House Republicans plan to force a difficult vote on Democrats in the Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, pressing forward with a "resolution of inquiry" calling on the White House to provide Congress with detailed information about negotiations and agreements it entered into with health care interest groups.
The secret deals are a potent political weapon for the GOP. Republican polling in Massachusetts showed that voters were more upset by behind-closed-doors dealmaking than they were with the substance of the policy. Voters were also angered by what became known as the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase, but Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, head of the Republican Senate campaign operation, said the polls didn't drill down to find what specific deals angered voters.
For political purposes, it may not matter. A deal is a deal and in a climate of anti-Washington sentiment, any backroom bargain can be a political liability.
The resolution puts Democrats in a position of choosing between supporting the White House on the one hand, or going on record as concerned about the deals and calling for the release of more information, on the other.
If Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) hadn't agreed to schedule the vote, its sponsor, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), would have been able to bring it to the House floor as a privileged resolution. So Waxman decided to deal with it in committee.
Even if the measure passes in committee, the House is under no obligation to vote on it on the floor and it will have no legal teeth. The GOP expects Waxman either to report out the resolution with an unfavorable recommendation or with no recommendation, which would make it tougher to raise the issue in campaign ads.
On Tuesday night, Waxman told reporters he wasn't yet ready to say how he'd vote. "Well, I support Congress getting the information that we're entitled to, yes, but I don't think that means that particular resolution," Waxman said.
He was asked if he could clarify whether that meant he was voting for it or against it. "If I were clearer, I would get into such trouble," he said, joking and serious at the same time.
Burgess introduced his resolution after writing to the White House in September and getting no response, said a spokeswoman. Resolutions of inquiry have increasingly become a partisan weapon wielded by the House minority party, a Congressional Research Service report found.
The resolution asks for information pertaining to any written or verbal deal cut with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Advanced Medical Technology Association, the American Medical Association, America's Health Insurance Plans, the American Hospital Association, or the Service Employees International Union, as well as the identities of the staffers involved and relevant details about the negotiations.
The Huffington Post in August published a memo that outlined the deal struck between the White House and Big Pharma -- a deal the White House still refuses to acknowledge publicly, even though it served as a blueprint for legislation.