Health care hearing expected to put Sebelius in hot seat

BY Christina Bellantoni  October 30, 2013 at 9:11 AM EST

Kathleen SebeliusHealth and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has acknowledged that the launch of HealthCare.gov has been “rockier than we would have liked.” Photo by Erich Schlegel/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

If you thought Tuesday’s hearing was testy, that was just a warm up.

Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Marilyn Tavenner opened her remarks at the House Ways and Means Committee with an apology for problems plaguing Americans attempting to sign up for the insurance exchanges online.

But that did little to brace the official for the peppering of questions she received as lawmakers argued over the merits of the Affordable Care Act in general.

Wednesday’s main event is Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to take many of the same questions. Lawmakers — many whom have called for Sebelius to be fired or to resign — aren’t expected to hold anything back. The Morning LineThe hearing began at 9 a.m. EDT. We will live stream it here once it becomes available.

At the same time, President Barack Obama will make his case to the American people for how he believes the health care law can be successful.

Mr. Obama is headed to Boston’s Faneuil Hall for a speech about the Massachusetts health care law that then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed in 2006. A White House official said the president will address issues with HealthCare.gov during his remarks.

Mr. Obama will hold up Massachusetts’s law as a “model in drafting the Affordable Care Act,” and will suggest that the state’s experience during its first year of enrollment “offers important lessons for what we can expect over the next six months,” the White House said.

He is expected to stress that 97 percent of Massachusetts residents have health insurance coverage, and that criticism of the law didn’t pan out. Mr. Obama also will rattle off some of the successes he believes have already been realized since the law he signed went into effect.

Wednesday’s action comes amid new scrutiny on insurance coverage. Several reports are suggesting that thousands of people will be booted from their plans as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act goes into full effect.

Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown offers this terrific explainer in her piece Wednesday about the White House’s latest challenge:

People who buy their own insurance sign 12-month contracts, so the renewal process underway is a longstanding practice in the industry. Insurers would use the renewal period to change coverage and raise premiums regardless of Obamacare. The difference this year is that insurers will now be required under Obamacare to provide a minimum package of benefits that consumers probably weren’t receiving before. That means premiums will be higher, but the tradeoff is better coverage, greater security and tax subsidies for many Americans to offset the costs, [White House Press Secretary Jay Carney] said.

“The fact is that millions of Americans who have been subject to the whims and vagaries of this individual insurance market are going to have security that they’ve never had before, and better coverage, in most cases, than they’ve ever had before, and cheaper coverage, in many cases, than they’ve ever had before,” Carney said.

The White House’s PR challenge is that 5 percent of the population — 15 million — is still a huge number of people potentially experiencing changes that Obama promised they wouldn’t face.

Back on Capitol Hill, Democrats used the opportunity to lambaste Republicans for trying to kill a program that has been law since 2010 and which was upheld by the Supreme Court last year.

Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., accused the GOP members of the panel for having “nothing to offer” but “broken ideas,” and predicted to Tavenner the Republicans “will attack and tear down” anything related to the health care law.

But the real fireworks came between Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey and Rep. Tim Griffin of Arkansas.

Pascrell complained to Griffin:

“Let’s not water wine here. Let’s say it like it is. You refused to expand, many of these governors’ Medicaid,” the Democrat said. “They refused to set up state marketplaces through — and leaving millions of dollars in outreach on the table in education funding. What are you going to do about the approximately 17 million children with preexisting conditions who can no longer be denied health insurance coverage?”

“It’s a false choice to say it’s Obamacare or nothing. There are numerous proposals, including the one that I’m a co-sponsor of,” said Griffin, a Republican who recently announced he is retiring instead of seeking re-election.

Pascrell would have none of it: “Are you serious, what you just said? Are you really serious? We have gone through 44 votes — 48 votes now — of you trying to dismantle this legislation. You call that cooperation? I don’t.”

