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Obamacare Under Fire; Interview With Congresswoman Michele Bachmann

Aired October 30, 2013 - 18:00   ET



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Hold me accountable for the debacle. I'm responsible.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: They certainly are the faces of the Obamacare Web site debacle, and both were front and center today taking responsibility and promising solutions.

We have a team coverage this hour of "Obamacare Under Fire."

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, with the very latest -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here at the White House, officials believe the president took ownership of the mess-ups with Obamacare today, that they feel like he for the first time really addressed this issue of millions of cancellation letters going to Americans around the country, informing them they may be losing their coverage.

In other words, this White House feels they have turned the corner on Obamacare in getting the program back on track.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It was part photo-op, part flashback as the president stood in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, the very place where his former rival Mitt Romney signed into law the health care plan that became the prototype for Obamacare, while he conceded his plan's Web site is not working.

OBAMA: There is no denying it. Right now, the Web site is too slow. Too many people have gotten stuck. And I am not happy about it. I take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed ASAP.

ACOSTA: Mr. Obama argued Romneycare wasn't perfect at first, either.

OBAMA: Enrollment was extremely slow. Within a month, only about 100 people had signed up.

ACOSTA: But there are also big differences. Former Romney aides like ex-spokesman Ryan Williams are disgusted with the comparisons.

(on camera): What do you make of that?

RYAN WILLIAMS, FORMER ROMNEY AIDE: I think it's pretty pathetic, actually.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Williams noted Romney had the late Senator Ted Kennedy by his side, a bipartisan achievement the president failed to match.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney hired good people to manage a good operation. The rollout went very smoothly. President Obama has not done a good job managing the process, he's not hired competent people to run the program, and I think we're seeing the disastrous results of that right now.

ACOSTA: Romney also rejected the comparison in a statement, saying: "Had President Obama actually learned the lessons of the Massachusetts health plan, the installation of the program would not have been a frustrating embarrassment."

But the president's trip to Boston served another purpose, to explain why he sold Obamacare with the pitch, if you like your plan, you could keep it. Those consumers receiving cancellation letters, the president said, can buy insurance under Obamacare, an option they may not have had before.

OBAMA: Insurance company will ever be able to deny you coverage or drop you as a customer all together. Those days are over. And that's the truth.


ACOSTA: I just finished talking with a senior White House official who said, again, that the president has complete confidence in Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, that the White House is happy with her performance today at the hearing up on Capitol Hill, and one thing the senior White House official also said, contrasting with some of the circus-like atmosphere in that hearing today -- quote -- "The Republicans did us a favor up there today."

They feel like, in contrast to what happened up on Capitol Hill, Kathleen Sebelius came out of their hearing pretty well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.

Meanwhile, another new defense of the president and the Obamacare rollout today, this time from the former White House Chief of Staff, the Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel. My colleague Jake Tapper sat down with the mayor and asked him about the problems with the Web site and the mistakes that were made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Do you think it was a mistake for the president to say, if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan?

RAHM EMANUEL (D), MAYOR OF CHICAGO: No, I don't think it was a mistake at all. I think he was talking and I think everybody knew -- and you guys covered it at that and what the indication was, as it related to the employer-based plans, which were the dominant -- were north of 65 percent that got -- people got their health care plan.

TAPPER: There have been criticisms of him as disengaged.

The -- were you...

EMANUEL: That -- let me say this. That is the furthest from the truth about the president. I used to see him every morning. I used to see him every morning, three or four times during the day and every evening before we went out.

And when I'd see him every morning, he had read all the material that was presented to him by everybody and he knew, going into the meeting, what the assumption of the other side of the argument was, why he wanted to -- exactly what questions he wanted about what he was getting -- whether it was on economic policy or any particular foreign policy.

So the idea that he'd be disengaged is, unless something happened, I've never seen, in the two years of intensity that I was there. I just don't buy it.


BLITZER: Now to the embattled health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, and her highly anticipated testimony today about Obamacare, the Web site and its failures.

Our chief congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has more.


DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kathleen Sebelius came with a clear sound bite length mea culpa.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I apologize. I'm accountable to you for fixing these problems.

BASH: The embattled HHS secretary repeatedly fell on her sword about the problem-plagued Obamacare Web site.

SEBELIUS: I told the president that we were ready to go. Clearly, I was wrong.

