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Is the Senate Close to A Deal?; Interview with Chris Van Hollen; Interview With Interview With Sen. Susan Collins; "Excruciatingly Embarrassing" for White House; Is the Senate Close to a Deal?; Soldier's Heroic Rescue Effort Caught on Tape

Aired October 14, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Jake, thanks very much. Happening now, breaking news -- with America's debt ceiling about to come crashing down on the world economy, Senate leaders say they're close to a deal. But the White House postpones an urgent huddle.

What does that mean?

Is it potentially a good thing?

And what would a deal look like?

I'll ask the leader of the bipartisan effort in the Senate to break the deadlock. Republican Senator Susan Collins will join me live.

And on the day that the government shutdown, a key part of ObamaCare was supposed to be up and running. But countless Americans are still getting error messages.

Should someone be fired?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Right now, all eyes are on that ticking clock. In less than 55 hours, the Treasury will start running out of money to pay the nation's bills. With the debt ceiling deadline bringing new urgency, Senate leaders are suddenly much more optimistic about a deal.

But just as suddenly, the White House today postponed a meeting between the president and the Congressional leadership.

Let's get the very latest from our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She's up on Capitol Hill.

So what's the current deal under consideration -- Dana?


Well, first, let me just say, Wolf, the fact that the White House meeting is not happening is actually a good thing. And that comes from sources in all parties. It is because they feel that they are on the cusp of getting a deal without going to the White House, just among Senate Republican and Democratic leaders.

But to answer your question, here's the framework of what we're told is in this potential deal.

First of all, to keep the government running -- or to reopen the government and keep it funded until January 15th. But along with that, would have a deadline for budget negotiators to finish a budget, to finish the fiscal year, by December 13th.

And then the debt ceiling. They would increase that until February 15th. Now Democratic sources I'm talking to say that that could slide. But if you just look at what's on the screen right now, just really quickly -- if you can put it back up -- the whole idea of the give and take, starting with the end, the debt ceiling, Democrats gave on that. They did not want to keep the debt ceiling -- they wanted to lift the debt ceiling through the rest of the year, through the election. So they're giving in on that.

And then with regard to funding of the government, Republicans are giving in on that. They wanted to have a deal to fund the government through maybe even a year.

Why did they want to do that?

Because it would lock in place forced spending cuts that Democrats don't like.

And then the last thing I wanted to tell you about it are ObamaCare provisions. There are some potential ObamaCare provisions in this. They're not big, but they're there.

First of all, income verification for those getting ObamaCare subsidies. We are told that that is something that Republicans very much wanted, just to make sure there is no fraud in the system. Democrats appear to be giving on that.

And then the last is something that Democrats actually wanted, because the unions were up at arms about a fee on employees receiving insurance. This would be delayed for a year.

So those are the frame -- that's the framework of what they're talking about. Senate Republicans were supposed to meet within the hour, but we are told that they have -- that they're delaying that meeting until tomorrow morning, not, again for any bad reason, but because they want to get their ducks in a row, to make sure that they have all of the details laid out to present to their caucus formally. And then, of course, the next question is what happens in the House?

And Republicans in the House are already saying don't expect us to just swallow this deal, we might try to change it.

BLITZER: It's amazing. It's very unusual. The president, the White House, they announce a meeting at the White House at 3:00 with the bipartisan Congressional leadership and then say not so fast. All right, so stand by.

Let's continue what's going on.

Dana Bash up at the -- on Capitol Hill. After all the bitterness, the harsh rhetoric, could a deal be at hand?

And what will it take to bring House members on board?

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

He's the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee.

So are we there? Are we on the verge of a deal, Congressman?

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Well, Wolf, we don't know exactly. You know, Yogi Berra's advice was always good -- it ain't over 'til it's over.

But I do think it's good news that they postponed the meeting at the White House, because conversations are still going on. And people are trying to finalize an agreement.

And as you and Dana said, the big question is exactly what those parameters will be and then, of course, what happens in the House of Representatives?

And it's too early to tell because we haven't seen the fine print here. But needless to say, I think Speaker Boehner is going to have to make a decision to finally stand up to some of his sort of reckless Tea Party right for the good of the country.

BLITZER: We did get a statement from a spokesman for the speaker saying, "If the Senate comes to agreement, we will review it with our members."

