By Molly K. Hooper - 12/17/09 01:10 AM EST
A House Republican congressman is pushing the Obama administration to reveal the specifics of deals it struck with various groups on healthcare reform.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) wants the House to require the White House to hand over documents related to compromises reached earlier this year with the pharmaceutical industry, doctors and other stakeholders.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who headed the House oversight panel last year, supports the effort to collect information from the White House.
“If there are such documents, [Burgess] should get them, but I don’t know if t here are such documents. I think some of these things that he wants are not written down and different people have different ideas of what was agreed,” Waxman told The Hill on Wednesday, before Burgess submitted the resolution.
There has been confusion on the deals, especially the $80 billion pact President Barack Obama reached with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
There have been conflicting reports that the deal was contingent on the administration opposing drug re-importation legislation. PhRMA, which has lobbied against re-importation for years, has denied those claims, and the White House has said Obama still backs re-importation.
However, Obama’s Food and Drug Administration last week raised major concerns about a drug re-importation amendment.
The amendment, offered by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), attracted 51 votes on Tuesday, nine short of the necessary 60.
Waxman and other House leaders were not involved in the talks with PhRMA, though Democratic senators did sign off on it.
Waxman did not commit to voting for the Burgess measure, noting he had not seen it.
Despite repeated attempts at the staff level, even with the help of Democratic aides, Burgess said he has not been able to obtain any of the requested information from the White House.
In a letter to Obama this fall, Burgess wrote, “It has now been over four months since the White House announced numerous deals with major stakeholders in the healthcare debate to save upwards of $2 trillion in the healthcare system. We still have very few details on what exactly was agreed to.”
Burgess, a physician, said that his resolution of inquiry, primarily a tool used by the minority party to force attention on an issue, is not a publicity stunt.
The Energy and Commerce Republican pointed out that Obama promised to make healthcare reform negotiations public.
On the campaign trail in March of 2008, Obama said he would invite all stakeholders to reach a deal on healthcare reform.
“We’re going to do all these negotiations on C-SPAN,” Obama said at the time.
The White House did not comment at press time for this article.
Burgess believes there is something written down on the deals: “It would be odd to think that they would sit down with these high-level discussions and not come up with something [in writing] and just leave on a handshake. Now, Mr. Waxman, to his credit, believes that not much is there to obtain, but someone at least ought to tell me that.”
In early June, the heads of key healthcare groups met at the White House and pledged to cut costs by $2 trillion over the next 10 years.
Obama touted the agreement, but the $2 trillion figure quickly faded from the healthcare debate amid differing accounts of which industries were offering what.
“I’d like to know what was on the table, what was discussed, what the justification was for not performing on that promise, why it failed. But let’s at least have some accounting for what was asked for, what the deliverable was supposed to be and what the deliverable now is,” Burgess said.
Under a privileged resolution of inquiry, the Energy and Commerce Committee has 14 legislative days to act on the measure before it can come before the entire chamber.
Lawmakers normally use inquiry resolutions for judicial, foreign relations or armed services matters, according to a report produced by the Congressional Research Service.
Waxman, who conducted rigorous oversight of the George W. Bush administration in the 110th Congress, said, “I think people ought to have whatever they request by way of information. For example, I remember when the Republicans passed the Medicare [prescription drug law].
“They [Bush officials] wouldn’t give us the government actuary’s evaluation of the cost; they wouldn’t even share it with the Republicans, which would have showed them that it was going to be a lot more expensive than they imagined.”