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Public Statements

A Question of Credibility

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


A Question of Credibility -- (House of Representatives - May 04, 2004)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Pascrell) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Speaker, page 23 of the Times today, the headline says, "Agency Sees Withholding of Medicare Data From Congress As Illegal." That is pretty serious business.

So we have finally secret documents. We have backroom deals. We have intimidation and misinformation. We have threats. We have exclusion, possible bribery, propaganda, lying. I am not referring to the KGB, I am not referring to the Chinese authorities, I am not referring to Napoleon's France, a medieval court, or Imperial Rome. No, there are elements of government scandal right here in the Medicare issue.

All of these things describe a significant role in the narrow passage of the Medicare prescription drug bill. Members may wonder here who, in the United States of America, the freest country in the world, would employ such tactics to pass a controversial Medicare law; the Bush administration, that is who. The White House position of win at any cost eventually did lead to the new law, but what was the cost? The cost has been the credibility and reputation not only of the administration but that of the Congress, the integrity of this institution and the entire law-making process.

The American people must ask themselves, is this how my government actually works? Everyone knew a Medicare prescription drug benefit was going to be expensive. To the end, the Bush administration assured Congress their plan would cost $400 billion. However, it has since been discovered that the White House knew 6 months before the vote that their bill had a price tag of $140 billion more, a slight error of $140 billion.

Further, it has been reported that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, their administrator, remember this name, Tom Scully, he since has gone and found himself a lobbying job. Well, old Tom threatened to fire the chief actuary who was responsible for calculating the cost of the bill. The actuary's name was Richard Foster. If he had made this information available to congressional Democrats, he was going to be fired. At the time, Mr. Scully was negotiating with health care interests that had large financial stakes in the Medicare bill. Not only about the bill though, Mr. Scully.

That is not to say Mr. Scully was in this alone. Last month, Mr. Scully told members of the Committee on Ways and Means that he had shared the information with Doug Badger, President Bush's health policy adviser, who is right in the White House, and James Capretta, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, his analysis that the Medicare legislation would exceed its target goal.

Not only was this underhanded, not only was it deceitful, but according to the Congressional Research Service, this gag order was against the law, and they made this public just yesterday. There has been a violation of the law, and this House has done nothing, nor has the other House, nor have the folks down the street. When you break the law, something should happen.

According to the report, Congress' "right to receive truthful information from Federal agencies to assist in its legislative functions is clear and unassailable." That is what it says.

The issuance by an officer or employee in a department or agency of the Federal Government of a gag order on subordinate employees to expressly prevent and prohibit those employees from communicating directly with Members of Congress or the committees of Congress would appear to violate a specific and express prohibition of Federal law.

McGrain v. Dougherty, a 1927 Supreme Court decision, states very clearly, as it does in other Supreme Court decisions, legislative bodies cannot legislate wisely or effectively, in the absence of information regarding conditions which the legislation is intended to effect or change. That decision by the Supreme Court goes back to 1927. Thus, "Political gamesmanship must yield to the clear public interest of providing the people's elected representatives in the Congress with accurate and truthful information."

Mr. Speaker, they have broken the law. I come to this floor always with bipartisan hands open. My legislation will show that. The gloves are off.

Mr. Speaker, you have been lied to; we have been lied to. The question is, what will we do about it? The question is, do not the American people deserve more, and should the people demand more from us, regardless of which side we are on? We did not know all of the facts, and that bill would not have passed if we did know all of the facts.


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