Wonkbook: Obamacare’s Web site is really bad

October 4, 2013

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas's morning policy news primer. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. (Jeff Martin / for The Washington Post)
Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.(Jeff Martin / for The Washington Post)

"We’re building a complicated piece of technology," Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said on the first day of Obamacare, "and hopefully you’ll give us the same slack you give Apple."

The Apple analogy has been oft-used by the Obama administration -- including by President Obama himself.

"A couple of weeks ago, Apple rolled out a new mobile operating system, and within days, they found a glitch, so they fixed it," Obama said. "I don’t remember anybody suggesting Apple should stop selling iPhones or iPads or threatening to shut down the company if they didn’t."

But the Obama administration doesn't have a basically working product that would be improved by a software update. They have a Web site that almost nobody has been able to successfully use. If Apple launched a major new product that functioned as badly as Obamacare's online insurance marketplace, the tech world would be calling for Tim Cook's head.

The good news for Obamacare is that lots of people want to sign up. Lots and lots of people. Many more, in fact, than anyone expected. The bad news is that the Obama administration's online insurance marketplace -- which serves 34 states -- can't handle the success.

"The amount of demand is really driving the issues," a senior administration official told me. "But we’re adding capacity every hour."

Yes, the overwhelming crush of traffic is behind many of the Web site's failures. But the Web site was clearly far, far from prepared for traffic at anywhere near these levels. That's a planning flaw: The Obama administration badly underestimated the level of interest. The fact that the traffic is good news for the law doesn't obviate the fact that the site's inability to absorb that traffic is bad news for the law.

Part of the problem, according to a number of designers, is that the site is badly coded, which makes the traffic problems more acute. There's a darkly amusing thread on Reddit where web designers are picking through the site's code and mocking it mercilessly. "They're loading 11 CSS files and 62 (wat?) JavaScript files on each page, uncompressed and without expires headers," writes Spektr44. "They have blocks of HTML inexplicably wrapped in script tags. Wtf?"

Lots of people are seeing this screen when they try to sign up for Obamacare.
Lots of people are seeing this screen when they try to sign up for Obamacare.

Some of the problems on the site don't require any particular coding experience to identify. While the design is clean and clear, the instructions can be confusing. For instance, when you choose your username, the site says: "The username is case sensitive. Choose a username that is 6-74 characters long and must contain a lowercase or capital letter, a number, or one of these symbols _.@/-."

Making matters worse, the warning that your username doesn't comply disappears when you click your cursor in the password field, rather than when you type in a conforming username. (At least for me. Though a few screens after that, the site crashed on me entirely.)

No one knows how many people have actually signed up through the federal exchanges. As of Thursday morning, health-care reporters were desperately trying to find even one. Eventually, Chad Henderson was of Georgia was located. He was subsequently interviewed by pretty much every news organization in the country. According to his Facebook page, he was also asked to be on a conference call put on by the Department of Health and Human Services, which suggests that they're not exactly overwhelmed with successful applicants to trot out before the press.

While we can't know for sure, it's possible and even likely that the number of visitors who are actually being able to sign up for insurance is quite low.

Republicans who decided to shut down the government this week rather than relentlessly message against the Affordable Care Act's glitches did the law a great favor. The site's flaws are real -- and if there was more focus on them, they'd be quite embarrassing.

Of course, the problem for Republicans is that the proximate cause of the problems directly undercuts their agenda. The fact that the site is buckling under the traffic is not a reason to defund or delay the law. Indeed, it's perverse to use the overwhelming demand as a reason to take the law away from the people who so clearly need it. And even if it takes a few more days or even weeks until the site is working as well as it should be, the open enrollment period still has another five months and 27 days (or so) to run. These are fixable, not fatal, problems.

But the Obama administration did itself -- and the millions of people who wanted to explore signing up -- a terrible disservice by building a Web site that, four days into launch, is still unusable for most Americans. They knew that the only way to quiet the law's critics was to implement it effectively. And building a working e-commerce Web site is not an impossible task, even with the added challenges of getting various government data services to talk to each other. Instead, the Obama administration gave critics arguing that the law isn't ready for primetime more ammunition for their case.

