The House Energy and Commerce Committee will take testimony today from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in a hearing scheduled to start at 9 am today. Yesterday, the Ways and Means Committee heard from Sebelius subordinate Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), who offered an apology for the ObamaCare fiasco of the last several weeks, even as the White House doubled down on the emerging exposure of their “you can keep your plan” lie:
The head of the U.S. agency responsible for the troubled new government-run healthcare website apologized on Tuesday for the difficulty people are having in obtaining insurance, but blamed the portal’s woes on contractors and high traffic.
Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said the website faces “complex technical issues” four weeks after it opened for enrollment.
“We know that consumers are eager to purchase this coverage. And to the millions of Americans who have attempted to use Healthcare.gov to shop and enroll in healthcare coverage, I want to apologize to you that the website has not worked as well as it should,” Tavenner told a congressional hearing.
Tavenner told Congress to give her a few more weeks to get the website fixed, but that didn’t impress Rep. Dave Camp, who chairs Ways & Means:
“Frankly, three years should have been enough. And had the administration provided more forthcoming answers and shared, in a transparent manner, the reality of the challenges it was encountering in the implementation process, I suspect many of these glitches could have been avoided,” Camp said.
“While a website can eventually be fixed, the widespread problems with Obamacare cannot,” he said.
Even at that, Tavenner got a relatively easy ride from Ways and Means. Sebelius had better not expect the same kind of treatment from Energy and Commerce. Republicans want Sebelius fired over the debacle, and the Washington Post reports this morning that the pattern looks very familiar:
It’s Kathleen Sebelius’s turn now. On the Hill, they’re calling for her resignation and tossing around words like “subpoena.” Pundits are merrily debating her future. (She’s toast! Or is Obama too loyal to fire her so soon?) Her interviews, more closely parsed than usual, seem wobbly. Though never a colorful presence on the political scene, she’s suddenly a late-night TV punch line.
And on Wednesday morning, the embattled secretary of health and human services will submit to a quintessential station of the Washington deathwatch — testifying before a congressional committee — to discuss her agency’s failings in the botched rollout of the federal health-insurance Web site.
We’ve seen it so many times before. But how does it feel?
“I just kept sliding down, sliding down, and now I’m out of a job,” former agriculture secretary Mike Espy told The Washington Post in an agonized interview just days after his 1994 resignation.
NBC has five questions that the House will likely demand that Sebelius answer, and this one will be key:
Why wasn’t the launch delayed when the problems became clear?
The site slowed to a standstill almost as soon as it opened just after midnight on Oct. 1. The White House and HHS have said there was a mass onslaught of people signing on — five times as many as anticipated. Millions evidently did try to get on that first day, not just people trying to sign up for insurance, but those who were merely curious as well.
Tavenner has admitted that CMS wasn’t aware of the depth of the problems in the first day or two. But Sebelius will have to answer for why not.
But this one might be the most amusing:
Why haven’t you been more open about the problems?
HHS has refused from the beginning to publicly name all the contractors involved on the site, and will not name the “A-team” of experts brought in to fix the problem. Members of Congress have been so frustrated by this that they’ve subpoenaed tech companies and even sent letters randomly to large companies, such as Microsoft, asking if they were involved.
Microsoft answered one such letter last week. “To the best of our knowledge, no Microsoft employee has provided technical services or technical advice to the federal government or federal contractors concerning the challenges associated with the launch of the Healthcare.gov website,” one company lawyer, Robert Kelner of Covington and Burling, LLP,wrote the Ways and Means Committee last week.
Only after three weeks of criticism and an editorial in the New York Times by former White House health adviser Ezekiel Emanuel did CMS start daily briefings on the problems and what is being done to fix them.
“Given the disappointing rollout of the Web site, Americans are justifiably suspicious,”Emanuel wrote. “Starting now, the administration needs to initiate a concerted effort to win back the public’s trust.
CMS officials have said they don’t want contractors distracted from their job. But Congress will certainly want Sebelius to explain why this doesn’t look like a cover-up.
Sebelius will need to approach this like her job is on the line, because it almost certainly is. Expect to see Republicans laying perjury traps during their testimony, and expect to see some Democrats speechifying to slow things down. Sebelius had better not count on that kind of support from all of the Democrats, though, because this administration has humiliated them to the point where their electoral survival will take precedence over protecting a Cabinet official whose expiration date arrived on October 2nd, whether she or Barack Obama know it or not.
The live-streamed video is below, via NPR: