President Barack Obama staged a Rose Garden event on Monday surrounded by smiling consumers who no doubt will benefit from the Affordable Care Act, and said its critics should stop rooting for the program to fail.
But Obama, who ran such tech-savvy campaigns, and his aides, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, are making themselves easy targets.
People trying to log onto the federal site have been met with spinning wheels and page error notifications. Consumer Reports cited an analysis that only 271,000 people were successful of the 9.47 million attempts to register in the first week.
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Obama and his top aides should have foreseen that a clunky computer system would have opened the program up to attack. The administration is shifting blame to the contractor. But government regularly contracts out high-end computer projects. It remains government officials’ responsibility to make sure the work gets done.
In his remarks on Monday, Obama said the Affordable Care Act “is not just a website.” Of course, the law entails much more.
But the centerpiece of Obamacare always has been an online marketplace where consumers needing health insurance could compare policies and prices and make their purchases.
Sadly, many state officials who oppose the Affordable Care Act are going out of their way to undermine it. Many congressional Republicans are doing the same. But political opposition to the act is hardly new and should have come as no surprise.
Sebelius, in particular, has some explaining to do, and sooner rather than later. The House Energy and Commerce Committee requested last week that she testify at a hearing set for this Thursday.
She declined, citing a scheduling conflict, although she did find time to appear in the Rose Garden with Obama on Monday. She also had time to appear on Comedy Central with Jon Stewart earlier this month.
Responding to pressure, Sebelius signaled to members of Congress on Monday she plans to testify a week from Wednesday. It’s about time. By delaying, she has provided priceless fodder to operatives and politicians seeking to destroy the law before it fully takes effect.
We have little doubt that Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee will exploit Sebelius’ appearance to win points they lost with the disastrous shutdown and near-default of the government. But at least she’d have a chance to explain what has happened with the online exchange.
Obama needs a strong public defender of the health reform act. If Sebelius is not up to the task, the president should find someone who is.