By Chris Stirewalt, Fox News
As the federal government teetered on the brink of shutdown at the end of last month, the White House and Senate Democrats flatly refused a Republican emergency spending bill that would have kept the government open but delayed ObamaCare’s requirement that individuals purchase health insurance by March 31 or face a fine. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded to a GOP counteroffer by saying Republicans had “lost their minds.” But after an epic failure of a launch for the new health insurance entitlement and with the partial shutdown over, “delay” suddenly isn’t a dirty word anymore. With many of those subject to the fine unable to sign up due to manifold botches in the enrollment process, Democrats are warming up to the idea.
After President Obama owned up to the fact that the main Web site for enrollment is not working as it should, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked if the administration is looking for flexibility in applying the mandate. Carney indicated that a delay was not just possible, but that it may already be allowed by the law: “The law is clear that if you do not have access to affordable health insurance then you will not be asked to pay a penalty because you haven’t purchased affordable health insurance.” It would stand to reason that if the president claims the power to delay the fines for large employers by a year, as he already did, he could claim the power to pardon individuals.
[“Your website is so f***ed we have use the same strategy that we used to salvage the Iraq war?” – Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart discussing President Obama’s announced “tech surge” to repair the ObamaCare Web site.]
The sudden nonchalance about delay from the administration is no doubt galling to Republicans who got jammed on a government shutdown, but the real question is what happens next? Will the president delay the mandate, risking further premium spikes for those already covered as insurance companies contend with a flood of sick and poor customers they are now forced to accept? Will Republicans up their ask in the next round of budget battles and seek a full delay of the unimplemented portions of the law? Whatever happens, it’s clear that the Web site bungle is going to be way more than a glitch.
Fox News has learned that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will testify before a House committee on Oct. 30 about the failure of the ObamaCare Web site. Sebelius refused to testify at a House hearing this week, citing a scheduling conflict. A Hill source tells Fox News First that the delay smacks of “foot dragging.” Said the top congressional aide: “She wants to get her stories straight. But there’s no way to spin this disaster.”