THCB

Should Sebelius Resign?

As Congress begins investigations into the Affordable Care Act rollout and the healthcare.gov flaws, Republicans are calling for resignations as far up as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The logic goes: if managerial issues were behind failures to test the website component of the federal health care exchange, we need new management.

That concern is a valid one. In the private sector and often times in the public sector, when misakes happen—particularly in an area critical to the executive’s interests—heads roll.

Yet, Kathleen Sebelius will stay, and Republicans have no one to blame but themselves.

Why is this? In an ironic twist of fate the Republican Party’s obsession with filibustering, delaying, or holding executive branch nominations will finally have negative consequences for the GOP instead of the president.

Over the past several years, Republicans in Congress had refused to confirm a director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because they did not like the law that authorized the agency. They refused to confirm nominees to the National Labor Relations Board because of opposition to unions. They put a hold on the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission for fear he may require more transparency in campaign activity. The examples go on.

Why, then, would President Obama remove Secretary Sebelius and nominate a replacement? The HHS Secretary oversees the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. And GOP opposition to CFPB or NLRB or FCC pales in comparison to the visceral and existential contempt the party feels toward Obamacare. Given such opposition, the president would be foolish to make such a change in HHS leadership.

The nomination of Richard Cordray to head the new CFPB is a perfect parallel. Republicans in Congress opposed this nomination—for years—not because Mr. Cordray was unqualified. In fact, some Senate Republicans praised his qualifications, but opposition to the structure of CFPB motivated a filibuster. Republicans didn’t oppose the nominee; they opposed the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation.

This month, Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act drove the party to shutdown the U.S. Government for over two weeks and brought Treasury to the brink of defaulting on the nation’s debt. Who in their right mind thinks the GOP won’t put a hold on or filibuster a—or ANY—prospective nominee to lead HHS?

A prospective HHS Secretary would face the same—or likely greater—opposition, regardless of his or her qualifications for the post. While Republicans spit venom at the consequences of the Dodd-Frank law, GOP opposition to Obamacare is more fundamental, leading some to call it a threat to freedom and American life.

As a result, one thing is clear: Kathleen Sebelius will be Mr. Obama’s last HHS Secretary to get Senate confirmation. That may be a problem, particularly if the managerial problems in federal exchange technology ultimately fall in her lap. However, any chance that the president will reasonably and effectively address managerial problems with a change in personnel is completely undermined by a broken confirmation system in the United States Senate.

As Republicans continue their investigations into the Obamacare rollout and strike harmony in the anthem of calls for resignations, they will find themselves victims of their own undoing. Each day that Secretary Sebelius reports for work, Republicans can rest assured of one fact: she remains at her job not because the 111th Congress confirmed her, but because the 113th Congress is too dysfunctional to confirm her successor.

John Hudak is a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and managing editor of the FixGov Blog, where this post originally appeared.

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Bobby GladdMartyAurthurCountry DoctorJohn Hudak Recent comment authors
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Marty
Guest
Marty

When Michael Brown failed during the Hurricane Katrina disaster, he resigned. Rightfully so. Although he was not responsible for the creation of Hurricane Katrina, he failed to orchestrate an acceptable response. Sebelius was charged with creating and implementing workable exchanges. The undertaking was botched, big time. It looks like no one was riding herd over the development, and no one was coordinating the process. This isn’t cold fusion nor rocket science – many businesses manage to create complicated but usable systems that aren’t such a colossal disaster. The technology exists; it’s not being invented here for the first time ever.… Read more »

Vik Khanna
Guest

Well said, Marty. Your argument is the core of what’s important here. Not the avoidance of political ramifications through yet more incompetence and ignorance.

Bobby Gladd
Guest

Agreed. But, it doesn’t look at this point that she will get the boot. I’m watching her testimony.

If, however, they slip their self-professed end-of-November deadline and errors and access problems persist, I can’t see how she survives politically.

Country Doctor
Guest
Country Doctor

What is unfolding is an embarrassment. There is zero usability of the healthcare.gov site, just as with the HIT devices that doctors are being forced to use.

And now, there is a bill to alter the F D and C Act to protect EHR devices from the FDA’s responsibility of vetting.

