Posted on | April 11, 2014 | 64 Comments
Thursday’s resignation of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is the biggest move yet in President Obama’s effort to rescue his signature government health-insurance plan, and to limit the political impact of the program’s failure.
The administration and its allies are trying to convince Americans that problems with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are just temporary technical glitches with a website — the “botched rollout” narrative — rather than fundamental flaws with the law itself.
Sebelius’s resignation fits that narrative, permitting Democrats and their media sympathizers to claim that problems with ObamaCare were caused by the former HHS secretary’s incompetence, and not by any basic problem in the president’s program. This is likely to become a key issue in the campaign for the fall mid-term elections, in which Republicans seeking to capture the Senate majority will argue that ObamaCare is a complete failure that should be repealed, while Democrats will say the policy is successful, but simply had a few early glitches that have now been fixed. Liberal blogger Ezra Klein offers the Democrat spin:
Obamacare has won. And that’s why Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius can resign.
Calls for Sebelius’s resignation were almost constant after Obamacare’s catastrophic launch. The problem wasn’t just that Sebelius had presided over the construction of a fantastically expensive web site that flatly didn’t work. It was that she didn’t know healthcare.gov was going to instantly, systemically fail. And so the White House didn’t know that healthcare.gov was going to instantly, systemically fail. The demands that Sebelius to step down — or be fired — were as deafening inside the building as outside of it.
But President Obama refused. As National Journal’s Major Garrett reported, Obama believes that “scaring people with a ceremonial firing deepens fear, turns allies against one another, makes them risk-averse, and saps productivity.” Moreover, there was too much to be done to fire one of the few people who knew how to finish the job. Sebelius would stay. The White House wouldn’t panic in ways that made it harder to save the law.
The evidence has piled up in recent weeks that the strategy worked. Obamacare’s first year, despite a truly horrific start, was a success. More than 7 million people look to have signed up for health insurance through the exchanges. Millions more have signed up through Medicaid. And millions beyond that have signed up for insurance through their employers.
In Klein’s pro-Obama narrative, then, not only is ObamaCare a successful policy, but the president’s handling of problems with the website’s launch demonstrated his competence as an executive.
Kathleen Sebelius is resigning, and Rachel Maddow is right to not be happy about it, not one little bit. For once, I completely agree with Maddow’s analysis. This surprise resignation presents Republicans with an unexpected opportunity to refocus the conversation on Obamacare’s negatives, offers a chance to force vulnerable Senate Democrats to take a hard vote on Obamacare six months before the midterms, and serves to disrupt what had been a positive few days of media spin for the health care law into another conversation about its many failings.
Domenech sees the upcoming confirmation vote for Sebelius’s appointed successor at HHS — Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell — as a “golden opportunity” for Senate Republicans “to reignite their crusade against Obamacare,” forcing Democrats to give an up-or-down vote on a nominee who will serve as a “proxy” symbol for the program’s failures.
Domenech should caution his GOP friends on Capitol Hill to tread carefully, as Democrats and their media allies may be luring Republicans into a “War on Women” trap, setting up a situation in which a bunch of old white guys are seen attacking a female nominee.
This trap could best be avoided simply by calling attention to how the administration is deliberately setting up Burwell.
Having made one woman (Sebelius) a scapegoat for ObamaCare’s failures to date, now the White House disingenuously shoves another top female administration official into the political meat-grinder, hoping to obtain a short-term political benefit from Burwell’s public humiliation in Senate hearings. Considering how Hillary Clinton was scapegoated for the Benghazi massacre, Republicans might well ask, “Why does Obama always blame women for his failures?”