Hard times, as a wise old friend of mine was fond of saying, will make a monkey eat red pepper. That’s why Democrats, who only yesterday vowed to hold the Maginot Line forever against Republican demands to delay the implementation of wise and wonderful Obamacare, are lining up now to burn their tongues with a dash or two of jalapeno.
We can expect to see Barack Obama join the jalapeno line soon. His health care scheme is crashing around him, with debris falling on friend and foe alike, and the White House is in full panic mode. It’s fun to watch, even if it’s not nice to say so.
Democratic congressional incumbents, who reckon their own survival and national security are one and the same, are leading the pack of howlers who say President Obama must do what Ted Cruz and the Tea Party recommended so passionately only a fortnight ago.
None of the special pleaders are more fervent than the senators who must run for re-election next year. “I believe, given the technical issues, it makes sense to extend the time for people to sign up,” says Sen. Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, who faithfully kept his mouth shut until the hot breath of Rep. Tom Cotton, who threatens to take his place in the Senate, began to singe the hairs on the back of his neck. “The administration should state clearly how the enforcement mechanism will work if people can’t sign up in time. I hope the administration will take a hard look at this reasonable suggestion.” The suggestion was unreasonable when the Republicans were making it, but that was then, and this is now, and the fright is making his teeth itch.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire made the first crack in the Maginot Line a day or so earlier. She obviously swiped the Tea Party talking points. “For over three years,” she says, “we have been waiting for the creation of the health care insurance exchanges, which is now in their fourth week of existence, and are riddled with problems.” Both Mr. Pryor and Mrs. Shaheen lined up to vote for Obamacare with enthusiasm and happy shouts of acclamation. Now they’re elbowing people out of the way to get to the jalapeno.
There’s panic in the corridors and secret places of the White House, too, but the official word there is that Alfred E. (“What? Me worry?”) Neuman is still in charge, and if Alfred isn’t worried, nobody else should be. “Today Americans have access to affordable coverage,” Jay Carney, the president’s spokesman, says. In addition to the website that doesn’t work, he says consumers desperate to consume could purchase health care coverage by telephone, mail or in person. Maybe even a penny postcard (which actually requires a 33-cent stamp) will do. “From Day One,” he says, “people have been able to enroll.” Fourteen after the first week, in North Dakota alone.
Nancy Pelosi is typical of the Democrats who think the Geek Squad will make everything OK. She concedes the disaster is “beyond glitches,” but “does not take away from the fact that we’re on a path [toward many benefits] under the law. Fix the technology, and let’s not get too bogged down in what happens if they’re not able to fix it.” The operation was a tremendous success, but the patient died.
The White House still won’t say how big that success is, or even how many people have signed up. The administration is warning insurance companies not to say, either.
Website designers say disaster was built into the system, by the 50 contractors who designed it without talking to each other. “Fixing it so people can log on will be simple compared to fixing what’s really wrong with it,” one designer with inside knowledge says. “Logging on is not the problem. They’ll fix that. It’s once you get in the door you’ll really see how wretched the inside of the house is.”
This is real opportunity for the Republicans, but they can blow it, too. Another week, and nobody will remember the government shutdown, which didn’t very much inconvenience anyone beyond the Beltway. They must be careful not to enjoy Mr. Obama’s humiliation, not in public, anyway, because his monumental screwup is making life miserable for the hundreds of thousands who will lose their insurance coverage.
But neither can the Republicans let the president slip the blame for what he did, or allow, which amounts to the same thing. This is a screwup with his name on it. A week ago the Republicans in Congress were the knaves and scoundrels, and Barack Obama was the prince of the hour. Nothing recedes like success.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.