By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III
(Trice Edney Wire) – “I am sorry that they (people losing their health insurance) are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me. We’ve got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.” – President Barack Obama November 7, 2013
After the Republicans in Congress held America hostage by shutting down the government, their public approval numbers hit an all time low. According to Gallup polling on October 9, 2013, the Republican Party was viewed favorably by 28 percent of Americans, down from 38 percent in September.
This became the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992. The Washington Post reported on October 14th “…Republicans are not only less popular than Democrat’s; their popularity is falling faster than Democrats’. They are, in other words, losing, and badly.”
On October 22nd the Daily Kos reported, “So while Democrats and President Obama saw their net ratings drop by 10 and 1 points, respectively, Republicans and tea partiers saw their ratings drop by 17 and 19 points…The other part of the story is that the GOP’s numbers went down by more despite starting out in the toilet.”
The shutdown of the government was led by a small band of ultra-conservative elected officials who were more focused on their narrow political ideology than operating in the best interest of the American people. According to The New York Times, “Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy.” The result was the “blueprint to defunding Obamacare.”
Based upon the weakness displayed by House Speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) and the baseless rhetoric of Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other Tea Party backed Republicans, the damage to the Republican Party and its brand was significant and possibly long-term. According to a national CNN poll taken in late October, “three-quarters of Americans said that most GOP members of Congress don’t deserve to be re-elected. A majority said that the Republicans’ policies are too extreme. And according to the poll, Democrats have an 8-point advantage over the Republicans in an early indicator in the battle for control of Congress.”
In August and September of this year, experts projected that Republicans would hold on to the House and could pick up seats in the Senate during the 2014 mid-term election. In October the Republicans shot themselves in the foot. A majority of Americans blamed Republicans for the government shut down and saw President Obama as the winner in that standoff.
Then the administration turned the tables on itself with the failed October 1, 2013 launch of the Healthcare.gov website and the recent admission by the President that his stump-speech promise that, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” was untrue. According to Kaiser Health News, “Florida Blue, for example, is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state. Kaiser Permanente in California has sent notices to 160,000 people – about half of its individual business in the state.”
How could the administration not be prepared to successfully launch the website that would facilitate American’s ability to access the benefits of its signature piece of legislation? At the October 1 launch there were “front-end” and “back-end” problems. On the front-end, most people, including the President were unable to gain access to the site. On the back-end, insurance companies received inaccurate and unsecured data from many of those who were finally able to access the site and sign up for coverage.
CEI Federal, one of the primary contractors responsible for designing the Healthcare.gov website sent a report to the administration stating, there were “open risks” “open issues” and “significant” problems that needed to be resolved. CEI told the administration that testing timeframes are “not adequate to complete full functional, system, and integration testing activities.”
John King of CNN reported that the President knew as early as July of 2010 that as many as two thirds of those in the individual marketplace would be negatively impacted by the ACA; their healthcare plans could change. Armed with this information President Obama continued to mislead the American people by saying, “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan.”
Many of the supporters of the ACA have been making the argument that you have to separate the need to provide greater access to health care coverage from the challenges of implementing the legislation. This is correct.
As the challenges of implementing the website prove to be less technical and more an issue of honesty and competence, defending the administration has become harder and harder. Even former President Clinton is on record saying, “So I personally believe, even if it takes a change to the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they got.”
The Obama administration worked hard during its first term to get the ACA passed and signed it into law on March 23, 2010. At the end of the day, the issues with implementing the ACA have nothing to do with an intransigent Tea Party or untra-conservative ideologues. We don’t have to “understand the opposition and what the president is up against.” The problems with implementation are due to incompetence, poor advice, and poor planning.
At the end of October, when the Democrats had the Republicans on the ropes, President Obama and his cadre of “brilliant” advisors found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Instead of building upon the success of passing the ACA, constructing a powerful message leading into 2014, and forcing the Republicans to compromise from a position of strength, Americans are stuck hearing the president apologize for problems that he has brought upon himself.
They’ve been workin’ hard but hustlin’ backwards.