The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is soliciting support letters to the president on passage of a health care bill this year, likely in violation of federal law, according to a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) legal opinion released by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
Grassley, a member of the Senate Rural Health Caucus, has served for many years as a watchdog over the leviathan HHS. The senator requested a legal opinion from the American Law Division at the CRS which found that the online initiative of the HHS called “State Your Support” may violate federal prohibitions on the use of official funds, among other things.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius claimed in a letter (pdf) to Grassley last week that the campaign is “entirely legal and proper.”
The “State Your Support” campaign asks visitors to the HHS website to fill out a form letter supporting the president’s “commitment to comprehensive health care reform this year,” and captures the personal data of those filling out the form.
Sebelius said earlier this week that the names and addresses collected by this online support campaign will be used by the administration to invite people “to health reform-related events in their area.” The age of consent listed on the form is 13 years old.
“The campaign now on http://www.hhs.gov is not purely informational because it expressly has visitors ‘affirm’ their commitment to work with congressional leaders to enact legislation this year,” Grassley said. “It looks like the type of violation the law was written to prohibit.”
Grassley also said the HHS website doesn’t merely prompt public comment, it provides a pre-written letter to the President for people to sign their names to, and then collects postal and email addresses.
The CRS legal opinion first explains:
“Executive departments and federal agencies are not authorized to spend federally appropriated funds merely for any purposes they desire, but may only expend federal funds for the purposes for which Congress has appropriated those monies. Under the United States Constitution, no funds may be expended by federal agencies, or their officers or employees in the executive branch, except by way of an appropriation made by an act of Congress. The “Appropriations Clause” of the Constitution is not only an express assignment of appropriations authority to the Congress, but has also, as explained by a unanimous Supreme Court, been long understood “as a restriction upon the disbursing authority of the Executive department…”
The opinion goes on to cite the statutes and specifics of Congress’ explicit control over the purse strings and what is and is not permissible, including:
“Several of these restrictions and prohibitions apply specifically to what is generally called ‘lobbying’ the Congress or other government officials, particularly through what is known as ‘grassroots’ lobbying techniques (that is, urging the public to write or communicate with government officials to express a particular point of view on issues and legislation), and to restrict generally ‘publicity and propaganda campaigns’ not authorized by Congress.”
Congress has made it clear that federal agencies are not to use public funds to finance campaign tactics and grassroots propaganda. By law, official HHS funds cannot be used “for publicity or propaganda purposes … designed to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress … ,” according to and Section 503(a) of Division F and Section 717 of Division D of the 2009 Omnibus Appropriations Act or for “printed or written matter, or other device, intended or designed to influence in any manner … an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy … ,” according to 18 U.S.C. § 1913.
Grassley also noted that the campaign on the HHS website is, “… particularly troubling given the recent effort by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to prohibit health plans from notifying Medicare beneficiaries about the way benefits could change based on pending health-care legislation.”
Senate “Motion to Proceed” on Health Care Looms Large
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) pointed out from the Senate floor yesterday the importance of the cloture vote on the Motion to Proceed to consideration of the health care bill in the Senate. The actual legislative language of the Harrycare bill is still being written behind closed doors. No one yet knows what it says. Should the bill make it to the Senate floor for debate, it may be too late to ensure certain provisions are included in the bill, such as a ban on federal funding for abortion.
From the speech:
“As I speak, the Senate bill is being written behind closed doors, by the Majority Leader and others. If their final product includes anything less than the House-passed ban, the critical vote for pro-life senators will be their vote on cloture on the motion to proceed.
“Why? Because if the motion to proceed is successful, it will end any chance to match the House bill’s ban on using federal tax dollars to fund abortion.
“You see, 60 votes would be needed to change the bill once a motion to proceed passes.
“We all know, regrettably, there are not 60 Senators who would support the House provision that bans federal funding of abortions.
“Therefore, we would lack the votes to close the door on federal funding of abortions.
“The ban on federal funding of abortions must be part of the Senate bill before debate is allowed to proceed.
“Don’t be fooled by claims that the motion to proceed to the bill is the first step to improving the bill.
“It will be the final say for the pro-life community.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that he wants to bring the health care bill to the Senate floor next week to begin debate before the Thanksgiving break and is working on the 60 votes in favor of the motion to proceed.