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Sebelius survives Obamacare grilling: The key takeaways

Here’s what you need to know about the three-and-a-half hour hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Kathleen Sebelius
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the difficulties plaguing the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Kathleen Sebelius sat in front of a House panel for three and a half hours Wednesday -- facing questions from livid lawmakers, even some who'd called for her resignation before she sat down.  

The heated hearing covered a lot of ground -- from the problems with, to what the White House knew and when.

Sebelius' strongest line was her full-throated apology for the problems: "You deserve better. I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems. And I’m committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site."

But there were other key moments in the hearing, too, that help explain what went wrong with the website and how the White House plans to solve both its political and practical problems.  Here are the key takeaways. 

No data on signups

Sebelius told the House Energy and Commerce Committee that her department has “no reliable data about enrollment, which is why we haven’t given it to date.”

Republicans have been demanding specific figures on how many Americans have enrolled since Obamacare rolled out, but Sebelius said the website’s glitches prevented HHS from gathering those figures and echoed previous statements that the numbers on initial enrollment will be released publicly in mid-November.

That line makes the site's problems look substantively worse, but it also shields Sebelius from having to disclose poor enrollment numbers. 

No new deadlines 

Even though several Republicans and 10 Democratic senators have asked Sebelius to extend the open enrollment period, which officially ends on March 31, Sebelius said the Obama Administration would not budge, the problems would be fixed and there were other ways Americans could sign up. . "We think the timetable will allow people four months' time to fully use the website," she said. "They can use it right now. They can use the call center. They can go to navigators. They can enroll."

Sebelius: Obama didn’t break any promises

Not only did Sebelius have to defend a broken website, she also had to clean up Obama's rhetoric problem. The president repeatedly said Americans who like their insurance will get to keep it. But this week news broke that hundreds of thousands of people will lose their plans.

Sebelius insisted Obama had not broken a promise that Americans can keep their insurance if they like it. 

Sebelius insisted that if Americans are losing their plans, it’s because of the insurance companies and not the law -- a line that attempts to shield Obama from blame.

The website never crashed

Sebelius at one point claimed the site never crashed -- surely a semantic distinction, since the site is not particularly functional -- and that it “is functional at a very low speed and very low reliability, and has continued to function.” Dems accuse GOP of political theater

House Democrats accused Republicans of feigning outrage over the buggy site, arguing that they never wanted the law to work in the first place. “I think it’s somewhat disingenuous for my colleagues on the other side of the podium here to have this faux anger and this faux concern over a bill that they absolutely want to fail and have rooted for its failure,” said Democratic Rep. Michael Doyle of Pennsylvania. Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel reiterated those concerns, saying it was “naive to actually think that Republicans want to see this law work."

Sebelius’ unfortunate “whatever” moment

During the hearing, Sebelius repeatedly tried to take responsibility for the website’s problems. When pressed whether the responsibility ultimately rested with Obama, Sebelius eventually said “Whatever,” adding “Yes, sir. He is the president. He is responsible for government programs. Watch here. 

Mike Rogers hammers Sebelius on security

Republican Rep. Mike Rogers said Sebelius was putting Americans at risk by not doing enough to test security measures on the website. “You know it’s not secure,” he said. Sebelius said testing occurs regularly, although she acknowledged she didn’t’ know if each piece of code had been tested for security.