HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius resigns
The overseer of the biggest, most expensive disaster in the history of Big Government disasters is finally going to resign… only to be replaced by the Obama henchwoman who kicked war veterans out of their memorials during Shutdown Theater. You didn’t think this Administration was going to get any better, did you?
The official storyline on the resignation of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is that she felt her work was done, and knowing that she would always be a lightning rod for criticism, so she thought it was time for a change. From the New York Times – which, it should be noted, is not shy about beginning its account by referring to the ObamaCare rollout as a “disaster”:
Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, is resigning, ending a stormy five-year tenure marred by the disastrous rollout of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Obama accepted Ms. Sebelius’s resignation this week, and on Friday morning, he will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace her, officials said.
The departure comes as the Obama administration tries to move beyond its early stumbles in carrying out the law, convince a still-skeptical public of its lasting benefits, and help Democratic incumbents, who face blistering attack ads after supporting the legislation, survive the midterm elections this fall.
Officials said Ms. Sebelius, 65, made the decision to resign and was not forced out. But the frustration at the White House over her performance had become increasingly clear, as administration aides worried that the crippling problems at HealthCare.gov, the website set up to enroll Americans in insurance exchanges, would result in lasting damage to the president’s legacy.
Even last week, as Mr. Obama triumphantly announced that enrollments in the exchanges had exceeded seven million, she did not appear next to him for the news conference in the Rose Garden.
The president is hoping that Ms. Burwell, 48, a Harvard- and Oxford-educated West Virginia native with a background in economic policy, will bring an intense focus and management acumen to the department. The budget office, which she has overseen since April of last year, is deeply involved in developing and carrying out health care policy.
“The president wants to make sure we have a proven manager and relentless implementer in the job over there, which is why he is going to nominate Sylvia,” said Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff.
Last month, Ms. Sebelius approached Mr. Obama and began a series of conversations about her future, Mr. McDonough said. The secretary told the president that the March 31 deadline for sign-ups under the health care law — and rising enrollment numbers — provided an opportunity for change, and that he would be best served by someone who was not the target of so much political ire, Mr. McDonough said.
“What was clear is that she thought that it was time to transition the leadership to somebody else,” he said. “She’s made clear in other comments publicly that she recognizes that she takes a lot of the incoming. She does hope — all of us hope — that we can get beyond the partisan sniping.”
So even as Administration-friendly an outlet as the New York Times admits this is a political maneuver designed to minimize Democrat blood loss during their midterm election beating. Which is interesting, because one would think Sebelius was already “priced in” to whatever happens next. She stood her post during those amazing hearings where we learned she, and Barack Obama, did virtually nothing to supervise the biggest government computer project in history, letting countless billions of dollars fly out the door to shifty contractors. She toured the country to attend ObamaCare launch events in which the system almost invariably blew up in her face, making her America’s new cultural icon of sheer incompetence. She lied endlessly about the performance of the Affordable Care Act – right up to sitting by as the Administration touted April 1 enrollment numbers she quietly admitted, in a single media interview, that she knew were not accurate.
Throughout it all, the Administration refused to ask her to step aside, because they worry more about their image than either the confidence of the American people, or the performance of Big Government programs. Nobody gets fired under the Obama regime, because he thinks such terminations would be seen as an admission of fault, and the God-King does not have faults. He trusts friendly media to bury the bad stories quickly and keep the news cycle rolling; where previous Administrations tended to think it was best to get out in front of bad news and swiftly hold someone accountable for disasters, Obama has always understood that if the media supports you, the bad news slips past more quickly if you spin your way through one news cycle at a time.
That seemed to have pretty much worked with Sebelius… so why is she getting the heave-ho now? As usual with this opaque Administration, even its friends are left to guess what goes on behind the heavy curtains and locked doors, so the Times hypothesizes it might be the weight of accumulated hard feelings toward Sebelius, perhaps even from the President himself. There were doubtless some rather lively meetings held in private at the White House while the ObamaCare disaster unfolded, and the thin-skinned Barack Obama cannot have enjoyed giving those embarrassing damage-control press conferences instead of taking the victory laps he anticipated. Sebelius was kept on board precisely as long as necessary to make it possible for her departure to be spun the way it’s being spun today.
