Members of the Obama administration Thursday defended the funding of an Affordable Care Act program to help low-income people afford healthcare. Their defense was delivered during a deeply partisan hearing on the heels of a Republican report (PDF) that found the funding violated the Constitution.
A 150-page report asserts that the Obama administration used money not appropriated by Congress for a cost-sharing program under the ACA. It also alleges that administration officials have thwarted the investigation and refused to turn over information or make people available for questioning.
In May, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington sided with the House in a rare lawsuit against the administration regarding the cost-sharing expenses. The judge said that explicit authorization for the spending in the program could not be inferred. The decision was suspended and the administration is appealing.
Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday grilled officials from HHS, the IRS, Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget for what they said was unlawful action and “unprecedented resistance” to investigation.
“They broke the law and spent the money anyway to prop up their failing healthcare law. This is stealing from the American people—plain and simple,” Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said in his opening statement.
Democrats said the hearing was more political disagreement with the ACA. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) called the hearing a sham and said Republican committee members' “minds were made up before they embarked on this fool's errand.”
The report released Thursday from the Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees cites a formal request from the administration for nearly $4 billion to fund the program and says the request was withdrawn. Committee members said they believe the administration was worried the funding would not be approved and the program would be in jeopardy.
The administration has maintained that the ACA provides permanent authority for spending on the cost-sharing program and that 13 government officials have volunteered to be interviewed by committee staff.
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) said the hearing was not about the ACA or the merits of the cost-sharing program. He frequently questioned the witnesses' preparation for the hearing and cooperation with the investigation and said they were cloaking illegal activity behind good intentions.
“There's a real danger that I perceive that's being on display here,” he said.