"We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it ... "
then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Obamacare legislation, March 9, 2010.
Not long after she uttered that infamous phrase, Pelosi got her way. She stampeded House Democrats to vote for a massive, complex Obamacare plan that few lawmakers in either party had time to understand. She and Democratic Senate leaders ramrodded Obamacare without a single Republican vote.
Democratic lawmakers voted for a bill without a clear idea of how well it would work.
Now they know.
Obamacare is faltering under its own bureaucratic weight. Massive computer problems are preventing people from signing up for coverage in the new online marketplaces. Worse, many people who finally manage to log in suffer sticker shock at high insurance premium or deductible prices.
Democrats are breaking ranks. And, predictably, there's a rising cry to fire people who are responsible for the mess, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. "Somebody's got to man up here, get rid of these people," said Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., who didn't name names but characterized the president's response to the rollout as "weak." "There are people like myself who supported the Affordable Care Act, but I'm not oblivious to the fact that this layout has done harm and damage to the brand," he said.
The brand? Obamacare's got all the appeal of MySpace, Friendster or BlackBerry now.
On Thursday, government contractors who built the system told a House committee that they did not have enough time to test the system before its debut. We already knew that. The law piled thousands of pages of rules and regulations on employers, individuals, insurers. Those rules were still flowing out of the administration even as the exchanges were being readied to open.
Sebelius is set to testify next week. She's saying that President Barack Obama didn't know about the problems with the health insurance website before it went live.
Really? We know Obama's busy, but didn't he see those Government Accountability Office warnings that many technical hurdles needed to be overcome for the system to start on time?
Obama and Sebelius promise a "tech surge" to fix all the computer problems. But as Democrats now see, the problems with the law they passed aren't buried in a thicket of computer code.
•The promise that the law would deliver affordable care? Ask those Chicagoans who face deductibles that are thousands of dollars higher than their current coverage. The sticker shock is nationwide: People in some of the poorest rural areas must choose from some of the nation's highest-priced plans, The New York Times reports.
•The president's oft-repeated promise that you can keep your current coverage if you want to? Insurers are telling many Americans that their existing policies won't be renewed, so they'll have to shop for new ones.
•You can keep your doctors? In some plans insurers cut costs by offering people narrow networks, excluding some of the best physicians and hospitals.
Congress can start to fix this mess by delaying the mandate that everyone have insurance or pay a penalty. As it is now, people must sign up for insurance by March 31 to avoid penalties.
The feds already have granted a one-year reprieve on the companion mandate that employers provide insurance or pay fines. The administration has allowed any number of carve-outs for other special pleaders.
A delay in the individual mandate isn't a special break. It's simple fairness.
In the rush to pass Obamacare, Democratic leaders reassured lawmakers that Americans would love it, once they understood it.
Alas, we all understand it — better than the lawmakers who enacted it did.