For months, as they have panned the Affordable Care Act and assured Americans it was doomed to fail, congressional Republicans have eagerly waited for the law's rollout to provide tangible failures they can exploit.
But a government shutdown has thrown a wrench in Republicans' messaging plans.
Instead of Obamacare glitches dominating the news, lawmakers’ failure to approve a government funding bill and prevent a shutdown has grabbed the spotlight.
Worse for Republicans: It was in part a fight over the health care law that drove the country into a shutdown in the first place, giving ammo to Democrats who blame Republican obstructionism for damaging Obamacare's effectiveness.
“It certainly takes the attention off of what could have been troubling stuff for Obamacare,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. “We put the attention on ourselves, and it’s not helping right now.”
The hope among Republicans is that they can keep their focus on the health care law over the long term and, in particular, through the 2014 elections, which would mean the first week of the law's rollout will be less important.
“We’ll continue to get increasing coverage of the [insurance] exchanges because they don’t work,” said Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.
And some Republicans contend that the major problems with the law will not be evident until later, anyway.
“As the White House said at the beginning, this is a slow rollout, so the impression that some people have that there was going to be this big collapse at the beginning, it wasn’t ever going to happen that way,” said Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.
Some early kinks in the health care exchanges have grabbed attention, including some websites that weren’t working properly Tuesday, the first day of the Obamacare roll-out. Republicans tried to trumpet those shortcomings in an email from the National Republican Congressional Committee.
But President Obama went to the Rose Garden to invoke the government shutdown and dismiss such Republican critiques.
“The irony that the House Republicans have to contend with is they've shut down a whole bunch of parts of the government, but the Affordable Care Act is still open for business,” Obama said.
For Republicans who had worked for months and years to discredit the health care law, the turn of events was exasperating.
“Today, Americans were supposed to find out that Obamacare will cost them more and is as well-run as your local DMV,” said one House Republican aide who has worked on health care strategy. “Instead, they're reading that (Sen.) Ted Cruz shut down the national parks."