ObamaCare debacle in spotlight

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The disastrous rollout of ObamaCare’s insurance exchanges has brought into sharp focus the GOP charge that President Obama is better at campaigning than governing.

Republicans have long needled the president as unable to convert adoring crowds and electoral momentum into inside-the-Beltway success, and the failures of the ObamaCare website has given them new ammunition. 

“It’s very clear that the president is much better at talking the talk, but when it comes to walking the walk of governing, he falls short,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. 

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Obama ran as a candidate who would bring professionalism back to Washington after former President George W. Bush’s perceived bungling, but he now runs the risk of being remembered as an expert campaigner who had trouble managing the government.

Obama sought to get control of the debate over the exchanges with a Rose Garden event on Monday, where he said: “Nobody is madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should.”

The White House packed the audience with people identified as benefiting from the Affordable Care Act. At the campaign-style event, their friends and families cheered as the president reeled off the new benefits available under the law and promised that he would get to the bottom of its problems.

It made for good political images on television, but critics said Obama did not lay out any timeline or solution for fixing the ObamaCare website’s problems.

“If the president is frustrated by the mounting failures of his healthcare law, it wasn’t apparent today,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement released shortly after the president concluded his remarks.

“Americans are looking for accountability, but what the president offered today was little more than self-congratulation,” he continued. “Instead of answers, we got well-worn talking points. Instead of explanations, we got excuses. 

“Either the president doesn’t grasp the scale of the law’s failures or he doesn’t believe Americans deserve straight answers.”

Boehner and Republicans are eager to turn attention to the troubled rollout of the ObamaCare insurance exchanges after taking a political beating in the shutdown fight. GOP leaders think the shutdown battle largely drowned out coverage of people struggling to enroll in ObamaCare, but believe the public will now tune in. 

They are bringing in Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to testify at a House panel next week on the rollout, an event likely to dominate headlines.

White House press secretary Jay Carney sought on Monday to emphasize that half a million Americans have already applied for coverage on the exchanges.

In his own comments, Obama argued that his signature law is more than a website, and that it is already having a positive effect in driving down healthcare costs.

“The point is, the essence of the law, the health insurance that’s available to people, is working just fine,” Obama said. “In some cases, actually, it’s exceeding expectations — the prices are lower than we expected, the choice is greater than we expected.”

Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, says that the problems with the website could undermine Obama’s legacy.

Obama’s early promise in the 2008 campaign “was about running a modern administration in the 21st century,” Jillson said. 

He campaigned as someone who would be a capable administrator of the government in sharp contrast to Bush, who had been criticized for mismanaging the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina.

Already favored to beat Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the general election, polls definitely swung in Obama’s direction after McCain suggested the campaign be suspended to deal with the financial crisis. Obama’s rejection of that request, and his overall handling of the crisis, got favorable reviews.

Obama himself has said that governing is more difficult than campaigning by comparing the former to prose and the latter to poetry.

Luckily for the White House, polls indicate the president still has not fully exhausted his opportunity to sell the American public on the law that bears his name.

While 53 percent disapprove of the way the president has handled implementation, according to a Washington Post poll released Monday, only a third support repealing ObamaCare. 

Moreover, experts say, Obama has the benefit of his recent victory in the shutdown fight.

“Obama is extremely fortunate in his opponents because the last three weeks has ... given him a cushion of time,” said Jillson.

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