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Obama on 'Apology Tour' for Obama Care?

Aired November 08, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, the president and his Obama care team are on an apology tour.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to go in and fix it myself, but I don't write code. So...

ANNOUNCER: Why can some politicians admit they were wrong...

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I take full responsibility for my own actions.


ANNOUNCER: ... while others can't.

On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Kevin Madden. In the CROSSFIRE, Ruth Marcus, who supports Obama care; and Grover Norquist, who opposes it. Is apologizing shrewd politics? Or just sorry?

Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


KEVIN MADDEN, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Kevin Madden on the right.

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

We have two great guests in the CROSSFIRE tonight, but first, let's talk about the president's apology. He's sorry because some Americans are losing their insurance plans, and their new plans are costing more. And he did promise that if you liked your plan, you can keep it, but the way the law has unfolded doesn't live up to that promise. And admittedly I've used that line, too, and there's no doubt the administration oversold it.

But there are some facts here that can't be ignored. We're talking about roughly 3 percent of Americans who could be paying more, and their old plans aren't even worth the paper that they're printed on.

And let's not overlook the fact that we have a president who can admit a wrong, apologize for it, and actually fix it. It's not often in this town that you see that. And Kevin, we can all learn a lesson from that.

MADDEN: Well, I would agree there. I think the lesson is don't mislead the American people.

CUTTER: All right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight "Washington Post" columnist Ruth Marcus, who supports Obama care; and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, who's an Obama care opponent.

Kevin, you're the guest host, so why don't you ask the first question?

MADDEN: So kind, so kind. Ruth, isn't this an apology that is an apology of the last resort? The president, you know, at first what he did was he went out and he denied that there was even a problem. Then he goes out and what does he do? He attacks his critics. And then, only when there's no other options left, does he apologize to the American people.

RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON POST": So I think I'm going to surprise you and maybe Grover and maybe Stephanie and say, yes, I think you're right. I am a supporter of Obama care, but I do not think that this has been well handled. And I think that is putting it very mildly.

The president said something that he knew or should have known and probably knew it wasn't exactly accurate. And that Stephanie said, too. Everybody repeated it.

We're culpable in the press, because we let him get away with it. If you look at the -- HHS was projecting back a few months after the law was passed that a lot of people in this individual market -- you're totally right, Stephanie, it's a small piece of the market-- were going to lose their coverage, were not going to get grandfathered. So they were going to have to buy new plans in the marketplaces. So the president knew that.

His first reaction was, "I didn't say it," or "I said it, with this caveat, and you all failed to hear it correctly." Then the...

GROVER NORQUIST, ANTI-TAX CRUSADER: That's one of the problems here.

MARCUS: And now it's a sort of limited apology. He didn't -- he's not saying he misled us. He's kind of -- part of his law is working.

NORQUIST: And we're seeing that outrage. We're seeing that outrage from the American public, but are we really seeing enough outrage from the media? I mean, essentially, this...

MARCUS: Have you been listening to White House briefings?

MADDEN: This was a -- this was a bill that was sold on a false premise to the American public. CUTTER: We are talking about a very small -- for most Americans, they are keeping their current health-care plan, and this is a better deal, for the Republican -- for the American people who have to change plans, they're getting a better deal. Nothing was -- there's no deception here.

The bottom line is that it was a talking point that got out of control. There was a rule and regulation that we passed right after Obama care was signed into law that was heavily covered by the media, and debated by Republicans. There was a heavy conversation. There was legislation to try to overturn it.

That if you had a health-care plan before March 23, 2010, you could keep it. If you had a health-care plan after that, it would be subject to change. But those are details.

I totally understand that this has gotten out of control and gotten away from the president, but Grover, the president's apology is more than we've gotten in the past from some presidents. Some presidents don't know how to apologize. I want you to watch this.


MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": Your words, "No one more sickened or angry than I was when we didn't find weapons of mass destruction." You still have a sickening feeling...


LAUER: ... when you think about it.

BUSH: I do.

LAUER: Was there ever any consideration of apologizing to the American people?

BUSH: I mean, apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision, and I don't believe it was the wrong decision.


CUTTER: So let's give credit where credit is due. The president apologized. That's something that other presidents weren't able to do. And he was committed to fixing it. Even though you oppose the law and are a critic of the president, can you at least give him credit for that?

NORQUIST: I'm not sure I heard an apology. He lied to the American people again and again and again. The whole way this works was to force people. He says these plans weren't any good, they were subpar. That's not his job. The American people decide whether they...

