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Another Problem With Republican Obstructionism: You Can't Fire Incompetents

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Ever since the disastrous launch of the federal Obamacare website, conservatives have been calling for the head of Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services.  Representative Bill Johnson, Republican of Ohio, answered "absolutely" after being asked whether Sebelius should get "canned." Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virgina who thinks he's a gynecologist, stated at a recent rally, “I believe President Obama ought to fire Kathleen Sebelius.” The remark was met with hearty cheers.

Sebelius is not the first cabinet member to face demands for a resignation. Over 65 House Republicans have publicly called for Eric Holder to step down, and it's hard to believe that, if asked, any Republicans on the Hill would offer Holder their support. Holder has a mixed record as Attorney General, and although he may not be Ed Meese or Alberto Gonzales, his tenure over the past 5 years is certainly vulnerable to criticism. Similarly, if Sebelius doesn't deserve to be fired--and perhaps she does--it is certainly fair to call her leadership into question. Which begs a question of its own: why are Holder and Sebelius still around? The answer: Congressional Republicans.

Just imagine for a moment that Obama fired Sebelius and was forced to appoint a new head of the HHS, who would of course need Senate confirmation. This person would almost automatically be labeled the new "Obamacare czar" and would be unlikely to win confirmation unless he or she promised to push for, say, the repeal of Obamacare and the imprisonment of everyone who voted for it. When the Senate goes to unprecedented lengths to block executive branch appointments, it creates a situation where the president is highly unlikely to make personnel changes. Holder undoubtedly remains in his job largely for this reason. Any new appointee for Attorney General would be forced to disown Holder's record entirely and declare the necessity of investigating what Darrell Issa called "the most corrupt government in history." (Presumably he meant the most corrupt American government in history, thus relieving himself of the need to weigh in on people like Imelda Marcos).

Ever since Republicans captured the House in 2010, Issa and his band of investigators have been going around saying that they merely intend to keep the Obama administration honest. Thus the myriad investigations into 'Fast and Furious,' the IRS, and everything else under the sun. (Issa, disappointingly, has not yet shot a pumpkin). Issa lauds himself as a champion of good governance, and has furthermore denied that his investigations amount to witch-hunts. But here's the thing: when you politicize investigations and make outrageous accusations, you erase the possibility for any sort of reasonable debate over competence. Congressional partisanship and obstruction thus do more than slow Washington to a crawl; they also make the functioning of government less smooth.

But that leads to one final wrinkle, or rather one final question: how much do Republicans want government--especially this government--to succeed? We currently have the charade of Republicans pretending to be greatly upset that people cannot enroll in healthcare exchanges. And it's not a coincidence that Republicans gleefully pounce on any instance of government failure: indeed, each instance furthers their narrative about the Obama administration specifically, and the tyranny of the welfare state more broadly. This is why the status quo is a win-win for them: Holder and Sebelius are big bright targets who rile up the base. And yet they can't be replaced.