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Administration Pushes Back Against Grassley, Critics on HHS Web Site

The Obama administration is firing back at Congressional critics of a Web site promoting the White House’s efforts to reform the health care system, rejecting complaints that it is a violation of anti-propaganda laws.

Senate Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Tuesday wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius questioning the legality of a link on HHS’ Web site that directs users to a “show your support— page. The page collects personal information from users and asks them to sign a form letter to President Barack Obama backing his health care reform efforts and pledging to assist him.

Grassley and conservatives are concerned the site is collecting information from users and will then be used by other executive branch offices, and they have raised questions about whether it is legal for HHS to solicit support from the public on an issue before Congress in that manner.

In a Wednesday letter to Grassley, HHS acting General Counsel David Cade rejected those concerns, telling Grassley that HHS had reviewed “the website and the pertinent legal authorities and confirmed that the link is entirely legal and proper.— Cade also noted that the rules Grassley cites in his letter “prohibit government officials from covertly producing materials for public dissemination that hide any evidence of government involvement … by contrast, the ‘State Your Support’ link appears prominently on a government website. There is nothing secretive, and therefore nothing improper about it.—

Cade also argues that because the form letter is not directed to Congress, it does not violate laws against the executive branch lobbying Congress.

Republican Senate aides said the administration’s response, which came one day after Grassley expressed his concerns to Sebelius, appears to be inadequate and that Grassley will not give up his investigation. “It’s an open inquiry as far as Sen. Grassley is concerned,” a GOP aide said.

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