That statement just coming in from the House speaker, John Boehner's, office.

How do you read that?

Is that encouraging to you?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, again, it's still too early to say, because what we've seen out of the House Republican Caucus is things change minute to minute. I mean even when Speaker Boehner reached an agreement with Harry Reid about keeping the government open without those extraneous Affordable Care Act provisions, he then reneged on them because of what happened in his caucus. His caucus erupted.

So it's really too early to say. And, again, we haven't seen the agreement in the Senate, either. The overall parameters, I think, are what Dana expressed. We do not think there should be these extraneous provisions attached to the clean CR and the clean debt limit provisions. We think that those are the proper -- properly discussed within the budget negotiation framework. But again, let's see what the Senate comes up with and we'll go from there.

BLITZER: Well, let's say they come up with what Dana just reported. By mid-January, they're going to keep -- continue to keep the government open until mid-January. You, as the ranking member of the House Budget Committee. You would have to have your House-Senate Budget Committee conferees meeting by mid-December. You'd have to come up with some sort of an agreement. And you'd extend the debt ceiling through mid-February.

Is that all acceptable to you?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, that time line is acceptable, again, Wolf, without having seen whether there's any fine print or conditions to it. But that time line, as Dana indicated, is a compromise. We believe that the sequester that's in place right now is creating a drag on the economy. It's not just us. The Congressional Budget Office, which as, you know, is a nonpartisan agency, has said that if sequester levels of funding remain in place throughout this fiscal year, we'll have 800,000 fewer jobs in this country by this time next year.

Now, that's a self-inflicted wound that we don't need. So we would have preferred to have a shorter time line to negotiate on that.

But, look, those dates are a question of compromise and agreement. I think they would be acceptable.

The question is whether or not they try and throw in these extraneous provisions related to the Affordable Care Act. Those matters, it seems to me, should be subject to the budget negotiations and not something tacked onto this agreement.

But again, let's wait and see what emerges.

BLITZER: I spoke earlier in the day with Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She's a Democrat. She's one of those 12 senators who has been involved behind-the-scenes in trying to come up with some sort of deal.

She herself says she would welcome, she would support one of those measures to eliminate, or at least delay for two years, medical devices, a tax on medical devices, which is part of the Affordable Care Act, as you know. A lot of Democrats, a lot of Republicans, don't like that tax to begin with. She would like to see it -- and even she would support it as part of this deal to keep the government running, to extend the debt ceiling. Is that OK with you?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Wolf, I would find it a little bit strange that we took up a measure that actually increases the deficit by losing the revenue from that provision as part of an agreement to lift the debt ceiling. That doesn't make sense to me.

Why would we be actually increasing the deficit in that process?

That's the kind of thing that, in my view, would be better suited for the budget negotiations that would take place, where you can take into consideration all questions related to cuts and revenue. That's the appropriate forum for that conversation to take place. That's my opinion on this.

But again, let's see what comes out of the United States Senate. And then, Speaker Boehner will have to do something which he's refused to do in the House so far. I mean we could have the government open today if he allowed democracy to work its will and if he hadn't actually changed the rules of the House to prevent democracy from having its way in the House.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little about one aspect of ObamaCare that people, now in week three of this ObamaCare, people are having a tough time still getting on board, logging in, finding potential plans that they can sign up for.

And Robert Gibbs, a man you probably know, was the White House press secretary during the first term of the Obama administration, he said this earlier today.

Listen to what he said.

I'll read it to you. He said, "I hope they are working day and night to get this done. And when they get it fixed, I hope they fire some people who were in charge of making sure this is supposed to work."

Fire some people. This -- a lot of people are suggesting that this is a great humiliation, an embarrassment to the president of the United States, the fact that it wasn't rolled out perfectly, not even close to being perfectly.

Who should be fired, if anyone, according to you?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Wolf, first, I think we have to focus exactly where Robert Gibbs said we should focus, which is let's fix the problems. Let's get this thing up and running. What we do know is there's a huge amount of interest from the American public, a huge amount of people who are looking for this kind of affordable care. So let's get the system fixed and up and running.

Then we can go back and figure out where things went wrong and see whether people need to be held accountable. Clearly, if there were mistakes made, people should be held accountable.

