Obamacare clearly has bigger problems than the GOP.
Sure, the Republican Party has been relentless in its efforts to
defeat the president's healthcare reform law - from voting for its
repeal 41 times in the House to forcing a 16-day government
shutdown in an attempt to prevent its funding or delay its
With the problem-plagued rollout of the law's critical online
marketplace, critics have launched some vicious attacks …and not
just from the Right. Former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
called the website troubles
The Washington Post
's liberal blogger Ezra Klein, one of the law's biggest advocates
in the media, termed the launch a
"disaster" and a "failure."
The avalanche of criticism, including from such figures who have
defended the Obama administration and the Affordable Care Act,
magnifies the threat to the program from the troubled website.
As the administration scrambles to put together a "tech surge," an
as-yet untold number of programmers will be tasked with fixing the
site's flaws. But whether or not their efforts succeed, the fate of
Obamacare may well be determined by a key group of other players.
Here are seven people who wield enough clout to decide the fate of
the president's signature health care law as well as its website:
While attempting to sell his own signature health care law,
President Obama has at times been his own worst enemy. His Monday
press conference prompted comparisons to a used car dealer or an
infomercial pitchman. Obama didn't specify exactly what went wrong
or who was to blame for the problems. Instead, he continued to sell
his law, bragging that it was a "good product" and offering a phone
number for the call assistance centers. "I want to repeat that:
1-800-318-2596. Wait times have averaged less than one minute so
far on the call centers," Obama said.
Others may be handling the dirty work of fixing the marketplace's
technology, but the president must still steer through a public
relations crisis and convince Americans to enroll in his exchanges.
However deeply the Secretary of Health and Human Services was or
wasn't involved in the technical development of the HealthCare.gov
site, she has been the second most visible figure (behind the
president) in the launch. Unfortunately for the Obama
administration, she has stumbled at times in that role. In an
interview with Jon Stewart two weeks ago, Sebelius was unable to
explain why the website had so many problems.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, she said that despite growing
concerns over the technology, the president didn't hear about the
problems with the exchanges until after they went live on Oct. 1.
Those appearances failed to answer key questions and may have only
served to raise more public relations issues for the White House.
Sebelius is expected to testify before Congress next week. But if
her performance is anything like her recent interviews, the fire
surrounding Sebelius may only get hotter.
The former acting director of the Office of Management and Budget
slated to become
the director of the National Economic Council in January. Before he
gets there, though, he's been given another title: Mr. Fix-It. The
White House tapped Zients, a 46-year-old described as "an expert in
the field of effective management" and known for
cutting through red tape
, to troubleshoot the HealthCare.gov site. Zients had served as the
country's first "Chief Performance Officer" and had helped fix
problems with the 2009 Cash for Clunkers program. Now, as the first
person publicly named to be part of the "tech surge" strategy for
the site, he'll have to help make sure the government doesn't have
another clunker on its hands.
Fast-talking, liberal comedian Jon Stewart delivered another
scathing takedown of the HealthCare.gov site on his show Monday
night, but his ridicule is no laughing matter for the
administration. Stewart's "The Daily Show" audience is dominated by
the same young people the president needs to persuade to enroll in
the exchanges in order for his law to succeed. In fact, earlier
this year, the Obama administration estimated that it would need
some 2.7 million "young invincibles" ages 18-34 to sign up through
the insurance exchanges to offset costs in other areas. If
Stewart's repeated and ruthless criticism of the website deters
these healthy young Americans from signing up if or when they are
able to, Obamacare could enter a death spiral as insurance prices
climb higher and higher.
Chris Chocola and Jim DeMint
Club for Growth President Chris Chocola and Heritage Foundation
President Jim DeMint are the key players fueling the "defund
Obamacare" movement. Both have urged GOP lawmakers to do everything
they can to thwart the president's health care law. Their two
groups wield enormous power over the Republican Party, exerting
their influence by ranking lawmakers on their conservative voting
records and using - or threatening to use - substantial campaign
donations for or against candidates.
In the most recent example of their undisputed influence, both
groups advocated against passing a "clean" bill to fund the
government because it failed to strip out funding for Obamacare.
Heritage Action, the lobbying and advocacy arm of the Heritage
Foundation also sealed the fate of Speaker John Boehner's
last-ditch attempt to push a House GOP plan ahead of the
debt-ceiling deadline last week when it announced it opposed the
Even as many Republicans acknowledge that they lost the shutdown
fight, the influence of these conservatives has been instrumental
in marshaling continued opposition to Obamacare, potentially
undermining its odds of attracting consumers.
In fact, even after it was clear that the GOP had lost the
government shutdown battle to defund Obamacare, Heritage Action CEO
Michael Needham signaled that the group was still determined to go
after the law, and will use the next election cycle as a jumping
off point to attempt to repeal it in 2017. "Well, everybody knows
that we're not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017, and
that we have to win the Senate and win the White House," Needham
said on Fox News.
Even if everything under the law actually goes according to plan,
the Internal Revenue Service could still screw things up. That's
because starting in 2015, the IRS will be playing a key role in
implementing the law by collecting penalties from Americans who
violate the individual mandate by choosing not to have health
insurance. However, IRS watchdogs worry that the giant agency won't
be prepared to enforce the 47 new taxes and regulations introduced
by Obamacare. While testifying before Congress earlier this year,
Treasury Inspector General Russell George said the increased amount
of responsibility the IRS has under Obamacare will "lead to
In August, President Obama nominated Koskinen to run the tax
agency. "John is an expert at turning around institutions in need
of reform," Obama said at the time. "I am confident that John will
do whatever it takes to restore the public's trust in the agency."
Koskinen, the 74-year-old former chairman of Freddie Mac still
needs to be confirmed by the Senate, but he'll have a long to-do
list once he takes over the embattled IRS. Making sure it can
handle the Obamacare changes will have to be high on that list.
Editor's Note: This article by Brianna Ehley originally
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