CUTTER: That's the law that passed. That's the law that was passed. NORQUIST: OK. But the point was the American people should be able to decide what kind of car they want, what kind of insurance they want, what services they want to buy. He doesn't get to come in. The whole reason...

MARCUS: But he does, Grover. That's the law.

NORQUIST: The reason we have the problem. Yes, it's a law, which he passed, which was a lie from what he said.

MARCUS: It was upheld by the Supreme Court.

NORQUIST: OK. Two things. It was passed all with Democrat votes. And let's remember here: Who cares whether the president lied in this case? He's fibbed on a whole bunch of things.

First, he got elected saying he wouldn't raise taxes on anyone in any way who earned less than $250,000 a year. It took him 16 days to break that promise, and he did it eight times in Obama care. And he's not apologized for that lie, which he ran millions of dollars' worth of ads about. So he's not in the business of telling the truth when he needs to.

Second, he hasn't agreed to fix this. The Republicans have put forward legislation to fix it. He says, no, no, no, no. I'll change it the way I want to, not the way the American people want it.

CUTTER: Let's -- let's talk about the legislation -- talk about the legislation that's on the table to fix it. It actually doesn't fix the problem. It goes beyond the problem. It basically allows anybody to buy a plan that is a raw deal. Plans that won't be there when you get sick.

NORQUIST: That they want. That they want.

MARCUS: But Grover, I think you make...

NORQUIST: That's the difference between Democrats and Republicans. You choose and you do what you want. Other people want to run their lives for me.

MARCUS: But I think the analogy that you get to buy any car you want is exactly right. Because that's not precisely true. The government tells us -- you may disagree with it, but the government says cars needs to meet certain fuel mileage standards. They need to meet certain safety standards. They have to have air bags in them. They have to have seat belts. And so...

NORQUIST: And the fuel mileage standard.

MARCUS: We don't get into a discussion about that, but it's an analogy.

NORQUIST: Yes, we do. Because 2,000 people were killed because of that. The government's own statistics. MARCUS: As with other safety standards and other standards for accurate reporting, consumer predictions, minimum coverage -- so Stephanie's exactly right -- so these insurance plans are real insurance plans that provide people with a minimum set of benefits that are there when they...

NORQUIST: Set by the state.

MARCUS: Set by the state. Set by Congress.

NORQUIST: Set by the government.

MADDEN: My father was a mechanic, right? And when a car's transmission was broken, we didn't...

MARCUS: I know I shouldn't have brought up a car analogy.

MADDEN: We didn't pour -- we didn't pour a quart of oil into the engine to see if it would work. We knew that it was fundamentally broken. Obama care is fundamentally broken.

MARCUS: In what way?

MADDEN: Don't you think it is time. Don't you think it is time...

MARCUS: What makes it fundamentally broken?

MADDEN: It's not working right now.

MARCUS: Well, how do you know?

MADDEN: Don't you think that it's time we simply go, scrap the whole law, start over and start reform the right way?

MARCUS: No. No. Absolutely not.

NORQUIST: That's why the analogy doesn't work.

MADDEN: You want to pour a quart of oil in the engine.

NORQUIST: But I'm not going to do the -- I leave the mechanical stuff to others in my family.

MADDEN: All right. I'll use another analogy.

MARCUS: I was just picking up on Grover's. Here's the thing. Is the Web site fundamentally broken? Yes. Is the roll-out a debacle? Yes.

MADDEN: That's actually part of it.

NORQUIST: How long?

MARCUS: Has the administration failed to anticipate, as they absolutely should have, the large number of people who are finding that their grandfathering is not very effective? Is it not included? Yes.

But where is the fundamental failure there? Many people will get insurance that is better insurance that costs them less with subsidies than they would have had absent Obama care.

MADDEN: And it's not being implemented.

MARCUS: You haven't seen how it's broken.

NORQUIST: Two things. You can judge it by reality, by whether it's what the American people would choose to do on their own, if they weren't pushed around and told what to do, or you can do it by the president's own words.

The president said he wouldn't raise anyone's taxes unless they made at least $250,000 a year. There are eight taxes that directly hit the middle class, including the one that wasn't a tax when he put it in, and the Supreme Court said...

MARCUS: Grover, don't you want to talk about health care and not taxes?

NORQUIST: Well, health care is a massive tax increase.

Also, he promised he would drop people's premiums in real dollars. They're going up in many cases. And...

