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US Republicans vow no let up on 'Obamacare'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

With America's budget battles on hold until December, Republicans revived attacks against their favorite target -- "Obamacare" -- on Tuesday, seizing on technical failures to try and delay its rollout.

The rocky debut of the website where people started to sign up for insurance on October 1 under the country's health care law was largely obscured by political clashes in Washington over spending and raising the nation's debt limit.

President Barack Obama signaled a shift in tone Monday in acknowledging the technical problems, with reports emerging Healthcare.gov was launched despite signs of serious shortcomings during simulation tests.

Republicans -- bruised by their failed attempts to dismantle the health care law during the budget fight -- appeared eager to pounce on a chastened White House.

"It's unfair to punish people for not purchasing a product that they can't purchase right now because the technology that's in place, the website they're supposed to buy it on -- by the president's own admission -- is not working," Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, told CBS News on Tuesday.

Beginning January 1, most Americans must have health insurance or pay a fine. But that requirement known as the "individual mandate," in which enrollment of millions of young healthy Americans is seen as helping pay for the broader coverage that would help the poor and elderly, has been hotly challenged by Republicans for months.

"All I'm calling for is a delay on that requirement, until the General Accounting Office of the United States certifies that the website is up and working and functioning and has been functioning for six consecutive months," Rubio added.

"I think that's a prudent approach."

Republican lawmakers uniformly oppose so-called Obamacare, with House Speaker John Boehner insisting that dismantling the law remained a top priority for his party even after they failed to seriously dent it during the budget haggling.

Fueling the ire has been a series of embarrassing technical glitches riddling the federal website, where many of the tens of millions of uninsured in the United States have had trouble logging on or securing insurance.

Many critics see such hurdles as symptomatic of a fatally flawed system.

"I don't think any amount of apologizing on the part of the president is going to fix the core problem here, which is (Obamacare) cannot and will not work," top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell told Fox News late Monday.

"The government is going to botch this. They've had four years to get ready. It's clear to me that this isn't going to work. It's not fixable."

Some lawmakers are targeting the top health official in Obama's cabinet, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

She is "confirmed to testify" next week before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, according to the panel, whose members will no doubt grill her on the systemic failures of the open enrollment process.

Some lawmakers, including Republican committee member Bill Johnson, believe Sebelius should resign.

"Absolutely. It starts at the top," Johnson told Fox News.

His Republican colleague Steve Scalise decried the rollout as "a national embarrassment," pointing to the extraordinary cost of the online system, which a Government Accountability Office report in June pegged at $394 million and counting.

"Facebook cost less money to build than this and they have over a billion users," he told Fox.

The White House referred questions on the cost of the website system to HHS, but the department refused to comment.

Meanwhile, in a bid to stem the damage, the White House and HHS said that Jeff Zients, incoming chief of the National Economic Council, would be seconded to HHS as a troubleshooter to offer management solutions to those trying to fix the website.

"Jeff has led some of the country's top management firms, providing private sector companies around the world with best practices in management, strategy and operations," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

HHS reportedly will brief House Democrats Wednesday about the glitches, prompting complaints that the administration was shielding details about the website rollout from Republicans.

"All members -- as well as the American people -- deserve answers for this debacle," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck.

"It's time for the Obama administration to honor its promises of transparency and face some accountability."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131022/us-republicans-vow-no-let-obamacare-0