His administration says the widespread registration problems on HealthCare.gov are just “glitches” and “kinks.” But the difficulties may be bigger. If a sufficient number of people don’t sign up for the health-care exchanges, Obamacare will be in trouble. The administration won’t say how many have signed up. The screw-up, Obama acknowledged, has emboldened opponents and unnerved supporters. Had the country not been distracted by the shutdown and debt standoff, the botched rollout would have been a major story.
Obama has played pitchman before, when he bailed out the auto industry (“starting today, the United States government will stand behind your warranty”) and stabilized home mortgages (“If you are having problems with your mortgage, and even if you’re not and you just want to save some money, you can go to MakingHomeAffordable.gov”). But the stakes could be even higher this time, because if Obamacare fails, so will this president and his party.
And so the White House filled the Rose Garden with about 200 people (reporters joked that this was the total number of people nationwide who successfully navigated HealthCare.gov), including some in white coats. And so, with embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius nodding along from the front row of the audience, the commander-in-chief hawked health-care plans the way George Foreman sells grills and James Dyson sells vacuums.
He began with a happy customer’s testimonial. Janice Baker, the first person to register for Obamacare in Delaware, pronounced herself “thrilled,” and she encouraged others to be patient. Obama followed with his hard sell: “Prices have come down. … There’s a massive demand for it. … Visited nearly 20 million times. … A good deal at low costs. … People are rushing. … Thrilled with the result. … Exceeding expectations.”
The salesman said he wouldn’t sugarcoat the failures, which he’s addressing with a “tech surge.” Said Obama: “Nobody’s madder than me about the fact that the website isn’t working as well as it should, which means it’s going to get fixed.”
That’s important. If Obama can’t fix the problems, and quickly, the opposition will slice and dice Obamacare and make it into Julienne fries — and no sales pitch will save it.