Symposium

So Long, Sebelius

TAS looks back at the most powerful health secretary in history.

By 4.11.14

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The Movie Never Ends

By W. James Antle III, TAS contributing editor and editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation

George W. Bush called it “mission accomplished.” Charlie Sheen’s preferred catchphrase was “winning.” If you believe the Obama administration’s cheering section in the media and intelligentsia, departing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declares victory by calling it quittin’ time.
 
The rapidly congealing conventional wisdom is that Sebelius’ resignation, coming so soon after something went right for Obamacare for a change, vindicate the president’s signature domestic policy achievement.
 
Uh-huh.
 
Surely, this was a more face-saving exit than if Sebelius had left office during last fall’s HealthCare.gov meltdown. But the administration only deserves so much credit for hitting enrollment targets it created, abandoned, and then embraced anew while keeping the public in the dark about the details. Significant cost and access problems remain for the “Affordable Care Act.”
 
In the meantime, let’s all wish Secretary Sebelius good luck in her new endeavor—which, if I had to guess, will be helping some fortunate company avoid all the Obamacare mandates indefinitely.
 
As the revolving door turns. 

Good Riddance, Kathleen

By Ross Kaminsky, TAS contributor

It is likely that Kathleen Sebelius resigned of her own volition rather than being asked to do so, because her boss, President Barack Obama, like any leftist petty tyrant, values loyalty over competence. And by that measure Mrs. Sebelius was a perfect Obama appointee.

Despite being considered a successful governor and despite having been Kansas’s Insurance Commissioner for eight years, her tenure at the helm of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), during which she nominally led the implementation of Obamacare, was characterized by turning a difficult task into an impossible one—and then lying about it repeatedly.

Secretary Sebelius is hoping that the first suggestion of “good news,” the achievement of the administration’s stated goal of 7 million enrollees—despite her refusal to tell us how many of those haven’t paid their first premium and thus aren’t truly insured, or how many of those are replacing insurance that they lost because of Obamacare, or how much worse the average age and health of the enrollees are compared to the levels needed for the law to have any chance of sustainability—will allow her to slink out of Washington, or to the dank corners of K Street, as a success, or at least not a failure.

But a complete and utter failure she is.

Implementing a law as vast, poorly written, and reliant on efficient government as Obamacare was never going to be easy. But by allowing underlings and contractors to have their way, by spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars with minimal oversight, by being a non-manager, Sebelius has much to answer for.

For repeatedly lying to the American people about the system, about the extension of deadlines which are written into law, about all the sorts of questions mentioned above, Sebelius should be held in contempt rather than in esteem.

And—while I understand that a cabinet secretary’s role is primarily to implement the boss’s policies—for aggressively trampling on religious freedom and engaging in a hyper-partisan campaign to boost Obamacare through Sandra Fluke-like “war on women” rhetoric, Kathleen Sebelius should never be seen as anything but the failed apparatchik that she is: a willing cog in a freedom-destroying machine, a perfect fit in the mindless tyrannical “win at all costs” big-government cult of personality that is the Obama administration.

A Bureaucrat’s Bureaucrat’s Bureaucrat

By Matt Purple, TAS assistant managing editor

I tend to treat these symposiums like obituaries. I’ll occasionally jot something down about a news story and stash it in my desk so that, when a big event happens, my contribution is already half-written. But with the retirement of Kathleen Sebelius, this was impossible. Every other day brought a new outrage. My notes would have been heftier than the Obamacare bill, and certainly enough to break my desk drawer.

Sebelius—where to start? Perhaps by noting that she was the most powerful health secretary in the history of the United States. Poor Oveta Culp Hobby and Marion B. Folsom just can’t measure up. This is not just because she was tasked with implementing Obamacare, but because that law expanded her authority by leaps and bounds, with 700 references to the secretary “shall,” 200 to the secretary “may,” and 139 to the secretary “determines.” And so the secretary did. It’s tough to think of another official in any department who was handed so much domestic power only to botch it so spectacularly.

Perhaps this isn’t entirely Sebelius’s fault. She was asked to do the impossible—implement an enormous, coercive law that had Americans spitting nails from the minute it was announced. But such are the perils of the bureaucracy, and Sebelius will go down in history as the very picture of a modern imperious bureaucrat. She looks like one of the grey-suited officers on the Death Star. She talks like she’s informing you, in point-three miles, turn left on Maple Street. Even Jay Carney at his most wooden had nothing on our dear health secretary.

