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Health Care Probe May Ensnare Jim Messina

House Republicans are preparing to unveil results of an investigation into deals the White House made to help pass the health care overhaul, and the findings might saddle Jim Messina, President Barack Obama’s campaign manager, with unwanted distractions.

Rep. Michael Burgess told Roll Call that Messina’s name was “the one that came up most consistently” in emails and other documents about the deals. The Texas Republican, a member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said Messina might have violated the Presidential Records Act by using a personal email account to discuss official White House business. Before joining the re-election campaign, Messina served as White House deputy chief of staff.

Republicans said privately that focusing on Messina’s role will be an unneeded irritant for the man tasked with re-electing Obama in November.  

Burgess said Messina might have taken steps that investigators are unaware of to comply with the records law, but he surmised that “were the rules broken there? Sure, it appears that they were.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement: “Unfortunately, House Republicans remain determined to spend their time and taxpayer resources refighting two-year old political battles, instead of creating jobs or growing the economy. But the White House is committed to compliance with the Presidential Records Act. All emails on the White House email system are archived; access to personal email and social networks from the White House network is blocked; and staff is instructed to use official accounts for official communications, and to take steps to ensure that emails subject to archiving requirements are archived.”

House Democrats, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), extensively investigated the Bush administration’s use of Republican National Committee email accounts in possible violation of the records act when Waxman chaired the Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2007 to 2009.

At the time, GOP officials complained bitterly about the investigation, with Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), now head of the Oversight panel, saying Waxman adopted a voyeuristic attitude toward White House adviser Karl Rove’s emails.

Asked whether he was unveiling the results of the investigation so close to the elections for political gain, Burgess said, “Dude, I’ve been asking these questions since the summer of 2009. They’ve had ample opportunity to answer our questions, to sit down for a private meeting with me, and say, ‘Look, Congressman, this is off the record, but let us tell you what we did.’ Nothing! I’ve gotten stony silence.”

Still, the findings of the health care investigation could provide the GOP a useful vehicle to revisit some of the uglier moments of the polarizing fight for the health care law’s passage.

Burgess, while cagey on details of the investigation’s findings, said the deals struck by White House officials with industry lobbyists showed hypocrisy on the part of Obama, who vowed during the 2008 campaign to hold televised negotiations on C-SPAN so the public could see who was making arguments on behalf of whom, including who was negotiating on behalf of drug and insurance companies.

Obama announced an agreement with the pharmaceutical industry in June 2009.

In the deal, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America agreed to $80 billion in revenue cuts for the drug sector over 10 years. PhRMA later pledged $150 million for advertising to support the health care law.

But the details of the deal — and others with industry players — were hazy, and some Democrats questioned whether they were bound by the terms.

A May 16 staff memo from aides to Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) highlighted that “the existence of an agreement or series of agreements between powerful health care industry stakeholders and the authors of [the health care law] is … widely known — albeit poorly understood.”

The closed-door nature of the talks has provided Republicans with a rallying cry.

“Does that happen in this town all the time? Yeah it does,” Burgess said of the deals. But Obama “stood up there and said, ‘It will be on C-SPAN.’”  

Waxman, who chaired the Energy and Commerce Committee when the law was considered, strongly defended the negotiations as part of lawmaking, but he said the administration could have held out for more from PhRMA.

“Every president makes deals in order to get things passed. That happened when Medicare was adopted and it happened with the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

“I thought that the pharmaceutical industry got a very good deal, and I thought the administration could’ve gotten more from them. But I can understand their point of view — they thought this was a very powerful group that could help them, and it did.”

When Republicans took the House, rather than subpoenaing the White House, Burgess and Upton got the cooperation of six interest groups that negotiated with the White House over the health care law, including PhRMA, America’s Health Insurance Plans and the American Medical Association.

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