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Pentagon Withholds Death Benefits; Short-Term Deal May Work; U.S. Reducing Aid to Egypt; U.S. Cuts Aid to Egypt; Seven Killed in Bangladesh Fire; U.N. Reports Syrian Chemical Weapons Destroyed; Health Care Web Site Glitches Continue; Young Complain of High Cost of ObamaCare Policies; Soldiers Remains Arrive at Dover

Aired October 9, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Lawmakers say they did not intend. This is really what is going on. When much of the government is not working, like now, those families, they don't get the financial assistance that they normally would during this very upsetting and emotional time.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go straight to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Athena Jones is there and that's where grieving families are awaiting the fallen to come back.

What's going on? What are you seeing there?


Well, in just a few minutes, this dignified transfer should begin. I should say in the next few minute. We don't know exactly when the plane is going to land. But we know that these soldiers will be met by a team wearing their battle dress uniform, white gloves for a somber ceremony that's meant to honor these fallen service members. And one issue here that's not honoring these service members, we've heard members of Congress say, is the fact that they're not getting the death benefits the Pentagon would usually pay out because of this shutdown. Those death benefits include $100,000 that go to the family within three days of losing their family member, as well as money to pay for burial expenses and travel expenses.

Now, we know that one group that serves veterans, the Fisher House, has stepped in to pay for some of these family members to be able to travel here to Dover to be here for this ceremony and that's what we expect to see a little while from now.

Back to you guys.

MALVEAUX: And, Athena, we know a couple things that are pretty unusual that are happening now. One is the fact that you were there. That you are actually covering this kind of event. Tell us how that actually took place. And the other thing is that you've got the secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, there with the families.

JONES: That's right. Defense Secretary Hagel will be here to support these family members for this ceremony. We are here -- we drove up here. They allow certain media coverage. You just have to apply for credentials. And so we'll get those pictures. They won't be live, but we'll get pictures from our cameras that are on - on the base, who have checked in and are able to be there for that. We're here outside the base speaking to you now and waiting for those pictures to come in.

But again, this issue of death benefits has angered a lot of folks on Capitol Hill. You've got people on both sides of the aisle who, in a rare moment of bipartisan agreement, outraged at the fact that these family members aren't getting these benefits. They will get them now when the government reopens. They will eventually be paid.

And today I should tell you that the House is planning a vote in the afternoon which would fix this and make sure that those death benefits are reinstated immediately. And so we'll be looking for that vote later on today. And watching to see what happens to that bill as it moves on, if it passes the House, as it moves on to the Senate.

Suzanne. Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes, people on both sides of the aisle were saying this was an unintended consequence. They didn't realize that this stuff wouldn't be covered and so they've going to fix it.

Athena, thanks so much. We'll leave it there. Athena Jones there.

MALVEAUX: I mean it's really rare that you have the secretary of defense actually at one of these ceremonies because he is making the point here, he is a veteran himself, he was wounded in combat.


MALVEAUX: This is extraordinarily personal and it's important to the veteran families.

HOLMES: Yes. And it also illustrates, too, there are still U.S. service people dying in Afghanistan as well. Obviously a very emotional day for those people. I've been to a couple of ramp ceremonies in Afghanistan where they load the bodies on to bring them back to the U.S. and it's an incredibly moving thing to see. It really is.

MALVEAUX: It's very emotional.

It is nine days of the partial government shutdown. There is still no agreement, no end in sight, although more Republicans, they have expressed some wiliness to vote for a clean bill to fund the government without attaching it to Obamacare, delays or other demands, and that is - that is some progress.

HOLMES: Yes. We've tallied the votes again and now we're at 219 in the House who tell us that they would support a clean resolution. Nineteen republicans. Remember yesterday it was 17, then it was 18, now it's 19. But the thing is, not enough Republicans are willing to force the House speaker, John Boehner, to bring it to a vote. That's how it works on Capitol Hill. So just minutes ago, we actually heard from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He's weighing in on this, as he has for days now. Here's the latest, here the update on where he stands.


SEN. HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Basically what we've been saying is that the speaker and my Republican friends should take yes for an answer. We're ready to go to conference. We have a simple, simple request - open the government, let us pay our bills.


HOLMES: And Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill. She's going to join us now.

You know, Dana, it's interesting, you know, initially it was a tax to Obamacare, then a delay on Obamacare, and now it's talking budget and entitlements. The goal post moving, is this a good thing?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, probably, because when you look at what is potentially a risk for compromise, the idea of doing something to deal with the country's entitlements or long-term debt is certainly something that Democrats are much more willing to talk about in general than changing or dismantling Obamacare, the president's signature piece of legislation that he's passed since he's been in office.

