The Importance of Sebelius

Governor Kathleen Sebelius has been named HHS secretary. Her experience makes her an excellent choice for the position. Yet, the big news is not that Gov. Sebelius has been named to the position, but when. On Thursday, Obama is going to have his first health care reform summit.

Government summits are always more about theater than about discussing issues. Summits can serve two possible PR purposes. The first is to make it look like you are working on a problem without really doing anything. The other is to unveil a new policy and make it appear that all players got to be involved in shaping it. I would be shocked if any real work, consensus building, or compromising happens at any of the many summits Obama calls for.

If the Obama administration had its first health care reform summit without a HHS secretary, it would have been a clear indication that it is of the former type of summit. Obama is currently facing several huge issues, and it would not be unusual if he used “summits” as a way to punt the issue down the road without appearing to break campaign promises.

Gov. Sebelius being named HHS secretary days before the first summit does not automatically mean it will be more than a PR move. But it does dramatically increase the probability that the summit on Thursday will be used to launch a major piece of reform legislation. Senator Kennedy has been having secret closed-door meetings about health care for months. It is possible that this first summit will be where Sen. Kennedy and/or Baucus present a detailed and structured “outline” of what the eventual health care reform bill will look like.

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