There are signs the site is improving. The early word from insurers is that basically no one was able to sign up during the first two days, though successful applications began to "trickle" in on day three. HHS says that added capacity has cut wait times by a third, though wait times aren't the only problem, as I found when I got through the queue only to have the site crash on me five or six screens in. The Obama administration need to get the marketplace working, and fast.

Wonkbook's Number of the Day: 20 to 30 percent. That, according to a senior US bank executive quoted in the Financial Times, is how much extra cash his bank is delivering to ATMs to prepare for the risk that a breach of the debt ceiling sets off a bank run. If that doesn't terrify you, I'm not sure what would. 

Wonkbook's Quote of the Day: "Treasury hasn't put out its plan for something that would be unimaginable," said White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: 1) a week in shutdown; 2) on the front lines of Obamacare; 3) fiscal crisis proves wisdom of Fed's taper delay; 4) say it with me, financial regulation isn't boring; and 5) killing off Keystone.

1) Top story: The debt-ceiling fight is over. Or is it?

Boehner may pass debt-ceiling increase with Democratic help. "In meetings with small groups of rank-and-file lawmakers, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has emphasized that he will not permit the country to default for the first time on its debt. Given that a bloc of hard-line conservatives is unlikely to vote to increase the limit under any circumstances, Boehner has told fellow Republicans that they must craft an agreement that can attract significant Democratic support...One lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Thursday that Boehner has even suggested that he may be willing to risk the fury of conservatives by relying on a majority of Democratic votes — and less than a majority of Republicans — to pass a debt-ceiling increase." Lori Montgomery and Ed O'Keefe in The Washington Post.

...So did Boehner just end the debt-ceiling fight? "I asked Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, about the report. “Speaker Boehner has always said that the United States will not default on its debt, but if we're going to raise the debt limit, we need to deal with the drivers of our debt and deficits," he e-mailed. "That’s why we need a bill with cuts and reforms to get our economy moving again."...Imagine a bank robber who swears no hostages will be harmed under any circumstances but also says no one gets out alive if his demands aren't met. That's more or less Boehner's position." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

@DKThomp: Boehner: We must raise the debt limit no matter what, and also Obama must agree to spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling

...Or has Boehner's position not changed at all? "Boehner's spokesman [also] reiterate[d] that Boehner's position on this remains as unreasonable and absurd as ever...Boehner's position, dating back to 2011, has been twofold. On the one hand he says that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic and that he favors avoiding catastrophe. On the other hand he says that he requires unrelated public policy concessions in order to agree to a measure that he himself says he supports." Matthew Yglesias in Slate.

In September there had been a deal to pass a clean continuing resolution. Then Boehner balked. "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reneged on a deal they hashed out in private earlier this year to pass a “clean” stopgap bill funding the government. Reid said Boehner never wanted to wage a protracted battle over ObamaCare as part of the negotiations to keep the government running. “I know that that’s not the path he preferred,” Reid said. “I know that because we met the first week we came back in September and he told me that what he wanted was a clean CR and the $988 [billion] number."" Alexander Bolton in The Hill.

How the White House sees the shutdown (and debt ceiling!) fight. "To the White House, the shutdown/debt ceiling fight is quite simple, and quite radical: Republicans are trying to create a new, deeply undemocratic pathway through which a minority party that lost the last election can enact an agenda that would never pass the normal legislative process. It's nothing less than an effort to use the threat of a financial crisis to nullify the results of the last election. And the White House isn't going to let it happen." Ezra Klein in The Washington Post.

@Goldfarb It is VERY possible we see a clean debt ceiling hike and the government remain shutdown.

Democrats want to do the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling in one fell swoop. "Democratic demands are the same as they’ve always been: They want the GOP to agree to a debt ceiling increase and a continuing resolution to open the government that doesn’t include policy riders, particularly related to Obamacare. But now that the government is closed and the debt limit just two weeks away, leadership on Thursday sought to more explicitly connect the two critical items." Burgess Everett in Politico.

