It looks like Kathleen Sebelius is about to get the Eric Holder treatment.
The Health and Human Services Secretary, who has come in Republican crosshairs for the rocky rollout of the new Obamacare website, will testify before a congressional committee.
“We fully intend for the secretary and other HHS officials to testify before Congress as early as next week, as they have numerous times in the past, but nothing is confirmed at this time,” HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters told NBC News. “We have always indicated to the committee that she intended to testify but that she had a scheduling conflict. We continue to work with them to find a mutually agreeable date in the near future.”
Later on Monday, it was announced that Sebelius and some of the website contractors will testify on October 30th.
The announcement comes as GOP criticism of the failed rollout mounts, with several lawmakers on the Energy and Commerce Committee insisting Sebelius snubbed them when they asked her to testify on Thursday during the first hearing on the Affordable Care Acts’ website problems. The Obama administration had argued Sebelius had a scheduling conflict on that day.
The renewed calls to testify echo a now-established GOP practice. House Republicans demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder testify on the Justice Department’s probe of journalists and the IRS’ scrutiny of Tea Party groups, with several lawmakers calling for Holder’s resignation.
Already, some GOPers are calling for Sebelius to step down. Many skewered her recent appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” last week to talk about the site, saying she apparently has time for comedians but not Congress.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has spearheaded the effort to defund Obamacare, told CNN’s “State of the Union” over the weekend that “absolutely she should resign. Why? Because the program she has implemented, ‘Obamacare’ is a disaster, it’s not working. It’s hurting people all across the country.”
Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, have all called for the secretary’s ouster.
House Speaker John Boehner said on Monday that Sebelius “must change her mind and appear at this week’s hearing in the House.” He added, “With more than one trillion taxpayer dollars being spent on a completely defective program, Congress is going to get to the bottom of this debacle.”
Sebelius has acknowledged that there are problems with the online insurance market but that fixes were on the way.
Obama also admitted during a Rose Garden speech Monday that the website for his signature Affordable Care Act “has been too slow” and that “people have been getting stuck during the application process.”
Obama promised to fix the technical problems associated with HealthCare.gov and its insurance marketplace and pointed Americans to signed up the old-fashioned way, via phone or in person. He insisted the problem was a technical one–and not the law itself.
Meanwhile, Republicans bruised by the government shutdown showdown—in which lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to tie any spending plan to defunding or delaying Obamacare—have already pounced, Obama noted. He criticized Republicans who are “rooting” for Obamacare’s failure.
“We did not wage this long and contentious battle just around a website,” Obama said. “That’s not what this was about,” the president said. “We waged this battle to make sure that millions of Americans in the wealthiest nation on Earth finally have the same chance to get the same security of affordable quality health care as anybody else. That’s what this is about.”