Monday, December 10, 2012

Autism Congressional Hearing Transcript: Opening Statement (1)

I'm slowly making my way through watching the video of the Nov. 29 congressional hearing, transcribing as I go.

(I'm not just doing it to have a complete, public, textual record; I also find having something I can read helps my own understanding, too.)

I'm going to post a bunch of separate, shorter transcripts here, one for each separate speaker.

Here's Rep. Darrell Issa*, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, calling the meeting to order and making his opening statement**:

(gavel pounding)

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will come to order. This hearing on “1 in 88 Children: A Federal Response to Rising Rates [of autism]” will come to order.

The Oversight Committee exists to secure two fundamental principles: First, Americans have a right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent, and second, Americans deserve an efficient, effective government that works for them. Our duty on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is to protect these rights. Our solemn obligation is to hold government accountable to taxpayers, because taxpayers have a right to know what they get from their government. We will work tirelessly in partnership with citizen watchdogs to deliver the facts to the American people and bring genuine reform to the federal bureaucracy. This is our mission, and I might say today, in many cases we are dealing with people who, because of this affliction, may never pay taxes, but in fact their families and others pay for their entire life. 

Congress spends a lot of time discussing and debating issues, and in determining by our philosophical beliefs what the role of government should be. As we have seen in these debates surrounding TARP, stimulus, healthcare reform, these kinds of issues oft come down to where you fall on an ideological spectrum.

Today is no such thing. We’re having a hearing focused on something that spans from the ideological left to the ideological right. We’re drawing attention to something that has no political affiliation, no partisan allegiance, and sometimes --- and we believe, today --- not nearly enough focus on something that does not shorten life but dramatically --- or even slightly, but usually more than slightly --- reduces the quality of life, both for the individual and for their families.

I’m a father. As far as I know, I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m not the 1 in 88. But right now, if the numbers are accurate, and if they continue to grow from the now 1 in 88 who are in some way ASD-affected, we in fact have an epidemic. It could be that some of the 1 in 150 at the start of this century was too low, that in fact people were simply not diagnosed. But few people believe that, in fact, there aren’t factors in our society and our behavior, in the air we breathe, the water we consume, or others, that are affecting how many people will be afflicted. 

We’re going to hear from a distinguished panel first, of people who do this for a living, try to get to the causes, prevention --- I won’t say “cure” today --- but at least the treatment, the understanding, and perhaps, in some cases, truly something that would mitigate their suffering. I know they’re frustrated. Congress, although we put nearly a quarter of a billion dollars a year directly into research, has not put the kind of dollars, perhaps, that could bring specific outcomes sooner.

On our second panel, a number of individuals who will say that in fact, one of the problems is we’re looking on one side of the equation and not nearly enough on what to do for the victims of various forms of autism.

The fact is, they’re all right. There is not enough money being placed into the various possible causes of autism. There is not enough study. Our government does not collect statistics as well as perhaps someday soon we will, so that in fact we can find out what the true number is, cross-check every aspect of how that number, which is a human being, came to be afflicted. 

The truth is we have a lot to do. I will not claim that I have come here timely. This is the last two days of my first two years as chairman, and this is our first hearing. But what I will promise you here today is that we will stay involved in this issue. We will stay involved through staff and through, if appropriate, additional hearings. I also would say to our first distinguished panel that one of the most important priorities I place today is in fact that we work with you and help you in this process, that we be a conduit to the rest of Congress on this important issue. In a few moments I’ll be swearing in --- I’m sorry, I’ll be recognizing, by unanimous consent, a number of members who would not ordinarily be here at a hearing, because they are involved in this issue but serve on other committees. 

Additionally, I want to apologize to all of those people who, rightfully so, would be well (?) to be heard here today. I could’ve had a second panel of at least twenty witnesses from organizations and affected individuals. We had the difficult job of selecting just six, and as the ranking member will undoubtedly agree, six is already a fairly large single panel. 

That’s one of the reasons I pledge to you today that any organization or individual that in the next seven days provides to us, as required by our rules, in electronic format --- or, if you give it to us in paper we will try to scan it --- we will include your statements and your information in the record. 

We’ll hold the record open so that the many who could not be heard live in testimony will in fact be at least in the record. I want to particularly recognize Brian Hooker [link] with Focus Autism [link] in the American Academy of Children --- well, actually it’s a long, long title --- sorry --- who in fact has been one of the people who has championed for today’s hearing, and a number of others. They’ve been essential in my getting a better understanding. 

I’d also like to thank --- and we will be recognizing two witnesses, er, two members, on each side: the former Chairman of the [mumble] Committee[***], Dan Burton, who years ago began a process of focusing on some aspects of this terrible disease. We in fact don’t know enough; our goal is to know more, and today is but a down payment on that. With that, I’d like to thank the ranking member for his assistance in putting together today’s hearing and recognize him for his opening statement.
(end transcript)

I won't be offering a whole lot of commentary right now, but I would like to make note of the two people to be name-checked in this short speech: Rep. Burton, whose testimony I will put up shortly and which really speaks for itself, and this Brian Hooker, who is affiliated with some group I'd never heard of called Focus Autism. It turns out to be a crank group dedicated to the notion that vaccines are "an important contributing factor" to autism in children.

So that's not good. We're just in the opening statement, and already the vaccine hypothesis --- which ought to have no place at all in a discussion of how best to spend federal money on autism research, therapies and services --- has been moved front and center.

*I'd post the video, too, but I cannot find a separate clip of just this speech. I can find one for the second opening statement, by Rep. Elijah Cummings, but I can't find one for Rep. Issa's statement. If you can, and you give me a link in comments, I will gladly embed it.

**I'm not going to blockquote my transcripts because I find that, in this blog template at least, blockquoting makes things a lot less readable! These transcripts are going to be kinda long, so I really don't want to sacrifice readability. I will set them apart some other way, like drawing lines above and below the transcribed speech.

***I didn't completely catch this, but looking at Rep. Burton's webpage, he has chaired both the Oversight Committee and another committee, a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rep. Issa is probably referring to his past chairmanship of the Oversight Committee. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You make a lot of good points here!

Also, I agree, it's easiier to have a transcription to read and quote. Have you seen yet?