Sebelius is toxic to the health of the US citizens. She should resign as should many others, especially Obama’s IT allstars.

userlogin
Editor

Interesting analysis by Mr. Hudak. I agree with it, to an extent. I think it’s unlikely Sec. Sebelius will step down, in part because any new confirmation battle would be politically costly and probably futile for the White House. But her resignation would also be perceived as an admission that the Exchange challenges really were a result of poor management and not because the sites are so complex, there has been so much interest, etc. The Administration has a strong interest in keeping those positions alive to balance the discourse here. Put this in the bona fide rumor camp, but… Read more »

Tony Jewell
Guest

As a former HHS political appointee (2001-05), I largely agree with these points. I have to think at this point: 1. Sebelius has offered to resign, knowing full well it wouldn’t be accepted. It is the decent thing to do given the debacle of a rollout of the President’s signature legislative achievement. 2. The White House said no, given the points raised above and the president needs a secretary in place through the (trainwreck-y) launch of this thing. 3. No politician wants to be defined by the grievances of others, and firing or accepting the resignation of Sebelius just four… Read more »

Vik Khanna
Guest

Funny for a Bush 43 appointee to make these observations.

Here’s an observation for you: if you and your colleagues, including and up to W himself, had done anything of value in correcting healthcare marketplace dysfunctions, then the ACA likely never happens.

Tony Jewell
Guest

Vik –

If you look back at the posts here, you will see that I have been trying to sign up for care through Obamacare (and am sympathetic to much of the law, given my and my family’s health status).

That said, this post and my comments focus on the execution of the secretary and the administration – not the need for the law itself.

(I’ll leave it to others to hash out whether 2001-09 was the only time to address the dysfunctions of the health system.)

Vik Khanna
Guest

There was obviously no “only” time, unless you consider the last 50 years the “only” time. Every administration since Johnson’s has executed perfectly their opportunity to screw the system up and nicely avoided taking the steps needed to make fixes because it’s hard to stiff the people who control the campaign contribution purse strings. Your administration’s contribution was Medicare Part D. The Secretary needs to go. The President dismissed General Stan McChrystal for far less…impertinent comments in a magazine interview. To intimate that a cabinet chief responsible for the failed implementation of a law that actually may help some people… Read more »

Vik Khanna
Guest

Incomplete sentence should read as:

To intimate that a cabinet chief responsible for the failed implementation of a law that actually may help some people should not resign both defies logic and belies any statement that buck stops at the Resolute desk.

userlogin
Editor

SOMEBODY should resign – the lack of accountability is a huge part of the problem. If Sec Sebelius been a US. general in Afghanistan she would have been on the plane home two weeks ago ..

Vik Khanna
Guest

Bubba: not only should somebody resign, it is ludicrous for the writer to claim that the President is without options simply because the Congress, run by petulant, ignorant children, is the problem. The problem is the lack of any understanding of the concept of “leadership” in Washington broadly and in the White House, in particular. Sebelius needs to go and so, too, do the political appointees in the tiers below her who are directly responsible for the Healthcare.gov’s Grade F launch. Given that the Senate session is scheduled to end around Nov. 9, my understanding is that the President has… Read more »

John Hudak
Guest

Vik: I appreciate your reading my piece and your interest being enough to comment. Let me pick a little bit at your comment and hopefully engage the discussion a bit. First, I do not “claim that the President is without options simply because the Congress…is the problem.” The piece argues that the incentives are not there for the President to dismiss Secretary Sebelius. Does he have options? Absolutely. He can dismiss her and have an Acting Secretary fill the spot as the order of succession in HHS as governed by Executive Order would dictate. He would even rearrange the order… Read more »

Vik Khanna
Guest

John: thanks for the reply, especially the discussion about recess appointments. I appreciate your point that the President has few incentive-driven options. That, however, is the price of leadership. Leadership at its best has a sacrificial quality to it, because the leader himself or herself realizes and articulates the fact that circumstantial, or in this case political, tidiness cannot be the major determinant in choosing a path forward. Our national political system is broken, I think irretrievably so. Part of the disrepair is the utter unwillingness of the individuals in power to sacrifice their current political or future financial gain… Read more »

userlogin
Editor

Unfortunately, if she resigned, we would not have an HHS Secretary during President Obama’s administration.”

Aurthur
Guest
Aurthur

Don’t care if she resigns. I do care about her crimes and deserved imprisonment.

http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/obamacare-cover-did-hhs-encourage-violation-sec-law_660249.html