This story dropped late on Friday, perhaps because HHS sources hoped it would slip through the cracks over the weekend and disappear. In light of the swirling Benghazi developments and the burgeoning IRS scandal, this wasn't a bad bet. But this stunner from the Washington Post is too important to allow to simply glide past unexamined:
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has gone, hat in hand, to health industry officials, asking them to make large financial donations to help with the effort to implement President Obama’s landmark health-care law, two people familiar with the outreach said. Her unusual fundraising push comes after Congress repeatedly rejected the Obama administration’s requests for additional funds to set up the Affordable Care Act, leaving HHS to implement the president’s signature legislative accomplishment on what officials have described as a shoestring budget.
This has all the hallmarks of a shakedown. DrewM at Ace of Spades snarkily summarizes: "Hi I'm HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. You may recall I have tremendous discretionary power over your company and entire industry. Would you like to donate to my favorite cause? You would? Thank you so much." Obamacare vests Sebelius with an enormous amount of regulatory power; she has the ability to make life exceedingly difficult for any company that crosses her (recall her "zero tolerance" quote). "Friendly" requests for "voluntary" donations may not seem optional for companies who sense the HHS Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Administration spokesmen are predictably shrugging off accusations of extortion and insisting there's "nothing improper" to see here. Senior Republicans have a different take:
Tennessee Republican [Sen. Lamar Alexander] compared the HHS secretary's requests for donations from insurance companies to the Iran-Contra scandal. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius might have broken the law by asking insurance companies to donate to outside groups promoting President Obama's healthcare law, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said Saturday. Alexander compared the fundraising to the Iran-Contra scandal. "Secretary Sebelius’s fundraising for and coordinating with private entities helping to implement the new health care law may be illegal, should cease immediately and should be fully investigated by Congress," Alexander said in a statement.
The Post's in-house conservative Jennifer Rubin thinks this story ought to rise to the top of the Obama administration scandal depth chart:
I realize scandal investigations are backing up like cars on the Beltway in rush hour, but this one seems like it should go close to the front of the line. We have an unpopular health-care bill with gross implementation and design problems that exceeds its budget. The solution? Stiff arm the industry for “contributions.” It’s apparent that both Obamacare and the HHS secretary operating it are out of control. Congress should investigate and any monies obtained in this fashion should be returned. Then we should pause, assess where Obamacare stands and figure out if it can be implemented without inflicting harm on 300 million Americans — or should I say, any more harm.
Harry Reid recently grumbled about Republicans' refusal to pump more taxpayer money into Obamacare's implementation phase. The GOP has stood firm against committing even one more penny to the extravagantly expensive, enduringly unpopular and logistically shambolic program. The administration's apparent solution to this problem of their own making is to coerce private businesses into financing a bailout.
UPDATE - It's worth pointing out that Boehner and McConnell declined to offer Republican appointments for Obamacare's IPAB rationing board last week.