Bill Clinton: Obama should 'honor' promise, let public keep insurance plans

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Former President Bill Clinton said President Obama should “honor” his promise and allow Americans to keep their current health insurance plans under Obamacare.

“I personally believe that even if it takes a change in the law, the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people,” Clinton said in an interview with OZY.com.

Clinton said he had heard from an individual whose coverage was canceled and is being forced into a different plan with higher premiums.

He defended the overall law, though, saying that “we are better off with this law than without it.”

The comment from the former president, a vocal and strong supporter of the health care reform law, will add to pressure for the White House to find an accommodation for the millions of Americans expected to lose their coverage under new Obamacare rules.

During the campaign and in the runup to the rollout of the law, Obama repeatedly promised that those who liked their coverage could keep it. But recent reports say that millions will be dropped by their insurers and forced to seek new plans.

The White House has rejected claims from congressional Republicans that Obama intentionally misled the public to sell his signature domestic achievement.

Obama and his surrogates say that they meant that plans unchanged under the law could be retained. He also has said that those who lose coverage will be able to shop on new insurance marketplaces, claiming they will find better plans with more benefits.

The president, though, apologized in an effort to put to rest the controversy, telling NBC News in an interview that he was “sorry” that people were losing their plans despite his assurances.

“I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me,” Obama said.

“We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them, and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this,” he added.

— Meghashyam Mali, Assistant Managing Editor

 

OBAMA OFFERS AID TO PHILIPPINES AFTER DEADLY TYPHOON

President Obama spoke with Philippines President Benigno Aquino III to offer condolences and humanitarian aid as the island nation recovers from a devastating typhoon that killed thousands.

“Today President Obama spoke with President Aquino of the Philippines to express deep condolences on behalf of the American people for the lives lost and damage caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, one of the strongest storms to ever hit land,” the White House announced.

“Over the weekend, the president directed the administration to mount a swift and coordinated response to save lives and provide assistance to alleviate the suffering of so many Filipinos,” the White House added.

The typhoon struck the Philippines on Nov. 7, leaving an estimated 10,000 dead — a figure that could rise as rescuers make their way through devastated areas. Reports say more than 600,000 people were left homeless by the storm.

The U.S. has offered initial aid of $20 million, and military planes carrying relief supplies and a unit of Marines has arrived in hard-hit areas.

The White House said Obama and Aquino discussed “the need for a speedy assessment of what further American resources would be most helpful to assist in the Philippine recovery effort.”

“In the days ahead, the United States will continue to work with the Philippines to deliver whatever help we can, as quickly as possible,” the statement added.

— Meghashyam Mali, Assistant Managing Editor

 

SHALE BOOM PUSHES U.S. CLOSER TO ENERGY SELF-SUFFICIENCY

The U.S. shale boom is pushing the nation toward energy self-sufficiency by 2035, the International Energy Agency said.

High oil prices that have made it economical to use unconventional drilling methods, such as hydraulic fracturing, have facilitated oil and gas production in North America, the IEA noted in its World Energy Outlook report.

That trend should continue through 2035, the report said, but it noted that no country will match the "level of success" with unconventional oil that "is making the United States the largest global oil producer."

"Technology and high prices are unlocking new supplies of oil — but of course also gas — that were previously thought to be out of reach," IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said at the report's release in London.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial drilling method that injects a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight rock formations to tap hydrocarbons buried deep underneath. It is credited with sparking the North American energy boom, but has brought concerns about water pollution.

Fracking has edged out the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries on the global market, which will continue to see a decline through the end of the decade, the report said.

But that won't last for long, as the IEA said the largely Middle Eastern oil cartel is due for a rebound beyond 2020 to complement increased production from North America and Brazil.

— Zack Colman, Energy & Environment Writer

 

PRESIDENT HITS NEW LOW AS OBAMACARE DISCONTENT GROWS

President Obama hit a record low in a new poll, with just 39 percent approving of his job performance and a majority of Americans saying he is “not honest and trustworthy.”

The national survey from Quinnipiac University represents Obama's lowest approval rating since becoming president in 2008.

Just as troublesome for the White House, 52 percent of respondents say Obama is no longer honest and trustworthy — the lowest-ever measure of his veracity by Quinnipiac.

Obama’s approval ratings — and perceptions of his trustworthiness — have taken a hit in the wake of his broken promise that all Americans could keep their insurance plans under Obamacare. The problem-ridden healthcare.gov website continues to weigh on the White House as well.

Voters oppose the Affordable Care Act by 55 percent to 39 percent, and 73 percent of respondents support extending the March deadline for obtaining health insurance or paying a fine. Just 36 percent back Obama’s overall handling of health care.

“Any Democrat with an 11-point approval deficit among women is in trouble. And any elected official with an eight-point trust deficit is in serious trouble,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

“President Obama's job approval rating has fallen to the level of former President George W. Bush at the same period of his presidency,” he added.

The Quinnipiac findings mirror other recent polls that have also shown Obama’s approval ratings hitting new lows.

The poll was conducted from Nov. 6 to 11 and has a 1.9 percent margin of error.

