THE BLOG
11/08/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

August Was a Sideshow, September Is for Progress

The August recess -- which was supposed to be all health care, all the time -- ended up being about anything and everything but health care. For a few tense days outside President Obama's town halls, it became about gun rights. Then abortion. For weeks, the focus was grandma and euthanasia. And now, Republicans are intent on making it about me.

The New York Post, with an assist from its ally Fox News Channel, reported last week that I had quietly snuck into the health care bill new provisions cracking down on taxpayers who make honest mistakes on their tax returns. That's quite an inflammatory scoop, even for the Post. It's also entirely made up.

The relevant provisions apply to wealthy individuals and corporations that engage in abusive tax shelter transactions, and they have nothing to do with taxpayers who err in good faith on their tax returns. They certainly aren't new. These provisions have passed both the House and Senate in the past, enjoyed bipartisan support, and were included in the president's budget. And they certainly weren't snuck in. These provisions were considered by the full Committee on Ways and Means during a public markup, and materials describing them have been public for months. Under this bill, the IRS will continue to waive penalties for taxpayers who err in good faith, and claims to the contrary are part of a continuing effort to undermine the health care bill by raising unrelated issues.

Our objective here is quite simple. We are attempting to provide health care for the millions of American families that cannot afford it, to end the discriminatory practice of denying coverage based on preexisting conditions, and to effectively lower costs by introducing competition and choice through a public option. This is not an attempt to fund abortions with taxpayer dollars or a secret attempt to hoist end-of-life decisions on America's elderly. This bill isn't a tax-penalty bill dressed up to look like a health insurance reform bill. It actually is a health insurance reform bill. That's it. The GOP would disingenuously have you think otherwise.

Republicans have decided the business of killing health care reform and upending a potential Obama victory is too important not to exploit anything that sticks, including an Ethics Committee investigation I myself initiated last fall. A spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner echoed the Post's faulty reporting about tax penalties, knowing full well no such language exists in the bill. The partisan attacks have had no impact on my effectiveness as Chairman. I am proud that the Committee on Ways and Means was the first committee in Congress to report out a truly comprehensive health reform bill, one with a strong public option that most represents the principles set out by President Obama. We did this by bringing the members of the Committee together for over 80 hours of spirited and detailed debate over the direction of reform.

The spectacles we've watched over the month of August have diverted attention away from our work and onto various distractions. Opponents cannot sideline health care reform on the merits, particularly when they lack a plan of their own, so they have resorted to unrelated wedge issues that serve to fire up the base but do little to advance actual reform. Folks responded by showing up to town halls with loaded firearms, burning public officials in effigy, making Nazi comparisons, and shouting down those with opposing viewpoints. But they forgot to bring something far more helpful: Facts. Solutions. Truth.

We have had our fill of sideshows in August. In September, we get back to the real work of providing health care reform to Americans who need it.