...And the GOP wants to grand bargain some more. "[S]ome GOP lawmakers were exploring whether the political stalemate over funding the government could best be resolved by crafting a broader fiscal package that would include an increase in the debt ceiling...The speaker expressed optimism at the lunch that he might be able to combine the two issues to embark on broader budget negotiations with the White House and Senate Democrats." Janet Hook and Patrick O'Connor in The Wall Street Journal.

@ModeledBehavior: How many debt ceiling showdowns before in retrospect it would've been worth defaulting the 1st time to finally discredit the far right?

...They also floated more ideas for mini-spending bills. "House Republicans proposed two more ideas Wednesday for narrow spending bills that could be passed to mitigate the effects of the government shutdown, this time in the area of law enforcement and nutrition programs for women and children...This week, the House is on pace to pass at least five of these bills and send them to the Senate. However, Democrats have so far said they would reject them, an effort to push the GOP to accept a continuing resolution that funds the entire government." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

In Rockville, Obama warns of economic damage of shutdown, default. "President Obama continued to ramp up the pressure on House Republicans over the government shutdown, accusing them Thursday of "careening from crisis to crisis." Appearing at the M. Luis Construction company in Rockville, Md., Obama warned of the impact of the shutdown on small businesses and the U.S.'s economic recovery. "The worst part is this is not happening because of a once-in-a-lifetime economic recession; it's not happening because of some financial crisis. It's happening because of the reckless Republican shutdown in Washington," Obama said." David Nakamura in The Washington Post.

@samsteinhp: Senior adm officials briefed some reporters today on CR/debt ceiling. unless it's a great bluff, they really aren't buckling on either.

Treasury is not talking about backup plans. "White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman said Thursday that "absolutely you have to do prudent planning," but wouldn't disclose whether any decisions had been made..."Treasury hasn't put out its plan for something that would be unimaginable," he told Wall Street Journal reporters and editors...The senior Treasury official tried to dismiss a number of alternatives that bankers and other analysts have floated in the event the debt ceiling wasn't raised. " Damian Paletta in The Wall Street Journal.

...What ways are there around the debt ceiling? "[S]ome law professors say he does have options. They may be politically unattractive, unpalatable to the financial markets and subject to legal challenges, these experts say, but these choices are better than failing to live up to the nation’s financial commitments...Mr. Obama could continue borrowing without Congressional authorization...Were Mr. Obama to act, court challenges would inevitably follow. But most legal experts said they expected judges to stay out of the fray, either by ruling that the particular challengers had not suffered the sort of direct injury that gave them standing to sue or by ducking the issue by calling it a “political question” not fit for judicial resolution." Adam Liptak in The New York Times.

Debt ceiling > shutdown, when it comes to the danger. "Treasury bonds are also used as a benchmark against which most other financial assets are priced. If the government was forced to pay higher interest rates, the borrowing costs for businesses and homeowners would rise as well. This would lead to less borrowing, which would put a brake on economic growth. Banks, meanwhile, already have large holdings of Treasury bonds. If the value of those bonds suddenly dropped, banks would have less money on hand and would be less likely to lend to one another, potentially causing a freeze in the credit markets like the one in 2008." Nathaniel Popper in The New York Times.

@conorsen: Have to think the business community will ensure a soft landing for Boehner if he hikes the debt ceiling with Dem votes.

Long debate over debt ceiling could harm economy, report says. "The Obama administration warned Thursday that a prolonged debate over whether to raise the federal debt ceiling would harm the economy by depressing business and consumer confidence, increasing stock market volatility, erasing household wealth and increasing interest rates on mortgage and corporate loans. In a new report, the Treasury Department studied the economic fallout from a similar debt ceiling impasse in 2011...In 2011, according to Treasury economists, “consumer and business confidence fell sharply, and financial markets went through stress and job growth slowed. In 2011, U.S. debt was downgraded, the stock market fell, measures of volatility jumped, and credit risk spreads widened noticeably.”" Zachary A. Goldfarb in The Washington Post.

Primary source: Read the reportThe Washington Post.

