In the semi-disastrous testimony of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — with such doozies on Healthcare.gov as, “The Web site never crashed. It is functional, but at a very slow speed and very low reliability,” with a split scene of the site down — there was more than a new batch of gotcha moments for the Republicans to gloat about. There is a fundamental assumption critical to not only Obamacare, but also to the liberal welfare state more generally, namely that it requires a sophisticated and competent bureaucracy. In its collapse and in the testimony of Sebelius, we saw that this assumption may simply be wrong. Forget ideology for a moment. If the liberal welfare state can’t run its own creations, it is not sustainable.
Here are some specifics from the hearing:
1. She claims not to know how many people have enrolled because the site is not functioning. This contradicts what insurances companies have said and suggests a systemic problem that, if not addressed, makes it impossible to determine basic information like whether HHS has enough young people enrolled to pay for the sicker, older people.
2. She says the president was given updates. She either knew so little that she conveyed false information or she informed him of problems but he continued to tell voters it was 100 percent ready to go.
3. Neither she nor the president seem to understand that the “grandfathering” provision was not going to let all people keep the insurance plans they had. In the administration’s own regulations the qualifications for grandfathering were so rigid that millions, as we now see, are not going to keep their plan.
4. The Democratic Party, which has long claimed the mantle of compassion, now stands for refusing to grant hardship waivers to those people who tried but couldn’t get on the Web site. When asked if the waivers would be granted, Sebelius sternly replied, “No.”
5. Democratic members of Congress now resort to arguing that Obamacare has been undermined by Republicans. No Republicans voted for it. A Democratic administration wrote the regulations. A Democratic administration is implementing it. Good luck with that one, guys.
6. There is considerable doubt about the privacy/security arrangements. If Healthcare.gov didn’t get the requisite testing to make sure it worked, it didn’t get the requisite testing to protect personal information, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) argued. The Associated Press, meanwhile, released a report referencing an internal administration memo that stated that insufficient testing created “a level of uncertainty that can be deemed as a high risk.”
7. Sebelius claimed she was “accountable,” but this means little. She isn’t resigning. She still insists contractors were at fault. It’s a kind of no-consequences accountability, I suppose.
8. She vindicated entirely the Republican objections to the shutdown. Nothing up to this point could be more devastating to the public image of Obamacare. The GOP is not the issue; the Obamacare mess is.
This was the sort of hearing that Republicans would not have had the nerve to imagine. In a few short hours, Sebelius, now the face of Obamacare just as much as the president, portrayed just about every quality people hate about big government — incompetent, cold-hearted, blame-casting, uninformed and unrealistic. It’s hard to imagine she won’t be the star of many 2014 GOP ads.