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Gingrich: Sebelius has lost all credibility

By Newt Gingrich
updated 1:28 PM EDT, Thu October 31, 2013
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, is the chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee. On October 31, Issa's committee issued a document subpoena to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for documents and information related to HealthCare.gov. "I've lost my patience," Issa said to CNN's Wolf Blitzer in explaining the decision to use a subpoena. Issa also said his committee has sent a document subpoena to website contractor Optum/QSSI. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, is the chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee. On October 31, Issa's committee issued a document subpoena to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for documents and information related to HealthCare.gov. "I've lost my patience," Issa said to CNN's Wolf Blitzer in explaining the decision to use a subpoena. Issa also said his committee has sent a document subpoena to website contractor Optum/QSSI.
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Key players in the health care hearings
Key players in the health care hearings
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich: Sebelius sounded Orwellian when she said website never "crashed"
  • He says millions are losing their health care policies despite promises
  • Gingrich says they will be forced to try to navigate a dysfunctional website
  • Sebelius should be replaced as health and human services secretary, he says

Editor's note: Newt Gingrich is a co-cost of CNN's new "Crossfire," which airs at 6:30 p.m. ET weekdays. A former speaker of the House, he was a candidate in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.

(CNN) -- At points, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius sounded downright Orwellian in her testimony before Congress on Wednesday, such as when she explained that "the website never crashed. It is functional, but at a very slow speed and very low reliability and has continued to function." Prolonged periods of minimum usefulness, perhaps, but don't call it a "crash," she said with a straight face.

On the other half of the television screen, CNN showed a live shot of HealthCare.gov with the message displayed, "The system is down at the moment." But in the world of Obamacare, a mandate is an "option," expensive is "affordable," and now apparently failure is "function."

Of course, the problem with Obamacare isn't just the website, and the loss in credibility isn't just the secretary's. President Barack Obama and other supporters of the law spent years telling the American people that "if you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period." They said detractors who suggested otherwise were lying. They said Republicans were just trying to scare people.

Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich

The President and his allies were the dishonest ones, as is now clear to everyone. Even while they were promising Americans nothing would change if they liked their policies, "the administration knew that more than 40 to 67 percent of those in the individual market would not be able to keep their plans, even if they liked them," as NBC News reported this week. Already more than 2 million people have had their insurance plans canceled -- three times as many as have signed up for Obamacare.

Yet the President continues to insist, as he did Wednesday in Boston, that "if you had one of these substandard plans before the Affordable Care Act became law" -- of course, it was the law that made them "substandard," by definition -- "and you liked that plan, you were able to keep it." In the same speech, he took credit for liberating Americans from those "substandard" policies. This is as good an example of "double-think" as anything we've seen in American politics.

While the President and the other pitchmen of Obamacare have certainly lost credibility, however, Sebelius in particular needs to be held accountable for the launch failures. She added the problem of terrible management on top of the law's many flaws, and in doing so has put the health, financial security and personal information of hundreds of thousands of Americans at risk.

Across the country there are people who will have to buy insurance through the exchanges in just a few months, some because Obamacare caused their policies to be canceled, some because Obamacare caused their employers to dump their coverage.

Sebelius in the hot seat
Lawmaker: Obamacare is better coverage

Many of these people will face steep new costs that they weren't anticipating. But today, a full month after the exchanges went live, Americans who visit HealthCare.gov to find out what coverage they and their families will have and how much it will cost them must spend hours of frustration trying to navigate a broken system.

Even more alarming, the secretary's bad execution of the President's bad plan could put thousands of Americans' personal information at risk. Sebelius told Rep. Mike Rodgers on Wednesday that she would have to get back to him on whether there had ever been a complete security test of the system.

When the person who is supposedly overseeing a system into which hundreds of thousands of people are entering their personal information says she will "get back to you" about whether there has been thorough security testing, it is terrifying.

And on top of everything else, the exchange website is a complete boondoggle. Sebelius testified the government has spent almost $175 million on HealthCare.gov so far, and the real tab will surely be much higher after the emergency repairs. Already, this is substantially more than Apple spent to develop the iPhone, and even (as I pointed out recently) more than NASA spent on the Mars Pathfinder mission. It likely makes HealthCare.gov the most expensive website ever built, and certainly the most expensive not to function -- although perhaps that word no longer means what we thought it did.

These failures of management make the pain of a bad law even worse. I oppose the law. I have always opposed the law. I believe it will fail and cannot be improved. But most of all, honesty counts in public officials, and after Sebelius' testimony Wednesday she should have lost her credibility even in the eyes of Obamacare's supporters. It's time to offer her the option of mandatory retirement.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Newt Gingrich.

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