From that report, the scariest paragraph about the debt ceiling you’ll read today. "The United States has never defaulted on its obligations, and the U. S. dollar and Treasury securities are at the center of the international financial system. A default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic: credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

@damianpaletta: Stock market is starting a serious slide as it becomes clear that Washington doesn't know the endgame on shutdown or debt ceiling.

...And here's the second scariest paragraph, this one from the FT. "US banks were stocking cash machines with extra funds, investors dumping Treasury bills and US equity indices sinking on Thursday in a sign of mounting unease that Washington risks defaulting on its debt later this month...One senior executive said his bank was delivering 20-30 per cent more cash than usual in case panicked customers tried to withdraw funds en masse." James Politi, Michael Mackenzie, and Tom Braithwaite in The Financial Times.

Don't believe the Treasury? Just listen to the IMF. "The U.S. risks "seriously damaging" the global economy if lawmakers fail to raise the government's borrowing limit in the coming weeks, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, warned Thursday. With a weak global recovery facing headwinds from the euro zone, bouts of market volatility and slowing output in emerging markets, "the ongoing political uncertainty over the budget and the debt ceiling does not help," Ms. Lagarde said in prepared remarks for a speech at George Washington University." Ian Talley in The Wall Street Journal.

How the shutdown hurts the economy. "While there are some outliers (Mark Zandi at Moody's and Ethan Harris at Merrill Lynch seem to be the resident pessimists) the consensus is that a one week shutdown will cut fourth quarter growth by 0.1 or 0.2 percentage points." Dylan Matthews in The Washington Post.

When will Congress feel pressure to end the shutdown? It could take weeks. "[W]hen do these effects become so overwhelming that the political pressure on Congress becomes unbearable? How long can members of Congress hold out before they simply have to reach a deal and end the shutdown? That's a harder question, and there's reason to think that Congress can hold out for quite some time — a week, perhaps more. During the last shutdown in 1995-96, only a small portion of the country felt the impacts at first. It wasn't until contractors and businesses started laying people off that the political pressure became more acute. That could take awhile." Brad Plumer in The Washington Post.

@GagnonMacro: Politics of budget and debt ceiling are very different. Obama holds all cards on debt ceiling, but needs Repubs on budget.

Top bankers say that default would be disastrous. "The executives, in town for a series of meetings arranged by the Financial Services Forum trade group, told Mr. Obama that even the possibility of the U.S. defaulting on its debt, should policy makers fail to raise the ceiling on the nation's borrowing, would derail the nascent recovery and cause economic harm...Among those in attendance at Wednesday's meeting were Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. CEO James Dimon, American International Group Inc. CEO Robert Benmosche, Citigroup Inc. CEO Michael Corbat, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman and John Stumpf, who heads Wells Fargo & Co...Mr. Obama was joined by top officials including Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Vice President Joseph Biden." Jared Favole and Deborah Solomon in The Wall Street Journal.

House and Senate bills would pay federal workers for shutdown furloughs. "House and Senate lawmakers this week proposed legislation to retroactively pay the roughly 800,000 federal workers who are furloughed because of the partial government shutdown that started Tuesday. The House back-pay measure could be up for a floor vote as early as Saturday...On the Senate side, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) has proposed nearly identical back-pay legislation." Josh Hicks in The Washington Post.

Furloughed workers snarl states' benefit systems. "Applications from federal workers have been flooding state unemployment offices since the shutdown began Tuesday. It will likely be weeks before workers see benefit payments, which would be a small share of what they typically earn. The flurry is throwing a spotlight onto a complex, little-used program funded by the federal government but administered by states, each of which has its own eligibility rules and compensation levels. The program is operated much in the same fashion as state unemployment insurance programs, except that the benefits are covered by various federal agencies." Josh Mitchell and Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.

...And snarling the West Wing. "Shortly before the federal government shut down at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, a small group of top White House officials huddled in the West Wing for what turned out to be a discussion of critical importance: how to run the place. They listened as soon-to-be-furloughed junior staff members showed them how to send a news release, issue a proclamation and distribute daily reports of President Obama’s activities. One crucial piece of information was how to clear someone through the security gates for Oval Office appointments...But now, 1,265 of the 1,701 people normally assigned to what is called the Executive Office of the President, which includes people who work in the White House as well as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door, have been sent home on furlough." Michael D. Shear in The New York Times.

