By Sam Baker - 10/24/12 07:08 PM EDT
House Republicans on Wednesday threatened to subpoena the Obama administration over public-relations contracts to promote President Obama's healthcare law.
It's the third healthcare-related subpoena threat in two weeks. This one came from Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, who said they haven't received a response to their inquiries about public-relations contracts.
The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has signed at least 2 PR contracts to promote the president's landmark Affordable Care Act. HHS signed a $20-million deal to raise awareness of new coverage for preventive services, and a separate $3-million contract is focused on the federally run insurance exchange, which will begin operating in 2014.
"Either the Department is unable to keep track of the work products it buys with taxpayer dollars or the Department is trying to delay any response until after this year's election," the lawmakers wrote. "Neither explanation is acceptable."
They threatened to issue subpoenas if HHS doesn't respond by Oct. 31. The letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was signed by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-La.).
In addition to HHS's contracts, some states — notably California — have used federal grant money for PR contracts to promote their exchanges. California officials have said they want their PR firm to get popular TV shows to mention the healthcare law.
"These efforts have included costly contracts for 'a big guerrilla campaign splash,' in the words of one Administration official, to drive Internet traffic to pro-Obamacare websites and produce television commercials promoting the Administration's positions," Camp and Boustany wrote. "Recent reports also suggest public funds were used to push prime-time television shows to add dialogue with 'people talking about the health insurance thing,' according to one former Administration official."