The futility of congressional self-indulgence

Updated

The above video was one of the more memorable moments of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s hearing this morning on the Affordable Care Act, but just as important, over the course of about 70 seconds, it also helped capture what made the hearing so pointless.

For those who can’t watch clips online, Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) badgered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about whether she would enroll for coverage through an exchange – marketplaces designed for those without insurance. Sebelius tried to explain that she doesn’t believe she’s eligible, but Long can’t hammering away, demanding to know if she would “go into the exchanges next year … with the rest of the American public ” if she’s legally permitted to do so.
 
The more Sebelius tried to explain reality, the more Long badgered. Eventually, the HHS secretary, apparently having reached an emotional limit, was overheard whispering, “don’t do this to me.”
 
It was an understandable reaction; I found myself saying similar things to myself while keeping the hearing on in the background.
 
This was the third House committee hearing on the “Obamacare” rollout, and for the life of me, I haven’t the foggiest idea what the point of the hearings are supposed to be. As we discussed last week, Republicans’ apparent goal was to use website troubles to question the Obama administration’s competence and discourage consumers, but this straightforward purpose was long ago thrown out the window.
 
Just consider Long pestering Sebelius for no apparent reason. Does the Missouri Republican understand that the vast majority of Americans won’t get coverage through exchanges? No. Does Sebelius’ personal insurance have anything to do with Americans’ access to coverage? No. Did this ridiculous exchange shed any substantive light on the implementation of the law? Not even a little.
 
The point, of course, is not to pick on one confused congressman; rather, the whole hearing was like this. If Republicans hoped to get their sought-after headline – cabinet secretary apologizes for tech troubles – they got it fairly early on and could have sent everyone home early.
 
But instead, Republicans decided they didn’t really want to talk about website issues anyway. Long asked about Sebelius’ insurance; Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) wanted to talk about abortion; Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) wanted to talk about advertising campaigns; Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Tex.) wanted to talk about tricycles;
 
The whole thing was, as Sarah Kliff put it, “pretty weird.”
 
That’s certainly true, but that’s not all it was. This third hearing, equally pointless as the first two, was also a waste. I’m all for congressional oversight, but this was a farce, filled with post-policy Republican opponents of health care, many of whom haven’t bothered to brush up on the details of the Affordable Care Act, complaining to hear themselves complain.
 
If even one GOP lawmaker expressed a sincere interest in trying to get federal law to be more effective or function more smoothly, I must have missed it.
 

Affordable Care Act, House Republicans and Obamacare

The futility of congressional self-indulgence

Updated