House panel to scrutinize White House deals on healthcare reform legislation

A House committee on Wednesday will consider a Republican measure demanding that President Barack Obama divulge details about his negotiations with healthcare interest groups.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to mark up the resolution authored by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) just hours before Obama’s first State of the Union address. Burgess’s resolution requests the Obama administration turn over documentation of its dealings with healthcare trade associations and a labor union.

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The markup comes amid lingering distaste among lawmakers about special deals struck to advance the Senate version of healthcare reform, especially provisions in the legislation that provide more Medicaid funding for Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson’s home state of Nebraska than for any other state.

Republicans have hammered away at the White House and congressional Democrats for striking “backroom deals” with interest groups and individual lawmakers.


Many Democrats, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Energy and Commerce’s chairman, expressed opposition to an agreement with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) on the grounds that it should have been asked to make a larger sacrifice. Neither the White House nor Waxman’s spokeswoman responded to requests for comment.

The Burgess resolution specifically asks the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services to disclose the details of an agreement a coalition of interest groups made to contain healthcare costs by as much as $2 trillion over 10 years.

“It would be great to know what was on the table at that time” in terms of the White House’s part in any deal, Burgess said.
Waxman indicated in December he didn’t believe the White House could satisfy the request.

“If there are such documents, he should get them,” Waxman told The Hill at the time, “but I don’t know if there 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.”

Burgess scoffed at that notion.

“I can’t believe that they would got through how many days of so many high-level meetings with just a handshake without getting anything down on paper,” he said.

Burgess portrayed his resolution as an attempt to make the legislature assert itself over the executive, not a partisan maneuver.

“I would think that rank-and-file members on both sides would have some interest,” he said. Burgess wrote the White House in September requesting the same documentation; he never received a response or acknowledgement of his letter, he said.

But Burgess is not optimistic that Democrats will join his effort to obtain more detail about the White House’s dealings with the interest groups, however.

“My expectation is this will never get out of committee,” he said.

The White House has struck accords with a number of powerful interest groups at various stages in the yearlong healthcare reform debate. Presidents have historically been loath to turn over documents to Congress, even during eras of single-party control, asserting that executive privilege is a key component of the separation of powers in the Constitution.

Most recently, it forged a compromise with major labor unions over scaling back a Senate-passed proposal to tax high-cost health insurance plans.

The administration also secured the support of PhRMA by agreeing to limit the industry’s financial contribution to healthcare reform to $80 billion. The American Hospital Association (AHA) and other hospital groups made a similar arrangement set at $155 billion.

PhRMA, the AHA, the Advanced Medical Technology Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Medical Association and the Service Employees International Union’s healthcare division reported their proposals to the White House last May and Obama held a press event to promote them.

Under House rules, the committee of jurisdiction must hold a markup on such a “resolution of inquiry” within 14 legislative days of its introduction. If the panel does not do so, the resolution becomes a privileged motion that can be brought directly to the floor, according to a House Republican aide. If the committee and the House were to adopt the Burgess resolution, the White House would have to comply within 14 days.

This story was updated at 6:57 p.m.