Another transparency clash between the White House and Capitol Hill is brewing as three House panel chairmen demand that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner turn over documents about an Obamacare premium assistance tax credit that his department has withheld after promising to provide them to Congress nearly a year ago.
The provision at issue is contained in the Patient Protection and Affordability Act of 2010 and provides a tax credit or subsidy for individuals buying health insurance coverage from a state health insurance exchange. Despite the clear wording of the law, the IRS announced regulations May 18, 2012, implementing the provision that extend its coverage to individuals who participate in a federal exchange in addition to those covered by state exchanges.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-CA, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-MI, and Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Charles Boustany Jr., R-LA, sent a letter today to Geithner saying that since the IRS released its regulations their panels "have sought documents and information in an effort to better understand why the IRS extended these credits beyond the letter of the law."
During a Sept. 12, 2012, hearing before the Boustany subcommittee, Steven T. Miller, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement, promised to provide the panel with the requested documents.
Then on Oct. 18, 2012, the Issa committee repeated a previous request to Geithner that the IRS provide all documents related to whether the tax credit should be applied to federal exchanges.
Subsequently, congressional staffers agreed with an offer from the Treasury Department to make the documents available for in-camera review, which meant the Hill staff members could read the documents but not make copies of them in whole or in portions. When they viewed the documents, they found multiple redactions.
Treasury Department officials offered no explanation for the redactions or why the documents were not simply provided to the congressional panels. Issa, Camp and Boustany requested that Geithner provide electronic versions of the unredacted documents not later than Jan. 4, 2013.
In a statement announcing the letter, the Ways and Means Committee noted that the Congressional Research Service (CRS) said in an analysis of the issue that “the plain language of Section 36B [of ObamaCare] suggests that premium tax credits are available only where a taxpayer is enrolled in an ‘exchange established by the state.’”
The statement also noted that during a November meeting between the committee's staff and Treasury officials, the latter defended their approach by pointing out that "the language in the reconciliation bill that accompanied the health care reform bill contained a similar requirement detailing how state and federal exchanges must report information and asserted that the rule was consistent with assumptions made by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT).
"At the briefing, Treasury officials could not point to a single piece of legislative history that supported their interpretation of the rule other than the assumptions made by CBO and JCT. Beside the fact that CBO and JCT estimates of bills cannot be considered relevant legislative history, CBO and JCT both admitted that they never performed a legal analysis of the bill’s language regarding the availability of the tax credits."
Go here for more on the Issa/Camp/Boustany letter to Geithner.
UPDATE: Treasury reiterates its position
"As we have previously stated, we are confident that providing tax credits to individuals in every state is supported by the statute and our authority to interpret it. We have worked in good faith with the Committee to provide information about Treasury's position and our rulemaking process and will continue to do so moving forward," a Treasury spokesman told the Examiner.