Congressional Republicans have repeatedly refused to answer Rewire’s questions for much of 2016 about how they’re funding what Democrats have called a partisan “witch hunt” that has targeted Planned Parenthood, abortion providers, a private company that helps procure tissue donation for medical research, and researchers who use fetal tissue to potentially cure life-threatening diseases.
The so-called Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, a part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has found ways to secure funding in the 114th Congress—and Republicans could revive it in 2017.
When Rewire asked the panel’s chair, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), in July about the source of the investigation’s funding, she punted to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Ryan punted to the House Administration Committee, which oversees the chamber’s day-to-day operations. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, punted to his spokespeople, who have yet to acknowledge Rewire’s multiple inquiries. Only a high-ranking GOP aide told Rewire in July that Republicans expected to spend $1.2 million on the anti-choice crusade by the end of the year.
Rewire’s reporting accounted for $790,000 the panel has received to date. Last week, Rewire broke the news that Republicans are pursuing an additional $800,000 in funding, more than doubling the total cost of the investigation to $1.59 million. But where will House Republicans find the money?
By engaging in a budgetary shell game with taxpayer funds.
To recap: The Administration Committee last Wednesday approved a resolution for the new $800,000 during a markup that lasted less than ten minutes. A senior House Democratic aide expects the resolution to advance directly to the House floor for consideration the week after Thanksgiving.
Before last Wednesday, Democrats said they were largely in the dark about the source of any additional funds. The select panel previously drew its $790,000 from the $1 million the Administration Committee sets aside each Congress to supplement House operating budgets. In doing so, the panel tapped nearly 80 percent of the House’s available supplemental funding—including 98 percent of the funds that were available for 2016.
The $800,000 infusion will, in effect, follow the two-step authorization-appropriations process to first define how the funds will be used, then provide the funds for that purpose. The Administration Committee’s resolution authorized the $800,000 for the select panel.
After the House, in all likelihood, passes the resolution in a party-line vote, the $800,000 will come from previously appropriated funds, three sources told Rewire.
Sean Moran, staff director for the Administration Committee’s Republicans, indicated in an interview following the markup that the funds would come from existing accounts. A committee spokesperson confirmed this via email.
Two senior House Democratic aides separately said they anticipated there would be more than enough unspent funds for House committees within fiscal year 2016’s legislative branch appropriations to cover the $800,000.
Could House Republicans fall short in their quest to double the select panel’s budget? That’s highly unlikely for lawmakers who deal with hundreds of millions of dollars, in the context of which $800,000 could be viewed as nothing more than a rounding error.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL), the ranking Democrat on the panel, blasted Republicans for the move upon their return to Washington.
“Republicans are wasting no time in pursuing their promise to roll back women’s health care,” Schakowsky said in a news release. “Instead of providing more funding for this divisive and dangerous witch hunt, Congress should shut down this Panel and put an end to its shameful proceedings.”
One of Schakowsky’s complaints throughout the investigation has been that Blackburn operates in secrecy. Rep. Robert Brady (PA), the ranking Democrat on the Administration Committee, attempted to rectify that during last Wednesday’s markup.
Brady alleged that Blackburn “misused unilateral subpoena authority” by issuing 42 subpoenas without any consultation across the aisle and that she denied Democrats on the panel access to records later used in hearings and depositions.
“At best, this is a violation of longstanding House rules and practice[s],” Brady said. “At worst, it violates the bipartisan spirit of cooperation the American people expect from their Congress.”
Brady then offered an amendment that would have required the panel to file weekly reports detailing expenditures and activities, including subpoenas issued, with the Administration Committee.
Brady’s amendment would have required the panel’s Republican members to consult with their Democratic colleagues before issuing further subpoenas using funds from the supplementary $800,000.
“It is unfortunate that we must force the majority to cooperate with the minority, but actions speak louder than words,” Brady said.
The amendment failed along party lines. Republican committee members then unilaterally voted to advance $800,000 for the panel.
The funds are expected to backfill panel expenses. But Blackburn, a member of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team, continues to forge ahead even though the investigation is supposedly nearing an end. She recently demanded information from an abortion provider who, in turn, protested that congressional GOP harassment endangers the lives of women, their families, and health-care workers.
The radical anti-choice group Operation Rescue has called on Ryan to extend the investigation into the 115th Congress. Doing so would require the House to vote on a new resolution reestablishing the investigation after the new Congress begins in January 2017.