End the Myth—Laws can be Defunded—Here’s the Proof

October 7th, 2013

As we enter the second week of the government shutdown, I’d like to address a myth that the Democrats and President Obama are perpetuating through the media.

The myth is that a law can’t be defunded.  According to the president, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the law and therefore every part of it must be funded by Congress. He suggests that Republicans in the House are “terrorists” by attempting to defund the ACA or any part of it.

Simply stated, that’s just not true.  I know this firsthand because I served on a board of an entity mandated by Congress but which eventually died for lack of congressional funding.

For many years, I practiced environmental law.  When I was a junior associate at a law firm, Congress passed the Clean Air Act, and one assignment I will never forget is drafting a document for clients that summarized every section of that law.  One section authorized the creation of the Mickey Leland National Urban Air Toxics Research Center (NUATRC).  Many years later, President Bush appointed me to sit on the Board of Directors of NUATRC.  That’s where I learned a lesson about laws and funding and how the two work (or don’t) work together.

NUATRC was named in honor of a Democrat congressman, Mickey Leland, who was killed in a plane crash.  Congressman Leland was passionate about environmental and urban issues.  In his memory, Congress created an entity which would study the effects of urban air pollution on the populations living in these areas.  Funding was designed to come from federal and private sources.

The Center did a lot of good work prior to my arrival.  One of its greatest achievements was funding the research for an individual pump that research participants could easily wear to monitor their exposure to various contaminants.  This was truly groundbreaking since up until then, monitoring for such pollutants involved using very unwieldy equipment.  It took a truly dedicated test subject to lug around everything necessary at that point to gather data.

Because the new pump was small and user friendly, researchers were able to expand their research.  For example, one study looked at the environmental impacts of pollutants on kids living in various urban areas.  That was very valuable research since recently there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children afflicted with asthma.

The problem for the NUATRC was that it soon became embroiled in politics from all angles.  For example, the EPA wanted more control over where and how research dollars would be spent.  Also, because funding was supposed to be collaborative between public and private sources, soon environmental groups began complaining that any private dollars contributed was simply being used to promote private interests.

For example, much of the research showed that there is a greater health impact on humans from indoor than outdoor air pollution. This makes some sense given that pollutants outside are somewhat dissipated in the ambient air.  Indoor air is frequently recirculated which can increase its harmful effects.

This research immediately upset some environmental groups. Because one of the board members worked for the Toyota Motor Company, these groups charged that the research was simply being conducted to support industries’ position.

I wasn’t on the Board very long before Congress just simply quit providing funds to NUATRC.  It survived for a short period beyond this with the help of private funds and the Texas Legislature, but the doors were shuttered forever on October 31, 2011.  While the NUATRC is still part of the Clean Air Act and its regulations, it no longer really exists because it was choked off for lack of funding by Congress or support by the EPA.

So while Obama and the Democrats can spew lots of hatred and vitriol about Republicans over their efforts to defund ObamaCare, please feel free to call them out the next time they dare to suggest that Congress is not within its rights to do what it proposed to do with respect to defunding the law.

I’ll be happy to back you up.

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