WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that the embattled federal health care reform website was still on track to work for a "majority" of users by the end of November, while acknowledging that the site's problems should have been avoided in the first place.
"We're getting it fixed, but it would've been better to do it on the front end," Obama said in a discussion at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council.
Tuesday's briefings from the administration brought a mix of positive and negative news for the fate of health care reform and its website, HealthCare.gov. During a hearing earlier in the day, Henry Chao, the chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), testified that 30 to 40 percent of the IT system for the payment portion of the website still needed to be built. Officials later stressed that they would be able to meet a deadline for building those systems, though that deadline was placed at mid-January.
On a more positive front, CMS said in a conference call on Tuesday that it had repaired two-thirds of the "high-priority" bugs that had been plaguing the transaction forms and enrollment processes. Still, with just 11 days left till the end of the month, it was unclear if the federal website would be accessible for enough consumers to make the exchanges functional.
Speaking to Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal, the president said that he and his administration "underestimated the complexities of building out a website that would work the way it should." He also, once again, blamed the federal government's procurement process. We should "blow up how we procure for IT," he said at one point. "The way federal government does procurement and IT is just generally not very efficient."
The president also took a swipe at his critics on the other side of the aisle, arguing that lockstep Republican opposition to the law had undermined its ability to be implemented properly. His administration, he said, "should have anticipated that that would have created a rockier rollout," adding that "one side of Capitol Hill is invested in failure."
The line was met with guffaws among Republicans on Twitter who wondered whether the contractors hired by the administration to build the website had been partisan hacks.
The president stuck with the theme through his entire interview, however, making light of the idea that he was a socialist -- "You gotta meet real socialists. You'll have a real sense of what a socialist is" -- insisting that the differences between the two parties was dramatically overstated, and arguing that he could have the health care site fixed sooner if Republicans would be more constructive.
"We are going to have to re-market and rebrand and that will be challenging in this political environment," he said.