Obamacare is exorbitantly expensive, perpetually delayed, and impossible to navigate. So it’s clear why Sebelius had to step down: sexism. “But Matt,” you say, “that’s demagogic nonsense.” True. But hear me out anyways. The attorney general of the United States presided over the Fast and Furious fiasco, spied on a Fox News reporter, refuses to enforce vast swaths of the law, regularly allows his department’s civil rights division to engage in racist crusades, stonewalls investigations, laughs at subpoenas, and has been held in contempt of Congress. Yet Eric Holder, a man, is allowed to stay on.

Why the double standard? Could it be that the White House has become a sleeper front in the war on women?

"S-E or S-I?"

By Matthew Walther, TAS assistant editor

I am glad that Kathleen Sebelius is leaving public life. Spelling her last name has always given me trouble. When Sibelius's Pelléas and Mélisande is performed at the Kennedy Center next year, I hope to see her there.

Obamacare: Winning!

By Bill Zeiser, TAS contributor

What can be said about Kathleen Sebelius's tenure as HHS chief that can't be said about a sebaceous cyst? No, that’s totally unfair. The cyst at least has a rational biological explanation.

In reporting her ouster, the New York Times notes that she is “ending a stormy five-year tenure marred by the disastrous rollout of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act.” Is that not the most fantastically strained attempt at logic you’ve read in ages? Generally the words “achievement” and “disastrous” do not fit together in the same sentence. The Times sells Sebulius short, however. At least according to wunderkind reporter Ezra Klein, who opines from the heady heights of his much-heralded new media venture Vox.com that “Kathleen Sebelius is resigning because Obamacare has won.” If Klein thinks this is winning, I would hate to see what things would look like if Obamacare had lost.

Indeed, Obama himself declared victory last week, trumpeting the 7.1 million Americans who used the new insurance marketplaces to sign up for his eponymous albatross prior to the close of the first enrollment period. But even if you take those numbers at face value, the administration might only have won a Pyrrhic victory. Thirty-four states have refused to set up the exchanges necessary to subsidize the whole scheme. The federal government has responded by setting up their own exchanges, something the Affordable Care Act does not given them the legal authority to do. The IRS, which acts as bagman by dispensing subsidies and meting out penalties, has been taken to federal court. If the eventual judicial outcome is that the IRS is told to follow the damned law, Obamacare will not be economically feasible, and will collapse.

It will only become clear in the months ahead whether this legal challenge to Obamacare will prevail. Either way, Sebelius won’t be around any longer. The Times says that White House aides worry that the Healthcare.gov rollout which she presided over will result in lasting damage to the president’s legacy. They need not speculate; it will. But not any more so than any other aspect of his signature “achievement.”

Escaping the Decline

By Natalie DeMacedo, TAS intern

Kathleen Sebelius. Hearing her name reminds me of too many lies and subversions of legitimate questions in relation to the botched Obamacare roll-out. It comes as no surprise that as soon as Obama got his token 7 million enrollees, she decided to escape the spotlight and let someone else take the blame for the mess that will ensue. She left at Obamacare’s climax so as to miss the steady decline here on out.

In fairness, even though she did ask us to hold her accountable and claimed full responsibility for the set-backs, I have to wonder how much of this we can definitively blame on her. The real problems with Obamacare—the millions of canceled plans and the lasting long-term economic effects of the law—were written and signed before they landed on her desk and she was told, “Make this work.”

What we will mock is her complete ineptitude in ordering an efficient website in the twenty-first century. As the gal in charge, she should have known that the website would flop. Instead of yes-men, she needed underlings with real know-how and the guts to let her know when things were going amiss. Part of being at the top means taking the blame when you can’t get those at the bottom to work together for a common good—or in this case, a common evil.

The worst part? What Obamacare has done to the American people won’t suddenly disappear as Sebelius steps down. As more and more Americans find themselves burdened by skyrocketing premiums and terrible care quality, Sebelius will be retired elsewhere, basking in the sunshine and laughing because she was exempt from the terrible law in the first place. She escaped when she had the chance. The rest of us? Hang on tight.

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