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Bill Press: No excuse for bad rollout

“There’s a difference between book smart and street smart,” a frustrated White House staffer told me last week. He didn’t have to say any more. His meaning was clear: the Obama White House is filled with people who are book smart. It’s the street smart ones that are in short supply. And that’s become painfully obvious in the disastrous launch of the HealthCare.gov website.

First, let’s put things in perspective. All Tea Party jubilation to the contrary, trouble with the healthcare reform website does not mean ObamaCare is not a good program. The site’s botched rollout makes no excuse for the GOP’s efforts to derail, delay or defund the Affordable Care Act, no matter how many times House Republicans may try. The primary goal of ObamaCare — providing healthcare access to millions of American families who could never before access or afford it — remains just as critical as it was three years ago.

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Problems with the launch only mean that a broken website must be fixed so that people can readily sign up and the program can work as intended. And, as we learned over the weekend, as of Nov. 30 that repair job is well on its way, and will, in fact — keep your fingers crossed! — be complete by Dec. 23, the new deadline for consumers to enroll for health insurance coverage set to begin Jan. 1.

But still, you gotta admit, this mess should never have happened in the first place. Indeed, isn’t it ironic that the administration is crowing about being able to handle 50,000 people on HealthCare.gov at any one time on Dec. 1, the day before Cyber Monday, when retailers were prepared to handle millions of online shoppers at the same time? And, whether it’s Wal-Mart, Macy’s, ProFlowers, or Amazon, you could bet those commercial websites were not going to crash. They were tested over and over again. Why? Because there’s so much revenue at stake.

Well, there was even more at stake with the launch of HealthCare
.gov: not just the first-time availability of health insurance to some 40 million Americans, but public opinion of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the president’s own credibility and the public’s willingness to believe that government could ever be counted on again to get anything right.

There’s one more thing at stake, of course. Think 2014. Democrats in Congress, many of whom were not crazy about ObamaCare because it forces people to buy private insurance with no public plan option, now find themselves being forced to go out and defend the program and its fouled-up launch. Not exactly the kind of help they were counting on from the White House.

With all of that on the line, the big question remains: How could they possibly screw it up so badly? They had three years before launch to get it right. Why didn’t they? That story’s yet to be written, but this much is clear: We wouldn’t have had this problem if the administration’s healthcare team, from the president on down, had not fallen asleep at the switch.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.