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Do Numbers Add Up to Trouble for Obama Care?

Aired November 12, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight, on CROSSFIRE, Obama care numbers games. How many people are signing up? How long until the Web site's working right? What do the latest polls and one ex-president have to say?

On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Tom Hartman, who supports the president's health-care reform; and Bill Kristol, who opposes it. Taking the pulse of Obama care. Do the numbers add up to trouble? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, a talk radio host and the editor of the "Weekly Standard."

Today we are seeing something truly remarkable in the Democratic Party. Both former president Bill Clinton and the second ranking Democrat in the Senate are talking about reopening Obama care and basically forcing President Obama to keep his promise that if you like the insurance that you've got, you can keep it. Listen to this.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: We need to look at the political reality. We need to be open to constructive changes to make this law work better.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I personally believe, even if it takes a change to the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people who wanted to keep what they've got.


GINGRICH: What makes Bill Clinton's statement so shocking is that it comes from someone who's talked long and enthusiastically in Obama care's favor, and in all fairness he still favors Obama care, but now he's admitting that this president has a big problem with his credibility. And remember, this is a guy who knows all about credibility problems. CUTTER: Well, putting aside your comment about President Clinton having credibility problems. We know what happened the last time people went after President Clinton on credibility problems. They lost credibility.

However, you did leave out a key piece of that interview, where he did say that the lesson here is that this country is better off under this health-care law than it was before it. And that is something that we need to without Obama care.

And I also appreciate the outrage about the impact of this health-care law. Because No. 1, Republicans have no idea how to fix it; nor do they want to fix it. And No. 2, they don't have any workable ideas of their own.

So first question I want to -- in the CROSSFIRE tonight, "Weekly Standard" editor Bill Kristol and talk radio host Tom Hartman, who has a new book out. It's called "The Crash of 2016."

So Bill, the first question to you. I appreciate the outrage, as I said to Newt earlier, but this is baloney. It's disingenuous. Could you name one person who is truly interested in making constructive changes, as Senator Durbin said, as President Clinton said, to this health-care law to make it work better? Can you name one Republican who's interested in making it work better?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes. Fred Upton has introduced legislation that the House will vote on Friday, which will improve the situation of those people who have been damaged by this law. It won't fix it, because it's unfixable. But it will patch the hole in the roof, and then it gives us more time to repair the foundations, or frankly, to build new foundations for a better health- care system in the country.

CUTTER: Go ahead, Tom.

TOM HARTMAN, TALK RADIO HOST: Except that Fred Upton fundamentally opposes Obama care.

KRISTOL: Wait. The actual legislation -- What about the piece of legislation introduced for Friday?

HARTMAN: It almost doesn't...

KRISTOL: Are you for that?

HARTMAN: This extraordinary sturm und drang, you know. This, "Oh, we can't" -- you know? President Clinton has said we should change it. Dick Durbin says we should change it. You know, Social Security came out in 1935. It's been amended hundreds of times. When Medicare was passed...

KRISTOL: Did 3.5 million people...

HARTMAN: ... dozens...

KRISTOL: ... Did 3.5 million people lose anything when Social Security was introduced? Did 3.5 million people lose Medicare?

HARTMAN: According to Republicans, they lost their freedom.

KRISTOL: I'm sorry. Are you in favor or against helping the 3.5 million people who have had their insurance canceled?

HARTMAN: Canceled?

KRISTOL: Who've lost their health insurance. Yes, canceled.

HARTMAN: You're talking about the 5 percent of the private market who are....

KRISTOL: Are you for or against helping those 5 percent?

HARTMAN: Those are not cancellations.

KRISTOL: Are you for or against the president's bill?

HARTMAN: Those are bad product recalls.

KRISTOL: Oh, is that right?

HARTMAN: Are you for or against cars that suddenly they discovered the master cylinder doesn't work, being recalled and replaced?

KRISTOL: You seriously believe that all those plans that have been canceled that many people...


KRISTOL: Really?

HARTMAN: The vast majority.

KRISTOL: Really? State insurance commissioners in California and New York, Democratic states, approved these plans.

HARTMAN: If it wasn't Fred Upton. If it was -- if it was coming out of a Democrat and they were saying, you know, let's tweak this bill, I would say go for it. But when it comes from a Republican, I'm immediately...

