Queen of Denial

by Dave Schuler on February 4, 2014

There’s a bit of internecine warfare going on over shouldering the blame for the problems with the PPACA:

In an interview on Fox News’ “The Kelly File,” Lanny Davis, White House special counsel to former President Clinton, said Democrats — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — should take ownership of their mistakes on the healthcare law.

“Nancy Pelosi should say that — we messed up…We have to take ownership,” Davis said, indicating that admitting fault is the first step to fixing the Affordable Care Act.

I think there are a number of ways of viewing this remark, including a Clintonista taking aim at a senior member of the progressive Congressional caucus, preparing the battlespace for the party squabbles to come in 2015 and 2016. However, as they say success has many fathers…

While we’re on the subject of denial, I don’t usually quote Ed Rogers here but his column today is on point:

It is painfully obvious that many Democrats think the best political tactics for dealing with the numerous Obamacare problems are to ignore them, hide them or otherwise deny they exist. Democrats just keep insisting that folks are signing up and “glitches” are being fixed.

These two stories suggest that the Democrats hope Obamacare fatigue will set in and voters will begin to simply shrug as the problems become part of American life, that Obamacare will become another government-supplied annoyance for which no one is responsible and no one is to blame. The problem is that voters can’t just learn to ignore the calamity that is Obamacare because health care and health insurance are vital to the life of every American.

IMO there are several alternative explanations for the, frankly, lousy roll-out of Healthcare.gov and the attendant wobbly knees on the PPACA more generally:

  1. This is typical of the debuts of new programs, healthcare programs in particular. I’d like to see that quantified, particularly in comparison with the beginnings of Medicare Part D and the Medicare system more generally. My impression is that while this might not be comparing oranges with apples it might well be comparing truckloads of apples with apples.
  2. The objectives of the PPACA were primarily political. It achieved its political objectives already so who cares whether its administered well?
  3. The main objective of the PPACA was to move the Overton Window. That was accomplished when it was enacted.
  4. The Obama Administration was uniquely incompetent in its handling of Healthcare.gov and the PPACA more generally.
  5. The incompetence of the handling of Healthcare.gov and the PPACA more generally were characteristic of today’s Democratic Party which is much better at proposing Big Government solutions than administering them.

I think there’s an element of truth in all of those explanations but I lean towards #4.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

... February 4, 2014 at 9:38 am

Given how poor recent Congresses have been in their oversight functions and the incompetence of the Bush Administration prior to this one, I’m leaning towards the idea that our elites are just incapable of effectively managing anything other than enriching themselves and staying in power.

steve February 4, 2014 at 10:08 am

I think we are in an era where we see efforts to actively sabotage programs that have been passed into law, which is unusual. In the past, there has been a lot of fighting about the passage of bills, but not so much after. I also think we have a 24/7 media machine which has worked actively against the bill working. It is notable that in a lot of, if not all, of the stories with claims of huge increases in premiums, when someone commits journalism we find out that people did not even try to access ACA options since they associate it with Obama.

Couple that with a poor history of rollouts, and I think you have an adequate explanation. Note that the Medicaid expansion part is going pretty well.

Steve

Dave Schuler February 4, 2014 at 10:37 am

I think we are in an era where we see efforts to actively sabotage programs that have been passed into law, which is unusual.

So is passing social programs without bipartisan support.

Andy February 4, 2014 at 11:11 am

I think there is one you left off your list, namely that the federal government is structurally incapable of competently implementing large federal programs.

Trumwill February 4, 2014 at 11:40 am

I lean towards #2. I think Steve is right about the amount of resistance this law has gotten, though a number of the parts that have gone wrong are ones over which bipartisan support shouldn’t have been necessary. I don’t think the Republicans had the capability of sabotaging the website.

steve February 4, 2014 at 12:05 pm

“So is passing social programs without bipartisan support.”

Which in the context of overall polarization, fears of challenges from extremists in primaries and strict party line votes, should not have been surprising. Just having your name on a bill with a Democrat was enough for you to lose office.

Steve

PD Shaw February 4, 2014 at 2:43 pm

I don’t know what the objective was with the ACA, which it makes it hard to assess whether things have gone right or wrong, let alone why.

I think I would modify 4. to include a Congressional role. One could argue Obama should have exercised more direction over the legislative process, but it is a legislative process and the legislative leaders are generally in a better position to know what could pass. On the administration of the law, that’s entirely the POTUS, either as part of enforcement, or in communicating bureaucratic concerns to the Congress (e.g., we cannot do that within that time frame).

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