But again, I think we're getting ahead of the game here. Our focus should be all hands on deck, let's fix this problem so that the millions of Americans who want to get access to affordable care can do it.

BLITZER: You still have confidence in the secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius?

VAN HOLLEN: I do. And this has been a very big rollout. You know, there's the good news and the bad news. I mean the good news is that the Affordable Care Act, the idea behind it was absolutely necessary, because you have this huge unmet need for affordable care. The bad news is that millions more Americans than anticipated decided to try and sign up for the exchange in the early days. I think the administration thought that that would be sort of paced over the three month period, you wouldn't have this huge influx.

Obviously, somebody should have anticipated the huge demand up front. But again, our focus now, Wolf, has to make sure that we meet that demand.

BLITZER: If you read that long article on the front page of the "New York Times" yesterday, there were people in the inside saying this was not ready to be rolled out, there were serious problems, don't do it, don't do it, just wait, get it ready, make sure it works. But they decided to roll it out anyway. And I suspect we're going to be learning a lot more about this.

But I'm sure the president of the United States is not happy that it wasn't ready to go in tip top shape...

VAN HOLLEN: I'm sure that...

BLITZER: -- on day one.

VAN HOLLEN: -- I'm sure that's true.

BLITZER: Yes. And I don't blame him, either.


BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you V.A.

BLITZER: Chris Van Hollen is the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

He's going to be a busy guy over the next few weeks, assuming -- assuming this deal works. And let's hope there is a deal.

Up next, I'll speak with Republican Senator Susan Collins. She's one of the architects of this possible deal to end the shutdown and pull the nation back from the brink of default.

And countless Americans keep trying to log onto that ObamaCare Web site, with not a whole lot of luck. We're going to show you what they've been up against. We have a special report.


BLITZER: One of the leaders of the bipartisan effort to try to break the deadlock is Republican senator, Susan Collins, of Maine. She's joining us now live from Capitol Hill. Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) MAINE: My pleasure, Wolf. BLITZER: This decision to postpone the meeting that the president had scheduled for 3:00 p.m. eastern today with the House and Senate Republican and Democratic leadership, is that good news or bad news?

COLLINS: I think it's probably good news, because I believe that that postponement as well as the postponement until tomorrow morning of a meeting of the Senate Republican caucus means that the details are being worked out on the compromise and anything that brings us closer to a vote is a positive development.

BLITZER: Say it does pass, some of the ideas that you and your colleagues have worked behind the scenes to come up together. Let's say it passes and passes impressively in the Senate, 70 or even 80 votes. Are you confident that the speaker of the House would allow that piece of legislation to come up for a yea or nay vote without any modifications?

COLLINS: Well, I've never served in the House, so I don't dare make a prediction, but my hope is that it would have enough momentum that Speaker Boehner would bring it to the Senate floor. After all, the House's attempts have not been successful so far in re-opening government and averting default. So, I hope that they'll take a serious look at the Senate bill.

I hope they'll just pass it so that we can quickly reopen government, avert the default, and restore the confidence of the American people.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about the latest ideas that may be on the table right now, close to a deal. How long would the government stay operational, fully operational without any government shutdown? This current deal that you could vote on, let's say as early as tomorrow.

COLLINS: Well, that's one of the key issues that has been under discussion. The bipartisan group of 12 senators, six Republicans, six Democrats, that met in my office this morning did arrive on a date and we agreed not to disclose the specifics of that, but suffice it to say that it was shorter than the original six months that I had proposed.

The hope would be that during that time, the Budget Committee Conference could meet and come up with a plan that would guide the overall spending for the year. We would, however, not be breaking the budget cuts -- the budget caps, rather, that were included in the Budget Control Act.

BLITZER: The forced budget cuts known as sequestration. Dana Bash reported earlier and I'll tell you what she reported in case you missed it. You can tell us if we're correct or not correct, close, not close. January 15th, the government would be funded, December 13th, the House Senate budget conferees would come up, hopefully, with some sort of deal, and that the debt ceiling would be raised until February 15th. Are those accurate?

COLLINS: Well, those numbers and dates are very close to what we have recommended in our bipartisan group. I think I'll just leave it at that, because it is up to the discretion of the two leaders at this point in the negotiations.

