Topics: Obamacare

Senate Democrats wary of administration pledges to fix Obamacare site

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Senate Democrats on Thursday offered mixed reviews of the Obama administration's briefing on progress it is making to fix the glitch-riddled federal Obamacare website.

Emerging from a closed-door Capitol Hill lunch with three of President Obama's top advisers, Senate Democrats expressed hope that the kinks in the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges would ultimately be ironed out. But they also said they were frustrated with the initial rollout of the program and were dubious that problems with could be fixed by the administration’s self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline.

“I don’t think there’s confidence by anyone in the room. This is more a show-me moment,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. “We were all confident that the system was going to be up and operating on Oct. 1 and now we’re not confident until it’s real.”

Asked if he liked what he heard from the administration about what is being done to address the myriad problems with the online marketplace exchange website, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said only: “They’re trying.”

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Director Marilyn Tavenner and Jeffrey Zients, who joined the administration temporarily to oversee work on the website briefed senators and, as one aide described it, allowed them to "vent" about the troubles directly to the White House.

McDonough declined to answer reporters’ questions following the meeting, saying only that “we had a really good discussion.”

Merkley said senators were told that the administration is working to “triage” the website, removing features that aren’t needed and improving the speed and functionality of core elements people need to access information and apply for health insurance.

Some members were more upbeat following the session. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the briefing “allayed” much of the concern senators have about the start of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, conceded that he has frustrated constituents, but said he liked what he heard and is optimistic that the team in charge of rehabilitating the website can get the job done.

“I think the site, on the front end, was very problematic. I think the last four or five days have gotten better,” Begich said. “I do feel more confident. … It is not like it was during the very first few days.”

Still, other Democrats are taking a wait-and-see approach, and were noticeably hesitant to promote what they heard in the meeting as signs that the headaches with the Affordable Care Act are behind them.

“I’d say this as somebody who worked for a software company for five years and actually shipped code: This is just software; it can be fixed,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a former Seattle technology executive, told the Washington Examiner. “I also know from working in software a long time, never set premature deadlines because things can take longer than you expect, so don’t set up expectations you can’t meet.”

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David M. Drucker

Senior Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner