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Obamacare is the gift that keeps on giving for Republicans

Just as the Nixon White House tapes have been for years "the gift that keeps on giving" for the Democrats, Obamacare seems destined to be a recurring basis for political mischief by the Republicans.

While the GOP seriously damaged its brand with its failed campaign to defund President Barack Obama's health-care insurance law, forcing a highly unpopular government shutdown as part of the effort, the law itself continues to be grounds for Republicans' case that the Obama administration is incompetent.

The testimony last week by technology contractors at a House committee hearing that the sign-up system was insufficiently tested by the Obama administration before the law's rollout was music to Republican ears.

Indelicately shifting the blame to the government, witnesses blamed the botched public introduction of the president's prime domestic legislation on its failure to conduct sufficiently early testing of the site created by the techies at huge taxpayer expense.

An embarrassed Mr. Obama declined to put the onus for the fiasco on his chief cabinet officer involved, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. She at first pleaded previous commitments in not testifying before the committee but is scheduled to do so this week.

Meanwhile, the Republicans in Congress are having a field day of I-told-you-sos, continuing their assault on the health-care law they despise. They remain unembarrassed in complaining loudly about the difficulties uninsured Americans are having as they try to get the coverage from which the Republicans sought to bar them in the first place.

Just as the Nixon tapes, with each periodic release, have kept alive the Watergate calamity that drove the first president to resign from office, Obamacare seems destined to haunt its parent throughout his White House tenure and beyond.

The law remains the high-water mark in Mr. Obama's dealings with Capitol Hill, albeit achieved with no Republican votes, and has been elevated through consistent and undiminished GOP opposition and sniping, with no end in sight. The clumsy rollout has now given the Republicans renewed energy to seriously deflate if not to defund it.

After comfortable re-election, Mr. Obama faces the prospect of spending the rest of his second term distracted by the imperative of defending the law all over again, amid evidence that Republican warnings of its impracticability were not all political ranting. His recent pleas for Congress to pivot toward immigration reform and enactment of a farm bill have been overshadowed by the clamor over the amateurish kickoff of Obamacare.

Before the widely reported difficulties in the launching of the law's critical enrollment phase, the Democrats were able to see the Republicans' failed campaign to defund Obamacare as a prime example of partisan irresponsibility. Their willingness to shut down the executive branch of government for more than two weeks, and their flirtation with letting the country default on paying its legitimate bills, brought the GOP its lowest public approval ratings ever.

As a consequence, Democratic strategists cast their eyes with renewed optimism on next year's congressional elections, where the party needs a pickup of 17 House seats to regain control and give Mr. Obama the hope of a more productive final two years in the Oval Office. But the new cloud over his health-care insurance law threatens instead to make the next year an extended battle over the same old ground.

In 1974, an imminent threat of impeachment against Richard Nixon drove him to resign his office. Today, much less ominous talk of similar action against Mr. Obama from diehard critics of Obamacare is getting nowhere. But their determination of keep their vocal opposition alive can inhibit his aspirations to move on to other critical issues in the three years left to him at the White House.

Much depends on whether the current glitch in the system can be swiftly and persuasively ironed out and the insurance coverage Mr. Obama has for touted for so long can become a reality. If not, the law to which his name has been attached by its foes could become more a millstone than a milestone of his presidency.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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