Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama continued to take political heat for the troubled debut of his signature health plan while his advisers downplayed the significance of the program’s low enrollment rate.
Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate who lost the 2012 presidential race to Democrat Obama, accused the president of lying.
“He wasn’t telling the truth,” Romney said today on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“That fundamental dishonesty has really -- has really put in peril the whole foundation of his second term,” Romney said. “I think it is rotting it away.”
During the presidential campaign and later, as Congress debated the Affordable Health Care Act, Obama repeatedly said that no one would be forced to give up their existing health coverage under the law.
The statement “undermined the president’s credibility,” Romney said.
Romney also tipped his hat to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016.
“Chris could easily become our nominee and save our party and help get this nation on the right track again,” Romney said. “They don’t come better than Chris Christie.”
Christie, who is favored to win re-election on Nov. 5, is “one of the very strongest lights of the Republican Party,” Romney said. Christie, Senator Marc Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Romney’s former running mate, all are electable, he said.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney signed into law a 2006 state program used as a model for the federal law, known as Obamacare. The Massachusetts plan also took time to get off the ground, White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said, enrolling only 0.03 percent of the population in the first month.
“I can promise you that the first enrollment numbers, which were released later this month, are not going to be what we want them to be. There’s no question about that,” Pfeiffer said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “The website hasn’t worked the way we want it to work. But we take responsibility for that, take responsibility for the errors, take responsibility for fixing it.”
Between 5 million and 7 million people will need to enter private health care exchanges for the system to work, said Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania and an architect of the Obama plan. Enrollment will accelerate as the March deadline approaches, just as it did in Massachusetts, he said.
“You would expect at this stage of the game, from everything we know about the exchanges, that not a lot of people would sign up,” Emanuel said on “Fox News Sunday.” “People will put off buying until the end.”
After appearances on the Hill last week, administration officials are set to testify again this week about what went wrong with the online health portal. The government’s health care website tells visitors that online applications aren’t available from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. ET daily “while we make improvements.”
Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which has overseen the building and startup of federal online health exchanges, is scheduled to appear before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Nov. 5.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is set to appear the next day before the Senate Finance Committee.
The flawed debut of the health website, with delays, outages and software errors, is tarnishing Obama’s signature legislative achievement and has complicated his second-term agenda as his approval ratings drop.
Forty-eight percent of Americans said the government is doing a “poor” job of implementing the health law, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found. The law itself is supported by about 47 percent of respondents who said it should be kept or expanded, compared with 37 percent who said they want it repealed.
“I think government is inherently inept, because they don’t work on a profit motive,” Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, said on the “This Week” program. “I would say that there are fundamental things government can do. But government shouldn’t take on new opportunities or new things to do when it’s not managing what it has now.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Lorraine Woellert in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ann Hughey at email@example.com