Obama's Health Care Walk Back

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • IF YOU LIKE IT, YOU (MAY NOT BE ABLE TO) KEEP IT: Amid a firestorm of criticism, President Obama yesterday walked back his oft-repeated, unambiguous promise that "if you like your health plan, you can keep it," ABC's MARY BRUCE and ANN COMPTON report. With hundreds of thousands receiving cancellation notices from their providers, Republicans have slammed the president in recent days for misleading the American public. Yesterday, Obama tweaked his original pledge. "For the vast majority of people who have health insurance that works, you can keep it," he said in a speech in Boston. Addressing what he called the "flurry in the news" about the cancellations, Obama urged Americans receiving these notices to shop for new coverage in the marketplace. "Most people are going to be able to get better, comprehensive health care plans for the same price or even cheaper than projected. You're going to get a better deal," he said. The administration has said it should come as no surprise that the 5 percent of the population who purchase insurance on their own may be forced to switch plans because their coverage doesn't meet the new standards required under the Affordable Care Act. http://abcn.ws/1f4GNUi
  • 'I AM AS FRUSTRATED AND ANGRY AS ANYONE': Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius yesterday apologized publicly for the first time for the troubled roll out of the new federal insurance marketplace, HealthCare.gov, which has frustrated millions of Americans trying to sign up, ABC's DEVIN DWYER notes. "Let me say directly to these Americans: you deserve better," Sebelius said in testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in Washington. "I apologize." Sebelius, who is overseeing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, said the launch of the online marketplace has gone "miserably" since Oct. 1. "I am as frustrated and angry as anyone," she said. "I am eager to earn your confidence back."
  • SEBELIUS CAUGHT ON HOT MIC: 'DON'T DO THIS TO ME': "Don't do this to me." An exasperated Sebelius uttered that phrase, caught by a hot mic, to an aide seated behind her at yesterday's House hearing following a contentious exchange with Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., over whether she should be required to enroll in Obamacare. More than three hours into the hearing, Long repeatedly pressed Sebelius on why the "architect" of the Affordable Care Act has not voluntarily forgone government-sponsored insurance to purchase a plan through HealthCare.gov, which she is now pitching to millions of Americans. http://abcn.ws/16LsN1S
  • SEBELIUS' GREATEST HITS: The most heated - and revealing - exchanges from Sebelius' testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday during her grilling in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, courtesy of ABC's RICHARD COOLIDGE and DEVIN DWYER. http://abcn.ws/1csfoy8


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Yesterday had to happen. "Hold me accountable for the debacle. I'm responsible," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a congressional committee. What has to happen next is that the website gets fixed. And then the real fight over Obamacare begins. That's where some smaller headlines - of lost coverage, of data transmission errors, of privacy concerns - become bigger ones. Website problems have obscured potential structural flaws. Those issues are the ones for which accountability and responsibility are in order.

ABC's JEFF ZELENY: The fight over health care and the debate over NSA spying programs have dominated the discussion on Capitol Hill, but another confrontation is coming to a head: another battle over President Obama's nominations. The first round will play out today, with confirmation votes for Mel Watt (Federal Housing Finance Authority) and Patricia Millet (D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.) But a bigger tussle is looming over Janet Yellen's nomination to lead the Fed. The dispute has little to do with Yellen, but it's rather a moment for some Republicans to pick a fight on other issues. The problem for the White House: Sen. John McCain has added his voice to those who threaten to block Yellen, raising the prospect that Democrats will once again move to blow up the traditional rules of the Senate. This new air of sourness could spill over into every other debate happening in Congress this month.

ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Talk about irony: Nearly a year after President Obama handily beat Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election, the victor apparently needed some help from the vanquished yesterday. Speaking at historic Faneuil Hall in Boston, where in April 2006 Romney signed the state's health reform bill into law, Obama sought to draw parallels between the rocky roll out of Romneycare (back then) and Obamacare (over the past month). "Health care reform in this state was a success. That doesn't mean it was perfect right away," Obama said. "There were changes that had to be made." The event seven years ago was a celebration of what Romney regarded as the crowning achievement of his governorship. In a 2011 article, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza described the scene: "The brick building was decked in patriotic bunting, and a fife-and-drum corps led Romney inside. Two enormous signs flanked the stage, announcing, in a vaguely eighteenth-century font, 'Making History in Health Care.'" Yesterday, Obama used his own Faneuil Hall appearance to talk about one of the major achievements of his presidency - albeit one that has been marred by glitches plaguing HealthCare.gov. The flag bunting was there, but the atmosphere of celebration was absent. "There's no excuse for it. And I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP," Obama said. http://abcn.ws/1aUg20L

