The Strangest Things Said at the Health Care Hearing

A guide to mixed metaphors and childhood stories from committee members questioning Kathleen Sebelius.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
Oct. 30, 2013, 6:51 a.m.

Chick­en Little is liv­ing in Oz, rid­ing tri­cycles, and drink­ing out of red Solo cups. At least that’s what you might think listen­ing to the ques­tions at Wed­nes­day’s con­gres­sion­al hear­ing on the health care law and web­site with the sec­ret­ary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices.

Un­der­stand­ing the health care law is tough. So, what’s one way of try­ing to com­pre­hend the le­gis­la­tion if you’re a mem­ber of Con­gress? Draw a meta­phor from your child­hood.

But some­times these meta­phors can get mixed and con­fus­ing. And that’s ex­actly what was on dis­play while mem­bers ques­tioned Kath­leen Se­beli­us on Wed­nes­day about the fail­ures of Health Care.gov.

Us­ing Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing, here is a guide for us­ing child­hood memor­ies to grill an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial:

If a situ­ation seems odd, why not men­tion a movie that many people would know? Rep. Joe Bar­ton, R-Texas:

There is a fam­ous movie called the Wiz­ard of Oz and there is a great line. Dorothy at some point in the movie turns to her little dog Toto and says, ‘We’re not in Kan­sas any­more.’ While you’re from Kan­sas, we’re not in Kan­sas any­more. Some might say we are ac­tu­ally in the Wiz­ard of Oz land giv­en the par­al­lel uni­verses we ap­pear to be in.

Or, if you’re frus­trated at your col­leagues, flip that meta­phor on the oth­er side. Rep. Frank Pal­lone, D-N.J.:

I know we are not in Kan­sas, but I do be­lieve we are in Oz be­cause of what I see here. This Wiz­ard of Oz com­ment from my col­league from Texas is apro­pos giv­en what we hear on the oth­er side of the aisle. I don’t know how you keep your cool, Madam Sec­ret­ary with the con­tinu­ous ef­fort on the part of the GOP to sab­ot­age and scare people and bring up red her­rings and I think this pri­vacy is­sue is an­oth­er red her­ring.

And the movie meta­phor can even work for someone later on in the hear­ing. Rep. Bruce Bra­ley, D-Iowa:

One of the things that keeps com­ing up in this hear­ing be­cause you are from Kan­sas is ref­er­ences to The Wiz­ard of Oz. People went to see the wiz­ard be­cause of the won­der­ful things that he did. The Af­ford­able Care Act is do­ing a lot of great things in Iowa.

A mem­ber could also chose a story that every child was taught in school or by his or her par­ents — some sort of chil­dren’s story, for in­stance? Rep. Eli­ot En­gel, D-N.Y.:

My Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues’ ac­tions here re­mind me of a story I read when I was a little boy and that’s the story of Chick­en Little who ran around yelling, ‘The sky is fall­ing, the sky is fall­ing.’ But un­like Chick­en Little, my Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues are ac­tu­ally root­ing for the sky to fall.

But that might be too child­ish. The very people who are crit­ic­al for Obama­care to work are young­er adults, many of whom party on the week­ends. Ref­er­ence an item they like to use. Rep. Mar­sha Black­burn, R-Tenn.:

I will re­mind you, some people like to drive a Ford and not a Fer­rari and some people like a red Solo cup and not a crys­tal stem. You are tak­ing away their choice. 

Or, of course, you might just have a memory you thought was worth shar­ing. Say, you grew up in Kan­sas and the wit­ness looked fa­mil­i­ar. Rep. Ral­ph Hall, R-Texas:

I was in third grade there and I thought I saw on you a tri­cycle there one day.

There are count­less oth­er ex­amples. They are just a few ways that al­low mem­bers to un­der­stand laws bet­ter.

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