Democrats Develop Obamacare Trust Issues

There wasn’t much genuinely new information to be
found at yesterday’s congressional hearing on Obamacare. Health and
Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered little more than
canned defenses of the administration and more
to fix what has so evidently gone wrong with the
rollout of the law’s technical infrastructure.

But here’s something we did see highlighted in a revealing
way:  The administration’s credibility on health care issues
has been badly damaged. And Sebelius, in particular, appears not to
be trusted, even by some in her own party.

Republican questioning focused heavily on the millions of
insurance plan cancellations that are happening all over the
country right now—and the contrast with President Obama’s repeated
promise that anyone who liked his or her health plan could keep
that plan.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tx.)
Sebelius whether she thought President Obama’s statement
was true.  “Well, we know that lying to Congress is a crime,
but unfortunately lying to the American people is not. I’d just
like to ask you a simple true-or-false question. Is that statement
on the White House website true or is it false?”

Her response was to try to challenge the framing of the
question: “Sir, I think the statement is that…” Cornyn didn’t
wait to find out what she thought the statement in question was. He
cut her off, asking again: “Is it true or is it false, Madame

She never directly answered the question, according to the AP
account. Instead she said that “a vast majority” of people who
currently have job-based insurance would be allowed to keep their
plans, as would a majority of people who get individual coverage.
Cornyn finished the exchange by asking the record to “note that you
have refused to answer my question whether it’s true or false.”

It was clearly a question that Sebelius didn’t want to answer,
at least not directly. Other Republican legislators pressed her on
the point, but the closest she came to an actual response regarding
how Obama’s multiple promises that individuals could keep health
plans they liked was when she
“The president’s promise was written into the law from Day
One, and that was the grandfather clause.”

At best that’s a non-answer. The president’s promise wasn’t just
written into law. It was also delivered verbally in unmistakably
clear language on
at least three dozen occasions
. And what he said was: If you
like your health plan, you can keep it, period. The law’s
grandfathering provisions, meanwhile, were written narrowly and
strictly—ensuring that few plans would actually be able to retain
their protected status. Democrats were warned that the narrowness
of the rules would result in people losing existing plans. They
went ahead anyway. That’s part of the reason why people are

That’s not the only administration deception that came up during
yesterday’s hearing. And Republicans were the only ones to
criticize the administration’s botched rollout of the

Regarding the failure of the exchange portals, Sen. Debbie
Stabenow (D-Mich.) told Sebelius that there are “no words to even
describe the frustration that all of us have.”

Sen. Max Baucus, one of the law’s Democratic authors,
referencing his pre-launch warning that the exchanges could turn
into a “train wreck” if the administration didn’t get a better
handle on the particulars of the implementation process, chastised
Sebelius for failing to acknowledge the project’s problems
earlier—and for insisting that implementation was on

“Make no mistake, I believe in this law. I spent two years of my
life working on the Affordable Care Act. There is nothing I want
more to succeed,” he said,
to The Washington Post. “But months ago I
warned that if implementation did not improve, the marketplace
might struggle…We heard multiple times that everything was on
track. We now know that was not the case.”

walked back
his original train wreck remarks after they were
widely quoted by critics of the law. But here he’s making a charge
that’s arguably even more severe: He’s not just accusing the
administration of botching the rollout of the exchanges—he’s
accusing them of deceiving, or at least failing to inform, senior
elected officials in their own party regarding the status of the
implementation process, including one of the law’s own chief
legislative authors.

All Baucus wanted was reliable information. But that’s something
he feels as if he hasn’t gotten. “You’ve got to tell us what the
problems are,” he
“The more you don’t tell us, the greater the problem is
going to be.” In imploring Sebelius to start being straight with
Democrats on the Hill, he was implicitly making the point that up
until now that’s not what she and the rest of the administration
had been doing.

That’s important—and revealing. Republicans and critics of the
law have never trusted the administration on Obamacare. But they
weren’t the only ones the White House misled, misinformed, or
simply kept in the dark throughout the implementation
process. Even senior Democratic legislators, for
example, were given no early hint that the law’s employer mandate
would be delayed; party leadership was reportedly given

just 30 minutes notice
before the announcement went

And now some Democratic legislators are openly frustrated, and
skeptical, as well. They haven’t quite turned on the law yet. But
they’re wary of the people in charge of implementing it.

To put it another way: They still like Obamacare, but they don’t
quite trust the Obama administration. The problem, as the law’s
supporters are rapidly discovering, is that even with the best of
reforms, bad implementation tends to make for bad law. Which means
that if the administration doesn’t start displaying some very basic
technical and managerial competence, Democrats may increasingly
find that they like the law in theory, but aren’t so thrilled with
it in practice. 

from Hit & Run

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