Sherrod’s Softball

Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, was back on Capitol Hill today to testify about the Affordable Care Act and the troubled healthcare.gov website.  According to NBC News, was “grilled” by both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate Finance Committee.

Except, apparently, for Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.  If the rest of the hearing was a grilling, Senator Brown must have been in charge of the backyard softball game.  NPR reports that Senator Brown asked Sebelius to talk about the law’s legacy:  “What are people going to say about the Affordable Care Act in five years and in 48 years?”

Huh?  The Secretary has presided over the most disastrous rollout of a federal program in living memory, the country is currently grappling with the fallout from that failure and other issues posed by the Act, and Senator Brown is channeling his inner Oprah and asking Secretary Sebelius to speculate about a legacy?

In fairness, these kinds of politicized questions aren’t unusual.  As the NPR story also reports, a Republican Senator used his entire allotment of time to make a critical speech, without asking Secretary Sebelius a single question.  What’s the point of having Cabinet officers testify if they aren’t asked questions?

These partisan antics are the kinds of things that drive me nuts about Congress.  There are dozens of entirely legitimate questions to ask Secretary Sebelius about how this landmark statute is working, why the website wasn’t better designed, and other topics of great interest to Americans who are trying to understand why the rollout of “Obamacare” could be so mishandled and what they must do to comply with a complicated statute.  Can’t members of Congress lay aside their party affiliations and their desires to make speeches, even once in a while, actually ask questions that should be answered, and get answers that will help them to decide how we can move forward?

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A Craven and Cowardly Congress

The Democrats in the House of Representatives apparently are carefully considering using various procedural machinations that would allow them to avoid casting a direct vote on the Senate version of the “health care reform” legislation.  Instead, the approach under exploration would allow the Senate bill to be “deemed passed” if the House adopts a rule on the consideration of the reconciliation bill or passes some other procedural proposal.  Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team reportedly are looking at other, similarly spineless options, like approving the bill through a voice vote rather than a recorded roll call vote.

With this kind of gutlessness, is it any wonder that people are fed up with Congress and despair at its ability to make tough decisions on issues like deficit reduction?  Our elected representatives are happy to get personal attention when it comes to campaign contributions, or congressional junkets, or being treated like a big deal at the Labor Day parade or the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.  But when it comes to actually casting a vote on one of the most important pieces of legislation Congress has considered in years — legislation that has been the focus of more than a year of debate, speeches, and foul political maneuvering — Members of the House shrink into the woodwork and want to be let off easy.

I strongly disagree with Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown on the merits of the Senate bill, but I appreciate his willingness to publicly state his position and be held accountable for it.  My advice to the Representatives in the House is this:  if you are unwilling to publicly vote for the Senate bill, then you should not attempt to obtain the bill’s passage through some subterfuge that you believe will give you “plausible deniability” come Election Day. You may, deep down, hold your constituents in contempt and believe that they can be misled about anything by some slick TV ads, but in this case you are wrong.  People are paying attention, they will remember, and they will vote.