BLITZER: The medical devices tax, I know you and your colleagues were ready to go ahead and link that to this deal as well. A lot of officials say the White House believes that's a nonstarter even though there are plenty of Democrats and Republicans who support getting rid of that medical device tax, at least, delaying it for a couple years. Could this deal go through without any direct connection, direct connection to that medical device tax?

COLLINS: I'm baffled by the White House's opposition to a two-year delay in the tax, which is what our compromise group had suggested, because it does have widespread bipartisan support. When we had a vote during the budget resolution on this issue on repeal of the tax, it garnered 79 votes.

So, that's a lot of democrats who view this $30 billion tax over ten years as being counterproductive and as being passed on to the health care consumers as well as having an impact, a negative impact, on domestic employment. What we had proposed was replacing the revenues from that tax from a different source.

So, it really would have no impact on the financing of Obamacare, and that's why I'm surprised that the White House has continued to push back on either repeal or at least a two-year delay of the tax.

BLITZER: Yes. I don't think they want any direct connection because the president said he wasn't going to negotiate Obamacare under this kind of threat, if you will. But maybe you can finesse it, come up with some sort of indirect connection and maybe that will get going. Just a thought. Senator Collins, thanks for all your good work.

COLLINS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, lawmakers say a possible deal is in the works to end the shutdown, stave off a government default. Does anyone come out of this ahead?

And those Obamacare error messages. We're going to show you what so many Americans are facing when they try to log on to the new health care site. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're continuing to follow the breaking news. As the clock ticks down to a possible U.S. debt default, lawmakers are signaling optimism about a possible deal. Senate leaders say they're closer and closer to an agreement that would end the government shutdown, stave off the default.

So, what is the White House saying about all of this? Let's get some more now from our senior White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, who's joining us from the North Lawn of the White House. What are they saying about these latest developments, including the decision by the president to postpone that earlier 3:00 p.m. scheduled meeting with the Republican and Democratic leadership? BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. This feeling of optimism appears to be shared here at the White House as well. That meeting was postponed I'm told by White House officials because there was momentum on the Senate or in the Senate when it comes to these negotiations and the president wanted to make sure that that continued uninterrupted.

Meantime, he did get out today into the D.C. community. He went to a soup kitchen, where some furloughed workers have been spending some of their free time, serving those less fortunate who need some of that free food, and there, as he made some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the help of some youngsters, he ratcheted up pressure on Republicans.

So actually, we do have a sound bite, Wolf, that we were hoping to play, but basically, what he was saying was he was warning it was untenable to continue the shutdown and he warned, this was really the dire warning that he said if we don't start making some real progress over in the House and the Senate and if Republicans aren't willing to set aside some of their partisan concerns, he said we stand a good chance of defaulting.

And those are some really strong words to be coming from President Obama. He outlined some of the possible ramifications -- or the ramifications of the debt ceiling not being increased and a default going forward. He talked about interest rates going up, payments for Social Security and disability beneficiaries not going through.

And at this point, Wolf, White House officials are still insisting what we've heard all along, that the president will not negotiate on Obamacare as it would be connected to the debt ceiling or to this government shutdown now in effect. But here's what's interesting, in the same breath, they won't really dismiss out of hand some of these ideas that we're hearing percolating in discussions up on the hill.

One such example, that income verification where Republicans want to they say to avoid fraud, they want to verify the income of Americans who are seeking that subsidy to purchase their health insurance. Right now, the White House is saying that while they certainly want to make sure that Americans who need that subsidy aren't discouraged ultimately from getting it because of some sort of verification, they are sort of waiting to see what the mechanism would be that is proposed. So, there's a lot of kind of wait and see going on as the Senate is working up there Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll wait and see together with you, Brianna. Thank you.

So, there is some optimism, though, that a temporary deal may be within reach to reopen the federal government, stave off a possible default. Will there be any winners in this exercise in government dysfunction? Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger and our chief national correspondent, John King.

Gloria, look at this new ABC/"Washington Post" poll. Disapproval numbers as far as handling of these budget negotiations, 74 percent disapprove of the Republicans in Congress, 61 percent disapprove of the Democrats in Congress, 53 percent disapprove of President Obama. So, there's a lot of disapproval there, although, the Republicans are the winners as far as disapproval are concerned. More people disapprove of them than disapprove of the Democrats or the president.

