Putting the shut­down in the shade

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Hard times, as a wise old friend of mine was fond of say­ing, will make a mon­key eat red pep­per. That’s why Democrats, who only yes­ter­day vowed to hold the Maginot Line for­ever against Repub­li­can de­mands to de­lay the im­ple­men­ta­tion of won­der­ful Oba­macare, are lin­ing up now to burn their tongues with a dash or two of jalapeno.

We can ex­pect to see Barack Obama join the jalapeno line soon. His health care scheme is crash­ing around him, with de­bris fall­ing on friend and foe alike, and the White House is in full panic mode. It’s fun to watch, even if it’s not nice to say so.

Demo­cratic con­gres­sional in­cum­bents, who reckon their own sur­vival and na­tional se­cu­rity are one and the same, are lead­ing the pack of howlers that say Pres­i­dent Obama must do what Ted Cruz and the Tea Party rec­om­mended so pas­sion­ately only a fort­night ago.

None of the spe­cial plead­ers are more fer­vent than the se­na­tors who must run for re-elec­tion next year. “I be­lieve, given the tech­ni­cal is­sues, it makes sense to ex­tend the time for peo­ple to sign up,” says Sen. Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, who has faith­fully kept his mouth shut un­til the hot breath of Rep. Tom Cot­ton, who threat­ens to take his place in the Se­nate, be­gan to singe the hairs on the back of his neck. “The ad­min­is­tra­tion should state clearly how the en­force­ment mech­a­nism will work if peo­ple can’t sign up in time. I hope the ad­min­is­tra­tion will take a hard look at this rea­son­able sug­ges­tion.” The sug­ges­tion was un­rea­son­able when the Repub­li­cans were mak­ing it, but that was then, and this is now, and the fright is mak­ing his teeth itch.

Sen. Jeanne Sha­heen of New Hamp­shire made the first crack in the Maginot Line a day or so ear­lier. She ob­vi­ously swiped the Tea Party talk­ing points. “For over three years,” she says, “we have been wait­ing for the cre­ation of the health care insurance ex­changes, which is now in their fourth week of ex­is­tence, and are rid­dled with prob­lems.” Both Mr. Pryor and Mrs. Sha­heen lined up to vote for Oba­macare with en­thu­si­asm and happy shouts of ac­cla­ma­tion. Now they’re el­bow­ing peo­ple out of the way to get to the jalapeno.

There’s panic in the cor­ri­dors and se­cret places of the White House, too, but the of­fi­cial word there is that Al­fred E. (“What? Me worry?”) Neuman is still in charge, and if Al­fred isn’t wor­ried, no­body else should be. “To­day Amer­i­cans have ac­cess to af­ford­able cov­er­age,” Jay Car­ney, the pres­i­dent’s spokesman, says. In ad­di­tion to the web­site that doesn’t work, he said con­sumers des­per­ate to con­sume could pur­chase health care cov­er­age by tele­phone, mail or in per­son. Maybe even a penny post­card, which ac­tu­ally re­quires a 33-cent stamp, will do. “From Day One,” he said, “peo­ple have been able to en­roll.” Four­teen af­ter the first week, in North Dakota alone.

Nancy Pelosi is typ­i­cal of the Democrats who think the Geek Squad will make ev­ery­thing OK. She con­cedes the dis­as­ter is “be­yond glitches,” but “does not take away from the fact that we’re on a path [to­ward many ben­e­fits] un­der the law. Fix the tech­nol­ogy, and let’s not get too bogged down in what hap­pens if they’re not able to fix it.” The op­er­a­tion was a tremen­dous suc­cess, but the pa­tient died.

The White House still won’t say how big that suc­cess is, or even how many peo­ple have signed up. The ad­min­is­tra­tion is warn­ing insurance com­pa­nies not to say, ei­ther.

Web­site de­sign­ers say dis­as­ter was built into the sys­tem, by the 50 con­trac­tors who de­signed it with­out talk­ing to each other. “Fix­ing it so peo­ple can log on will be sim­ple com­pared to fix­ing what’s re­ally wrong with it,” one de­signer with in­side knowl­edge says. “Log­ging on is not the prob­lem. They’ll fix that. It’s once you get in the door you’ll re­ally see how wretched the in­side of the house is.”

This is real op­por­tu­nity for the Repub­li­cans, but they can blow it, too. Another week, and no­body will re­mem­ber the gov­ern­ment shut­down, which didn’t very much in­con­ve­nience any­one be­yond the Belt­way. They must be care­ful not to en­joy Mr. Obama’s hu­mil­i­a­tion, not in pub­lic, any­way, be­cause his mon­u­men­tal screwup is mak­ing life mis­er­able for the hun­dreds of thou­sands who will lose their insurance cov­er­age.

But nei­ther can the Repub­li­cans let the pres­i­dent slip the blame for what he did, or al­low, which amounts to the same thing. This is a screwup with his name on it. A week ago the Repub­li­cans in Congress were the knaves and scoundrels, and Barack Obama was the prince of the hour. Noth­ing re­cedes like suc­cess. Wes­ley Pruden is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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