BASH: Republicans eagerly pointed out the Web site wasn't even working during the three-and-a-half-hour hearing.

REP. PETE OLSON (R), TEXAS: It's been down the whole time you have been testifying.

BASH: Democrats were eager to point out the positive.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: Women can no longer be charged more than a man for the same coverage.

BASH: But some worried Web site problems are masking all that and want to be sure it will be fixed by the new November 30 deadline.

REP. ANNA ESHOO (D), CALIFORNIA: Do you have full confidence in this new hard date?

SEBELIUS: I know the only way I can restore confidence that we get it right is to get it right.

BASH: Still, Sebelius flatly ruled out extending a March 31 deadline to enroll or delaying a fee Americans must pay for not buying insurance and a few times her contrition was overshadowed by irritation.

REP. GREGG HARPER (R) MISSISSIPPI: It's great that you're a team player and taking responsibility. It is the president's ultimate responsibility, correct?

SEBELIUS: You clearly -- whatever. Yes, he is the president. He is responsible for government programs.

BASH: Obamacare confusion reaches beyond the Web site. Insurance companies are dropping people's plans, something the president promised wouldn't happen. Sebelius struggled to explain why. Many of those plans do not have beefed-up coverage required until the new law.

SEBELIUS: The policy that they had may not exist, but they have a lot of choices of new policies.

BASH: Republicans called it unfair.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Some people like to drive a Ford, not a Ferrari. And some people like to drink out of a red Solo cup, not a crystal stem. You're taking away their choice.

BASH: And Republicans came armed with constituent horror stories and pointed questions about Sebelius herself isn't joining an Obamacare exchange.

SEBELIUS: I am not eligible for the exchange, as I have coverage.


REP. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: You can decide to drop your coverage of the employer. You have the choice to decide not to choose..

SEBELIUS: No, that is not true, sir. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, it is true, she is right, she is prohibited from being on an Obamacare exchange, but it's not because she is a Cabinet secretary or because she's on a federal health plan. It's because she's 65 and a Medicare recipient. People who are getting those benefits cannot also enter Obamacare exchanges.

COOPER: Interesting. Dana, thank you very much.

Still ahead, is the Obamacare Web site vulnerable to hackers? CNN has now obtained an internal memo with a disturbing warning.

And I will ask Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann to respond to President Obama's demand that his critics need to explain themselves.


BLITZER: The vice president, Joe Biden, also fessing up to the failures of the Obamacare Web site, promising a fix. Listen to this from an exclusive interview he granted Christi Paul from our sister network HLN.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were under the impression that it was ready to go.

We had the president, to his credit, almost seven weeks out was saying, are we ready? And he would be told by the pros, yes, it looks like it's ready to go, all in line.

Neither he or I are technology geeks and we assumed it was up and ready to run.


BLITZER: More of our SITUATION ROOM report, "Obamacare Under Fire," right after this.


BLITZER: We're now learning more about a disturbing early warning that the Obamacare Web site security was at risk. CNN has obtained an internal government memo.

Joe Johns is here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tell us about it.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the memo. The memo is an internal memo dated September 27 of this year, less than a week before the Web site went live.

It warned the administration a high security risk because of a lack of testing and it said the agency had created a dedicated security team to monitor the risk, conduct weekly scans and conduct a full-scale security assessment within three months. The memo did not say what the security concerns were, but we do know as far back as August, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services had warned that the site could be hacked.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius under aggressive questioning said the testing is ongoing. The document underscores that the site would not get permanent authorization to operate until all the necessary fixes are in place.

BLITZER: There was an interesting mention of another CNN report during the course of today's congressional hearing. I want to play the clip because it's not exactly precise. Listen to this.


REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: Mr. Chairman, it just came to my attention that on CNN's Web site that the site was hacked just last week.

I will be happy to make this available to you.


SEBELIUS: The CNN Web site?

BURGESS: CNN ran a story that the Web site was hacked last week. Again, I will get this to you and would appreciate your response to that.


BLITZER: Joe, tell us what the report that we posted on our Web site actually said.

JOHNS: Well, that's not exactly right. What we did not report was that the site had been hacked. CNN Money reported that a software tester from Arizona had identified a hole in the Web site's security system that could -- could allow a hacker to reset your password without your knowledge and gain access to your account.

