The Corner

On Today’s H.R. 1549 Votes

The so-called Prevention and Public Health Fund has become nothing more than a slush fund for HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius to deploy at whim. So why should we let her get away with using it to reward political allies and throw more money at the Obamacare exchange “train wreck” instead of using it to insure people with preexisting conditions?

The slush fund has already funneled millions to left-wing activist groups pushing for zoning restrictions and taxes on fast food, soda, cigarettes, and other lawful consumer products. In at least seven instances, funds were used in violation of federal law for direct lobbying — meaning that our federal tax dollars went to lobbyists to lobby for raising our taxes and restricting our freedoms on the local level. Our federal tax dollars were even used to take this Mike Bloomberg anti-soda ad national — as if he needed the help.

Sebelius is now tapping the fund for $304 million to spend on advertising for the Obamacare exchanges and another $54 million to pay individuals and activist groups to sign people up for the new entitlement.

Sebelius is doing this while many of the very people whose suffering was used to sell the public on Obamacare go without assistance. In fact, 40,000 people with preexisting conditions are expected to go uninsured this year because of the decision by Kathleen Sebelius not to transfer funds from the slush fund to the Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP). Sebelius instead closed PCIP to new enrollees effective March 2.

The Helping Sick Americans Now Act, H.R. 1549, would simply force Sebelius to do what she should have already done: transfer funds from the Prevention Fund to PCIP. (Bill text: “The Secretary shall transfer amounts that are in the Fund.”) It appropriates no new money and can therefore not accurately be said to fund Obamacare. In fact, the bill is a net spending cut of nearly a billion dollars because running PCIP for the rest of this year is expected to cost significantly less than the four years of funding that would be transferred from the slush fund.

Conservatives have consistently said that we want to solve the preexisting-condition problem through subsidized high-risk pools. PCIP is indeed poorly designed and run at the federal level rather than by the states, but it’s also the only game in town that can realistically provide coverage to the 40,000 people otherwise without coverage this year. And even a poorly run federal high-risk pool is a much better solution to the preexisting condition problem than up-ending the entire health-care market for everyone as Obamacare is slated to do next year.

Many conservatives supported H.R. 1549 as it passed committee. I joined in signing a letter with Dean Clancy, Heather Higgins, Ryan Ellis, Jim Capretta, Grace-Marie Turner, Jim Martin, and many other health-care experts and conservative leaders urging a yes vote on H.R. 1549. That famous squish Richard Viguerie signed on. And every Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who was present, including conservatives Steve Scalise and Phil Gingrey, voted for the bill.

Some conservatives felt differently, objecting to funding a federal high-risk pool and only partially defunding the Prevention Fund. To address those concerns, the House will also vote on a friendly amendment from Fred Upton and Joe Pitts that would fully and permanently shut down the Prevention Fund and authorize state-based high-risk pools. The amendment would reduce federal spending by about $8 billion. It makes the bill much better. Kudos to those who pushed to strengthen the bill.

H.R. 1549 stands a real chance of passage. The slush fund was already reduced by one-third in the 2012 payroll-tax-extension bill, so there is a precedent. Yes, Democrats will counter by proposing a new tax hike to fund PCIP instead — yet another cigarette tax hike, even though more than a third of Americans making less than $30,000 smoke, while only 12 percent who make more than $60,000 do. Higher taxes on the poor to keep the money flowing to left-wing cronies and lobbyists? We can win that debate.

President Obama is nervous enough about the bill passing that he issued a hyperbolic veto threat asserting that “this legislation effectively would repeal part of the Affordable Care Act,” followed by a list of popular provisions of the law — ironically including the ban on barring insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions. But if Obamacare writ large really can’t work without a huge slush fund to fuel lobbyists and political hacks, then it can’t work at all. A veto would simply expose the fact that Obama doesn’t care about the people with preexisting conditions that he used to sell the law if money for his cronies is on the line.

The bottom line is Secretary Sebelius shouldn’t need to be forced to transfer these funds. But she does, and therefore Congress should pass H.R. 1549.

Phil Kerpen is president of American Commitment, a nationally syndicated columnist, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of Democracy Denied.

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