Absolutely the focus seems to be much more on the debt ceiling for lots of reasons, primarily because everybody agrees, really everybody agrees in any position of leadership here on Capitol Hill, Democrat or Republican, that it would be catastrophic to the economy to allow that debt ceiling to -- basically to allow the U.S. to default. So that's why that discussion is going on.

I should also tell you that as you were coming to me, I was getting word from Republican sources that there is something that's very rare that he's (ph) either (ph) starting now or about to start, which is members of the Republican leadership in the House and the Democratic leadership of the House are set to actually get together and talk. I know that doesn't sound like it should be breaking news, but it is, particularly in the House where it tends to be even more partisan and polarized than anywhere else within the House. So unclear if anything will come of that, but I was told by a Republican source this is the request of Democratic leaders to have this conversation. So we'll see if anything comes of that.

But big picture it's -


BASH: Go ahead.

MALVEAUX: No, no, no. I was just saying, it's completely telling, Dana, that that's breaking news now, that folks are actually -

HOLMES: Isn't it? It's a big (INAUDIBLE)), isn't it, that that is such a big deal.

MALVEAUX: Getting together to talk, to talk about this. One of the Republicans that we saw and we heard from in the op-ed, of course, Congressman Paul Ryan, who's the former vice presidential candidate, wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" and he - he is, of course, chairman of the House Budget Committee, arguing here that to end a stalemate, he says, "we have an opportunity here to pay down the national debt and jump-start the economy, if we start talking and talking specifics now. To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country's entitlement programs and tax code."

So it seems pretty significant here that here you have one of the Republican leaders who is not talking about Obamacare anymore but some of these other things.

HOLMES: Haven't heard much from him.

MALVEAUX: No. Do we think - do we think that the White House, the president, will be willing to talk about some of those issues?

BASH: Perhaps. And the president said umpteen times yesterday that he's willing to talk about anything but not until a clean debt ceiling is pass and a clean bill to fund the government is passed. And what we understand - I just talked to a senior Republican source before talking to you, is that it does seem, at this point, that is the most likely way out. And when I say that, a short-term bill, just focusing on the debt ceiling right now, to raise the debt ceiling maybe six weeks long and use that time to have some kind of conversation.

The president, though, has made very clear, he will only do that if it is clean, if there are no strings attached. And I was told by a senior republican source that people in the Republican Party, in the House and the Senate, are so concerned about the debt limit that they might actually be willing to agree to that clean bill as long as parameters or discussions are set very clearly and there's a specific agreement to those discussions that would start as soon as the debt ceiling would be raised.

HOLMES: All right, Dana. Dana Bash there on Capitol Hill.

And, you know, again, the world is watching and if they see it -- the short-term solution being used, well that's great, the debt ceiling gets, you know, lifted. But that short-term thing, here we go again, we'll be doing this again in -

MALVEAUX: Six weeks later.

HOLMES: Six weeks later.

MALVEAUX: And eventually it's going to be kicked until the election.


MALVEAUX: So that is what people are talking about at this moment.

HOLMES: Are watching and wondering how we're running things, yes. MALVEAUX: Thousands of furloughed federal workers in and around Washington, they're filing now for unemployment benefits, and that is despite the promise of getting back pay once the thing is over. Many workers say they actually -- they've got to pay their bills now.

HOLMES: Yes. And here's the breakdown for you. Eleven thousand federal workers have applied for assistance in D.C., 16,000 in Maryland. The workers will have to return that money, of course, if they do get the benefits when they get their back pay, which, of course, is going to happen at some point.

MALVEAUX: Hundreds of thousands of federal workers across the country, they have been stuck at home without pay since the shutdown hit. And coming up, the U.S. expected to now cut aid to Egypt in response to the failing government.

HOLMES: Yes, a move there. It's going to be interesting to see how that unfolds, what it could mean for the U.S. relationship with Egypt. And also there are other players in the region watching this carefully as well.

MALVEAUX: Then, it has been a week since Obamacare enrollment opened. It has been a rough road, however, for some folks who have been trying to sign up.

HOLMES: How people are still having to deal with that website.

Plus, the sticker shock some are facing. This is AROUND THE WORLD. We'll be right back.


HOLMES: U.S. officials are rethinking the amount and the type of aid they're going to be giving Egypt going forward. The White House announcing, yes, today, that military aid will be cut and they will announce the final decision in the coming days.

MALVEAUX: Our Elise Labott is in Washington with more on this. Ian Lee in Cairo.

