A.B. Stoddard: Broken promises

A.B. Stoddard: Broken promises
© Greg Nash

From Solyndra to Benghazi, the “Fast and Furious” operation, the IRS scandal and the revelations that the National Security Agency was spying on our close allies, President Obama never seems to know what’s going on until we do. He was shocked to learn that the ObamaCare website, HealthCare.gov, which launched the signature initiative of the most tech-savvy president in U.S. history, was an abject failure.

But what he did know was that the Affordable Care Act, passed by one party in a bitter partisan process that has ever since remained deeply unpopular, was going to be the end of insurance as many people knew it. For millions of Americans who buy their own insurance, the new law applies standards those plans don’t meet, which means they are about to be canceled. The president knew this would be the case but continued to pledge that those who are insured would be untouched by ObamaCare. “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan,” he would say, though it was really, as Vice President Biden would say, “malarkey.”

So with the news that the president and significant players in his administration knew since July 2010 that regulations written after passage of the law would so restrict the way plans met the standards that most of them would be scrapped, it is clear that Obama is no longer playing dumb. This time he did know what we have just learned, long before we learned it. One way of putting it is that the president received four Pinocchios from the Washington Post Fact Checker. Another way of describing it is that he lied again and again. 

Obama knew his promise could not be kept but repeated it anyway, for years, until he had been reelected. No one provided caveats about “grandfathering” or happy talk about new consumer protections the law would now provide to those with canceled policies, or about how much better and cheaper their new policies they didn’t choose would be. 

Aware that the self-insured would be stunned to learn their plans were being canceled in the fall of 2013, one could assume the president would expect an uproar and therefore push even harder for as close to a flawless rollout of ObamaCare as possible when the bad news would be breaking. One would think he would get deeply involved, regularly checking in on the progress of the website to ensure comprehensive testing was being done early enough to be perfected by the Oct. 1, 2013, deadline — just the way the 2012 campaign team made sure the turn-out operation would work on Obama’s behalf on Nov. 6, 2012. Certainly Obama knew a strong beginning was essential to attracting millions of young and healthy consumers to the system, to balance the risk that new, sick patients were bringing to the insurance pools. But that would be assuming too much, because Obama instead sat on explosive information that would frighten every insured person in the country, and he allowed the website to become a disaster.

After successfully navigating a government shutdown fight in which the Republicans were blamed completely, it’s worth noting that Obama has done exactly what Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) did — repeated something in an attempt to convince the public something would happen that simply could not. But Cruz only snookered some people into signing petitions and donating money and their time calling lawmakers when Republicans never had anywhere near the requisite votes in either chamber to override a veto and defund ObamaCare. Obama’s promise was far more dangerous, to the public trust and now potentially to our healthcare system and the larger economy as well.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.