It's the equivalent of finals week in Congress, when lawmakers are scrambling to pass legislation to keep the government and the military funded and more. But you can expect many on the hill to pause for a little while to watch former Obamacare adviser Jonathan Gruber's guest appearance on Tuesday. But watching the embattled economist is far different thing than, say, sitting next to him, which appears to be the way that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sees it.
Gruber--now infamous for his 2013 videotaped comments stating that Obamacare had passed, in part, because of the "studipity of the American voter"--will testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner was supposed to be sitting next to him to testify on the same panel, but on Thursday Jim R. Esquea, the Assistant Secretary for Legislation at CMS, sent a letter to the committee's chairman, Darrell Issa, R-Calif., requesting that Tavenner be "provided the opportunity to testify on a panel composed solely of government witnesses."
Esquea went on to point out that Tavenner, in the past, "has always been afforded the opportunity to testify either on a panel either by herself or with other government witnesses." Keeping government witnesses separate from non-government witnesses "demonstrates respect for a co-equal branch of government and avoids appearance problems," wrote Esquea.
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When Tavenner last appeared before the Oversight Committee in mid-September, she did indeed testify on a panel by herself, but it's not unprecedented for this Committee to put non-government witnesses alongside government witnesses - even at high-profile, sometimes controversial hearings.
In late September during a frenzy of criticism after a fence jumper breached the door of the White House, U.S. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson appeared before the Committee alongside two non-governmental witnesses, Command Consulting Group's Ralph Basham and TorchStone Page's Senior Advisor Todd Keil. Both have previously held government jobs, but were at the time working in the private sector. And in October, the Committee hosted a hearing on the Ebola Crisis with four government witnesses and two non-government witnesses.
Tavenner, though, has been given the benefit of solo testimony both before the Oversight Committee, and in 2013 before the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees. But even at Energy and Commerce, government witnesses appear on panels with non-government witnesses. Next week the U.S. Energy Information Administration Administrator Adam Sieminski will appear on a panel with three non-government witnesses.
The Oversight Committee has not yet decided how to handle the CMS request. Spokeswoman Becca Watkins tells CBS News, "The request is currently before Chairman Issa but at past hearings, government officials have testified alongside other non-administration witnesses."
Everyone from the President to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi has been quick to deny any close association with Gruber, and whether she's seated next to him or not, it's likely that Tavenner will try do to the same when she testifies Tuesday.