- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Republican-controlled House this week is set to follow up passage of an Obamacare privacy bill with a transparency measure that could attract dozens of Democratic votes — a sign the GOP is shifting from efforts to repeal the health care law to a more nuanced approach in a midterm election year.

Republican leadership wants the federal government to issue weekly reports on enrollment through the law’s state-based insurance markets. Right now, the Obama administration is putting out data once a month.

The legislation arrives on the heels of a House measure that would require the government to notify consumers within two days if their personal data is breached on the web-based health exchanges. The chamber passed that bill Friday, 291 to 122, with the help of 67 Democrats.

The GOP hopes to win back the Senate and retain its House majority in November by maintaining a focus on Obamacare’s failings. The Affordable Care Act got a rocky rollout in the fall, and the Obama administration has had to beat back criticism over the law’s coverage requirements and mandates.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said the law remains the “golden goose” for a Republican Party hoping to hold sway with voters in November.

“That is their job — to keep the spotlight on it and offer solutions, where plausible,” he said.

House Republicans still detest the law, but they’ve shifted their strategy away from votes to repeal all or part of the reforms now that millions of Americans are gaining private coverage of Medicaid through the law.

Instead, their opening swipes at Obamacare in 2014 highlight the law’s potential flaws, such as security risks on its web-based systems or enrollment that tilts toward older and sicker consumers and could drive up costs.

The strategy is aimed at undercutting Democratic talking points that paint the GOP as a one-trick party obsessed with repealing Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

On Friday, Republicans pitched their notification bill as a good-government, common-sense measure after the high-profile theft of millions of credit cards numbers used at Target stores.

“All it says is the administration has to let victims of identity theft or information theft to be notified. That’s it,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said on the chamber floor.

The Democrat-run Senate is unlikely to take up the bill after it ignored dozens of other GOP-led attempts to alter the Affordable Care Act, even if the office of the House majority whip said the bill attracted the highest Democratic vote tally so far on any Obamacare-related bill sponsored by Republicans.

Republican lawmakers urged Senate Democrats to give the bill a chance.

“I’m pleased it had such strong bipartisan support in the House and urge the Senate majority leader to allow a vote in the Senate,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, Nebraska Republican.

Republican leaders say the administration cannot be trusted to secure Obamacare’s web system after the disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov, the federal portal set up to connect residents of 36 states with health coverage. On Friday, the administration acknowledged that it planned to drop the lead contractor on the website, CGI Federal, when its contract runs out in February. A major technology consulting firm, Accenture, will replace it.

The somewhat bipartisan House vote is noteworthy, because the White House opposed the notification law and the weekly reporting bill that will follow. The administration, however, did not issue an explicit veto threat to either bill.

The White House said federal standards already require it to notify people as quickly as possible if their personally-identifiable information has been compromised, according to the administration’s Office of Management and Budget.

Some Democrats said it would be difficult for the Department of Health and Human Services to notify consumers of breaches on the 15 health exchanges run by the states without the federal government’s help.

Plus, they said, no one has been able to hack HealthCare.gov, so Republicans appear to be using the bill to scare people away from Mr. Obama’s law.

“They’re addressing a reality that’s not there,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, New Jersey Democrat.

Democrats said the GOP majority needs to focus on pressing issues of the day, rather than shut things down.

“Heck, they’re even shutting down bridges in New Jersey,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, New York Democrat, a dig at last week’s bombshell news that staff members for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, closed lanes to the George Washington Bridge in an act of political retaliation.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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