Bearing out the infamous declaration that we would have to pass the health care law to find out what was in it, Congress and the American people have recently begun taking a closer look at a massive new spending program known colloquially as the Obamacare “slush fund.” Created in the president’s health care law, it provides the Secretary of HHS with billions of dollars to spend on any program within the Public Health Service Act, over and above the amount Congress appropriates for these programs each year, without further congressional approval. One such program, which received hundreds of millions of dollars from the stimulus as well as the health care law, is the “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” program. A quick look at the program’s grant history provides a glimpse of where future taxpayer dollars may be spent and sheds light on why this unaccountable spending program has been targeted for cuts in multiple pieces of legislation, including a bill supported by Democrats and signed into law by the president.
â€¢ Pitt County, North Carolina, a recipient of a CPPW grant funded by health care law, used these federal taxpayer funds to place “signage to promote recreational destinations including public parks, bike lanes, and more.”
â€¢ The City of Boston received $1 million for “urban gardening.”
â€¢ The New York Department of Health used a $3 million taxpayer-funded grant to lobby for a soda tax initiative.
â€¢ According to a presentation by CPPW Program Director Rebecca Bunnell, the program’s early “successes” resulted in a nine-month moratorium on fast food construction in Baldwin Park, California, and increased cigarette taxes in South Carolina.
â€¢ The Philadelphia Department of Public Health used their taxpayer-funded grant to push for higher state cigarette excise tax rates.
â€¢ The Cascade Bicycle Club Education Foundation received a portion of the $3 million grant awarded to Seattle and King County Public Health and used the taxpayer dollars to “improve the walking and biking environment.”
House Republicans have consistently voiced their opposition to providing a blank check to HHS. In fact, Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Brett Guthrie (R-KY) recently wrote to Secretary Sebelius to further investigate whether the use of the tax dollars violates various federal anti-lobbying prohibitions and how these prohibitions apply to these grantees. Preventative medicine is an important component of our health care system, and Congress has an opportunity to target funding for preventative initiatives through the annual appropriations process; however, during a time of record debt and deficits, providing the Secretary of HHS with a blank check, on top of what Congress chooses to appropriate each year, is simply not an a responsible way to spend the taxpayers’ dollars. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has advanced legislation to repeal the program and rescind any unobligated funds, and most recently, repeal of this fund was offered to ensure interest rates on student loans do not double beginning in July. With its lack of accountability and the past track record for how this type of funding has been spent, repeal of the slush fund just makes sense.