- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 28, 2010

A House panel on Wednesday rejected a Republican bid to force the White House to release records on all private meetings with health care industry groups as Democrats crafted the health care overhaul.

But House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman said he would work with Republicans to pursue the data through a letter, but not a House resolution of inquiry, as they wanted.

“There is a legitimate need for transparency regarding health reform. This is not an appropriate time to demand documents from the executive branch through the vehicle of a resolution of inquiry,” said Mr. Waxman, California Democrat.

Mr. Waxman said the resolution of inquiry was too broad in its request for all written or electronic correspondence and details on meetings between White House officials and health groups. Instead of sending the resolution to the House floor for a vote, Republicans and Democrats on the panel agreed to ask for a list of any agreements between the White House and interest groups, the names of people who participated in reaching the agreements and any notes from the meetings.

If the committee hadn’t voted on the resolution Wednesday, Rep. Michael C. Burgess, the Texas Republican who sponsored it, could have called it up for a full House vote at any time because it’s considered privileged, setting Democrats up for a politically difficult vote.

A widely reported pact between pharmaceutical companies and the White House - in which the industry agreed to support health care reform in exchange for a limited financial hit - raised the ire of lawmakers of both parties as the health care reform bill moved through Capitol Hill.

“Every time it seemed like someone was trying to push an idea on whatever - be it reimportation [of prescription drugs] or taxing hospitals - they said, ‘no, wait a minute, that’s not part of our deal.’ And then we really saw it … with the excise tax on the union plans,” Mr. Burgess said.

Lawmakers argue that the agreement let the pharmaceutical industry, represented by the trade group PhRMA, off the hook too easily. They also question whether other groups, such as hospital associations and unions, were involved.

Mr. Burgess submitted the resolution after the White House failed to respond to his letter asking for the information.

The White House responded to the letter on Tuesday, a day before the Energy and Commerce Committee voted on the resolution. But Republicans said the response was merely a collection of previously released press releases - “not one document that wasn’t [already] available to everyone,” Mr. Burgess said.

He questioned the validity of the documents, such as a visitor log showing that PhRMA’s top lobbyist, former Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican, only attended one White House meeting for one hour.

“It is hard to believe that a one-hour meeting resulted in $2 trillion in savings, and nothing’s written down,” Mr. Burgess said, referring to an agreement the White House released in which PhRMA and other groups agreed to in order to voluntarily slow the growth of health care costs.

The request comes as the Democrats’ health care reform effort remains stalled on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, health reform advocacy groups said Wednesday that they will continue to push for Congress to pass the bill.

The groups - led by National Coalition on Health Care, Families USA and Health Care for America Now - support the House passing the Senate bill and an accompanying bill to “fix” differences between the two chambers. The “fix” bill would likely have to pass the Senate through reconciliation - a controversial and difficult procedural move that can essentially squash a filibuster and only needs 51 votes.

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