To give you an idea of how ridiculous that “mission accomplished” spin really is, Sebelius gave an interview not two weeks ago in which she vowed she would “absolutely” remain at her job through the November elections. Either she was lying in this interview – right into the face of a reporter from the liberal Huffington Post! – or she was being reasonably honest then, and the White House spinmeisters are lying now.
Either is possible, given the level of sheer dishonesty everyone involved brings to the table, but Sebelius is a veteran politician who could easily have found ways to politely deflect the HuffPo reporter’s question without dropping a dopey “I’m in!” sound bite she knew would come back to haunt her in a couple of weeks. Then again, it has always struck some observers as odd that Sebelius wasn’t brought front and center to receive congratulations from the President during his April 1 press conference. (Why not, if she was merely having polite conversations with the President about how she thought it might be time for her to move along? It seems highly unlikely that she was sacked in a surprise decision made last night, but the narrative about a graceful exit with appreciation for a job well-done is tough to square with events of the past few weeks.)
What reasons beyond the usual White House behind-the-scenes soap opera might there be for seeing Sebelius off now? It will help the regime and its allies put the launch disaster behind them; the Left-media is already treating the last three months of 2013 as if they happened centuries ago. There are going to be plenty of Republican ads in this election cycle that remind the public of just how badly bungled that launch was. Now, at least, they can’t conclude with “… and Kathleen Sebelius is still there!” That counts for something in politics. Getting rid of Sebelius now lets Obama reap the political benefits of refusing to fire her when it would have been seen as an admission of failure, while minimizing the price he pays for keeping her around beyond the point where it was painfully obvious she needed to accept responsibility and resign.
The true ObamaCare enrollment numbers will come to light soon, and it’s going to be significantly less than the 7.1 million number Obama touted on April Fool’s Day. I suspect they’ll keep things vague until the day when they can make a more solid, well-documented claim that they’ve reached 7 million enrollments, at which point they’ll shrug and say it doesn’t matter they were a bit off on April 1, and the media will shrug with them.
We’ll also start seeing the long-suppressed demographic breakdowns, too: how many enrollees are Young Invincibles lining up to get fleeced, how many lacked insurance before ObamaCare went into effect. The Administration always assumed it would be able to finesse these revelations, and it knows the media won’t ask any hard questions about why they previously disseminated information they knew was inaccurate. Sebelius was the face of all the obfuscations and lies; she’s the one who claimed HHS didn’t know anything, except when it was politically expedient for her to pop up and deliver some bizarrely precise number to squeak through a news cycle. Getting her out of the picture will make it easier to push the coming clarifications to page A26 of the newspapers and keep them off the evening news. Time and distance will ease the pain of discovering that one or two million of the “enrollments” claimed on April 1 were unpaid, invalid purchases or stray online shopping cart data. If worst come to worst, the Administration can now blame anything they can’t spin away on the long-departed Kathleen Sebelius.
And there’s the bad news yet to come, all of which can now be finessed by claiming that a new, better, more effective captain stands at the helm of Health and Human Services. Sylvia Matthews Burwell doesn’t have much in the way of health care experience, but that doesn’t matter, because this isn’t about health care anymore, to the extent it ever was. It’s now about fear, obedience, and control. If that isn’t clear enough already, it will become more obvious as ObamaCare enrollees are taken hostage to ensure the law can’t be repealed, more of its Byzantine laws go into effect, and Americans learn they don’t get to ignore the law, the way Barack Obama does. The woman who shut down the government to keep ObamaCare alive is a splendid choice to take over as its enforcer.
Update: In the most pitch-perfect conclusion to the Sebelius saga that could be imagined, the woman who dumped millions of PAGE NOT FOUND errors upon the American people found that a page of her resignation speech was missing. Twitchy curates the ensuing hilarity on Twitter, including a few of my jokes. To those who think the magnitude of this Administration’s incompetence should not be trivialized with jokes, I say: we paid a lot of money for this clown show, and by God, we’re entitled to a few laughs.