Dems defend Sebelius after counsel finds she violated law
Some Democrats defended HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius after the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found she violated federal law in “extemporaneous partisan remarks” while acting in her official capacity as head of HHS. “If she made a mistake and said something she shouldn’t have at some event, that is of little significance compared to the importance of the healthcare reform effort that she is leading,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told Modern Healthcare. The OSC concluded in an opinion delivered to President Barack Obama that Sebelius crossed the line when she addressed a February gala of the Human Rights Campaign—a not-forprofit organization that works to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans—and said of Obama that it’s imperative that “we make sure that in November he continues to be president for another four years.” It was the first finding by the independent office of a Hatch Act violation by a senior administration official since 2007. Sen. Kent Conrad (DN.D.), chairman of the Budget Committee, was similarly dismissive of the finding. “This is the silly season, so all kind of charges fly around right before an election,” Conrad told Modern Healthcare. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ranking member on the Finance Committee, which oversees HHS, said if it the parties were reversed, “there wouldn’t be this little pass-off like it was nothing.” Although violations of the ban against officials engaging in political activity while acting in their official capacity can be cause for firing, any punishment is at the discretion of the president. HHS responded in a statement that it had reclassified the event as political and the U.S. Treasury was reimbursed for travel expenses.
Sebelius, seen announcing HRC’s Healthcare Equality Index in June, was found to have engaged in illegal political speech while addressing the group in February.