A.B. Stoddard: Try, try again

Greg Nash

Sure, former President Clinton hit President Obama in the political nose, insisting Obama find a way to right the wrong of his broken promise about people keeping their current healthcare plans, but someone needs to tell Obama the time for politics on healthcare has come and gone — at least, for him.

It’s rich indeed that Clinton would abandon Obama on the unintended consequences of an individual mandate he himself always supported, and that his wife Hillary did as well, when Obama opposed it and defeated her in their bitter presidential primary in 2008. Of course, Obama later relented, backing a mandate first proposed by Republicans at the conservative Heritage Foundation those many years ago, before all the hypocrisy of healthcare politics came home to roost.

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But political battles, for revenge or redemption, are beyond Obama now. They are the luxury of Senate Democrats, who helped the president pass the plan in a rush in 2009 when Democrats still had 60 votes in the Senate, before Scott Brown won the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat — and then lost it — and before the partisan passage of healthcare reform led to a historic GOP victory in statehouses, governorships, and congressional and Senate seats across the country in 2010. 

Only Democrats running in states where Mitt Romney handily beat Obama in the 2012 presidential race can fight the backlash of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Obama has given too many speeches, brought too few Republicans along and ignored too many warning signs, and now must deal with the resulting outcome, which appears nothing short of terrible. He must avoid ruminating about old rivalries with the Clintons, anticipating Hillary Clinton’s inevitable retreat on ObamaCare in a likely presidential campaign, and becoming distracted by Bill Clinton’s gall. He must spend all of his energy, time and any remaining humility and political skill — both of which are in doubt, to be charitable — on mitigating the effects of a monstrous management failure he pushed for and presided over.

People have clung to the comparison to then-President George W. Bush in 2005, characterizing the botched ACA rollout as Obama’s “Hurricane Katrina.” But the Bush administration didn’t build a Category 5 storm — the Obama administration did build the ACA. 

Two weeks from now, during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, the piteous ObamaCare website is supposed to be ready to sign people up for healthcare coverage, two months late. There are indications that, despite a pledge from the president (“by the end of this month, we anticipate that it is going to be working the way it is supposed to, all right?”), the site won’t, in fact, be functional. Complicit advisers who helped Obama own an epic failure have now turned, after Obama criticized insurance companies for providing shoddy packages all these years to the self-insured, to begging those same companies for help signing up eligible consumers because the government can’t. 

Obama lost the entire first year of his second term, the critical final months before becoming a lame duck, to scandals like the targeting of conservatives by the Internal Revenue Service, the Benghazi revelations, the monitoring of journalists by the Justice Department and an embarrassing response to the crisis in Syria. The only ambition or agenda item Obama should give any consideration to is fixing his healthcare law.

The way to help his legacy is to help the country by making changes to our new healthcare system as soon as possible. The Department of Health and Human Services is currently emailing nearly 300,000 people who tried to buy insurances on the exchanges but could not. The email is encouraging them to try again. President Obama should try again too.

 

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.