Is The Shutdown Bailing The White House Out on Obamacare?

A blog about business and economics.
Oct. 13 2013 11:05 AM

Is The Shutdown Bailing The White House Out on Obamacare?

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MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 10: People are getting confused.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Robert Pear, Sharon LaFranier, and Ian Austin gave us today the best reporting I've seen yet on what went wrong in the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House in terms of supervising the contractors who were supposed to build the federal health care exchange digital technology. You should read their story and you should supplement with David Auerbach's great pieces for Slate on what the actual technical issues are.

But here's some reporting from me. Back in the first week of the month, I was in Philadelphia and someone asked me if the reason HealthCare.gov wasn't working was that the people running the site were furloughed because of the shutdown. I explained that no that isn't the case and these are just two unrelated things that happened the same week in politics. Then in Cleveland last week a cab driver who found I was coming from DC explained to me how outrageous he thought it was that Republicans had shut down the websites that would have let him sign up for health insurance. And a bartender told me the GOP is getting what it wants out of the shutdown—Obamacare isn't launching.

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Which is to say that I think a large share of people don't realize that this problems with the Affordable Care Act IT infrastructure have very little to do with Republicans and basically nothing to do with the shutdown.

After all, it's confusing. Republicans did shut the government down. They did shut the government down in order to stop Obamacare. The shutdown came on the same week that Obamacare's websites were supposed to launch. And for many people, the websites are not in fact working. So it's natural—but wrong—to think that the non-functionality of the websites is the shutdown. It seems to be the case that many grassroots conservatives believed, pre-shutdown, that the Ted Cruz strategy could actually prevent Obamacare from launching. And now it seems to be the case that many grassroots liberals believe, in the wake of the botched website launch, that it's Ted Cruz rather than IT contractors and their overseers in the administration who've screwed things up.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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