MARCUS: In some cases they're going up. In many cases -- in many cases...

NORQUIST: They were supposed to go down for everybody.

MARCUS: In many cases, they're going down.

NORQUIST: Because they steal money from some people and subsidize it.

CUTTER: And most of them are going to get subsidies. So -- and Grover...

NORQUIST: Somebody else. From taxes.

CUTTER: I do want to remind you that this was a law passed by Congress...

NORQUIST: By Democrats. Not a single -- I'm sorry, one Republican in Louisiana voted for it.

CUTTER: Unfortunately, Republicans politically chose not to support this, even though it was based largely on Republican ideas. It was upheld by the Supreme Court.

NORQUIST: No, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. Romney -- Romney did this in Massachusetts.

MADDEN: It was held together by the Supreme Court because it was a tax.

NORQUIST: Every single Republican voted against it, and they all support it now.

CUTTER: And we had a presidential campaign where this was heavily debated.

There is a lot of daylight on what is in this law. There is nothing , you know, secret going on here. The American people did choose it. Millions of people voted for it.

NORQUIST: There's 3,000 pages. They promised they'd put it up for everybody to look at before it was voted on. That was the first lie.

CUTTER: We're going to go to break and we'll continue this after the break. Kevin, over here, thinks the president should be spending more time negotiating with Republicans. When we get back, I'll remind him that there's actually no one to negotiate with.


MADDEN: Welcome back. I'm Kevin Madden, guest hosting on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Ruth Marcus and Grover Norquist.

President Obama's apology for the mess he's made on health care is just the latest example of him thinking he can just talk his way out of a problem. As for his claim he's willing to work with Republicans, well, I'll believe it when I see it. It's an empty promise, yet it's one he keeps making over and over.


OBAMA: As I've said many times before, I'm willing to work with anyone on any idea who's actually willing to make this law perform better.


MADDEN: This is pure pageantry. Who exactly does he intend to work with? As for this president's relations with members of Congress, he either doesn't have them or if he does, they're horribly strained. And that's just with the Democrats.

Ruth, aren't these overtures by the president hollow? I mean, if he hasn't done this for over the last five years, what's to believe -- what's anybody to believe that he's going to do it now?

MARCUS: Well, hollow or futile, I think, is the question. Not F-E-U-D-A-L, F-U-T-I-L-E. Futile.

I think you make a fair point that the president has strained relations with the Hill, with Democrats as well as Republicans. It's a fair point that he has not put enough effort into building those personality relationships. What's not a fair point is the notion that he had somebody to work with or had somebody to work with all along. Think about it. One of the reason that it took so long to get Obama care passed is that the administration dithered and dithered and dithered, and twiddled its thumbs so that Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley could come out with some plan. Time after time in the health-care area and in other things, such as budget negotiations...

MADDEN: He left it mostly to Capitol Hill Democrats.

MARCUS: The president -- the president has made overtures...

CUTTER: He's worked hard for the Republicans (ph).

MARCUS: ... to Republicans that other members of his party have just rebelled at. I would say...


MADDEN: Well, on this particular issue, Ron Johnson has a bill.

MARCUS: ... security. Raising the Medicare eligibility.

MADDEN: Do you think he's going to call Ron Johnson and work with him? Just today, we saw report where he's only going to huddle with Democrats.

MARCUS: Where -- where has been -- I would even throw your question back at you. I think that's like a good thing in media training.


MARCUS: We were talking about it. Where has been the Republican willingness to tweak, fix, save, improve Obama care, as opposed to simply repeal it. Until there is some willingness to do that, it's hard to imagine a common ground to meet on other than "Hi, I'm here. I'm President Obama. I surrender."


CUTTER: ... who exactly the president would be negotiating with? Let's take a look.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: "Do you like green eggs and ham?"

"I do not like them, Sam I am. I do not like green eggs and ham."


CUTTER: Forty-six votes to defund, derail or repeal Obama care. Hundreds of amicus briefs. Who exactly wants to work with the president to improve this law? NORQUIST: Well, six laws were passed that the president signed. Republican laws which took out some of the most -- worst parts of Obama care. Taxes...

CUTTER: So the president has worked with Republicans?

NORQUIST: He has -- he has on a number of these ideas. So the idea that the president will only sign bills that make Obama care worse and worse isn't true. He's actually, in six cases, taken Republican ideas. The Senate has passed it. And there will be a couple more of those, because the Democrats have put themselves in a very difficult position.

