By Sen. Rob Portman
June 13, 2014
An administration the American people cannot trust to govern is an administration that cannot lead. Incidents over the past few years, from the disastrous Obamacare rollout to the IRS targeting of conservative groups, have served to undermine the credibility of the Obama administration.
Now new revelations about the handling of Obamacare subsidies and health care for our nation’s veterans paint a startling picture of incompetence at the highest level of our government. President Obama must act now to correct these deficiencies before the faith of the American people in our federal government — already at record lows — is further undermined.
Since its enactment, Obamacare has lurched from crisis to crisis, the result of fundamental flaws in rushed legislation with no bipartisan support and without proper consideration or necessary amendments. Based on new information that has come to light, Obamacare’s broken subsidy provision may end up being among the most costly of these flaws.
Obamacare provides premium subsidies to low- and middle-income Americans who do not qualify for Medicaid and do not have access to affordable insurance through an employer. These subsidies can exceed $10,000 for a family of four. Common sense would dictate that we have a system in place to verify that subsidies are only paid to the estimated 6.6 millionAmericans who are eligible. And indeed, in January, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of Health and Human Services (HHS) assured Congress that HHS had “implemented numerous systems and processes to carry out” income verification.
Emerging evidence appears to undermine those assurances. The Washington Post reported that, in fact, no permanent system has been built that is capable of verifying eligibility. According to internal reports, since no computer capability for verifying eligibility yet exists, HHS will begin doing so by hand. In the meantime, the Post reports that the government may already be paying incorrect subsidies to more than 1 million people, although even that is a best guess. Fraudulent payments could cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
While incompetence in the implementation of Obamacare is costing money, incompetence at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is costing lives. In April, a hearing before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs revealed that the VA was manipulating data to portray an image of timeliness and efficiency at VA facilities. In reality, instead of receiving the care they needed, many veterans languished on “secret waiting lists” before they could receive critical care.
The full consequences of these secret wait lists are not yet known, but we do know that at the Phoenix VA facility alone, 40 veterans lost their lives waiting for care while another 1,700 remain unaccounted for, their health care needs still unaddressed. Internal memos indicate that administration officials have known about these problems at the VA for six years.
President Obama’s aides tell us he is “madder than hell” about this intolerable default on the debt we owe veterans and their families. Now the president must back up that outrage with widespread reforms far beyond accepting the resignation of his Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Simply replacing the head of the VA, while necessary, is far from sufficient to begin to treat the systemic problems that have plagued veterans’ healthcare.
Unfortunately we have seen many times in the past that strong words and bluster from the administration do not always translate into needed action. In September 2012, President Obama said that we would find the men responsible for the attack on our consulate in Benghazi. And yet, a year and a half later, not only are the perpetrators of the attack still free, but Islamic extremists are driving Libya further into chaos. Last May, President Obama expressed outrage when he learned of the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. And yet, a year later, the administration has taken little action to get to the bottom of the IRS scandal, to punish those responsible or to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
There was a time when if an American president spoke, the world listened. But with every new scandal, every new example of incompetence, and every new expression of presidential outrage that is not backed up by consequences and a concrete response, this president loses a little more credibility, and the American people trust him a little bit less.
The most powerful man in the world has more tools at his disposal than mere expressions of outrage. Officials must be held accountable. Some should be fired, and criminal investigations may be appropriate.
Only when the president backs up his words with action will he be able to root out the incompetence that is plaguing this administration. And only then will he be able to begin to restore the trust and confidence of the American people.
Rob Portman is a Republican U.S. Senator from Ohio.