Congress

The Phony Republican Sympathy for Kathleen Sebelius


Outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 11

Photograph by Ken Cedeno/Corbis

Outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 11

For the last eight months, it seemed like just about every Republican in Congress was indignantly demanding the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, usually in connection with the botched debut of the Obamacare federal exchanges. Kansas Senator Pat Roberts assailed her “gross incompetence” as necessitating her resignation. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander cited the “disastrous rollout” of the Affordable Care Act. Representative John Fleming of Louisiana complained that “taxpayers should not have to tolerate this kind of waste and incompetence.”

Yesterday, as Bloomberg News reported, Sebelius finally submitted her resignation. And this has—lo and behold—occasioned an outpouring of Republican sympathy for her plight. “She had an impossible task,” tweeted House Majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. “Anybody put in charge of Obamacare would be set up to fail,” Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley sympathized, adding: “Secretary Sebelius was asked to promote something unready, poorly structured, and unpopular.” “No matter who is in charge of HHS, Obamacare will continue to be a disaster,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said.
 
Have Republicans had a sudden, Grinch-like change of heart?


 
Probably not. There’s no further political gain to be had from bashing Sebelius on her way out the door. And she leaves behind a new health-care law that has—in spite of her—exceeded its enrollment targets and now appears to be in good shape. That’s a considerable inconvenience for Republicans, who plan on riding Obamacare’s unpopularity into the midterm elections this fall. So they’ve simply shifted their target from the woman in charge of Obamacare, back to the law itself.

Green_190
Green is senior national correspondent for Bloomberg Businessweek in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaGreen.

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