One of the laws in our democracy is that a sitting administration cannot use government resources already allotted to a task to push an agenda that undermines an existing set of laws. The Daily Beast reported last week that Trump’s Health and Human Services demon Tom Price seems to have done just that.
The Trump administration has spent taxpayer money meant to encourage enrollment in the Affordable Care Act on a public relations campaign aimed at methodically strangling it.
The effort, which involves a multi-pronged social media push as well as video testimonials designed at damaging public opinion of President Obama’s health care law, is far more robust and sustained than has been publicly revealed or realized.
Much of this propaganda push consists of a series of dozens of videos showing testimonials of Obamacare 'nightmare’ experiences.
Funding for those videos would come from the Department’s “consumer information and outreach” budget, which was previously used for the purposes of advertising the ACA and encouraging enrollment. The Trump administration has requested $574 million for this specific budget item, though HHS declined to detail how much it has devoted to specific line items. Two sources familiar with the videos say that HHS continues to draw money from the outreach fund, even though its objective has switched from promoting the ACA to highlighting the law’s critics and its shortcomings.
The good news, according to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, is that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is investigating.
If the GAO concludes that the administration’s conduct did violate the law, that could put increased pressure on it to refrain from these tactics, or on congressional Republicans to exercise their own oversight of them. Given that the repeal push could drag on for weeks or months longer, this could matter.
The GAO has sent a letter to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announcing its formal intention to examine the conduct of the Department of Health and Human Services for possible lawbreaking. Murray and three other Democrats recently sent their own letter to the GAO and the U.S. inspector general requesting an examination of whether HHS is engaging in a “pattern” of “using federal resources to advance partisan legislation.” The Democrats’ letter cited the use of HHS’s official Twitter accounts to attack the ACA and promote the GOP replacement. It also raised questions as to whether HHS is using taxpayer funds to produce video testimonials of people criticizing the ACA, which would violate the prohibition on an agency “engaging in covert propaganda,” the Democrats’ letter says.
New York Magazine points out that the GOA has ruled before on similar violations.
In 2015, the Government Accountability Office ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency had violated the law by encouraging public support for its clean-water regulations over social media — an effort that constituted “covert propaganda.”
Tom Price is what happens to the human soul when pumped with so much fracking money, you are willing to poison drinking water in order to get power. We all know that the Price-led Department of Health and Human Services is probably guilty. Let’s hope our system of accountability can at least try to do its job.