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Parties at odds over health care law

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Democrats are getting a debrief on the health care law Wednesday, following a series of problems with the rollout of an insurance exchange website and as the GOP steps up its criticism in the aftermath of a shutdown fueled by the party’s distaste of the law.

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Republicans have seized on the issue, putting out a video mocking an online chat from HealthCare.gov on a new website designed to highlight the glitches that have plagued people attempting to sign up or get information.

Watch here or below.

The president, meanwhile, is keeping up his defense of the law. He released a video message to his most fervent supporters via the Organizing for Action spinoff from his re-election campaign. He sounded a similar message of frustration with the kinks in the site, but stressed instead the elements of the law that are working, including the ability to keep someone on their parents’ insurance plan until the age of 26.

“We’ve got people working overtime in a tech surge to boost capacity and address the problems. We’re going to get it fixed,” he said.

Watch the video here or below.

That comes after the administration announced acting Office of Management and Budget director Jeff Zients will lead the charge of getting the site improved.

On CNN Tuesday night, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggested the president was only told about the major problems with the website after the debut. Before that, he was aware of testing under way. The problems “became clear early on, in the first couple days,” Sebelius told Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “We talked about having testing going forward and if we had an ideal situation and could have built a product in a five-year period of time we probably would have taken five years. But we didn’t have five years.”

The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg has more on GOP lawmakers calling for Sebelius to be fired.

House Republicans also complained about being shut out of the briefing session. Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, said no similar offer was made to the GOP but that the speaker has requested one.

“All members – as well as the American people – deserve answers for this debacle,” Buck said. “This snub is all the more offensive after Secretary Sebelius declined to testify at a House hearing this week. It’s time for the Obama administration to honor its promises of transparency and face some accountability.”

Sebelius will not testify at a hearing Thursday on the issue, but has agreed to come to Capitol Hill on Oct. 30. HealthCare.gov contractors will appear instead on Thursday, and Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will testify in front of the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn reports.

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters the briefing is just another in its series of updates on the law. “While we appreciate House Republicans’ newfound interest in the implementation of health reform, it is clear they are not interested in anything other than continuing their desperate drive to sabotage this law, which so far has included shutting down the government,” Drew Hammill said.

Perhaps one reason the White House is keeping Democrats in the loop is to avoid any breaks in the party. On Tuesday, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire became the first Senate Democrat to call for an extension beyond March 31 of the open enrollment period due to the problems with the site.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is pushing a delay on the penalty for not purchasing health insurance. He told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that with the technical problems, his proposal makes sense: “How you can punish people for not buying something that is impossible to buy because of the inability of this website to function because of government incompetence?”

Sen. Ted Cruz is circulating a memo, obtained by the Daily Caller, that argues the Texas Republican’s push to defund the health care law “produced tangible results that create both immediate and long-term benefits for the country and the conservative cause.”

In Utah, the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker found a different story, with Sen. Mike Lee, who led the defunding effort along with Cruz, facing a GOP backlash. Rucker notes the displeasure from Republicans includes talk of a potential primary challenge in 2016:

To hear grievances with Lee’s no-compromise, no-apology governing style, just head to the executive floor of Zions Bank, founded by Mormon settler Brigham Young. Bank President A. Scott Anderson, who raised money for Lee three years ago, sat in his corner office this week harboring second thoughts.

“I think people admire him for sticking to his guns and principles, but I think there are growing frustrations,” Anderson said. “If things are to happen, you can’t just stick to your principles. You have to make things work. .?.?. You’ve got to be practical.”

Spencer Zwick, a Utah native and national finance chairman for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, was more direct, calling Lee a “show horse” who “just wants to be a spectacle.”

“Business leaders that I talk to, many of whom supported him, would never support his reelection and in fact will work against him, myself included,” Zwick said.

As the GOP continues to wrestle with the Affordable Care Act, the NewsHour is keeping up our discussion series with Republicans about the future of the party. Judy Woodruff interviewed Rep. Tim Huelskamp Tuesday. He agreed with former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who told Judy Monday that Republicans should move on from the fight about the health care law because it didn’t win them anything, but had a different spin on that loss.

“We lost that battle here in Washington, but I don’t think we lost the debate. I think at the end of the day for conservatives, we lost the battle, but we are going to win the war,” Huelskamp said.

Judy also presented him with the lousy poll numbers that greeted lawmakers when they returned to Washington. “[A]t the end of the day, Americans don’t like what’s happening in Washington. And they would like change. … And I think, at the end of the day, the political establishment won, Americans lost, and they’re upset about it,” he said.

Watch the conversation here or below:


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  • The Club for Growth is spending money on television ads for Sen. Thad Cochran’s Republican challenger.

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  • Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius should resign in the wake of the health care rollout. “I’d say that to her in person if I could ever see her,” Ryan told reporters during a Cuccinelli campaign conference call.

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Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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