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NJ Daily

Heritage Lobbies Against Children's Hospital Funding—and House GOP Leadership

The exterior of Childrens Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle is shown. (AP Photo/Kevin P. Casey)

photo of Chris Frates
February 10, 2013

Some House Republicans are none too happy with the Heritage Foundation, saying the conservative group’s political arm used skewed data to lobby against a bill to fund children’s hospitals. 

“It puts members in an awful situation because they didn’t have all the facts, and in a situation where we’re voting against medical care for children,” a senior House Republican aide told National Journal Daily.

At issue was a bill to spend $330 million a year to train pediatricians and pediatric specialists at 55 children’s hospitals across the country. Heritage, citing a Congressional Budget Office report, opposed the bill because it raised spending. But House Republican aides argued that the bill kept the funding levels the same as 2011. It passed the House on Feb. 4, 352-50. 

 

“Forty-nine Republican members of Congress voted against children, sick children. Is that really the message we want to be sending right now? Maybe those votes would have been different if they knew it was level funding,” said a Republican working the issue. 

But Heritage Action, the foundation’s political arm, was unapologetic, saying it based its key vote alert—which hit lawmakers’ inboxes about a half-hour before the vote—on a CBO report that estimated the bill would increase funding by $60 million in 2013. The report put the cost of the bill over five years at about $1.4 billion.

“Putting up a $1 billion bill on the suspension calendar does not demonstrate that you’re serious about pursuing a path to a balanced budget,” said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler. “CBO says that the cost of implementing this this year is $60 million. That’s obviously an increase.” 

Asked to explain the discrepancy, bill sponsor Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., was little help. His spokesman, Andrew Wilmer wrote in an e-mail that the “bill does not increase funding for the program. It reauthorizes (the program) at current levels, which does not require offsetting cuts when the bill comes to the House floor.” Wilmer did not respond to follow-up questions or a request to speak with the congressman. 

The Children’s Hospital Association, which represents 225 hospitals across the country and is a supporter of the bill, did respond. Jim Kaufman, the group’s vice president of public policy, explained that the doctor training program was last authorized in 2011 for $330 million. The program was not reauthorized in 2012, but $267 million was still appropriated to fund the program. 

Turns out that both Heritage Action and Republicans were citing accurate information.

“Setting the authorization level of an expired program above current appropriation levels isn’t fiscally responsible because it gives appropriators the authority to increase funding above current levels,” Holler argued. “For it to not be a spending increase, either this year or in the future, appropriators will have to stay at the $270 million level.” 

But Republicans in House leadership were miffed that Heritage worked against the bill without providing a complete picture of the facts. House leaders have been careful not to increase spending when reauthorizing programs, said one GOP leadership aide. 

“We didn’t propose to increase the level that Congress last authorized it at,” the aide said.

This article appears in the February 11, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.

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