Sebelius’ resignation and the politics of Obamacare

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(CNN) — Kathleen Sebelius, the outgoing health and human services secretary, said the decision to step down from her post was hers — not the Obama administration’s.

After seeing Obamacare through its botched rollout and the eight-week fix period, and past the 7 million sign-up goal after the open enrollment deadline, Sebelius announced last week she would step down, saying Sunday it was a “logical time to leave.”

The politics of a departure

In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that aired Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Sebelius said she started talking to President Barack Obama about her resignation “after the first of the year.”

“And I went back to him in early March and said, ‘You know, I’m really optimistic we’re going to meet the targets and the enrollment is good, the site is working well. I think once we finish this first chapter you really should begin to look for the next secretary who can be here through the end of your term.’ And that really wasn’t a commitment I was willing to make. And he knew that,” she said.

Asked by Mitchell if Obama tried to talk her out of leaving, Sebelius said she “made it pretty clear” that wasn’t going to happen.

Sebelius replacement steps into line of fire

Obama announced Friday that he will nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, currently the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to be the next health secretary — the Cabinet official who’s ultimately responsible for overseeing Obamacare.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn called Burwell an “interesting choice,” suggesting the Obama administration sought out a replacement who could manipulate the numbers on the Affordable Care Act’s solvency.

“I think there are many of us, and probably a bit of a growing consensus, that they know they’ve got a math problem with Obamacare, and the numbers are not going to work out so that the program is actuarially sound. And they’re going to have to have somebody to kind of spin the numbers,” the Tennessee Republican said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“With Burwell coming from OMB, I think they are expecting her to be able to do for them,” she said, adding that Sebelius’ resignation doesn’t mean the end of GOP’s fight to repeal the law.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, said “there’s no doubt (Sebelius) had to go.”

“When you think of as being synonymous with failure, there has to be changes,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“The real question that we should be asking ourselves is that, as we’re looking at the upcoming confirmation hearing, will the next secretary have America first? Or will they have the administration’s policies and trying to carry the water for the President as their primary responsibility?”

Scott said Burwell was a solid choice for OMB, but that doesn’t make her a “good choice for HHS.” Scott wouldn’t say whether he’ll vote to confirm Burwell but did say he wouldn’t vote against her just because he’s against Obamacare.

Can Democrats run with it?

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland praised Sebelius’ five-year tenure, saying she “was able to accomplish all the things she set out to do.” He said he’d stand by the law, even as Obama’s sweeping health care initiative remains unpopular among American voters.

“We have to go out there and argue the moral issues, and I’ve said that all the time,” Cummings said on “Face the Nation” of Democrats facing political blowback from the law in this year’s midterm election.

Heading further into 2014, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Rep. Steve Israel acknowledged the politics of running a campaign supportive of Obamacare are risky.

“There’s a tough climate, no question about it. I won’t sugarcoat it, but the climate has changed,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I remember in October, when the Republicans shut down the entire federal government, a lot of pundits and prognosticators and experts were predicting that we would win 50 seats. Three weeks later, over the rollout of a website in the Affordable Care Act, the same pundits were saying that we were going to lose 50 seats. Climates change.”