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Darrell Issa's political theater

Two House panels assembled by the Republican congressman to discuss contraception coverage manage mostly to display his one-sided approach to the issue.

February 19, 2012
  • Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., gestures while testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing: "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State." From left are, Lori, Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and C. Ben Mitchell, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy Union University.
Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn.,… (Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo )

When Rep. Darrell Issa, the California Republican who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, convened a hearing Thursday on religious freedom and the mandate that health insurers cover contraception, he ignited a firestorm of protest before he even started.

The first of two panels he assembled was all male — something that a Democratic congresswoman on the committee noted immediately and not favorably, given thatwomen's healthwas at the heart of what was being discussed. A photo of the panel of clergymen at a table before the committee went viral on Facebook.

The Democrats who made political hay of Issa's choice of witnesses were right; surely it says something troubling that the committee didn't bother to find a single woman to testify on its first panel. (There were two on the second.) But it is at least as troubling that there was no one at all — male or female, on either panel — called to testify in support of the Obama administration's proposed mandate.

Of course Issa opposes the mandate; he's a Republican, and he's entitled to his position. As committee chairman, he has some leeway about what issues he wants to pursue and whom he wants to hear from. But the House oversight committee is not his personal plaything, and its hearings are funded by taxpayer dollars. Shouldn't he make at least a token effort to show that he's not using the committee for purely partisan purposes? Shouldn't he at least pretend that he's trying to grapple with a public policy conundrum — a conflict between religious liberty and healthcare policy — rather than merely taking pot shots at Democrats? Shouldn't any member of Congress be interested in hearing all sides of an issue?

The title of the hearing alone was a giveaway: "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" Such one-sidedness is apparently standard practice; last month, a hearing was called "Uncharted Territory: What Are the Consequences of Obama's Unprecedented Recess Appointments?" Before that, there was: "How Obama's Green Energy Agenda Is Killing Jobs."

We get it — politicians are going to be political. And the oversight committee has always been especially politicized. When Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) chaired it, it specialized in second-guessing the George W. Bush administration. Republican Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana used the chairmanship to go after the Clinton administration.

But no matter who chairs the committee, it is an inexpedient use of on-the-clock congressional time and taxpayer dollars to hold hearings that serve only to further the political agenda of the party in power. Issa should get down to governing and save the grandstanding for his campaign.

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