Sen. Tom HarkinTom HarkinDistance education: Tumultuous today and yesterday Grassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream MORE (D-Iowa), the Senate's top health appropriator, warned Wednesday that Republicans can forget about defunding the healthcare reform law on his watch.
Harkin made the remarks during a Senate Appropriations Health subcommittee hearing on President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget proposal. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusSebelius on GOP healthcare plan: 'I'm not sure what the goal is here' Obama's health secretary to be first female president of American University Leaked email: Podesta pushed Tom Steyer for Obama’s Cabinet MORE is the only witness testifying at the hearing.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the subpanel, raised a number of concerns with healthcare reform spending.
He pointed out that the proposed budget contains $4.2 billion in mandatory spending for the law — money that appropriators cannot reduce or rescind. Among the law's mandatory spending is $11 billion for community health centers over five years, which would normally be appropriated by Congress. The law also authorizes another $34 billion for the centers over five years, and that money is in the hands of appropriators.
"What happens if [healthcare reform] is repealed and agencies' baseline funding levels are too low to cover the cost of these programs?" Shelby asked.
The budget also includes $450 million in discretionary funding for healthcare reform. That money is in the hands of appropriators and is likely to spark spirited debate among the budget appropriators.
This includes $120 million for the long-term-care CLASS Act, $236 million for state health insurance exchanges, $38 million for the Healthcare.gov Web portal and $28 million to help consumers navigate the private insurance market.
"In times of economic uncertainty, when every department should be exercising fiscal restraint, I am disappointed the administration has not significantly reduced healthcare spending," Shelby said.