Looking wounded and, at times, even broken, President Obama this afternoon addressed the ongoing disaster that is the implementation of his healthcare law. ”I will work with Republicans and Democrats to make this work better,” he announced generously, before moving quickly onto familiar territory and explaining that he would in fact just direct the executive branch to ignore the law. At this his apologists presumably winced. They have spent the last few weeks arguing desperately that insurance companies must not be allowed to offer “substandard” products. Now, they will have to change their tunes.
Once again, Obama explained that he had no idea that the website’s was going to be so calamitous. Once again, he carefully chose his words when explaining why he promised something that was so clearly undeliverable. “You can’t blame me, I thought that the law would work!” he appeared to be saying. Rambling at times — especially when given an unexpected chance to filibuster about Iran — Obama eventually settled on the message that, whatever the problems with the new regime, it is better than the old one. This, as the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent correctly pointed out immediately afterward, is the Democrats’ big gamble.
At the moment, their strategy isn’t looking good. Five million people have been kicked off their current insurance, while just 109,000 people have signed up for private plans through the exchanges. It was never quite explained how the “administrative fix” will bring back those canceled plans, nor was the question of whether the website will be sufficiently operational by December 1 answered satisfactorily. Instead, Obama delivered what was really a stop-gap measure designed primarily to placate his increasingly irritated party and to assuage the fears of many that 2014 will bring severe punishment by once again pushing the pain of cancelations beyond the next election date. New reports that Democratic Senator, Kay Hagan, has announced that, despite the president’s speech, she will still back Senator Landrieu’s bill cannot have raised spirits at the White House.
Filibustering is a risky business, and in Obama’s expansive and inchoate comments were gifts for an opposition that has long characterized him as being out of his depth and unaccustomed to the real world. The president suggested at one point that he was only now discovering that it was difficult to buy insurance, looked back with admiration at his own campaign, and also acknowledged that federal procurement processes leave much to be desired. Later, he gave critics a choice quote, admitting:
Well, the problem with the grandfather clause that we put in place is it’s almost like we said to folks you’ve got to buy a new car even if you can’t afford it right now.
The debate as to whether or not the president’s “fix” is even legal will rage on. The question of whether implementation can get better remains open, too. But one thing is for sure: The Democratic party has a big problem here, and their leader’s attempt to stop the bleeding does not seem to have done the trick. This was perhaps the lowest point in Obama’s presidency so far. How long before the rats start leaving the ship?