GOP: Health law funds could go to neuter pets

House Republicans attacked the 2010 healthcare law Wednesday for expanding a preventive care grant program that, they said, has funded pet spaying and neutering in Tennessee.

A statement from Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans also blasted grants they said paid for urban farming initiatives and the improvement of city bike lanes.

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These projects are "examples of what we consider excessive, wasteful government spending," said Debbee Keller, a GOP spokeswoman, "and the healthcare law will funnel money to others like them."

"They are certainly not within the boundaries of what the Obama administration normally sells as 'preventive care,'" Keller added.

But the GOP lawmakers may not have their facts in order, The Hill has learned.

The spay-and-neuter effort was in fact funded with a private grant from PetSmart Charities, a health official in Nashville told The Hill.

Confusion about who paid for the spay-and-neuter program arose because Nashville's federally funded preventive health initiative works with the Nashville Humane Society on the issue of stray dogs.

The director of that preventive health initiative — Nashville's Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program — said the spay-and-neuter funds came from a grant by PetSmart Charities to the Humane Society.

"As a partnering co-agency, we would have had staff members that were there greeting people at the event, and so forth. But the funding was not from us," CPPW director Alisa Haushalter told The Hill.

Republicans frequently call for attention to federally funded projects — health-related and otherwise — that they see as trivial.

This particular push comes a week after the conference characterized a preventive healthcare fund created by the Affordable Care Act as "slush" money and said the fund could be used to extend a cut to student loan interest rates set to expire in July.

Their vote on the plan prompted a backlash from Democrats and advocates.

"You call preventive care a 'slush fund'?" Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said.

"I mean, they should be ashamed of themselves. This is saving people's lives, saving the country huge amounts of money," Reid said.

With Wednesday's statement, the House GOP saw a chance to strengthen its position.

"During a time of record debt and deficits, providing the Secretary of [Health and Human Services] with a blank check ... is simply not a responsible way to spend the taxpayers’ dollars," the release stated.

"With its lack of accountability and the past track record for how this type of funding has been spent, repeal of the slush fund just makes sense," the GOP lawmakers said.


A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) responded to the allegations with a statement, saying that "HHS and its agencies take the responsibility as stewards of taxpayer dollars very seriously.”

“HHS is committed to ensuring the proper use of appropriated funds, and to ensuring awardees’ compliance with all applicable regulations and statutes related to lobbying activities," the statement added.

This story was updated at 2:48 p.m. and 4:21 p.m.