The Obamacare rollout
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Washington’s 5 biggest ‘fails’ of 2013

When it’s the signature achievement of your administration, you might want to make sure it works. President Obama learned that lesson the hard way this year when the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act got off to what even supporters called a rough start. Opponents were, well, more pointed in their criticism, starting with “we told you so” and moving on to “catastrophe,” “train wreck” and worse.

The biggest problem was with the website, which was supposed to let people browse for coverage and pick an insurance plan. Unfortunately, was to websites what the Titanic was to ocean liners.

In the “fail” follies, the botched Obamacare rollout was No. 1 in a landslide.

Above, part of website. (Jon Elswick / Associated Press)
It isn’t often that the launch of one government program can harm both major parties. The glitch-filled rollout of Obamacare may have put the president and Democrats on the defensive, but Republicans were able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with their inane quest to defund the healthcare law. The House voted more than three-dozen times on legislation to do it in; the Senate, of course, ignored its rabble-rousing colleague.

Well, make that mostly ignored it. Texas’ Ted “That Crazy Canadian” Cruz inexplicably decided to lead an ill-fated attack in the Senate (think Gettysburg and Pickett or Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade”). His “filibuster” (it was more just a talkathon) failed utterly, earning him not only the enmity of Democrats but of fellow Republicans. As Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker acidly tweeted about Cruz’s chance of getting the votes to defund the healthcare law: “I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count.”

What Cruz did help accomplish, of course, was the 16-day government shutdown that furloughed workers, shuttered national parks -- and left the rest of the world scratching its head at this example of “American exceptionalism.”

Above, Cruz after a vote on a deal to end the government shutdown.  (Michael Reynolds / EPA)
In August 2012, as the civil war in Syria raged, President Obama warned Syrian President Bashar Assad not to use chemical weapons against opposition forces, saying that would cross a “red line” and provoke a major U.S. response, presumably including military action.

In April, Assad seemingly called that bluff, allegedly using chemical weapons in an attack on rebels in a Damascus suburb that killed more than 1,000 people, including women and children.

Suddenly, Obama was caught between hawks who demanded he make good on his red-line pledge and a war-weary American public that wanted nothing to do with someone else’s civil war. As the administration tried -- and failed -- to line up support for military action, who should come to the rescue but the Russians. Seizing on a seemingly off-hand suggestion by Secretary of State John F. Kerry that Assad could end the crisis by simply giving up his chemical weapons, the Russians jumped in and got Assad to do exactly that.

In the end, Obama got his wish of no more military adventures in the Middle East, at least for now. But the price was appearing diplomatically inept at best and weak-willed at worst. Not the administration’s finest foreign policy hour.

Above, members of a United Nations investigation team testing for chemical weapons search outside Damascus.  ( Associated Press )
If anything could lead to stricter gun laws, you would think the slaughter of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December 2012 by a mentally ill gunman would do the trick. But never underestimate the power of the National Rifle Assn. --- and the lack of backbone among many of the nation’s lawmakers. The victims’ bodies were hardly in the ground when a new federal ban on assault weapons was shot down and a bill to expand background checks failed in the Senate. Excusing their lack of action, some lawmakers spoke not of stricter limits on guns but of the need for more funding to deal with the mentally ill. OK, so where is that action?

No, gun control, for now at least, appears to be DOA.

Above, a photo from the report on the Newtown shooting shows the entrance to Sandy Hook Elementary School after a gunman’s rampage there. (Associated Press)
You can’t say they weren’t warned. Since President Obama’s election in 2008, Republicans in the Senate have seemingly taken special pleasure in blocking his nominees, both judicial and to administrative posts. After the GOP filibustered three well-qualified nominees to the District of Columbia appeals court this year, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had had enough. Deploying the so-called nuclear option, Democrats changed the rules so that Senate confirmations of presidential appointments -- except for Supreme Court justices -- will proceed by a simple majority vote.

The beaten Republicans were left to cry over spilled milk. “You may regret it a lot sooner than you think,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) whined after the vote. Of course, that depends on Republicans retaking the Senate someday.

Above, Reid, center, with Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), left, and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) after the Senate voted to change the filibuster rules.  (Win McNamee / Getty Images)