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Arne Duncan to Senate GOP: My Obamacare Role is ‘Minimal’

By Alyson Klein — September 12, 2013 1 min read

The president’s controversial, landmark health care law, aka the Affordable Care Act, is going to hit a critical implementation phase this fall. So what is U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan doing to help? Not much of anything, apparently.

How do we know this? Duncan sent a letter today to U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennesee, the top Republican on the Senate education committee, John Thune, R-S.D., and a host of other GOP senators, explaining that his role in outreach on the ACA (aka “Obamacare” to the haters) has been pretty limited.

“Our efforts to disseminate information on the ACA have included sharing basic materials developed by [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] for our stakeholders to use at their discretion,” Duncan wrote. “Our minimal efforts to provide our stakeholders with the information about the ACA are related to the important mission of the department.”

Why is Duncan even bothering a letter saying, essentially, “Hey guys, I’m barely lifting a finger to help with Obamacare”?

In an interview with POLITICO back in June, Duncan said his department would be lending a hand with outreach on the law.

So GOP Senators, who are not fans of the ACA, sent a long letter to the Education Department asking for way more details: What would the department be doing exactly? (Answer from Duncan: Just sharing information with our stakeholders.) How much would its work cost taxpayers? (Answer: Barely anything.) How many staff members are you devoting to his (Answer: A “very minimal” number and it’s not anyone’s full-time job.) What authority do you have to help out with implementation of a health care law?

Duncan’s response to that last one: “This is consistent with the department’s practice of sharing helpful health information from the federal government with its stakeholders.” He specifically cited helping school districts gain access to resources during the H1N1 flu outbreak through flu.gov—and his participation in the First Lady’s childhood obesity-focused “Let’s Move” initiative. (He did not mention dancing with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. But maybe he should have.)

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