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Sebelius Exit Thrusts Obamacare Back Into Spotlight

Health care returns to the spotlight with Sebelius’ resignation and Burwell’s nomination. But the news also potentially closes the chapter on the botched website rollout…
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Health care returns to the spotlight

Kathleen Sebelius’ resignation as HHS secretary -- and President Obama’s nomination of OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell to replace her -- has produced one immediate result: It has thrust the issue of health care back into the political spotlight. When we first began working on this column yesterday, our original idea was to observe how health care had receded from the headlines this week. Think about it: The top political/Washington stories were equal pay, the Ryan budget, the LBJ remembrances. But that all changed late Thursday afternoon when the news broke about Sebelius’ resignation. Suddenly, Republican press releases began to flood our inboxes. "Secretary Sebelius oversaw a disastrous rollout of ObamaCare, but anyone can see that there are more problems on the way,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said. "Kathleen Sebelius' tenure in the Obama administration has come to an end just as it began: with a total lack of responsibility,” Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) added. “I don’t envy the job that Secretary Sebelius was handed, but as the head of the agency charged with the implementation of Obamacare, she is responsible for its failures,” said Rep. (and Senate candidate) Steve Daines (R-MT). And we can guarantee you that Burwell’s Senate confirmation hearing will have plenty of similar rhetoric. Remember, Burwell needs just 51 votes for passage after the filibuster change. But that doesn’t mean Senate Republicans will refrain from asking lots of questions. One thing we have come to expect on health care: When it’s in the spotlight, it usually means bad political mojo for the White House and Democrats.

Yet closing the chapter on the botched rollout

But while the questions for Burwell and the administration will be coming, the Sebelius resignation does enable the Obama administration to argue that the chapter on the botched website rollout has been official closed. Just hours before the resignation news broke, Sebelius announced that 7.5 million Americans had enrolled on the health-care exchanges -- proof that the administration had turned things around from those disastrous days in October and November. “Putting a new person in the job dovetails with the idea that we’ve put the past problems behind us and we’re moving on,” a Senate Democratic aide tells First Read. “If Sebelius had stayed on, there would always be the lingering sense that no one had been held accountable.” To that point, don’t miss what Sebelius told the New York Times about her resignation. “Ms. Sebelius said she hoped — but did not expect — that her departure would represent the beginning of a more cooperative period in Washington to make health care better. ‘If I could take something along with me,’ she said, it would be ‘all the animosity.’”

Obama to talk about voting rights

President Obama will announce Sebelius’ nomination and Burwell’s nomination around 11:00 am ET. But afterward, he heads to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in New York, where he will talk about voting rights at 4:10 pm ET. The AP: “A day after hailing the Civil Rights Act as a lasting legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency, President Barack Obama is using another civil rights forum to issue an election-year warning against erosion of the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 law that helped pave Obama's path in politics... Obama's speech at the annual conference sponsored by the civil rights activist and television talk host is part of the administration's effort to mobilize voters and push back against state voting restrictions prompted by last year's Supreme Court invalidation of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.” It will be interesting to see if Obama picks up on an idea that Andrew Young has been championing -- that that Bill Clinton seemed to endorse on Wednesday in his speech on LBJ -- that you could add a photo ID to Social Security cards. This compromise sort of confuses both sides of this debate: Conservatives have never been thrilled with the idea of a national ID card, while liberals aren't ready to concede a photo ID is needed.

Bush’s “johnson” joke

Meanwhile, during his speech last night to honor LBJ, George W. Bush began his remarks with a “johnson” joke -- and we’re not talking about the 36th president’s last name. “You know, I’m impressed by the new renovations [at the library]. I want to thank you for showing them to me. Former presidents compare their libraries the way other men may compare their, well… Just wondering how LBJ would’ve handled that.” If someone were to ask you which ex-president would have made a joke about that, your answer was probably going to be George W. Bush. Then again, your second answer would have been LBJ.

Two 2014 takeaways from yesterday’s Ryan budget vote

Yesterday, the House passed the Ryan budget by a party-line 219-205 vote, with 12 Republicans voting against it and no Dem voting in favor, according to NBC’s Frank Thorp. But there are two 2014 points we’d like to make about the vote. First, almost all the House Republicans running for Senate seats (Tom Cotton, Steve Daines, Bill Cassidy, Cory Gardner) voted in FAVOR of the Ryan budget. While the vote allows them to say they support balancing the budget in 10 years, it does complicate their messaging and give Democrats some ammunition against them. (How can you complain about cuts to Medicare Advantage, when the Ryan budget adopts those same cuts to balance the budget?) Second, the House Republicans running for the Senate who voted AGAINST the budget (Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston) are all competing in a primary against each other. And their opposition is that the Ryan budget isn’t conservative enough. (Interesting, Kingston had voted for every previous Ryan budget until now.) And that’s your Republican Party in a nutshell right now: The way to win competitive primaries is to be EVEN MORE conservative than Paul Ryan.

Polls show Pryor in better shape than the C.W. suggests

Finally, two recent polls out of Arkansas (here and here) show that Sen. Mark Pryor is in better shape than the political C.W. suggests. Pryor is hardly out of the woods here, but these polls signal that he isn’t Blanche Lincoln and the race could very well be competitive from now through the fall -- even though the GOP has been working hard to put the race away. And don’t lose sight of this fact: With Arkansas having a competitive GOV race and two competitive House races, Democrats are going to be able to run a coordinated campaign in Arkansas than they won’t be able to replicate in other states.

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