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OPINION - Limited options

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)   Friday's scheduled new blog was delayed on purpose. I needed some extra time to evaluate Thursday's events surrounding Obamacare in Washington. My verdict is in: the day was decisive. It was the most significant day for the Affordable Care Act's fate. More significant than when democrats in the US Senate decided to use the reconciliation process needing only 51 votes inside of 60 to pass it... more significant than ramming the bill through on Christmas night... and even more significant than the US Supreme Court ruling that the individual mandate was a tax, even though the President insisted it wasn't.

Thursday was the day the White House realized that a Congressional "fix" for Obamacare is off the table. And, as such, the law is going to fail.

When the President spoke on Thursday it was obvious to everyone that he was proposing a fix that doesn't fix anything. Cancelled policies that don't meet the new health insurance standards can be extended through the end of 2014. If... your insurance company wants to.  Surely the White House knows that insurance companies will not reinstate cancelled policies, only to cancel them again a year later. The few that go against that trend will raise rates sharply. The underlying problem, people who've been cancelled and don't have affordable options under the law, are not being made whole. And, no question, the Obama White House knows this.

So why did the White House offer something that won't work? Because it was the only tool in their toolbox. Thursday was the day the White House realized that other fixes need to go through Congress -- and Congress won't bail them out.

Let's be clear. The President's one year extension is legal. The law, as written, gives the Health and Human Services secretary sweeping rule making authority. She can issue extensions for non-compliant policies. This kind of flexibility was anticipated to smooth out the rough patches.

But the obvious solution is to raise the subsidies for people who are losing coverage and can't afford new insurance. That's a real fix. But it would have to go back to Capital Hill. And the President's promise that "my health care reform bill is paid for. It will not raise the deficit... not by one thin dime" would also be broken. And it would be rejected unanimously by Republicans, and with the spectacle of even more Democrats voting against their President. This is the same reason why Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius has job security despite her incompetence. Her replacement would have to go through confirmation hearings and would face white-hot questions about HHS's rule-making surrounding Obamacare.

Thursday was the day the White House realized they own this mess. In strictly political terms, how much damage will it cause? Who else will be touched by it?

Chris Conley