Call this the Tinkerbell Argument — the notion that ObamaCare’s failures can be partly blamed on a failure to applaud it enthusiastically enough. The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 with no Republican votes, but with its own funding mechanisms thanks to a myriad of taxes applied immediately. The Obama administration had more than three years to focus on delivery without any GOP interference in the executive branch, which it spent promulgating regulation like the contraception mandate rather than developing a web portal that worked. Republicans couldn’t manage to defund any of the ACA efforts even after winning control of the House.
But it’s Republicans rooting against the law that created the failures in his administration, Obama insisted yesterday:
Obama said that fixes to the HealthCare.gov Web portal are underway and that the exchange will function for a majority of people by the end of November. But the president said staunch opposition from congressional Republicans is inhibiting the law’s implementation.
“One of the problems we’ve had is one side of Capitol Hill is invested in failure,” Obama said at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council meeting in Washington. “We obviously are going to have to remarket and rebrand, and that will be challenging in this political environment.”
Both of these are nonsense arguments. Opposition to the law on Capitol Hill has zero substantive impact on the ACA; it’s merely rhetorical, and it’s being proven prescient by the White House’ performance. It hasn’t impacted funding or development in any significant sense at all. Democrats have had full control over the implementation of ObamaCare, and have full responsibility for its outcomes.
Furthermore, the idea that the only problems facing HHS and the White House are marketing and branding is nothing short of breathtakingly obtuse. Millions of people have lost coverage that they preferred, and will have to pay higher premiums and deductibles for coverage they didn’t choose. The website, as the Post notes in the same article, turns out to be only 60% or so complete when the administration insisted all year long that it was ready to roll out on time.
Obama seems unwilling or unable to come to grips with the scope of the disaster his administration has created. Instead of blaming Capitol Hill Republicans for not clapping enthusiastically enough to save Tink, a competent executive would start replacing the people responsible for the massive failures. In my column for The Week, I wonder why Obama still hasn’t sent heads rolling over the problem — and why we’re supposed to have confidence that the people who couldn’t succeed in three-plus years are the people to fix the problems over the next three weeks:
The most charitable conclusion from all of the revelations in the ACA collapse is that the management of this project has been incompetent, which for most executives would prompt a significant number of personnel changes. After all, leaving the same people in the same roles doesn’t produce a lot of confidence in the ability to fix those problems now.
Even former administration officials have begun to wonder aloud why no heads have rolled in the past seven weeks. “I think the only way to restore ultimate confidence going forward,” Robert Gibbs told NBC News, “is to make sure that whoever was in charge of this isn’t in charge of the long-term healthcare plan.” David Plouffe predicted on ABC News that personnel changes would come “once the website gets fixed.”
Unlike the previous fiascos, this one has seriously damaged Barack Obama himself, and not just in job approval ratings. Over the four-plus years of the Obama presidency, his enduring high marks on personal qualities have tided the White House over some rough times. According to the latestWashington Post/ABC News poll, those days are over. Voter impressions of Obama himself turned unfavorable by a majority for the first time in the series, 46/52; 60 percent viewed him favorably in January, and 50 percent just three weeks ago. Half of respondents now say they don’t see Obama as “honest and trustworthy,” which goes to 46/52 when narrowed down to registered voters. Only 38 percent of registered voters see Obama as a “good manager,” and his ratings as a “strong leader” dropped from 60/38 in January to 44/55 now.
These assessments are long overdue. A strong leader would have paid more attention to the central project of his agenda long before its implementation. An adequate executive would have already removed those responsible for inexplicable failure and replaced them with more competent officials. Even a mediocre manager would know better than to promise more success with the same team that produced a spectacular and costly failure. The longer those people remain in place, the more apparent it becomes that Barack Obama finds himself in far over his head as an executive — and the less confidence anyone can have in his big-government promises and agenda.
Unless, of course, you believe in fairy tales.