Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming wrote to President Obama today, expressing concern about Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius being permitted to speak at events that raise money for Priorities USA, a Super PAC supportive of President Obama.
“In light of the ongoing role that Secretary Sebelius will play in the implementation of the new health care law, her simultaneous participation in fundraising activities will create the appearance of a conflict of interest and the potential for various health care entities to perceive inappropriate coercion to participate in such fundraising.”
Interestingly, Enzi seemed to have had no such compunction about a National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraising program in May 2001 (one that raised a lot of eyebrows at the time, which at least one then-young reporter wrote about) that sold “Life Memberships” to the “Republican Senatorial Inner Circle.” For $10,000 a pop ($15,000 a couple), life members were promised access to myriad Republican officials in then-President George W. Bush’s Cabinet and the U.S. Senate.
These included such power players as then-Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, then-Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, and GOP Sens. Bill Frist of Tennessee, as well as Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts of Kansas.
Membership in this group also meant access to then- Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and…Sen. Mike Enzi.
When asked for comment, Joe Brenckle, spokesman for the Republican Minority of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – on which Enzi serves as ranking Republican – said, “There is simply no comparison between the current Secretary of Health and Human Services and a U.S. senator. Senators are not in a position to oversee and implement a law that gives sweeping authority to regulate the conduct of entire industries.”
About the fact that Enzi participated in a fundraiser that allowed access to the Health and Human Services Secretary, at the time, Enzi’s spokesperson suggested that that job had changed considerably because of President Obama’s 2010 health care legislation.
“Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is in a very unique position, even relative to other cabinet secretaries,” Brenckle continued. “She was given unprecedented authority in the 2700 page heath care law, which has already required her Department to issue over 10,000 pages of new rules to implement its various provisions. Over the next year, she will likely make dozens of additional regulatory decisions that will have direct financial impacts upon health insurers, providers, drug and device manufacturers, and employers seeking to offer health insurance to their employees. There is simply no comparison between the potential adverse impact Secretary Sebelius’ decisions can have on regulated industries, in contrast to a senator.”
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller