Remember President Obama's trademark phrase on the 2012 presidential campaign trail?: "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan. Period."
Well, he knowingly lied. Period. According to NBC News, as many as 80 percent of the roughly 14 million Americans who purchase insurance individually will have their policies canceled next year because the policies don't meet the standards mandated by the new health care law. For almost all of them, the new policy they will be required to buy will cost more. How much more? The phrase "sticker shock" is thrown around.
The president knew better. As long as three years ago, he knew regulations would prevent most policies from qualifying for the law's grandfathering provision. Depending on which news outlet you trust, he continued to repeat the promise dozens or even hundreds of times since.
So why did the president promise this? Because he wanted to get the legislation enacted and get himself re-elected in 2012. He won by 5 million votes, but if the more than 10 million Americans affected knew last November they were about to lose their coverage and see a dramatic increase in costs thanks to Obamacare, we might well be debating the policies of President Romney right now.
But it remains to be seen how much, if any, political gain Republicans can realize out of this debacle. This past week, they had Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius up before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She took responsibility at the outset of the hearing, and Republicans dutifully put her through her paces thereafter. But there was no knockout punch , no memorable line.
The GOP can – and should – continue to highlight the multitudinous failures of the new law: the website debacle, the cronyism that marked so many of the government's purchases in the ramp-up and the concerns over privacy, accuracy and security that even the president's "tech surge" will not address.
And this will have some impact. Already, the president's poll numbers have sunk to the lowest levels of his administration. Democrats on the Hill have become nervous enough to ask – timidly now, but perhaps less so later – for delays until the infrastructure can catch up.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., for whom every election is a nail-biter, has said she will propose legislation that would allow anyone who wants to keep their plans to do so – in other words, to force Obama to keep his promise.
It is true that, in her state, which has no state exchange and thus, perhaps, no premium subsidies, dramatic premium increases will not go over well. But it is telling that Landrieu, who faces only token opposition in 2014, would feel so threatened by the administration's various missteps with the law that she would propose such a measure.
And if Landrieu feels this threatened, what do we make of the other vulnerable Democrats up in 2014 – Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas? And what about those open-seat Democrat candidates in South Dakota, West Virginia and Montana? Might continued missteps give us a Majority Leader McConnell?
The government shutdown did not help. More than 70 percent did not approve of it, and nearly half blamed Republicans in Congress.
But, although the shutdown will fade from memory by November 2014, it is now highly possible the travails of Obamacare will not. And even if the website problems are addressed, the second-year plans – the first year was for starter sets; the second year, we will move to plans that will have more permanence – are due in October 2014, a month before the election.
If they bring another round of sticker shock, the House could gain Republican seats and perhaps even nab control of the Senate. It's a ticking time bomb, and, even though the White House refuses to adjust, people inside are aware of the problem. "What genius came up with that timetable?" said one official, anonymously of course.
This will be Republicans' third bite at the apple – their third attempt to regain control of the Senate since Obamacare became law. They kicked away the first two with unforced errors and unprepared candidates. Win in 2014, and the law can be weakened and delayed until the next president takes over. Lose in 2014, and all the Democratic gaffes in the world won't save us from this disastrous new normal.