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Stier: Oversight of CDC Grants Is Necessary

So the CDC has shifted its defense, claiming that the law forbids only an extremely narrow definition of “lobbying” and that it is still permitted to hand out federal money to influence local government policies.

An HHS official responded to Collins’ allegations, pointing out that CDC policy forbids the use of grants for “any activity designed to influence action in regard to a particular piece of pending legislation.” In doing so, it carved out for itself loopholes so big that truckloads of taxpayer-funded lobbyists can drive through with impunity.

This CDC policy veers drastically from federal law by permitting lobbying in regard to a general policy approach, such as one in favor of soda taxes, so long as it didn’t favor a particular policy option, such as a specific tax rate.

In addition, the CDC has actually argued that grants may be used permissibly for lobbying in favor of specific legislation that is not yet pending or formally introduced to a legislature. Only last month, after Collins’ scrutiny, did the CDC expand its policy limiting lobbying to “proposed” legislation.

These excuses don’t pass the smell test.

The CDC’s outlandish and evolving defenses of the abuse of federal spending should offend even those who favor the policies that the CDC is openly advocating at the local level.

Hearings are urgently needed because the types of grants that have raised all this controversy were only part of the ramp-up in spending. The CDC is set to expand this type of program, with an annual $2 billion in Community Transformation Grants by 2015, funded through the 2010 health care law.

The CDC and the HHS have already signaled their intention to continue using the funds to change laws, despite repeated and clear Congressional intent not to permit it. Without focused oversight, there is no reason to expect that the administration will end these abusive practices.  

Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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