U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has pledged to continue defending of the Defense of Marriage Act at the Supreme Court as a newly public contract reveals House Republicans secretly agreed to raise the cost cap for doing so to $2 million.
A copy of the agreement obtained on Thursday by the Washington Blade and other media outlets reveals that House Committee on Administration Chair Dan Lungren agreed to raise the cost cap by $500,000. The news was first reported by Roll Call.
The agreement indicates Lungren signed the contract on Sept. 28. But Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Pelosi, said House Democrats had only obtained a copy of it on Thursday — nearly three months later and after Election Day.
Asked by the Washington Blade before the news broke during his weekly news conference whether he backs raising the cost cap beyond $1.5 million, Boehner replied, “If the Justice Department is not going to enforce the law of the land, then Congress will.”
Boehner didn’t answer a follow up question to clarify whether he supports raising the cost cap to pay for defending DOMA as he ended the news conference. His initial response is misleading because the Obama administration has in fact continued to enforce DOMA at the same time as it has declined to defend the statute in court.
In February 2011, the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA against litigation because the president and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder deemed the statute was unconstitutional. Following a party-line vote of the House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Panel, Boehner directed House general counsel to take up defense of DOMA in the administration’s stead. The House Committee on Administration hired outside counsel to take the lead in defense of DOMA: Paul Clement, a U.S. solicitor general under former President George W. Bush.
Last week, the Supreme Court signaled it would take a case challenging the anti-gay law, Windsor v. United States, in addition to a lawsuit challenging California’s Proposition 8, Hollingsworth v. Perry.
Criticism against House Republicans for continued defense of DOMA came from both LGBT advocates and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
In a statement, Pelosi rebuked Republicans for raising the cost cap to defend the anti-gay law and agreeing to do so secretly without informing House Democrats just before Election Day.
“Hiding this contract from voters in the midst of an election season was a cynical move at best, and a betrayal of the public trust at worst,” Pelosi said. “With Americans focused on the creation of jobs and the growth of our economy, Republicans should not be spending $2 million to defend discrimination in our country. We should be embracing our tradition of equality, advancing our promise of opportunity, and securing justice and equal rights for every American.”
Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, criticized Boehner for his refusal to answer a question about the expenses of defending DOMA during his news conference.
“The speaker has shown he will stop at nothing in continuing to waste taxpayer money in defending discrimination,” Cole-Schwartz said. “It’s telling though that he refused to answer the question about the exorbitant fees associated with his crusade as he must realize Americans can’t comprehend this waste of resources.”
The new agreement means House Republicans have twice raised the cost cap to defend DOMA, which was originally set at $500,000. The first time the cap was raised was on Sept. 29, 2011, when the cap was trebled to reach $1.5 million, and the second raise was apparently agreed to a full year later.
Technically, the new contract initially raises the cost cap to $1.65 million, but says after Oct. 1, 2012, the $1.65 million cap may be raised “from time to time” up to $2 million.
Notably, the contract also opens the door to raise the cost cap beyond $2 million, but says that won’t happen “without a written agreement between the parties with the approval of the chair of the committee.”
In October, House Democrats made public a report indicating that the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group has reached expenses totaling out to $1,447,996.73 over the course of fiscal years 2011 and 2012. At the time, the agreement to raise the cost cap to $2 million wasn’t previously known, so the news was reported as House Republicans nearly reaching the $1.5 million cost cap under the previous agreement.
The House Committee on Administration didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request to comment on raising the cost cap. In the Roll Call article, Lungren is quoted as saying he doesn’t know if the Supreme Court’s review of DOMA would force Republicans to raise the cap yet once more.
“I don’t know whether that would require more expenditure of funds, but it is a serious argument that has to be seriously dealt with,” Lungren reportedly said.
Lungren reportedly added that Clement’s workload may be more significant in the coming months because — in addition to taking up the constitutionality of DOMA — the Supreme Court has hired Vicki Jackson, a Harvard law professor, to argue that neither the Obama administration nor House Republicans have standing to petition the court in the litigation.