What makes the Prevention and Public Health Fund controversial is its multibillion-dollar size, its unending nature the fund never expires, and its vague spending mandate: any program designed “to improve health and help restrain the rate of, growth” of health-care costs. That can include anything from “pickleball” a racquet sport in Carteret County, N.C. to Zumba a dance fitness program, kayaking and kickboxing in Waco, TX.
“It’s totally crazy to give the executive branch $2 billion a year ad infinitum to spend as they wish,” said budget expert Jim Capretta of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Congress has the power of the purse, the purpose of which is to insure that the Executive branch is using taxpayer resources as Congress specified.”
The concerns are as diverse as the critics. The HHS Inspector General, in a 2012 “alert,” was concerned that the payments to third-party groups came dangerously close to taxpayer-funded lobbying. While current law bars lobbying with federal money, Obama administration officials and Republican lawmakers differ on where lawful “education” ends and illicit “lobbying” begins. Nor have federal courts defined “lobbying” for the purposes of this fund. A health and Human Services HHS department spokesman denies that any laws were broken and the inspector general is continuing to investigate.