Today, the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), held a hearing on the source of funding for the cost sharing reduction (CSR) program -- a key part of Obamacare. It followed the release of a joint Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce Committees report unveiling new details about the Obama Administration's decision to violate the Constitution, circumvent appropriations law, and obstruct a congressional investigation.
After 18 months of investigating the Administration's actions -- and the Administration's deliberate stonewalling of our requests for information without any legal justification -- Ways and Means Committee Members publicly questioned high-level executive branch officials about how, when, why, and by whom the decision was made to send billions of taxpayer dollars to insurance companies under the CSR program without a constitutionally-required appropriation from Congress.
As Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said at the start of the hearing:
"We are here today to fulfill our constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight, and reinforce that Congress -- not the White House -- holds the power of the purse."
Chronicling what was uncovered in the report about the Administration's decision-making process, Chairman Roskam said:
"Administration officials who constructed this plan and moved ahead with it chose to fund the CSR payments from money that Congress designated for other programs. In other words, all of those individuals chose to hijack Congress's power of the purse and make those payments in violation of the Constitution and federal criminal law. To this day, they have made more than $7 billon in CSR payments without congressional authorization."
As Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) explained, Congress appropriated taxpayer dollars for the premium tax credit program -- not for the CSR program. Looking at 31 USC § 1324(b), which highlights the specific appropriation, Rep. Meehan asked:
"Where is there ambiguity here? Because I'm looking at the part that articulates tax credits as tax credits being specifically given. But where is the part in the appropriation that says you're entitled to do cost sharing?"
Not a single witness could answer Rep. Meehan's question. When Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) asked Treasury Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy Mark Mazur to point to a specific section of the law that appropriates money for cost sharing reduction, Mazur responded:
"If Congress doesn't want the monies appropriated, it could pass a law saying do not appropriate the monies from that account."
Rep. Black, clarifying what the witness stated, replied:
"So the justification comes because the Administration then decides that's the way they want to do it even though it is not stipulated in the law."
Members discussed in depth how the Administration's unprecedented executive overreach does not stop with its blatant disregard for appropriations law. As Chairman Roskam explained:
"Congress has run into unprecedented obstruction during the course of this investigation. It took the Committees a year and a half to gather the facts surrounding the Administration's decision to make these illegal payments, and even now, OMB, Treasury, and HHS are in violation of subpoenas issued by the Ways and Means Committee."
Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) expressed his disappointment and frustration with the witnesses for failing to comply with the Committee's requests for information and for failing to provide an explanation for their redacted documents, as required by law. The Congressman asked Mazur why the Action Memorandum he himself drafted, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew approved, was redacted:
"All we are asking for is what President Obama promised, and that's transparency You say you've been working with us, but yet you redact the very crux of [the information we need] in this memorandum Why would you hide that from us? Why is it a constant stream of scandals and coverups and obfuscation?
"Congress had to take the unprecedented action of suing the Administration to get to the bottom of this Why are we sitting here today a year and half into this investigation and you still won't lay out the specifics of your memorandum which the public has a right to know."
When Mazur called this a political disagreement, Rep. Rice responded:
"Political disagreement? We don't even know what we are disagreeing about because you won't even tell us your position."
Referencing Mazur's thorough statement yesterday before the Joint Committee on Taxation regarding a very complex topic, Chairman Roskam asked why Mazur today could not remember any details of the CSR-related memo:
"Yesterday, you were on full display before the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Mazur. And in that Committee, I was very impressed by your independent recollection of Section 385 Your had details on process that were very, very impressive.
"And now on an issue that is absolutely pivotal, that is a fulcrum between the executive and the legislative branches, you say in this memo, "I don't remember'? that's remarkable."
"This is not about [Obamacare]. This is about a constitutional responsibility."