A Ringside Seat at “The Hearing”

Posted on October 30, 2013 by


After two hours at the House Subcommittee hearing October 30 on the Obamacare rollout, I asked myself why I had come.  After three and a half hours I knew.  There were three things to be learned.  One:  Politicians of all stripes certainly do like to hear themselves talk, and especially, today, Democrats who had little of substance at all.  Second:  Bureaucrats at the top levels of an administration are both adept and loyal political denizens and breathtakingly ignorant of what goes on beneath them. Third: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a disaster, but possibly, like many other Federal programs, an enduring disaster.  

On politicians, what can I say?  It has always been the case that political leaders love to talk and to hear themselves do so.  But in the past it seems (maybe we have to go back a century or two) that what they said did at least have substance.  Look at the records of the debates on the United States Constitution in the late 1780s.  Today was first-hand evidence that serious public discussion of important issues is all but dead.  To begin with each representative only had four minutes to speak (reduced to two minutes later).  Second, particularly among the Democrats, I heard little except criticism of the Republicans and praise of the ACA.  All of them told stories–our new favorite way to make an argument.  Joe in…, Jill in…, my constituent…,and on and on.  These are nothing but anecdotes and prove nothing.  As much as I would like to be able to give Republicans credit on their stories, I can’t because they are meaningless as isolated examples.  

Now there was some serious questioning at times,. but not enough and not enough, in my estimate, of substance.  Questions regarding the security issues were well-taken as were those about keeping one’s policy “if you like it.”  But by and large, I asked, “Where’s the beef?”

On Sebelius, to her credit didn’t self-destruct, but she was essentially a talking head, unresponsive to most serious questions, and even to non-serious ones.  She lacked knowledge of what her agency was doing, she evaded some questions, and she refused to provide even estimated data in answer to questions about the number of enrollees in ACA thus far (for very dubious reasons).  My conclusion–no surprise–is that she is highly loyal to President Obama, she is a fellow-traveler ideologically and that she doesn’t know anything much about health care markets, or for that matter, any markets.  On the latter, she actually said that so-called markets existing before the ACA was enacted were not markets at all (amazing!!). It didn’t help when she spoke glowingly of her “35 years of public service.” No self-promotion there.

Finally, the ACA is really bad.  But of course that is what one might have expected from a bill running to 2, 400 pages and which almost no one read, accompanied by (sic) 11.6 million words worth of regulations (and counting).  I bet almost no one has ever read those either.  But come January, legions of bureaucrats, each knowledgeable of only a tiny part of the law and the regulations, will be scrutinizing the behavior of consumers, doctors, hospitals, religious institutions, insurance companies, manufacturers, and others to discover whether we have all been good children of the state.  That last sentence came across as pretty cynical–intentionally.  It will get worse in terms of quantity, quality and choice if it continues.  Will it continue?  Well that’s the question.

Three and a half hours after 9 AM I left with glazed eyes and a numbed mind, wiser but sadder.  Ah that’s politics!! Don’t we love it.