Better Late Than Never

Ezra puts Sebelius’ resignation in a favorable light:

The White House says Sebelius notified the President in March that “she felt confident in the trajectory for enrollment and implementation,” and that once open enrollment ended, “it would be the right time to transition the Department to new leadership.”

In other words, the law has won its survival. The Obama administration can exhale. Personnel changes can be made. A new team — led by Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell, who the White House calls a proven manager— can be brought in to continue to improve the law. And Sebelius can leave with her head held high. She can leave with the law she helped build looking, shockingly, like a success.

Jeez. Is Ezra working directly for the administration now? I’d have fired her months ago, but then I’m not the Zen Master POTUS. And there is a sense of fairness in giving her the time to make up for her disaster. Martin Longman is more critical:

[T]he White House is promoting the fact that she overcame the initial problems with the website and actually exceeded enrollment expectations and goals. Basically, they’re saying that Sebelius oversaw the HHS Department at a time when approximately ten million people got access to health care they would not otherwise have, and her critics cannot claim to have done anything of similar merit.

That’s a fair point, but it glosses over the lasting damage done to how the law is perceived, and Sebelius bears responsibility for that.

She sure does. By far the greatest act of political malpractice under Obama. And the political impact was even more brutal. It was the failed website that shifted the entire politics of last fall, and indelibly undermined the Obama administration’s rep for competence. The president and his party have still not recovered politically, even if the website recovered rather magnificently. Amy Davidson adds:

[T]he very solidity of the numbers makes the problems with the rollout look even more painful.

This was a good law, offering something that people wanted. The department Sebelius was in charge of was supposed to get it to them. Instead, what it presented to the world was a big mess. Obama was also humiliated when his assurances about people getting to keep their plans turned out to be false. From the perspective of the Obama Administration, the rollout—Sebelius’s rollout—made something majestic look grubby. Sebelius, for her part, told the Times that if she could take “all the animosity. If that could just leave with me, and we could get to a new chapter, that would be terrific.”

Cohn’s perspective:

Sebelius brought two main assets to her job. She had experience regulating insurers and, as a successful Democrat in Kansas, she knew how to work with Republicans. But what Obamacare needed more was a deft, aggressive manager. Case in point: By all accounts, Sebelius did not grasp the severity of tech problems at until the day it went live and crashed. If she got the warnings, then she should have heeded them. If she didn’t get the warnings, then she should have appointed people who would have kept her better informed.

Still, it’s not as if Obamacare’s implementation difficulties are entirely, or even mostly, the fault of HHS. It’s a typical, if predictable, failure of Washington to demand a fall guy when things go wrong. But responsibility rarely lies with just one person. (That’s one reason Obama resisted calls to fire her.) And this case is no exception.

Jason Millman provides background on Sebelius’s replacement:

Burwell has extensive administration experience that includes budget oversight for major entitlement programs, like Medicare and Medicaid. Last summer, Burwell and White House chief of staff Denis McDonough led negotiations with a group of Senate Republicans who hoped to forge a grand bargain with the administration to raise taxes and rein in spending on health and retirement programs. The talks went nowhere, but Republicans gave Burwell high marks for a bedside manner that was seen as less prickly and much less political than her predecessor Jack Lew.

After the Senate talks petered out, Burwell helped manage the first shutdown of the federal government in nearly 17 years after congressional Republicans and Democrats hit an impasse over agency spending for the current fiscal year – though the real battle was over the fate of Obamacare, rather than taxes and spending.

David A. Graham thinks “Burwell’s appointment may be read as an implicit rebuke to Sebelius’s style”:

Her successor is known as an effective manager. “The president wants to make sure we have a proven manager and relentless implementer in the job over there, which is why he is going to nominate Sylvia,” White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told the Times.

A West Virginia native and Rhodes Scholar, she served in the Clinton White House and as president of the Walmart Foundation. And while getting any nomination through the Senate has become a challenge, Burwell has two advantages. First, Majority Leader Harry Reid recently changed the rules of nominations so that they require only 51 votes to pass and are not subject to filibusters; and second, she was confirmed 96-0 just last year.

Philip Klein looks forward to the Burwell confirmation hearings:

The new secretary of HHS will have the ability to determine when the open enrollment period for the exchanges can begin or end; what type of insurance every American must have; and what constitutes enough of a “hardship” to exempt individuals from the mandate to purchase coverage, among other powers. As HHS secretary, Sebelius has proven herself willing to push the boundaries of her discretion to delay or modify key parts of the law without seeking congressional authorization.

Obama plans to replace Sebelius with current director of the Office of Management and Budget Sylvia Mathews Burwell. Republicans will no doubt want to turn the focus of her confirmation hearing on Obamacare. But the hearings should, specifically, be used as an opportunity to highlight the vast expansion of power granted to this one official through the health care law.

Ben Domenech also welcomes the upcoming confirmation fight:

Senate Republicans actually have an advantage here in the wake of the Nuclear Option’s implementation: they can easily come up with a list of facts they claim the administration has hidden, details kicked aside, statutes ignored, and a host of other challenging questions on accountability over the implementation (and non-implementation) of the law. A list of every question Sebelius has dodged over the past several years would suffice. By demanding answers before the HHS nomination moves forward and refusing to rubber stamp the president’s pick, Republicans could force more vulnerable Democrats to take a vote that ties them both to the Nuclear Option and Obamacare six months before a critical election.

Readers sound off on Facebook:

Yeah let’s blame Sebelius for the Republicans refusing to set up their exchanges, forcing the government to have a federal exchange bidding process at quite the last minute, a process that has been beyond broken in and of itself. Sebelius is not your scapegoat on this one. She got through a very complicated and difficult program implementation on schedule and on target. If anything, she should be praised.