Obama care is not a complete failure. It won the Republicans the House in 2010. It's going to win them the Senate in 2014. Not too many pieces of legislation have done that much good for the American people since Clinton raised taxes unilaterally in 2000 -- '93.

CUTTER: Let's talk about the political implications of this. There are millions of people being denied coverage because of decisions that Republicans are making.

NORQUIST: That's because of the law, because of Obama's law.

CUTTER: Take a look at this map.

MARCUS: No, no.

CUTTER: Take a look at this map.

MARCUS: No, because the governors don't care about their poor citizens.

CUTTER: Look at the people...

NORQUIST: That's not true. They didn't -- you're saying...

CUTTER: Let's take a look at those red states. Those are states where Republican governors and Republican legislators are refusing to implement Medicaid...

NORQUIST: Implement? Expand. Explain to people how much do they steal from the American people in federal taxes when the governor gets to say, "I'm going to spend some money." What's the ratio of federal money that comes in?

CUTTER: How much do we pay because people don't have health care, and they show up at the emergency room? That's $1,000 on your premium, Grover.

NORQUIST: First of all...

CUTTER: It's actually costing you. That's a tax on you.

MADDEN: The costs -- the costs here are astronomical.

NORQUIST: Because it is a tremendous increase in taxes on the American people, federal and state, and many states...

CUTTER: Then why are some Republicans -- why are some Republicans implementing it, then? Actually, many Republicans are implementing it.

NORQUIST: No, not many.

CUTTER: About half of states are not implementing it.

NORQUIST: Yes, and 25...

CUTTER: Well, Governor Christie.

MARCUS: Governor Kasich.

CUTTER: Governor Kasich.

NORQUIST: OK. Well, in the case of Christie, you have overwhelming Democratic House and Senate there. Kasich, I think, has a challenge. He had to do it outside the legislative arena, because he didn't have the support. It's not a very popular thing. It's a massive tax and spending increase at the local level.

CUTTER: That some Republicans are doing.

NORQUIST: Well, that the president and some Democrats are refuses to do, as well.

But remember, the president wanted to shove it down everyone's point and not give them the chance. That's what the Supreme Court said, it was unconstitutional. So what you're asking is why are the Republicans doing what the Constitution says and not the unconstitutional thing that Obama and the Democrats wanted?

MARCUS: You're totally right, Grover.

NORQUIST: Of course.

MARCUS: The Republican governors -- there's a "but."

CUTTER: She has a caveat.

NORQUIST: It's not -- it's not necessary to say that after each comment.

MARCUS: I know. Republican governors do have a choice. The Supreme Court gave them the choice. It's to take what to me looks like a terrific bargain, get additional coverage.

NORQUIST: Federal funds for free.

MARCUS: Additional coverage paid for by the federal government.

NORQUIST: For how long?

MARCUS: For three years. NORQUIST: And then?

MARCUS: And continued to be paid for by the federal government, to cover the near poorest citizens in their state. The poorest are already covered by Medicaid. This would bump up to 133 percent of the poverty level. You call that stealing from taxpayers. I call it basic common decency.

NORQUIST: OK. Where do you get the money from it? You take it from taxpayers. Why do you always leave out...

MARCUS: Right. That's what we have taxes for. That's what we have taxes for, Grover. We have taxes in order to fulfill the essential role of government. You see...

NORQUIST: Like the sugar subsidies. Very important.

MARCUS: We agree on sugar subsidies.

NORQUIST: OK. Progress.

MARCUS: You see the world of government as a little bit of defense and the rest I know you want to put in the bathtub and strangle. I see the essential role of government as broader, including protecting its own vulnerable citizens. Do you want to get rid of all of Medicaid?

NORQUIST: Well, two things.

MARCUS: Yes or no?

NORQUIST: No. Step one and the next step...

MARCUS: Do you want to get rid of all of Medicaid?

NORQUIST: The next step on -- in terms of reforming Medicare is the Ryan plan. That's on the table. It's not some fantasy about...

MARCUS: That's not Medicaid. Medicare.

MADDEN: Ruth, do you...

MARCUS: Block granting it to the states.

MADDEN: Ruth, do you think one of the reasons that the president is apologizing right now is because he knows that there are worse -- there's worse news to come down the road?

And when is it that we're going to actually see somebody say that six months from now, that if this isn't working, that something big has to be done rather than just taking little tiny steps to put Band- Aids on a lot of Obama care's problems?

MARCUS: I think -- well, we're not putting a Band-Aid on the Web site problem. We are, you know, doing triage and major open heart surgery. MADDEN: At what point -- at what point are you all going to have a sense of self-reflection and say, "We have a problem here"? At what point does that happen?

MARCUS: We have a problem here with the Web site. I'm not you all. But we -- there is a political problem. Not necessarily a substantive problem, but a political problem with the number of people who are being told their insurance is canceled and who don't yet know what their access will be.

MADDEN: That's not a political problem for people that are getting their -- that are getting their health insurance.

MARCUS: Well, we don't know how they will end up. Because most of them will end up in a better situation than they were before with inadequate insurance.

MADDEN: Who gets -- Ruth, who gets to decide whether they're in a better situation? The individual or the government?

NORQUIST: The state. The state.

MADDEN: If you are buying a product that you like and now the government says you can't because this one is better for you.

MARCUS: We're going to have to go back to the car. The government has to decide...

NORQUIST: And the government's going to produce something...

MARCUS: ... just as Governor Romney and the Massachusetts legislature -- you knew where I was going there, Kevin-- decided in Massachusetts that there was a package.

MADDEN: Massachusetts was a state plan, Ruth. Six million people. Not 330 million people.

MARCUS: OK. But size -- size may matter for getting this thing rolled out. But in terms of imposing a package of minimum benefits, you know that Romney care and Obama care are precisely the same model.

NORQUIST: Well, both -- wait a second, wait a second. Both bad ideas. Both bad ideas passed by a legislature, 80 percent Democrat in Massachusetts.

CUTTER: Well, it's actually almost universal coverage. Costs are going down. I think Romney care is actually working.

NORQUIST: State by state.

CUTTER: Stay here. We're going to "Ceasefire" next. Believe it or not. Is there anything that the two of you can agree on?

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's Fireback question: "Did the president's apology matter to you?" Tweet "yes" or "no" using #CROSSFIRE. We'll have the results after the break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUTTER: We're back with Ruth Marcus and Grover Norquist. Now, let's call a "Ceasefire." Is there anything that you two can agree on? And I think I'm going to regret this. Who agrees first?

NORQUIST: You first.

MARCUS: OK. I think that Grover and I agree that, well, the obvious. Everybody agrees on this, that the rollout of the Web site has been botched.

But even more, that the administration's handling of these cancellations has been botched and that the president's non-apology apology has been less than a fulsome apology.

NORQUIST: I think we may be able to agree that this is also going to be a lot more decided in November of 2014 than up until then. I mean, the country is going to have a vote on -- and a decision on Obama care. Not as it was promised. Not as it was misrepresented, not as people gave a speech but as it actually happens. And then we'll have a vote in November as to whether they like it.

MARCUS: And that's a fair point. But I think one of the really important points is November 2014, that's a long way away. We won't be taking snapshots of the three and a half people who managed to sign up today but how they're feeling about it late next year.

MADDEN: A year goes quick, Ruth. A year goes quick.

CUTTER: It does go quick. But I also think over the next year, it's going to shine a spotlight on Republicans to see, one, what their ideas are. Because they don't have any ideas.

NORQUIST: That's not fair but I think we should ask Republican what they want.

CUTTER: No. 2, whether they are committed to fixing this versus just political grandstanding. Because that's all we've seen.

MADDEN: Well, one of the big problems for your side of this is the president's political capital is now almost all gone, and he's going into a year next year where he's going to need a lot and he doesn't have any. I think that's a big problem.

MARCUS: He doesn't have political capital and he also has a bunch of Democrats in the House and Senate who have different interests than his interests. Because their interest is...

MADDEN: Yes, there -- there's going to be a canyon between them.

MARCUS: Exactly.

CUTTER: Well, I think we need to see how this plays out before we start predicting what Senate Democrats will do.

MADDEN: I've got my predictions. I've got my predictions.

NORQUIST: We're seeing...

CUTTER: And you're an expert on Democrats.

MADDEN: I am. Having spent some time with you over the last two years, absolutely.

NORQUIST: Senate Democrats are already moving.


NORQUIST: Not towards the president.

CUTTER: Thanks to Ruth Marcus and Grover Norquist. Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question: "Did the president's apology matter to you?" Right now 23 percent of you say yes; 77 percent say no. I think somebody is stacking that.

The debate continues online at, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

We also want to congratulate Newt Gingrich on the publication of his new book, "Breakout."

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

MADDEN: And from the right, I'm Kevin Madden.

Tune in Monday for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.