So far, the Obamacare website literally has been a joke. But don't take comedian Jon Stewart's word for it. Or mine. Or Jimmy Fallon's. Or Jay Leno's. That's what 60 percent of Americans say, according to the latest Fox News poll.
Who can blame them? News reports say fewer than one in 10 Americans who attempted to sign up were able to actually enroll. Not even the login experience could be made to work for a significant portion of the site's visitors. And those that did get in received bad information, encountered a calculator – a CALCULATOR! – that didn't work, along with other problems. And the insurance companies receiving these applications say they've received faulty info, blank information fields, spouses listed as children and on and on.
It's so bad even some electorally vulnerable Democrats in Congress have begun to suggest the law may not be ready for prime time.
And, as the Chicago Tribune and others have pointed out, the worst may be yet to come. The bugs, says the Trib, are not only in the computer but the law itself. The 30-hour work weeks. The counterproductive taxes and other gotcha features that have all but frozen hiring in this country. The high-profile companies that continue to look at the law and what it means to them choosing to run, not walk, away from offering benefits to employees. The enormous price hikes for many.
U.S. President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform remains unpopular with most Americans amid major problems with the plan's website.
A Gallup poll released Wednesday found that Americans overall disapprove of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, with 50 percent of respondents disapproving of the law and 45 percent approving, although approval of the law has inched up in recent weeks among Democrats.
The poll came after the Oct. 1 launch of www.healthcare.gov, the website that forms the law's centerpiece. The site is riddled with technical problemes preventing many visitors from completing enrollment, which has sparked much criticism from U.S. media, pundits and the Republican Party.
A dog-eat-dog political fight over the Obamacare between the White House and Congressional Republicans led to a 16-day government shutdown this month and pushed the country into a dangerous brink of a default on its debt.
The ongoing Congressional strife over Obamacare underscores the larger fight over the country's future direction, with progressive Democrats preferring a larger government with more spending and safety nets and Republicans favoring a smaller government and less spending at a time when the country's 17 trillion U.S. dollar debt roughly equals its gross domestic product.
"This is much bigger than Obamacare. At the end of the day what this is really about is whether progressive, big government solutions can make the lives of middle class Americans better," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua.
"If they can't, the GOP is going to be in a better position in 2016," he said, referring to the next U.S. presidential elections. "But if Obamacare proves to be relatively successful, then progressives have a peg to hang their hat on."
The budget and debt standoff in Washington that led to a U.S. government shutdown this month was a fundraising boon for Democratic groups, which had one of their most lucrative months of the year.
But the Republicans' push to hold up government funding to try to delay or defund Democratic President Barack Obama's healthcare law also apparently paid off for independent conservative groups, which raked in millions of dollars in the two months before the partial shutdown of the U.S. government began on October 1.
Monthly reports from the independent and party-affiliated groups, as well as the Federal Election Commission, shed light on the political fundraising frenzy that unfolded in September, as Congress' stalemate over spending and debt issues pushed the government toward the shutdown.
"This means the Democrats have jumped to a fundraising advantage" ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.
Analysts see the challenge as particularly difficult for Democrats in the House, where dozens of Republicans are safely tucked into conservative districts.
"It looks good on paper for Democrats in the House, but they've got such an uphill fight that it's not so bothersome" for Republicans, O'Connell said.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) decision to abandon his legal fight against gay marriage has enraged social conservatives — and shows he’s betting a big reelection win next month matters more to his 2016 presidential ambitions than appealing to a religious base already leery of him.
That calculation will likely help him maintain a big lead heading into New Jersey’s Nov. 5 gubernatorial election. It takes away a major issue his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Barbara Buono, has criticized him over during the campaign.
Most polls show Christie headed for a solid double-digit reelection win, which the governor needs to bolster his case to potential Republican primary voters that he is electable in Democratic states.
But by standing down on his gay marriage fight, Christie is also inviting risk. He has likely damaged himself with the evangelical voters who make up large parts of the Republican primary electorate in early-voting Iowa and South Carolina.
“He’s in a tough place with respect to winning the early primaries over this issue. But if he can get to a place like Florida, he’s going to look a lot better,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.
“He was in a tough position with social conservatives to begin with. He picked the lesser of the two evils on this. He’s saying ‘If I take care of New Jersey right now, 2016 will take care of itself.’ ”
Senate Democrats have emerged from the government shutdown more confident about holding control of the upper chamber in 2014 — with some polls fueling hopes the party could pick up a seat or two currently held by the GOP.
The sentiment marks a shift in attitude even from this summer, when partisans on both sides viewed control of the Senate as a toss-up.
The optimism is being tempered by concerns that a botched rollout of ObamaCare could cloud the electoral horizon and nullify shutdown gains made at the expense of the GOP.
“They certainly made the road to a Senate majority much more difficult,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, referring to congressional Republicans who embraced the shutdown strategy.