The NewsHour looked at the hearing and then Gwen Ifill moderated a debate between Jonathan Gruber of MIT and industry consultant Robert Laszewski about the insurance policy cancellations.

Watch the segment here or below:

LINE ITEMS

  • Several presidential nominations are headed for swift approval after Senate showdowns over the nominees have been quelled. The Senate Tuesday voted to end a stall from Republicans and later confirmed National Labor Relations Board general counsel Richard Griffin to the post. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “planned votes in coming days aimed at halting what he said were GOP roadblocks against six other nominations,” the Associated Press reported. That includes Mr. Obama’s selection of Patricia Millett to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Also on tap to be cleared: Alan Estevez for a top Pentagon job and Katherine Archuleta to lead the Office of Personnel Management. Nominees to lead the Federal Communications Commission were confirmed Tuesday.
  • Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., granted an interview to CNBC’s Larry Kudlow ahead of the first Budget Conference Wednesday. He said a grand bargain on the budget is unlikely and the government may need to keep in place sequester-level spending if Republicans can’t get Democrats to agree to entitlement reform. Ryan said it was a matter of one of the parties requiring “that the other compromises a core principle and we won’t get anything done.” He said there are “no two ways about it” that the “best case” for the GOP is to keep the sequester.
  • The Senate voted along party lines to reject a GOP effort that would have blocked the approved increase in the national debt limit, the Associated Press explains. The House holds a similar vote Wednesday, as Senate Democrats proposed giving the president authority to authorize additional federal borrowing unless Congress can muster veto-proof margins to block him.
  • First Lady Michelle Obama recorded a radio spot for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. Her 1-minute ad stresses it could be “close,” on Tuesday, so “every vote counts.” She urges people to learn the location of their polling places. The push comes on the heels of announcements both Mr. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden would hit the trail for the Virginia hopeful in the final days of the campaign.
  • Politico’s James Hohmann writes from a Bristow, Va., campaign stop for Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli about Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s attempt to nationalize the Virginia contest.
  • A new Qunnipiac survey of the race found McAuliffe leading Cuccinelli just 45 to 41, a much narrower margin than earlier polls like the one we detailed Tuesday.
  • David Rogers previews for Politico the farm bill negotiations that begin Wednesday. He notes a meeting with the president has been postponed as lawmakers look to come up with a compromise and as $5 billion in food stamp cuts are set to kick in Friday. And Huffington Post’s Arthur Delaney looks in detail at the political push to end those cuts.
  • The Associated Press’ Josh Lederman reports that retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor officiated at the wedding of a gay couple at the Supreme Court, on the heels of Ruth Bader Ginsburg doing the same thing.
  • The New York Times’ Ashley Parker talked with business groups who came to Washington to push — again — for comprehensive immigration reform.
  • Politico’s Byron Tau and Helena Bottemiller Evich write that Mrs. Obama’s initiatives and public-service efforts “have often found her working with corporate America.”
  • Gallup finds support for the death penalty at its lowest level in 40 years.
  • OpenCongress is now part of the Sunlight Foundation.
  • Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn had some not very nice things to say about Reid at a fundraiser in New York. Coburn later said he wanted to meet privately with Reid to discuss the spat.
  • In case you missed it, the New Republic’s Michael Schaffer did a parody of Politico’s Playbook, writing in Mike Allen’s voice as if it were written during the Civil War.
  • Go ahead and rejoice. There indeed will be an “Entourage” movie on the silver screen.
  • Behold, the creepiest items in the Smithsonian’s Halloween collection.
  • Lawmakers paid tribute Tuesday to former Speaker Tom Foley, who passed away earlier this month. Watch our report here or below.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • We rounded up the congressional hearings on surveillance programs as foreign leaders complain about the U.S.’ actions, and Judy Woodruff interviewed Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., about his push to put limits on the nation’s spying program.
  • We examined the polio crisis in Syria.

Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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