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Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas, Published: September 30 at 8:36 am

Here’s how today’s Wonkbook was supposed to start: We’re about 16 hours from open enrollment in Obamacare going live. The law, which has dominated American politics for three years even as it’s been an abstraction to most Americans, is about to become very real.

But here’s how it actually has to start: We’re about 16 hours away from a government shutdown. That’s more than enough time for the House and Senate to both pass a bill averting a shutdown. But the odds of that happening are increasingly remote — and that’s because Obamacare is set to begin in 16 hours.

On Saturday, Speaker Boehner agreed to load the continuing resolution with a one-year delay of Obamacare, a repeal of the medical-device tax, and a “conscience clause” assuring health-care providers they don’t need to offer birth control if they don’t want to. They wrote a bill, in other words, that the Senate can’t accept. His right flank was ecstatic.

“Chants of ‘Vote! Vote! Vote!’ echoed through the room,” report Robert Costa and Jonathan Strong. “Standing in the back, Boehner’s deputies watched the scene and smiled. ‘People went bonkers,’ says Representative Matt Salmon of Arizona. Representative John Culberson of Texas was so enthused that he yelled, ‘Let’s roll!’ after hearing Boehner’s remarks. Culberson later told reporters he was alluding to the cry of United 93 passenger Todd Beamer.”

All this for a bill that House Republicans know the Senate will reject.

So the federal government will probably shut down tonight. And, at about the same moment, Obamacare will go live, as the shutdown does little to impede the law.

There’s a silver lining in this for Obamacare, as well as a real danger.

The Obama administration has been a bit afraid of October 1st. After all, no major product launches without a hitch, and Obama is more major, and facing more politicized scrutiny, than almost any product the federal government has ever launched. The fear was that things would go wrong on October 1st and the press, looking for dramatic stories of Obamacare glitches, would swarm the anecdotes, giving the public the impression that the law was a failure even as most of it was working fine and the bugs were being quickly fixed.

But with a government shutdown and a looming debt-ceiling crisis obsessing the media and the country, the media simply has less bandwidth to cover the rollout of the health-care law. That gives the administration, as well as the states, a bit more breathing room to find and fix bugs in the early days without seeing the law declared a failure.

The downside for the law is that less focus on Obamacare means fewer people hearing that the insurance marketplaces have gone live, and thus fewer people knowing they should go and sign up for coverage. The Obama administration, some of the states, and a consortium of outside actors all have plans to promote the law through paid media in the coming weeks and months, but the launch could’ve earned them a lot of valuable free media.

But all of this speaks to why the Republican Party is so frightened. Until now, Obamacare has been an abstraction. You can repeal an abstraction. Tomorrow, it becomes a reality. And reality is a lot harder to repeal.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/30/wonkbook-obamacares-october-surprise/

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