The First Cracks

Published October 28, 2013

President Obama and his henchmen in Congress have had political success (not to be confused with policy success) by enforcing, as leftist dictatorships always do, an iron-fisted party discipline and loyalty.

From passing Obamacare without a single Republican vote to the Democratic “victory” in the government shutdown-showdown, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have routinely been able to corral nearly every Democratic vote in Congress despite the peril it may have posed to individual members’ re-election hopes. That’s a remarkable achievement in a town where self-preservation is considered the highest pursuit.

No less with his employees than with members of Congress, Obama demands, expects, and rewards loyalty, and values it over competence, success, or even popularity.

Nobody has been fired for Fast and Furious, for allowing the murders in Benghazi, or for the IRS abuse of conservative groups. Loyalty to Don Obama is repaid with job security in the Cosa Nostra that is the Obama administration.

But regarding Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ career and Obamacare’s individual mandate, we are seeing the first cracks in the Democratic wall of solidarity.

Sebelius is under fire, directly or indirectly, from at least a few Democrats in Congress, as well as from important voices in the liberal media.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said “somebody ought to get fired” while Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan (MN), getting slightly personal toward Obama, said “The president should man up, let us know who was responsible, who was in charge here and fire them.”

Last week, a New York Times editorial pointed out, with uncharacteristic honesty, that “The administration created the Web site so the buck necessarily stops with high officials — Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, and President Obama himself — who allowed this to happen.”

Despite a smattering of Democrats piling on Sebelius, Barack Obama will not ask her to go — so long as she professes complete devotion to Him and his mission to “fundamentally transform” the United States of America. Again, he values loyalty over ability.

Obamacare and its failed rollout are also receiving criticism from the left:

Barack Obama’s hometown paper, the Chicago Tribune, editorialized that “the problems with Obamacare go much deeper than a few million lines of faulty code and a sign-up system that swallows enrollee applications in a single electronic gulp. The bugs aren’t just in the software. They’re in the law itself.”

The ultra-liberal Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday that “Thousands of Californians are discovering what Obamacare will cost them — and many don’t like what they see.” (In one of the great lines in Obamacare history, we learn of a letter written by a young woman to the president of Anthem Blue Cross in California saying “I was all for Obamacare until I found out I was paying for it.”) You don’t say.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-Boulder, CO), a supporter of Obamacare who believes that we should eliminate private health insurance, is requesting a waiver from the Obamacare mandate (to have insurance or pay a penalty) for an entire county because of high insurance prices.

And then there’s the Obamacare website train wreck:

Rep. Anna Eschoo (D-CA), whose district includes much of Silicon Valley, noted that “Amazon and eBay don’t crash the week before Christmas, and ProFlowers doesn’t crash on Valentine’s Day.” (Ironically, ProFlowers was founded, and later sold for nearly $500 million, by Jared Polis.)

Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) believes that “The problems surrounding the federal exchange for the Affordable Care Act are absolutely unacceptable.”

Hagan is one of a growing list of Senate Democrats, most up for re-election in Republican-leaning states next year, who are calling for a delay in Obamacare’s open enrollment period, which could then lead to a delay in individual mandate deadline (substantially longer than the six week delay already enacted, illegally and unilaterally, by the administration).

Others facing an election and pushing for a delay include Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Mark Begich (AK), Mark Pryor (AR), and Mary Landrieu (LA).

Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), neither of whom is facing an election in 2014, are also calling for delaying the mandate, though their primary reason is to limit “how many days we’re going to be watching these critical Obamacare rollout stories.”

And on Friday, we learned that three more Democratic Senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich (both of NM), Mark Udall (CO) and, remarkably, Dianne Feinstein (CA) have signed an open letter written by Senator Shaheen to President Obama calling on him to “consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014.” Both Udalls (who are cousins) are facing re-election in 2014, and Dianne Feinstein must be petrified of no longer chairing a Senate committee if the GOP gains a majority in next November’s elections.

This brings to at least ten the number of Democrats in the U.S. Senate who want a delay in the individual mandate — still not enough, even with unanimous Republican senators, to overcome a Democrat filibuster of any mandate-delaying legislation.

