As governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius was respected by her peers around the country for managing the state budget in a no-nonsense way and maintaining worthwhile programs. She has been in politics for over 25 years, and from the state house in Kansas to insurance commissioner to governor, she has proven herself a capable administrator.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts knows all that and in fact has been a family friend of Sebelius for some time. So it was a particularly shameful moment in Sebelius appearance before the Senate Finance Committee this week when Roberts called for her to resign. But he knows he has a re-election challenger from the right-wing of his Republican Party, a tea partyer, wholl blister him if he doesnt join the ridiculous, exaggerated assault on health care reform.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, long one of the more sanctimonious voices in the Senate, is running Roberts a close second in the embarrassment sweepstakes, as he at one point said to Sebelius, Were not in it just to give you a rough time. Were in it to try and hopefully get it right. Thats preposterous.
A rough time is exactly what Republicans want to give the secretary and President Obama over what in the long term will be regarded as minor glitches in the roll-out of HealthCare.gov, the website that leads people through the process of signing up for health insurance.
Yes, there have been problems with the website, which Sebelius readily acknowledges. What she also documents is that the government is throwing all the expertise in the country at fixing the slowdowns and signoffs. These issues will go away, of that she is confident.
Some states, such as North Carolina, have contributed to the problems by declining to establish their own offices, or exchanges, to guide people through the process. In the states, such as California and Kentucky, that have their own exchanges, signing up for insurance has gone more smoothly.
And this week, Marilyn Tavenner, head of the federal agency helping with the roll-out, told senators that even with all that has happened, about 17,000 people are signing up every hour.
Yet Republicans at all levels are hitching their hatred of the president to the temporary shortcomings of the roll-out, pronouncing Obamacare a failure and vowing to continue their efforts to dismantle it, despite the fact that it was passed by Congress, signed into law and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Rarely has antipathy for one individual, in this case Obama, so stirred members of Congress to outright defiance of established law.
The same senators in high dudgeon over health care reform and its computer problems are in many cases the same ones who sat back as the Bush administration deregulated the financial industry and watched as big banks took the country to the brink of financial destruction with their reckless ways. Theyre the same ones whove slunk away from addressing immigration reform.
And they want a competent, honest Cabinet officer like Sebelius to resign? To her credit, the secretary has handled herself with tremendous class and courage no matter what outrageous charges senators have leveled at her. She has owned up to problems. She has in detail addressed how those problems will be solved.
Republicans have only a plan of attack in their arsenal. They offer no constructive ideas of their own about improving access to health care and they never have. The politics of hate may play well with the tea party in the Republican base, but it doesnt do much for responsible government.