5 ways Democrats can distract us if Healthcare.gov is still broken at the end of the month

If the site still doesn't work, President Obama will need to loudly change the subject for a while. Here's how!

Topics: Obamacare, Affordable Care Act, healthcare, Healthcare.gov, Barack Obama, Sports, single payer, Unemployment, Too Big to Fail, Financial Reform,

5 ways Democrats can distract us if Healthcare.gov is still broken at the end of the month (Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

According to the Washington Post, Healthcare.gov is unlikely to be fully functional by the end of this month, when the White House promised it would be. The site, according to an unnamed official, will still likely be unable to handle large amounts of traffic. New York’s Jonathan Chait reports that the White House still stands by its end-of-the-month promise (that the site will work for a “majority” of users), but the odds of a Dec. 1 political fiasco for the Obama administration look alarmingly high. If that happens, the administration, and the Democratic Party, will need to get people talking about other things. It won’t be easy, but the party is aided by the fact that the political press does enjoy talking about new things more than old things.

Here are my emergency distraction suggestions in case everything is still broken in a few weeks.

Grand Bargain

This always distracts the elite Beltway press, at least. Get Simpson and Bowles back in town, let the small army of people working for Pete Peterson-funded groups work the phones and the email lists, and start talking about how this is, finally, the perfect opportunity to get our nation’s finances in order. Obama’s been doing a lot of deficit-bragging lately — which is stupid, because it’s bragging about contraction in the midst of a now long-term jobs crisis! — so this one’s basically already happening. This is also the worst distraction because it will almost inevitably lead to either nothing at all or bad things. Still: “Comprehensive tax reform” is a thing again!

Again, this will distract the press more than the people, because the people are more concerned with, you know, jobs and stuff.


Hey, remember that massive jobs crisis? No, I mean it, does anyone in Washington remember that massive jobs crisis? Because it seems like maybe they don’t? Currently no one expects Congress to do anything, at all, to address unemployment any time soon. The president, who I think understands that people judge his performance based in large part on how they themselves are doing economically, ought to be doing everything in his power to change that.

Here’s the problem: This doesn’t work as a distraction. The president has tried it before! The White House says “we’re pivoting to the economy” and the president proposes a bunch of things and then nothing happens, because Congress doesn’t care and Republicans are actively hostile to most proposals to boost employment. Also the elite political press is actively hostile to all words about the economy that aren’t “reduce the deficit with a grand bargain involving entitlement reforms.” The White House also knows all of its economic proposals are dead in the water, so the entire thing is just a sad charade.

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Break Up the Banks!

Attorney General Eric Holder has lately decided to appear to be very Tough On Wall Street. Some have said it’s too little, too late, but it’s at least better than Not Appearing Tough On Wall Street Because We Are Afraid Of and Captured By Wall Street. So JPMorgan Chase got is negotiating that massive fine. The Justice Department has been running around taking credit for all sorts of settlements and fines it didn’t have much to do with. At least they understand the political value of wanting to take credit for going after banks. One important lesson of the recent Elizabeth Warren boomlet is that taking on the banks can make you popular — it can make people write magazine stories about how you might be president! — which ought to encourage senators to do it more often.

If Democrats want a nice, popular distraction, banding together to threaten to break up the banks would work nicely, plus it has the benefit of being something that should happen. (It would also ruin Sen. Cory Booker’s first month in office, to have to immediately come out on the pro-bank side.) Alas, this won’t happen, because banks have all the money and Congress is full of rich people.


I think, more sincerely than not, that President Obama should devote much of the remainder of his second term to ending the practice of pro sports corporate welfare. It is the worst thing, and literally everyone not making money off it hates it. The right hates it. The left hates it. People who hate sports and people who love sports hate it. And it’s newsworthy, right now! The Atlanta Braves are arranging to extort $450 million from a county government in order to move a few miles north. They are leaving behind a stadium that was built in 1996. The people of Cobb County will most likely not even get to vote on the matter. The county has, meanwhile, recently cut school staffs and furloughed teachers. But they will find or raise money to give to a baseball team. In Minnesota, the Vikings are about to break ground on a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Half of its nearly billion-dollar cost will be paid for with public funds. The team’s half of the bill will be paid for by the NFL and offset with tax exemptions. It will probably cost more than it is supposed to. Everyone is well aware that the entire process was a massive fraud. It doesn’t matter.

Governments — municipal, county, state and federal — subsidize professional (and “amateur” collegiate) sports to an insane degree. The major leagues are all profitable — football especially, incredibly so — and yet the stadium scam nearly always works. Supposedly “private” stadiums, like New York’s newest baseball parks, are heavily subsidized, for no reason. The cost to the public has been growing and growing for years, amounting to the transfer of tens of billions of dollars from the public to teams and the rich people and corporations that own them.

There have been plenty of bills and proposals from Democrats and Republicans to end stadium welfare and the extortion (we’ll move to L.A.!) that fuels it, but no one has yet made it a major cause. So why not Obama? He should come up with something his friend Tom Coburn could support, and put it in the State of the Union. End sports welfare as we know it. Praise for the proposal would be unanimous. Americans everywhere would forget for a few minutes that our healthcare system is still an overpriced mess and that no one has jobs.

Single payer

At the moment, Democrats (and Republicans) are scrambling to sign on to proposals to “fix” or “reform” or “address” problems with the ACA — mainly, the very real but also very, very, very exaggerated problem of people currently on the individual market having plans canceled — that will either do not much of anything or that will actively undermine the intention and structure of the law. There is an obvious demand for Obamacare Reforms, on the left, on the right, and in between, and we really, really shouldn’t be letting people like Mary Landrieu take the lead in meeting that demand. How about “Hey, now you’re just on Medicare” for some of the people who lost their beloved old plans? If you like your plan, you can keep your plan, except now the government provides it. I don’t know. I’m not a liberal senator. Maybe some liberal senators should give it a shot!

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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