WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is appealing to its allies in Congress, on Wall Street and across the country to stick with President Barack Obama's health care law even as embarrassing problems with the flagship website continue to mount.
The website's troubled debut was overshadowed by the partial government shutdown that started the same day the website went live. Last week, Obama and Democrats walked away from a no-holds-barred fight with Republicans over debt and spending with a remarkable degree of unity, made all the more prominent by the deep GOP divisions the standoff revealed.
The debt-and-spending crisis averted for now, the spotlight has shifted to Obama's health care law and the web-based exchanges, beset by malfunctions, where Americans are supposed to be able to shop for insurance. The intensified focus has increased the pressure on Democrats to distance themselves from Obama's handling of the website's rollout as both parties demand to know what went wrong and why.
On Wednesday, the administration is sending Mike Hash, who runs the health reform office at Health and Human Services, to a weekly meeting of House Democrats to brief them on the law's implementation.
Democrats say they requested the briefing, and an invitation to the breakfast meeting obtained by The Associated Press says it's restricted to members of Congress. But only Democrats can participate in that session, prompting protest from House Speaker John Boehner, whose spokesman called it a "snub" and said the administration should brief House Republicans, too, in the name of transparency and accountability. Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman for HHS, said officials would be happy to honor additional briefing requests.
Even staunch supporters of the law like House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the Democratic whip, have said the website's rollout was unacceptable. In a potentially worrying sign for Obama, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is calling for the White House to extend the open-enrollment period past March 31 in light of the glitches.
As the administration races to fix the website, it's deploying the president and top officials to urge his supporters not to give up.
"By now you have probably heard that the website has not worked as smoothly as it was supposed to," Obama said Tuesday in a video message recorded for Organizing for America, a nonprofit group whose mission is to support Obama's agenda. "But we've got people working overtime in a tech surge to boost capacity and address the problems. And we are going to get it fixed."
Whether through the website or other, lower-tech means, the administration needs millions of Americans to sign up through the exchanges for the law to succeed. While the website has become an easily maligned symbol of a law that Republicans despise, Obama said it's important Americans realize that "Obamacare," with its various patient protections, is much more.
"That's why I need your help," Obama told OFA's supporters.
The group has been organizing a multitude of events and social media campaigns around the health care law's implementation. OFA said those efforts will continue, but the group isn't adjusting its strategy in response to the website's issues.
Obama has turned to longtime adviser Jeffrey Zients to provide management advice to help fix the system. Zients, a former acting director of the Office of Management and Budget and a veteran management consultant, will be on a short-term assignment at HHS before he's due to take over as director of Obama's National Economic Council next year.
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden and top White House officials held a call with business leaders Tuesday about the health law and other issues. Business Forward, a trade group friendly to the White House, said the administration asked the group to invite leaders to hear directly from Biden.
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