Key Metric For Obamacare Site: Democrats’ Blood Pressure

Anxious candidates, strategists will decide if site’s fixes are enough.

This October 21, 2013 photo shows the US government internet health insurance exchange Healthcare.gov. US President Barack Obama on Monday defended his problem-plagued health reform plan, declaring at a White House event that, despite numerous glitches, the program is already helping many uninsured Americans. 'Let me remind everybody that the Affordable Care Act is not just a website,' Obama said, after the troubled online rollout of the plan. 'It's much more...You may not know it, but you're already benefiting from these provisions in the law.'
National Journal
Sam Baker
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Sam Baker
Nov. 30, 2013, midnight

The biggest test for Sunday’s Health­Care.gov dead­line isn’t the num­ber of people who can use the site or how quickly the pages load for them. It’s wheth­er Demo­crats start to calm down.

The White House says the site will be much bet­ter but not “per­fect.” But it’s got to be bet­ter enough to fun­da­ment­ally change the polit­ic­al nar­rat­ive that it’s broken. If it isn’t, nervous Demo­crats will get more nervous, and they’ll start search­ing for more ser­i­ous ways to dis­tance them­selves from the law they passed.

Vul­ner­able Sen­ate Demo­crats have already flocked to­ward bills al­low­ing people to stay on their ex­ist­ing health in­sur­ance plans, and the White House has tried to take some of the steam out of that push with a “fix” of its own. And Hill Demo­crats have signaled they’re ready to beef up their over­sight and cri­ti­cism of the im­ple­ment­a­tion ef­fort if the site falls short even after Sunday’s dead­line.

But their tone once Con­gress comes back to town will be the best gauge of wheth­er the White House has dodged a bul­let — at least for the time be­ing.

“There’s a win­dow here; I’m not quite sure how long it is. The Demo­crat­ic lead­ers have giv­en the White House some space to try to work out these kinks,” says Jim Man­ley, a Demo­crat­ic strategist and former spokes­man for Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id.

The health care web­site is crit­ic­al to Obama him­self, bey­ond the ten­sions with con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats. His pub­lic-ap­prov­al rat­ings have tumbled to new lows in a slew of re­cent polls, and though Health­Care.gov is by no means the only factor, the poor man­age­ment of Obama’s sig­na­ture ini­ti­at­ive is clearly hurt­ing him. In a Wash­ing­ton Post poll earli­er this month, 56 per­cent rated Obama a poor man­ager.

In many ways, the Demo­crats are in a bind of their own mak­ing. They all but gave up the daily mes­saging war over Obama­care years ago, wav­ing off the bar­rage of Re­pub­lic­an at­tacks and say­ing that all that mattered was the law work­ing in the end.

And then it did — and didn’t.

Un­pop­u­lar plan can­cel­la­tions went out ex­actly as planned, but the up­roar should have been muted be­cause it should have been easy for people to shop for new cov­er­age on Health­Care.gov. But with all of the web­site glitches, there were hardly any suc­cess stor­ies to can­cel out the press cov­er­age of people who couldn’t find a new plan, or whose premi­ums were about to spike.

Pub­lic ap­prov­al of the health care law — up­side-down since it passed — has only got­ten worse amid the botched web­site rol­lout. That has vul­ner­able Demo­crats scram­bling for ways to show their con­stitu­ents they’re try­ing to fix the law.

“You need to ex­plain what you’re try­ing to fix, and you’d bet­ter be try­ing to fix something. If there’s noth­ing you want to fix, there’s something wrong with you,” Demo­crat­ic poll­ster Mark Mell­man told Na­tion­al Journ­al. 

But there aren’t a lot of fixes the White House can tol­er­ate. Un­do­ing the can­cel­la­tion no­tices, for ex­ample, would strike right at the heart of the law and es­sen­tially make the oth­er parts un­work­able.

That’s what the White House has to avoid. And that’s why a bet­ter-func­tion­ing web­site is crit­ic­al.

“It all de­pends on wheth­er the glitches are worked out and the pro­gram gets up and run­ning like it should,” Man­ley said when asked about Demo­crat­ic lead­ers’ abil­ity to keep hold­ing off meas­ures to change the health care law. “If not, add this to the list of prob­lems.”

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