Yesterday, the Energy and Commerce health subcommittee held a hearing dedicated to stripping $105 billion in mandatory spending out of the Affordable Care Act that would fund initiatives like the state-based exchanges and the prevention and public health fund. Conservative Republicans like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Steve King (R-IA) have accused the administration of circumventing the regular appropriations process and stashing away the dollars in the health law. At the hearing Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) “called the mandatory spending a ‘slush fund’ for the Health and Human Services secretary, and vowed to introduce legislation” to reclassify some of the spending as discretionary. Pitts could now add the language to legislation raising the debt limit or funding the government through 2011.
But Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) argued that the mandatory funds aren’t nearly as unusual or “secretive” as Republicans have suggested. Aside from being openly discussed in numerous Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates throughout the health care debate, both parties have relied on mandatory spending to fund various initiatives. The mandatory funding in the law was designed to provide some programs with stable funding, Waxman said:
WAXMAN: Every member of this committee has a history of voting for both mandatory and discretionary. In fact, the Republican-led Congress passed legislation that included over $400 billion of mandatory spending that was not paid for in the Medicare Drug Bill. It’s a fundamental part of the responsibility of an authorizing committee like Energy and Commerce that has jursdicition over programs like Medicare and Medicaid and CHIP to determine where mandatory funding is needed to ensure program sustainability.
Waxman stressed that the mandatory spending in the law funded Republican-supported initiatives like providing states with flexibility to design their own state-based exchanges and investing in primary care, prevention, and funding to build school clinics. Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) brought a “Dear Colleague” letter written by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) in support of the school clinics before the 112th Congress convened. “There’s going to be all kinds of programs I’ve supported in the past we simply cannot fund today,” Burgess responded.
Democrats believe that mandatory spending is fairly immune from defunding because Republicans would have to change the law rather than simply cut off appropriations. Thus far, Republicans like King have failed to eliminate mandatory spending for the law and during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio show yesterday, Bachmann lambasted Congressional Republicans for not expressing more outrage over the “hidden” funding. “It’s like we’re in the Twilight zone here. I’m thinking, am I the only one who remembers there was no discussion of this $105 billion,” she asked.