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Government Shutdown; Interview With Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis; Interview With House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer; Obamacare Site Still Working Out Kinks

Aired October 1, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Sorry, folks. The government's closed. The moose out front should have told you that. I'm Jake Tapper. And this is THE LEAD.

The national lead. The people we put in office just shut down the government we elected them to run, parks closed, vital services in pause, disruptions everywhere, except there's no stop to the stubborn nastiness between the parties. We will ask lawmakers on both sides how long this will go on.

Also, the law Republicans were trying to delay in this standoff went into effect anyway. It's the first day that people can sign up for Obamacare. But the rollout has been far from smooth.

And they're the generation that stormed the beaches of Normandy. So, a bunch of bureaucrat nonsense isn't about to hold them back. The memorials here are all shut down, but these World War II veterans could not give less of a damn.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD. We're coming to you today from the Capitol here in Washington, D.C., where we begin, of course, with the national lead.

Hard to believe it, but Congress found a way to be even less productive than usual. A partial government shutdown began 16 hours ago because the House and Senate and President Obama, of course, cannot agree on a bill to keep it running for a few more months.

House Republicans keep attaching delays and defundings and other changes to Obamacare on to that government spending bill, and Senate Democrats keep swatting them away. But shutting down the government did not shut down Obamacare. Health insurance exchanges went into effect under the law today anyway as planned, though as soon as enrollment started, so did the glitches. The federal Web site and state Web sites crashed pretty much right away.

They have been coming back online throughout the day. The administration's asking the American people for patience with the bugs while they're sorted out, but patience right now, well, it is in short supply, especially since our leaders sound so far apart on ending the first government shutdown in 17 years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I urge House Republicans to reopen the government. They don't get to hold the entire economy hostage over ideological demands.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: They also rejected our call to sit down and resolve our differences under the Constitution. My goodness, they won't even sit down and have a discussion about this.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We're not going to relitigate the health care issue. If they want -- if they have problems with that bill, we will be happy to sit down and talk to them about a reasonable approach to do it, but we're not going to do it with a gun to the heads of the American people.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: They refused to pass anything. With just hours left to go, Democrats voted again and again to reject reasonable legislation.


TAPPER: Plenty of government workers in Washington were told to stay home today, though it's not some barren, "Walking Dead"-esque hellscape here in the nation's capital. Well, it's not barren anyway. There are still thousands of government workers who have been deemed too essential to stay home. But it's a good thing this is not the zombie apocalypse, because 68 percent of the staff for the Centers for Disease Control is on furlough.

Same thing with 94 percent of the EPA staff, half of the Department of Defense and so on and so forth. But don't worry, the lawmakers who got us into this mess will still get their paychecks. There was a petition to stop that on the White House's We the People Web site, which is now, of course, disabled because of the government shutdown.

Joining me now to talk about this, Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida.

Congressman, thanks for being here.

Just to give people a little bit of idea of who you are, you're a freshman, you were just elected. You were with the Navy. You were a JAG officer, and you represent the corner of Florida, the southeastern corner of Florida, Daytona Beach.


TAPPER: I'm sorry. Northeastern. I always get my directions wrong, northeastern corner of Florida. But you're one of these unruly masses of Republican freshmen that are talked about all the time that John Boehner so fears.

DESANTIS: Well, first, thanks for having me on.

I just would point out with the pay, I don't think we should get paid until this is resolved. And so I have asked the clerk to withhold any pay for me until we get this up and running. I just think that that's fair for the folks who have been negatively affected by this.

TAPPER: And just to interrupt, that's one comment. I have a lot of veteran friends, as I know you do. One comment I hear all the time is, I defended my country, I'm a veteran, and now I don't get my benefits, but these guys who aren't doing the job they're supposed to do, they're getting paid.

DESANTIS: Well, exactly. And so that's I think why we should do what I have done and lead by example.

But, then, two, we're going to move a VA funding bill today. There are certain things I think both parties can agree on. We have already moved a bill to fund the troops. That went through the Senate, signed by the president. So let's take the ideas that we agree on, let's just get those in there. There's no need to use this as political theater.