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: By 20 points. You know, 20- point difference. And I think you'd have to say that in the short term, at least, we don't know about the long term yet, but in the short term, at least, the Republicans have given themselves a real black eye, you know, in the view of the American public. The question that I have coming out of this, and Peter Hart raised this question last week --

BLITZER: He's a pollster.

BORGER: He's a Democratic pollster who does the "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll. His question is, is this short term or is this going to be long term? Is this going to be sort of a moment when the American public took a look at the Republican Party and decided you know what, they really can't run the government and we don't want them to do that, or, will the damage just be short term because, as you point out and as the "Post" poll points out, they're kind of mad at everybody? We don't know the answer to that yet.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know the answer, but the irony and the anger within the Republican Party, especially on the house side, Wolf, is that it's the moderate members who come from the more competitive districts. There are not many of them, but they tend to be in the northeast and mid-Atlantic states. Those members who are now worried because they would vote to reopen the government.

They've been saying all along, don't do this, don't make this stand on Obamacare, don't shut down the government over this. The more conservative members are viewed as safe. And even when this ends despite these national polls, most of them will go home and likely get reelected, but some of their more moderate friends may get caught up if there is an anti-Republican wave.

BORGER: So the question is, will anybody learn from any of this, and mostly on the Republican side. We're going to see that when Republicans get ready to vote on whatever comes out of the Senate, because it's pretty clear to me that what's coming out of the Senate is something the White House could sign.

So, we're going to have to wait and see what House Republicans decide to do and whether they continue to make their stand or whether John Boehner is willing to say, OK, get it done.

BLITZER: Hold on for a minute. Erin Burnett is joining us, the anchor of "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."

Erin, I know you're very well plugged into Wall Street. What are you hearing from some Wall Street leaders right now about this very, very sensitive moment in these negotiations?

ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": I mean, Wolf, I guess on the one hand, let me start with the glass half full, they're glad there could be some sort of resolution because of the simply no man's land, that we've never been in a situation of implicit default before. So, they are glad about that. I think that's important to say.

However, they are extremely frustrated by the act that it's being put out as some sort of solution to delay the debt ceiling until February and the budget until December, that they see that as frankly a joke and pretty pathetic. I mean, you know, it's been 13 times since 2011 that Congress has now done this, this sort of brinksmanship on these issues, and to them, they really see this in terms of their relationships with banks and companies around the world.

You know, one source said to me today, Wolf, I think it's worth talking about, saying, look, they were meeting with big leaders from companies and central banks at the IMF over the past few days and they said it's bigger than this. It's the default, that's a big issue, that the U.S. faith and credit is a big issue but also it's things like the United States says it's going to be pivoting to Asia militarily and -- but it's not. America's absence is, quote-unquote, "obvious to everyone."

They see that parallel with the debt ceiling and they see it in Congress and they think it's just, it's not just an embarrassment, but it's become something that's truly hurting America's role and America's ability to be the leader around the world financially.

BLITZER: Yes. Having said all that, better to get some sort of deal for December and January and February than no deal at all --

BURNETT: Yes, fair point.

BLITZER: -- and potentially see the U.S. default.

BURNETT: Yes. No, I mean, absolutely. They would rather have that than nothing but they see this as pathetic. The only bipartisanship you can get it kicking the can down the road as opposed to dealing with something. I mean, the super committee had 18 months and I remember John King, we were on every night talking about that, right? And they weren't able to deal with any of these issues in 18 months.

So why would you expect that suddenly now, they're going to be able to do it. I mean, look, maybe a miracle could happen, but there's a lot of negativity on Wall Street.

BLITZER: Yes, a lot of negativity all over the place. All right. Erin will have much more, 7:00 p.m. eastern, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."

John King, thank you.

Gloria, thanks to you as well.

When we come back, failure after failure after failure. Our own Elizabeth Cohen has been trying to get on to Obamacare Web sites for two weeks. She has an important new update. We'll share with you.

Also, who is to blame if the country were to default on its national debt? The "CROSSFIRE" co-host Newt Gingrich and Stephanie Cutter, they are here in THE SITUATION ROOM and they will debate.


BLITZER: A lot of Americans keep on trying to log on to that Obamacare Web site, but with no luck. We're going to show you what they have been up against when we come back.


