Apr 26, 2004
Don’t Mess With Waxman
House Democrats are poised to sue the Bush administration for failing to give them more specific answers on a Medicare scoring controversy that is the focus of a government investigation.
The outcome of the likely lawsuit could clearly define the long-debated parameters of congressional oversight over the executive branch.
Leading House Democrats have pressed for details surrounding the administration’s decision earlier this year not to inform Congress that its actuaries projected that the Medicare drug bill would cost almost $140 billion more than the Congressional Budget Office estimate. But in a terse response to the requests, the administration has refused to provide those details.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the Government Reform Committee, last month threatened to use the “seven-member rule” if the administration failed to provide him with the information he requested. The rule, Democrats say, stipulates that the executive branch must deliver requested information if seven or more members of Government Reform request it.
In an April 16 response to a series of requests from Waxman and other top Democrats, Dennis Smith, the acting Medicare chief, wrote, “The [seven-member rule] statute you cite, of course, gives you no right to the [requested documents] ... The statute has nothing to do with the material you requested.”
Waxman and his Democratic colleagues on Government Reform fired back yesterday. In a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson, Democrats wrote, “[Your] response does not satisfy our request ... Unfortunately, there appears to be a concerted effort by the administration to obstruct legitimate congressional inquiries into its actions in this matter.”
House Democrats now are discussing their next move, and a seven-member-rule lawsuit is a leading option, staffers said.
Some Democrats believe that the only way to secure guarded information from the administration is through lawsuits. And because House Democrats cannot schedule hearings, the seven-member rule is one of the few legislative tools they have at their disposal.
The HHS inspector general’s (IG) office is conducting an ongoing investigation into the Medicare scoring matter. It is unclear when the IG will present its findings.
On Feb. 3, House Democrats asked HHS for its cost estimates of the House-passed Medicare bill, the Senate-passed measure and the legislation that was signed into law in December. They asked for a response by Feb. 17, but the administration did not meet that deadline.
In mid-March, Waxman wrote to Thompson to give him “a final opportunity” to fork over the requested documents. The letter stated, “If we do not receive a response to our request for information by March 26, 2004, we will commence the process of enforcing our legal rights to the documents.”
I can’t resist quoting Tommy Tom Tom again:
“We have nothing to hide, so I want to make darn sure everything comes out.”
He’s just so darn sincere.