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Health care fiasco highlights Obama's broken promise

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
November 14, 2013 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: It's been a tough week for Obama, including criticism from Clinton
  • He says millions of Americans are seeing policies canceled, only small numbers signing up
  • Democrats running for re-election in 2014 are getting nervous, he says
  • Obama's poll ratings are taking a hit due to lack of confidence in his words, he says

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

San Diego, California (CNN) -- You almost have to feel sorry for President Obama. Almost.

You know you're having a tough week when you're essentially being called untruthful by, of all people, Bill Clinton, who knows a thing or two about stretching the truth. At the very least, Clinton insisted that Obama -- in trying to sell Obamacare to the American people -- should not have broken his promise that, if they liked their doctor and health care plan, they could keep both.

For millions of Americans, perhaps tens of millions, this hasn't been the case. Their policies were cancelled.

Even while continuing to express support for the Affordable Care Act, Clinton suggested that people should be able to stay with what they had before the legislation took effect "even if it takes a change in the law."

That is easier said than done. There is no easy fix that wouldn't rip out the foundation of Obamacare.

Meanwhile, millions of Americans lose health care coverage that, defenders of Obamacare insist, wasn't very good anyway. Maybe not. But here is what is probably going through the mind of people like the ones whose individual policies were canceled or the single mom with three kids who was kicked off her company's health plan because she works part-time and must take her chances on the Obamacare exchange: "It wasn't perfect but at least it was something."

Meanwhile, on the other end of the health care seesaw, according to official figures released Wednesday, just 106,000 Americans signed up. And that figure generously includes those who selected a plan but haven't paid yet. For what it is worth, only about 26,000 of those 106,000 managed to enroll through the troubled federal website that became a national punchline: www.HealthCare.gov.

So, in other words, while we're only a month into this social experiment, those who have been inconvenienced by Obamacare outnumber, by a wide margin, those who have signed up to be helped by it.

And if you think what is happening on the federal level is nutty, just take a look at the local exchanges. How's this for a math problem? In Washington D.C., just five people enrolled even though officials spent $133,573,928 to set up the exchange. That's $26,714,785.60 per enrollee. We knew that sometimes the safety net becomes a hammock. Now we know that, sometimes, the hammock is made of gold.

None of this looks good. But it looks especially bad to Democrats who are up for re-election in 2014. Many of them are running for the hills. A group of about a dozen of them have given the White House until Friday to come up with a way for people to keep their health care coverage.

You'll recall that every single Democratic lawmaker in both houses voted in favor of Obamacare, the very law that they're now trying to change. It would have been nice if they had made those changes through amendments before voting for the final bill. That's how it is supposed to work.

After the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs, President John F. Kennedy famously noted that "victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan."

Well, it's not just defeat that has no parents. We learned this week that the orphanages are also filled with massive, costly and inefficient government programs that give new meaning to the phrase "bureaucratic nightmare." These programs fine people for not buying a product from a website that doesn't work right, and they have caused an upheaval where -- under the pretense of ensuring that all Americans have health insurance -- several million Americans who had health insurance wake up to find that they no longer do.

Obama either knew this would happen and he lied, or he was grossly mistaken. Either way, an important promise has been broken and a sacred trust violated. And while, politicians break promises all the time, this one is in a whole different category. This isn't the metaphorical "chicken in every pot" that never materialized. This is about government coming into your home and taking away the chicken that you planned to feed to your family for dinner.

There's a big difference. And voters know it. Many Americans don't just feel disappointed and underserved. They feel injured, betrayed and lied to by their leaders -- and especially by Obama.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released this week, Obama's job approval rating has dropped to a record low: just 39% of Americans approve of how he is handling the job, while 54% disapprove. Only 19% of Americans say they believe the quality of their health care will improve in the next year, while 43% say it will get worse and 33% don't think it will impact their coverage one way or another.

But here's the real problem for the White House and the entire administration. In the same poll, more Americans than not are questioning the president's integrity. A majority of voters -- 52% -- say that Obama is not honest and trustworthy, compared to 44% who disagree.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When Obama took office in January 2009, he promised to be an improvement on previous presidents. He promised an administration that was honest and transparent. The rollout of Obamacare has been neither of those things. Someone has to pay for that. And, if voters have anything to say about it next year, someone will.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

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