by Michael Cannon, CATO Institute

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius’ latest abuse of power has strengthened the case for her removal from office. Before discussing her latest misconduct, let’s review some of Sebelius’ past abuses of power.

  • In 2010, Sebelius described anonymous political speech as “dangerous.” Ironically, Sebelius’ lashing out at her political opponents’ free-speech rights is dangerous because it is the sort of rhetoric that might encourage agencies like the IRS to target groups that “criticize how the country is being run.” That’s exactly what the IRS has admitted doing – which in turn is a good argument for protecting anonymous political speech.
  • So too is Sebelius’ 2010 threat to put health insurance companies out of business. Shortly after ObamaCare became law, insurers began telling their customers how much it was going to increase their premiums. In a September 2010 letter to insurers, Sebelius shot back that premiums would rise no more than 2 percent, even as her department predicted increases as high as 7 percent. Insurers that didn’t toe the party line “may be excluded from health insurance Exchanges in 2014.” That was no idle threat, I wrote at the time. Since “Medicare’s chief actuary predicts that in the future, ‘essentially all‘ Americans will get their health insurance through those exchanges,” Sebelius was essentially threatening to put insurers out of business if they disagreed with her.
  • In 2011, Sebelius approved her department issuing hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies to private health insurance companies under the rubric of ObamaCare that the statute expressly forbids HHS to issue.
  • In 2012, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel concluded that Sebelius violated the Hatch Act by campaigning for President Obama and other political candidates while traveling on official business, an offense for which other federal workers are fired.
  • In a July 2012 letter to the nation’s governors, Sebelius arbitrarily rewrote and narrowedthe Supreme Court’s ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius to allow HHS to continue coercing states into implementing parts of ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion.
  • When it became apparent that two-thirds of states would not implement one of ObamaCare’s health insurance “exchanges,” Sebelius dismissed the idea that a lack of congressionally authorized funding for federal Exchanges would stop her department from implementing them. “We are going to get it done,” she said. Now we learn she substituted her own judgment for Congress’ by raiding ObamaCare’s Prevention and Public Health Fund to the tune of $454 million to fund federal Exchanges. But even that wasn’t enough.

Now we learn, from the Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff, “Sebelius has, over the past three months, made multiple phone calls to health industry executives, community organizations and church groups and directly asked that they contribute to non-profits that are working to enroll uninsured Americans and increase awareness of the law.”

This too appears to be unlawful:

Federal regulations do not allow department officials to fundraise in their professional capacity. They do, however, allow cabinet members to solicit donations as private citizens “if you do not solicit funds from a subordinate or from someone who has or seeks business with the Department, and you do not use your official title,” according to Justice department regulations.

[A] Health and Human Services official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the secretary’s private discussions, described her work as well within the bounds of her authority.

Riiight. Kathleen Sebelius runs the Department of Health and Human Services. At nearly $1 trillion per year, HHS is the largest department in the U.S. government, spending 43 percent more than the Defense Department. Most of those subsidies go to the health care sector. Those subsidies will increase dramatically when ObamaCare takes full effect next year. Sebelius has been calling executives from the industry she regulates, including “multiple insurance executives,” and asking them to donate money to Enroll America – a private organization, headed by a former White House official, whose purpose is to help make ObamaCare a success. Sebelius has a history of threatening uncooperative companies with retaliation. But we are to believe it’s all on the up and up because…what? She never told these executives whether she is the Kathleen Sebelius who runs HHS, or some other Kathleen Sebelius?

Even if her activities are not illegal, they are definitely unethical:

“It sounds like the people she’s going to are people that are being regulated by her agency, I think that is definitely problematic,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director for the Campaign Legal Center. “That’s not a statement about the value of the law, but it’s a statement about using the power of government to compel giving or insinuate that giving is going to be looked at favorably by the government.”

Given this much misconduct, you might think President Obama would ask for Sebelius’ resignation. A spokesman for the president commented:

The President believes that the American people expect and deserve to have the very best public servants with the highest levels of integrity working in government agencies on their behalf…If the Inspector General finds that there were any rules broken or that conduct of government officials did not meet the standards required of them, the President expects that swift and appropriate steps will be taken to address any misconduct.

I’m kidding, of course. That’s what White House press secretary Jay Carney said about the IRS targeting tea-party groups. Sebelius is all aces with the president, for two reasons. First, her misconduct came in the service of universal coverage. To the Church of Universal Coverage, there is no higher law. Second, the president needs Sebelius because she is the only person in the universe who can wield the considerable powers of ObamaCare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board without needing a Senate confirmation hearing.

As I wrote on the eve of ObamaCare’s passage, “Abandoning ethics to serve one’s partisan agenda is an ugly yet bipartisan tradition. But there’s an added irony when supporters of ObamaCare do it: at the same time they demonstrate what scant regard politicians have for honesty, propriety, fair play, and even public opinion, they are demanding that we trust politicians with our health care.”

Sebelius Shakes Down Companies She Regulates for Cash to Implement ObamaCare (Cato Institute) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

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