BLITZER: Scathing new criticism against the Obama administration's botched Obamacare rollout from a former White House insider. The former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs calls it excruciatingly embarrassing and says people should be fired over how it was handled. So many Americans trying to register have been plagued by glitches for more than two weeks now.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen reports.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I put in my user name and password, it didn't recognize it.

(voice-over): Error messages, page not found, system down. It's been a tough nearly two weeks for Obamacare.

(on camera): There were error messages, or that little annoying kind of like twirly thing. I hate it, right?

(voice-over): I have been trying since day one to get an account and log in on I failed again.

(on camera): You couldn't make this page work.

(voice-over): And again.

(on camera): It wouldn't log me in.

(voice-over): And again.

(on camera): It's not working.

(voice-over): When I called the 1-800 number, the reps tell me volume is high and to try again during off-peak hours. So, I tried at 10:30 at night, 7:00 in the morning. And still, it didn't work.

So, finally, I set my alarm clock for 3:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Guess what? The system was down for maintenance.

I'm not the only one having trouble. On Facebook, people took to the page to vent by the thousands, and on CNN's iReport --

TOM HALSTEAD, CNN IREPORTER: I've tried it hundreds -- literally hundreds of times since October the 1st.

COHEN: Independent analyst tells CNN the problems go beyond higher volume and minor glitches. They say the site fails to follow even protocol in its coding.

There is the old fashioned option of enrolling over the phone and using and snail mail. You do have time. To be insured by January 1st, you just have to complete the process by December 15th.


BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now live.

I take it you are seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel. What's the latest?

COHEN: Yes, Wolf, I am pleased to say that this morning, I tried to log in, I failed, tried to log in, I failed, tried a third time and I failed.

So I said all right, I'm creating a new account, which I tried to do in the past. So, I created a new account, didn't work, didn't work a second time.

The third time, I was able to create a new account and actually get into the site. I worked on it for awhile, it's really actually so easy to use, incredibly clean, a great user interface. I then had to walk away from my desk and when I came back, several hours later, I'm sorry to say I could not log in again. I tried to log in again and it wouldn't let me back in.

So, I think, you know, you hear the word spotty a lot to describe this Web site and that's certainly the experience that I've had.

BLITZER: I've heard other words besides spotty to describe the Web site as well.

COHEN: Yes, it's true.

BLITZER: They're still not telling us how many people have tried to enroll, have tried to log on, have tried to purchase health insurance through this new Affordable Care Act.

COHEN: Right. Reporters have been asking for those numbers. All right, well, how many people have had success on the site, how many haven't, and the administration has not given them.

However, a federal official did tell me today that later this week, possibly hopefully he says even tomorrow, they will be giving some metrics, some numbers that will describe the performance of the site. Now, it's not going to be the enrollment numbers that we all want, Wolf, but I'm told that it will be some data, some information that will at least give a sort of description in some way of how the site's performing.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen, glad you got in finally. Not so glad that eventually you couldn't log in a second time but I'm sure things will happen in the next several days or weeks. Appreciate it very much.

COHEN: Thanks. BLITZER: Up next, taking America to the brink. Does either side come out ahead in this battle over spending and the debt ceiling?

"CROSSFIRE's" Newt Gingrich and Stephanie Cutter, they are both here. They're standing by live.

And extraordinary heroism by a U.S. army officer who is about to receive the Medal of Honor and his actions were all caught on videotape.


BLITZER: All right. So who's to blame if the country were to default on its national debt or other obligations? The "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts Stephanie Cutter and Newt Gingrich, they are here. They will debate live right after this.


BLITZER: All right. Take a look at this. Our CNN camera, just a little while ago, caught the vice president, Joe Biden, with Bruce Reed, out there stepping on to the balcony of the executive office building, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, right next door to the White House.

Bruce Reed is chief of staff.

We're only now about 54 hours left before the potential default on the nation's debt and other financial obligations.

Joining us now to debate how it's all going and play out the "CROSSFIRE" co-hosts, Stephanie Cutter and Newt Gingrich.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Are you upbeat that this is virtually a done deal right now?

NEWT GINGRICH, HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: No. I mean I -- I think -- will they get something done, yes. Will it probably be a mess, yes. Will it probably be secret and nobody will know what's in it, yes. None of that makes me upbeat. I mean, if you're saying, do I think we'll avoid a total complete train wreck and the disintegration of American credit, yes.

