House Republicans hope to dig themselves out of a politically damaging government shutdown with a renewed focus on governing and aggressive oversight of Obamacare's troubled rollout.
Convening on Capitol Hill Wednesday for the first time since the 16-day shutdown concluded, House Republicans seemed almost excited to spend their short work week debating a boring, low-profile water bill that was expected to clear the chamber Wednesday evening. But a return to normal legislative business also affords House Republicans an opportunity to shine a critical spotlight on Obamacare, and they plan to use key GOP-led House committees to launch a coordinated investigation into Obamacare's myriad problems.
“The biggest part of Congress' job is to provide proper oversight of the executive branch of government,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters. “It's our job to hold them accountable, and when it comes to Obamacare, clearly there's an awful lot that needs to be held accountable.”
Helping to run the House Republicans’ coordinated, multi-committee investigation into Obamacare is Rob Borden, who serves as director of oversight in the leadership office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. Borden and aides for Boehner and Cantor meet regularly with senior staff from the committees that will be probing the Affordable Care Act to plot oversight strategy and ensure that each panel cooperates, rather than competes, to uncover facts and maintain political pressure on the Obama administration.
The House committees likely to join the investigation of the Obamacare rollout includes Energy and Commerce, whose first hearing examining problems with Healthcare.gov is scheduled for Thursday. The House Ways and Means; Education and The Workforce; Oversight and Government Reform, and on occasion, Small Business committees also will participate.
With the distracting government shutdown behind them, Republican leaders are vowing an intense, non-stop dissection of Obamacare, beginning with, but not limited to, the law’s malfunctioning website.
“We’re approaching this investigation in a thoughtful and deliberate way,” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.
House Republicans met privately Wednesday morning at the Capitol Hill Club, a venue typically used to discuss political matters and campaigns. This marked the first time Washington’s only GOP majority convened as a group to discuss their political standing since the government reopened last Thursday. The meeting’s agenda was dominated by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, with an emphasis on fall fundraising and political situation in competitive districts.
Public opinion polls cone after the showdown over the government shutdown and debt ceiling ended reveal deep public dissatisfaction with House Republicans and the Republican Party generally. That has given House Democrats new life in the battle for control of Congress in 2014. But Republicans at Wednesday’s meeting said members were relatively upbeat and eager to get back to work.
House GOP leaders urged members to dust themselves off from the shutdown defeat and get back to business — and to continue highlighting Obamacare’s current and looming failures. The leadership also directed rank-and-file members to redouble their fundraising efforts, which were curtailed during the shutdown, allowing Democrats to gain an advantage.
“Boehner was pretty passionate about both hitting the messaging hard on Obamacare and members” fundraising, a Republican who attended the meeting told the Washington Examiner. “There was a renewed focus on the Obamacare rollout and how this is much more than simply a website.”
House GOP leaders are looking to revive their majority’s political strength by focusing on the nuts and bolts of legislating, a policy agenda centered on jobs and economic growth — and concerted oversight of Obamacare, a law still unpopular with many Americans. Meanwhile, there is guarded optimism that a bipartisan, House-Senate conference committee negotiating a long-term spending bill might achieve some conservative reforms and possibly avoid another politically apocalyptic standoff.
The funding bill that Obama signed to end the government shutdown runs through Jan. 15. The conference committee, which was created as part of the deal that reopened the government and raised the debt ceiling, is supposed to reach a budget agreement by mid-December.
House Republicans are setting low expectations for what they might achieve through the budget negotiations. And while the House GOP is preparing for the possibility of hyper-partisan talks collapsing over familiar disagreements, they’re quietly signaling that they intend to avoid another government shutdown. With the shutdown over and Obamacare’s glitches receiving the lion’s share of the media’s attention, House Republicans are confident in their ability to rebound.
“I don’t think that’ll be the game plan going forward,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said of the prospects for a January shutdown. “Our problem is over. The president’s are just beginning.”