Why won’t the White House explain how off-budget ObamaCare money got spent?
posted at 10:01 am on March 8, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
Democrats designed the ObamaCare system to mainly fund itself. The low-income subsidies come directly from taxes levied in the so-called Affordable Care Act, as well as some other spending functions. However, it became clear early on that the Obama administration miscalculated the operational costs of ObamaCare when Kathleen Sebelius began pressuring insurers to contribute to Enroll America after the non-profit hired Obama administration figure Anne Filipic to assist HHS in preparing people for the sign-up launch in October. Republicans called this an attempt to get around the Constitution by creating new lines of funding for executive-branch operations, while they also wondered exactly where HHS got its funding for other efforts in ObamaCare.
In the last bipartisan budget deal, House Republicans got an amendment that forces the White House to reveal its money transfers in HHS to explain how they found the cash. However, as Politico reports, that’s only half of the problem:
The Obama administration is dropping some new hints about how it has moved money around to fund Obamacare without Congress — but not nearly enough to put the controversy to rest.
Forced to reveal more details under a provision tucked in this year’s bipartisan budget deal, the Department of Health and Human Services declared Friday how it used Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s authority to move about $1.6 billion in departmental funds around last year — the Cabinet secretary’s version of looking for change under the couch cushions and hitting the jackpot.
But HHS didn’t say exactly how it spent the money, and it didn’t lay out the kind of detail Republicans sought. So now the Republicans will have to decide their next move, whether it’s just more records requests or new efforts to tie the Obama administration’s hands in future appropriations bills.
We already knew that Sebelius used $450 million of the Prevention and Public Health Fund to pay for Healthcare.gov, in a small bit of irony given the unhealthy status of that platform since its launch. The only thing it’s prevented is enrollments and cancellation of erroneous sign-ups. One surprise is that CMS, which runs Medicare and the federal portion of Medicaid, coughed up $268 million that just happened to be lying around in the “general program operations account.” I’ve worked for corporate units where the topline revenue number doesn’t get up to $268 million, and that’s just spare change? Sebelius also found another $300 million from HHS’ Non-Recurring Expenses Fund, which is the account where all of the unused cash from previous years gets stashed.
In other words, in just three line items, the federal government got its hands on more than one billion dollars of loose cash, used for purposes that Congress never authorized. Remember when Obama demanded an end to the “era of austerity” last week in his budget proposal?
So … how did all of this money get spent? Republicans may need another amendment to find out:
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.
If that cash was put to efficient and effective use, the White House would hardly be so reticent to explain it. They would confidently reveal how the administration used scarce resources to succeed in its efforts, and proudly highlight the program’s progress. The fact that they’re playing a shell game with Congress over the sources and uses of the money tells us all we need to know about HHS and ObamaCare.