But I will say, coming in, our position was, look, we want to defund Obamacare. It's causing harm to our constituents. I understand why Democrats would balk at that. They voted for it. Then we said, OK, what about a one-year delay? That's reasonable given the provisions that have already been delayed by the administration unilaterally. They said no, no, no.

So, then we came back with I think what most Americans would think would be a very reasonable offer, government funding which you have agreed to, and then two provisions. One, we are going to stop these subsidies that are going to go to members of Congress that are not allowed under Obamacare. It was basically engineered through OPM. Americans do not want to see that special treatment.

And then a delay in the individual mandate, not because this is out of left field, but because the president has given one-year delays to employers and to insurance companies, and we actually got 22 Democrats in the House to support us on that in July.

So I think most people would say you're not going to fund the government, U.S. Senate, because you're insisting on protecting the special deal for yourself and you're denying individuals the same break businesses are getting.

TAPPER: Let's unpack that. But first I want to look at it more broadly.

You say all you want to defund it, Obamacare, no, then you want to delay Obamacare, no, then you want to take these provisions. But the position of the president is, this is the law. It passed the House, it passed the Senate, I signed it into law. This is President Obama talking now. The Supreme Court right over there found it constitutional, so this isn't like a bargaining chip. This already is the law. You wanting to defund or delay it or to chip away at it, you can debate that how you want. But you don't have the votes in this building, the Senate, to do that, so why -- so this is an interesting strategy, but it's certainly not how things are normally done.

DESANTIS: I think the president's argument would be a great argument if he was enforcing and implementing the law as written.

The law that passed in 2010, and I think there was a lot of problems with that process, is not the same law that's being implemented. There are delays and waivers. And I think Americans look at this and they say, yes, there are burdens imposed by this law, but if you're a business interest, you can get a delay. Members of Congress can go through OPM and get subsidies. And I do believe there will be a union carve-out at some point. I just think they know that's too hot right now.

TAPPER: I want to get to the thing about members of Congress, but before we do that, because I know that's something important that you and Senator Vitter here have worked on, but more broadly, the idea is you are taking this position against Obamacare.

President Obama said today millions of people are now going to have health insurance because of Obamacare, the exchanges are open. There are tens of millions of uninsured Americans who now will be able to go on this and shop around for affordable health care.

DESANTIS: Well, I would say two things. One, we know millions of people are going to lose their employer-provided plans and get put into exchanges.

CBO has acknowledged that. Some groups have looked at it, say it could be 20, 30 million. We know there are people, if you're working 32, 33 hours a week, you very well may lose some hours now because the incentives built into the law, you're seeing employers move people to part-time work. So there is harm being done to the average American and we're just trying to mitigate some of that.

Basically, the Senate's position is, no, we're not going to deal, we're not going to talk about that, full speed ahead.

TAPPER: You don't have a majority of the Senate. You don't have 60 -- I'm sorry. You don't have 50 votes.

DESANTIS: We don't have Republicans, but there were 80 senators that supported the repeal of the medical device tax. Joe Manchin and Democrats have indicated that this individual mandate delay would be reasonable.

TAPPER: I have heard one Senate Democrat, one, but...

DESANTIS: And 22 House members. And then we had nine House members vote with us on the C.R. that we passed late last night as well.

TAPPER: My larger point is you don't have the votes in the Senate to achieve what you want to in terms of...


DESANTIS: We don't have the votes to fully defund the law. I think we saw that play out.

TAPPER: I only have one minute and I know you really want to talk about this provision about members of Congress and their staffs and a carve-out.

The issue that I have heard -- and even "The National Review" takes this position -- is, you're actually treating members of Congress and their staffs differently than the rest of the public, because they are forced to go on the exchanges and then they don't get what, for instance, Trader Joe's is doing, giving a $500 stipend to their workers.

What you're doing is for low-level staffers here who make maybe $35,000 a year, you're basically taking $10,000 out of their paycheck.

DESANTIS: So, Obamacare took that out. Obamacare removed members of Congress and staff from the congressional system and put them into the exchanges.

