Last year when it became clear that Kathleen Sebilius was on her way out at Health & Human Services, I recommended an unlikely successor: Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential nominee wasn’t chosen for the position, obviously. But that may have been for the best. There’s a new position in the news for which he is even better suited: Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The Veterans Health Administration has become embroiled in scandal this spring after reports of corruption at its health clinics and veterans dying waiting for care. There have been widespread calls for the current VA Secretary, retired Army General Eric Shinseki to resign or be fired, but President Obama has stood by him…so far. When the congressional investigations into the VA really get into the details, that may not last long, and Shinseki will have to be replaced.
Mitt Romney obviously has the experience to come in and save faltering companies and non-profit organizations, which would make him an excellent choice to reform and refocus the VA and its health program. But one additional detail makes him the perfect candidate: HHS is a political appointment, VA isn’t.
Health and Human Services is the department primarily responsible for overseeing the implementation of Obamacare. That Secretary has tremendous latitude written into the law in how to do so. This makes it impossible for President Obama to nominate someone who opposes the program for the position to make it work.
In theory, Romney could have fulfilled his 2012 presidential campaign promise to issue a waiver for all 50 states from Obamacare from the position of HHS Secretary. Not ideal (for Democrats, at least).
But the Department of Veterans Affairs is inherently apolitical. Everyone supports veterans. Everyone wants them to get the best care possible. The scope of the VA health services isn’t in question. It only needs to work as well as it can under the budget it receives. And who better to make sure that happens than Mitt Romney, who did exactly that for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games? He certainly has the time now.