LAMBRO: Obama’s health care troubleshooter: Pinocchio

Excuses for the website’s failure nose out solutions

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As President Obama nears the end of his fifth year in office, his toughest job is dreaming up new excuses for his administration’s mounting failures.

This month, he is beset by multiple challenges to explain why the rollout of his massive national health insurance system is plagued by failures, and why job creation fell to another new low in his persistently weak economy.

Mr. Obama and his White House excuse factory have come up with some doozies in the past week or so. The systemic breakdown in the online health insurance marketplace, they said, is a result of Obamacare’s huge popularity and wasn’t able to deal with the millions of Americans who were clamoring to sign up.

As for the shrinking number of jobs produced by the Obama economy — contrary to claims it is “moving in the right direction” — Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Sunday that last month’s falling employment figures were a result of the government’s shutdown.

How can that be? The 16-day partial shutdown took place this month, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ figures were all about job creation that occurred last month — when the government was open and operating at full throttle. Still, there was Mr. Lew, telling NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that this month’s shutdown was responsible for the weakening job-creation forecasts.

“I can’t give you a number today of what it is, [but] I know the direction,” he said. “The direction is, it took an economy that is fighting hard to get good economic growth going to create jobs for the American people, and it took it in the wrong direction. Our job in Washington is to move it in the right direction.”

Mr. Lew is making all of this up as he goes along, hoping Americans won’t notice his silly, Pinocchio-like excuses that make no sense at all. Mr. Obama’s economy has been moving in the “wrong direction” for a long time.

Economic growth averaged little more than a measly 2 percent over the past four years. It is forecast to drop to 1.8 percent in the third quarter. Employers created just 148,000 jobs in September, far below the 180,000 that economists and forecasting firms were predicting. However, the private sector accounted for a mere 126,000 of BLS’ September total, whose data was mostly gathered and assembled before the shutdown.

The government’s official unemployment rate remained virtually unchanged, inching down to 7.2 percent. That was largely a result, though, of more than 91,000 discouraged, jobless adults who couldn’t find full-time jobs and dropped out of the labor force.

It is important to understand that part-time employment was a large part of the jobs total, something that the news media does not emphasize. “In 2013, nearly half of the employment growth has been in part-time positions,” with 456,000 more adults reporting working part-time, says University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.

“The jobs count may be up, but for recent college graduates and older adults seeking positions, the situation is grim,”

The national news media blame the languishing jobs picture on federal budget cuts, including sequestration and the shutdown. The truth is that the weakening economy is the result of Mr. Obama’s anti-growth, anti-job policies: Obamacare, which has led to a great deal more part-time employment to escape its employer-paid health insurance mandates; the hefty January tax increases that have cut into capital investment and hit small businesses especially hard; soaring budget deficits (at least $650 billion in this year alone) that are sucking hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy; and a sea of business regulations that have heaped huge, job-killing costs on employers.

Mr. Obama acknowledged on Monday that his poorly thought-out health care plan needs more work in its application systems. Others said that the problems go much deeper than that.

Days before, when the White House was pressuring officials at the Department of Health and Human Services to begin the online sign-up, insiders were telling superiors that it wasn’t ready. Officials held a simulated run of the website to test if it could easily handle tens of thousands of people at one time. It crashed on the first try when “just a few hundred people tried to log on simultaneously,” The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Mr. Obama’s job-approval polls were falling into the low 40s, and the White House was under pressure to show some progress. Officials plowed ahead with the rollout anyway, though fearing the worst.

Mr. Obama now says the problems “are being fixed,” but Americans are not so sure. A Washington Post-ABC News poll Monday showed that a hefty 56 percent of Americans think the website’s many troubles “reflect larger problems with the health care law, an alarming figure for the administration.”

The White House still hasn’t released specific figures on how many Americans are signing up. It’s a pivotal question that goes to the core of whether the heath care plan will be financially viable in the years to come. Early signs suggest younger Americans are not signing up in the numbers necessary to offset the costs of older Americans, who are more prone to illnesses.

“We are now entering Week Four of the botched health care rollout, and with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent for a system that still does not work,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, who is opening hearings into the health care fiasco. Expect a lot of excuses.

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

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