That's just the law. And the law does pinch them. There's no doubt about it. So the question is, if you want to get relief from that law, what's the proper way to do it? It's to go to Congress and ask to change the statute. Guys like me are going to balk at that because we want to give our constituents relief before we give people in the political class relief, but what you can't do is just have the executive branch make up subsidies and send it to you.

TAPPER: So, do it legislatively.

DESANTIS: You have a system where a private sector employee who gets moved on to the exchanges cannot receive a tax-excludable employee contribution. They can't. Members of Congress under this OPM rule would be able to get that. That treats them different than any other American in that similar circumstance.

TAPPER: We will discuss this more in coming days.

Congressman DeSantis, thanks so much for coming in.


DESANTIS: Appreciate it.

TAPPER: And thank you for your service. I appreciate it.

When we come back, sources say House Republicans are still willing to fund at least some programs, including those for veterans, as you heard the congressman just say. But will Democrats go along? I will ask the second highest ranking Democrat in the House, Congressman Steny Hoyer coming up next.

Plus, they already have his back, so why is President Obama defending Obamacare to his supporters today? That's right ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD live from Capitol Hill.

The seemingly endless ping-pong of bills being volleyed between the House and Senate continued today with one tweak. The latest proposal coming from House Republicans would give partial relief to the government shutdown via a piecemeal approach. Under the bills, programs for veterans would reopen. So would federal parks. Funding would be approved for the District of Columbia.

So, White House, do we have a deal?


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Even that proposal shows the utter lack of seriousness that we're seeing from Republicans. If they want to open the government, they should open the government, and then we can negotiate about how we fund our budget priorities in the future.


TAPPER: All righty, then. I guess that means back to the drawing board.

Joining us now is CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, these new proposals, do they also target Obamacare?


In that small way, perhaps Republicans are relenting to Democrats' demands. However, the reason why they are only doing these limited proposals is because there are parts of the government that don't have anything to do with Obamacare, so that's a big reason for that. The other reason I'm told is that the pictures that were on CNN and elsewhere this morning of those World War II vets storming the monument, that was something -- that was a visual optics that Republicans realized maybe not so great.

So that's why they want to try to pass these small bills funding the National Park Service and so forth. The question, though, and this might be a good one for your next guest, is whether Democrats will go along with it in the House, because they're going to need significant Democratic support the way this House vote is set up in order to even pass the House, never mind the Senate.

TAPPER: Dana, I will ask my next guest, Whip Hoyer, in a second about that. But beyond the tug of war between the House and Senate, of course, we know there's this tug of war between Tea Party Republicans and establishment Republicans, just within the House. How is that playing out now that the shutdown's in effect?

BASH: You know, nerves are frayed, and that is an understatement. I want to play for you what -- some exchanges between Republican Congressman Nunes of California and some reporters right after a House Republican meeting this afternoon.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: This effort that went over the summer to convince the base that there was magical wands that could be waved to get rid of Obamacare, that was then -- gave them some money and some ammunition, and a few more followers, but all the leadership has always had broad support and good support.

QUESTION: When does that silent majority within the conference revolt against the lemmings? When does that happen?

NUNES: Well, a good question, Brian (ph). I guess we're going to -- I think what we're going to do is play out the strategy that I would call as -- that's kind of an oxymoron because it's really not a strategy.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ouch. Really, he had some other words besides lemmings but that maybe is the most telling, again, talking about his fellow Republicans who forced this strategy from the beginning or as he called it, an oxymoron, but a strategy from the beginning to try to use the spending bill to chip away at Obamacare. He is very vocal, obviously, but the conservatives still are winning, the conservatives who want to keep fighting, I should say, and not agree to a clean no strings attached spending bill -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Dana Bash, thank you.

So, House Republicans are cooking up these piecemeal funding bills but the White House says they will essentially be DOA.

I want to bring in House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer from Maryland. He's the second highest ranking Democrat in the House.

Congressman Hoyer, thanks so much for being here.


TAPPER: I've been trying to get you on the show for six months. So, I appreciate (ph) I have to come to you, but you're here.

So these piecemeal approaches, they could fund veterans' benefits, they could fund the national park service. Are House Democrats willing to go along with that, or Senate Democrats?

