Analysis: How Ted Cruz Saved 'Obamacare'

Without Sen. Ted Cruz's fateful "non-filibuster" and corresponding government shutdown, the front page news on America's leading newspapers for the past two weeks would have been the White House's disastrous "Obamacare" rollout. What happened instead was news about an ill-conceived, ill-planned strategy by Cruz and Tea Party Republicans to defund "Obamacare," which led to a government shutdown.

Three recent polls show that the Republican Party has been damaged by the shutdown. The most recent of those polls, released Monday by ABC News/Washington Post, shows 74 percent of Americans disapproving of the way Republicans are handling the budget negotiations, an increase of 11 percentage points since the shutdown began.

If there were no government shutdown, the lead story for the past two weeks would have been the failures of the Democrat's new health care law.

"Obamacare," technically called the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is only having difficulty with the new health care exchanges website,, because more people than expected have been trying to use it, Sen. Dick Durbin (R-Ill.) claimed Monday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"We've been off to a rocky start, for sure, because 15 million wanted to get on. Because, why? 50 million Americans wanted to get insurance," he said.

Information technology and insurance experts disagree. They say the software is deeply flawed and the implementation was bungled by bureaucrats.

"These are not glitches," an insurance executive who asked not to be named told The New York Times. "The extent of the problems is pretty enormous. At the end of our calls, people say, 'It's awful, just awful.'"

If it had been more widely reported on, there are many aspects of the ACA website failures that would have dovetailed well with Republican arguments. Here are five examples:

  1. Republicans argue that federal programs work best when they are decentralized, not centralized. The ACA website is an example of centralized decision-making gone awry.
  2. Republicans argue that the levels of government closest to its people (state and local) are more responsive to the needs of its citizens than the level of government more removed from its people (federal). The states that designed their own healthcare exchange websites are in much better shape than the federal website.
  3. Republicans argue that the individual mandate should be delayed. If individuals cannot even purchase insurance on the government website, why should they be required to purchase insurance?
  4. Republicans, as well as some Democrats, argue that the government has too much access to its citizen's private information. Yet, the ACA will create a database that will include private health information. Bureaucrats cannot get the ACA website to work but will be in charge of making sure participant's private information is secure.
  5. As Joe Carter pointed out for Acton Institute's PowerBlog, the ACA website failure presents an opportunity to point out the problems of crony capitalism in the Obama White House. Companies that have close ties to the government, rather than companies most adept at the task, were chosen to build the website.

At the end of September, Republicans were on the verge of a public relations coup against the ACA, which was already unpopular with a majority of the public. Instead, Republicans led by Cruz and other Tea Partiers took lemons and made it into sludge.

With all the problems taking place with the ACA website, disapproval of the new health care law should have increased. Instead, it slightly decreased. According to the RealClearPolitics average, disapproval of the ACA went from 51.4 percent on Oct. 1, the day the shutdown began, to 48.8 percent on Tuesday.

Why would fewer disapprove when the ACA is experiencing such massive failures? The most likely answer is that the public now associates ACA disapproval with Cruz's failed attempt to defund the law that led to the government shutdown.

The government shutdown may end soon, and the ACA difficulties appear likely to continue, so Republicans may still have time to turn the situation to their advantage. Cruz, though, made a strategic blunder that was a gift to Obama. The 2014 midterm elections had been shaping up to be a good year for Republicans, but now Obama has a bit more spring in his step, knowing that the Republican brand just took a huge hit.

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