There are growing indications the Obama administration will miss its self-imposed deadline to have the federal Obamacare online exchange up and running by Nov. 30. That's on top of the lost month of October, during which technical problems kept all but a relatively tiny number of Americans from purchasing health coverage on the site.
Signs of further delay are clear. "We're working to make as much progress as possible by Nov. 30, and quite frankly, beyond Nov. 30," one source involved in the process told the Washington Post recently. "[Nov. 30] is a critical date, without question, but don't think of it as an unveiling date. The goal is to make significant improvements by that day."
Citing a "goal" to make "significant progress" is a far cry from an earlier pledge by Jeffrey Zients, the administration's Obamacare fixer, that, "By the end of November, healthcare.gov will work smoothly for the vast majority of users."
So if the Obamacare failure stretches into December — what then? By that time, implementation delays could have serious effects on how Obamacare will function in its first year, and perhaps on its overall survival. But along with the substance of the problems will come the blame game. And Democrats, who passed Obamacare on party-line votes in 2009 and 2010, who later resisted changes or delays, and who until recently proudly repeated the White House declaration that "It's. The. Law." — there are signs those Democrats are preparing to blame Republicans for the system's problems.
A case in point is the fight in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee over the testimony of Todd Park, the administrations Chief Technology Officer. Republican chairman Rep. Darrell Issa has been pressing Park to testify about the Obamacare rollout; Park, through his office, has said he is too busy. So last Friday, Issa sent Park a subpoena to appear at a hearing this week. "You are the only invited witness who remains unwilling to appear voluntarily," Issa wrote Park. "I am left with no choice but to compel your appearance."
Now, however, committee Democrats, led by ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, are demanding Issa withdraw the subpoena. In a letter to Issa, Cummings argued that Park's efforts are so vital to fixing Obamacare that calling him to testify could endanger the system's repairs. "At the request of the President of the United States, Mr. Park has been a key leader in around-the-clock efforts to improve the functionality of the Healthcare.gov website," Cummings wrote, "and diverting Mr. Park's energies at this moment could seriously impair those efforts."
Cummings also quoted a letter from Park's office to Issa saying Park is "central" to the task of fixing the troubled Obamacare website. "Pulling him away from that work even for a short time at this stage would be highly disruptive and would risk slowing the progress that has been made thus far to fix identified issues with the website," Park's office wrote.
The implication is clear: Republicans will put at risk efforts to fix Obamacare if they insist on hearing from Todd Park. And if Issa goes ahead — as he almost assuredly will — and if Healthcare.gov's problems continue — as they most assuredly will — look for Democrats to point to GOP questions as the latest cause of Obamacare's troubles.