...And it's devastating biomedical research. "'I don’t think the public realizes the devastating impact that this has on scientific research. Scientific research is not like turning on and off an assembly line. Experiments are frequently long-term and complicated. They involve specific treatments and specific times. You can’t just stop and restart it. You’ve probably just destroyed the experiment.'" Brandon Keim in Wired.

Shutdown could diminish GOP hopes of winning Senate. "[T]he party is looking for ways to distance its Senate candidates from the ensuing mess...To regain a majority for the first time since 2007, Republicans would have to win six Senate seats — a big lift — but the electoral map gives them some advantages. Of the 35 states where Senate elections will be held, Democrats will be defending seats in 20, including in seven conservative states." Karen Tumulty and Paul Kane in The Washington Post.

KLEIN: Boehner finds splintered party is hard to lead. "We’re used to brinkmanship in Washington resulting from conflict between Democrats and Republicans. But this shutdown is different. It’s a fight between Republicans and Republicans -- or, more specifically, Republicans and the Tea Party...The reason the establishment has such trouble with the Tea Party is that the Tea Party really, truly means it. They don’t want to cut a deal. They don’t want to get the most that they reasonably can. Most represent extremely safe Republican districts and don’t care about positioning the party as a whole for the next election. Traditional politicians such as Boehner have no playbook for dealing with a powerful faction that’s completely uninterested in strategic or pragmatic concerns." Ezra Klein in Bloomberg.

WOLF: America flirts with self-destruction. "If the opposition is prepared to inflict such damage on their own country, the restraint that makes democracy work has gone...In a democracy, people overturn laws by winning elections, not by threatening the closure of government or even an outright default. It is impossible to run the government of a serious country under blackmail threats of this kind. Every time the administration gives in, it stores up more difficulty for itself." Martin Wolf in The Financial Times.

@ObsoleteDogma: Email from a British friend about the debt ceiling: "Seriously, what is wrong with America?"

BERNSTEIN: The shutdown's economic consequences. "[I]t’s ironic that if the shutdown drags on, it will be increasingly difficult to assess its economic damage. That’s a bug to me, but surely a feature to others...At any rate, the furloughed government workers alone amount to about 0.5 percent of the work force who would be counted as unemployed if they remain so through the middle of this month; that’s when the next survey would take place.  Except that there won’t be a survey if the government remains in partial shutdown.  Which all sounds a bit like “The B.L.S. Meets Alice in Wonderland.”" Jared Bernstein in The New York Times.

NOONAN: James A. Baker on the shutdown and debt ceiling. "His refusal to negotiate with Republicans over spending and the debt limit is "an obstinate position, it's not a leadership position." The Republicans made a mistake early on with a "maximalist" position on ObamaCare—they could not realistically achieve their aim of defunding when the Democrats hold the White House and Senate. But the president's position is a "pretty damn maximalist position itself, and people will say that." Presidents, he notes, always negotiate in order to get an increase in the debt limit—its their job. "It's a failure of leadership to say, 'I'm just gonna sit here while the government remains closed,' or, with respect to the debt limit, 'I'll sit here and not negotiate and the catastrophic consequences I warned you of will just have to happen.' . . . He has the burden of moving forward. He's the leader of the country. He has to get the debt limit raised to avoid default."" Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal.

PONNURU: How to make a non-disastrous debt deal. "Look back at every previous piece of legislation that raised the debt limit while also making changes to other government policies, and almost always the debt limit was the occasion for a bipartisan deal rather than the achievement of only one party’s goals...Republicans might offer a temporary increase in spending from the levels of sequestration in order to delay the time when the Internal Revenue Service starts fining people for not buying insurance." Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.

