THE RED SOX were back home to prep for their dismissal of the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series, but that wasn’t the only big deal in Boston on Wednesday.
President Obama was in Beantown to visit Faneuil Hall, the same place where Mitt Romney, then the Republican governor of Massachusetts, signed the state’s comprehensive health-care measure into law, thereby creating the DNA for the national law shorthanded as Obamacare. The optics of the location did double duty, of course. It was an oblique dig at Romney, and by extension the Republicans now dead set against a health-care program one of their own helped to create.
But it was also the president’s first real opportunity to respond to a growing chorus of critics whose impatience and duplicity about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has ushered in a downbeat vibe across the ideological spectrum. Obama made the most of it, spelling out the stakes, taking responsibility for the problems with the law’s implementation, and otherwise offering a perfectly reasonable caution: Transformation takes time. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
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Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius managed to fall on the same sword from two different locations Wednesday, taking the blame and accepting responsibility for the technology fail of the federal health exchange Web site, healthcare.gov.
Blackburn leaned hard on Sebelius about why some people with individual health-care plans — about 5 percent of the total — would lose those plans under Obamacare, despite the president’s seeming assurances to the contrary before the law’s rollout on Oct. 1. The secretary did her best to explain that insurance companies retain a certain autonomy about cancellation of policies.
Before long, though, Blackburn was doing her best to lecture Sebelius in culture-coded language meant to play big in red-state Tennessee. “Some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari. Some people like to drink out of a red Solo cup, not a crystal stem," Blackburn said. “You're taking away their choice.”
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THE PRESIDENT’S audience was a lot more receptive. At Faneuil Hall, Obama gave them, and the soundbite hunters in the media, what they needed or wanted: a mea culpa from the top. “Let’s face it, we’ve had a problem,” he said. “The Web site hasn’t worked the way it’s supposed to ... there’s no denying it, right now the Web site is too slow, too many people have gotten stuck ... and I’m not happy about it, and neither are Americans who need health care ... I take full responsibility.”
And Obama said in no uncertain terms what we already knew: that the problems would be corrected, that doing it is a When proposition, not an If proposition. “All the parade of horribles, the worst predictions about health care reform in Massachusetts never came true,” he said. “They’re the same arguments that you’re hearing now.”
“We’re in this together and we are gonna see it through,” he said, before saying it again, the president channeling his inner Samuel L. Jackson, his eyes taking on that glint-fire we’ve seen in the past. “We are going to see this through!”
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Conservatives are generally in no mood for thinking like that now. But some of the same congressmen sat at earlier House hearings, in more congenial judgment of President George W. Bush’s glitch-prone rollout of Medicare Part D in 2006.
Back in the day, Texas GOP Rep. Joe Barton said “This is a huge undertaking and there are going to be glitches. My goal is the same as yours: Get rid of the glitches. The committee will work closely to get problems noticed and solved.”
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PENNSYLVANIA GOP Rep. Tim Murphy got downright personal about Medicare Plan D: “Any time something is new, there is going to be some glitches. All of us, when our children were new, well, we knew as parents we didn’t exactly know everything we were doing and we had a foul-up or two, but we persevered and our children turned out well. No matter what one does in life, when it is something new in learning the ropes of it, it is going to take a little adjustment.”
Fast forward to now, and these former policy gradualists have no patience for Obamacare’s technological challenges.
Indeed, it’s become the game of the week on Capitol HIll: Find the ways that the rollouts of Obamacare and Medicare Part D dovetail and where they differ.