The House oversight Committee held its last hearing with Darrell Issa as chairman today. Next year they will convene with ultra-rightist Jason Chaffetz taking over.The Issa Era has been fraught with partisanship, deceit, arrogance, and bullying. There were incidents where Issa badgered witnesses, insulted colleagues, leaked damaging testimony, and even refused to allow anyone but himself to speak at hearing that he abruptly gaveled to a close after he said his piece.
The final Issa melodrama featured an appearance by Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist who so unartfully described the American people as stupid. The hearing had no discernible purpose other than to rake Gruber over the coals for a couple of hours. His contribution to the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) was strictly limited to the formation of economic modeling as a tool for members of Congress to draft their legislation. And he was effusively remorseful for his “glib, thoughtless, and sometimes downright insulting comments,” as one might expect. You can read his opening statement here (pdf).
That, however, didn’t stop Issa from laying into Gruber from the get-go. Issa began his questioning with a wholly insincere attempt to set aside his well-known vicious streak. He failed before he even came to the end of his first sentence.
Issa: Mr. Gruber, I’ve been accused that I’m going to berate you or something and I hope that you won’t feel that way when I get done. But the night before last I was at the Kennedy Center Honors where they honored Tom Hanks, famously ‘Forrest Gump,’ the ultimate in successful stupid man. Are you stupid?
Gee…I wonder where Issa might have gotten the impression that people thought he would berate Gruber? This may be the single stupidest question Issa has ever asked anyone. What did he expect Gruber to say? And how did he think this line of questioning would benefit whatever investigation he was pretending to conduct? As usual, Issa’s motives were purely hostile and aimed at creating political theater. But he failed utterly to produce anything of value from his boorish inquiry. In fact, no one on the Republican side achieved anything useful either politically or, more importantly, for advancing the interests of Americans seeking better options for maintaining their health and that of their families.
In another exchange, Issa sought to establish that insurance premiums were generally higher under ObamaCare, but Gruber maintained that on average premiums were reduced. So Issa countered saying that “I’m a taxpayer. Trust me. People are not paying less. People like me are paying more.” It should be noted that Issa is the wealthiest member of congress and, therefore, there aren’t many other people like him. Consequently, he inadvertently made Gruber’s point that most people are paying less.
Even Fox’s Eric Bolling was disappointed with the Gruber hearing, but for a particularly dickish reason. He said that Republicans should not have called him to testify “because he was such a villain before.” In other words, Bolling is upset that Gruber was given an opportunity to explain himself, apologize, and be seen as a real human being, flaws and all, rather than a mustache-twirling cartoon villain. Yet this was the inevitable result that anyone but Issa could have foreseen.
Much of the reporting from Fox News on this hearing repeated the same false allegations they have been spewing for weeks. The Gruber episode has reached a near Benghazi-level of saturation on the network. An analysis last month by PolitiFact revealed that in about a week Fox News had mentioned it 779 times. That comes to a reference once every fifteen minutes, 24 hours a day, for eight straight days. That’s a pretty hefty dose of obsession.
This issue is so important to Fox that they spent much of the day complaining that a Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture was released today in order to knock Gruber out of the headlines. That isn’t a joke. Wingnuts on Fox like Andrea Tantaros and Jesse Watters were joined by Rush Limbaugh in promoting that conspiracy theory. They actually regard Gruber’s gaffes as being more important than violations of international and domestic law, as well as all civilized standards of humane behavior.
This conspiracy, however, was shot to hell since Fox News itself was leading every hour with segments on the torture report. So if there was a clandestine plot to suppress news about Gruber’s testimony, then Fox was in on it. And for those pundits who still think the scheme is real, they need to ask themselves why it is so critical that the media cover Gruber’s answer to the question, “Are you stupid?” It would be far more enlightening to ask that question of Issa and the fruitcakes at Fox who seem to be caught up in a world of their own nightmares.