Can Congress Hold Useful Hearings?

In their inept and failed effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act by holding the federal government hostage for 16 days, Republicans actually succeeded in making the President’s health reform law more popular.  The badly bungled rollout of the program’s website was overshadowed by the shutdown, but with government back in business, that is changing.

But if the past is prologue, look for Republicans to go overboard once again.  The rollout was poorly done and those responsible should be held accountable and the reasons why exposed to public scrutiny. 

Congressional hearings begin this week, but instead of playing a constructive role in identifying problems and fixing them, look for Republicans to once again shoot themselves in both feet by turning the investigation into an inquisition.  I guess that’s understandable since they’ve invested so much in destroying (they long ago dropped the “replace” in their campaign to “repeal and replace”) Obamacare that there is no chance for a fair hearing much less a constructive one.

If that is what happens, they will do themselves and the American people a great disservice. 

House Republicans have passed more than 40 bills to repeal ACA, and you can expect them to keep passing more, futile as it may be, because it is a form of self-gratification that produces nothing and prevents substantive improvements in a program that clearly needs help.  That’s a dilemma for Republicans.  If they are serious about fixing the program, the lunatic fringe might accuse them of supporting it, and if they block the repairs they risk being blamed for the failures and not the president.

Max Baucus (D-Montana), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “The ‘bugs’ that have plagued the rollout of U.S. health-insurance exchanges will be fixed by December 15.”  Not if the House of Representatives has anything to say about it.  The goal there isn’t to fix the program but to fire HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius. 

Heads should roll, people – and especially the computer firm responsible —  should be held accountable for this major snafu. Supporters insist the program is sound but the website was not.  Sibelius admits, “We didn’t have enough testing, specifically for high volumes, for a complicated project.” She said the program needed five years of construction and a year of testing but instead “We had two years and almost no testing.”  So what – and who – went wrong, and what are you doing to fix it? 

Congress should be asking these questions, but can it do that in a professional, responsible way?  That would be a welcome change. But is it an unrealistic expectation for a House leadership that just shut down the government and threatened national default in pursuit of its vendetta against the President’s signature legislative achievement?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.