ACA Disaster

Obama Can’t Blame the Republicans This Time

The argument Obama won in 2012 about the role of government has already been squandered. The Obamacare rollout is a disaster for progressive politics, says Kirsten Powers.

10.25.13 5:00 PM ET

Leading up to Election Day 2008, candidate Barack Obama declared, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” Conservatives heard a menacing threat. For liberals, it was a rallying cry. The battle was on.

Obama quickly became an effective advocate for the view that government is a critical part of the solution to society’s problems. So effective that he won reelection in the midst of a struggling economy. Even Republicans had to admit the 2012 face-off had ended with a rejection of the conservative creed that government is the problem. In an election postmortem, Newt Gingrich told Bloomberg News that conservatives were “profoundly wrong” in their reading of public sentiment and must “rethink our assumptions.” He said, “Part of it is a greater willingness to have government activism than most conservatives thought.”

Obama and liberals were winning the argument. Then came the epic incompetence of the last few weeks. The rollout of the insurance exchange that is central to the success of the Affordable Care Act has been nothing short of a disaster. This failure is a double whammy: it puts the future of Obamacare in even greater peril while placing Obama’s case for activist government on life support. If the government can’t build a functioning website to support the most important initiative of the president’s administration, then how can it be trusted to do anything?

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told The Wall Street Journal that the botched launch of the $400 million website was “another challenge that’s no worse than the near-death experiences” the health-care law has seen over the past three years. But it is a million times worse, because it’s self-inflicted. This time, Obama can’t blame Republicans. 

The administration had to know it had only one shot to launch the exchanges, and it blew it. The damage it has caused was captured in a Washington Post–ABC News poll released Monday. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed believed the “website glitches” are “part of a broader problem with the health care law.”

What makes it worse is that officials knew they weren’t ready, and they went forward anyway. The Associated Press reported that “Website builders saw red flags for months.” The Washington Post recounted, “Days before the launch of President Obama’s online health ­insurance marketplace, government officials and contractors tested a key part of the Web site to see whether it could handle tens of thousands of consumers at the same time. It crashed after a simulation in which just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously. Despite the failed test, federal health officials plowed ahead.” Sebelius admitted Monday that the website “didn’t have enough testing, specifically for high volumes, for a complicated project.”

What have they been doing for the last few years? The administration has claimed that it can’t be helped that setting up an insurance exchange is so complex. Sebelius even lamented that she wished she had “five years” to finish this project. Who needs five years to build a website? This isn’t a search for the cure for cancer.

In the week leading up to the launch of the exchanges, Obama assured Americans that using the health insurance hub would be as easy as buying a plane ticket online.  Apparently he wasn’t in on what was happening behind the scenes. Sebelius told CNN that the first the president heard of problems was in “the first couple of days” after the site went live October 1. If this is true, then either the president didn’t ask about the site’s capabilities or someone lied to him. If the former is true, then he has an incredible lack of imagination and curiosity. If the latter is the case, then why hasn’t anyone been fired?

True to form, the Most Transparent Administration in History has not been particularly forthcoming about the problems the site faces. At firs, it claimed these were just minor glitches caused by unexpectedly high traffic. The president famously compared these glitches to those that Apple has experienced in the past. He might be interested to know that Apple fired the manager responsible for the last major snafu the company encountered.

Obamacare supporter Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) complained Thursday on MSNBC that the administration “[hasn’t] leveled with the United States Senate. They haven’t briefed us on what they think are the underlying problems. They were supposed to do so yesterday, and canceled the meeting.”

He called for a consideration of a one-year delay of the individual mandate and demanded: “The administration needs to tell us what is going on…[they need] to level with the American people. There needs to be fuller, fairer, more straightforward, and complete accounting for what's going on.”

That’s the understatement of the year.