HHS' Sebelius Faces Off With House Republicans Wednesday

The former Kansas governor is no stranger to GOP scrutiny.

Health and Human Services Chief Kathleen Sebelius meets with local officials before a press conference at the Wesley Community and Health Center Oct. 24, 2013, in Phoenix, Arizona.
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It might be the hottest spotlight she's faced, but it's not the first for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The former Kansas governor has become the face of President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act, and is scheduled to testify before House Republicans Wednesday to answer for the messy rollout of a website key to implementing the health care reform law.

[VOTE: Who Should Be Blamed for Obamacare's Website Glitches?]

But as a former insurance commissioner with political ambition who ruffled feathers when she went further to regulate the industry than her predecessors and the Democratic governor of a very red state, Sebelius is uniquely prepared to navigate the waters she now finds herself in.

Kansas State Rep. Clark Shultz, the Republican chairman of the legislature's House Insurance Committee, describes Sebelius as a savvy politician willing to go to bat for her principles and policies, while keeping in mind how to continue climbing the political ladder.

"There was a feeling that maybe she went a little bit further in [regulation] than some of the other insurance commissioners previously had," he says. "The idea was [when] she became insurance commissioner – I think it was widely suspected that she had her eye on other things."

Shultz, who served in the Kansas legislature during Sebelius' time as insurance commissioner and governor, says Sebelius knew how to play well with Republicans as well as Democrats.

"She was not a coarse person, I think she always seems to try to get along with people very well," he says. "Nobody could argue she certainly didn't know what she was doing politically in getting elected and moving her agenda."

 

[OPINION: Kathleen Sebelius, You Should Be Fired]

Sebelius was twice elected governor of Kansas, serving from 2003 to 2009. Both times, she ran on the ticket with Republican-turned-Democrat lieutenant governor candidates, a move made to help bolster her cross-ticket appeal. In 2006, she won re-election over her Republican opponent by 17 percentage points, even though Republican voters outnumbered Democrats 2-to-1.

Now, however, Sebelius is a lightening rod among Republicans.

Responding to calls for her resignation last week, Sebelius said, "The majority of people calling for me to resign, I would say, are people who I don't work for and do not want this program to work in the first place."

House Republicans will have their chance to directly engage with Sebelius Wednesday, as she faces off with the House Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss the on-going issues with healthcare.gov and other aspects of Obamacare.

Rep. John Fleming, R-La, one of Sebelius' most vocal critics, said Sunday on CNN, Congress needs to increase accountability for the law's failings. "Americans both Democrat and Republican demand accountability, and Secretary Sebelius is obviously not taking accountability for this," he said. "She says the people who want her to resign she doesn't work for. I hate to tell you, but I'm a taxpayer. She works for me. She's a public servant."

[FACT CHECK: Sebelius Misstates Law on Signup Start]

But Sebelius will likely disappoint Republicans expecting to get her to walk back her support for the law she's charged with implementing.

"I have had frequent conversations with the president and I've admitted to him that my role is to get the program up and running and we will do just that," Sebelius said to a gaggle of reporters in Texas Thursday.

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