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Congress, health care law facing major political tests

President Obama delivers remarks about the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment website in the Rose Garden Monday. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House lawmakers return to Washington Tuesday night facing two major stories that can change the course of politics — maybe.

With the partial government shutdown finally over and operations funded through mid-January, the big problems with the Affordable Care Act’s rollout of a new health insurance exchange website are glaring under the spotlight. The Morning Line

President Barack Obama went right at the heart of what some have described as a debacle Monday in the Rose Garden, declaring, “”There’s no sugarcoating it: the Web site is too slow; people have been getting stuck during the application process.”

And it’s not going away any time soon.

Bloomberg’s Mike Dorning, Alex Wayne and Kathleen Miller write that the introduction “was so rushed” that boilerplate programming code was still included in the site. And they get at why the glitches matter:

The website flaws have made it harder for people to enroll, marring its debut and giving critics ammunition to undercut the law called Obamacare by detractors and supporters alike. The failures may discourage the young, healthy, web-savvy consumers whose participation is critical to offset the risk of insuring older, sicker people and to keep the program sustainable.

That’s just one of several detailed stories out about what went wrong, and you can expect House Republicans to keep at it. For now, they are at war with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who won’t testify at this Thursday’s hearing but has agreed to come to Capitol Hill to answer their questions on Oct. 30.

But that other major story is a steady undercurrent in the background, and might get even more attention on Capitol Hill.

Voters are fed up. Yes, it’s a tough slog for House Democrats to reclaim control of the chamber, but it is not looking as impossible as one would think less than 13 months from the 2014 midterm elections.

Consider this USA Today survey that suggests similar dissatisfaction with lawmakers, with 47 percent saying Congress would work better if nearly every seat changed hands next year. It’s a stat finding that voters are feeling like they were just before turnovers in Congress.

Susan Page writes, “just 4% of those surveyed — equal to the margin of error — say Congress would be changed for the worse if nearly every member was replaced next year. Nearly half say it would work better. About four in 10 say a wholesale overhaul wouldn’t make much difference.”

And the new Washington Post/ABC News poll found “widespread political fallout” that highlights “just how badly the GOP hard-liners and the leaders who went along with them misjudged the public mood,” Dan Balz and Scott Clement write.

Those come a day after CNN released a new survey showing just 38 percent believe it’s a good thing the GOP controls the House, “a 13-point dive from the end of last year.”

These results aren’t much different from what we saw in the last round as the shutdown stretched into a third week, but the sustained decline has the GOP worried. (More on that below.)

Already Democrats have seen their hand strengthened in a major battleground state that earlier this summer appeared likely to remain with a Republican governor.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli delighted Democrats Monday when saying at a Northern Virginia rally he doesn’t know if he would have voted last week to reopen the government and end the shutdown.

Another big part of the story is the Democratic unity — every single lawmaker from the president’s party voted for the new funding agreement. Ryan Grin and Sam Stein pieced together for the Huffington Post a critical moment for Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. This summer, the president challenged Reid to stand firm on the continuing resolution and the two vowed not to be rolled by the health care law-hating GOP. From their story:

The Huffington Post put together the story of that critical meeting and the subsequent standoff negotiations through interviews with Reid, White House advisers and congressional leadership aides.

Asked about the meeting the day after the 17-day government showdown was resolved, Reid acknowledged the disagreement over the 2011 debt ceiling strategy. Pausing for a few seconds, he reflected on how his relationship with the president has evolved.

“President Obama is such a nice man, just a nice person. And he became president during an awful time,” Reid told HuffPost, measuring each word. “It is easy to look back and say, ‘Oh, he shouldn’t have done that, or he shouldn’t have renewed the payroll tax.’ That’s all then, this is now. A different environment. I don’t want to sound like a cheerleader for Obama. He can get others to do that. But he’s a good person.”

With these dual stories bubbling all week, it’s pretty obvious which ones Democrats will seize upon and which one the Republicans would rather discuss.

On health care, Politico takes a deep dive into the murkiness of who serves on the technical team responsible for the health care site.

And the Washington Post gets at all the warning signs that didn’t slow the Oct. 1 launch.

The Post/ABC poll also found a majority of those surveyed believe the website problems indicate broader problems with the law.

At the White House Monday, Mr. Obama urged the GOP to “stop rooting for its failure.”

“There’s no excuse for the problems … and they are being fixed,” he said.

Beyond the president’s candid assessment, the administration chose to highlight Ohio’s decision to expand its Medicaid program under the new law. It’s a change that will help as many as 270,000 uninsured residents, a White House official said.

The NewsHour examined the health care sites Monday with two experts. Judy Woodruff spoke with Sherry Glied of New York University and Gail Wilensky of Project HOPE. Watch the segment here or below:


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will continue to support Republican candidates in 2014, Politics Desk Assistant Bridget Bowman reports. But at a breakfast in Washington, Chamber officials did not indicate whether the organization’s political action committee will oppose tea party candidates in Republican primaries.