— Brian Hughes, White House Correspondent

 

FORMER FED OFFICIAL: QUANTITATIVE EASING A 'BACKDOOR BAILOUT'

The Federal Reserve's quantitative easing program is "the greatest backdoor Wall Street bailout of all time," according to a former Federal Reserve official.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal's opinion pages, Andrew Huszar said the Fed has made large-scale purchases of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities "Wall Street's new 'too big to fail' policy."

Huszar, who was tasked by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York with carrying out massive purchases of mortgage-backed securities in the first round of quantitative easing in 2009, says the Fed's stimulus programs prop up big banks while postponing needed help for regular Americans. He also writes that he left the Fed after realizing it had "lost any remaining ability to think independently from Wall Street." Huszar is now at Rutgers Business School.

He cites figures from the bond investment firm Pimco to make the case that the $600 billion round of quantitative easing in 2010-2011 and the ongoing purchases that have brought the Fed's balance sheet to nearly $4 trillion have not been effective in doing anything other than boosting bank profits.

The purchases in the first round, known as QE1, which began in late 2008, were not intended to boost the broader economy, but instead to prevent the collapse of the banking sector. They included large-scale purchases of mortgage-backed securities, which were at the heart of the financial crisis, and a mix of credit programs to allow banks to weather the panic. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke described them at the time as efforts to "stabilize credit markets and to improve the access to credit of businesses and households."

QE2 and the latest round of asset purchases, on the other hand, were explicitly intended to boost the broader economy. Normally, the Fed would manipulate short-term interest rates to affect monetary conditions. With short-term rates at zero since 2008, however, the Fed instead bought Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities with the intention of lowering longer-term interest rates and boosting investment and consumption.

Bernanke, who has run the central bank since 2006, has defended the quantitative easing programs as effective.

— Joseph Lawler, Economics Writer

 

SMALL BUSINESSES MORE WORRIED ABOUT TAXES AND REGULATIONS THAN ABOUT SALES

America’s small businesses remain pessimistic about the economy, but the problems they’re facing have changed over the past year.

For most of the aftermath of the financial crisis, a plurality of small business owners surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business said the biggest problem facing their companies was poor sales.

In recent months’ NFIB surveys, however, poor sales have been overtaken by two other concerns: taxes and government regulation.

In the NFIB's monthly Small Business Economic Trends survey, 17 percent of the respondents identified poor sales as the top problem facing their business, down from 22 percent a year ago and from highs in the early 30s in 2009-2010. Twenty-one percent, on the other hand, cited government regulations and red tape, and 20 percent taxes.

Poor sales haven’t been the top problem for a plurality of small businesses since October 2012, according to the NFIB. Nevertheless, demand is still significantly lower than it was before the recession.

— Joseph Lawler, Economics Writer

 

'THEY'RE COMING AFTER YOUR DOUGHNUTS,' WARNS RAND PAUL

Sen. Rand Paul warned Americans that the federal government is targeting doughnuts, the latest example of the oppressive nanny state in America.

"They're coming after your doughnuts," the Kentucky Republican said, referring to the Food and Drug Administration's decision to ban trans fats.

Paul added that if the FDA is banning trans fats, the employees of the agency should be forced to get healthy themselves.

"I say we should line every one of them up. I want to see how skinny or how fat the FDA agents are that are making the rules on this," Paul said.

Paul's remarks came during a speech in South Carolina.

Paul suggested that if FDA officials didn't have the recommended body mass index, they should be forced to exercise.

"I want to see them on the treadmill, and I want to see someone from maybe [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] lashing them while they are working on the treadmill," Paul joked as the crowd laughed.

"Because if we're going to have a nanny state and everybody's got to eat the right thing, and you can't eat a doughnut, maybe we just ought to enforce it on the government workers first," he said.

— Charlie Spiering, Commentary Writer

 

WARREN SAYS TOO-BIG-TO-FAIL HAS BECOME WORSE

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., warned that the problem of too-big-to-fail banks has become worse in the years after the financial crisis and criticized Obama administration officials for not acting sooner to address the problem.

Addressing a meeting of financial reform advocates on Capitol Hill, Warren asked, "Who would have thought that, five years after the crisis … that the too-big-to-fail problem would only have gotten worse?"

Noting that the five largest Wall Street banks control more than half the assets of the entire banking industry, Warren criticized regulators for failing to implement the Dodd-Frank financial reform law in a timely fashion. According to the law firm Davis Polk, 60 percent of the deadlines for Dodd-Frank rule-writing have been missed.

That delay is the product of lobbyists for big banks working to delay and water down regulations, Warren said. "How much longer should Congress wait for regulators to fix this problem?" she asked.

Warren commended Treasury Secretary Jack Lew for setting a deadline of the end of the year for ensuring that no banks remained too big to fail — that is, to go bankrupt without endangering the broader financial system. Said Lew: "If we get to the end of this year and we cannot, with an honest, straight face, say that we have ended too-big-to-fail, we are going to have to look at other options."

Warren was careful to say that she is an advocate of Dodd-Frank, saying that if she had been in office in 2010 when the bill was being deliberated, she would have "voted for it twice." But the law is incomplete, she says.

