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Rollout of President's healthcare law continues to face problems

The rollout of the President's healthcare law - the Affordable Care Act - continues to face problems. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was once again on the Hill this week being grilled by lawmakers about the problems that have plagued the government's Healthcare.gov website.

Sebelius admitted in her testimony that there were hundreds of functionality problems with the Healthcare.gov website that needed to be fixed, but rejected calls to delay implementation of the law. Sebelius described the first five weeks of the rollout as "miserable" and said the enrollment numbers, when released, were likely to be very low.

A bad situation for the White House became worse when documents were released Wednesday night by House investigators suggesting that Obama administration officials knew even before the marketplaces opened for business on Oct. 1 that the computer systems would not able to handle anywhere near the anticipated demand. The “testing bulletin” suggested that as of Sept. 30 the website could handle only about 1,100 users at a time, even though officials had said it should have been able to accommodate perhaps as many as 60,000, according to the documents, released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Democrats begin to break rank on healthcare law

In addition to the ongoing woes of the technical component of the rollout of the President's healthcare law, the administration is now facing a loss of support within his own party. The Democratic caucus, which was united in opposing any changes to the Affordable Care Act during the government shutdown/debt ceiling debate, is now splintering.

Red state Democrats, particularly those who are up for re-election in 2014, have become more and more critical of the law and several have begun offering legislation to delay or otherwise make changes to the law.

In the Senate, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has introduced legislation that would delay the individual mandate. The individual mandate requires that people have healthcare insurance by March 31 of next year or face a penalty of $95 or one percent of a person’s annual income, whichever is greater.

Manchin's colleague, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), who’s seeking a fourth term in 2014 in a state that President Obama lost last year by 17 percent, introduced legislation this week to allow individuals to keep their current health plans as long as they stay up-to-date on payments.

Landrieu was also among the 10 Democratic senators who signed a letter to the Obama administration, later endorsed by an 11th senator, seeking an extension of the insurance exchange’s open enrollment period beyond the March 31 deadline.

Click here to view the Washington Business Brief— Election Analysis, Healthcare Update and Budget Outlook.

Immigration update

While the White House continues to deal with the problems facing the rollout of the President's healthcare law, President Obama is also keeping up pressure on Republicans to move on comprehensive immigration reform.

Since the end of the government shutdown/debt ceiling debate, President Obama has made pushing for movement on comprehensive immigration reform his top priority. This week, the President said he wanted to make it as easy as possible for House Republicans to pass - saying he was looking for a substantive win, not a political win.

Despite all of the pressure from the White House, reform looks extremely unlikely. Democrats prefer changing the immigration system with a comprehensive bill, while Republicans have said they want to pass smaller immigration bills one at a time, but have not brought any to the floor and leaders have offered no timetable for doing so.

Additionally, revamping the system this year also will be difficult because Congress has a tight legislative calendar before the end of the year and it is still fighting over the budget, a farm bill and other issues.

Special Budget Conference update by former U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH)

"This week I had the chance to see Speaker John Boehner in Jacksonville. John Metzger of our West Palm Beach office was with me. When questioned about the likelihood of there being a budget agreement by Dec. 13, the Speaker, with his usual bluntness, replied 'not likely'. The good news, however, is how he characterized the strategy used during the shutdown. He expressed the hope that enough Republicans in the House now agreed that the shutdown strategy was foolish. Although a small, but committed group was unconvinced, he was hopeful that a repeat performance could be avoided."

Groundhog's Day: Nuclear option again on table for nominees

The Senate appears headed for another showdown on the so-called "nuclear option" for changing the rules of the confirmation process to make it harder for the minority party to block presidential appointments.

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) about to call for a procedural vote on two nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit who are opposed by Republicans, some Democrats are calling for the rules change.

Last week, Republicans blocked both a nominee to the D.C. Circuit, Patricia Millett, and President Obama's choice to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC). This week, they are promising to block two more appeals court nominees, Cornelia Pillard and Robert Wilkins, when Reid brings them up for a vote.

Senate passes Employment Non-Discrimination Bill

On Thursday, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Bill (ENDA), which provides workplace protections for LGBT Americans. The legislation, first introduced by the late Ted Kennedy (D-MA) in 1994, passed by a wide-margin 64-32 - with 10 Republicans joining Democrats in passing the legislation.

Despite the wide bi-partisan vote for the bill, and despite overwhelming support in public opinion polls, the bill is unlikely to become law. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) opposes the bill and has made it clear the bill is unlikely to get a vote in the House.

Political bits:

Election 2013

New Jersey - Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) cruised to re-election - winning more than 60 percent of the vote - in this reliably blue state. Christie's win immediately sets up speculation that the New Jersey Governor will run for the Republican nomination for President in 2016.

Virginia - Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe (D-VA) defeated Tea Party favorite Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA) in a race that turned out to be closer than expected.

House

Alabama 1st Congressional District Special Election: State Senator Bradely Byrne (R-AL) defeated Tea Party favorite Dean Young in the special election in Alabama's 1st CD. Byrne was supported by the Chamber of Commerce and more established Republicans against Young.

New Jersey 3rd Congressional District: Rep. John Runyan (R-NJ) announced he will not seek a 3rd term in 2014. Runyan's retirement sets up a potential Democratic pickup in this competitive district.

North Carolina 6th Congressional District: Long-time Congressman Howard Coble (R-NC) announced he would not seek another term in 2014. Kyle Petty and Terry Labonte, both NASCAR drivers, are mentioned as potential GOP candidates to replace Coble in this safe Republican district.

Senate

Montana: Rep. Steve Daines (R-MT) announced on Wednesday that he will run for the state's open Senate seat, left by the retiring Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), next year.

New Hampshire: Former Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH) announced he would not run for Senate in 2014, instead encouraging former Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) to run.

A look ahead:

House

Wednesday, Nov. 13 --The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Implementation of an Entry-Exit System: Still Waiting After All These Years at 10:00 a.m. in 2141 Rayburn.

Senate                        

Wednesday, Nov. 13 -- The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the nomination of Jeh Johnson to be Homeland Security secretary at 10:00 a.m. in 342 Dirksen.

Wednesday, Nov. 13 -- The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on pending judicial nominations at 2:00 p.m. in 225 Dirksen.

Wednesday, Nov. 13 -- The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on The Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 at 10:00 a.m. in 226 Dirksen.

House-Senate Conference Committees

Wednesday, Nov. 13 --The House-Senate conference committee will hold a meeting on a concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget for the federal government for FY2014, revising the appropriate budgetary levels for FY2013, and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for FY2015 through FY2023 at 10:00 a.m. in HC-5.

Washington by the numbers

51 - The percentage of Latinos who voted for Christie.

81 - The percentage of white evangelicals who voted for Cuccinelli.          

They said what?

“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. ... Probably in one of my drunken stupors.” -- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. (Toronto Star)

Washington humor

"President Obama's approval rating is down to 39 percent. And Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who admitted to smoking crack cocaine, went up to 49 percent. How does this make Obama feel? He'd be better off smoking crack than passing Obamacare." –Jay Leno

 

 

 Steven C. LaTourette, President | 202.559.2600

McDonald Hopkins Government Strategies LLC
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