“On behalf of the American business community, given a choice, I would not like to see this administration with the White House, the Senate and the House. I think it would be a long two years,” Tom Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told reporters at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor Monday. The Chamber has typically supported Republican candidates, but its opposition to the Republican-led government shutdown highlighted the “civil war” between the GOP’s establishment and tea party-aligned lawmakers.

Last week the Chamber announced it will incorporate the vote to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling into its “How They Voted” scorecard. The Chamber adamantly supported the bipartisan deal and a vote for the deal will reflect positively on the lawmaker’s scorecard. In direct contrast, conservative groups such as Heritage Action encouraged members to vote against the deal.

But will the Chamber actively oppose lawmakers who voted against the deal? “We have no idea what we’re going to have on the table,” Donohue said. “We still have to see who’s running,”

The Chamber’s next steps will be to encourage lawmakers to reform entitlement spending, “before it eats us alive,” he said.

Donohue dismissed questions asking if the shutdown suggested the Chamber has diminishing influence over lawmakers. He said the Chamber is open to working with conservatives, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, “wherever we can.” When a reporter asked if the Chamber would join the business community in encouraging the senator to “sit down and shut up,” Donohue responded, “Well, that might be one thing we could work on.”

The NewsHour on Monday began a series of discussions with top Republicans about where the GOP goes from here. Judy spoke with former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

The Mississippi Republican told the NewsHour the party doesn’t need a “civil war” and that it’s time for the GOP to “pivot” to a positive agenda. He pointed to a water resources measure and the farm bill as areas where the party can focus. Lawmakers who don’t like the Affordable Care Act have “made their point,” he said.

He stated: “They fought the good fight, but that fight is over. So now what are they going to do?”

Lott also had a pointed comment for those who he feels have criticized him as a mainstream or establishment Republican: “I have been accused of all of those, although I was conservative before a lot of these people were born. I have a very conservative philosophy. But, also, I admit that I have a philosophy of trying to get things done.”

Watch here or below:


  • Unions and Bay Area Rapid Transit officials reached a tentative agreement overnight to try and end the BART strike in California. Check out our report on how the standoff snarled traffic. And we stumbled upon these two cool visualizations about BART, the salary of every system employee and stop-to-stop ridership data.

  • Two-term Arkansas Rep. Tim Griffin, a Republican elected in the 2010 tea party wave, won’t seek reelection. He told Talk Business Arkansas he wants to spend more time with his family. Roll Call’s Emily Cahn rounds up what will be a competitive House race. It’s a district where Democrats believe they have a shot.

  • Gov. Chris Christie dropped his appeal Monday that challenged a judge’s ruling to allow same-sex marriage, effectively adding New Jersey to the list of now 14 states and the District of Columbia that permit marriages. NewsHour’s Ray Suarez walked through the details on New Jersey and for states with policies up in the air or which might change, speaking with Associated Press national writer David Crary. Watch here or below.

  • Time Magazine’s Alex Rodgers profiles Sen. Mike Lee. He’s often in line with Sen. Ted Cruz but is more of a behind-the-scenes player.

  • Cruz makes his third trip to Iowa this week.

  • Anna Palmer and John Bresnehan write for Politico that the sudden Democratic boost has re-inspired House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

  • The Supreme Court will hear a case this term on how judges decide whether a death row inmate is mentally disabled and eligible for execution.

  • Hillary Clinton appeared at a fundraiser for New York City mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio Monday night.

  • Back on her home turf in California, Jennifer Martinez writes for The Hill that Silicon Valley tech moguls are gearing up for immigration reform despite stalled efforts in Washington.

  • Associated Press Richmond reporter Bob Lewis and editor Dena Potter were fired after the AP retracted an erroneous story on Virginia Democratic gubernatorial contender Terry McAuliffe’s involvement in a Rhode Island insurance scam.

  • Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine stars in two Spanish-language TV ads for McAuliffe for governor.

  • And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also jumps in to aid McAuliffe, who leads in the polls.

  • Longtime South Carolina political reporter Lee Bandy died Monday at 78, and Roll Call’s founder, Sid Yudain passed away at the age of 90.

  • Reid Wilson of the Washington Post looks at every state’s deepest run in the presidential line of succession. Clearly, Coloradans are excellent at running the Interior Department.

  • Netflix now beats HBO in its number of paid U.S. subscribers, Bloomberg News reported.

*NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • Jeffrey Brown examines China’s poor air quality — including smog so bad it can shut down a city — with New Yorker writer Evan Osnos.

  • Jeff also recently visited a revitalized and changing Detroit:


Politics Desk Assistant Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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

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