GINGRICH: Tom -- Tom...

KRISTOL: Many Democrats are going to vote for this bill on Friday.

HARTMAN: If they do, then it will be a really...

KRISTOL: So your standard is, if a Democrat says it, it's good, and if a Republican says it, it's bad?

HARTMAN: As long as the Republicans are on record as saying, "We're totally opposed to it." GINGRICH: Let me just -- because both you and Stephanie have this nice little dance. The fact is -- the fact is, if you want to fix the bill...


GINGRICH: ... you are inevitably going to have to have support from people in the House who opposed the bill.

HARTMAN: Correct.

GINGRICH: Otherwise it won't move.

HARTMAN: Or you wait two years.

GINGRICH: Or you wait two years and then they have an even bigger majority, and it will be even harder. But in the interim, people will be hurt.

But right now in the Senate, you have Manchin. You have Landrieu. You have Sheehan. Apparently today Feinstein came out. You have this Democrat, Durbin. I mean, there's a growing number of Democrats who favor Obama care in general but who are saying this is a disaster.

And let me share with you one poll. There's a -- Quinnipiac came out -- Quinnipiac came out today and said that the deadline for signing up for coverage without facing a penalty is March 31. Would you support or oppose extending this deadline? Seventy-three percent of the American people now support extending it.

Now the administration, that's not just, you know, some small clique of Republicans.


GINGRICH: But a country that's talking to it.

HARTMAN: You're absolutely right. There's two really important points here. No. 1 is when Republicans talk about extending it, they're talking about extending it for a year, year and a half, two years, which would be enough to kill it. A lot of people are saying extend it for a month or two until you can get the Web site fixed. That's not going to kill it; it's going to make it work. There's a -- so there's a whole world of difference. You know, there's a little bit of language; there's a whole world of difference in this thing.

CUTTER: So Bill, I want to ask you a question. The president has said, since we passed the law in 2009, 2010, rather. And he has said repeatedly, and Democrats have said along with him, that we want to implement the law and make changes as we go. Any law like this requires technical fixes. It requires legislative fixes. We've done it throughout our history. We did it under President Bush with the Medicare law.

So my question to you, I have a two-part question for you. No. 1, how -- how are Republicans going to make a fix to the law and control the people who shut down the government over repealing the law? I mean, you've got two different Republican parties fighting against each other. How are you going to control those people who want to get rid of it?

KRISTOL: I don't think I can control the people. But I'll say this. I had an argument with some conservative Republicans on the Hill today who said, "You know what? Why don't we just let the whole thing crash? It's their horrible plan. It is a horrible plan. It's not going to work. It will be even more obvious to the American people a year from now."

To the House Republicans' credit, including the ones who shut down the government, those terminable Tea Party guys that people obsess about, they are going to vote Friday to do something they don't really like doing, which is fixing an underlying piece of legislation they don't like, because they are responsible. And they are getting phone calls from their constituents in Michigan and Arkansas and California and New York, and they are saying, "I am losing my health insurance, and I like my health insurance. Could you at least, while this mess of the Web site and the mess of the whole implementation of Obama care is under way, could you let me help -- help me at least for the next year?"

And so they're doing the right thing. Somewhat contrary, honestly, to their own instincts, which is a little bit of, "Hey, this is your mess, President Obama. You fix it."

So they are fixing it. So they're behaving responsibility. And I know the serious liberals and Democrats like you two would applaud them for acting responsibly on Friday.

HARTMAN: If you're accurately characterizing it, I would absolutely applaud that. And if Democrats -- and Newt, you mentioned all these Democrats who might be getting on board. We might be seeing for the first time, literally, since the beginning of the Obama presidency, when meetings were held about "How do we keep this guy from ever having a successful presidency?" We might be seeing for the very first time, a bringing together of Democrats and Republicans to actually govern. If what you're saying is right. None of us have read the bill here at the table.

KRISTOL: Well, I've actually looked at the bill. It's a very simple bill, actually. It's one of the shortest bills. It's not 2,700 pages. I think it's two pages. It lets people -- lets insurers continue to offer the plans they're offering this year and next year.

But look, I look forward to Democrats joining Mr. Upton. I look forward to the -- to the Obama administration supporting this bill. I remain opposed to Obama care. I don't think I have to give up my principles, but I still think that we should also help people.

