Like an individual prone to making stuff up, an administration that is averse to telling the truth sometimes has trouble keeping its story straight.
On Monday the president told us Obamacare isn’t just a Web site and the rest of the Affordable Care Act is all “good.” Then the mess was brushed off as a few computer errors. By Wednesday, after a White House spin, er, briefing session, House Democrats came out spouting talking points. This was typical:
“We didn’t work our hearts out for a website,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), quoting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “The route in, that’s a technical issue that we think is being solved,” Schakowsky said. . . .
Several complimented new browsing features on the website, or said enrollment is going smoothly in their states, most of which constructed their own marketplaces.
Back at the White House on Wednesday, Press Secretary Jay Carney tried some computer-speak (“bandwidth” and “optimize” and such), but he let on, “While we knew there would be some glitches and actually said publicly there could be some problems, we did not know until the problems manifested themselves after the launch they would be as significant as they turned out to be.” Was the White House misled? Uninformed? Didn’t ask to be informed? It’s not clear.
The Republicans, at last putting the president on defense and separating the Obamacare debacle from their own shutdown mess, are counting up the number of Dems asking for a delay of the individual mandate. Most prominent was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who is up for reelection in 2014.
The only questions that remain are just how big a mess this is and if the Obama team will have to delay its own signature legislation.
The Republicans will eventually get to grill Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, but they should be careful not to overplay their hand. They want to find out what the president knew and when, what all this cost, what the fix will require and most important, how many have actually enrolled. The latter information should inform their strategy. If the number is minuscule, it may be the administration that is forced to come to them to “extend the enrollment period”– something they began to do last night by reinterpreting the last date on which someone can enroll without incurring a penalty, thereby buying six more weeks to fix the mess. Regadless of the precise number, Republicans should consider their options carefully.
Investigating and potentially delaying some or all of Obamacare is plainly their best issue, and the one drawing the most attention in the media. That suggests they avoid even the hint of a shutdown and aim low, very low in any budget talks. The chances of getting something so good that the Obamacare mess pales in comparison is practically non-existent; therefore the watchword there should be simply to hold their ground on the sequester.
Despite internal divisions and a reckless shutdown squad, the GOP is now back on firm ground (unless they start digging their own grave again). They need to focus on Obamacare. Put themselves on the side of ordinary, frustrated Americans. And, most of all, make this an object lesson about the perils of gargantuan government that outstrips the abilities of even the best computer programmers.