Top Dem blasts Ways and Means chairman

The top Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday accused the panel’s chairman of abandoning policy pursuits to try to undercut President Obama and his healthcare law.

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) insisted that Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) had sent “partisan and unproductive” subpoenas to senior administration officials about the healthcare rollout over the previous day.

That approach, Levin said, was consistent with how a previously bipartisan committee had dealt with the IRS targeting of conservative groups, tax reform and other key issues.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Democrat noted that there had only been two full committee hearings on issues besides ObamaCare and the IRS, and that the panel is not working on legislation that could help spark the economy.

“Our committee has never served as a tool for opposition research,” Levin wrote to Camp, adding that “the use of subpoena power in the manner you have undertaken this week, and the request made of the IRS today are clearly efforts to simply gather data to continue your assault on the Affordable Care Act.”

“They are beneath the Ways and Means Committee,” added Levin, who has known Camp for decades.

In a telephone interview, Levin acknowledged that his issues stem in part from the broader partisan issues that are snarling Washington, and brushed aside the idea that calling out Camp wouldn’t help bring the two sides closer together.

“What’s going on here is an effort to destroy healthcare reform, and they’re doing it in a way that is undermining the integrity of this committee,” said Levin, who has served on Ways and Means for more than a quarter century. “I want it to stop. It’s hurting other efforts.”

Republicans have insisted that Levin wasn’t known for reaching across the aisle when he was acting chairman of the panel several years ago, and that committee Democrats in general were far from bipartisan during healthcare negotiations.

Ways and Means Republicans also say they have been much more inclusive when it comes to tax reform discussions, and have pointed out that Levin and Camp came together on a Medicare proposal just last week.

“The committee has worked in a bipartisan manner during the last three years, and we'll continue to do so going forward,” Michelle Dimarob, a Camp spokeswoman, said in a statement.

“Frankly, it is in the interest of all members - Democrat and Republican - to do vigorous oversight so we can identify the law's shortcomings and take steps to protect everyone's constituents who being harmed by the law.”