Obamacare glitches: why they might help end government shutdown

Obamacare glitches show that the program will collapse, some tea partyers say. So the better strategy in the government shutdown gambit is to push Obama on tax and entitlement reform.

Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
Wilbert Jones helps local residents sign up for the Affordable Care Act, widely referred to as 'Obamacare,' outside the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center in Jackson, Miss., on Friday.

The problems with the main "Obamacare" website – Healthcare.gov – appear to be more than just glitches.

The website on which millions of Americans are expected to sign up for health insurance in the next two months needs more than increased server capacity; it needs changes to its entire architecture, according to news reports.

And perhaps even more ominously for the Obama administration, some consumers are discovering that their premiums are going to skyrocket, and they are threatening just to pay the penalty and “self-insure.” Young adults, too, are pushing back on the requirement to buy insurance. If enough healthy people don’t buy into the new system, leaving insurance companies with risk weighted toward unhealthy people who cannot be denied coverage, no matter the cost, the system will collapse.

As those two scenarios (flawed website, unhappy consumers) have become clearer, some House Republicans have concluded that trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is no longer the best path to ending the government shutdown and lift the debt ceiling. Instead, they would be fine with changes to the tax code and entitlement reforms. And therein lies the path to a deal with President Obama.

The ACA “will collapse under its own weight, especially when the young people – who are going to be under the individual mandate – start screaming at what they’re having to pay for,” Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) of Texas tells Bloomberg News.

Congressman Farenthold and two other tea-party-backed lawmakers say they would back a deal to end the shutdown and lift the debt ceiling if it included “major revisions to US tax law, significant changes to Medicare and Social Security, and other policy shifts,” Bloomberg reports.

Mr. Obama has made clear that he will not give an inch on the ACA, the signature policy achievement of his presidency. At the same time, he has also signaled a willingness to make concessions in some of the other areas mentioned by the tea partyers, such as changes to the formula by which retiree cost-of-living increases are calculated under Social Security.

Obama ally John Podesta says the Republicans have painted themselves into a corner with their negotiating position, but he sees a way out that does not involve changes to the ACA.

“You could push this off for 60 days or six weeks and try to create a negotiating process under which they extend the debt limit for some period of time or suspend the debt limit, and they put the government back to work and then try to negotiate a budget framework,” Mr. Podesta, chairman of the liberal Center for American Progress, said Monday on CNBC. “But I don’t think Obamacare can be on table in that context.”

The other alternative, Podesta said, is that the stalemate goes right up to Oct. 17 – the approximate date by which the US needs more congressionally approved borrowing authority or risk default. “The markets go crazy and at that point it’s anybody’s guess” what happens, he said.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner has not backed off his position that changes to Obamacare, such as defunding or a delay in implementation, have to be part of a “continuing resolution” – a spending bill that would fund federal government operations and end the partial shutdown. Tea party activists are still rallying their troops not to give up their war against the ACA. 

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