Sen. Tom Coburn didn't go as far as his cohort, Sen. Lamar Alexander, who accused Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of acting just like Oliver North during the Iran-Contra scandal -- but he was still willing to accuse her of breaking the law by soliciting private donations to help implement the Affordable Care Act after Congress cut the purse strings.
Coburn appeared on this Monday's Your World With Neil Cavuto to discuss Republicans demands that there be an investigation into whether Sebelius violated any appropriations and ethics rules, and while he was more than willing to imply that the HHS secretary might have broken the law, he was careful to parse his words while doing so:
COBURN: I have no doubt in my mind they have broken US code by augmenting their appropriations. I've had several large insurance executives tell me that they were asked to contribute to this. So we're just beginning on this, but if it's not illegal, it should be and it's for sure unethical and it is definitely a conflict of interest to extort money from the very people that you regulate.
As Think Progress pointed out a few weeks ago, Republicans didn't mind it so much when they did the exact same thing during the last administration: Senator Who Criticized Sebelius For Soliciting Donations Asked For Private Funds While Serving In Bush Administration:
A top Senate Republican who compared the Obama administration’s efforts to solicit private donations for a campaign encouraging Americans to enroll in the Affordable Care Act to the Iran-Contra scandal asked for private donations to fund education reform while serving in the George H. W. Bush administration.
On Saturday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) criticized Sebelius for asking businesses and other community organizations to support an enrollment campaign spearheaded by Enroll America, a nonprofit organization working to convince people to sigh up for health care coverage. Alexander said Sebelius’ actions should “cease immediately and should be fully investigated by Congress.”
He cited a report by the Iran-Contra Congressional Joint Select Committee, which says “Congress’s exclusive control over the expenditure of funds cannot legally be evaded through the use of gifts or donations to the executive branch.” Since news broke of Sebelius’ activities on Friday, Republicans have argued that the secretary is raising private funds to work around Congressional refusal to appropriate federal dollars for implementation. Administration officials insist, however, that Sebelius was following authority laid out in the Public Health Service Act and “has made no fundraising requests to entities regulated by HHS.”
But in 1991, while serving as Secretary of Education for President George H. W. Bush, Lamar actively and enthusiastically sought private dollars to fund the administration’s education initiative, America 2000. The plan encouraged states and localities to commit themselves to six broad national education goals and standards and aspired to establish 535 “New American Schools” by the year 2000.
Alexander crisscrossed the country to sell the initiative on behalf of the administration after Congress failed to approve Bush’s education funding request. The president announced the formation of the nonprofit New American Schools Development Corp. and tasked it with raising $200 million to design new school models that communities can adopt, even planning a special meeting with businesses at Camp David to drum up support for more donations. Read on...
Neil Cavuto did actually ask Coburn about the fact that the reason the HHS secretary was resorting to this is that Congress refused to allocate the funds to properly implement the health care law, which Coburn quickly brushed off.
COBURN: You know, that's the art of rationalizing why I broke the law, why I ate my homework. You know, the fact is that the law is the law and that just shows you the attitude of this administration. It doesn't matter what the law is, they're going to do what they want to do and that's what's undermining confidence both in Congress and in Washington and with this administration. You can't do that.
Unless of course you're a Republican. Here's more from the updates on the Think Progress post:
Update: During remarks on the floor, Alexander sought to distinguish between the fundraising he engaged in as Secretary of Education and Sebelius’ solicitations, arguing that he was raising money for a private corporation: “Here is a private corporation that’s doing that; we encourage that. Congress wasn’t objecting to that. Congress hadn’t said, you can’t do that. Congress hadn’t been asked to vote on an appropriation for the new development corporation, and Congress had not said, you can’t do that.”
Update: But an op-ed Alexander penned in September of 1992 confirms that Congressional refusal to fund America 2000 forced the administration to solicit private funds. Published in the The San Diego Union-Tribune on Sep. 27, 1992:
President Bush asked Congress to appropriate a half-billion dollars to redesign such new American schools. Congress balked, the business community didn’t. The president has asked American businesses to raise $200 million to fund design teams to help communities create such schools.
They’re raising the money through the New American Schools Development Corp. (NASDC), and they have already funded 11 design teams that are moving ahead with exciting, innovative proposals.
And of course, no interview on Fox would be complete without pretending like this Republican health care law our Democratic president managed to get passed is going to lead down the slippery slope to "socialized medicine" or single-payer. Don't I wish.
COBURN: This plan isn't going to work. I believe the default position all along was this isn't going to work and the default is single payer government run health care. That's what they want.
No, that's what most of the public wants. He wrapped things up by saying that "market forces" would keep health insurance prices down, because we all know how well that's worked in the past.