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Darrell Issa Keeps Health Care Law in His Sights

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Reps. Darrell Issa (left) is hoping to move a resolution of disapproval to sideline an IRS rule related to President Barack Obama's health care law.

The disapproval process is dictated by the 1996 Congressional Review Act (PL 104-121), a law that has been used successfully only once, when President George W. Bush signed a resolution overturning an Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace ergonomic rule in 2001.

Issa and other critics argue the health care law does not explicitly provide authority for the IRS to enforce the law’s tax provisions. Under an IRS rule finalized in May, subsidies for helping eligible individuals buy health insurance would be available in state and federal exchanges beginning in 2014.

Opponents such as Issa and DesJarlais contend that the health care overhaul authorizes subsidies only in state-run exchanges, not those to be set up by the federal government in the states that choose not to establish their own or would not meet the law’s requirements. 

As a result, critics say, the rule directly conflicts with the statute and allows the IRS to provide subsidies through tax credits without authorization from Congress. They also say employers in the states that have resisted setting up exchanges would have to pay the penalty for not offering insurance to their workers because it’s tied to eligibility for subsidies in an exchange.

But, in an explanation accompanying the final regulations, the IRS said the rule is consistent with the law and its legislative history does not show that Congress meant to restrict subsidies to state exchanges only. 

DesJarlais, a physician who sits on the Oversight and Government Reform panel and is in a tough re-election battle, has been working with Issa on the disapproval resolution.

Use of the resolution represents an effort by Issa, who has held several highly partisan investigations into administration actions, to reposition his panel to be at the center of opposition to the health care law.

Issa added health care to the jurisdiction of one of the subcommittees that oversees the District of Columbia, Census and the National Archives, but the full committee focused most of its investigations elsewhere.

Issa’s handling the health care issue in coming months could provide a fresh opening for him to improve his oversight record, according to GOP aides and longtime political observers. 

“The question is, what does Darrell Issa want?” said Wendy Schiller, a political scientist at Brown University. She said tough attacks on the implementation of the health care overhaul could position him for a run for a leadership job.

Issa has led probes into security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, after an assault on the facility left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead and into the Justice Department’s flawed “Fast and Furious” gun-tracing operation. The investigations generated headlines but resulted in no high-level ousters or criminal prosecutions and Issa’s main legislative initiative, a Postal Service overhaul
(HR 2309), is stalled.

Former Rep. Tom Davis, once a chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and now director of federal government affairs for Deloitte & Touche, said Issa is likely to make more headway raising questions about the health care law’s IRS rule and probing waste and fraud in the Medicaid program than he has on other topics.

“Win or lose, health care will be a hot issue. And I think the committee will play a key role,” Davis said.

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