"Ready for dinner"
President Obama may have had troubles with the Healthcare.gov rollout, but he’s rolling out a replacement for departing Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius nicely. Appointing Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was confirmed last year to head the Office of Management and Budget 96-0, virtually insures he’ll get someone into Sebelius’ seat before midterm politics heat up.
That doesn’t mean the right won’t try to throw garbage at the centrist and well-respected Burwell. On PJ Tatler today they’re calling her “the person who shut down the veterans’ memorials,” because as OMB chief, she signed the memo telling agencies “to execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations” when Sen. Ted Cruz and the GOP shut down the government last year.
You’ll recall that Cruz and the right had the audacity to blame Obama and the Democrats for the shutdown, which backfired on them spectacularly. But not before Cruz, Sarah Palin and a Confederate-flag-waving moron challenged the closure of the World War II veterans’ memorial with a protest that moved to the White House, where Larry Klayman told President Obama “to put the Quran down … and come out figuratively with your hands up.” Good times.
So yeah, they’re going to try that whole thing again, but it’s not going to work. (An aside: this NBC News story calls Burwell “the woman who ordered the government shutdown,” which at the time probably seemed like a feature writer’s flourish to pull people into a dull story about the OMB director, but in hindsight didn’t accurately describe the way the mess unfolded.) Sen. John McCain immediately tweeted, “Sylvia Burwell is an excellent choice to be the next #HHS Secretary.” While righties are hoping that red state Democrats will turn on the woman who supposedly ordered the shutdown of veterans’ memorials, Sen. Joe Manchin praised Burwell’s appointment, too. (It probably helps that she’s from West Virginia.)
On the larger question of Sebelius’ legacy, we can only say that millions of people got health insurance, and millions more still need it. Ezra Klein trolled the right by declaring that it means “Obamacare has won,” which is pretty funny given that he helped lead the national freak-out over Healthcare.gov’s troubles back in October. Jonathan Cohn has a more balanced take in the New Republic. He acknowledges Sebelius’ management mistake in letting the federal exchange website’s troubles mount without letting the president know – there’s evidence she herself didn’t know – but he appropriately notes she’ll be remembered for the millions newly insured, particularly because she worked hard with Republican governors who bucked conservative constituencies to expand Medicaid.
Of course, confirming Burwell won’t mean the GOP stops trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. They had mostly stopped blaming Sebelius, because the new talking points say nobody could have made the law work, because by definition it can’t work. Having done everything in their power to insure it can’t work, which is literally costing American lives, they blame Obama for its shortcomings. However brilliant an HHS pick she may be, Sylvia Burwell can’t change that.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."More Joan Walsh.