O’Connell said the shutdown fundamentally undermined the GOP’s message for 2014.
“The argument the GOP is making is that you have to put us back in charge of governance,” he says. “And I’m sure as the dust settles, there are going to be independents scratching their heads on that one.”
The Republican Party needs to do some damage control. During the 16-day government shutdown, the party’s approval ratings hit record lows in several polls, reaching over 70 percent disapproval.
Still, a general outline is emerging on where the party needs to move over three months in order to recover from its self-inflicted wounds. Here’s what the Republican Party needs to do in order to have a strong showing in 2014 and beyond, according to Republican strategists.
Step 2: Draw attention to the messy Obamacare rollout
The shutdown distracted voters from what has been a rocky rollout of the online health care exchanges. Now that the shutdown is over, Republicans see this as a means of attacking the health care law. Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, is adamant on this point.
“Shine the spotlight on the Obamacare rollout and basically allow the stories of Obamacare’s failures write themselves,” he says. “All they have to do is make sure that people read these stories.”
Step 4: Rally around Paul Ryan
Whether Republicans avert another shutdown will largely depend on the party’s leadership uniting around Representative Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the budget deal he plans hammers out in a conference with Senate conferees over the next two months. Democrats want to get rid of the sequester cuts, and O’Connell sees this as a leverage point for Ryan and Republicans to make headway on issues important to Republicans, like spending. If the Tea Party doesn’t go along with Ryan and a budget deal, Republicans could botch their chances in 2014.
“Trade [the sequester] for something bigger, whether it be entitlement reform or tax reform or whatever, they need to get a unified strategy and get something for the sequester so they can move forward,” O’Connell said. “They have to recognize if they don’t do it, they’re going to be stealing defeat from the jaws of victory in 2014. It’s out of necessity. Hopefully necessity is what will unify them in the short term.”
The Texas Republican refuses to back off the idea of using another showdown over government funding to delay ObamaCare, even as Republican leaders are ready to move on.
Cruz’s insistence comes in the face of deep criticism from fellow Senate Republicans.
“I would do anything and I will continue to do anything I can to stop the train wreck that is ObamaCare,” Cruz told ABC News when asked whether he would push the country to the brink of another shutdown.
“I don’t work for the party bosses in Washington,” he added on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.
His recent bruising battles with the GOP leadership have had one clear positive for the freshman Republican. He has cemented his role as the Tea Party’s standard-bearer.
But even as Cruz has amplified his influence with the conservative base, some Republican strategists warn he could end up destroying his party’s ability to win national elections.
“If it came down to Ted Cruz and Chris Christie, I bet you three quarters of the Republican Party would be supporting Chris Christie,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who worked for the McCain-Palin ticket in 2008.
“He probably hurt himself in terms of 2016 electability,” O’Connell added.
The Republican Party drew its lowest approval ratings in history during the US government shutdown and debt ceiling impasse. Political strategists offer five recommendations for how to rebuild the party's brand.
"Ronald Reagan is dead and they need to accept it," says O'Connell.
O'Connell suggests that instead of inspiring positive associations in voters' minds, invoking Reagan actually "prevents modern Republicans from articulating a 21st Century agenda".
"You're not a hack by watching your words," O'Connell says. "That doesn't mean compromise your principles, it's just that so much more can be accomplished through perception than in actual policy positions."
"The Republicans will know they've hit the right balance when people want to have a beer with them, and right now they don't."
Congressional Republicans, particularly Tea Party conservatives, need to get one thing straight before the next round of budget and debt ceiling negotiations: Principle means nothing without a realistic game plan, especially when you are the minority party and Barack Obama is intent on pulverizing the GOP.
The latest all-or-nothing, defund Obamacare shutdown stunt will go down as one of the most bone-headed political maneuvers in recent memory for Republicans. Why? Because, as Karl Rove has noted, Obama set a trap and Republicans walked right into it.
There is little doubt the Republican Party has suffered damage from the tea party-driven government shutdown that ended Thursday with barely any concessions from the Democrats.
In just a month, public favorability of the GOP dropped 10 points, to 28 percent, an all-time low for either party in the Gallup poll. Republican strategists are worried the shutdown will harm their party’s fundraising and help the Democrats raise money and recruit candidates.
But is the damage really enough to put Republican control of the House in jeopardy in the November 2014 midterms?
Many factors nevertheless mitigate against a Democratic takeover.
“But if we do have another shutdown, we will be stealing defeat from jaws of victory,” says Ford O’Connell, head of the conservative Civic Forum PAC."
Going forward, says Mr. O’Connell, the best thing Republicans can do is let the difficult rollout of the Affordable Care Act – the computer glitches, the higher insurance rates some consumers are seeing, the unpopular individual mandate to buy insurance – dominate the news without the distraction of a shutdown.
“What they really need to be doing” he says, “is let the stories of Obamacare’s failure write themselves.”