Issa threatens subpoenas over IRS rules regarding healthcare exchanges

House Republicans are threatening a new round of subpoenas over President Obama's healthcare law, taking aim this time at the law's most expensive provision.

Republicans on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee threatened to issue subpoenas if the IRS doesn't turn over more records about how it's implementing the law's insurance subsidies. Republicans believe the IRS is planning to hand out billions of dollars in subsidies that aren't authorized by the healthcare law.

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The Oversight panel has gotten increasingly aggressive with its healthcare attacks. It issued subpoenas earlier in an investigation into Medicare Advantage payments.

The latest threat was leveled in a letter from committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) along with Reps. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) and Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). They said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman has failed to explain the agency's approach to providing insurance subsidies.

The healthcare law establishes new insurance exchanges for small businesses and individuals who don't get health coverage from an employer. The law envisions most states setting up their own exchanges, but authorizes a federal fallback in states that don't.

The law also authorizes subsidies to people who get insurance through an exchange. The IRS is planning to make subsidies available in every exchange, but Republicans say the money is legally only available to state-based exchanges — not the federal fallback.

Because many Republican governors are opposed to implementing any part of "ObamaCare," leaving the federal government to run their exchanges, a win for Republicans on the subsidies issue would dramatically limit one of the law's key benefits.

The IRS has said it believes Congress intended to provide subsidies to everyone and has denied any political interference in its implementation effort. But Issa and his colleagues said the agency hasn't been forthcoming with records about the decision-making process.

"Thus, we are left to conclude that you are either willfully misleading the Committee or that you are purposefully withholding information that is essential to the Committee's oversight effort," the lawmakers wrote.

They gave the IRS until Thursday to provide more records before considering the use of a "compulsory process," which could include subpoenas.