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Chris Christie seemed to know everyone at every stop on his bus tour Wednesday, but at his first stop at the Ritz Diner in his hometown of Livingston he was greeted by a long table of childhood and high school friends waiting to greet their old buddy. Christie was clearly thrilled to see them, saying, "I know these guys!" when he spotted them. Hugs and back slaps quickly ensued. None of the friends there said they were at all surprised by the governor's success, including the friend who first met him in sixth grade while both were volunteering for one of Tom Kean's campaigns, before Kean became governor. Jay Isherwood said he "didn't go as far in the political world as (Christie) did," although they met on the same campaign. "I think what surprises me is the amount of national attention that New Jersey gets as a result of Chris Christie," Isherwood said, before explaining that he thinks national Republicans should get behind Christie "Politically, I think the Republicans are making a huge mistake by not rallying 100 percent behind Chris Christie. … They are saying and doing things that are very, very foolish, because he's got the future and if they want to be part of the future they need to straighten themselves out."


WHAT A HILLARY CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MIGHT SOUND LIKE. Curious about what Hillary Clinton might say if she runs for president in 2016? You might want to listen in now, ABC's ABBY PHILLIP notes. The former secretary of state might be months away from a decision about whether she will run for president in 2016, but she has been using her ample speaking schedule in the meantime to try out some notably campaign-friendly lines. From ensuring that future generations can "realize the American dream" to contrasting her style with the "wrong kind of leadership" on display in Washington, Clinton has been diligently laying out a potential framework for her candidacy in more than half a dozen or so recent speeches. VIDEO by ABC's GREG KRIEG and BRIAN CANOVA: http://abcn.ws/1aIqKe7


THE LAST GREAT HOPE TO AVERT ANOTHER STALEMATE: A group of lawmakers tasked with hammering out a long-term budget deal met for the first time yesterday, working under the prosaic name, the "budget conference." Yesterday's meeting of the 29 lawmakers - 15 Democrats and 14 Republicans - was a rarity on Capitol Hill as the Senate and House of Representatives have not gone to conference on the budget in years. The meeting didn't produce any agreements or concessions, but gave the group an opportunity to voice what direction they hope the conference will take as they try to prevent another fiscal crisis. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, announced the group will meet again on Nov. 13, so in the meantime, here's a primer on what you need to know about the budget conference, courtesy of ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ: http://abcn.ws/1aTTiOu


IN SECRET LETTER, SENATE DEMOCRATIC WOMEN RALLY BEHIND HILLARY. All of the female Democratic senators signed a secret letter to Hillary Rodham Clinton early this year encouraging her to run for president in 2016 - a letter that includes the signature of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other senators who are mentioned as potential candidates, two high-ranking Democratic Senate aides told ABC's RICK KLEIN. The letter, organized at the urging of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was meant to be a private show of support from a group of 16 high-profile former colleagues and fans who are now senators, urging Clinton to do what much of the Democratic Party assumes she will, the aides said. The existence of the letter was not revealed publicly until this week, when Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., mentioned it at an event in New York City on Monday. That was an apparent slip-up that prompted a round of apologetic e-mails from her Senate office to other offices on Capitol Hill, according to the aides. "All of the Senate Democratic women have written her a letter encouraging her to run," Hagan told a gathering organized by EMILY's List, according to Capital New York. The event was part of the group's "Madam President" series, which is organizing events around the country to promote interest in a female Democratic presidential candidate. http://abcn.ws/1iuqPCK

-HILLARY AND THE HILL: Hagan's office did not return calls seeking comment. Clinton aides also did not respond to requests for comment. Boxer's office declined to comment directly on the letter, but issued a statement to ABC News: "I have repeatedly said - publicly, privately and in writing - that Hillary Clinton should run for president in 2016," Boxer said. "I can only speak for myself. I'll leave it to my colleagues to describe their views." The actual letter has still not emerged publicly. But its existence adds momentum to the growing sense of inevitability around a Clinton candidacy in 2016. It would also appear to take some of the biggest potential Clinton rivals out of the 2016 mix. Warren, D-Mass., has been widely mentioned as a possible liberal alternative to Clinton in Democratic primaries. While she has denied interest in running, this letter goes further than she's gone previously in supporting a Clinton candidacy. http://abcn.ws/1iuqPCK

TED CRUZ SIGNALS HE WILL STEER CLEAR OF REPUBLICAN PRIMARY FIGHTS. After Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, endured weeks of criticism from his fellow Republicans, several senators said he extended his hand on Wednesday and told them he would not actively campaign against them or help raise money for their primary opponents, according to ABC's JEFF ZELENY. Cruz, the firebrand freshman from Texas, made the comments during a private lunch with Republican senators at the Capitol. He indicated he would not play a direct role in raising money or helping guide strategy for the Senate Conservatives Fund, several Republican senators told ABC News. "I was very pleased. I had urged him to do that in the past," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in an interview. "This is a very important step. When people raise money to defeat their colleagues, that's beyond the pale." Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who had been among the Republicans who sharply confronted Cruz earlier this month, said tonight that she was pleased by what she viewed as a change of heart. "I appreciated what he had to say," Ayotte told ABC News, "and that he is not going to participate in the Senate Conservatives Fund to raise money against Republicans." http://abcn.ws/1bDXvY8

