When House Republicans return to Washington Tuesday, they will get their first crack at questioning high-level members of the administration about the troubled rollout of the HealthCare.gov site. For years, the GOP has been making hay over the perceived shortcomings of the health care law, and now a major problem - one of operations, not politics - has fallen into their laps.
Now comes the challenge: can they proceed with a light touch and not overplay their hand?
The party arguably wasted two weeks - and in the process, lost plenty of points off their approval rating - by shutting down the government to seek a delay or defunding of Obamacare. Had they not gone down that path, all eyes likely would have been on the flaws of the enrollment system rather than the 16-day shutdown.
"Republicans, led by [Texas Sen. Ted] Cruz, pursued the shutdown strategy and that overwhelms the storyline," said GOP consultant John Feehery. "Hopefully the further we get away from it the more of the facts can come out."
They have to make this all about the law, and make it a battle of ideas and policy, not a battle of politics. How they drive this is to not make it about the politicians but make this about people who are really hurt by Obamacare," Feehery said.
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That seems to be the strategy many in the GOP have pursued, focusing on those who have lost their insurance or can no longer afford their premiums because of the law.
"Obamacare is doomed for failure on its own. While we cannot stop implementation of the law, we have the opportunity to highlight its problems, including the unfair individual mandate, unaffordable plans and website glitches," wrote Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., in a column. "Upon launch of the website on October 1, it has been nothing but a headache for potential applicants, resulting in few people actually signing up for coverage. In addition, despite being told by the president that if they like their current insurance they could keep it, many consumers are being forced to pay more for a product they don't want and can't afford."
Feehery said Republicans should focus on the law itself rather than the people or politics behind it in order to convince more of the public that this isn't a politicized crusade. That will be a hard temptation to resist as members of the administration begin appearing before Congress and the opportunity arises to point fingers.
"The incompetence in building this website is staggering," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., on Fox News this past Sunday. She said lawmakers should hear from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius "before she is out the door."
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said on "Face the Nation" that Sebelius should go if she cannot put together a team to permanently restructure the site. Thirty-three GOP congressman have signed a letter calling for her resignation.
Tuesday will offer the first glimpse at how the hearings with administration officials go. Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, will go before the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday, followed by Sebelius, who will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee the following day.