Monday, January 6, 2014

Sebelius: Above the Law?

My article from the Dec. 13, 2013 issue of FrontPage Magazine:

Sebelius: Above the Law?

By Matthew Vadum

Top congressional watchdog Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had to warn Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this week that obstructing a congressional investigation is a federal crime.

Sadly, we have reached the point in America at which members of President Obama’s cabinet aren’t even squeamish anymore about flouting court orders and legally enforceable congressional directives because they feel secure in the expectation that they will never be held to account. These Democrats know that their misdeeds will not see the light of day because the Obama-worshipping media and opposition party lawmakers are either unduly, unprofessionally sympathetic to Obama’s agenda or are too afraid to confront the president out of fear of being tarred as a racist.

Lying and stonewalling have served the Obama administration well so far.

In June 2012, Eric Holder was held in criminal contempt of Congress by the House of Representatives in a 255-67 vote for refusing to turn over documents tied to the bungled Fast and Furious gun-running operation. That was the first time a U.S. attorney general had ever been held in criminal contempt by the House. Legal proceedings against Holder, arguably the most corrupt U.S. attorney general of all time, could be initiated after he leaves office. Impeachment and removal from office following a trial in the Senate are also possibilities that are now being discussed on Capitol Hill.

In light of Sebelius’s failure to cooperate with congressional investigators regarding obstruction allegations, Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, felt it necessary to remind the Obama cabinet member that her refusal to produce documents demanded by lawmakers is punishable according to law.

The panel has been looking into the badly botched implementation of Obamacare as well as the persistent problems with the horrendously expensive, near-useless website that the nation’s uninsured are supposed to use to sign up for health insurance coverage. Issa has demanded documents and HHS hasn’t handed them over.

Specifically, Issa is calling into question legally dubious actions taken by the HHS. The department has allegedly been interfering with a congressional investigation by instructing various businesses to ignore information requests made by his committee.

After noting that HHS’s “hostility toward questions from Congress and the media about the implementation of ObamaCare is well known,” Issa explained in a letter to Sebelius dated Dec. 11 that he got in touch with several companies that contracted with HHS for work related to the website. HHS’s “most recent effort to stonewall, however, has morphed from mere obstinacy into criminal obstruction of a congressional investigation.”

“The Department subsequently instructed those companies not to comply with the Committee’s request,” he wrote. In one letter, HHS informed website contractors that it “will respond directly” to those requesting information and cautioned contractors against making unauthorized disclosures “to third parties.”

No contract entered into by HHS could possibly supersede Congress’s “constitutional prerogative to conduct oversight,” according to Issa. Such an argument “strains credulity to such an extent that it creates the appearance that the Department is using the threat of litigation to deter private companies from cooperating with Congress.”

Such unlawful interference with a congressional probe may subject the perpetrator to a fine or imprisonment, he wrote.

Throughout the Obamacare enrollment period the Obama White House hasn’t exactly been standing by Sebelius. Top Obama staffers may even have been leaking information to the media in order to hurt the HHS secretary. According to Politico:
“A damaging New York Times story reported that unnamed Sebelius aides had made fun of an Obamacare ‘countdown calendar’ put together by White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, a leak that suggested the traditional tensions between the two camps have gotten even worse in the aftermath of the botched rollout. And when Jeff Zients, the management consultant the White House recruited to head the website repair efforts, declared the fixes largely successful at the end of November, he suggested his team had discovered ‘weaknesses in how the project was being managed’ — comments that were hard not to read as a slap at the oversight that took place under Sebelius, or at least on her watch.”
At a separate Capitol Hill hearing this week Sebelius seemed to falsely claim that she met with the president frequently about the Obamacare launch in the lead-up to Oct. 1.

When asked how many times she met with Obama in the pre-launch period Sebelius told Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) “a lot.” The congressman wasn’t buying it after Politico reported that there was only one single meeting recorded between Sebelius and the president from July 12, 2010, to Nov. 30, 2013.

“Today we witnessed more evasiveness from Secretary Sebelius as she bobbed and weaved her way through this morning’s hearing,” Gingrey said Wednesday. “Whether she was unable to answer basic questions or simply refused to do so, it has to stop. She has been tasked with overhauling one-sixth of the economy and so far, Obamacare has been one disaster after another.”

It’s hardly a stretch at this point to suggest that Sebelius’s days as top Affordable Care Act enforcer may be limited.

Meanwhile, Obamacare enrollment figures continue to be risible. The Wall Street Journal examined the alleged enrollment statistics provided by the federal government and concluded that enrollment is way behind schedule.

“A charitable reading suggests that ObamaCare’s net enrollment stands at about negative four million. That’s the estimated four million to five and a half million people who had their individual health plans liquidated as ObamaCare-noncompliant—offset by the 364,682 who have signed up for a plan on a state or federal exchange and the 803,077 who have been found eligible to receive Medicaid.”

And yet more signs are emerging that Obamacare is still not ready for prime time, one media outlet reports. “Federal officials announced a raft of December deadline extensions Thursday, just weeks before new coverage under the law is set to begin.”

Sebelius tried to put her best face forward during a teleconference call with reporters.

“The steps we’re taking today will help ensure that Americans seeking quality, affordable health coverage can do so with even more peace of mind and with even more confidence that it will be there 
when they want and need it,” she said.

She probably had her fingers crossed behind her back as she told this whopper.

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