Republicans have been asking the Obama administration for 2 years where HHS took money from their budget to pay for Obamacare implementation that Congress never approipriated.
The mystery has been partilaly solved. But the White House still refuses to give much detail.
The big reveal is no surprise: The Obama administration got most of the money last year from Sen. Tom Harkin’s cherished Prevention and Public Health Fund. But the report also told us more about the other couch cushions — as the administration pulled money from various all-purpose department funds to help launch the law’s new health insurance exchanges.
A one-page table from the official explanation of the administration’s HHS budget shows that federal officials diverted more than $450 million from that prevention fund — which Republicans call a “slush fund” — to finance Obamacare work, including building HealthCare.gov.
They also pulled $300 million from something called the Non-Recurring Expenses Fund, an account that allows an agency to use money left over from prior years for one-time expenses.
And they found $268 million from the general program operations account at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — the main agency within HHS that’s implementing the health law — plus another $113 million from Sebelius’s “transfer authority.”
The numbers appear on page 349 of the budget justification, which lays out the reasoning for President Barack Obama’s latest budget request. It’s there because the omnibus spending bill signed in January required HHS to use that report to detail its Obamacare spending.
What we don’t know: The report doesn’t say anything about how the money was spent — just where it came from. It also doesn’t say how much more there might be from the sources that have been tapped before. That’s likely to make Republicans re-up their demands for greater transparency.
Republicans have pressed for detailed information on the contracts issued for Obamacare implementation and the personnel used to do the work, particularly on the botched HealthCare.gov rollout and the subsequent website salvage mission. The new report gave them exactly nothing on that score.
“In their half-hearted attempt to respond to Senate language requesting detailed Affordable Care Act expenditures, the administration refused to reveal how much was spent on specific activities and projects,” Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, the top Republican on the appropriations subcommittee responsible for HHS, said in a statement. He said he was disappointed in the “budgetary smoke and mirrors” of the new accounting.
Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas, a top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the new disclosures appeared to be “more repackaging of the same kind of inadequate information we’ve gotten before.”
There is no legal or constitutional justification to withhold information on how and where the executive branch spends its money. They may be a co-equal branch of government, but they are not an island unto themselves. It should not be a state secret. When the people’s house requests information on how tax dollars are spent, the executive branch is legally bound to respond fully.
One must assume that the justification being used by the White House in withholding this information is political. That’s not an excuse and the relevant committees in Congress shouldn’t let the administration get away with this.