HARTMAN: Bill, some of those bills that are available right now are just patently fraudulent. They're these $40-a-month programs that people, when they actually get sick, discover that, you know, they're going to be $40,000 down. GINGRICH: I'm fascinated by the elitism of folks here in Washington who explain that the insurance commissioner in California is stupid; the insurance commissioner in New York is stupid; the insurance commissioner in Illinois is stupid, because they offer -- they're all, as you just put it, language you just used, they're allowing fraudulent insurance to be offered.

Now, I mean, isn't that at a level of Washington-based arrogance to say, across the whole country, that millions of Americans, many of them small business people who are pretty smart, ended up -- you have now -- It would be like saying to them, "I'm not going to allow you to drive a Toyota Camry or a Ford, because you know, those are inferior. I have decided the appropriate standard."

HARTMAN: You are -- you are, I think, mischaracterizing it. First of all, the insurance industry is not at all like the auto industry. If you wanted to make that parallel, you would say, "I don't think it's appropriate for you to drive the Toyota Camry. It doesn't have brakes. In fact, they were never even installed."

The insurance commissioners -- it's the Wild, Wild West. The insurance industry is the Wild, Wild West. And so insurance commissioners have dealt with mostly complaints of fraud, and they've tried to protect fraud. But legislatures have allowed basically people, you know, it's a huge caveat emptor marketplace.

CUTTER: And most of the insurance commissioners are helping to implement this law. I mean, you mentioned California. The law is working pretty well in California.

KRISTOL: Actually, California...

CUTTER: So I don't think that you should mischaracterize the insurance commissioner.

KRISTOL: Actually, the California insurance -- they're huge fans of the law. And guess what? They had to extend for three months already, the current plans, because the blues were in such a panic over people -- 300,000 people in California were about to lose coverage. In fact, the law is falling apart. And look, the big development...

CUTTER: The -- first of all, the law is not falling apart. It hasn't even been implemented yet. January 1 is when those plans go into place. If there are...

KRISTOL: I thought some Web site was supposed to come online on October 1. Maybe I missed that. I don't know.

CUTTER: Yes, that's been a disaster. Absolutely.

However, the president's already extended the deadline for enrollment. There are legislative proposals in the Senate and, you know, less reliable ones in the House, to look at extending the deadline. That doesn't mean the law is a disaster. If you want to make reasonable, honest fixes to this law, that's a debate we should have. But I think we should be honest: That's not the debate that you guys want to have here.

KRISTOL: The position -- the position you had when I was on a month ago was "You guys are crazy to even talk about changing anything." I was for a one-year delay in the individual mandate, which I think is still going to happen. And I imagine President Obama is ultimately going to accept. But it was terrible when the House Republicans pushed it.

And your line was "This law passed. It was upheld by the Supreme Court. The voters reelected President Obama in 2012, shut up." That was the -- which was good. Which was intelligent.

CUTTER: No, I don't think I said shut up to you.

KRISTOL: You didn't. You wouldn't.

CUTTER: No, I didn't.

KRISTOL: You wouldn't say that.

CUTTER: But no, my point was a month ago we were actually debating a government shutdown over Affordable Care Act.

KRISTOL: Honestly, just leaving aside what you think, analytically, it's been a big move, because the truth is, Democrats were in a better position when they could say -- when they could say, "We've done it. Let it go into effect. Don't do anything for now."

Now they're acknowledging that things have to be changed. And I think this is going to open a broader debate which I welcome, and I think maybe you welcome too. About health care, about Obama care. About this whole plan.

CUTTER: OK. Next, I will show you, Bill, how Republican billionaires are trying to get unsuspecting young people to trade their health care for free pizza and beer. There's a hint. It has something to do with this picture.


CUTTER: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Tom Hartman and Bill Kristol. Republicans have tried to repeal or dismantle Obama care 46 times, and they lost. They took it to the Supreme Court, and they lost. It was the central debate in a presidential campaign that they lost.

Now they're supposedly interested in fixing it. So what's their latest strategy, though? It's tailgating. A group funded by the Koch brothers is sponsoring tailgate parties at college football games that give away pizza, beer, misinformation, distortions about what young people's options are under the health-care law. This is a couple of Republican billionaires telling college kids how to trade away their insurance options and their future economic security for pizza and beer.

