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Sebelius and the Arrogance of Power

At one point early in her appearance before a House committee this morning, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the country a moment of clarity in response to a question. “Hold me accountable for the debacle. I’m responsible.” Yet almost every other thing she said in her testimony was aimed not only at evading her own responsibility for the disastrous rollout of ObamaCare but also to obfuscate the lies the administration has told about the program as well as the utter lack of accountability about the expenditure of vast sums on a website that is not only dysfunctional but insecure.

The most egregious of her comments was to claim in an exchange with Rep. Joseph Pitts that “the website has never crashed.” Ironically, at the very moment that she was saying this, the website had crashed. That sort of denial is almost clinical in nature. But what was most telling about Sebelius’s performance was not so much the ongoing denial that uncounted millions are losing the coverage they were told they could keep or her difficulty in answering any detailed questions about why the website had been so poorly designed or why her department had failed to supervise the project adequately or account for its lack of functionality or security. Instead, it was the arrogant, cavalier nature of her responses to questions about the debacle.

Sebelius came to the committee with plenty of notice after delaying her appearance by a week, but arrived armed with no firm answers on how the website problems had occurred, why the preparations for it were inadequate, and how her team had failed to note the questions that had been raised about its ability to function. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent, but no one in Sebelius’s department appears to have been capable of briefing her on this or even to supply simple answers to questions about the decision-making process that allowed the debacle to proceed. She tried to portray herself as a remote spectator to the process that led to the debacle even as she sought to pretend that she was the one to blame.

Sebelius contradicted herself almost continually. At one point she blamed crashes on Verizon and other times, as she told Pitts, she claimed there were no crashes. She claimed 700,000 persons had been enrolled, but when pressed for details about the numbers, she said that the website problems meant there was no reliable data to report. She said at one point that the problems would be fixed by November 30 but then qualified that to say that what we could expect was merely a gradual improvement with no end date at which all problems would be resolved.

Yet the consistent theme of her testimony was that a program the entire country knows is malfunctioning was working just fine. The cost increases and plan cancellations that so many Americans were facing in the coming months were mere technicalities. She denied that she and the president had lied about people keeping their coverage but then said that those who had lost their plans should just “go shopping.”

Sebelius could barely contain her contempt for the questions Republicans asked her about these points (since almost all the Democrats on the committee used their time to merely criticize the GOP for talking about the problems). Her eye rolling and barely concealed impatience with demands for accountability never stopped. While this was a stylistic failure, it betrayed more about ObamaCare and the spirit with which it is being imposed on the country than she may have thought.

ObamaCare was a bill that was rammed through Congress on a partisan vote in which the normal legislative process was ignored and questions were swept under the rug. It was sold to the public with lies and it is now being implemented in a fashion that is hurting at least as many citizens as those it is supposed to help. But at no point in this process has the administration shown itself willing to listen to the people being inconvenienced or harmed or even, as Sebelius repeated today, to give an exemption or a delay in the personal mandate as a result of the website debacle.

In a perverse way this makes sense, since it is in keeping with the top-down spirit of this attempt to have the government begin the process of taking over American health care. In the view of the president and Sebelius, the lies and the failures are mere details that are insignificant when compared to their ambitions and what they believe are their good intentions.

There is no better example of the arrogance of unchecked power than this legislation and the manner in which its authors have foisted it upon the country. While a divided Congress is unlikely to hold Sebelius or the administration accountable for this, it will be up to the American people to remember this awful, arrogant performance and the huge credibility gap of this administration the next chance they have to hold Washington, if not Sebelius, accountable.


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