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Key Republicans threaten subpoena for HealthCare.gov answers

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Two top Republicans have threatened to subpoena Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius if she does not submit a detailed accounting of HealthCare.gov’s failures by Monday at 5 p.m.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Senate committee that oversees Sebelius’s agency, issued a letter to the secretary on Friday demanding that she comply with an earlier request for details about the system troubles, including a game plan for dealing with them.

In a previous letter, Issa and Alexander asked Sebelius to provide the information within two weeks. That deadline passed on Friday without answers from the secretary, the lawmakers said.

HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said the agency has been in touch with the oversight panel and is trying to accommodating the requests.

“The Committee sent us an extremely broad request for documents on October 10 — while the government was still shut down — and asked that we produce these materials within two weeks,” Peters said. “Since the government reopened on October 17, we have been engaged in discussions with the Committee to better understand and prioritize their requests. We are working to provide information responsive to the Committee’s requests, and look forward to continuing to work cooperatively to satisfy their interest in this matter.”

Issa and Alexander noted that Sebelius has appeared on CNN and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” to discuss HealthCare.gov since the site launched on Oct. 1. “It is unacceptable that you are providing information to numerous other outlets, but not to Congress,” they said in their letter on Friday.

During the “Daily Show” interview, host Jon Stewart pulled out a laptop and jestingly challenged Sebelius to sign up for insurance on the federal Web site before he could download “every movie ever made.”

Republicans have also criticized the secretary for not appearing at a hearing last week to discuss the site glitches with the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Peters said last week that a scheduling conflict prevented the secretary from testifying at that discussion.

The House panel announced last week that the secretary will testify about the problems on Wednesday.

HealthCare.gov, created under the Affordable Care Act,  is an online health-insurance exchange that has experienced myriad troubles such as crashing and blocking users from registering. President Obama said last week that his administration is “well into a tech surge” to fix the glitches, promising that the effort involves some of the brightest minds inside and outside of the government.

A growing number of Democratic lawmakers have called on the Obama administration to extend the March 31 deadline for all Americans to obtain health coverage or face a tax penalty under President Obama’s signature health-care law. HealthCare.gov was supposed to help people shop for insurance and comply with the so-called individual mandate.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook, or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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