'Teflon' controversy dogs Obama

WHO'S THE BOSS? Analysts say the US leader's apparent distance from the NSA spying fallout follows a pattern.


    Oct 31, 2013

    'Teflon' controversy dogs Obama


    TO HIS critics, United States President Barack Obama has often seemed to be conveniently distant when trouble hits his administration.

    But on Tuesday, Mr Obama was hit by a public-relations crisis that struck at the core of his domestic and foreign policies - one that raised questions about whether he had misled Americans on his signature health-care overhaul, and whether he was really unaware of the US government's alleged spying on its allies.

    Until this week, most of the discussion in Washington on the "Obamacare" health-insurance programme had focused on its clumsy rollout, as symbolised by a baulky website that is frustrating uninsured Americans' efforts to enrol in the programme.

    But several media reports on Tuesday raised questions about whether the administration was completely truthful in selling the programme to Americans four years ago, after Mr Obama was first elected president.

    The latest flap dates back to a pledge that Mr Obama made in 2009 about the health-care initiative, which remains the biggest achievement of his nearly five years in office.

    "If you like your health-care plan, you'll be able to keep your health-care plan, period," he told the American Medical Association in Chicago on June 15, 2009, a mantra he has repeated regularly - including during his re-election last year, when Republicans were saying that the law would force millions of Americans to lose their insurance.

    "No one will take it away, no matter what," Mr Obama has said.

    But, as millions of Americans are potentially learning now, the pledge came with some caveats.

    Those who buy their own insurance on the open market and who have policies that don't meet minimum standards of the Affordable Care Act are likely to have their policies cancelled and replaced with higher-cost alternatives, industry analysts said.

    The scenario could affect a relatively small percentage of Americans but, nevertheless, could involve hundreds of thousands of people who have had inexpensive policies with few benefits, analysts said.

    White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the administration has always said that some health-care plans would not meet the new requirements. Republican critics pounced, saying that Mr Obama had misrepresented the health-care law for years.

    "In the old days, people used to call (Republican president) Ronald Reagan the 'Teflon president' if something bad happened in his administration and it did not stick to him," Republican strategist Charlie Black said.

    "But that title fits President Obama much more, who goes out of his way to not take responsibility for anything bad that happens."

    Mr Black's shot at Mr Obama also reflected another accusation made by Republicans in recent months: that the President doesn't seem to be in the loop on key issues involving his own administration.

    On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, National Intelligence director James Clapper and National Security Agency (NSA) director Keith Alexander faced questions from lawmakers about reports that the NSA had spied on leaders of US allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key friend of the US.

    But analysts said that Mr Obama's apparent distance from the NSA controversy follows a pattern with his administration that they have seen in other sensitive matters, including the fatal attacks on a US diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and the flap over whether the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for additional scrutiny.

    "The President has some issues here that are really a sad pattern for his second term," said director David Yepsen of the Paul Simon Public Policy Center at the University of Southern Illinois.

    Even TV comedian Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, who typically saves his sharpest jabs for Republicans, is making light of what he suggests is the President's curious disengagement from anything controversial.

    "If the President is unaware that we were spying on our allies, who gave the go-ahead to spy on our allies?" Stewart said this week during a segment called, "Wait, wait... Don't tell him."