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October 23, 2013 11:58 AM Unclean Hands

By Ed Kilgore

Maybe the healthcare.gov website mess will ultimately damage the implementation of the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Maybe it was an avoidable crisis that those in authority should have anticipated and addressed. Maybe heads will roll. Maybe one of those heads will be or should be that of the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius.

But you know what? The judge and jury and executioner in such a case should not, cannot, must not include those who have fought the successful implementation of ACA, who have lied about the law, have obstructed efforts to “fix” its inevitable lapses (some caused by Republican filibustering in the Senate that prevented its enactment via “regular order”), and who are at this moment using the healthcare.gov problems to discourage people from obtaining health insurance. But even as they celebrate every word typed in vain on healthcare.gov and every bit of faulty data, Republicans are presuming to make themselves the objective arbiters of Obamacare:

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Tuesday afternoon became the highest-ranking lawmaker to call for Sebelius’s resignation — part of a movement that picked up steam after she declined to appear at a scheduled House hearing Thursday, though she has committed to one next week. But even before the shutdown and debt ceiling standoff ended, the Republican National Committee launched its “Fire Sebelius” campaign, trying to use holding her responsible for the problem-plagued rollout as a way of redirecting the conversation back to doubts about the Affordable Care Act.

Sorry, boys. Accepting even the worst-case-scenario of Sebelius’ responsibility for the enrollment website problems, she’s done far less to mess up the implementation of this law than the GOP, and most especially Paul Ryan, whose high-profile lies about Obamacare’s impact on Medicare alone make him a notable villain of this drama.

It’s an ancient principle of the Anglo-American legal tradition that one cannot come into a court seeking equity with “unclean hands”—bad behavior or bad intent concerning the subject in dispute. Extended into politics, this sensible objection to bad-faith complaints means that having devoted itself to the destruction of the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Party needs to stay out of efforts to assign responsibly for the internal management of efforts to implement it. That’s particularly true of a political party that refuses to offer any real alternative path for health reform other than systemic efforts to make sick people bear more of the burden of their own misfortune.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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