Today marks the beginning of what will surely be a series of hearings in Congress at which members will fulminate and shake their fists at various people who had responsibility for creating Healthcare.gov. It's quite something to see some congressman who's still struggling to figure out how to work the Blackberry his staff gave him asking questions about beta testing and error logs and a bunch of other stuff he doesn't begin to understand. But maybe the weirdest thing is the feeling one gets from the GOP over the last few days, which can be summarized as, "We got 'em now!" They seem to believe that the website problems are going to provide the deliverance they've been waiting for after the political disaster of the government shutdown.
Here's a little prediction: Feigned Republican outrage over the ACA web site is going to be just as effective in reversing the GOP's current fortunes as feigned Republican outrage over Benghazi was in undoing Barack Obama's re-election bid.
Nevertheless, they've got a new spring in their step, as The New York Times reports today. "If the Web site glitches are just the tip of the iceberg," says Representative Greg Walden, who as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee is responsible for making sure his party holds the House in 2014, "it's only a matter of time before the law sinks and takes with it those Democrats who wrote it, voted for it and are proud of it." All they have to do is sit back and wait for Obamacare to implode, then reap the political benefits.
I wouldn't get too excited if I were them. First of all, if you're arguing about why the website isn't working, you've implicitly accepted the premise that the website ought to work, so people can use it and get insurance. Which is quite different from arguing, as some Republicans have, that people who are now uninsured just shouldn't bother getting insurance at all. When you stand before the cameras to shout, "I will not rest until these problems are fixed and Obamacare works properly!" and you then turn around and say, "I will not rest until Obamacare is destroyed!", you're not exactly convincing the voting public that you're the one they want running things.
Furthermore, as Greg Sargent reminds us, "when it comes to supplying genuine oversight, previous House GOP probes — into Benghazi and the IRS scandal – devolved into circus stunts. Those investigations got knocked off kilter by lurid and fanciful charges that seemed directed at a hard right audience that remains firmly in the grip of the conservative closed information feedback loop." In today's Republican party, efforts at embarrassing the Obama administration quickly get taken over by the the party's tin foil hat brigade, and even the sane ones end up playing to Sean Hannity's audience instead of to the country as a whole.
If you're a Republican member of Congress, this is coming at a critical time, because it's around now when your potential primary opponents are deciding whether they want to run against you in next year's election. That gives you an incentive to prove to the folks back home that you're as conservative as the nuttiest Tea Partier. It isn't hard to do, really—all that's necessary is to go on television and tell the Fox News host that you're deeply concerned that Healthcare.gov was intentionally made to work improperly as a pretext for the socialist Obama administration to collect all our DNA to facilitate herding us into FEMA concentration camps (or something like that). Which helps make your primary challenge less likely, but doesn't serve the party's larger purpose of convincing the American public that the GOP is not, in fact, a party of extremists who don't care about governing.
Hearings like these seldom produce any useful information, but if they increase the pressure on the administration to get things fixed quickly, then that's all to the good. But if I were a Republican, I wouldn't get too excited about what they're going to do for my party.