By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
- THE CLOCK IS TICKING: Midnight tonight is the deadline for signing up for health insurance on the Affordable Care Act exchange, or face a financial penalty. States running their own exchanges may have different deadlines, and if applicants begin the process before midnight but don't complete it, there's an extended grace period, notes ABC's DEE CARDEN.
- 'COMING ONLINE NOW': This morning, the healthcare.gov website was sporting a "down for maintenance" message. ABC's DEVIN DWYER passes along this response from Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters: "HealthCare.gov marketplace application and enrollment system is coming online now. The tech team extended regular maintenance window this morning and is bringing the system online gradually to best meet consumer demand."
- THE MAGIC NUMBER: "The first yearly sign-up period for Obamacare closes today, with early returns suggesting the administration may reach a projection of 7 million enrollees made before the U.S. health exchange struggled at its startup," reports Bloomberg's Alex Wayne. "The government last week said 6 million Americans had enrolled by March 27 and about 1 million people a day were visiting healthcare.gov. The sign-ups met a mark set by the Congressional Budget Office in February that was reduced from an initial 7 million estimate after the law's troubled start in October. Republicans questioned the credibility of the numbers." http://bloom.bg/1e2dCzC
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Here, on this deadline day that may not actually be all that much of a deadline, is a modest proposal: radical transparency starting now. No more selective releases of data, no more implausible claims that the numbers are still being tallied up and therefore can't be released - until the president needs a fresh figure to liven up a speech. If the media are to judge, truly and honestly, how the new health care law is working, we need the numbers - all of them. That's the number of enrollees at the federal and all state-level exchanges; the demographic breakdowns, to the extent they are knowable; details of what if any health coverage the new enrollees had before; and information, perhaps scooped up through the insurance companies, about how many new sign-ups are actually paying monthly premiums. Honest coverage demands honest answers to these questions. All involved know there will be plenty of room for politics regardless.
ABC's CHRIS GOOD: LeBron James wants you to sign up for health coverage under Obamacare. So do Magic Johnson and Jonah Hill's mom. Today is (sort of) the deadline for Americans without employer-provided health coverage to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act - the White House extended it so that anyone who's begun to sign up by today can still complete the process by April 7 - and the final enrollment numbers will be an important test for a law intended to expand access for the uninsured. It'll also be a test for the White House's high-octane sales pitch, one that's involved celebrities, YouTube videos, and paid media. The ad blitz hasn't come cheaply. Administration officials confirmed to The New York Times that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Studies (CMS) will have spent $52 million on paid media to promote Obamacare enrollment from January until the end of March. http://abcn.ws/QwcMX3
RANDY MASTRO TO CHRISTIE REPORT SKEPTICS: YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH. Randy Mastro, the man hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office to investigate the George Washington Bridge scandal, pushed back Sunday against skeptics who say the report was an ethically compromised whitewash, according to ABC's BENJAMIN BELL. "We had no incentive to do anything other than to get to the truth and I have to say this, for the skeptics out there, there are some who have a visceral reaction to this bridge controversy. Reminds me of the movie line, 'They can't handle the truth.' We believe we got to the truth," Mastro said in an exclusive interview with ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS on "This Week". Also appearing on "This Week," Democratic New Jersey state Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of the state investigation of the lane closures, said it is too early to draw conclusions about any possible involvement by Christie in the lane closings. "It's far too early to start concluding that the governor knew nothing, had nothing to do with this," the lawmaker said, after conceding that no evidence has been found thus far implicating the governor. http://abcn.ws/1rTB7UK
NOTED: EX-CHRISTIE AIDE SLAMS REPORT: 'VENOMOUS, GRATUITOUS AND INAPPROPRIATE'. Lawyers for Christie's former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, called the report, done by a firm hired by Christie, incomplete, slammed its tone as "venomous," and its commentary as"sexist." The attorney, Michael Critchley, wrote on Friday that the only probe into the scandal with credibility is the one ongoing by federal prosecutors and the FBI. There "appear to be two distinct versions" of what happened at the bridge - Christie's and one told by former Port Authority official David Wildstein, Critchley said. Kelly, he added, could set the record straight, so "a pre-emptive strike to isolate Ms. Kelly and impugn her credibility is not surprising." But the report lays the blame for the idea, execution and the days' worth of crippling traffic the lane closures caused squarely on Kelly and Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the agency that runs the George Washington Bridge and other transit links between New Jersey and New York. http://abcn.ws/1ohMUNj
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR: NO PLANS TO INVADE EASTERN UKRAINE. Russia still does not plan to invade Eastern Ukraine, the Russian ambassador to the United States reiterated to ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS during an appearance on Sunday. But despite Ambassador Sergey Kislyak's insistence, U.S. officials remain concerned about the tens of thousands of Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border, who Kislyak said are simply there for training exercises. "We have said so many times that we have no intent, no interest in crossing the border," Kislyak said on "This Week." "We have our forces conducting the exercises in the territory of the Russian Federation. That is normal exercises that we are conducting." As for whether Russia would consider pulling back from the breakaway region of Crimea, Kislyak said that the area's annexation back into the former Soviet orbit was already a done deal. "What kind of pullback from Crimea are you talking about? We are now in the area of the Russian Federation. One has to be very realistic about it," he said. http://abcn.ws/1oestk7
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
SEE HOW BILL CLINTON HAND-EDITED HIS SPEECHES, A LOT. Bill Clinton's presidential library released another batch of thousands of pages of White House documents from his presidency on Friday, among them pages upon pages of speech drafts, some accompanied by handwritten notes from Clinton's speech-writing aides, and some adorned with Clinton's own handwriting (and labeled as such by his library), according to ABC's CHRIS GOOD. On several of the drafts, someone has crossed out much of the text and handwritten new language next to it. Many of the speech drafts touched by Clinton contain sporadic notes, but in these three instances below - his 1996 Democratic National Convention nomination-acceptance speech, his 1998 State of the Union address and a 1997 speech at the University of California at San Diego - the edits were heavy and frequent. http://abcn.ws/1jPpY62
WHAT WE'RE READING
"PANEL'S WARNING ON CLIMATE RISK: WORST IS YET TO COME," by The New York Times' Justin Gillis. "Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world's oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control. The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct. The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found." http://nyti.ms/1i7ReXM
@nickconfessore: Pained-sounding GOP establishmentarians tell @kenvogel that 80-year-old megadonor Sheldon Adelson has "matured" http://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/sheldon-adelson-las-vegas-2016-elections-republicans-105192.html …
@DavidCornDC: If This Terrifying Report Doesn't Wake You Up to the Realities of What We're Doing to This Planet, What Will? http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/ipcc-climate-change-impact-adaptation …