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Obama agenda hinges on health care fixes

President Obama shakes hands with supporters after speaking about immigration reform in the East Room of the White House Thursday. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The day after Congress approved a measure to end the government shutdown and raise the nation’s debt limit, President Barack Obama moved swiftly to refocus the debate for the remainder of the year on three key agenda items: a long-term budget deal, immigration reform and passing a farm bill.
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But in the week that has elapsed since the president outlined those priorities, much of the post-shutdown attention has been centered on the difficulties with the online health care exchange, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill have signaled that at least two of the three items on Mr. Obama’s list might not be in the cards this year.

With the budget conference set up under the plan agreed to earlier this month scheduled to begin hearings next week, the Republican leader of the panel and the top Democrat in the Senate have suggested the effort is unlikely to produce a “grand bargain.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that a sweeping agreement to overhaul entitlement programs and implement other major fiscal policy changes was “happy talk.”

Instead, the Nevada Democrat talked up the possibility of reaching a compromise on doing away with the automatic, across-the-board spending cuts from the sequester, which took effect earlier this year.

“I hope that we can do some stuff to get rid of sequestration and go on to do some sensible budgets,” Reid said on Nevada radio station KNPR. “I hope there would be a grand bargain, but I don’t see that happening,” he added.

Reid declared that the chief obstacle to getting a broader deficit-reduction deal was GOP opposition to revenue increases.

“They have their mind set on doing nothing, nothing more on revenue, and until they get off that kick, there’s not going to be a grand bargain on — there’s not going to be a small bargain,” Reid said.

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, meanwhile, told Reuters that he too favored a narrower approach to the upcoming negotiations.

“My hope is that it has a better chance because we’ll set more rational expectations of what we’re setting out to achieve,” Ryan said.

“If we focused on doing some big grand bargain, like those prior efforts … then I don’t think we’ll be successful because we’ll focus on our differences. Each party will demand that the other compromises a core principle and then we’ll get nothing done.”

Then, there is immigration reform.

The president highlighted the issue Thursday at the White House, signalling that he might consider a package of smaller proposals in place of a comprehensive bill approved earlier this year by the Senate, so long as lawmakers include a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

“If House Republicans have new and different additional ideas on how we should move forward, then we want to hear them. I’ll be listening,” the president said.

On Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner’s office held firm that Republicans would “not consider any massive, Obamcare-style legislation that no one understands.”

“Instead, the House is committed to a common sense, step-by-step approach that gives Americans confidence that reform is done the right way. We hope that the president will work with us – not against us – as we pursue this deliberate approach,” Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times’ Brian Bennett and Christi Parsons have more details on the debate within the House GOP conference over how to proceed on immigration reform:

In recent weeks, GOP leaders have worked behind the scenes to craft legislative proposals that might pass muster with rank-and-file Republicans and — if joined with a legalization program — could appeal to the White House.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have met in small groups to write bills that would change parts of the immigration system. GOP proposals include adding high-tech visas, revamping farm and low-skilled immigrant labor programs, and ramping up border security.

“I expect us to move forward this year in trying to address reform and what is broken about our system,” Cantor said on the House floor Wednesday.

Politico’s Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman report that House GOP leaders are facing an uphill climb, with less than 20 legislative days left on the 2013 calendar, and little sign rank-and-file members are prepared to coalesce around a singular strategy.

The president called on House Republicans Thursday not to reject the push to reform the country’s immigration system just because he supports doing so.

“I’m not running for office again. I just believe this is the right thing to do,” Mr. Obama said. “I also believe that good policy is good politics in this instance. And if folks are really that consumed with the politics of fixing our broken immigration system, they should take a closer look at the polls because the American people support this.”

Amid the the rocky rollout of the HealthCare.gov website and debate over the budget and immigration reform, the farm bill has been somewhat lost in the shuffle.

In fact, Politico’s David Rogers described the legislation as “Washington’s Rodney Dangerfield” because it “can’t get no respect.”

Rogers also explains that the fight over the food stamp program remains one of the main points of contention with the bill:

House Republicans are insisting on cuts that together with already scheduled reductions next month would drive down spending on food stamp benefits by 12 percent in just two years–pushing millions of people off the rolls. The debate has been so partisan– without legislative hearings or any attempt to pump money back into reforms for the poor–that it has poisoned the farm bill well for many urban Democrats.

That said, even the most loyal supporters of food stamps admit it is a program asked to do too much during the great recession. The disparity in eligibility rules from one state to the next can be huge. Unlike Medicaid, Washington pays the full bill, and the questions raised in the farm bill debate are central for both parties if they are to preserve the social safety net.

