By Mike Lillis - 05/15/13 07:20 PM EDT
A growing chorus of Democratic leaders says the current controversy surrounding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) should have no effect on the agency's work implementing President Obama's healthcare reform law.
But Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), head of the Democrats' Steering and Policy Committee, said Wednesday that, while the targeting episode is "outrageous," it should not be a barrier to installing the central elements of ObamaCare.
"People agree on an investigation … but that shouldn't get in the way [of implementation]," DeLauro said at a press briefing in the Capitol. "We can walk and chew gum at the same time."
DeLauro's remarks echo those of Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, who accused lawmakers using the IRS scandal to attack healthcare reform of "grasping at straws to distract the American people and to undermine … a focus on substance."
The IRS has been under intense fire since Friday, when the agency admitted it had targeted the Tea Party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny going back as far as 2010.
The White House has taken great strides to distance Obama from the scandal, arguing that the IRS's actions, while "outrageous," happened unbeknownst to the president or his team.
"At this point, we have to wait for the action of an independent investigator, if you will, the inspector general, before we can jump to conclusions about what happened, whether there was a deliberate targeting of groups inappropriately, and if that's the case, what action should be taken," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
Such remarks, however, have done little to appease leaders on Capitol Hill. Indeed, Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, called Wednesday for the IRS's two senior officials to resign, while Republicans on the panel have been quick to link the scandal to ObamaCare implementation.
"At a time when the IRS’s credibility is in serious question, the Obama Administration says it needs to hire an additional 2,000 IRS agents to implement functions related to ObamaCare," Republicans on the committee blasted Wednesday in an email.
The fight arrives as House GOP leaders have scheduled a Thursday vote to repeal ObamaCare – the 37th time since the legislation was enacted in 2010 that the House has voted to repeal, defund or eliminate parts of the law.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday defended the return of the legislation, saying "repeal is there again because we do not believe that an individual mandate or Washington-based healthcare is the direction we ought to go."
Democrats have a different view, arguing that Republicans are wasting Congress's time on messaging bills that have no chance of becoming law while ignoring proposals that might boost the stagnant job market.
DeLauro said Republicans are simply "re-litigating the healthcare fight of 2010" and should move on.
"They need to face it: Healthcare reform was passed by the House of Representatives, it was passed by the U.S. Senate, it was signed by the president; it was upheld by the Supreme Court," DeLauro said. "It is the law of the land."
Behind DeLauro and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a handful of female Democrats on Wednesday warned that repealing ObamaCare would be particularly harmful to women. They're hoping to portray the GOP's persistent repeal effort as both damaging to families and out of touch with the wishes of American voters who returned Obama to the White House last November.
"It's not only a vote that's a waste of time," Pelosi said, "it's a vote to take away affordable quality benefits that the American people are enjoying right now."