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LAMBRO: Blaming others for Obamacare

The president switches gears from apology to attack

- - Thursday, November 28, 2013

Soon after President Obama told the White House press corps he was solely responsible for the botched Obamacare rollout, he decided to shift part of the blame onto Republicans.

A mea culpa can be hard to deliver in public when you are the kind of politician who thinks he never makes mistakes and rarely if ever apologizes for anything that went wrong. Mr. Obama's apologies have a brief shelf life, and so a few days later, they had reached their expiration date.

At a gathering of business executives on Nov. 19, the president concluded that he had done enough groveling over his utterly false claim that "if you like your health insurance policy, you can keep it" and went on the political attack.

Somehow, he decided the Republicans in Congress were partly to blame for the bungled mess that he and his administration had created and that it wasn't all his fault. He also said the broken, online, sign-up system was in the process of being fixed and would be up and running at full throttle by the end of November. That doesn't seem to be the case entirely.

Then he turned on the Republicans with a vengeance. He suggested that their intransigent political opposition had inhibited the law's implementation. "One of the problems we've had is one side of Capitol Hill is invested in its failure," he told the chief financial officers at The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council meeting in Washington last week.

He also suggested the Republicans' "ideological resistance to the idea of dealing with the uninsured and people with pre-existing conditions" was also a factor in what went wrong.

Republicans had their own ideas about how to provide wider access to lower-cost health care, but it was not the costly, government-run, top-down bureaucracy Mr. Obama wanted and got from the Democrats.

The larger organizational problems that presumably led to the mess the government is still trying to fix stemmed from the political bickering in Washington that threatened to damage his presidency's signature achievement, he further suggested.

Both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue needed to "break through the stubborn cycle of crisis politics and start working together," he said.

I did a little checking with constitutional scholars, and no one can find any provision in the Constitution that gives lawmakers any role in helping the executive branch implement laws passed by Congress.

Mr. Obama has made bombastic claims over the course of his presidency that have not proven true. However, to blame Republicans, who control only one-half of Congress, for any part this debacle is a huge reach.

He also blamed the government's information-technology system, saying it's "not very efficient." Whose fault is that? He's the chief executive who is in charge of seeing that the laws are carried out in a fair and efficient way, and of ensuring that they work and meet all deadlines.

Judging from the mountain of government audits that have exposed waste, inefficiencies and other skullduggery in his administration, he's not the least bit interested in the details and process of running anything — least of all his health care mess.

His promise that Obamacare's online computer system would be ready for business by Nov. 30 came immediately after an administration official who oversees the technical side of the federal health insurance marketplace told Congress that 30 percent to 40 percent of the overall system was unfinished.

Henry Chao, deputy chief information officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said major parts of Mr. Obama's program, including its accounting and payments to insurance companies, were still incomplete.

"If the business functions are not in place on time, it could create havoc with a system through which billions of dollars in federal tax money will flow to subsidize coverage for consumers who otherwise could not afford it, insurance industry officials said," Reuters news agency reported. The first payments were due by mid- to late January, but now we learn that the accounting system is far from ready to process the most critical part of Obamacare.

Bigger financial problems loom on the horizon that could bring Obamacare crashing down before it even gets started.

One is the need to get very large numbers of younger, healthier people to sign up for insurance to pay for older, poorer beneficiaries. The administration promised the insurance industry this would happen, but now that is very much in doubt.

"I now think there is little hope we are going to get enough younger, healthy people to sign up, and that means that this law is in grave danger of financial collapse," Robert Laszewski, president of Health Policy and Strategy Associates, a health care industry consultant, told The Washington Post.

The number of people who have signed up thus far is relatively small, far from the tens of millions of applicants needed to make it work.

There are also troubling questions about whether the Internal Revenue Service will be ready to carry out nearly four dozen new tasks under the law. The IRS must figure out who has insurance and who does not, and thus who they will fine for being uninsured. It must also begin to distribute trillions of dollars in insurance subsidies.

Meanwhile, more than 5 million Americans have had their private insurance policies canceled, and businesses are laying off employees or reducing hours worked to avoid the president's unpopular and unworkable insurance mandates.

Mr. Obama has started to blame Republicans, who warned this would happen and voted against it.

Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and contributor to The Washington Times.