With Republicans in Congress still reeling from the political damage incurred from the shutdown standoff, the opportunity to go on the offensive against the president over the problems with the health care program is more appealing than engaging with him on immigration reform and a grand bargain.

That only adds to the pressure already on the administration to fix the issues with the health care website, since the other pieces of the president’s agenda are likely only to proceed once those problems have been resolved.


EPA Chief Gina McCarthy told Judy Woodruff Thursday that the Obama administration’s new rules for future coal-fired power plants will ensure “they have a place in a carbon-constrained future.”

McCarthy also addressed criticisms that the rules will require companies to use new technologies to capture carbon dioxide emissions — even though they are expensive and have not been done on a widespread basis.

“What we’re talking about here is developing that up to a new level where it’s able to be used in current power plants,” McCarthy told Woodruff. “Now why am I confident, because I know the technology components are available…It”s not without cost, but it’s a certain pathway forward so that coal can remain part of the mix. We know it is today. We know it will be in the future. This is providing them a longer horizon.”

Watch here or below:


  • Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli squared off Thursday night in their final debate ahead of the Nov. 5 gubernatorial election in Virginia. McAuliffe characterized Cuccinelli as too extreme for most Virginians, particularly on social issues such as abortion rights. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, accused McAuliffe of speaking in “platitudes” and failing to offer specifics about his policies.

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius responded to critics who have been calling for her resignation in the wake of the health care rollout.

  • Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco penned an op-ed for USA Today.

  • Mr. Obama called again for a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan immigration bill in a speech Thursday. Watch the president’s remarks in full here.

  • White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said repeatedly on Thursday that what Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin wrote on his Facebook page about a Republican lawmaker telling the president he couldn’t “stand to look” at him was not accurate. “[T]here was a miscommunication when the White House read out that meeting to Senate Democrats, and we regret the misunderstanding,” Carney told reporters.

  • The Washington Post is keeping a tally of the Republicans asking for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to resign.

  • Iowa state Rep.-elect Brian Meyer got a “pleasant surprise” call from Vice President Joe Biden wishing him congratulations for his recent victory. Meyer, who backed Biden in the 2008 presidential caucuses, said he was watching the World Series at Applebee’s Wednesday when he got the call. “I was obviously surprised, and I didn’t think anyone was paying attention to a little special election in the middle of Iowa,” he said.

  • Real Clear Politics’ Caitlin Huey-Burns and Scott Conroy write about the difficulties of recruiting people to run for Congress in what can be a “brutal, soul-sucking experience.”

  • Change.org will now allow members of Congress to respond to petitions posted on their site.

  • Speaker John Boehner honored Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-FL) at a memorial service in Florida Thursday. Young passed away last week at the age of 82 and was the House of Representative’s longest-serving Republican. In his eulogy, Boehner said, “Bill did so much for the institution. Perhaps his greatest gift to the body was the simplest one, and that was his fundamental sense of decency.” Boehner led a bipartisan delegation from Congress to Florida, where thousands attended the memorial service.

  • Police are investigating a burglary at Secretary of State John Kerry’s home in Georgetown. A man reportedly broke into a vehicle in Kerry’s detached garage but nothing appears to have been stolen.

  • Donald Trump told the Washington Examiner that if he were president, he would have asked Google to engineer the insurance exchange website.

  • An education professor is trying to challenge Speaker John Boehner in his safe Republican district.

  • Hundreds of items related to President John F. Kennedy are up for auction in Boston. PBS NewsHour Desk Assistant Ariel Min has more on the auction, which includes Lee Harvey Oswald’s wedding band.

  • Billionaire George Soros has joined Ready for Hillary, a Super PAC supporting Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House in 2016, although Clinton has not yet indicated whether she will run.

  • Former Washington director for MoveOn.org Political Action Tom Matzzie eavesdropped on a background conversation former NSA chief and CIA director Michael Hayden had with reporters while riding Amtrak. And he live-tweeted the whole thing.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman and counselor to George W. Bush, spoke with Gwen Ifill as part of our series on the future of the GOP. View the other conversations here.

And watch Gillespie here or below:

  • The NewsHour’s April Brown looks at “Parent College,” a program in Los Angeles that stresses parent involvement and prioritizing for their children’s higher education. This report is part of the NewsHour’s American Graduate project.

  • Can zombies help students learn about neuroscience? The NewsHour’s teacher resource website NewsHour Extra explores Dr. Steven Schlozman’s lessons plans which teach students about the brain through simulated dissections, a dance party, and a research paper about saving the world from a zombie apocalypse.

  • PBS NewsHour joined forces with the Urban Institute for #NewsHourChats on Twitter Thursday and discussed the evolution of “The American Dream.”

  • 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.


Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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