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Obama administration to give more time for health care sign-ups

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  March 26, 2014 at 9:17 AM EST
An insurance agent helps people purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at Miami's Mall of Americas on March 20. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

An insurance agent helps people purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at Miami’s Mall of Americas on March 20. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Morning Line

  • Administration gives Americans more time to enroll in health plans
  • President Obama to talk Ukraine overseas
  • Unemployment insurance update
  • Rubio to New Hampshire; Santorum in Iowa
  • Tuesday’s 2014 misfires

Extra time for health care enrollment: The Obama administration is expected to announce Wednesday it will give extra time to Americans who are unable to complete their enrollment for health insurance coverage through the federal marketplace by the March 31 deadline. The decision comes despite repeated claims by administration officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, that the mandate would not be delayed. But it’s important to note, as the Washington Post’s Amy Goldstein explains, that the move is actually not a delay: “The extra time will not technically alter the deadline but will create a broad new category of people eligible for what’s known as a special enrollment period,” she writes. In other words, people who were in the queue, but had problems enrolling of some sort will get more time. The change again highlights the difficulties the administration continues to have when it comes to implementing President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Before the rollout, White House officials likened the usability of the health care site to travel sites like Travelocity. That has not been the case. By the way, this is just the latest delay or extension that Republicans are sure to capitalize on. For example: In February the administration announced it would delay the mandate on medium-sized employers until 2016; that came on top of a one-year delay for big companies, letting insurance companies sell plans for an additional year that don’t match the level of coverage required under the law and extending the sign-up deadline by a week last December, just to name a few. By giving Americans flexibility when it comes to completing their enrollments, the administration is protecting itself should a last-minute surge of applicants overwhelm the online exchange. But that calculation also carries risks. Republicans, who have made attacking the health care law the focus of their midterm campaign strategy, are sure to fire away at the administration for making yet another change in how it has gone about implementing the law.

Obama expected to focus on Ukraine: Watch President Obama’s 12:45 p.m. ET remarks in Belgium for possible comments on Ukraine. Just yesterday, the president dismissed Russia as a “regional power,” and even though his trip has been, on the surface, about nuclear proliferation, the sideline discussions have been dominated by Ukraine. Back in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decided to drop the reforms for the International Monetary Fund that Republicans, particularly in the House, opposed. The Senate is likely to have a final vote on Ukraine funding, which is expected to easily pass now, Thursday. But the problem for the president is that what he’s encountering in Europe is European leaders who are trying to balance their own economic concerns with how strictly to sanction Russia. That’s largely about energy. By the way, there’s an intraparty Democratic fight brewing on energy exports with Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Udall of Colorado, and even Mark Warner of Virginia on one side — all in competitive reelection fights — and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Ed Markey of Massachusetts on the other.

Unemployment insurance extension: With Ukraine aid first on the docket, Reid has threatened to keep the Senate in town through the weekend in order to pass an extension of unemployment benefits. “I hope my Republican colleagues will cooperate so we can move forward and get over all of the procedural hurdles that they put up all the time,” Reid told reporters Tuesday. “We’re going to move forward either with or without them.” The bipartisan bill up for consideration would reauthorize the program for five months, and although Republican senators admit it’s likely to pass the upper chamber, some see little value in pushing legislation that will go nowhere in the House. “You can’t let a minority of the minority in the Senate decide what the majority of the majority is going to do in the House,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. Speaker Boehner said Tuesday he’ll wait to see whether the Senate bill passes, which may not happen until next week, before deciding whether to introduce his own legislation.

2016 watch – Biden’s challenge, Rubio to N.H. and Santorum in Iowa: On the heels of Vice President Joe Biden’s trip Tuesday to New Hampshire, the Washington Post’s Phil Rucker explores the challenges facing the Democrat as he weighs a potential third bid for the presidency in 2016. During his visit to the Granite State, as part of an effort to promote workforce training, Biden responded to a question about his future ambitions by saying: “I’m here about jobs, not mine.”

Speaking of the first primary state, WMUR’s James Pindell reports that Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio will be the featured speaker at the Rockingham County Republican Committee’s annual fundraising dinner on May 9 in New Castle.

Another potential 2016 Republican contender, former Sen. Rick Santorum, will be in Iowa Wednesday to help raise money for Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s congressional campaign, according to Politico. Santorum is also expected to sit down with local press and meet with advisors from his 2012 presidential campaign.

2014 watch – A day for gaffes: As the campaign season heats up, silly and not-so-smart things candidates say will get magnified. Case in point, as the 2008 and 2012 presidentials showed, closed-door fundraisers are fair game for oppo treasure troves. In what National Journal has dubbed a “47 percent” moment, Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, who is running for the seat held by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin, criticized GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” The recording, released by America Rising PAC, shows Braley speaking to a group of donors about the consequences of Republicans winning a majority in the Senate, which would put Grassley in line to chair the Judiciary Committee. He apologized to Grassley several hours after the video was posted.

And trying to sell a GOP majority that begins in Kentucky, Mitch McConnell stumbled into problems of his own when his latest campaign video accidentally included a clip of the Duke men’s basketball team celebrating its 2010 NCAA tournament title victory instead of footage of the Kentucky Wildcats. The campaign removed the video but not before Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes used the sports gaffe to lodge a deeper criticism, calling the minority leader “irreparably out of touch” with the state. Of course, Grimes has her own problems, picking Wichita State over UK in her bracket.

LINE ITEMS

  • The National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle explained Tuesday’s arguments at the Supreme Court.
  • Three Secret Service agents protecting Mr. Obama in Amsterdam this week have been sent home and placed on administrative leave after being caught drinking Sunday night before going on assignment. One agent was found passed out in a hotel hallway.
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., says the president could stop the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program without congressional approval. The Kentucky Republican also took some credit for bringing about the Obama administration’s decision Monday to have private companies store call information. “I don’t want to take all the credit for ending this, but I think our lawsuit had something to do with bringing the president to the table,” Paul said during an appearance on Fox News.
  • Democrats, meanwhile, backed the president’s move to rein in the NSA’s activities, with Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, saying her committee would hold a hearing on the administration’s proposal soon.
  • Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is expected to sign a new gun law passed last week by lawmakers in the state, which would allow firearms in public places like bars, schools, churches and airports.
  • The latest campaign spot from Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst, one of five Republicans running to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, gives Hawkeye State voters something to “squeal” about.
  • The Club for Growth, it seems, is growing up, writes National Journal’s Alex Roarty. Their early involvement in down-ballot races spawned a movement of outside group activity on the right that now places them at the political center of the GOP.
  • Former Sen. Alan Simpson explains the difference between naked and “nekkid” to the Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs.
  • 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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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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