As part of his ongoing investigation into congressional enrollment in Obamacare, Sen. David Vitter is taking on the House of Representatives, asking Speaker John A. Boehner to push House officials to comply with his inquiry. But neither the speaker’s office nor other House officers seem likely to do so.
“I am writing to advise you of my efforts and also to request any assistance that you or your office can offer in obtaining the cooperation of the House of Representatives in this important investigation,” the Louisiana Republican wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to Boehner. On Wednesday, the Speaker’s office indicated it will defer to House Chief Administrative Officer Ed Cassidy on this matter — and Cassidy has already argued the House does not have to provide information to the Senate committee. Vitter's office did not return multiple requests for comment Wednesday.
In February, Vitter used his position as chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee to launch an investigation into congressional health care enrollment in the District of Columbia’s small-business exchange. Vitter argued that Congress should not be allowed to enroll in the exchange because it is not a small business. He requested information from House and Senate officials regarding Congress’ small-business exchange applications.
A recent taxpayer lawsuit led by the watchdog group Judicial Watch obtained the congressional applications through the Freedom of Information Act. In the applications, the House and Senate claimed to have fewer than 50 employees and were also classified as “state/local government.” Vitter sought to uncover which congressional employees filled out the applications and whether offices were directed to “falsify” them.
In response to Vitter's request, Cassidy wrote in a letter to Vitter on Feb. 19 that the Senate committee does not have jurisdiction over House internal operations. But that did not satisfy Vitter, who sent an email and another letter to Cassidy requesting the House cooperate with his investigation. When he did not receive the information, he decided to take the issue straight to Boehner.
“Despite three separate requests, as of yet officials of the House of Representatives have not cooperated at all in this investigation,” Vitter explained to Boehner. “Their refusal gives the impression that they may be attempting to hide information from the American public about how the House of Representatives successfully bypassed the law to qualify for taxpayer funded benefits.”
But since the speaker’s office indicated Wednesday it is deferring to the CAO, it is unlikely the House will provide Vitter with any information, given that Cassidy previously argued the House is not under Vitter's jurisdiction.
The senator's quest to receive information from House officials was met with some criticism Wednesday as a breach in protocol between the two chambers. The House and Senate typically defer to the opposite chamber when it comes to internal operations, such as during the legislative branch appropriations process when each chamber sets its own spending limits.
So Vitter's investigation into House procedure caught some flak from House Administration Committee members who oversee House operations.
"I don’t care about him," House Administration ranking member Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., said as he left the House floor Wednesday. "We don’t bother them. They think they can bother us? I’m not going to cooperate with him.”
Brady said Cassidy was "absolutely right" that the House does not have to provide information to the Senate. And House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller, R-Mich., seemed to agree.
"I haven’t looked into it," Miller said in the Speaker's Lobby. "It would just strike me that that’s probably not information the House has to give to the Senate.”
Miller made a veiled suggestion that Vitter should focus on his own chamber, even implying that his investigation was politically motivated.
"It seems like he has a lot to do in the Senate doesn’t it?” Miller said. She later added, "It could be more that somebody is running for another political office and wants to make a political point as well.” Asked if she was referring to Vitter, who is running to be Louisiana's next governor, she shrugged and said, "Maybe."
Vitter’s investigation is part of his longstanding crusade against the government contribution members of Congress and their staff receive when they enroll in the D.C. exchange. Vitter says this is a “Washington Obamacare exemption.” But the Office of Personnel Management, which ruled that Congress should enroll in the small business exchanges, argues that the contribution is similar to what congressional employees received prior to the Affordable Care Act taking effect.
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