The latest White House deputy to pick a fight with the House GOP majority is the former Obamacare czar who now oversees the massive Medicare and Medicaid programs.
He’s Andy Slavitt, and he has until the close of business May 27 to explain to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce why he testified in December 2015 that his office had recovered more than $200 million from failed Obamacare exchanges run by the states.
Since then, he’s not produced the $200 million, or even identified where the money is located.
The explain-or-else deadline was set by a May 19, 2016 letter from the committee. “We ask you to specifically identity any portions of these “returned” funds that are attributable to recovery of improperly spent funding … by Thursday, May 26, 2016.”
During that hearing, Slavitt claimed that “our first priority is to be good stewards of the Federal taxpayers’ dollars. This means returning unspent dollars to the Treasury and closing grants, collecting improperly spent dollars, and preventing more from going out the door.”
Then he made his still-unproven claim: “Over $200 million of the original grant awards have already been returned to the Federal Government, and we’re now in the process of collecting and returning more,” he said.
The hearing was intended to examine the 17 state-based exchanges, and to see how they spent the $4.6 billion in federal grants that President Barack Obama’s deputies had sent them. The committee was especially interested in details about the four failed state exchanges in Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon.
Of the four, Oregon is the most notorious because it blew through a jaw-dropping $305 million on call centers, computer infrastructure and marketing before it was shut down without ever registering a single Oregon resident. It was so outrageous that liberals such as John Oliver took a shot at the Oregon trail of lost dollars.
The day after Slavitt’s $200 million testimony, the establishment media trumpeted Slavitt’s testimony as evidence that the Obama administration was judiciously dealing with waste, fraud and abuse.
But the congressmen and staffers were trying to track down what $200 million Slavitt was talking about. That day, Committee staffers emailed CMS staff asking for the details about $200 million.
The committee estimated that CMS clawed back $21.5 million at most from the state exchanges by withholding promised funds.
The $200 million claim came as a complete surprise because of the regular practice between congressional and administration staffers to pre-brief questions and testimony before an hearing. The decades-old practice makes for stilted hearings, but serves the purposes of both sides.
Not this time – and the staff requested more information about the $200 million three times in December and four times in January, according to a report prepared by the committee’s staff.
The Chairman of the Energy and Commerce’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Rep. Timothy F. Murphy (R.-Pa.) phone Slavitt and was told by Slavitt that agency staff was working quickly to produce the documentation.
Slavitt sent nothing.
Murphy again called Slavitt March 15 and the subcommittee chairman was told the CMS staff was still working on the numbers.
During the whole routine, Slavitt’s Chief of Staff Dr. Mandy Cohen and the CMS staffers continued to promise that the data was on its way.
Depending on what happens at the committee’s deadline, Capitol Hill conservatives are preparing to go after Slavitt’s job. He holds that job job as a temporary “acting” appointee because even the Senate Republican leadership recoiled at confirming Slavitt, even after Obama gave Slavitt special ethics waiver. He got the waiver because he led Optum, the company that was the lead contractor who built healthcare.gov.