Topics: Barack Obama

Why Obama's non-apology won't work

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Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein,Barack Obama,Obamacare,Healthcare.gov

There’s a long-standing theory that when politicians are in trouble, the best thing for them to do is to own up to the problem. But there are cases where that’s easier said than done.

When President Clinton apologized for lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, he was able to argue that it was ultimately a personal matter and successfully urged the public to move on.

But President Obama’s current problems are not of the personal nature. Instead, over a period of five years, he repeatedly told Americans that under his health care legislation, those who liked their current health care policies could keep them.

And now that millions of Americans have been receiving cancellation notices from their health insurers, the media has finally awakened to the fact that he was lying all along.

So, when Obama sat down for an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd Thursday, there wasn't much that he could say that could improve his situation. This didn't stop Obama from spinning webs.

Obama kept saying that the cancellations only affected a “small percentage” of Americans. But the Associated Press tally of current cancellations — at least 3.5 million people — is greater than the population of his beloved Chicago.

If every Chicagoan had suddenly lost insurance coverage they liked under President Bush, would Obama have dismissed the problem as only affecting a small number of people?

Not to mention the fact that the very people he is trying to reassure are the people who are losing their insurance.

Are they likely to feel better because the president told them only a few percent of Americans are facing the same predicament?

Obama also repeated the claim that a lot of people who are losing coverage are in “subpar plans.” The problem with this argument, as I have written before, is that by definition, the people who are upset about losing their plans are people who like their existing plans.

It isn’t very empathetic or productive to try and convince them that their plans are crappy according to standards imposed by the federal government.

Obama insisted that he and fellow Democrats “in good faith tried to write the law in such a way that people could keep their care, although we really believe that they’re going to be better off … but obviously we didn’t do a good enough job in terms of how we crafted the law and that’s something that I regret, something that we’re going to do whatever we can to get fixed.”

But it was blindingly obvious at the time to anybody paying attention that the law wouldn’t allow all individuals to keep their plans.

The whole point of the law was to make sure that all plans met new requirements spelled out by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

Prompted to offer an apology by Todd, Obama eventually said of those with cancelled insurance, “I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me.”

That passively-phrased statement isn’t likely to reassure those who are worried about losing their coverage.

Obama repeatedly said he had instructed his team to look into ways to rectify the situation, but, given that insurers have made a set of business decisions based on rules that have been in place for over three years, it’s hard to see how he can put the toothpaste back in the tube without major changes to the law.

“We have to make sure that they are not feeling as if they’ve been betrayed by an effort that is designed to help them,” he said of those with cancelled insurance.

Though the non-apology will likely get the most attention, it wasn’t the only eye-opening part of the interview.

When asked if he would consider delaying portions of the law if the website weren’t fixed by the end of the month as administration officials have repeatedly vowed, Obama didn’t exude much confidence.

“I’m confident that (Healthcare.gov) will be even better on Nov. 30 and that the majority of people are going to be able to get on there,” Obama said. “They’re going to be able to enroll, they’re going to be able to apply and they’re going to get a good deal.”

He started to add, “Having said that, given that I’ve been burned already with a website” but then stopped himself.

“Well, more importantly, the American people have been burned by a website that has been dysfunctional, what we’ve also been doing is creating a whole other set of tracks,” he then said.

Obama went on to describe alternate ways people could enroll, including the telephone and in person. (Even though there’s currently no realistic way to complete the enrollment process exclusively through the phone.)

Then he said, “What I’m confident about is that anybody who wants to buy health insurance through the marketplace, they are going to be able to buy it.”

In other words, he’s emphasizing a broader definition of “marketplace,” because he isn’t totally banking on the website being fully functional by Nov. 30, even though individuals only have until Dec. 15 to enroll in plans that start Jan. 1.

Looking back, Obama said, “if we had to do it all over again, that there would have been a whole lot more questions that were asked in terms of how this thing is working.”

Seriously? This is Obama’s leading priority — the goal of liberal policy reformers for decades — and he just now figured out that he should have been more on top of the implementation process?

Perhaps even more mind-blowing for a president whose driving ambition was to prove to Americans that big government can be effective, Obama blasted the federal procurement for technology projects when asked why the Obamacare website didn’t function as well as his campaign website.

“When it comes to my campaign, I’m not constrained by a bunch of federal procurement rules,” Obama said.

He later said of the federal process, “When we buy IT services generally, it is so bureaucratic and so cumbersome that a whole bunch of it doesn’t work or it ends up being way over cost.”

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