As a rule, if a member of the public wants to attend an official congressional hearing, he or she will have to travel to Capitol Hill, wait in a modest line, and find a seat in a committee room. But occasionally, federal lawmakers will hold “field hearings,” which are effectively the same thing, and follow the same rules, but are held outside D.C.
Lately, House Republicans have held quite a few field hearings on their favorite subject: their contempt for the Affordable Care Act. Take a wild guess what these hearings have in common.
Several Arizona residents criticized the Affordable Care Act at a hearing Friday in Apache Junction, telling members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that they will be forced against their will to change health insurers.
Only Republican congressional members took part in the hearing, titled “ObamaCare Implementation, the Broken Promise: If You Like Your Current Plan You Can Keep It.” The only four witnesses invited to testify were residents who said they have been negatively affected by the new federal health-care program.
Audience members were not permitted to speak.
At least in theory, the point of a congressional hearing is for lawmakers to get additional information so they’re better able to craft sensible laws. That’s not, however, what Issa hopes to achieve – this was “an official congressional hearing” in which lawmakers effectively told the public what to believe, inviting hand-picked witnesses who agreed to tell Republicans what they wanted to hear.
And what about those in the audience who wanted to let federal lawmakers know that the law is working well for them and their families? They were not permitted to speak.
The local report added, “Issa said the committee is interested in hearing from those who have had positive experiences with the Affordable Care Act. He said anyone may submit testimony via e-mail.”
I’m sure Issa will eagerly look forward to reading those emails, which will surely influence his perspective, right?
This was not an isolated incident, either. Issa also held a hearing in North Carolina two weeks ago, where Republican lawmakers would only consider testimony from those who agreed with Republicans. House GOP lawmakers pulled the same stunt the week before in Georgia.
Carolyn Reed-Smith told Reuters she drove from South Carolina for the hearing in Georgia, hoping to speak about the benefits of the health care law. “They gave only one side of the story and were not looking for the other side,” she said.
At the North Carolina event, a woman named Dana Wilson, who was diagnosed as a teenager with MS, requested an opportunity in advance to talk about her inability to find an insurer who would cover her – before those with pre-existing conditions were protected. She was denied the chance to speak. “I think if it’s a true hearing than all sides should be heard,” she said, “and they don’t want to hear us.”
If Issa and his colleagues want to hold political rallies, they can. If they want go across the country to condemn public access to affordable care, that’s their right. But they should drop the pretense that these are legitimate congressional hearings – which I believe are paid for by U.S. taxpayers – and start calling them partisan show trials, since that’s what they are.