HASSETT AND MCCLOSKEY: Obama's revisionist history of the debt ceiling. "He keeps asserting that the debt limit has never been used "to extort a president or a government party." Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is selling the same story, saying "until very recently, Congress typically raised the debt ceiling on a routine basis . . . the threat of default was not a bargaining chip in the negotiations." This is simply untrue...Debt-limit votes often have been contentious, but on the whole they serve an important function. First, they force painful votes by legislators who would prefer to offer supporters free lunches through unfunded spending programs. Without these votes, politicians of both parties would have a significantly easier time ignoring fiscal discipline." Kevin Hassett and Abby McCloskey in The Wall Street Journal.

WOLFERS: A fuzzy first indicator of the shutdown. "We're not going to see the September nonfarm payrolls report until this whole government-shutdown mess is resolved. I'm following the data on initial unemployment claims, instead. They're a timely indicator -- the latest data are for last week...The latest survey suggests good news, with initial claims for the week ending Sept. 28 of 308,000. Thus, over the past four weeks, initial claims have averaged 305,000, a distinct move down from an average of 332,000 over the previous four weeks." Justin Wolfers in Bloombergt.

Music recommendations interlude: Lionel Richie, "Dancing on the Ceiling," 1986.

Top opinion

KABASERVICE: How moderate Republicans are to blame for extreme Republicans. "The problem for Republicans was that playing a “responsible” role appeared to consign them to permanent minority status. For a 40-year span beginning in 1955, Republicans were in a minority in the House and were in the majority for only six years in the Senate. By the early 1990s, even moderate House Republicans felt that the ruling Democrats had grown arrogant and corrupt. As moderates came to believe that nothing was to be gained from cooperating with Democrats, they became more receptive to Mr. Gingrich’s argument that the way to dislodge the entrenched majority was to polarize the electorate while attacking Congress as an irredeemable and illegitimate institution." Geoffrey Kabaservice in The New York Times.

KRUGMAN: Reform turns real. "Obamacare isn’t up for a popular referendum, or a revote of any kind. It’s the law, and it’s going into effect. Its future will depend on how it works over the next few years, not the next few weeks...[T]he glitches of October won’t matter in the long run. But why are they actually encouraging? Because they appear, for the most part, to be the result of the sheer volume of traffic, which has been much heavier than expected. And this means that one big worry of Obamacare supporters — that not enough people knew about the program, so that many eligible Americans would fail to sign up — is receding fast." Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

ROGOFF: In defense of British austerity. "With 20-20 hindsight, yes, the UK could have borrowed more. But we do not have hindsight at the moment decisions have to be taken. To pretend we always knew everything would be fine, and to assess performance accordingly, is just plain bunk." Kenneth Rogoff in The Financial Times.

I want to try this interlude: Kayaking down a drainage ditch at 56kph.

2) From the front lines of the Obamacare launch

‘A trickle, not a wave:’ What insurers are seeing in Obamacare enrollment. "Health insurers and individuals began reporting a trickle of enrollments in the new online marketplaces created by the health-care law, as federal and state officials scrambled to try to fix technical problems that have prevented many consumers from buying coverage. The White House has declined to release any national statistics on sign-ups, saying complete information was not yet available...Several insurers said that they are recciving at least sporadic enrollment reports from the Department of Health and Human Services, which is running the insurance marketplace for 34 states that have declined to set up their own exchanges." Sarah Kliff, Sandhya Somashekhar, and Lena H. Sun in The Washington Post.

Watch Obamacare Q&A: What if I already have health insuranceSarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

Wait times cut by a third, HHS says. "HHS spokeswoman Joanne Peters said 7 million people have visited healthcare.gov in the past two days. The department still has not said how many of those visitors have actually signed up for health insurance...The department said added capacity has reduced the number of people waiting online to apply. Waiting times to enroll by phone have been cut in half. In addition to the 7 million Web hits, HHS has logged 167,000 requests for Web chats, and HHS's enrollment call centers have gotten nearly 300,000 calls since Tuesday." Sam Baker in The Hill.

