GOP Lawmakers Threaten Subpoenas Over Obamacare Advertising Campaign

Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee are threatening to subpoena the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) over the Obama Administration’s use of public relations contracts to advertise their landmark health care reform law, even though the Bush Administration spent even more money on campaigns to publicize its Medicare program.

Republicans are implying that the Administration’s efforts to raise awareness about core Obamacare provisions is a politically-motivated misuse of public funds. As the Hill reports, GOP members claim that previous requests to HHS for documentation regarding the public relations campaign have gone unanswered, and say that they will be forced to issue subpoenas barring a response by the end of the month:

Ways and Means Republicans previously requested documents about the PR work, but said the administration failed to respond.

“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.).

Since an overhaul of Obamacare’s magnitude typically requires some form of public education to prevent confusion, HHS signed a $20 million contract to set aside funds for PR campaigns to explain the new consumer benefits under the reform law, as well as an additional $3.1 million contract to inform consumers about state-level health insurance exchanges. Some states, such as California, have used federal grants to promote their state’s own health exchanges.

And federal PR campaigns about major government programs are nothing new. After President Bush’s successful effort to pass the Medicare prescription drug benefit (Medicare Part D), the Bush Administration undertook a significantly larger campaign to inform seniors about their new benefits — also with money specifically set aside by the reform law.

Unlike the current Obamacare PR efforts, however, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Bush Administration broke several federal laws by distributing videos that made their narrators appear to be impartial reporters instead of spokesmen hired by the Bush HHS. GAO also found a two-page flier about Medicare Part D that the Bush Administration sent out to 36 million households to not be “totally free of political content” and contain “notable omissions and other weaknesses.”