Will Democrats’ Obamacare disunity ramp up or wind down? Why we’ll find out soon.

November 26, 2013

It's been a very rough past few weeks for President Obama and congressional Democrats. We'll soon find out if they will get some respite or whether things will get even rockier.


(Carolyn Kaster/ Associated Press)

Why? Because the end of the month is drawing near. That's the point at which Obama has said "the majority of people" who log on to the federal health-care Web site -- which has been plagued by technical problems -- "will be able to see it operate the way it was supposed to." It's the point by which Jeffrey Zients, the White House official in charge of repairing the online enrollment system, has said the site would work "smoothly" for "the vast majority of users" and be able to  accommodate 50,000 users at a time.

In short, it's the next big concrete deadline for an administration that has so far struggled to meet to them. And Democrats are watching nervously.

"By the administration's own actions and words -- the stakes are pretty high," said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "If they get the glitches worked out that should lessen the pressure on the Hill and with the public. If not, the pressure to do something is only going to get worse."

With lawmakers away from Washington for the Thanksgiving recess, the uproar over Obamacare has quieted a bit in the nation's capital. But before members of Congress left, many Democrats were already distancing themselves from the substance of the law. Thirty-nine House Democrats voted for a GOP-plan to allow Americans facing cancellations to stay on their health-care plans, even after Obama offered a fix that would not require legislation. Over in the Senate, some Democrats continued to push their own fixes. Polling, meanwhile, has shown the public holds the law in low regard.

All of which is why Nov. 30 matters so much. Democrats already have ample reason to run as far away from Obamacare as possible. Should the Obama administration fail to meet a self-imposed deadline to solve the technical problems with the Web site, there would be yet another reason for Democrats running for Congress in red and purple states and districts to put more daylight between themselves and the law.

But signs of improvement would be a much-needed bit of good news for Democrats tethered to the law by way of their prior support. While no one expects congressional Democrats to give Obamacare a big bear hug simply if the Web site starts showing noticeable signs of improvement, at the least, it wouldn't inflame the intra-party tensions that have already surfaced.

To some Democrats, it would also clear a hurdle that has prevented the party from touting the specifics of law, which they think would help sell it to the public.

"As long as the technology is a disaster, no one is going to cover all the positive reforms in Obamacare," said Paul Begala, a veteran Democratic strategist.

Republican pollster Glen Bolger said the Web site glitches are the "least of the Democrats' problems," but, "that said, the president put so much emphasis on having everything ready to re-roll out on November 30th that failure to relaunch properly will create a new round of late night comic mockings, as well as angst in the Democratic cloakrooms." 

The White House said Monday the administration was on pace to hit its marks.

"The last I heard from CMS is that we are -- we continue to be on track to meeting the goals that we established for ourselves and established for the website on November 30th," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

It's never a good sign for a political party when its candidates for Congress are running away from its leader and his signature legislation. It's a signal that something at the core of the party's image has become toxic. That's why Obama needs to get Democrats on the same page as much as possible -- and fast. To do that, he needs to first meet his own deadline.

Fixbits: 

Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) is under local pressure to step down.

Obama will speak about the economy at DreamWorks Animation on Tuesday. The studio is run by Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of Obama's most valuable donors.

Liz Cheney's daughters pitch her Wyoming Senate campaign in a new ad.

The Virginia Board of Elections on Monday declared Democrat Mark Herring the winner of the attorney general's race. But a recount seems likely.

Obama dealt with an immigration heckler.

Al Gore goes vegan.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) does a caricature of Richard Nixon.

Must-reads:

"Iran deal further tests Obama’s credibility" -- Scott Wilson, Washington Post

"Obama Signals a Shift From Military Might to Diplomacy" -- Mark Landler, New York Times

Sean Sullivan covers national politics for “The Fix.”
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