Congress, staff required to buy gold Obamacare plans. "Regulations issued by the Obama administration this week would require members of Congress to buy one of the top-tier insurance plans from the ObamaCare exchanges. The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the House sent guidance to members of Congress this week, based on a directive from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), that says they must choose plans from the "gold" level of insurance coverage, not "bronze" or "silver" plans. "Platinum" is the only higher level of coverage under the exchanges. "For plan year 2014, Members of Congress and designated congressional staff will choose from 112 options in the Gold Metal tier on the DC SHOP," CAO said in a fact sheet that was emailed to Congress." Pete Kasperowicz in The Hill.

Meet Chad Henderson, the Obamacare enrollee tons of reporters are calling. "Chad Henderson [is] a 21-year-old in Georgia who had successfully enrolled in coverage on the federal marketplace...Henderson is a part-time worker at a day-care center. He did not qualify for tax credits to purchase health coverage because his income is below the poverty line. Since Georgia is not expanding the Medicaid program, that meant Henderson was essentially responsible for his entire premium...He logged onto the Web site around midnight on Oct. 1, ready to purchase coverage. Part of his decision was ideological: He wants the health-care law to succeed." Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post.

...And meet Leslie Foster, another new enrollee. "Leslie Foster, a 28-year-old freelance filmmaker in Hollywood, is among the first to sign up for an insurance plan. After spending several hours browsing the California insurance "exchange" late Tuesday night—when traffic was lower and the online marketplace operated more smoothly—Mr. Foster made his choice at about 10 a.m. Wednesday." Christopher Weaver in The Wall Street Journal.

3) With fiscal crisis in the air, the Fed is very happy with its decision not to taper

Boston Fed’s Rosengren on central bank stimulus, fiscal shocks. "In an interview with The Washington Post, Boston Fed President Eric S. Rosengren said he strongly supports the central bank’s decision last month to keep pumping money into the economy. But he did not expect that lawmakers would shut down the federal government two weeks later, and he cautioned that failing to raise the nation’s debt limit would cause even more volatility...On Wednesday, Rosengren also said the central bank could tinker with its commitment to keeping short-term interest rates low to try to increase support for the economy. “We should think about what other tools are at our disposable to possibly keep interest rates lower,” he said." Ylan Q. Mui in The Washington Post.

No jobs report complicates Fed thinking. "The most closely watched piece of economic data isn't coming out as scheduled Friday and is postponed indefinitely. Other reports are likely to be delayed even after the government opens. That has left the Federal Reserve with limited information as it weighs a decision on its bond-buying program later this month...The jobs report scheduled for Friday—covering September—will be released after the shutdown ends, but the Labor Department has not announced a schedule... shutdown lasting more than a few weeks could also cause headaches for the October jobs report, due out Nov. 1, said Keith Hall, a former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which produces the jobs report. Government analysts are due to start the next survey of households in mid-October, muddying the data due to a delay in data collection." Ben Casselman and Eric Morath in The Wall Street Journal.

As White House pushes trade deal abroad, opposition starts to take shape at home. "Nearing possible completion of what would be the most ambitious free-trade agreement in a generation, the Obama administration is facing a difficult sales job at home as key industries and unions grow cautious, domestic manufacturers move to protect their markets, and trade skeptics amp up their opposition...Ford joined with the United Auto Workers, steel companies, the technology industry and others to gather congressional support for a recent letter telling the White House it should use the negotiations to make countries such as Japan promise not to use the value of their currency to boost exports." Howard Schneider in The Washington Post.

It’s not just people. Corporations are getting more unequal, too. "The more interesting thing, though, is how Apple's domination reflects an increasingly unequal cash distribution across American corporations generally...The 50 richest companies accounted for 64 percent of the $1.48 trillion total cash pile as of mid-2013 -- up from 61 percent last year, 59 percent in 2011, and 54 percent in 2006." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.

The poor might’ve been hardest hit by the housing crisis, but the rich complain most. "[A] new analysis shows that people in wealthy neighborhoods complain a lot more about all aspects of the mortgage process, from brokers to servicers to underwriters. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been taking and tabulating complaints about all different kinds of financial services for a couple years now. They don't collect demographic information, but the consulting firm Deloitte was able to break down mortgage-related complaints by Zip code, and found that the areas with the highest median incomes were the loudest." Lydia DePillis in The Washington Post.

