New Filibuster Rule Could Put Sebelius' Job in Jeopardy

Image: New Filibuster Rule Could Put Sebelius' Job in Jeopardy

Monday, 25 Nov 2013 08:34 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may be the first victim now that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan for filibuster reform has been approved, some experts believe.

The Senate's vote will mean that confirming an executive-branch nominee will take just 51 Senate votes, meaning that it will be easier for President Barack Obama to replace her, reports The Hill.

She's been able to keep her job so far, despite the failed Obamacare rollout, John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution says, but the president now has more options.

"The president's hands were previously tied," said Hudak. "Now, he has more breathing room and he is able to fire whoever he wants at HHS. That's a very, very appealing approach, whether it fixes the problems with Obamacare's rollout or not."

Sebelius did not directly build the exchanges, but Republicans are angry that she testified that the healthcare program launch was on schedule, even as documents and reports showed that her team was having trouble in September making the site work, reports The Hill.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, however, said Friday that Reid's move to allow more Obama appointees to be confirmed by a simple majority vote rather than the usual 60-vote threshold for cutting off debate on a nominee is "unrelated to the Affordable Care Act."

In addition, Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama supports Sebelius as "an HHS secretary who's serving right now and is working very hard and has the full confidence of the president of the United States."

Other experts told The Hill it might be more wise for the White House to wait until December to determine how the HealthCare.gov website is doing before making any decision about Sebelius's future.

"Firing someone would have best been used three or four weeks ago, when the problems' scope first became clear," Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, told The Hill. "Still, even now, it could [be] very beneficial to the administration."

Hudak said the filibuster rule change may also make things easier for some Senate Democrats facing tough election campaigns next year. Fifty-three Democrats control the Senate, along with two Independents who caucus with them.

"Obama now has breathing room among Democrats," Hudak said. "He can actually let some of the Democrats who are in tough races off the hook, which has some real electoral implications for those members."

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