CNN Money said doing it wouldn't have taken a skilled hacker, anyone with bad intentions and a minimal understanding of how to read Web site's code could have figured it out. It was a theoretical report. We also reported, by the way, that that the glitch has now been fixed, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We also heard Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, member of -- this other committee also expressed some serious doubts that the security was good right now. Joe Johns, thanks very much for that report, Joe Johns reporting for us.

We also heard the president defend Obamacare just a little while ago, saying the rollout of Mitt Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts, reminded everyone also had some serious problems at the beginning.

Brian Todd is here. He's been taking a comparison of both of these programs.

What are you seeing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The comparisons are not straightforward because when you look at the president's plan, much of that involves projections for the future so they're unclear.

But we look at some things you can measure in Massachusetts, including costs to the consumers and the access patients get to doctors.


TODD (voice-over): President Obama again using Massachusetts as the model for his health care law. Like under Romneycare, he contends, many more people will be covered, but a top critic of the president's plan worries about another unfavorable comparison to what happened in Massachusetts.

REP. JOHN FLEMING (R), LOUISIANA: About 70 percent of primary care doctors at the time before Romneycare were accepting new patients. That has dropped down to 50 percent. We're going to see the same problem nationwide as Obamacare rolls out.

TODD: That's because doctors get reimbursed less as more patients enroll. An expert who helped craft Romney's and Obama's plans said the doctor crunch isn't unique to Romney's plans.

JOHN MCDONOUGH, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: The pressures in the rest of the country are farther greater than they are in Massachusetts.

TODD: He says the Obama plan will address that by offering financial incentives like medical school loan help to get doctors to participate. Did the Massachusetts plan lower costs for patients? According to government statistics, under Romney's plan, the yearly cost of a premium for an average person in Massachusetts went up faster than it did in the rest of the country between 2006 when the plan rolled out and 2012. Congressman

John Fleming predicts this under Obamacare.

FLEMING: Immediate ratcheting up of price and cost.

TODD: But supporters of the president's plan say the rate of growth in Massachusetts slowed in recent years.

MCDONOUGH: Over the past three to four years, we have seen a significant reduction in the rate of growth in health insurance premiums in Massachusetts and also around the country.


TODD: But that has not been a steady curve. It's hard to compare rates and hard to compare enrollment. Analysts who have looked at the two plans say there's some key differences when it's comes to enrollment between Romneycare and Obamacare.

In Massachusetts, to boil it down, the group of uninsured was smaller and the enrollment was done in stages over a longer period of time.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, good report. Thanks very, very much.

Just ahead, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann on Obamacare's failures. Is she accepted Secretary Sebelius' apology today?

Also, Obamacare in the "CROSSFIRE." Our special coverage continues right at the bottom of the hour, with Newt Gingrich on the right, and Van Jones on the left.


BLITZER: New poll numbers today on Obamacare. Look at this. The approval of the health care law has actually edged up slightly since the summer, despite the Web site's problems that have received so much attention over the past month. The Gallup poll shows approval of the law now stands at 44 percent. That's up three points from August. I will ask Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann about that and more, right after this.


BLITZER: And now a Republican's response to the president's remarks in Boston today strongly defending Obamacare.

And Republican Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Congresswoman, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: You heard the president today earlier in the day. I want you to listen to one line that he said, because he might have been referring to you and some other Republicans.


OBAMA: And anyone defending the remnants of the old, broken system, as if it was working for people, anybody who thinks we shouldn't finish the job of making the health care system work for everybody, especially when these folks offer no plan for the uninsured or the underinsured, or the folks who lose their insurance each year, those folks should have to explain themselves.


BLITZER: All right, go ahead and explain yourself.

BACHMANN: Well, it's another false statement that the president says.

BLITZER: What's false?

BACHMANN: He assumes that anyone who is not happy with the current program is somehow 100 percent defending what we had before.

That isn't true at all. We had a whole passel of reforms that we wanted in the health care system. The president wasn't interested. He only wanted the federal government to completely subsume all of health care and then force every American, whether they liked it or not, into his version of health care.

And it was really interesting, Wolf. The way the president opened his speech was to praise Mitt Romney for working with Republicans and Democrats in Massachusetts. And that's what so bizarre. The president didn't work with one Republican on this massive takeover.


BLITZER: He tried. But the Republicans didn't want to work with him. They didn't like his ideas.

BACHMANN: He didn't. He didn't get -- he didn't get one Republican vote.