4) Financial regulation stops being boring and starts being crucial

Regulators offer a sneak peak of big banks’ resolution plans. "On Thursday, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. released portions of the so-called “living wills” of the country’s 11 largest banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase...In its living will, Bank of America said it could “quickly obtain cash” for its securities in stressed market conditions through “repurchase agreements or outright sales.” The bank maintains excess liquidity through its securities and cash, which totaled $342 billion at the end of June, according to its plan. Citigroup, meanwhile, said it has about $389 billion in high-quality liquid assets that could offset potential declines in liquidity that may occur under stress. The firm said it would sell or liquidate its broker-dealer business in one worst-case scenario...JPMorgan said it had $147 billion of regulatory capital as of the second quarter to fend off an economic crisis. The nation’s largest bank also has about $278 billion in securities that can be quickly converted into cash and other sources of liquidity that should enable it to “endure severe stress events and absorb substantial losses without failing,” according to its will." Danielle Douglas in The Washington Post.

...And you should be watching Gary Gensler's last stand. "Most of his staff have been sent home because of the government shutdown, he is facing significant pressure to delay or moderate sweeping new derivatives rules and he is due to leave office by the end of the year.Gary Gensler, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, is sitting in the darkened headquarters of the agency in Washington and refusing to budge...Gensler added that the implementation of new rules designed to shift more bilaterally-traded derivatives to transparent electronic platforms this week had gone better than many had expected." Tom Braithwaite in The Financial Times.

Mother Nature interlude: This lake is lethally alkaline.

5) Killing off Keystone

The campaign to get Obama to nix Keystone. "[M]ore than 150 Obama campaign alumni are pushing the president to reject the proposed 1,700-mile pipeline, which would carry millions of gallons of crude oil from Alberta in Canada to American refineries on the Gulf Coast. Mr. Obama has sent mixed signals on his decision, due in the next months, but many environmentalists expect him to approve the pipeline." Sarah Wheaton in The New York Times.

Court orders closer scrutiny of oil-spill claims against BP. "BP has been complaining for most of the past year that its fund for compensating economic victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was out of control, and that a New Orleans court official was approving payments to people who had not been affected at all by the disaster. On Wednesday night, an appeals court agreed in a ruling that could help cap the gusher of payments under one portion of BP’s multi-front legal effort to put the spill behind it." Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

Reading material interlude: The best sentences Wonkblog read today.

Wonkblog Roundup

‘A trickle, not a wave:’ What insurers are seeing in Obamacare enrollmentSarah Kliff, Sandhya Somashekhar, and Lena H. Sun.

The poor might’ve been hardest hit by the housing crisis, but the rich complain mostLydia DePillis.

Why we won’t mint the coin, why we can’t just pay off bonds, and other scary debt-ceiling factsEzra Klein.

Did John Boehner just end the debt-ceiling fightEzra Klein.

Obamacare Q&A: What if I already have health insuranceSarah Kliff.

How the White House sees the shutdown (and debt ceiling!) fightEzra Klein.

The scariest paragraph about the debt ceiling you’ll read todayBrad Plumer.

It’s not just people. Corporations are getting more unequal, tooLydia DePillis.

Meet Chad Henderson, the Obamacare enrollee tons of reporters are callingSarah Kliff.

When will Congress feel pressure to end the shutdown? It could take weeksBrad Plumer.

How a debt ceiling fight hurts the economy, in six chartsZachary A. Goldfarb.

One winner from the shutdown: NetflixLydia DePillis.

How the shutdown hurts the economy, in one chartDylan Matthews.

Et Cetera

Twitter filing to go publicVindu Goel and Michael J. de la Merced in The New York Times.

D.C. car chase and shootout comes to bloody endMichael S. Schmidt in The New York Times.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams.

SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=business, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=bg52e9xhqr, display_more=true, moderationrequired=false, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, comments_period=14, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, display_ugc_photos=false, includepause=true, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Show Comments
Most Read Business
Next Story
Sarah Kliff | October 3, 2013