So Bill, my question to you is, are the Koch brothers on the same page as you and other Republicans in the House who are suddenly interested in helping to fix this law? I mean, they continue to want to repeal it. Is this a change in strategy?

KRISTOL: Well, I would like to repeal it down the road. I don't think it's going to happen when President Obama is president. Maybe at the rate at which it's all collapsing, it will -- even President Obama will come around to this view.

But look, I think young people should get health insurance. A lot of people did buy health insurance and were responsible. The person -- last time I was on the show, I mentioned a young man in Washington who had health insurance and got a cancellation notice. What Republicans are trying to do is help young people keep the health insurance they have.

CUTTER: We could go back and forth on -- for young people on -- for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. They could stay on their parents' plans until they're 26. Half of them will pay less than $50. Two-thirds of them will pay less than a hundred dollars. And they have the security of knowing that health care will be there when they need it.

So -- but my bigger question is, there is something politically going on with the Republican Party. The strategy that you've been using hasn't worked. You know, you took a big hit over shutting down the federal government over defunding Obama care. You're behind on the generic ballot for 2014 by up to 8 points. And that's, I think, I think is the latest fox poll. So take that for what it's worth. Can you tell me about what is actually going on in the Republican party in their approach to the Affordable Care Act?

KRISTOL: I'm very confident that Obama care will help Republicans in 2014, not hurt them. I think it will help them a lot.

I was talking to a young woman who was running in New York 21, that upstate New York district, Elsie Stefano (ph). She's 29 years old. Her folks have a small business up there. They got a notice. And this is not the individual market They're going to have to -- they give health a 30 or 40 percent premium increase coming next year because of requirements in the Affordable Care Act. And there, you're going to have to either take it out of their salaries. She's going around and telling the story. She's running against an in couple bent Democrat up there, and she says voters up there are responding to her and to hear appeal that we need to reform health care in a sensible way and get rid of Obama care. And certainly, the short term, fix this problem. I'm not for changing it for political reasons.

So I'm pretty confident the politics of Obama care will be good for Republicans.

GINGRICH: It's been interesting to watch a step at a time. We started with the Web site fiasco. Now we're into the whether we need to postpone the date by which you have to do something. But the fact is two of the most interesting things we've developed in the last couple weeks are that there is a marriage penalty that goes up to $10,000 in certain circumstances for being part of the system.

A don't think anybody in the city knew that there was a $10,000 marriage penalty buried in Obama care. And I doubt if it was put in there my cases who for example have cancer are being told they can't go to the cancer center who -- for and the cancer specialist they want to. Isn't this Bill ultimate lay going to have to be amended in a number of places? Not just in terms of postponing the mandate? But as we discover things -- I don't think anybody in this city knew that there was a $10,000 marriage penalty buried in Obama care. And I doubt if it was put in there by design.

HARTMAN: I doubt that President Obama would call it a marriage penalty.

GINGRICH: What would you call it?

HARTMAN: Well, I don't know the details of it. So this is language that is too familiar to me.

GINGRICH: If there are two people who are 64 years old and they get married, they each earn $30,000, their net loss of subsidy is $10,000.

HARTMAN: So what you...

CUTTER: You're supporting the subsidy now? Clear on that? You're showing outrage over them not being able to get the subsidy?

GINGRICH: I'm saying when you design a bill which sends a signal, as one couple in Brooklyn said, "We may get divorced in order to afford health care." That there's something about the bill -- Nancy Pelosi's line we have to pass so you can find out what's in it is now coming back with a vengeance. And the Senate will require more changes than just the date.

HARTMAN: This sounds like the kind of stuff that comes out of the think tanks, where they say, "OK, if we take a 27-year-old, and we assume that they're making that they're making $29,312 a year, then they're the one." I just don't trust those kind numbers. But I think there's a larger issue here.

Stephanie, you introduced the Koch brothers as Republicans. One of them ran for president as a libertarian. These guys are libertarians more than Republicans. And Republicans have supported them in this country. This baffles me.

Since the founding, really, of the country, the wigs and the federalists before, you know, have supported the idea of public fire departments. Ben Franklin started the first one. If your house is on fire, we're going to collectively pay into making sure that if somebody's house is on fire, we're going to put it out and save your house. Aren't our bodies just as important? The libertarian would say neither. Right? They want to privatize the fire departments.

