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Sebelius: Yes, I "Urged" Companies Regulated by Me to "Donate" to Obamacare Promotion

Oh yes, the oft-overlooked fourth scandal.  Kathleen Sebelius appeared at a House hearing yesterday and confirmed that the broad strokes of a Washington Post report published last month were true:

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, disclosed on Tuesday that she had made telephone calls to three companies regulated by her department and urged them to help a nonprofit group promote President Obama’s health care law. She identified the companies as Johnson & Johnson, the drug maker; Ascension Health, a large Roman Catholic health care system; and Kaiser Permanente, the health insurance plan. At a hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Ms. Sebelius said she did not explicitly ask the companies for money, but urged them to support the work of the nonprofit group, Enroll America. The group, led by former Obama administration officials, is working with the White House to publicize the 2010 health care law and help uninsured people sign up for coverage. Republicans in Congress have raised questions about the legality and propriety of Ms. Sebelius’s fund-raising efforts, saying she was trying to circumvent limits on spending set by Congress...Ms. Sebelius said that no federal law prevented her from trying to raise money from companies regulated by her department. However, she said, she voluntarily decided not to make fund-raising appeals to such companies. Ms. Sebelius said that she had made a total of five calls soliciting support for Enroll America, and that she did not know if anyone else in her department had also done so. She said she “never discussed” the solicitations with anyone at the White House.

Of course she didn't.  No one ever
tells anyone else anything within this administration, haven't you heard?  And let me see if I'm understanding Sebelius' contention here.  She "voluntarily decided not to make fundraising appeals" to companies over which she wields enormous power -- but she did, er, phone them up and "urge" them to support the cause?  How exactly does that work?  She also cites precedents from the Clinton and Bush years to justify her actions, but those comparisons are strained.  Did staffers in those administrations pressure companies under their direct purview to pick up the funding slack on behalf of a controversial law for that Congress had explicitly refused to subsidize any further?  I must have missed that.  Some Congressional Republicans believe Sebelius may have violated the law in undertaking these fundraising "urging" efforts.  The US Office of Special Counsel determined last year that she had previously violated the Hatch Act by abusing her official position for political purposes.  Here's Sebelius explaining to Rep. Trey Gowdy how she really can't answer his question about whether any other HHS officials were involved in this questionable funds-solicitation scheme:

Can she at least say whether or not she took pre-hearing notes from Eric Holder?  The Obama transparency foibles continue.  On that score, I'll leave you with this, via Bloomberg News:

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which Obama exempted from sequestration to protect veterans, last week tried blaming the cuts for its failure to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request we filed with the agency in December 2011. We wanted access to all documents detailing hundreds of millions of dollars in potentially illegal VA spending with a pharmaceutical supplier. A lot has happened in the 17 months since the request was filed...and the VA still hasn’t given us access to all the documents sought. Reason cited: “Given sequestration and budget cuts, instead of three (3) previously, we now have only two (2) full-time FOIA staff to process about two hundred fifty (250) FOIA requests received per year,” Richard Ha, a Freedom of Information Act officer, said in a letter last week asking us to narrow the scope of our request. “Please be advised that your FOIA requests, as they are, place an unreasonable burden onto this FOIA office.”

One sector of the federal government attempted to rationalize their lack of responsiveness to journalists' transparency-seeking FOIA requests by blaming the president's sequester "cuts" (read: reductions in the rate of spending increase)...from which they were explicitly exempted, and that went into effect long after said requests were filed.

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