On Monday night's Daily Show, Jon Stewart mostly took a break from heaping scorn on the Republican Party for shutting down the federal government over ObamaCare, and aimed some scorn at ObamaCare itself. President Obama is the most tech-savvy president in history, Stewart said, so how has he so bungled the rollout of his signature domestic achievement?
Stewart focused mostly on the technical glitches that have dogged the new website for ObamaCare's health-insurance exchanges. He did poke a little fun at all the impatience over the new sites — Americans "will camp out all night to be the first people to buy a phone or see a movie about shirtless werewolves," he said, "but you've got 10 minutes to get me this f--king health care" — but mostly he seemed incredulous that, given three years to set up this system, HealthCare.gov is such a mess.
Then Stewart got in a little Republican-bashing.
A competent, sane political party would be able to capitalize on the problems with ObamaCare, maybe even offer an alternative, Stewart said. But the GOP is "nuts." Noting that Republicans are now talking about forcing a federal credit default over the health-care law, he kvetched that "even the most egregious and blatant incompetence pales next to these guys."
Stewart played some clips of Republicans downplaying the damage of busting through the debt ceiling, arguing it will do no harm at all, and complaining that Democrats are trying to frighten the American people with all this talk about fiscal calamity. (What is Sen. Tom Coburn [R-Okla.] doing in that montage?) Anyone who has watched the show recently knows what came next: A bunch of Republicans making increasingly apocalyptic warnings about the effects of the new health-care law.
To illustrate the odd dichotomy at the heart of Washington's meltdown, Stewart brought on Jason Jones and Samantha Bee, representing Team Nihilism (GOP) and Team Incompetence (Democrats), respectively. It was pretty fair and balanced mockery:
But Stewart returned to criticizing ObamaCare in the interview portion of the show, where his guest was Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the Cabinet official in charge of implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Sebelius by this point is used to facing questions about the law, and she did a decent job of explaining what's new and beneficial about the health-insurance exchanges. She was a little less open about what's gone wrong so far, and, when asked, said she didn't know how many people had enrolled in new health-care plans, only that hundreds of thousands of people have created accounts.
Stewart is skeptical, especially about the one-year waiver given to larger businesses — those with 50 or more employees now have until 2015 to offer full-time workers health care — but not to individuals, who have to sign up before April or face a $95 fee. If he were an uninsured individual who didn't want to sign up, Stewart said, "I would feel like you are favoring big business because they lobbied you to delay it because they didn't want to do it this year, but you're not allowing individuals that same courtesy."
Sebelius didn't really answer the question very clearly, suggesting that most businesses already offer their employers health insurance, so the delay is no big deal.
In case you were wondering where Stewart himself stands on the issue, he once again made his case for a single-payer health-care system. But Sebelius, who is not only HHS secretary but also a former Kansas health commissioner, is a formidably wonky opponent. At one point, he asked her: "Am I a stupid man?"
"He's not," answers Time's Kate Pickert. "But the Affordable Care Act is complicated," and sometimes Sebelius "waded into the policy weeds." Stewart's confusion, and some of the problems with selling ObamaCare, stem from the fact that "it's a law with a million moving and inter-connected parts built on a foundation of political compromises that are not easy to decipher or defend."
Or as Stewart put it: "So this is a system that's been jury-rigged to deal with the crazy people," meaning Republicans. Sebelius disagreed, but not very stridently.