GOP Takes Aim At Companies On Obama’s Jobs Council

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October 20, 2011 8:14 a.m.
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House Republicans are no longer content to use the investigative powers of Congress to go after President Obama’s healthcare overhaul by compelling Obama administration to cough up information and testify before their committees.

In recent weeks, the GOP has launched a dragnet for internal information from companies with ties to the White House about the healthcare law and its impact on business.The move has Democrats crying foul and accusing Republicans of abusing their investigative authority to intimidate company executives who are cooperating with President Obama and serving on his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Earlier this month, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent 23 letters to executives on the President’s Council seeking information about the impact of the Obama’s healthcare law. But the request appeared more like a witch hunt, Democrats argue, because Republicans asked for a voluminous amount of material, including all emails from all company employees even mentioning the healthcare law.

The letters request all documents “discussing, concerning, or relating in any way” to the healthcare law, including “all communications, including e-mail, sent to or received by” company employees, during a two-and-a-half year period,” Democrats on the panel wrote in a letter to Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), its chairman, sent Thursday.

Executives serving on the council include GE’s Jeffrey Immelt, AOL co-founder Steve Case, American Express’s Kenneth I. Chenault and Xerox’s Ursula Burns, to name just a few. Obama created the jobs council, made up of business, labor and academic leaders, earlier this year to give him advice on boosting the economy and creating jobs.

“Given that some of the targeted companies have hundreds of thousands of employees, the burden of compliance is potentially enormous,” wrote Reps. Henry Waxman (CA) and Diana DeGette (CO), two senior Democrats on the committee.

“Your decision raises an exceptionally serious issue: are the Committee’s powers being used to intimidate companies that cooperate with President Obama?” they asked.

The only rationale Republicans could have for singling out the companies, Democrats said, is that they were serving on the President’s Jobs Council.

“These companies do not have unique expertise regarding the impact of the health reform legislation, and they do not represent a cross-section of the organizations and individuals that will be affected by its provisions,” Waxman and DeGette wrote. “Selecting investigative targets for an invasive document request because they are associated with a President you oppose would be an act of brazen political intimidation.”

Republicans are pushing back against the charges of political intimidation, arguing that the companies are a “natural group to survey” because they are already cooperating with Obama on ideas about easing the regulatory government burden and boosting economic growth.

“These companies volunteered to participate in the president’s jobs council, indicating a willingness to share their views and experiences to help shed light on public policy options,” a GOP aide said in an email.

“If someone is looking for political intimidation, they might note that the only oversight of the health care law that Mr. Waxman did was to aggressively and publicly demand documents and testimony from a handful of companies that were simply complying with the law in documenting the losses they would face because of [healthcare overhaul],” the aide noted.

Waxman and DeGette claim the GOP political intimidation is part of pattern and point to another recent “burdensome and intrusive” investigation launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) against Planned Parenthood.

The pair requested a meeting with Upton and Stearns next week to discuss the matter.

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