The government shutdown was a misguided and senseless tactic that cost American taxpayers at least $24 billion and damaged the Republican brand. But the error-plagued rollout of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has given the GOP a way to change the conversation.
Senator Ted Cruz's reckless strategy to defund Obamacare was never going to succeed. But he knew that. However, the ambitious Cruz saw it as tremendous opportunity to galvanize Tea Party members behind his leadership. And, while moderate Republicans call his maneuvers a "fool's errand," there is no question Cruz has now won the loyal support of many on the right.
Yet many Republicans are shaking their heads in frustration because the Cruz shutdown has taken attention away from Obamacare's problems. "The fiasco of rollout has been obscured because of this internecine strife that's been going on in the Republican Party," Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said Sunday on CNN. "Keep up the fight against Obamacare, but don't shut down the government and have so much collateral damage to innocent Americans."
However, out of the GOP wreckage will quickly emerge an all out attack against the problem-plagued launch of Obamacare. On CBS's Face the Nation Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Obamacare, "The worst piece of legislation passed in the last half century... we need to get rid of it." He claimed that even if one can get on the site, they will find fewer choices and higher costs.
Democrats recognize that the faulty rollout is an issue ripe for exploitation. Last week on MSNBC, former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs called it, "Excruciatingly embarrassing for the White House and for the Department of Health and Human Services." On ABC's This Week, former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the problems "unacceptable." She added, "This has to be fixed, but what doesn't have to be fixed is the fact the tens of millions of more people will have access to affordable healthcare, quality healthcare. That no longer having a preexisting medical condition will bar you from getting affordable care."
The White House and HHS have had years to prepare for the launch of Obamacare. All along they have said that Republicans oppose it because Americans will fall in love with it once it is available. But now the architects of President Obama's signature legislative achievement are vulnerable to attack and relentless scrutiny from Congressional Committees. Republicans would like nothing more than to turn Obamacare against Democrats in the 2014-midterm elections.
Already Republican Chairmen Fred Upton, of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has announced he will investigate. "It is well past time for the administration to be straight and transparent with the American people," he said in a statement last week. For instance, how many millions of dollars were spent to design the error plagued software? Whose fault is it?
President Obama is expected to address the health care glitches on Monday. While making health care accessible for all remains a worthy goal, and millions of people have already tried to learn more about the offerings, the problems must be quickly remedied. If the president fails to make that happen, Obamacare may damage his ability to achieve any further legislative successes.
Mr. Obama has already stated his intention to pivot onto the difficult and complex issue of immigration reform. He has also indicated he is interested in achieving a budget deal with Republicans that will include infrastructure, tax and entitlement reform. But the problems with Obamacare will weaken his position.
Of course, Republicans are mindful of the words once spoken by the president's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."