The Obamacare hearings are getting ugly

November 11, 2013

What began as a congressional request for a bureaucrat's testimony has, over the course of a few days, escalated into an all-out Obamacare war.

This is the story of the House Oversight Committee's request to have White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park appear at a Wednesday hearing about the rollout of HealthCare.gov. The hearing, announced last Thursday, listed Park among the five witnesses - all members of the Obama administration - called to testify.

The White House had attempted to decline the invitation the day before, in a letter to Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) An official from the Office of Science and Technology Policy noted  that the country's top technology official had a pretty full plate trying to fix the still-beleaguered HealthCare.gov and that he would be more than happy to appear before the committee in early December. That's shortly after the Web site is supposed to be running smoothly for most shoppers.

"Because Mr. Park is currently occupied full time on the critically important work of improving the website for the millions of Americans seeking affordable health insurance options, his testimony needs to be scheduled at a time that is less disruptive to his work," Donna Pignatelli, assistant director for legislative affairs at OSTP, wrote.

Issa responded the next day, noting that he was "disappointed" to receive the aforementioned letter and, as a means of expressing his disappointment, he issued a subpoena for Park's appearance.

"Given your unique unwillingness to appear voluntarily next week, I am left with no choice but to compel your appearance," Issa wrote in his response.

The next counter-punch came three technology experts with ties to the White House who launched the Web site Let Todd Work. It is dedicated, as the name implies, to letting Todd Park work on the Web site rather than testify at the Wednesday hearing. And it is seeking support via Facebook and Twitter.

let todd work

And, just moments ago, Democrats on the Oversight Committee issued a more-standard response than standing up a Web site. Ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) has sent a letter to Issa asking that he withdraw the subpoena.

"Rather than denigrate Mr. Park's reputation and impede his time-sensitive work, we request that the Committee accept his reasonable offer to testify before the Committee in December," Cummings writes.

House Republicans, Cummings argues, ultimately mean to undermine HealthCare.gov rather than help the site. "It appears that your subpoena to Mr. Park was part of a predetermined political strategy rather than a constructive effort to conduct responsible oversight," he writes.

The heated battle so far seems to suggest that Issa won't jump in to fulfill this request.

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Ezra Klein · November 11, 2013