The Morning After (Part 1)

9 March 2015

Credit where Credit is Due: Senator Ted Cruz Saved Obamacare

By J. S. Chavez

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare, website was in shambles in November of 2013 as technicians worked 24/7 to fix the hardware and spinmeisters in the West wing worked 24/7 to shore up its image. Millions of dollars intended to fund an advertising blitz to drive people to the Healthcare.gov website were (understandably) on hold.  Secretary of Health and Human Services,  Kathleen Sebelius, took a well deserved drubbing from Congress for her part in the debacle and the site continued to limp along, harassed by higher-than-expected traffic and inadequate administrative and technical support. It was ugly, but they muddled through, and somewhere along the way Obamacare arrived. Still, this is not how you treat the signature legislation of a two-term presidency. You don’t leave your first new car, the one you bought with the money you scrimped and saved by working three part time jobs, forgoing parties, forsaking friends, and denying yourself a single new outfit for a whole year, parked in the street next to the crack den on Saturday night with the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. You wouldn’t do that, right? You’d pamper that car.  You’d drive five miles per hour under the speed limit, avoiding potholed streets and fresh asphalt. You’d lovingly scratch the squashed bugs off the windshield with your own self-manicured fingernails. You’d wash it everyday, with warm water and mild soap and carefully chamois the water off. You’d be sure to keep the tires properly inflated and you’d park it in the shade so as not to fade the interior or age the paint.   

YOU WOULDN’T TAKE ANY CHANCES THAT SOMETHING BAD WOULD HAPPEN TO RUIN WHAT YOU WORKED SO LONG AND HARD FOR! Right?

President Obama, Kathleen Sebelius, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the rest of the hapless hacks whose job it was to launch the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should be lining up to give Senator Ted Cruz a big, sloppy wet kiss. That the Obamacare team should find itself in bed with Cruz after the collapse of the Obamacare site is one thing but that they should be grateful for his company would have been impossible to predict when they hooked up in October of 20113. They should take pictures of themselves screwing the ACA pooch while Cruz looks on. I’m not sure this would rise to the definition of bestiality but it works as evidence. Ponder the alternate political reality we would all be living had Cruz not put his own self interest ahead of that of his party and his country, and had Speaker John Boehner actually led the House rather that pandering to it’s basest elements. Right, too far-fetched but, suppose, just suppose, that Republican House members had agreed to a reasonable budget in time to avoid a shutdown. The Healthcare.gov site would have imploded anyway and Republicans, instead of doing the walk of shame, would look like the reasonable, responsible legislators they so often pretend to be. Given how difficult it is for them to “effectively connect with voters” (see 16 Days in October, Part 4) they are not likely to get another opportunity like that for, well, ever.  I mean, what the hell was the administration thinking? The White House spent weeks dodging, weaving, spinning, vacillating between mea culpas and passing the buck, but generally having to acknowledge that they screwed up, if not quite owning the screw up. Seldom have we seen so much freely given political capital (the shutdown) dissipated so quickly, wantonly, and extravagantly. And so it went as one of the most profound unforced errors in the history of American social policy staggered through its painful, incompetent debut. 

However, the Obama administration seems to have gotten away with it, as a practical matter.  ACA enrollments are ahead of predictions, premiums are being paid, costs of premiums are not going through the roof, enough young people are signing up to ensure the viability of the program, and a healthy majority of people who have taken part, including those who identify themselves as Republicans, have been satisfied with their coverage.

As a political matter, it seems unlikely that the Right  will move on from here.  On the other hand, few seem to believe that the ACA is likely to be undone, even at this early stage.  By 2016, the prospect  of going back to the way things were is not likely to be any more tenable. Still, the Tea Party is alive, if not entirely well, and still flexing their muscle. 

One day soon, the passage and implementation of the ACA may go down as one of the greatest political achievements of all time. And we have Ted Cruz to thank for that.

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