So, Ian, first to you. Tell us what kind of aid we are talking about here that the U.S. provides Egypt and what does this mean for people on the ground? It means something for the government, but it probably means something very different for the people who you're talking to on the street.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, if you look at Egyptian's - the Egyptian military, it really is all American hardware for the most part. You have F-16s, you have Apache helicopters, you have Abrams tanks, really all equipment that comes from the United States. And what we're hearing is that the likelihood it could be cut are the Apache helicopters. Egypt's supposed to get about a dozen or so Apache helicopters. They already have roughly 36, but that's what they're going to hold off, that's what we're hearing they could potentially hold off in this sort of - in this cut. What they won't hold off, and this is crucial, is that there's aid tied to the Egypt/Israeli peace deal. That's going to be safe. Also, aid that goes towards counterterrorism. Right now Egypt is fighting a low level insurgency and that aid will be safe. But by and large on the street, Egyptians aren't too concerned about the American military aid.

HOLMES: All right, Ian Lee there in Cairo. Appreciate that.

Elise, you know, I want to - I want to get to you on something here. You know, when you look regionally there, when most of the people who make money out of this, the money is coming from U.S. contractors who are providing all of that hardware to Egypt. Now, they're going to lose financially, with is a domestic issue, but also regionally. There are other countries in the Gulf who are happy to step in and fill that gap.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right, Michael. Allies like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, have already said they're going to make up this shortfall. These are countries that have warned the U.S., don't do it, don't cut off aid to the military. They have been very supportive on this crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. And so this follows months of debate on how to responds to the ouster of President Morsy because not only do they want to maintain the influence with the military, but U.S. contractors are the ones that are going to suffer because, as Ian mentioned, a lot of this is U.S. hardware and some of these companies have really already spent the money.

MALVEAUX: And, Elise, why now? Why is the decision coming from the White House now that they're willing to cut this aid? What has happened that has changed this equation here on the ground when you talk about those who are in power and those who are not?

LABOTT: Well, Suzanne, months of debate, a review of U.S. aid, but - and the president was loathed to do so. Then you have the situation in Syria and officials told me that they didn't want to conflate the two. But now that Syria seems to have calmed down a little bit and you've seen the violence in Egypt, particularly over the weekend, dozens dead, the White House felt it was really time to have a hard-handed statement of their protest and what's going on, and they say that they want to make this statement but that if the Egyptian military were to take steps to restore democracy, they told them several things they want to see, that they can restore the aid.

But right now we're talking about a significant portion of aid, and we'll just see how it goes.

They're looking for specific things, and I don't think that if the Egyptian military were to not to take those steps, certainly they can restore the aid very quickly.

MALVEAUX: All right. Very unstable situation on the ground there.

Elise Labott in Washington, Ian lee in Cairo, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Unfortunately, we're following another tragic fire. This is near Dhaka. This is the capital of Bangladesh. It is the home to the countries -- it's very profitable, as you know, but dangerous garment district.

HOLMES: Yeah, the safety standards in that industry in Bangladesh, very lax.

This time, at least seven workers were killed in a fire that broke out in a knitwear factory, and then it spread to other buildings. Dozens more people were hurt.

Now you may remember, in April, 1,100 people died in a fire at another Bangladesh apparel factory.

MALVEAUX: And in Syria, United Nations inspectors, they have already visited one suspected chemical weapons site. Well, today they are now looking at another.

The director-general of the U.N. inspection agency confirms that his team found that weapons were destroyed at the site that they saw on Monday.

HOLMES: Let's not forget a second group of inspectors is getting ready to travel to Syria, as we have reported here, no word on exactly when.

And interestingly those inspectors saying they're getting cooperation from Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The Free Syrian Army, the rebels, say, yeah, watch out. They don't believe it.

MALVEAUX: And an eight-month endeavor, really, so we'll see how that goes, how it plays out.

Italian rescue workers are still, if you can believe this, pulling bodies -- this is from the Mediterranean. At least 302 African migrants drowned when their boat capsized. This is near Lampedusa. It's a small Italian island not far from the continent of Africa.

HOLMES: Yeah, it's actually closer to Africa than Italy's mainland.

Now officials fear the number still will rise. More than 500 people were on board that boat when it sank last Thursday. There were about 125 or so survivors, and there's still a lot of bodies still under the water.

Life not getting any easier for the survivors, though. They are now crowded into a refugee center.

MALVEAUX: And they are young, they are healthy. You'd think they'd get a deal, right, when it comes to insurance, health insurance?

But under ObamaCare it's not always the case here. We're going to take a look at ObamaCare across the country, up next.


HOLMES: Republicans questioning the IRS today about ObamaCare, Congressman Darrell Issa says he wants to uncover any problems that might lie ahead for the IRS as it works to implement the healthcare law.