BLITZER: What do you think?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, HOST, CNN'S CROSSFIRE: I think they will eventually come to a deal.

BLITZER: This week?

CUTTER: I think it's unfortunate that it's come to this. You know, these are self-inflicted wounds. I heard somebody say earlier that macroeconomic advisors have the new report out today that because of these, you know, man-made created crises in Washington, it's cost America 900,000 jobs.

I think that the American people are tired of it. We will come to a deal eventually, but it's coming at a great cost.

BLITZER: Who gets -- who gets a better deal right now? Would it be the president or the Republicans? Who wins? Assuming this deal that Dana has been reporting and that we've been reporting, fund the government through January 15th, have these House-Senate budget negotiators work out some deal by December 13th, extend the debt ceiling until February 15th, who wins out of this deal?

GINGRICH: I think what Stephanie just said. If this did in fact cost us 900,000 jobs, nobody wins. The president presides over a weak economy. The Republicans have a black eye. Frankly, Harry Reid didn't look all that good, either. The city of Washington decays in the esteem of the American people and we decay as a country around the world. This is -- this is a lose-lose-lose process.

CUTTER: I think if you look at the data that's coming out --

BLITZER: The polling numbers.

CUTTER: There's a "Washington Post" poll that's out today. It shows Republicans getting the blame by more than two to one. Compared to the president, almost three to one. And I think that there's a reason for that because the American people didn't agree with shutting down the government over Obamacare. They didn't agree with Republican tactics up until now. And it's very hard for Republicans to pull back from that.

You know, it's an open question, how long that blame lasts, but they have a little bit more than a black eye. They have a --

GINGRICH: I don't think --

CUTTER: They have a bloody nose, a black eye.


GINGRICH: Now look, having lived through this --

CUTTER: They're taking the hit.

GINGRICH: Having lived through this in the '90s, what the country is going to want to know by next summer is, is Obamacare working, are jobs being created, is the deficit under control, does Washington look competent?

CUTTER: Right.

GINGRICH: And if those things end up being negatives, Republicans are going to win a big election and if they're not negatives, the Republicans are probably going to have a break even.

CUTTER: They're also going to want -- who they can trust on the economy, who they can trust on health care, who they can trust to put the country ahead of their own political interests and hands down, Republicans are losing on those. And it's going to be very difficult for them to regain that trust. BLITZER: You're shaking your head.

GINGRICH: Because I think it's silly.

BLITZER: What's silly?

GINGRICH: If the president of the United States, in his sixth year, has a weak economy --

CUTTER: The president is not on the ballot in this year.

GINGRICH: No. No. No, but his party is. There's no evidence that an incumbent president with a weak economy, with a malfunctioning Obamacare, with a -- with a continuing deficit is going to be in a position to go and say, let's have a referendum election.

CUTTER: First of all we don't --

GINGRICH: Without that the Republicans will keep the House.

CUTTER: We don't know -- you know, there are glitches to the Web site now on Obamacare, but it doesn't mean come January that people are not going to be getting their care. And that's what matters. Number two, the deficit will be half of what it was when the president took office by the end of this year.

Number three, what exactly are Republicans going to run on?


They're going to run it on defunding Obamacare when hundreds of thousands, millions of people are going to be relying on it for their health care. They're going to run on further cuts to the federal budget when spending is in all-time low in history -- GINGRICH: This is -- this is -- well, it's not --

CUTTER: And it comes as a -- you know, further cuts come at a great cost.

GINGRICH: Stephanie, even with --


GINGRICH: Even with modern --

CUTTER: Kids on Head Start.

GINGRICH: Even with modern --

CUTTER: Veterans.

GINGRICH: Look. Even with modern meds, you can argue it's at an all- time low. The fact is increasingly the country does not like Washington. Increasingly the country wants smaller government. Almost all the data is people prefer to have more things back home and fewer things in this city, and frankly, given that the roll-out will eventually will get fixed, with enough money and enough time, you have to ask yourself, if you are the person whose future health depended on this bureaucracy, would that make you more comfortable or less comfortable?

I think a lot of Americans are going to be less comfortable.

CUTTER: But, Newt, you are ignoring the fact for the states that are running Obamacare, which is how the law was intended to work. Obamacare is actually working. Kentucky is signing up something like 1,000 people a day. And --

BLITZER: We don't have official numbers yet from the federal government.

