Harkin: White House backed off push for more healthcare funding

He said Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree Clinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions MORE (D-Md.) passed over the request for extra funds because Republicans simply couldn’t accept it — but the White House also acquiesced, he said.

“I think the Republicans just said, absolutely not.’ They were not going to abide by that. And I guess you live to fight another day,” Harkin said. “But I can tell you, it wasn’t just Sen. Mikulski. I think the administration also agreed that they would back off on this right now, hopefully o get something later, in our next appropriations cycle.”

Most of the White House’s funding request, though, would have gone to help build new insurance exchanges that must be up and running by the beginning of 2014 — well before the next appropriations cycle.

The administration had requested roughly $575 million to operate and manage the exchanges, and another $290 million for consumer outreach.

The Health and Human Services Department will operate exchanges in the majority of states. Conservative activists pressed Republican governors not to set up their own exchanges — in part because they hoped to strain the federal implementation effort.

The healthcare law didn’t specifically set aside any funding for federally run exchanges, forcing HHS to draw from a $1 billion general implementation fund that was also needed for other parts of the law.

Harkin said he was scheduled to meet later on Tuesday with Marilyn Tavenner, the acting director of the federal Medicare and Medicaid agency, to discuss the impact of Congress not providing additional funds.

But he said he Obama left a clear impression that he’s committed to implementing his signature domestic achievement — which Harkin strongly supported.

“His number one priority is the effective implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” Harkin said.