HHS Secretary Sebelius using 'donations' to defy Congress on Obamacare implementation
Chalk up another outrage to the Obama administration. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is shaking down health industry executives for "donations" to provide funds Congress refuses to appropriate. Sarah Cliff writes in the Washington Post:
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has gone, hat in hand, to health industry officials, asking them to make large financial donations to help with the effort to implement President Obama's landmark health-care law, two people familiar with the outreach said.
Her unusual fundraising push comes after Congress repeatedly rejected the Obama administration's requests for additional funds to set up the Affordable Care Act, leaving HHS to implement the president's signature legislative accomplishment on what officials have described as a shoestring budget.
Over the past three months, Sebelius has made multiple phone calls to health industry executives, community organizations and church groups and asked that they contribute whatever they can to nonprofit groups that are working to enroll uninsured Americans and increase awareness of the law, according to an HHS official and an industry person familiar with the secretary's activities. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk openly about private discussions.
An HHS spokesperson said Sebelius was within the bounds of her authority in asking for help.
But Republicans charged that Sebelius's outreach was improper because it pressured private companies and other groups to support the Affordable Care Act.
There are several potentially serious problems here. The Obamacare legislation vests tremendous discretion in the HHS Secretary, discretion which could be used to favor or disfavor the large private companies whom Sebelius is targeting. The line between asking for help and a shakedown is awfully vague. Scott Heyman asks whether HHS can spend money Congress hasn't appropriated. "Wouldn't the donations have to go to the Treasury?"
Another budding scandal for the Obama administration?