Meanwhile, the partial government shutdown has caused more than 90 percent of the IRS workforce to be furloughed.

A Treasury Department spokeswoman says, despite the constraints, though, they're going to be doing all they can to continue to implement the law.


MALVEAUX: And it has been a frustrating nine days for people hoping to sign up for the health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Well, right, we at CNN, we tried each day to access the site, and today -- today -- Elizabeth Cohen and her team of producers, they got mixed results.

You guys have been at this for days now. And one of your producers finally got through. Explain how that happened?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So one of my producers, William Hudson, he tried early this morning and he actually managed to create an account and log in.

It was very exciting because he's been trying every day, as have I, since last Tuesday.

A couple hours later, I tried and I did manage to create a user name and password, which was great because I hadn't gotten that far before.

But when I went to log in and try to select a plan and all of that, it wouldn't log me in.

So I called the number that was on the screen -


COHEN: -- and the woman said, I'm sorry you're having this experience, but due to high volume, we have some glitches, and you did everything right, and just try again later on.

And she -- it's interesting. She specifically said, try doing it early morning or late at night when there are fewer users.

MALVEAUX: And you got a human being which is really tough to do these day in an automated system.

COHEN: Yes, an automated system, but quickly got a human being and she explained it very clearly to me.

So I'm going to try again at the hours that she suggested and see if that helps.

But still -- I still, as of today at whatever it's at, 12:00-whatever, I have not been able to successfully log in to the account.

MALVEAUX: It can be a very frustrating experience, but you have learned some things about the plan itself, and there are some Millennials who are wondering, should I sign up? Should I get involved in here?

Is it going to be more expensive for me under ObamaCare to get health insurance? What have you found?

COHEN: Right, so some people in their 20s who don't get insurance through their employer are thinking, how am I going to do in the exchanges? Am I going to be better off?

And there's been some complaints that it's actually more expensive post-ObamaCare on the exchanges than pre-ObamaCare.

We talked to some experts and they said, look, people in their 20s may find that it's now more expensive.

But here's the issue, before ObamaCare they maybe got a good price, but they weren't getting good policies. They were kind of getting what they paid for, and then when they got sick and wanted to use the insurance, they were disappointed that it wasn't very good.

So it's -- I think it's -- what is clear now is that, when you go in, you're getting a real policy. You're getting a policy that is going to actually give you varying levels of service, but it's going to give you good service. That's according to the woman we talked to at Consumer Reports.

And it's also important to mention that people in their 20s often are not earning a lot of money, so a lot of them will be eligible for subsidies.

MALVEAUX: OK, well, that's a good thing. I know -- I mean, as a young person they often think, I'm never going to get ill. I never get sick.

COHEN: Right.

MALVEAUX: But you know what? It happens.

COHEN: And you don't want to be that person. You don't want to not go to the doctor when you're sick. You want to have insurance.

MALVEAUX: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, thanks.

COHEN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Check back with us on the site.

COHEN: OK, I will. I'll tell you how it goes tonight. I certainly will.

MALVEAUX: All right, thank you.


HOLMES: All right, well, we're talking a lot about the government shutdown but, of course, in eight days the U.S. hits that debt ceiling.

Right now Congress is undecided on whether or not to raise it. That worries a lot of people.

But you know what? There are some Republican lawmakers questioning whether going past the deadline will really mean a government default.

We'll discuss.


MALVEAUX: We're now waiting for the daily White House briefing that is going to happen any minute now.

We're also listening to see if there is a message from the president on the budget and debt ceiling standoff.

Of course, he went out to the briefing room yesterday and made remarks and held a full-blown news conference.

We're going to bring you the White House briefing live as soon as that starts.

HOLMES: Day nine of the partial government shutdown, no compromise in sight yet for that budget bill.

We have tallied the votes, as we told you earlier. Just a reminder, we've got 219 in the House, telling us that they would support a clean resolution.

That means nothing attached to the bill like ObamaCare or funding cuts to entitlements and things like that.

MALVEAUX: Nineteen of those who agree to the clean bill are Republicans, but not enough of those Republicans are willing to force House Speaker John Boehner to bring this to a vote.

Well, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he spoke about the looming debt ceiling crisis just earlier today. Here's how he put it when he weighed in.


SENATOR HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Warren Buffett said using the threat of default to extract political payment, quote, "ought to be banned as a weapon. It should be like nuclear bombs, basically, too horrible to use."

Warren Buffett said that.


MALVEAUX: We're going to play a bit of tape here. This is from Dover Air Force Base, and as you know, this is the dignified transfer that is taking place, the remains of four soldiers killed over the weekend in Afghanistan returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Let's just listen in.