"David beat Goliath with the passage of Dodd-Frank," Warren said. "I am confident that David can beat Goliath on too-big-to-fail. We just need to pick up the slingshot again.”

— Joseph Lawler, Economics Writer

 

RNC CHAIRMAN 'PROUD' OF VIRGINIA GUBERNATORIAL EFFORT

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus defended the party's strategy in the Virginia gubernatorial race against attacks from conservative groups that it didn't do enough to help GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli.

Tea Party groups said the GOP establishment kept its wallet closed to Cuccinelli, the conservative attorney general who lost to Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Democratic party organizations, those groups said, spent more heavily on McAuliffe than the GOP did on Cuccinelli.

But Priebus said the RNC invested heavily in Cuccinelli's "ground game," adding that he was "proud" of the effort.

"The RNC outside the presidential election is never in the business of buying millions and millions of dollars of ads," Priebus said on CNN's "State of the Union."

— Zack Colman, Energy & Environment Writer

 

LEON PANETTA: 'TOUGH' TO FIX OBAMACARE WEBSITE BY NOV. 30

A former Obama Cabinet member expressed doubts about whether the administration could fix the problem-plagued healthcare.gov by month's end as promised.

“They say they want to fix this by the end of November, but I think that's going to be tough,” Leon Panetta, President Obama's former defense secretary and CIA director, said on CBS' “Face the Nation."

“If they can’t,” Panetta added, “they ought to be honest about what they’re confronting.”

After the botched rollout to the website for public health exchanges, Obama tasked Jeffrey Zients, former acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, with leading efforts to fix healthcare.gov.

Zients continues to insist that the vast majority of consumers will “smoothly” use the website by Nov. 30.

So far, limited progress has been made on eliminating the technical glitches.

The stakes could not be much higher for the White House.

Panetta insisted that if problems persist, Obama must “accept changes” to his signature domestic achievement.

— Brian Hughes, White House Correspondent

 

ALISON LUNDERGAN GRIMES INVITES MITCH MCCONNELL TO GUN RANGE

Lest there was any confusion regarding Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes' stance on guns, she cheekily invited her Republican Senate-race opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to join her at a shooting range.

“It is unfortunate that Sen. McConnell is desperate to mislead Kentucky voters about my strong support for the Second Amendment," said Grimes, a Democrat. "In the Senate, I will protect my fellow Kentuckians' right to keep and bear arms. Whenever he's not busy pandering to Washington lobbyists, I welcome Sen. McConnell to come shoot with me at the range any day.”

Included with Grimes' statement was a photo of her shooting a .22 long rifle, without eye or ear protection.

Polls have shown McConnell, R-Ky., in a tight re-election race against Grimes one year out from Election Day. Grimes narrowly edged out McConnell in fundraising during the last quarter.

— Rebecca Berg, Political Correspondent

 

OBAMA NEVER CONSIDERED DUMPING BIDEN FROM TICKET

President Obama called Vice President Joe Biden “one of the best vice presidents in our history” and said he would have refused to take him off the ticket even if his pollsters and campaign aides had recommended it.

Calling his selection of the former senator from Delaware “one of the best decisions I've ever made,” Obama brushed aside a report that his campaign polled about whether he should dump Biden from the ticket and replace him with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He chalked the report up to “would-be leakers” trying to “seem important.”

“If they had asked me, I would have said there is no way that I am not running again with Joe Biden,” Obama told NBC's Chuck Todd.

The anecdote about Obama campaign operatives poll-testing the idea of swapping out Biden was tucked into a new book, Double Down: Game Change 2012, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

Obama also called Biden “a personal friend” and “one of my most important advisers on domestic and foreign policy.”

A White House spokesman had previously said he didn't know if Obama had talked to Biden about the leak but Obama made no bones about the fact that the two had discussed it.

He said the vice president knows “I would not be here it it weren't for the support that I have had from Joe Biden.”

“I like him,” he added. “When my back's up against the wall, he has my back.”

— Susan Crabtree, White House Correspondent

 

OBAMA BLAMES GOP FOR BLOCKING IMMIGRATION BILL

President Obama used a visit to Florida to curry favor with Latino voters and warn Republicans of the political consequences of failing to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, blaming the failure to move the measure on a small faction of the party.

Addressing an audience at a fundraiser in Miami, the president said his predecessor, George W. Bush, had supported a major overhaul of the nation's immigration laws and lamented that the House GOP is now preventing the bill from becoming law.

He said the group of Republicans opposed to a comprehensive immigration bill needs to learn “there's a price to pay when you don't act.”

A major immigration overhaul, he said, “is being held up by a small faction in the Republican party that says, 'We don't want to do anything. Our main goal is obstruction.'”

In his remarks, Obama said the U.S. must continue updating its policies toward Cuba. He noted that he was born around the same time Castro took power, and said it no longer makes sense to continue 50-year-old policies of isolating Cuba in the Internet age. The U.S. cut off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and instituted a strict economic embargo the following year.

The Obama administration has lifted some travel and and banking restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

— Susan Crabtree, White House Correspondent

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