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Friday Political Mix: Obama’s Health Care Fallout Writ Large

Good morning.

Or, bad morning, if you're President Obama and absorbing the profound political reality of the botched health care law rollout, and your attempt at a fix.

We'll let the headlines tell the story:

Wall Street Journal: "Obama Retreats on Health Care Rules"

Washington Post: "Democrats face major loyalty test"

New York Times: "As Troubles Pile Up, a Crisis of Confidence"

National Review: "Cancel Obamacare"

Talking Points Memo: "Using Obamacare Confusion to sell junk insurance"

As you no doubt know, the president on Thursday reversed a key provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) when he announced a one-year grace period during which Americans could renew insurance policies that don't meet the minimum standards of the new law.

The political Hail Mary (yes, a football metaphor in keeping with the president's Thursday press conference theme) was lobbed under intense pressure, and intended, in part, to shore up the fortunes of his Democratic teammates.

But the game is far from over. (I'll stop now.)

Today, the Republican-controlled House will vote on the so-called Upton Bill. The legislation, expected to draw some Democratic support, would allow insurance companies to continue offering to everyone -- not just current policy-holders -- health plans that don't comply with the ACA.

The president late Thursday indicated he would veto such a bill if it made it to his desk.

And insurance executives, none too pleased with the turn of events, are expected to head to the White House today as well for a meeting with the president.

First, the Upton bill.

Rep. Fred Upton, R-MI, argued on Fox News that Obama's fix is discriminatory because it only allows those currently covered with now-substandard plans to keep those plans for another year.

The administration, in issuing its formal veto threat, characterized the Upton bill as yet another effort to "sabotage" the president's signature legislation.

Now, to the insurance execs and the White House.

Businessweek quotes an anonymous White House official on the meeting: "A White House official says Obama and senior aides will meet with CEOs to discuss helping people enroll in new plans and will talk about ways to minimize any disruptions as consumers switch to new plans. The official was not authorized to speak publicly in advance about the meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity."

What The Rest Of the Country Is Reading

We often turn to USAToday, the most-circulated newspaper in the country, to see what many Americans are reading over their morning coffee.

If you're sitting in the Oval Office, it isn't pretty. Under the headline, "Obama prescribes ugly fix for Obamacare," the media company's editorialists characterized the president's move as "politically inevitable," but with a "dangerous rebound effect." It has the potential, they write, to mess up the mix of healthy and sick people needed to sustain the ACA's health insurance exchanges.

Here's more: "People in the individual market now tend to be healthy because insurers typically reject applicants with pre-existing conditions or other health risks. Premiums for the new health marketplaces were based on the expectation that those healthy people would move to the exchanges.

"The other big problem with Obama's plan is that a lot of people still might not be able to keep policies they like. Insurers don't have to renew the expiring policies, and state insurance commissions don't have to approve them."

It's not that they like what the Republicans are up to, either:

"House Speaker John Boehner's plan -- repeal the entire Affordable Care Act -- would preserve an unsustainable status quo, leaving 40 million people uninsured and millions more at risk of going bankrupt if they get sick.

"The bill expected to pass the House today, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., would let insurers sell inadequate policies to new and existing customers. That undermines both the risk pools and one of the most valuable ideas in the president's health reform law -- that health insurance should really be insurance."

NPR's Julie Rovner, as usual, provides the best distillation of why insurers are concerned, and the importance of a balance of sick and healthy buying coverage in the Obamacare health insurance exchanges.

Finally, while Congress, the president and the insurance executives duke it out, a truly sobering narrative is emerging for the president, and for Democrats.

Here's the New York Times' Michael Shear, who in stark terms compares the Obama's health care rollout debacle to his White House predecessor's failed response to Hurricane Katrina. (The comparison to Katrina, which left more than 1,800 people dead in its wake and a city forever reshaped, has been criticized by some as not wholly appropriate.)

Writes Shear: "Barack Obama won the presidency by exploiting a political environment that devoured George W. Bush in a second term plagued by sinking credibility, failed legislative battles, fractured world relations and revolts inside his own party.

"President Obama is now threatened by a similar toxic mix. The disastrous rollout of his health care law not only threatens the rest of his agenda but also raises questions about his competence in the same way that the Bush administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina undermined any semblance of Republican efficiency."

John Judis, writing in the New Republic under the headline, "Obamacare's Launch Fiasco Will Haunt Us for Years to Come," warns that this episode will undermine Americans' support for government social and economic programs.

"Since the country's founding, Americans have always had an abiding distrust of the federal government. In the country's first fifty years, that probably had a progressive effect by accelerating Westward economic expansion, but after the Civil War, business and banking leaders exploited this sentiment to block attempts to protect workers and consumers; later, the appeal to state's rights was used to oppose civil rights laws.

Already, Judis writes, there are "clear warning signs. In the Gallup surveys of public trust in government, Americans' confidence in the federal government already hit an all-time low in September. Indications are that it has continued to fall. This lack of confidence initially reflected disillusionment with Congress over the Republican shutdown, but the Obamacare's current problems will deepen the public's distrust of government. In 1828, perhaps, such distrust a rising farm economy that needed the kind of easy credit that a national bank was unwilling to provide. But in 2013, it will doom the country to inaction."

And, finally, progressive Ed Kilgore this week did some Monday morning quarterbacking (oops, I did it again), and compiled a list of things Democrats SHOULD have promised about the Affordable Health Care Act.

No. 1? "You'll be able to buy health insurance, no matter what, and it'll be insurance that won't bankrupt you or abandon you when you are sick."

But from there, it gets a bit more complicated. And he acknowledges that the promises he suggests in hindsight are not as pithy as the one that has proved to be wrong.

He writes: "No, it's not a quick sound bite, but in can be conveyed in a 30-second ad. And while I'm sure it's not ideal, I hope someone in the administration is working hard on an alternative. The best way out of a miscommunication, whether it's deliberate or accidental, is to start communicating the truth as clearly as is possible."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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