HHS Plows through ObamaCare's Slush
If there's one thing ObamaCare is ensuring, it's the growth of the President's agenda. While the rest of the country is focused on the law's biggest eyesores, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been quietly sitting on a multi-billion dollar pile of undesignated cash. This slush fund, which FRC warned about as early as 2009, has more people's attention now that the administration is starting to burn through the money for taxpayer-funded lobbying. The Brookings Institution's Stuart Taylor turned up the heat on Sebelius this week by exposing where some of the so-called "Prevention and Public Health Fund" is going. According toTaylor, Health and Human Services is dipping into this $12.5 billion pool for everything from massage therapists to politically-motivated groups.
Although the mainstream press has largely ignored the controversy, Congress has not. House Republicans are keenly aware of the abuse going on behind HHS's doors and have started pressing Sebelius for answers. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has sent repeated letters to the Secretary's office--the most recent on May 9--demanding to know why HHS grants "appear to fund lobbying activities contrary to the laws [and] regulations... governing the use of federal funds." Not surprisingly, there's been no answer. That might change now that the HHS Inspector General is involved. As early as last year, the IG raised a red flag over the payments to third-party groups, warning the Secretary that her activities were "dangerously close to taxpayer-funded lobbying."
In an administration rocked by scandals, these latest revelations are sure to pour more gasoline on the fire. "What makes the [slush fund] controversial," writes Taylor, "is its multibillion-dollar size, its unending nature (the fund never expires), and its vague spending mandate: any program designed to improve health and help restrain the growth' of health care costs." So far, HHS has defined "improving health" to mean anything from financing pickleball in North Carolina to Zumba, kayaking, and kickboxing in Waco, Texas. Even more infuriating, Sebelius has managed to justify sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to organizations fighting fast-food zoning laws or advocating for higher taxes on sugary drinks.
Unfortunately for Congress, the slush fund gives Sebelius absolute authority to spend these funds with zero oversight. In this $12.5 billion pot, she alone doles out the dollars "with no input from the states, ordinary rulemaking, or administrative review." As Congressman Upton said two years ago, when Sebelius first started using this account, "In the rush to pass the health care reform[s]... blank lines in the bill turned into blank checks signed by the American taxpayers." The guidelines are so broad that Secretary Sebelius tried to use $110 million of the money for "teen pregnancy prevention" in 2012. That's exactly what we warned about two years ago: that ObamaCare would just become another government pipeline to groups like Planned Parenthood.
Meanwhile, if President Obama thinks his party will rally to his defense over this latest abuse of taxpayer dollars, he's mistaken--at least when it comes to Democratic Health Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), one of the staunchest ObamaCare supporters. Harkin is publicly blasting the administration for seeking to redirect $332 million from the "Prevention and Public Health Fund" to ObamaCare. He calls it "an outrageous attack on an investment fund that is saving lives." "When it comes to prevention," Harkin fumed, "this Administration just doesn't get it... To slash money from this fund... is to cannibalize the Affordable Care Act in ways that will cost both money and lives. It is a violation of both the spirit and the letter of this landmark law." Let's hope his colleagues agree and insist on seeing Sebelius's books. Otherwise, HHS won't be the only agency mugging taxpayers.
New App Cells Sex to Kids
Speaking of HHS slush funds, parents may be wondering if that's what's behind pushy new STD programs in New York City and California schools. In the Big Apple, a new app on the city's Department of Health teen website points kids to the nearest abortion clinic and birth control freebies. "Remember, teens in New York State have the right to sexual health services without getting permission from parents... or anyone else," the app says. One of the videos featured on the program, Samantha's Story, talks about a teen girl who sleeps with her boyfriend and has sexual feelings for her best girlfriend. "I can't stop noticing it," Samantha says. "...I can't stop thinking about how beautiful Alisha is or how much I want to kiss her or go even further." Then, kids hear about her experience with an LGBT-friendly clinic.
In Los Angeles's Unified School District, the country's second largest, Qpid.me is partnering with grades 7-12 to bypass parents and text students about sex, STDs, and contraception. "The free service allows students as young as 12 years old to find a 'teen-friendly' [read: confidential] testing location, access their results online and then share their status" with potential sex partners. As part of another California health initiative (paid for by federal dollars) kids as young as 12 can go online and request 10 taxpayer-funded condoms. San Diego and Fresno County are part of the program, which advertises "confidential packaging" so parents won't be tipped off. Under California law, even fifth graders can have condoms delivered to their doorstep without their moms' and dads' consent. All of these initiatives seem perfectly aligned with the President's agenda of circumventing parents on teen health decisions. Could they too be funded by this nebulous HHS slush fund? FRC will be encouraging Congress to find out.
** On Friday's edition of Washington Watch with Tony Perkins, I am joined by Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) to discuss the ObamaCare slush fund. Anna Higgins, Director, Center for Human Dignity at FRC, joins us to talk about the two former Planned Parenthood nurses that will be testifying on the horrific conditions at an abortion clinic in Wilmington, Delaware.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.