7:26am

Fri October 25, 2013
It's All Politics

Friday Morning Political Mix: Monkeys, Donkeys and the NSA

Originally published on Fri October 25, 2013 8:48 am

Good morning.

Your erstwhile members of Congress are high-tailing it out of Washington for the weekend (no votes in the House, and the Senate took the day off but promises to return Monday).

But there's plenty to digest.

Fallout from Thursday's House hearing on computer problems marring the health care overhaul rollout. Across-the-pond anger over America's spying on allies. And, yes, donkeys. We'll get to that.

First, let's look at political reaction to the House hearing where executives of the IT companies that built the Obamacare website were quizzed about its failures.

Their message to Congress: the rollout was rushed, and the insurance exchange website should have been tested months, not weeks, before it went live Oct. 1.

"It was not our decision to go live," said Cheryl Campbell, senior vice president of CGI Federal, which handled most of the project, as quoted by the Washington Post. She said the decision was made by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.

CMS officials, the Post says, declined to spell out why the complete tests started so late.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, scheduled to testify next week, will no doubt be asked to explain.

But just what is the point of the GOP-led House inquiry? To fix problems, or kill the health care overhaul?

In the they-want-to-kill-it camp is Energy and Commerce Committee member Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who at the hearing called out his GOP colleagues for holding what he derisively labeled a "monkey court."

"The goal here should be to fix it, not nix it," Pallone said. "The Republicans are not trying to make this better — they are using the website glitches as an excuse to delay or defund Obamacare."

And, indeed, conservatives on and off Capitol Hill are making no bones about their continued aim to scuttle the law.

Jonah Goldberg, writing in the conservative National Review, reminds that when President Obama addressed the website problems earlier this week, he noted that the website is just a small part of the health care overhaul.

Says Goldberg: "So, sure, the website is just one small part of Obamacare. But your jugular is only one small part of your anatomy, too."

Here's Goldberg's dream scenario: "Still, the barely holding conventional wisdom on the right and left is that the website will get fixed eventually, the glitches will be de-glitched, and one day we'll all look back and laugh at the fuss. That's possible. But with every passing day it's less likely. And if more Democrats join the movement to delay the individual mandate (Republican senator Marco Rubio has already drafted legislation to do exactly that), the whole thing could start to unravel almost overnight."

BloombergBusinessweek reports that this all plays into Republicans' pivot from their failed government shutdown strategy over Obamacare to a delay and defund effort. As part of that strategy, Republicans have turned again to House oversight hearings, which they've used for inquiries in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and the Internal Revenue Services scrutiny of Tea Party groups, the publication says.

Michael C. Bender and Kathleen Miller write: "The pivot from a failed legislative assault to investigating the troubled rollout at oversight hearings follows a Republican campaign to choke off the law's funding, which led to the first partial government shutdown in 17 years. The shift may help Republican leaders avoid a similar legislative fight, which hurt the party in public opinion polls."

Writing in the New York Times opinion blog, Juliet Lapidos characterizes the standoff as between lawmakers who "hope that government programs work well, and if they don't try to fix them," and those who want much less government.

Here's Lapidos: "In theory, our representatives hope that government agencies carry out their missions smoothly, and if something goes wrong, try to figure out what happened to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Obviously that's not how things work in the United States, where one of the two parties doesn't even believe in government. Republicans want to shrink government until it's small enough to drown in a bathtub! They think there's nothing scarier than the prospect of a government employee trying to help! With beliefs like those, it's not surprising that — with disturbing frequency — they root for failure in order to score points."

Her conclusion, in breaking down Republican arguments: "If the glitches indicate deep problems, then health care reform will fall apart, in which case Republicans will pick up seats in the next election. In other words, disaster would be good for (the) party."

Check out RealClearPolitics' roundup of polls on public approval of the law.

Spying

As the heathcare overhaul debate continues stateside, anger about American spying on allies deepened overseas.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says international trust in President Obama has been "shattered" by revelations about the depth of NSA spying — including claims that Merkel's own phone may have been tapped.

The Daily Mail reports on the widening crisis, and my NPR colleague Scott Neuman has a wrap up of developments here.

Reports the Mail: "Brazil and Germany have joined forces in an attempt to pile pressure on the United Nations to rein in the snooping activities of American spies.

The two nations want a UN General Resolution that promotes the right to privacy on the internet in the first major international response to the National Security Agency's infiltration of the online communications of foreigners.

The step comes after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the recent US espionage scandal has shattered international trust in Barack Obama following claims her phone may have been tapped by American agents."

Other news we're watching:

*NPR's Kathy Lohr tells us how the fight over abortion in Texas is playing out in federal court, where a new state law with tighter restrictions on the practice is being challenged.

*And, finally, the donkeys. This has pretty much nothing to do with politics, but it's a fascinating look at tactics being used by Australian sheep farmers to keep wild dogs at bay — including the deployment of donkeys. The story is told in photos, some graphic.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.