With ObamaCare, The Buck Never Stops

Bob Barr

10/23/2013 8:55:00 AM - Bob Barr

When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, the federal government’s procurement process was long beset by gross corruption and overspending. During the mid-1980s, investigations from watchdog groups such as the Project on Government Oversight (then called the "Project on Military Procurement") uncovered just how bad Washington’s spendthrift culture had become. These studies illustrated the extent of inbred and massive fraud in the procurement process, by drawing attention to the outrageous prices the government was paying for essentially everyday items such as toilet seats for government planes. The $640 toilet seat became a symbol of government inefficiency and waste.

Today, that “$640 toilet seat” is back -- in the form of a government website and with a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

When President Barack Obama inked his name on his signature piece of legislation, known officially as the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” he set in motion a massive technological and administrative project that included the construction of a new ObamaCare website, which would serve as a clearinghouse for potential enrollees. Despite a staggering price tag of more than one-third of a billion dollars related to the technology behind ObamaCare’s “federally facilitated exchanges” (FFEs), little attention was paid the site until October 1st, when ObamaCare made its official public debut.

And what did American taxpayers get in return for a website costing them nearly $400 million? A simple message: “Health Insurance Marketplace: Please Wait.” This error message was the only reply given to millions of Americans who went to the web portal to sign-up for coverage in order to avoid IRS fines for not signing up. To make matters worse, in many instances, data from the few people who were able to access the enrollment process was riddled with errors, making it impossible to finalize health plans, and forcing people to restart the frustrating process.

A $640 toilet seat would have been more a more effective mechanism with which to sign up people for Obama’s new healthcare mandate.

Rather than admit error and try meaningfully to fix the problems, Obama’s team began to do what it does best – offer excuses and political rhetoric. Administration shills first claimed that the massive surge of traffic that swamped the servers actually was a positive sign; attesting to the popularity of ObamaCare! Amazingly, they made such ridiculous claims with a collective straight face.

The propaganda wing of Obama’s personality cult, “Organizing for America,” trotted out Chad Henderson as one of its star defenders. Henderson claimed to be one of ObamaCare’s first “impoverished,” young adults who were “looking forward to having affordable healthcare for the first time.” Henderson actually was nothing more than another Obama supporter and financial backer.

In the following days, leaders from America’s tech and insurance industries admitted the website was suffering not from expected “glitches,” but from a wholesale failure of massive proportions. In fact, concerns from insurance and IT professionals were known to the Administration well before the public launch at the beginning of this month. As noted in August by Michael Astrue, who until earlier this year was the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration: “The reasons for failure are not short timelines (Congress gave HHS more than three years), political interference (Congress has not focused on ACA systems), or complexity (states have built well-designed exchanges) . . . [t]he reason is plain old incompetence and arrogance.”

The catastrophic technology, privacy, and administrative failures of ObamaCare are indisputable. Further magnifying the head-scratching “incompetence and arrogance” of the roll-out is why, when Republicans were calling for a delay of the individual mandate, would Obama press forward knowing full well what disaster awaited Americans being forced into government-defined healthcare coverage? The answer is simple and obvious: politics.

Rather than act in the best interests of all Americans – considering that ObamaCare will impact healthcare for every man, woman and child in America regardless of whether they have private or government-subsidized healthcare -- Obama unleashed this dangerous, expensive and virtually unusable process prematurely, because he didn’t want to admit that Republicans were right after all. To this day, the President’s response to the massive and systemic problems with the rollout of his pet legislation, has been to blame Republicans, declare himself “as angry as anyone,” and vow to fix the problem; but without admitting his complicity in the first place.

Many of Obama’s predecessors ultimately accepted responsibility for what happened on their watch as the nation’s chief executive; as the sign on Harry Truman’s desk noted, “the buck stops here.” Obama is not even man enough to accept that degree of rhetorical responsibility.