By Mike Lillis - 05/16/13 06:46 PM EDT
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday defended the Obama administration’s move to solicit private donations to implement ObamaCare, arguing that the government has a responsibility to help beneficiaries enroll under the law.
Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, has come under fire from Republicans for asking some prominent healthcare groups for financial help in executing the central elements of President Obama's healthcare reform law, which are slated to take effect within the next year.
“You have a responsibility to do outreach, too,” she told reporters in the Capitol.
Noting that industry critics of ObamaCare spent millions of dollars lobbying against it, the Democratic leader said supporters are now simply exercising the same right to help enroll beneficiaries.
“There were hundreds of millions of dollars spent during the debate misrepresenting, mischaracterizing – I don't like to use this word, lying – about what was in or not in the Affordable Care Act. It was going to be death panels, it was going to be about abortion, it was going to be this, that and the other thing – none of which was true,” Pelosi said.
“So this is not an unusual thing that the private sector would weigh in. And it's people who want to have people sign up. … And so, no, I don't have any problem with her [Sebelius] doing that.”
House Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal the 2010 healthcare law – their latest effort will come Thursday – but with Democrats controlling the Senate and White House, those efforts have no chance of being enacted.
Republicans have had more success, however, denying HHS the funds officials say they need to implement the law. Sebelius's recent fundraising pitch, the administration says, was launched in response to a lack of funding from Congress.
Specifically, Sebelius has asked some major healthcare organizations for donations to Enroll America, a nonprofit group promoting ObamaCare and helping to enroll beneficiaries in new programs created by the law.
Republicans have pounced, questioning the legality of solicitations to groups with business before the agency. At least three congressional committees are now investigating.
On Tuesday, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee wrote to Sebelius charging that the fundraising campaign “appears at best to be an inherent conflict of interest and at worst a potentially illegal augmentation of appropriation.”
GOP leaders on the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees sent similar letters earlier in the week.
“It is clear that your department is scrambling to find funding from sources the law did not authorize,” the House Republicans wrote.
Pelosi on Thursday accused GOP critics of hypocrisy, saying Republicans under President George W. Bush spent handsomely on outreach and promotion following the 2003 passage of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, or Part D. Without distinguishing between public and private funding, she said the same should be allowed surrounding ObamaCare.
“When they were doing it then – I thought they did it to excess – but nonetheless there was a responsibility to make sure people signed up. … That's the responsibility now,” she said.
“Who should they be to criticize something they did to the hilt?”