CUTTER: We don't have official numbers. But that's what's being reporting out of Kentucky.

BLITZER: We would like to get some official numbers.


CUTTER: So we can -- we can project all we want, but according to -- you know, this is not from me, this is from independent news organizations research, there is a big backlash happening against Republicans. Even on the question on the size of government. And people don't see this as a debate over government. They see this as a debate over -- a forced debate over Obamacare, a forced debate that Ted Cruz led the Republican Party off the cliff on.

BLITZER: All right. Very quickly because we're out of time.

GINGRICH: I think the election of next year is going to depend a lot more on the economy, the deficit and the fact that Washington bureaucracy doesn't work very well for local people.

BLITZER: Well, it does work fairly well for 60 million Americans who rely on Social Security.


BLITZER: Not just federal bureaucracy.

GINGRICH: They send them a check.

BLITZER: That seems to work pretty well.

GINGRICH: All they do is send them a check.

CUTTER: And Medicare.

BLITZER: That's health care. That's -- Medicare works pretty well.

CUTTER: Veterans care.

BLITZER: People like Medicare, people like Social Security.

GINGRICH: That's right.

BLITZER: I believe those are both federal government programs.

GINGRICH: That's right. And when you get beyond that, you'll find people overwhelmingly in the polls 60, 65 percent on small government.

BLITZER: Maybe -- well, let's hope. Obamacare -- if it's as successful as Medicare and Social Security that would be great. So far it's not very successful. Well, let's see how successful it is. It's only been two weeks.

All right, guys. Thanks very much.

CUTTER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: See you right after THE SITUATION ROOM, 6:30 p.m., another new "CROSSFIRE."

Coming up on our special report, tweet us your questions for Republican Congressman Darrell Issa. Use the #sitroom. He's standing by live. We'll discuss with him.

And a young soldier's valiant rescue effort in Afghanistan about to earn him the nation's highest military honor.


BLITZER: Extraordinary images of heroism in Afghanistan. The story behind the next Medal of Honor.


BLITZER: Tomorrow President Obama will award the Medal of Honor to an army commander who risked it all to save his men.

Here's other Pentagon correspond Barbara Starr.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a helicopter ride into the hell of war and the soul of Captain William Swenson, a soldier who refused to leave anyone behind, and spoke up to senior commanders when it all went wrong.

CAPT. WILLIAM SWENSON, MEDAL OF HONOR DESIGNEE: And what happened that day was a result of clouded judgment. It was a result of clouded judgment on behalf of people who did later receive letters of reprimand.

STARR: In this valley four years ago, Swenson and his men were ambushed in one of the most brutal firefights of the Afghan war. Swenson said his men did not get urgently needed air support, a claim validated by the army. Then his nomination file was said to be lost. Now he is finally receiving the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest combat award. It was early morning when the column of more than 100 U.S. and Afghan troops started up the valley's narrow path. Enemy fire opened up from three sides.

SWENSON: We're now outnumbered, outgunned, and we have taken casualties.

STARR: Sergeant 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook is shot in the throat and laying out in the open.

SWENSON: He called out to me and said, I'm hit. And he wasn't panicked. There was no indication of pain. I called out to him, all right, hold on, I can't get to you. I'm pinned down, keep fighting.

STARR: Swenson runs across open ground, dodging enemy fire to get him. Sergeant Kevin Duerst was crew chief of the Medevac coming to get the wounded. A helmet-mounted camera captures Swenson flashing an orange panel so the helicopter can find him, but it makes him an enemy target.

STAFF SGT. KEVIN DUERST, CALIFORNIA NATIONAL GUARD VIDEO: He was completely under control of the whole situation. He knew exactly what had to be done and when.

STARR: Swenson and a medic help Westbrook to the Helo. And then a moment amid the mayhem. Watch as Swenson gently kisses Westbrook good-bye. Swenson has no memory of it.

SWENSON: I was just trying to keep his spirits up. I wanted him to know that it was going to be OK. And I wanted him to know that he had done his job, that it was time for him to go.

STARR: Swenson, determined to get everyone out, went back into the battle with others still under fire to find and bring out the bodies of dead American and Afghan fighters. Sergeant Westbrook died a few weeks later.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.