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Top Republican Alleges Obamacare Voter Registration Ploy

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AP Photo

But that hasn't satisfied Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, who floated the possibility that the Obama administration, in its implementation of the law, is scheming to make people think they must register to vote in order to receive federal subsidies to buy insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

"The position of the question [on the Obamacare application form] could lead some to think voter registration is somehow tied to subsidy eligibility," Boustany wrote this week in a letter to the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. He demanded to know what justification HHS has for asking that question and sought a list of documents, including the names of all officials responsible for drafting and approving the form, by April 8.

The question, asked on page 59 of the 61-page draft application, is, "Would you like to register to vote?" If the applicant says yes, they will be sent a voter registration form. Nothing in the application states that registering to vote is a requirement, but Boustany wrote to Sebelius that he'd like to clear up "possible misunderstandings about applicant requirements related to voter registration" that could arise from the form.

White House spokesman Jay Carney weighed in on Boustany's insinuation on Tuesday.

"The linkage of checking off whether or not you want to register to vote goes back to a 1993 law regarding Medicaid," he told reporters. "It's not about the Affordable Care Act."

The explanation isn't cutting it with Boustany. An aide to the congressman said the NVRA voter registration requirement applies to state services like Medicaid and food stamps but not federal services, pointing out that the application form for Social Security disability insurance does not ask such a question. The aide also said it'd help to have a disclaimer making explicit that declining to register to vote won't affect one's benefits.

"Beyond the fact that it is completely unrelated to signing up for health insurance subsidies, the placement of the question (after you find out if you are eligible) could lead some to think their subsidy eligibility is contingent on voter registration," the Boustany aide said. "Congressman Boustany would just like more information from HHS on its inclusion."

Carney was asked about Boustany's apparent implication that HHS is using Obamacare as a vehicle to steer people to register to vote as Democrats.

"Does that mean the Republicans are disowning any ownership of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security?" he said. "As a separate measure, I'm not sure that it's such a terrible thing that people might want to register to vote. But I think this predates the Affordable Care Act."

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.