ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
As we just heard, House Republicans are taking a new aim at last year's health law. They argue the law provides billions of dollars in funding that the White House can spend without the say-so of Congress.
As NPR's Julie Rovner reports, Democrats say the law isn't written any differently than laws Republicans wrote when they were in charge.
JULIE ROVNER: Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann was one of the first to go after what she said was previously undiscovered funding in the health law on NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday.
Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): There was a congressional research service report that just was issued in February. And we discovered that secretly, unbeknownst to members of Congress, over $105 billion was hidden in the ObamaCare legislation to fund the implementation of ObamaCare. This is something that wasn't known.
ROVNER: Democrats, however, scoff at the notion that no one knew about the $105 billion. For one thing, the February report Bachmann referred to updated a report originally released last October. For another, Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky says, the money was clearly laid out in the legislation and the Congressional Budget Office included it in its estimate of the bill's cost.
Representative JAN SCHAKOWSKY (Democrat, Illinois): You know, Michele Bachmann obviously didn't read the bill because there was absolutely nothing hidden in that legislation.
ROVNER: In fact, said Schakowsky, 40 billion of the $105 billion now at issue is for the children's health insurance program. That's hardly something that flew under the radar.
Rep. SCHAKOWSKY: There was a robust debate about whether or not that should be included, et cetera. So this idea of somehow, now at the last minute there was a secret addition to some kind of funding. I saw her hold up a sign on television, $105 billion, is absolute nonsense.
ROVNER: Today, a House-held subcommittee held a hearing on the same money Bachmann was referring to, which is known as mandatory appropriations. Republicans complained what really has them angry is not that they didn't know the $105 billion was there, but that it gives spending power to the secretary of Health and Human Services that rightfully belongs to Congress.
Representative JOE PITTS (Republican, Pennsylvania): We have created a slush fund that the secretary can spin from without any congressional oversight or approval.
ROVNER: That's subcommittee chairman Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania. He detailed a long list of things HHS can use that money for, everything from preventing tobacco use to expanding the primary health care workforce.
But Democrats, like New Jersey's Frank Pallone, were quick to point out that this kind of funding is hardly novel. Take the Republicans 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, the prescription drug law.
Representative FRANK PALLONE (Democrat, New Jersey): That bill was chockfull of mandatory goodies. There was a $1.5 billion to fund startup, administrative costs for implementation of MMA. And there was an unlimited appropriation to fund the Transitional Drug Assistance Program.
ROVNER: What's really at issue, Democrats say, is Republicans' continued attempts to undermine the health law any way they can. That's something Republicans don't deny and it's a fight that's bound to continue.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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