GOP Will Launch Hearings, Oversight Investigations To Build Public Support For Health Law Repeal

November 1, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol 

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) could head up the House Energy & Commerce Committee

Appearing on Meet the Press yesterday, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) — the chairman of the Republican Governors Association — predicted that if Republicans aren’t successful in repealing the health care law outright, “they will make such big changes in it over the next three years that you won’t recognize it.” And indeed, the GOP has promised to repeal the law “lock, stock, and barrel” if it regains the majority in the House after the midterm elections and has advocated defunding large parts of the measure. As as Kaiser Health News’ Marilyn Werber Serafini reports, the GOP seeks to use committee hearings and “oversight” investigations to build public support for this effort:

If Rep. Joe Barton becomes chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year, the Texas Republican vows to make life miserable for Democratic defenders of the health care overhaul law.

He will drag Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Medicare chief Donald Berwick to Capitol Hill for regular grilling….

And that’s just the beginning. Barton has a list of seven problems he intends to spotlight, including how he believes the Obama administration covered up cost estimates of the law before it was enacted, inappropriately silenced insurers from warning customers about what they believed would be rate increases and wrongly spent money on brochures touting improvements to the Medicare Advantage program even though funding is being reduced.

Key Republicans are threatening to withhold funding for overhaul initiatives and to relentlessly pursue hearings and oversight investigations to challenge administration officials’ regulations and communications with the public. Committee chairmen have subpoena power, although holding the gavel is usually enough to get officials into the witness chair.

“Oversight of the existing law will build a case for full repeal,” said Barton. “We have to aggressively work to repeal the entire bill. As part of the process, we’ll have very aggressive oversight.”

In several recent reports, the Government Accountability Organization (GAO) has cleared the administration of any wrongdoing in disseminating pamphlets about the new Medicare Advantage cuts, but the validity of the attacks are less of a concern than their practical effects on the agencies’ implementation efforts.

Whatever the success of Republicans in repealing or defunding the law, over the short term, the GOP could slow implementation to a trickle, forcing regulators to reconsider potentially controversial regulations and defend even the most benign of decisions. Republicans, who have already released numerous reports detailing reform’s “broken promises” and attributing almost every story about rising health care costs to the Affordable Care Act, will redouble their efforts as they gear up their campaign against the law. But if there is a silver lining in the coming fight it’s that the renewed focus on the ACA could give the administration another opportunity to sell reform just as some its most popular provisions go into effect.

Wonk Room


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