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Health care website faces scrutiny on Capitol Hill

The problems plaguing HealthCare.gov in its initial rollout will get their first public airing Thursday on Capitol Hill, with House Republicans finding renewed energy in the fight even after a shutdown standoff over the same issue left them badly bruised.

The Morning Line

The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer and Robert Pear get a few explanations for why the focus on the Affordable Care Act is lasting. Here are parts of their story:

“What we’re trying to figure out,” said Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, “is how did all this taxpayer money get wasted and what is their remedy?”

“The two-week government shutdown allowed the Obama administration to hide from what a disaster the Obamacare rollout has been,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, “but the White House can’t hide any more.”

On Wednesday, retiring Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, announced he will convene a hearing about the troubled website in the coming weeks. We will live stream the hearings as they become available. Watch it here.

“No question, the launch of Healthcare.gov has been problematic. But now is not the time to point fingers. Now is the time to fix the problem,” Baucus said in a statement.

The additional scrutiny already has forced some changes to the law’s implementation, with President Barack Obama’s administration overnight deciding to delay a tax penalty by an extra six weeks, meaning people who buy coverage through the exchange will have until March 31 to sign up.

The Washington Post’s Sandhya Somashekhar, Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin write that it is “the latest sign that the health-care law remains a moving target.”

From their story:

Administration officials said that the rejiggered deadline is unrelated to the many technical problems that have emerged with the Web site, HealthCare.gov, in its first three weeks. Instead, they said, it is designed to clear up a timing confusion about the 2010 law, which for the first time requires most Americans to buy health coverage or face a penalty.

Under the law, health plans available through the new federal or state marketplaces will start Jan. 1, but the open enrollment period runs through the end of March. The law also says that people will be fined only if they do not have coverage for three months in a row. The question has been this: Do people need to be covered by March 31, or merely to have signed up by then, given that insurance policies have a brief lag before they take effect?

The administration made clear Wednesday night that people who buy coverage at any point during the open enrollment period will not pay a penalty.

That’s all going to be part of the investigation mounted on Capitol Hill.

Reporters on Wednesday presented GOP leaders with the gruesome poll figures showing their party at its lowest standing in history, and asked if the focus on health care could be misguided.

Speaker John Boehner insisted he isn’t worried.

“I think as long as we stay focused on the priorities of the American people, I think we’re gonna be fine,” the Ohio Republican said.

“Our job is to stay focused on the issues the American people are most concerned about … and I think if we do that, we’ll be just fine,” he added.

The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker elaborates:

Convening on Capitol Hill Wednesday for the first time since the 16-day shutdown concluded, House Republicans seemed almost excited to spend their short work week debating a boring, low-profile water bill that was expected to clear the chamber Wednesday evening. But a return to normal legislative business also affords House Republicans an opportunity to shine a critical spotlight on Obamacare, and they plan to use key GOP-led House committees to launch a coordinated investigation into Obamacare’s myriad problems.

But Politico’s Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman find that after conservative House Republicans met privately last week with close to 300 lobbyists on K Street, there could be a battle brewing. One lobbyist says participants felt like lawmakers haven’t learned any lessons from the shutdown, they write.

The Associated Press previews the Thursday hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, noting that some of the contractors who built HealthCare.gov are readying blame for the Obama administration.

The NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan examined HealthCare.gov’s problems Wednesday night with John Engates of RackSpace and Bill Curtis of CAST Software.

Watch the segment here or below:


During the 2008 campaign, one of then-Senator Obama’s aides wanted to give him a little spiritual boost. Josh Dubois took a risk and emailed his boss, suggesting a piece of scripture that might help at a tough moment. It wasn’t long before Dubois was leading the Democrat’s faith effort, helping with policy and also advising Mr. Obama personally. He ultimately served in the administration as head of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Dubois tells that story to Gwen Ifill as they discuss his new book, “The President’s Devotional.” He also read a passage he’d written aloud for NewsHour viewers.

Watch here or below:


  • Mr. Obama will hit the campaign trail and attend eight Democratic fundraising events in the next five weeks, The Hill’s Amie Parnes reports. The president will be “on the road for much of November,” which “suggests a real focus on 2014.”

  • Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is focusing on reinforcing his conservative base less than two weeks away from election night. Cuccinelli will face off with Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe in their final televised debate Thursday night.

  • Members of the House will attend a memorial service for the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Florida. Young had announced his retirement earlier this year, setting off a competitive race to replace him. Roll Call’s Abby Livingston looks at that contest.

  • The rogue tweeter at the National Security Council was outed by officials planting false information, according to a Washington Post deep dive.

  • Karen Tumulty finds Sen. Ted Cruz is doing just fine back home.

  • Federal workers in Oregon will be able to keep their unemployment benefits collected during the shutdown despite receiving back pay. However, workers in at least four other states are being told to give the unemployment money back to the government.

  • The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jonathan Tamari looks at how three local Republicans are faring ahead of the midterms, thanks to the shutdown. Hint: It’s not good.

  • Roll Call’s Emma Duman talks with senior lawmakers tasked with crafting appropriations bills through the normal process that’s been circumvented by fights over continuing resolutions, and they are not happy.

  • Bob Woodward has a big scoop on the Obama administration’s use of drones.

  • Reid Wilson examines the states battling over same-sex marriage for the Washington Post’s GovBeat.

  • Rebecca Berg writes for the Washington Examiner about the battles being forged by the Senate Conservatives Fund.

  • Roll Call’s political team rounds up the third quarter fundraising reports for all the top Senate candidates.

  • The Associated Press reports that a federal judge “says he’ll rule on the legality of Texas’ strict new abortion law before it can take effect next week.”

  • National Journal gets at the internal Republican battles and the expected spending in upcoming elections.

  • Next month, a bipartisan group will honor Bob Lewis and Dena Potter, who were fired by the Associated Press for a story about the Virginia gubernatorial contest. The reception is hosted by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine. Lewis has covered all four men.

  • On the 30th anniversary of the attacks on the Marine Barracks in Beirut, Time’s Zeke Miller catches up with White House stenographer Peggy Suntum about what was also her first day on the job and the 30 years of history she’s recorded since.

  • National Journal’s Clara Ritger reports that more than 10 percent of the total eligible Latino population doesn’t have Spanish-language web resources about the health care exchanges.

  • Ahead of the Center for American Progress’ 10-year anniversary event Thursday, Neera Tanden pens a Politico column honoring Hillary Clinton, who will speak at the soiree.

  • Mitt and Ann Romney’s new house in Utah will have a secret room behind a swiveling bookcase, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

  • Behold: The BuzzFeed-ization of the congressional blog post, in which Rep. Darrell Issa’s staff makes use of LOLCats in a listicle to zing health care exchange sign-ups.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow


Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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

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