Roughly four months into Republican rule of the House, top GOP oversight officials say the Obama administration is “slow walking” a series of oversight inquires into federal agencies and the White House.
For instance, on a Feb. 18 request for meeting minutes and e-mails regarding “secret” negotiations on Obamacare, two months later the White House has provided a series of press releases, a summary of publicly available visitor logs, and a list of staff who worked on the issue.
On another inquiry into politicization of Freedom of Information Act requests by journalists, watchdog groups and lawmakers at the Department of Homeland Security, Republicans point to an e-mail obtained by oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa telling DHS officials “we are NOT to search for documents responsive to the Issa request.”
“There is a coordinated effort, I assume being led by the White House, to, I would describe it as slow walking or slow rolling these things,” says an investigator on the Energy and Commerce Committee, “No one’s told us ‘no, we’re not gonna do that.’ They say they’ll do it every time. But they’re doing as much as they can to stall.”
The administration’s resistance to cooperate with requests that could expose damaging information about the president’s health care law and other issues is shaping the latest GOP salvo, aimed, not at the administration, but at a series of industry trade associations and unions.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton Monday sent 12 industry groups and unions letters asking for extensive details and documents about each organization’s interactions with the White House in regards to negotiations on the health care law.
The letters come as the Obama White House has so far declined to provide its documents about the meetings.
The move is, at first glance, counterintuitive. After all, a congressional subpoena could compel the White House to provide the documents under force of law.
But for Republicans, led by the considerable fear of Speaker John Boehner that his party will be seen as overreaching on oversight, the requests to industry could provide an end-run around White House intransigence.
The groups, which include AARP, PhRMA, the American Medical Association the AFL-CIO and the Business Roundtable, are less likely to resist the request, and will be seen less sympathetically if they do.
Meanwhile, the documents they produce could help Upton piece together a picture of what took place in the meetings even without cooperation by the White House.
At issue are special deals struck between interest groups and President Obama to either garner the support of major industry sectors or soften their criticism of the health care law.
In one major instance, the pharmaceutical drug sector agreed to back the legislation as long as the costs to that sector did not exceed $80 billion. The drug sector eventually spent over $100 million on television advertisements touting the law.
The documents from the outside groups, then, could give Upton the political cover to proceed more forcefully with the White House.
Mark Paoletta, a former top lawyer for the Energy and Commerce Committee with extensive oversight experience, said the strategy was a “very smart approach.”
“When I was Chief Counsel, we routinely requested documents from other agencies and also from private companies to cross check information. Many times, this revealed which documents we hadn’t been sent or highlighted major discrepancies,” Paoletta said.
Meanwhile, after an initial flurry of fighting, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Issa’s combative foil on the oversight panel, and Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the energy panel, have quieted their criticisms.