Politics
5:35 am
Sun November 17, 2013

Obama's Bad Week

Originally published on Sun November 17, 2013 10:24 am

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Late last week, President Obama, with pressure building, admitted that his administration had, quote, "fumbled" the rollout of his health care law. And that may be the kindest way of putting it. The president also made a change, giving a one-year extension to insurance policies that would otherwise have been canceled because they didn't meet the minimum requirements under the new law. It's not clear how many insurers will take him up on the deal. Or if the president's new plan is enough to stop the political bleeding.

For more, we're joined by NPR's political correspondent, Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So was this a good move to admit to some degree that the administration messed this up? Does this help the president politically?

LIASSON: Well, it's certainly better than the alternative. And as they say a drowning man will grasp even at a razor. We don't know whether this actually can be implemented. This was a political fix to a political problem. He did it because he needed to clean up the mess for making a promise that, as he put it, ended up being inaccurate.

We don't know if this fix can work. It will vary from state to state. It's voluntary on the part of insurers, and state insurance commissioners have to decide whether or not they're going to agree to it. And by allowing people to stay on these substandard plans for a year, it could exacerbate what has always been the biggest potential threat to the success of the Affordable Care Act, which is that not enough young, healthy people will sign up on the exchanges; causing premiums to go up for the older, sicker people who are in the risk pool, and then the whole thing collapses of its own weight.

MARTIN: A lot of that pressure we talked about was coming was from the president's own party. Democrats, notably former President Clinton who said, you know, to fix this problem of canceled plans, this needs to be a priority. I'm guessing this doesn't quell all the Democrats' concerns though?

LIASSON: No. , Thirty-nine Democrats in the House voted against the administration on Friday. That was the biggest number of defectors on any piece of legislation - defectors from the White House all year. That probably is a smaller number, however, than if the president had not come out and made this administrative fix. But for many of those Democrats, especially Democrats in the Senate or in the House from red states - who are vulnerable next year - they need more political cover.

They need the protection of actually voting for a piece of legislation. And in the Senate, Mary Landrieu, who's one of those vulnerable red state Democrats, has a bill that would do what the president wanted to do but make it permanent; not just allow people to keep their substandard plans for a year to keep them forever.

The bill in the House, which the president promised to veto, would have allowed people not only to keep their substandard plans, but allow insurers to continue selling the substandard plans to anyone - not just people who already had them.

MARTIN: So is this a significant blow to the president's second term? And are there any opportunities for him to regain his footing?

LIASSON: Well, I think it is a really big blow. I think if we look back, this could be the moment that he became a lame duck because this is all about competence and credibility - the two things that presidents need to have, especially Democratic presidents who promised the government can help ordinary people improve their lives. And I think that even though the presidency has a lot of latent power - it's the most resilient political institution in America - it's hard to see right now what opportunities the president would have to restore his credibility that are coming up soon.

MARTIN: Quickly, and signs the president may end up having to walk back some other promises he made in selling the Affordable Care Act?

LIASSON: Well, he said that he always was talking about people who have insurance through their employers, they certainly can keep them. But what happens next year if people who do insure their employers decide they'd rather pay the fine, when the mandate goes into effect and draw people into the individual markets? Then we'll be doing this all over again.

MARTIN: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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