HOYER: This is a game, Jake. Nunes referred to it as an oxymoron that they had a strategy. They've shut down the government. They think that gives them leverage to accomplish what they couldn't accomplish in the election and it's harmful to the American people.

The losers are not the silent majority in the Republican conference. The losers are the American people. Their government is now shut down. Their government is not available to serve them as they want themselves served, as it ought to serve them.

Clearly, Americans want an efficient, effective government but they don't want no government. They know that's not the case. And we hear we got -- (CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Well, we don't have no government. It's a partial shutdown. We still have most of the government is working.

HOYER: Well, when you say most of the government, I just talked to people at Goddard Space Flight Center. There are 3,000 employees, 68 people are now left as full-time employees. They've got part-time they're keeping. The Mars Program may be slowed down by 18 months as a result of this shutdown depending upon how long it takes because they have timelines to meet and if they miss them, it puts them back.

TAPPER: Point taken.

HOYER: Yes. This is not just a marginal impact on the government. This is a very substantial impact.

TAPPER: I know you have a lot -- living in Maryland, representing Maryland, you have a lot of constituents --

HOYER: All over the country, we have a lot of employees.

TAPPER: So, Congressman DeSantis who was just here, who's one of the individuals in the House Republican Conference, pushing this strategy, said that he thinks members of Congress should forego salaries while this shutdown takes place. What do you think?

HOYER: Look, I think that's another game they want to play, appealing to a demagogic approach to this, rather than we've -- frankly, the members of Congress ought to be on the job working hard, getting this job done to the American people, getting their government opened, getting federal employees back to work and serving the public, serving the growth of our economy, serving our national security ends.

All of these extrinsic issues, these side issues that they want to bring up, which they think are politically salient miss the point of their irresponsibility in shutting down government. They say they don't want to do that. They've done it. And they did it 17 years ago.

TAPPER: Do you think the Democrats and specifically President Obama is responsible in any way for people not fearing a government shutdown as much as perhaps they did 17 years ago because there was so much talk about what would happen during the sequester and then ultimately, people didn't see a result in front of them? I mean, some people did, but the mass public did not see a horrific situation after the sequester hit?

HOYER: I think the answer is that when the sequester hit, you're correct, there wasn't the slamming of a door as there was today. Today, there was the slamming of door. There wasn't the slamming of door when the sequester hit. The sequester is a drip, drip, drip, undermining the operations of government and the strength of our country and the growth of our economy. So that I think your observation is correct. But I think the American people know that playing games with government operations is not what they expect from their Congress. They don't believe it's responsible -- 72 percent to 75 percent of them said shutting down government is a bad policy and that's what we've seen the Republicans, including Mr. DeSantis had an opportunity the other night, had the opportunity a number of times to vote for what we call a clean C.R. That's jargon for keeping the government operating. And --

TAPPER: Just until November, yes.

HOYER: And, by the way -- just until November 15th. And, by the way, which is very interesting, the Republican number.

TAPPER: Right, the lower level of spending.

HOYER: That's not like there's a difference between a high number and lower number we're trying to compromise. We have said, OK, that's your number, we'll support your number.

TAPPER: The Republicans argue they keep coming to the table with less and less in terms of their demands and Democrats just say no. There's one provision I believe in the latest bill which would repeal the Obamacare tax on medical devices that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, obviously it has majority support in the House.

Why not just, since everybody except for President Obama approves of it, why not just give them that and then move on?

HOYER: Just to clarify, there was a sense of the Senate, 75 (INAUDIBLE), no bill passed the Senate.

TAPPER: OK, but a sense of the Senate in favor of repealing the medical device tax.

HOYER: Let them put a bill on the floor to repeal the medical tax and let's vote on it and move it to the Senate in the regular order. They talk a lot about the regular order. Don't lard up with extrinsic issues, with side issues.

Don't lard up the funding of the government, one of the most basic responsibilities that the Congress of the United States has. Obviously, there are political differences, we know that. But funding the government -- we can argue about the level, we have taken their level, ought not to be an argument and ought not to have literally hundreds of thousands of people now out of work, worried about paying their mortgage payment, worried about whether or not they're going to be able to meet their bills at the end of this month.

