HHS Tells Congressional Republicans to Grow Up

Today brings a shot across the bow from the Obama administration. Not against Syria, though. It’s against congressional Republicans, who sent a letter last week to all the organizations that had won grants to become Obamacare “Navigators.” The letter demanded that the grantees answer a long list of questions just as they’re ramping up for the October 1 rollout of the exchanges and preparing for their primary task of helping people navigate the various Obamacare websites, explaining the subsidies and benefits, and assisting with signups.

It was pretty plain from the start that Republicans didn’t actually have any serious questions for these folks. They just wanted to put yet another roadblock in the way of a successful rollout of Obamacare—and while they’re at it, perhaps do a favor for their insurance agent friends who are afraid that navigators might actually provide good advice and allow people to shop around more effectively. So today, Sarah Kliff reports, HHS pre-empted the whole thing with a letter to Republicans answering their questions on behalf of navigators everywhere.

“We are concerned about the timing of your inquiry given its potential to interfere with the Navigators’ ability to carry out their crucial efforts in assisting Americans who lack health insurance,” wrote Jim Esquea, assistant secretary for legislation at HHS, making it clear that he understood perfectly well that the “potential to interfere” was the whole point of the questionnaire in the first place. He finished off the letter with yet another not-so-subtle fuck you: “We trust that our response fully addresses your questions,” he wrote, knowing that Republicans don’t actually care about the substance of his answers even an iota. They just thought they were being clever.

Poor Esquea probably had to work the weekend to put all this together, but I suppose that’s the life of an assistant secretary for you. What’s more interesting, perhaps, is that it’s increasingly clear that Republicans have settled on long questionnaires as yet another obstructionist strategy more generally. It began earlier this year in the Senate with a series of insanely long questionnaires for a variety of President Obama’s nominees, culminating with the spectacular list of 1,000 questions they had for Gina McCarthy, Obama’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Apparently everyone was so pleased with how this worked that the House decided to get in on the action too. Thus the smug questionnaire they sent to all the Navigator organizations.

The ball is now back in the Republicans’ court, and I have no doubt that we’re going to hear plenty of yelps today about how Obama is dissing Congress and is betraying the constitutional separation of powers, etc. etc. The usual. But it won’t do any good. They were caught being too clever by half, and they know it.


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