The House of Representatives held its first meaningful floor vote of 2014 this morning, sending a clear signal about the Republican majority's priorities. Did they vote on unemployment benefits? The farm bill? One of the many other unfinished bills from 2013?
A significant number of Democrats broke party lines to vote on the House's first anti-Obamacare vote of 2014 on Friday, a blow to party unity and leadership's advice that rank-and-file members stand strong against GOP "gotcha" bills. The legislation, which would require victims of security breaches through HealthCare.gov insurance exchanges to be notified within two days, passed 291-122. Sixty-seven Democrats sided with all voting Republicans to hoist the bill over the finish line.
The fact that so many Democratic lawmakers broke ranks wasn't a huge surprise -- it's now an election year and they seem reluctant to create attack-ad fodder by opposing pointless "messaging" bills.
As we discussed
last week, the proposal comes by way of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who has a lengthy record of preferring partisan games to actual governing. It also dovetails with a coordinated messaging campaign championed
by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Indeed, today's vote was unusually vapid. As has been reported
many times, 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.
What's more, while the bill approved by the House today would require HHS to notify consumers if their personal information is accessed improperly, it's worth noting (a) HHS is already required
to make these notifications, making the legislation unnecessary; and (b) since consumers' personal information is not actually stored on healthcare.gov, the underlying concern really doesn't make a lot of sense.
So what's the point of pushing a pointless bill and making it the first proposal voted on in 2014? I found remarks
from Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, quite compelling.
"Despite all these positive results, Republicans are still obsessed with killing this law. Since they cannot do so legislatively, they have shifted to a different tactic: scaring people away from the website. "So my second point is this: there have been no successful security breaches of Healthcare.gov. Nobody's personal information has been maliciously hacked. [...] "These are important facts for the American people to know. But the Republicans disregard them and omit them because they undermine their claims. Many of us would support efforts to strengthen requirements for the entire federal government and private sector to notify consumers of breaches. But today's bill does not do that. Today's bill is the latest attempt to attack the Affordable Care Act and deprive millions of Americans of the healthcare they deserve."
As for actual security threats, Jennifer Bendery makes a point
that can't be emphasized enough: "[T]he most credible threat to the website's security may be the loudest critic of the website's security: Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee."