Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday put off Republican lawmakers who want to question her about the disastrous rollout of Obamacare this week, instead agreeing to testify about the program’s computer problems next week.
A spokeswoman for Mrs. Sebelius said she cannot attend a House hearing Thursday due to a scheduling conflict. Late Monday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced she will appear before its members Oct. 30.
The delay angered Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, who called it a “refusal” by Mrs. Sebelius to testify Thursday. He said the public deserves answers now about the burgeoning problems with the HealthCare.gov website.
“The refusal of Secretary Sebelius to appear at this week’s hearing shows that this administration is still not prepared to be straight with the American people,” Mr. Boehner said. “Every day new questions about the president’s health care law arise, but candid explanations are nowhere to be found.”
The speaker said Mrs. Sebelius’ decision “continues a troubling pattern of this administration seeking to avoid accountability and stonewall the public.”
“What is more important to Secretary Sebelius than providing answers to the American people? I hope President Obama has a greater appreciation for the role of oversight and orders his secretary to fully cooperate with all congressional inquiries,” Mr. Boehner said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said it’s up to Cabinet secretaries to decide when and how to cooperate with a congressional inquiry.
Mrs. Sebelius will be at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston on Wednesday night to speak about the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy signing the Community Mental Health Act. On Thursday, she’s scheduled to attend an event in Phoenix.
“We have always indicated to the committee that she intended to testify but that she had a scheduling conflict,” said HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters.
Republicans have criticized Mrs. Sebelius for being more willing to appear on the “Daily Show” with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central to talk about Obamacare than she is to testify before Congress about the rollout’s failures.
The committee’s Republicans said that three health care contractors will testify Thursday, including representatives of website designer CGI.
“We are now entering week four of the botched health care rollout, and with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent for a system that still does not work, Congress and the American people deserve answers,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, the committee chairman. “We were told repeatedly that implementation was ‘on track,’ and it is now time for all those responsible to explain what happened.”