And I think that this whole tearing apart Obama care thing, this is an attempt to try to put our bodies out. And it is like this libertarian craziness...

GINGRICH: First of all this is a matter of fact. Most of the fire departments in America are voluntary. There are relatively few, only in big cities...

HARTMAN: Numerically. Not in terms of the number of people -- a lot of little tiny towns in America.

GINGRICH: Let's start with Benjamin Franklin -- If you had gone to Benjamin Franklin and said, "We have this great idea. We're going to have a unionized, full-time, professionalized group of people, and they're going to blossom, I think he would have said let's slow down a little bit.

HARTMAN: Voluntary fire departments are still part of the commas (ph), and they're still supported by the community.

CUTTER: We're going to come back to Obama care for a second here. But I do want to play on...

GINGRICH: We're doing the Obama fire argument.

CUTTER: I understand your point. That it's insurance. They call it insurance for a reason. You pay in so that you know when you get sick, insurance will be there when you need at this time most.

But Newt, something that you said, cancer patients not being able to go to their cancer doctor. I want to just remind everybody about the system that Obama care reformed. Let's take a look at some of the characteristics of this system.

A hundred twenty-nine people [SIC] could be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition. A lot of them with cancer. So not only could they not see their cancer doctor but they could not get any coverage at all because they were denied care.

Family premiums doubled in the 10 years before the law was passed. And women were charged 50 percent more than men. So that's just a sampling of the thing that Obama care fixes.

My question -- and Newt, you've also said that Republicans don't have a plan. If you asked a Republican going home to their district, "What's the republican health-care plan?" they wouldn't have an answer. So my question to both of you: What exactly is the Republican health-care plan that fixes those problems?

GINGRICH: First of all, as in many of the thing we're now dealing, I think we would take one step at a time and wouldn't try to pass a 2,700 page Bill nobody understands with consequences nobody understands. And I think if you look at a number of these steps, in a lot of cases. If you have insurance, you were protected on preconditions. CUTTER: That's actually not true. Especially for people on the individual plans that you are protecting now.

GINGRICH: I'm now told...

HARTMAN: And taking this one step at a time...

GINGRICH: Unfortunately, we're going to have to ask you back to continue this. Stay here. Next we "Ceasefire." Is there anything the two of you can agree on?

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Is Bill Clinton stepping on Obama's toes? Tweet yes or no by using #CROSSFIRE. We'll have the results right after the break.


GINGRICH: We're back with Tom Hartman and Bill Kristol. Now let's call a "Ceasefire." Is there anything we can agree on, Tom?

HARTMAN: I think we can agree that from the very beginning we've known that this bill is going to have to be tweaked and altered and changed. And I'm just hoping that we can have good will to actually fix it, as opposed to sabotage it.

KRISTOL: Well, I look forward to Democrats supporting the Upton legislation on the floor of the House Friday and then supporting legislation to fix the horrible fraud and privacy problems in the exchanges which will probably delay the exchanges for a year. And then we can delay the mandate for a year, because obviously, you can't force people to go into a place where there's no security and where there's no privacy. So I hope there is bipartisan cooperation in the next year in dismantling Obama care piece by piece.

HARTMAN: Well, that was a "Ceasefire." That was a "Ceasefire."

GINGRICH: We got out there about 50 percent.

HARTMAN: We're halfway there.

CUTTER: But at least we got some honesty.

GINGRICH: Here's what I think is going to be interesting and complicated for both parties. There are going to be a series of things -- these are both security issues that Mike Rodgers, the chairman of the intelligence committee, has raised, for example. That the sites literally are not secure and are hackable. There will be a series of these.

It will be interesting to see if, in fact, despite the degree to which they don't like each other, the president and the House Republicans and the Senate on both sides, House and -- Democrat and Republican, can find a way to grind through. This isn't elegant. I mean, this kind of legislation is just a day-by-day listening to each other and trying to grind it out.

But we're going to come back to that another time. Now I want to thank both Tom Hartman and Bill Kristol.

Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question: "Is Bill Clinton stepping on Obama's toes by weighing in on Obama care?" Right now 52 percent of you say yes; 48 percent say no.

CUTTER: The debate continues online at as well as Facebook and Twitter. From the left I'm Stephanie Cutter.

GINGRICH: From the right I'm Newt Gingrich. Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.