In a sense, it was Michigan Week on Capitol Hill as two state lawmakers led watchdog committees hearings on health care “glitches,” another was key on current major national security issues, and three sought a solution on food stamps.
— Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, presided over a hearing last week where Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, faced tough grilling from a committee that including Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, ranking Democrat member of the committee.
Camp said that while website problems she was asked about “can eventually be fixed, the widespread problems with Obamacare cannot.”
— Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, presided over an even more contentious grilling of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, former governor of Kansas. She said in candor: “Hold me accountable for the debacle” of website problems. “I’m responsible.”
The former longtime chairman for the committee is Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, now the ranking member. He joined in questioning of Sebelius, as did Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton.
Rogers complained to her that the website had a “completely…unacceptable level of security” about citizen information.
(Sebelius, daughter of 1971-75 Ohio Gov. John J. Gilligan, has a Michigan connection. She spent time in the summers with her family in Leland.)
— Rogers, a high profile but dropout prospect as a 2014 GOP contender for the Senate seat being abandoned by Levin, is a major figure on Capitol Hill and in the national media as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
— Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Reps. Levin and Camp are members of a conference committee designated to sort out differences on a bill costing nearly 1.8 million Michiganians reductions in food stamps.
Stabenow is an advocate of something known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program –which she says “provides a lifeline when they face family economic disasters.” Republicans seek incentives for work for food.
However it is resolved, Michigan lawmakers are likely to be instrumental in the result.
Michigan strikes back
There was a welcome bipartisan backlash to last week’s assertion by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that maintenance of the Upper Peninsula’s Isle Royal National Park and the Keweenaw National Historic Park are among the “more egregious, wasteful or otherwise questionable” uses of government resources across the nation.
He notes that Isle Royale, accessible in Lake Superior only by ferry or seaplane, with only 16,746 visitors was the least visited park in the lower 48 states in 2012. While lacking popularity of Michigan’s of other national parks, most notably the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Leelanau and Benzie counties, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin said of Colburn’s comments on the two U.P. parks:
“Preserving natural treasures, including our wilderness areas and our important cultural legacies, isn’t a mistake. It’s right at the heart of our national park system’s mission and of who we are as a people.”
First District U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, stressed through a spokesman the importance that national parks have to economy of the region.
State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, who represents Michigan’s six westernmost counties and has both parks in his district, invited Coburn to tour them. He said: “On behalf of Mother Nature, I would like to apologize to Sen. Colburn. It is clear that growing up in a place like Oklahoma has robbed the senator of any ability to imagine the natural rugged beauty of Isle Royale and the Keweenaw.” “Had he been exposed to natural beauty at a younger age, maybe he would understand its importance.”
As for Dianda’s pointed invitation, it is unlikely that Coburn will soon be a U. P. visitor.
Meanwhile, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters is seizing on the Coburn controversy to make a fund-raising pitch. It is asking like-minded folks to “Chip in $10 right now to support good candidates from Michigan who will keep people like Senator Coburn in check.”
George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist of The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.