Members of Congress take a few weeks off for the winter holidays, and in the process, party leaders in both chambers use the time off to prioritize. When lawmakers return refreshed, eager to get the new year off to a strong start, what should be at the top of the to-do list?
Senate Democrats and the White House are focusing primarily on extending federal unemployment benefits, helping struggling families keep their heads above water while giving the economy a boost. Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will bring a temporary extension to the floor early next week and the White House is lobbying in support of the bill.
GOP leaders in the lower chamber have a very different priority.
House Republicans will kick off the second session of the 113th Congress next week by voting on another bill to undercut the president's health care law. In a memo sent to Republican colleagues on Thursday, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced that the chamber would take up a measure next week to "strengthen security requirements" on the error-plagued HealthCare.gov website and "require prompt notification in the event of a breach involving personal information."
The Majority Leader added, "American families have enough to worry about as we enter the new year without having to wonder if they can trust the government to inform them when their personal information -- entered into a government mandated website -- has been compromised."
That's nice rhetoric, I suppose, and it certainly dovetails well with the coordinated Republican effort, complete with carefully staged "field hearings," to raise fears about health care and security. It's obvious that GOP officials really put a lot of thought into their multifaceted public-relations plan.
But it's nevertheless a reminder about Republican lawmakers' indifference to substance and governing.
Listening to Cantor yesterday, one might assume security requirements at healthcare.gov are a legitimate area in need of congressional attention. But those assumptions would be wrong -- there have been no security breaches; literally zero Americans' personal information has been compromised; administrative security testing for healthcare.gov is constant; and when rare vulnerabilities have popped up, the problems have been identified and resolved quickly and safely.
House GOP leaders know all of this. It's not a well-kept secret.
So why would Cantor go out of his way to make this the #1 post-holiday priority for the House of Representatives? Especially when there's so much real work to do? Because GOP officials are eager to scare consumers -- if Americans are worried about non-existent security problems, maybe they'll think twice before enrolling for coverage and participating in the system. And if consumers can be convinced to steer clear of signing up for insurance, it'll undermine the federal care system overall, which would satisfy the GOP's unhinged ideological goals.
The House Republican health care agenda is, in other words, predicated on ham-fisted demagoguery.
It's a national embarrassment, or at least it would be if GOP lawmakers were still capable of shame.