BLITZER: I know he didn't get any votes.

BACHMANN: What does that say?

BACHMANN: That tells you the president had one idea for health care, which is the government ownership, government control and government mandate. We don't want forced programs. We want choice in programs and freedom for people.

BLITZER: So this is the law right now, the Affordable Care Act. It is the law. Do you want to try to make it better, to fix it, or do you just want to destroy it?

BACHMANN: No, what I want is the finest possible health care for America that we can have. We did have fabulous health care. And I think we can again.

BLITZER: Well, a lot of people didn't have fabulous health care. There were millions of people who had no health care.

BACHMANN: Well, remember, what the president is talking about right now is fantasy health care.

He promised all Americans that you and I would be saving $2,500 a year. Didn't happen. It's not going to happen. He promised us no tax increases. Huge tax increases, in fact, the biggest middle class tax increase we have ever seen. He told us that if we liked our health insurance plan, we could keep it. Tell that to 16 million Americans today, or that the cost was actually going to go down. That didn't happen to Jason Anderson in my district, who's 31 years old, who he and his wife and his 2-year-old baby saw their premium double and their deductible triple.


BLITZER: But what about all those people who now can buy insurance because they had a preexisting condition, and they -- earlier they couldn't buy health insurance. All of a sudden, now they can go out there and buy health insurance. You would welcome that?

BACHMANN: That was a heartbreaker for every American to hear those stories. That's something where Republicans and Democrats could have come together.

"The Washington Post" said this is a $5 billion problem. You know me, Wolf. I'm a strong fiscal conservative. I would have gone to the Treasury and stroke out the check for $5 billion every year to pay for the preexisting pool. That's something we could take care of.

But we don't have to force over 300 million Americans to buy a health insurance policy at a price they can't afford from a Web site that doesn't work. That's what we don't need in health care.

BLITZER: Presumably, that Web site will work one of these days, sooner rather than later, right?

BACHMANN: The Web site at some point I think will work.

If it doesn't, it will be the laughingstock of America. But the bigger problem in all of this is a health care system that won't work, because again what I would say to the president is, what are you, what are the Democrat senators, the Democrat House members who voted for Obamacare, what are you going to do about the millions of jobs that have been lost because health insurance premiums have jacked people up so high they can't afford to buy the health insurance?

What are you going to do about Jason Anderson in my district who saw his premium double? What are you going to do about the woman who for 37 years has paid for the family policy? This year again, her premium will go up $2,000 a year and her deductible will triple. She can't afford it.


BLITZER: But I think you agree, for all of those stories, there are a lot of other stories, heartbreaking stories as well, where people who had no health insurance, now for the first time in their lives they do have health insurance.

BACHMANN: Wolf, even the government says when all is said and done and the government takes over health insurance, 30 million Americans will still be without health insurance.

BLITZER: That's better than 50 million.


BACHMANN: We weren't at 50.


BLITZER: We were pretty close.

BACHMANN: But that's also including illegal aliens.

And if you ask Americans, they don't believe that it's the job of a taxpayer to pay for the health insurance subsidy for illegal aliens.

BLITZER: In this new Gallup poll that is just out, do you approve or disapprove of the health care law, it's actually improved a little bit. August, 41 percent approved. Now it's up to 44 percent. So there's a slight improvement. People are beginning to like it a little bit more.

BACHMANN: Well, not in my district, they aren't.

People are really upset about it. But, again, remember, your viewers, their tax money has been used to spend on tens of millions of dollars of advertising to tell America, you love it, you really love it, you know you love this. So we're being forced by our own tax money to be told that we love this plan.

I will tell you, not at home. Not at home, they don't. People love things where somebody else buys their product for them, but, again, think of what we're talking about here. Every American is forced to buy a product, whether they want to or not, at a price most of them can't afford unless the government subsidizes it.

And, again, what we believe is it should be voluntary. If there are people without health insurance, we get that, but make it voluntary. Don't force us to buy something that we don't want to buy.

BLITZER: We will continue this conversation.

BACHMANN: Very good.

BLITZER: Michele Bachmann, thanks for coming in.

BACHMANN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, remember, you can always follow us, what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter. You can always tweet me @WolfBlitzer. You can always obviously tweet the show at well @CNNSitRoom.

Thanks very much for watching. We will continue our special coverage of Obamacare tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.