House Republicans on Wednesday threatened to subpoena the
Obama administration over public-relations contracts to promote President
Obama's healthcare law.
It's the third healthcare-related subpoena threat in two
weeks. This one came from Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee, who said
they haven't received a response to their inquiries about public-relations
The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has signed at
least 2 PR contracts to promote the president's landmark Affordable Care Act.
HHS signed a $20-million deal to raise awareness of new coverage for preventive
services, and a separate $3-million contract is focused on the federally run
insurance exchange, which will begin operating in 2014.
Ways and Means Republicans previously
requested documents about the PR work, but said the administration failed to
"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.).
In addition to HHS's contracts, some
states — notably California — have used federal grant money for PR contracts to
promote their exchanges. California officials have said they want their PR firm
to get popular TV shows to mention the healthcare law.
"These efforts have included
costly contracts for 'a big guerrilla campaign splash,' in the words of one
Administration official, to drive Internet traffic to pro-Obamacare websites
and produce television commercials promoting the Administration's
positions," Camp and Boustany wrote. "Recent reports also
suggest public funds were used to push prime-time television shows to add
dialogue with 'people talking about the health insurance thing,' according to
one former Administration official."