Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius could soon join the ranks of other Obama administration officials who have been held in contempt of Congress, unless she answers questions about the botched Obamacare rollout.
Wednesday afternoon, House Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) gave Sebelius a final deadline to comply with an October subpoena for information about the Obamacare rollout, and warned that failure to comply could have serious consequences.
“Should the Department continue to refuse to produce all documents in unredacted form as required by the instructions in the subpoena issued on October 30, 2013, I will have no alternative but to consider the full range of options to enforce the subpoena,” Issa wrote Sebelius in a letter.
A House aide said contempt proceedings against Sebelius is one of those possible options. Issa’s letter sets a May 28 deadline for compliance with the subpoena.
Issa and other Republicans have been asking Sebelius for information about the HealthCare.gov roll out since last fall, when technical glitches caused huge problems for people trying to sign up to buy health insurance. Issa asked for documents about enrollment, glitches, website testing and other issues, and set an October 24 deadline.
That deadline came and went, and HHS finally said on October 25 that it would try to comply. But it gave no indication of how it would comply, or when.
While some documents have been made available, others have not. “In fact, more than six months later, the Department still has not fully complied with the subpoena,” Issa wrote.
He also said that many of the 111,000 pages handed over were heavily redacted, and accused the White House of playing a role in deciding what papers can be given to Congress. Issa said the House has been told that certain White House “equities” are involved.
“The apparent purpose of this equity review is to give the White House the opportunity to apply redactions, or to instruct HHS to withhold documents that are responsive to the Committee’s subpoena in full or in part,” he wrote.
Issa also argued that it is not acceptable for the White House to be blocked HHS from handing documents over to Congress without a formal declaration of executive privilege.
“If the President or other senior White House officials considered information about HealthCare.gov prior to its launch that affected the President’s decision-making, there may be a proper invocation of executive privilege that would allow the Department to withhold documents from the Committee,” he wrote. “Absent such an assertion, the Department is required to produce all responsive documents to the Committee in unredacted form.”
Issa added that the committee has been made aware that HHS is telling HealthCare.gov contractors not to give any information to Congress.
“In light of these facts, I am concerned the Department is willfully failing to comply with the Committee’s subpoena,” Issa charged.
The House has previously held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for failing to disclose information about the Fast and Furious gun running operation, and recently voted to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt for failing to testify on the IRS scandal.
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