House Hearing: Obamacare Ties Hands of Congress to Control Funding

Amanda Rae Kronquist /

Heritage Distinguished Fellow and former Congressman Ernest Istook (R–OK) recently unveiled Obamacare’s “dirty little secret”: $105 billion of advance appropriations which make it difficult for current and future Congresses to control spending on the unpopular new law. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health delved further into the problems with this “phantom funding” at a hearing last week.

Within its 2,700 pages, Obamacare has been given billions of dollars in advance appropriations—$6 billion was immediately appropriated, while over $105 billion was appropriated for the years following. In this way, the 111th Congress made spending decisions for years in advance, making a clear “attempt to handcuff the current Congress and prevent it from determining current levels of spending,” Congressman Istook told members of the committee.

Founding Father James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 58 that “power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people.” According to Istook, Obamacare disarms Congress and “attempts to bypass the normal appropriations process.”

One provision of Obamacare, for example, gives the Administration unlimited appropriations to provide grants to states for the new exchanges. This gives Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius an open-ended credit card to spend taxpayer dollars without any limit. Representative Joe Pitts (R–PA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, argued that this violates the Constitution because it gives the Administration an unlimited tap on the U.S. Treasury.

According to a February report by the Congressional Research Service, several provisions in the bill advance appropriations—though Obamacare was not “pitched to the public as a mandatory spending entitlement.” The hearing included focus on Section 1311(a), which provides unlimited mandatory spending for state-based exchange grants issued by the Secretary of HHS. Pitts emphasized that the Secretary can hand out money to states without further action from Congress because the bill already provides unlimited appropriations to do so.

Thus far, Sebelius has distributed more than $296 million to implement the exchanges, which did not require further congressional approval. As House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R–MI) stated in the House hearing, “Congress needs to reassert its role and set spending priorities, rather than give the executive branch unfettered power to spend as much as it wishes.”

This post was co-authored by Amanda Rae Kronquist.