Regarding both Kathleen Sebelius’ future and the implementation of the individual mandate, political self-preservation is predictably rearing its head and, among a few members of Congress who are simultaneously brave (to oppose Obama) and frightened (of losing their next elections, or the Democrat majority in the Senate), causing the first visible cracks in the Democratic wall of obedience.

More cracks will soon appear among other Democrats in competitive races unless the administration is able to meet its newly-set but unlikely-to-be-met deadline of November 30 to fix the Obamacare enrollment website.

The peril this poses to the political left in 2014 is substantial. With Democrats squawking publicly about the early failures of Obamacare, the “signature achievement” of this president and his party and therefore their current raison d’être come into question, at least among young and moderate Americans who voted for Obama or other Democrats because they were looking for “hope and change” and were (understandably) not enthusiastic about Republican offerings.

Equally important is the impact of a delay in the mandate on the ability of Democrats to demonize Republicans for the recent government shutdown. One of the last offers made by House Republicans before the Democrats’ tactic of non-negotiation won the day was to fund the government at current levels in return for a one-year delay in the individual mandate (and to end Obamacare subsidies for members of Congress and their staffs.)

In last Thursday’s speech on immigration — a failed ploy to distract the nation from the ongoing disaster of Obamacare — President Obama used the word “shutdown” three times and “default” twice, while laughably mentioning “work[ing] together” four times. Did I mention the speech was about immigration?

But how can the left continue to bang that drum when twenty percent of the Democrats in the Senate — including half of the Democratic senators running for re-election next year — imply that John Boehner’s offer was reasonable?

Suddenly, the shutdown — the Democrats’ strongest current political argument and fundraising message — becomes a matter of equal blame between an overly aggressive Republican House and an intransigent Democratic president and Senate.

Democrat Party leaders understand this risk which is why House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who hopes that anti-GOP sentiment will propel her return as Speaker of the House, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid are furiously trying to caulk the cracks in the Democrat wall.

Pelosi, while acknowledging problems in the Obamacare rollout, told CNN that she disagrees with Senator Shaheen’s call to extend the deadline: “I think we should fix what we have. Move forward with the deadline we have, respectful of what her experience may be, of her suggestion, but not supportive of it.”

And Reid, while not specifically addressing Obamacare, is setting — or, more accurately, reminding us of — the tone and approach he will bring to any debate: Last week he told a Nevada radio station that Republicans are “illogical and not rational,” that they are “bullies,” and that there will be no grand bargain on budget issues despite “happy talk” about such a possibility because Reid and Democrats have been “too lenient” with Republicans. Saul Alinsky would be proud, and his current disciple in the White House surely is.

Mere days after their shutdown victory, the president and Senate Democrats face a difficult, perhaps no-win, decision due to the very public failure of the Obamacare website.

If they refuse to delay the individual mandate, Democrats risk public (especially middle-class) ire and their majority in the Senate. Twenty of the 33 contested seats in 2014 are held by Democrats, of whom five are retiring rather than face re-election.

If they do delay the mandate, they can no longer credibly savage Republicans for the shutdown. Furthermore, a delay would cause an even greater explosion of Obamacare’s costs as the young and healthy won’t buy over-priced insurance or pay the penalty needed to subsidize the old and sick. Insurance premiums will skyrocket in an arc that will make the last few years of repeated, compounded double-digit percentage increases look like the good old days. And of course, a delay would hurt Obama’s ego.

Obama would also object to the precedent that Congress has authority to change the law; after all, he has successfully, illegally changed multiple aspects of the law by fiat. The “imperial presidency” of George W. Bush was child’s play compared to the tyranny of Barack Hussein Obama.

In the end, Obama, Pelosi, and Reid will get their way, most Democrats will toe the party line, and the mandate deadline will not be extended further. But the fact that so many Democrats are calling for a delay is a welcome salve on Republicans’ still-stinging post-shutdown wounds.

It remains to be seen whether excursions away from party discipline become a repeated characteristic of a handful of congressional Democrats, accelerating Barack Obama’s slouch into lame duck status. The wall of Democratic unity is not yet crumbling, but current cracks represent political opportunity for Republicans, risk for Democrats, and a big problem for Barack Obama.