-BACKSTORY: While Cruz's marquee role in the 16-day government shutdown earned him praise from conservative activists and leaders across the country, he received a far different reaction behind closed doors from his fellow Republican senators. He has been ostracized and scolded by several of them for his central role in the Senate Conservatives Fund, a grassroots group that is not affiliated with the Republican Party or its campaign committees. The fund is working to unseat some Republican incumbents, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. When asked about reports of a mea culpa, Cruz did not dispute the account of his fellow senators. But he declined to answer questions after leaving the Senate floor last night. Catherine Frazier, a spokesman for the senator, told ABC News that Cruz "will likely not get involved in incumbent primaries." http://abcn.ws/1bDXvY8

CHRIS CHRISTIE LAUNCHES PRE-ELECTION BUS TOUR. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie launched his final sprint to Election Day with a bus tour Wednesday. With seven stops at diners and community centers, the tour felt more like a victory lap than the last days of a campaign, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. While there's some hand shaking on the Christie campaign trail, there are many more hugs and kisses shared between the governor and the crush of supporters who greet him at each stop, clamoring to take a photo or give him a smooch. As Christie greeted voters by their first names and with a big bear hug, it seemed as if he was inviting almost every person to his Election Night party in Asbury Park on Nov. 5 "Brother, are you coming Tuesday night?" Christie asked supporter after supporter. "See you Tuesday night!" he said to many more. Christie faces off against state Sen. Barbara Buono, and a Quinnipiac poll from earlier in the week still has him leading by a two to one margin, or by 64 percent to Buono's 31 percent. The poll also shows that among New Jersey likely voters, 48 percent to 41 percent would like to see their governor run for president in 2016. http://abcn.ws/HtL6gN

-WOOS THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AISLE. But there's another reason it's different this time around. The number of elected or office-holding Democrats who have publicly backed Christie stands at 58, according to his campaign, and ethnically diverse events are packed with Democrats and people who describe themselves as independent. That's something that of course would be key to any presidential campaign if Christie decides to run in 2016.

WEEPING FOR WINSTON: BOEHNER TEARS UP WHILE HONORING CHURCHILL. House Speaker John Boehner, known for showing his emotions, teared up during a Congressional ceremony Wednesday honoring British prime minister - and hero to many - Winston Churchill, ABC's ALEX LAZAR notes. Lawmakers of both parties spoke at a ceremony Wednesday morning to dedicate a bust of Churchill in the U.S. Capitol. While listening to audio of Churchill addressing Congress weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Boehner was spotted wiping tears away from his face. In addition to Boehner, other politicos who spoke at the event included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and Secretary of State John Kerry. Guests were also treated to the tunes of The Who's Roger Daltrey, who sang his band's "Won't Get Fooled Again" as well as Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." During a lighter moment, Boehner revealed that one of Churchill's chief criticisms of the United States was that he found "our toilet paper to be too thin and our newspapers to be too fat." http://abcn.ws/19eiNNo


ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER COMES TO WASHINGTON. He may be best known for his role in "Terminator," but yesterday Arnold Schwarzenegger fell more in line with his character in "Kindergarten Cop" as he came to Capitol Hill yesterday to talk with lawmakers about the importance of after-school programs, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, met with Democrats and Republicans from both chambers as he urged them to make sure school programs continue to receive funding. "I'm here to protect after-school programs and to protect the money," Schwarzenegger said at a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. Schwarzenegger, founder of After-School All-Stars, a nationwide group that provides after-school programs for at-risk youth, said he didn't see any of the partisanship that has flooded Capitol Hill in recent weeks. "You read so much about the partisanship here in the Capitol," he said. "I have only seen the best of this Capitol." http://abcn.ws/1aVUCAc


@amieparnes: Obama asked @HillaryClinton to stay on another year. An excerpt from the book #HRC Check it out! http://j.mp/16NnVcr

@gregmcrc: RT @cnsnews Obama Has Presided Over 5 of the 6 Largest Deficits in U.S. History http://ow.ly/2BcDTl #tcot #teaparty #gop

@Schultz44: cc: @MariaBartiromo, @CNBC MT: @hiltzikm Another Obamacare horror story debunked, via @latimes - http://lat.ms/1aUyXZh

@PhilipRucker: Read @ktumulty on Obama's "catchy sound bite that has turned around to bite the hand that fed it to the country" http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obamas-health-care-promise-that-people-can-keep-their-insurance-comes-back-to-haunt/2013/10/30/2748aaee-4185-11e3-8b74-d89d714ca4dd_story.html …

@CoryBooker: Look for bad in others & U will find it. Look for good in others & U will be doubly rewarded: U will find it in them & reveal it in yourself