Nobody, Republicans included, wants to relive the arduous negotiations over the debt ceiling and continuing resolution. And yet it’s difficult to not look back and wonder why Democrats refused to bargain. After all, one of the many offers that the GOP laid on the table was a one-year delay in Obamacare’s individual mandate.
At the time, Democrats shouted down the notion as crazy, and somehow likened the situation to negotiating with a gun to their head. Perhaps they’d like a redo?
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sure sounded like she could use one in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal.
“We didn’t have enough testing, specifically for high volumes, for a very complicated project,” Sebelius said. “
The online insurance marketplaces needed five years of construction and a year of testing, she said. “We had two years and almost no testing.”
Let’s repeat that: five years. Instead, the first contract didn’t go out until December 2011, less than two years ago. But, as the New York Times reported, the government was so slow in providing details to the contractor, they didn’t even start writing the exchange software code until this spring. They needed five years and they barely got five months!
In that context a delay seems like a favor. After all, it’s becoming ever more clear that the Obama Administration knew that the website was going to fall on its face.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that people at HHS and involved in this project knew this wasn’t going to work,” former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “It’s inconceivable that no one tested it.”
That assumption is backed up by government contractors who spoke anonymously to the Associated Press. The programmers described a nightmare scenario where last-minute requests bogged down the system, programmers were huddled in late-night, energy-drink-fueled coding sessions to fix errors, and where CMS, not private developers, were responsible for the testing. “Website builders saw red flags for months,” the AP reports.
Armed with that knowledge, why not “cave” to Republicans in the debt limit showdown? Democrats could spin it to say that Republicans demanded a delay as the price of funding the government and then work feverishly behind closed doors to put a functioning website together. As Rich Lowry writes for Politico:
Little did they know it, but Republicans fighting to defund or delay Obamacare had an ally in spirit in Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Her explanation for why the Obamacare website doesn’t work is that she couldn’t possibly have been expected to make it work in the mere 3½ years since the law passed. She told The Wall Street Journal the website ideally needed five years of construction and one year of testing and instead had only two years of construction and almost no testing.
That means with the proper development time, HealthCare.gov would have had a flawless launch … on Oct 1, 2017. Needless to say, had Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) suggested a four-year delay in Obamacare as his fallback in the defunding fight, he would have been scorned as an unbending fanatic, although he just might have been giving Sebelius the breathing room she needed.
But perhaps the answer to the “why not delay” question is even more depressing than rolling out a flawed system. CNN reports today that technology experts are saying that problems with the Obamacare website can’t be solved within the year. Instead they argue it would be best to blow it up and start over from scratch.
“We don’t even know where all of the problems lie, so how can we solve them?” Bhalla said. “It’s like a drive-by shooting: You’re going fast and you might hit it, you might miss it. But you can’t fix what you can’t identify.”
Several computer engineers said it would likely be easier to rebuild Healthcare.gov than to fix the issues in the current system. But it’s unlikely that the government would toss out more than $300 million worth of work.
So I guess Democrats may want more than just a redo on the debt limit negotiations. They may want a redo on building the entire website. Only in Washington…