawsuit in coordinating efforts.

Due to a clerical error in the bill and in a move that challenges the bill’s constitutionality, Republican activist and Mobile, AL, elder law attorney Jim Zeigler on Feb. 13 filed a lawsuit disputing the bill. Along with cuts to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, the bill hits the federal student loan program hardest, slashing a total of $12.7 billion. Zeigler served as President Bush’s attorney during the 2004 election.

The clerical error followed the bill’s approval, as the bill was forwarded to the house where it then was mistakenly changed by a Senate clerk.

Medicare Provision Upsets Bill

The Senate passed the bill that included a Medicare provision that would pay 13 months of renting certain types of durable medical equipment, whereas the House version passed with verbiage of 36 months for Medicare patients. Accordingly, the Constitution requires identical versions be signed by both the Senate and House before a bill is signed into law by the president.

No date for a hearing has been set for Zeigler’s lawsuit, Civil Action: 2006-80 and filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. However, with the word out that the bill is in violation of the Constitution other lawsuits could follow.

“If my lawsuit succeeds the entire act will be declared unconstitutionally enacted,” Zeigler said.

Lawsuit Could Befriend Student Loan Industry

With regard to the Deficit Reduction Act’s huge cuts to student loans, Zeigler said, “All of the provisions of the student loans will revert to how they were prior to Feb. 8 even though my particular area of concern is with Medicare and nursing home eligibility that is of no consequence in the case itself.

“My legal point is that the house passed one version, the Senate passed another version and the president signed the Senate version. That violates the Constitution, Article 1 Section 7. Me and my lawsuit could become the new best friend of the student loan program,” he said.

The differing versions have Democrats and constitutional law experts questioning the legality of the bill. From the start, Democrats have been up in arms over the legislation. The clerical error seems to be a notch in the belts of Democrats who would like to see the bill undone. The error has afforded Democrats the possibility of undoing the bill.

Democrats Want Recourse

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, Democratic House Leader, along with Rep. Henry Waxman, D-CA, the ranking member on the Government Reform Committee, and six senior House Democrats sent a letter to Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-IL, Speaker of the House, stating that Americans have the right to be notified of the mistake. They requested that GOP leaders reconsider the bill with the intention to pass identical bills by the House and Senate.

With heat from Democrats and Zeigler’s lawsuit, GOP leaders could very well find themselves in a tough position regarding the Deficit Reduction Act. However, many Republican leaders now say identical bills do not have to pass to become law.

“Were putting together possibly a preliminary injunction to ask the judge to enjoin the effective date of the law. And we’re studying that right now,” Zeigler said of his lawsuit. “I’ve had four inquiries from other states about joining this suit or filing a separate lawsuit in coordinating efforts.”

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Chris Hooley
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