- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 26, 2011

House Republicans drove home the new political reality on Capitol Hill on Wednesday by convening a series of hearings aimed at scrutinizing President Obama’s first two years in office and sending a message against what they see as his expansive government agenda.

With two hearings examining the implementation of the health care law and another dissecting the administrations handling of the Gulf oil spill — some of the first oversight hearings under the new House majority — the Republicans signaled that they would make up for lost time by shining a light on issues that they say Democrats have tried to sweep under the rug in recent years.

“The hearing today is just our first of many with regard to the health care law,” said Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican, who now heads the House Ways and Means Committee. “It is my intention to give the American people and employers, big and small, the opportunity they never had when this law was being written — to testify in an open hearing about the impact the law will have on them.”

During the hearing, Richard S. Foster, the chief actuary at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said the health care law is unlikely to fulfill two of the president’s promises: to hold down costs and let everyone who likes their current insurance coverage to keep it.

Asked whether it was true or false that costs would be contained, Mr. Foster said, “I would say false, more so than true.” Asked whether it was true or false that people would be able to keep their coverage if they like it, he said, “not true in all cases.”

The hearings were held less than 24 hours after Mr. Obama announced in his State of the Union address that he’ll work with Republicans to undo a provision in the health care law that puts a burdensome tax-filing requirement on businesses, but also insisted that “instead of refighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing, and let’s move forward.”

Democratic lawmakers delivered similar messages during the committee hearings, as they defended their legislative record.

“My concern about this hearing is that, indeed, we’ll be refighting the battles of the last two years,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat and ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Wednesday’s hearings are emblematic of the recent shake-up on Capitol Hill, where the new Republican majority in the House has made it clear that, compared with the last Congress, they’re much more interested in challenging and finding holes in Mr. Obama’s legislative agenda — especially when they feel it runs contrary to their push to reduce the national debt, cut federal regulations and improve the jobs picture.

Throughout the morning, members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Budget Committee said the administration has falsely claimed that the health care law could improve the job market, reduce the debt and allow people to keep their current insurance.

“Why is the Budget Committee’s first hearing focused on health care?” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. “Put simply, our fiscal problem is a health care problem. Health care spending is driving the explosive growth in our spending and debt. Today’s hearing is intended to peel back the layers of the law — and its maze of mandates, dictates, controls, tax hikes and subsidies.”

By midafternoon, the Natural Resources Committee was digging into the final report from the administration on the Gulf oil spill, which left 11 dead and spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“As this committee proceeds with its oversight duties, we must be mindful of how we respond, because that response could significantly impact American energy policy in the future,” said House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, Washington Republican. “The response to this event could be the difference between making offshore drilling the safest in the world, or locking up our resources, putting more Americans out of work, and further relying on foreign countries for our energy needs.”

The platform of the congressional hearing, complete with high-profile witnesses, testimony and video cameras, provided the new Republican majority with a forum for airing concerns that they feel were bottled up when Democrats ruled the chamber.

Former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who used to be the top Republican on the House’s oversight committee, said Republicans appear to be striking the right balance and that there are enough real targets to investigate.

“It looks like the Republicans are very cognizant they don’t want to go over the top on some of this stuff,” the Virginia Republican said. “That’s not where they want it to go. They think there’s probably enough there without having to do that.”

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