In an article cheekily entitled “When Barry Met Kathy,” Peter Schweizer of Politico reveals the stunning fact that Barack Obama only held one meeting with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius between the time ObamaCare was passed in 2010, and the historic disaster of the Healthcare.gov launch in October 2013.
One meeting. One. And it wasn’t even a private conference between Obama and Sebelius. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was there ,too.
Contrast this with the 277 private meetings Obama held with his other Cabinet secretaries, or the remarkably heavy schedule of White House visits by IRS officials, which we are assured had absolutely nothing to do with the subsequent abuse of power by the Tax Exempt Organizations division to oppress Obama’s political enemies. One of the key IRS scandal figures, chief counsel William Wilkins, had a personal meeting with Obama two days before the rules used to persecute Tea Party and pro-life groups were drafted.
But Kathleen Sebelius, who became the most powerful bureaucrat on Earth with the passage of the Affordable Care Act? The Cabinet secretary overseeing Obama’s signature achievement, a trillion-dollar takeover of private industry that turned into one of the greatest debacles in American history? One meeting with her in three and a half years. And that one meeting came all the way back in April 2010.
Schweizer allows that more contact between Obama and Sebelius might have taken place, but was kept secret to create plausible deniability for the President:
Of course, we now know that contractors had, in fact, notified Sebelius months prior that serious problems persisted and that time was running out for proper testing. However, if Obama was not meeting regularly with his HHS secretary to help navigate his signature legislative achievement safely into harbor, it???s hard to discern exactly what the president knew and when he knew it.
To be sure, presidents exchange emails and phone calls that are not recorded on White House calendars. Still, why would the White House calendar list by name one-on-one meetings with 16 other Cabinet secretaries but omit Sebelius if other meetings with her occurred? Wouldn???t Obama want to catalog for all to see his personal devotion to the law that bears his name? Perhaps the insular White House team wanted to distance the president from the bureaucratic process in the hopes of granting him a halo of deniability if the launch failed.
Or perhaps the lack of meetings reinforces the severity of what the New York Times describes as the ???deeply dysfunctional relationship between the Department of Health and Human Services and its technology contractors, and tensions between the White House chief of staff and senior health department officials.???
Obama???s critics say his loner style makes him unusually uninterested in working with other politicians. The president’s closest advisers, like Valerie Jarrett, say the problem is Obama ???knows exactly how smart he is??? and has ???been bored to death his whole life. He???s just too talented to do what ordinary people do. He would never be satisfied with what ordinary people do.??? Obama says the trait he deplores most in himself is that ???there???s a laziness in me.???
Actually, at this point, that’s what Obama’s defenders are saying. Apologists for the insane disaster of ObamaCare are trying to get the President off the hook by saying he’s a loner, he’s too smart for the room, he’s not a “detail” guy, etc. Schweizer doesn’t seem at all interested in letting Obama off the hook – he concludes by saying the President “must answer for his absence of leadership” – but it’s an interesting barometer of how far the President’s leadership and esteem have eroded that today’s defenses of his behavior are rougher than most of what his opponent said about him during the 2012 election.
It simply beggars the imagination that even the most casually competent manager would wander away from a project of this scale, expressing zero curiosity about a project that was not only billed as his defining achievement, but also consumed titanic amounts of money and liberty from the American people. How can such hands-off irresponsibility with the public trust possibly be justified or excused in the slightest? Along with the incompetence of the Healthcare.gov execution, doesn’t this failure of management put the lie to the entire premise of ObamaCare – the superior skill, organization, and management ability of government? You may rest assured that scores of private insurance executives are going to be very busy through the remainder of this year, and much of the next. If only Barack Obama had five percent of their responsibility or dedication.
This is also another instance of Obama being dishonest with the American people, because if you’ll recall his silly “Fumble” press conference from a few weeks ago, he acted as thought it was a baffling mystery how he was kept out of the loop. He actually promised an investigation into how and why his underlings kept him in the dark.
If Schweizer is correct in hypothesizing that more contact took place between Obama and the Healthcare.gov team “off the books,” it leads one to wonder why Obama wanted plausible deniability and distance from ObamaCare, beginning so early in the project. It’s not exactly a vote of confidence from someone who should, in theory, have been laying the groundwork for boasting about how he was all over his big triumphant health-care project, personally overseeing its glorious launch. (Of course, Obama doubtless assumed his media courtiers would toss him all the laurels he could handle, if things had gone well, no matter how much documented management time he invested in the project.) It tells you a lot about the Obama mindset that he thought the ability to claim ignorance in the event of disaster was more important than both securing credit for success, and preventing disaster.
The “plausible deniability” theory should outrage Americans, who are now expected to pay the price for Obama’s refusal to oversee his big project and live up to his responsibilities. It matters that the President distanced himself from execution, rather than keeping tabs on things. And it is the business of an executive to aggressively pursue oversight, especially when we’re talking about the President of the United States. It’s not up to the underlings to burst into the Oval Office and shout, “My God, Mr. President, you’ve got to do something – this thing is a disaster!”
It may sound odd to say this, given the political realities of ObamaCare, but it was Barack Obama’s job to pull the plug on the whole damn thing when his underlings reported that it could not possibly meet expectations, and would cause great injury to the American people. It’s never easy to make such decisions, but a private-sector executive would consider the ruin of his company’s reputation – and possible lawsuits or regulatory sanctions for fraud – before authorizing the launch of a total disaster.
You might laugh at the idea of such considerations crossing President Obama’s mind, because the political cost of delaying or scuttling ObamaCare would have been unimaginable. But that’s one of the many reasons these matters are best left in private-sector hands.