Family Research Council

April 11, 2014 - Friday

Sebelius Visits Health and Human Resources

When the President led his ObamaCare victory parade through the Rose Garden April 1, there was one person conspicuously absent -- HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Days later, it seems that same person, the conductor of the ObamaCare train wreck, will be conspicuously absent from the law's next phase (whatever that may be). After five rocky years at the helm of one of the biggest political catastrophes in U.S. history, Secretary Sebelius is headed for the exit in a move that caught even congressional Democrats by surprise.

Flanked by the outgoing Secretary on one side and incoming nominee Sylvia Burwell on the other, the President spoke in triumphal tones of HHS's handling of his health care law. In one of the last -- and most ironic -- moments of the Secretary's tenure, Sebelius presided over one final glitch. As she thumbed through her final remarks, Sebelius discovered at one point that she was missing a page -- leaving us all to wonder of the resignation: what else is this administration leaving out?

Democrats have been fuming about the health care law's miserable launch, afraid its failure will jeopardize their chances of reelection this November. Sebelius became the face of the health care law (and later its failure), defending it in front of congressional committees and the American public, becoming a lightning rod for political rancor. It has yet to be seen if taking the fall for the administration will improve its image. Republicans in both the House and Senate are doubtful -- as they should be. While the face of ObamaCare is leaving, the problems remain.

"Unfortunately for millions of Americans," Congressman Steve Scalise (R-La.) said, "Secretary Sebelius's resignation doesn't do anything to fix all of ObamaCare's broken promises, higher premiums, and lost health care coverage...  The Obama administration has consistently shifted the blame for the law's shortcomings and delayed key components of the law more than 20 times in an attempt to postpone the worst damage beyond the next election. President Obama should stop pointing fingers for the failure of his signature health care law, admit that it doesn't work, and work with Republicans to enact real reforms that lower costs and put patients back in charge of their health care plans."

Air Forcing Religious Turbulence

To anyone who works closely on defense issue, it probably seems as if Congress just finished its work on the military's appropriations. Already, the House and Senate are back to work drafting next year's Defense Appropriations bill-and when they do, members aren't about to let the DOD forget about the unfinished work they have to do to safeguard troops' religious freedom.

Yesterday, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) pressed the Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James for more clarity about why a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy had to remove a Bible verse from his personal white board. In recent weeks, the Air Force Academy Superintendent has suggested that the response was required by a two-year-old Air Force policy that limits Air Force leaders from expressing their faith out of fear that it might be objectionable to bystanders.

Senator Lee reminded Secretary James that this unusual and problematic Air Force policy has "significant ambiguities" and continues to be interpreted in such a way as to "run afoul" of last year's Defense bill which requires DOD to accommodate individual expressions of belief even by military leaders.

Secretary James responded that "when you read the policy on paper, it seems to make good sense... but I think what we're perhaps learning is that in practice when you get down to the people who are the real people... there are gray areas... and are we doing the right thing or not?" She went on to make the announcement that Air Force officials will be convening this month to discuss existing Air Force policy on religious freedom and the need to bring it into line with current law.

For those of us working to hold the Pentagon's feet to the first, this is an important partial admission of the policy's flaws, and a long overdue step from the Air Force. Of course, only time will tell if the Air Force will actually follow congressional intent and comply with the law. In the meantime, the "real people" Secretary James referenced continue to have a very real interest in practicing their values. Until the Air Force recognizes that even "on paper" existing policy has major legal problems, these men and women won't be able to be confident in their ability to do so.


Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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