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AFGE v. UNITED STATES

May 6, 1986

AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES of America, Defendant, United States Senate, Speaker and Bipartisan Leadership of the United States House of Representatives, Comptroller General of the United States, Intervenors



Per Curiam

 I

 Plaintiffs first challenge the Act's "automatic deficit reduction process," which is intended to reduce the federal budget deficit to zero by fiscal year 1991. That process requires that each year the Directors of the Congressional Budget Office ("CBO") and the Office of Management and Budget ("OMB") estimate the amount of the deficit for the upcoming fiscal year. Act § 251(a)(1). If the estimate exceeds (by a specified amount) the deficit target level for that year, the Directors must calculate, pursuant to detailed provisions of the Act, reductions in the budgets of various federal programs sufficient to eliminate the excess. Id. § 251(a)(3). The Directors jointly report their deficit estimates and budget reduction calculations to the Comptroller General, who reviews their report and issues a similar one, containing his own deficit estimates and budget reduction calculations, to the President and Congress. Id. § 251(a)(2), (b). The President then issues a "sequestration" order mandating that the budget reductions specified by the Comptroller General be implemented. Id. § 252(a)(1), (a)(3). In fiscal years 1987 through 1991, the Directors of the CBO and the OMB and the Comptroller General are required to submit revised reports later in the year, id. § 251(c), upon which the President bases a final sequestration order, id. § 252(b)(1).

 On February 1, 1986, the President issued the sequestration order for fiscal year 1986, to take effect March 1, 1986. Order, Emergency Deficit Control Measures for Fiscal Year 1986 (Feb. 1, 1986). Among other things, that order permanently cancelled cost-of-living adjustments ("COLAs") that those receiving federal retirement annuities would have received in 1986. Id. at 1, 4. The individual plaintiffs, and AFGE on behalf of certain of its members, have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the automatic deficit reduction process as a result of this injury. See Synar v. United States, 626 F. Supp. 1374, 1380-81 (D.D.C.) (three-judge court) (per curiam) (similarly situated plaintiffs had standing to challenge the constitutionality of the automatic deficit reduction process), prob. juris. noted sub nom. Bowsher v. Synar, 475 U.S. 1009, 106 S. Ct. 1181, 89 L. Ed. 2d 298 (1986). The plaintiffs in this case challenge the automatic deficit reduction process on many of the grounds advanced by the plaintiffs in Synar, including that which there prevailed, viz., that the process unconstitutionally grants executive power to the Comptroller General, who is removable by joint resolution of Congress. Because no good cause has been shown why plaintiffs should not obtain the declaratory relief they have requested in connection with this claim, which relief is identical to that granted by this court to the plaintiffs in Synar, we grant plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on this claim.

 II

 Plaintiffs' second challenge is to the Act's "fallback deficit reduction process," an alternative mechanism intended to reduce the federal budget deficit in the event that the reporting provisions of the automatic deficit reduction process were "invalidated." See Act § 274(f)(1). Although this court's holding in Synar was such an invalidation, the fallback deficit reduction process has not yet been implemented, because the judgment in Synar was stayed pending further judicial review, as required by subsection 274(e) of the Act. Under the fallback process, the budget deficit estimates and budget reduction calculations made by the Directors of the CBO and the OMB are reported not to the Comptroller General but rather to a special joint committee of Congress. Act § 274(f)(1). That joint committee, which is composed of the entire membership of the Budget Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, must within five days report to both Houses a joint resolution setting forth the contents of the Directors' report. Id. § 274(f)(2)-(3). Consideration of the joint resolution in both Houses is to be governed by special parliamentary rules set forth in paragraph 254(a)(4) of the Act. Id. § 274(f)(4). Among these parliamentary rules, the most significant are the prohibition of motions to amend the joint resolution, id. § 254(a)(4)(D), and the requirement that each House take a final vote on the reported joint resolution within five days on which that House is in session after the joint resolution is reported out of the joint committee, id. § 254(a)(4)(A). If the joint resolution is passed by both Houses and signed by the President (or a presidential veto is overridden), it is then deemed to be the report of the Comptroller General upon which the President is required to base any sequestration order. Id. §§ 274(f)(5), 252(a)-(b).

 In response, the United States argues that the plaintiffs' challenges to the fallback deficit reduction process are unripe because that process has not yet been and may never be invoked, and that the Act is not unconstitutionally vague. The Speaker and Bipartisan Leadership Group of the House of Representatives argue that the challenge to the parliamentary rules governing congressional consideration of the joint resolution presents a nonjusticiable political question. Finally, the Senate argues that there is no constitutional defect in those rules, because subsection 271(c) of the Act expressly provides that each House may alter them in the same way it might alter any other internal rule.

 III

 Before reaching these issues, however, we must satisfy ourselves that the plaintiffs possess Article III standing to raise their challenges. "Those who do not possess Art. III standing may not litigate as suitors in the courts of the United States." Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 475-76, 102 S. Ct. 752, 760, 70 L. Ed. 2d 700 (1982) (footnote omitted). It is by now well established that

 
at an irreducible minimum, Art. III requires the party who invokes the court's authority to "show that he personally has suffered some actual or threatened injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct of the defendant," Gladstone, Realtors v. Village of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99 [99 S. Ct. 1601, 1608, 60 L. Ed. 2d 66] (1979), and that the injury "fairly can be traced to the challenged action" and is "likely to be redressed by a favorable decision," Simon v. Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 38, 41 [96 S. Ct. 1917, 1924, 1925, 48 L. Ed. 2d 450] (1976).

 Id., 454 U.S. at 472, 102 S. Ct. at 758 (footnote omitted). Although there are additional "prudential" principles that bear on the question of standing, see id. at 474-75, 102 S. Ct. at 759-60, we have previously held that these are inapplicable to challenges brought under section 274 of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act, which expands standing to the full extent permitted by Article III. See Synar, 626 F. Supp. at 1380 n. 3. We therefore test plaintiffs' allegations of injury against the "core" requirements of Article III.

 Although those allegations are regrettably imprecise, see Amended Complaint paras. 16-18, they can be read generously to identify four separate injuries that the individual plaintiffs and those of AFGE's members who receive federal retirement annuities are suffering or will suffer as a result of the Act. The first alleged injury is that payment of 1986 COLA increases has been temporarily suspended by the Act. Amended Complaint paras. 16 & 17. The difficulty with this allegation is that the Act's temporary suspension of payment of 1986 COLA increases ended on March 1, 1986, when the presidential sequestration order permanently cancelling those COLA increases went into effect. Thus, the plaintiffs are currently suffering no injury from the Act's temporary suspension provisions.


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