That is not a responsible management of the federal government. It's not a responsible majority in the House of Representatives and they ought to support opening up government, making sure that it is operating for the American people and then yes, debate these differences we have. That's fair. That's what we ought to do in a democracy.

TAPPER: It's not in this bill.

HOYER: Right.

TAPPER: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

HOYER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: When we come back, the White House has had years to prepare for this moment -- the day Americans can finally sign up for Obamacare. So why were so many unable to do it?

Plus, President Obama says Republicans are on an ideological crusade. But for the speaker of the House, is this battle even more personal? How John Boehner's past exile from the Republican leadership might be behind some of his actions today.


TAPPER: The beautiful dome of Capitol Hill on a gorgeous October afternoon.

Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live on Capitol Hill.

Shutdown or no shutdown, the first phase of Obamacare just went live today. And while you can't get actual coverage until 2014, today marked the first day Americans could go online to sign up or at least try to sign up, because there's been more than a few kinks reported in the rollout of the newly minted Obamacare Web site, Several of the state pages it links to.

And by kinks, I mean error messages like this one that stare down some users this morning trying to log on to the new site. Health care marketplace, please wait. An ironic request perhaps, considering House Republicans are demanding a delay of the plan.

CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta is live from the CNN Express in South Carolina. That's a state where about a fifth of the population is uninsured.

Sanjay, the Obama team, they have had years to prepare for this day. What is up with the tech issues?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's funny, Jake, because on one hand, they thought that maybe not that many people would be coming to the site on day one, and instead, you have tons of people coming and I think as a result of that traffic, they've had these issues. There's about 36 states out there, Jake, as you may know, where the federal government is running the exchange on behalf of the states. About two-thirds of them had significant problems today.

We tried getting on ourselves in many different states' exchanges, their marketplaces and had difficulty. So, it could be there's been a lot of interest in this, keeping in mind, of course, you got six months of open enrollment. So, these people will have plenty of other chances.

TAPPER: It just seems like we've known this was coming for years and the Obama team was out there hyping it October 1st, everybody should sign up. You'd think that the software would be there and better prepared.

But moving on, explain for us how the site is supposed to work when it does work. What kind of coverage can people get, if they go on and successfully get through?

GUPTA: Well, we looked at this pretty carefully and I think there's a couple things. First, you get in and you're basically asked to apply, to register, and as part of that you fill out a three-page application.

I think that application is probably most notable for what it doesn't ask you versus what it does. It doesn't ask you anything about your medical history. Very important point, right, Jake?

I mean, this is the crux of the issue. They don't ask you about your medical history because they're not using that as pertinent information to determine your premiums. They don't discriminate based on pre-existing conditions. That's a very important point.

Beyond that, they sort of have these tiers of coverage which are the same sort of tiers that anyone who has ever been able to purchase insurance before knows about. In this case it's bronze to platinum. With bronze, you're paying lower premiums but higher co-pays, higher deductible. With platinum, higher premiums but lower co-pay, lower deductible.

So, very simple -- if you think you're going to go to the hospital a lot, you have medical issues that require that, you probably want to pay a higher premium and not pay as much for co-pays each time you go and you just choose a plan within that. That's basically how it works.

TAPPER: And I know this is a huge generalization, Sanjay, but how much in general can people expect to pay?

GUPTA: Well, so keep in mind that, you know, the 17 percent number, by the way, that you quoted, people who say they are in favor of this or like this, that seems to coincide pretty well with number -- the percentage of people who are uninsured in this country, about 45 million to 50 million. So, no surprise that 17 percent number.

But they are also people who are most likely to be going to this marketplace, they are also people who probably have not had insurance before, they have not been able to afford it or had some sort of pre- existing condition. If you look at that population, you factor in subsidies, possible Medicaid money depending on the state, then six out of 10 people would be paying about $100 a month, or less for their premiums.

Now, that's a lot I've just thrown at you. Again, it takes into account subsidies, takes into account a very specific population here, but that's the number that we're hearing. We're going to keep close tabs on that number to see if that's, in fact, true.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.