When then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Congress needed to pass the Obama healthcare bill to find out what is in it, she had a point.
Details about how some of the provisions and how they are being implemented are still coming to light.
The bill provides billions of dollars for a program called the "Communities Putting Prevention To Work" program, or CPPW, which was originally created with stimulus bill funding. But money ran out, so Congress created a perpetual funding mechanism within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. CPPW is funded starting with $500 million this year and going up to $2 billion in 2015 and every year beyond, without the need for additional appropriations. CPPW is a powerhouse program administered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which allows the agency to reach its tentacles into all levels of local governments like never before.
But the dollars aren't being used only to fund questionable programs, like giving free "incentive refrigerators" to convenience store owners, they are being used to promote controversial policy changes not even endorsed by congress.
This should come as no surprise, given the CDC is directed by Dr. Thomas Frieden, the controversial former New York City Health Commissioner who made your lifestyle choices his business.
Now, Dr. Frieden has a multi-billion dollar war-chest to pay local governments to promote his extreme agenda.
Question: When is lobbying not lobbying?
Answer: When it is done under a CPPW grant.
Federal law forbids any funds to be used for "lobbying," yet hundreds of millions of dollars are currently being sent to grant recipients to advance a wide-range of specifically enumerated policy changes that CDC would like implemented in communities. When making the payments, CDC requires grant recipients to agree not to use the funds for "lobbying." The feds wink and the locals nod.
Despite the semantics, CDC is very open about that it is using the CPPW to advance policy changes at the local level.
Last year, CPPW sent the County of Los Angeles more than $16 million in tobacco control funds, for programs (and this is CDC language), "encouraging comprehensive smoke-free outdoor air policies." You can be in favor of outdoor smoking bans, yet still realize that a grant to change existing laws smells a lot like lobbying.
CDC guidelines "encourage" other policy changes too. Grant guidelines call for reducing access to "unhealthy foods." This is code for advancing a policy the food police have been pushing for years: passing new laws requiring zoning restrictions on fast food restaurants.
The CDC's "media" grants include funds to "restrict advertising for unhealthy foods." Putting aside first amendment issues they raise, such policy changes were never passed as part of the democratic process. Now the federal government is funding efforts to change policy, democratic process notwithstanding.
While the CDC insists their policy changes are "evidence-based," it doesn't always turn out that way.
Consider another one of the CPPW grants for media campaigns against obesity. It sounds relatively benign: The CDC will pay cities to create and buy ads to promote healthier diets.
But when the New York City Department of Health launched a controversial subway ad campaign last summer suggesting soda turns straight into fat, even the department's own scientist cautioned against it. But Dr. Frieden's influence could still be felt: The man he groomed for the job, Dr. Thomas Farley didn't let the science get in the way, plastering subways with the controversial ad, arguing the end justified the means. It wasn't as if the CDC was going to discipline the City for the campaign.
The CDC is also funding programs to use "price" to change eating habits. Soda tax, anyone?
A special CPPW advisory council at the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC), recently briefed Mayor Thomas Menino about the dangers of E-cigarettes, as the city considers banning their use where actual cigarettes are prohibited. Treating tobacco-free and combustion-free E-cigarettes like actual cigarettes makes no sense, especially as countless smokers around the country are switching to the infinitely less harmful E-cigarettes. The CDC, which says it has no position on E-cigarettes, deferred to BPHC on how it is implementing the grant.
Experts suggest a full-scale reversal of Obamacare is unlikely. That may be true. But Congress can act this year to reign in this spending, which isn't only outrageous because of the cost, but because of the insidious way the funds are being used to promote radical policies that are not based in science. Lobbying or not, federal funds should not be used as a thumb on the scales of the democratic process.