tv Washington Week With Gwen Ifill PBS November 1, 2013 8:00pm-8:30pm EDT
gwen: winners and losers everywhere you look. on health care, spycraft and politics. tonight on "washington week." the promise in 2010. >> if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. no one will be able to take that away from you. it hasn't happened yet and won't happen in the future. gwen: the walkback in 2013. >> if insurers decided to downgrade or cancel these substandard plans, what we said under the law is you got to row place them with quality comprehensive coverage. gwen: complicated explanations almost never work in politics. >> the majority of americans feel tricked by the rollout of the president's health care law.
we were told if you liked what you had you could keep it. obviously a trick. gwen: the administration, can it dig itself out of its health care hole? >> hold me accountable for the debacle. i'm responsible. gwen: can it justify what appears to be years of widespread exhaustive spying at home and abroad? >> we only spy for valid foreign intelligence purposes as authorized by law with multiple layers of oversight to ensure we don't abuse our authorities. gwen: covering the week, tom gjelten of n.p.r. doyle mcmanus of the "los angeles times." alexis simendinger of realclearpolitics. and karen tumulty of "the washington post." >> award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens, live from our nation's capital this is "washington week with gwen ifill."
corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we went out and asked people a simple question -- how old is the oldest person you've known? we gave people a sticker and had them show us. we learned a lot of us have known someone who's lived well into their 90's. and that's a great thing. but even though we're living longer, one thing that hasn't changed, the official retirement age. the question is, how do you make sure you have the money you need to enjoy all of these years? >> additional corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by northrop grumman. additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen
ifill. gwen: good evening. it's supposed to get better. but so far, when it comes to the affordable care act, everything just seems to be getting if not worse at least murkier. low enrollment, canceled policies, and in the week's signature moment, 3 1/2 hours of grilling for the administration's top health official. witness this exasperated exchange. >> so the president ult ultimately is responsible. while it's great that you're a team player and taking responsibility, it is the president's ultimate responsibility, correct? >> you clearly -- whatever. yes, he is the president. he is responsible for government programs. gwen: that's a key point. because more than anything else, health care opponents want to link the problems with the law to the president himself. and to more essential flaws. mitch mcconnell said as much to me this week. >> the point is could anybody make it work? i don't think albert einstein could make this thing work. it can't work. it won't work. and so i feel sorry for her
being put in a position where she's trying to make something work out that won't. gwen: having mitch mcconnell feel sorry for you is never a good thing if you're a democrat. so couldine stein make this thing work, karen? >> it depends on what this thing is. the computer systems, maybe a few more tech support people could make it work. maybe they should bring over the n.s.a. for that. but almost certainly the computer bugs that have made it almost impossible for a lot of people to sign up, that is going to get fixed. maybe not on the time line that people would like to see. and then we find out whether it really works. because what's going to happen, what has to happen, for this health care system to work as president obama has promised us that it will, is that a lot of healthy people are going to have to sign up for these exchanges along with sick people. we know that people with pre-existing conditions, with
illnesses, we know that they are very motivated and they are going to sit there and do whatever it takes to get into these exchanges. now the question is, is it going to function well enough that young healthy people will as well? gwen: we know that right now, young healthy people or anybody can't really get on the site. and that the administration is guilty of at least overstating whether people would be able to keep the coverage they want right now. >> one of the things that has emerged and we've all read about it and probably know people who've talked about this is that there are a small but sizable number of americans, a percentage that's roughly 5%, are in the individual market, that have gotten letters from their insurance companies. private insurance companies. these are the plans that they supposedly liked and wanted to keep. the ones that the president -- gwen: individual market, not covered by their employer. >> not medicare, not v.a. not in these large pools already. they're out there on their own. so they've got letters from the
insurance companies saying we have to either change and offer you a different set of policies that in some cases might cost more or we're going to encourage you to go into the pool because we're revoking or ending this particular plan. because it doesn't meet the prescriptions of the law. and so a larger number than the administration imagined by this time, one month in, are getting letters that are -- making them feel that they have been left in the lurch. gwen: and if the solution is to get online and get an alternate policy they can't do that. >> and in fact the president this week gave a speech in boston and told -- encouraged people to do that. go online. shop. that's what it's for, he said. that's what the website is for. >> let's go back to the website where this whole mess kind of started. do we know when that website is going to be up and running? and what's the effect on the problem? karen mentioned that you want young healthy people to sign up. if the website is delayed. >> so today, we had an update from the new manager of this
challenge. his name is jeffrey szion and he gave a one-week update and he said that they are on track to meet the deadline they've set an arbitrary deadline for themselves to have this working by the end of november. he also said we expect unexpected things including some technical outages that they actually had this week where they lost hours of time for people to be able to use the site. they're patching it at night now. from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. they're going to do some more fixing this weekend. so within a month, he's saying the website should be working smoothly for the majority of people. >> is there a worst case scenario here? if the -- if the website is not fixed in time, does the whole thing at some point, does -- it's based on an equilibrium, i assume. and if everything starts to fall apart, does -- what happens then? >> well, as people have until april to sign up for this thing or begin to pay a penalty.
if they don't sign up. but the truth is that a lot of these policies on the individual market are now going to be canceled. come january. and so a lot of these people, if it's not up and running by then, are going to be left in the lurch. and the individual market is -- it's a difficult place to buy insurance now. because people go in, they don't have a lot of information. often they buy policies that are skimpy. the administration says that president obama is promised that if you like what you have you can keep it. that they had grandfathered in all these old policies. the fact is the grandfather clause didn't work. it excluded a lot of people. and it was -- gwen: and could opt out of it. >> companies could opt out of it and also didn't apply to any policy that was written after the middle of 2010. and most people renew these policies year to year. so a lot of those people are going to be in the lurch. gwen: let's speak more --
broader about -- isn't the whole idea of insurance that you're supposed to be in a risk pool, that you're supposed to share the risk and paying for something you won't necessarily get? and the complaints about these canceled policies are people not getting the policy they want is they're paying for something that they didn't want. like maternity care if they're single. >> if there's any analysis this week that pointed to the communications flubs in this whole -- the administration was left being beatenest head -- beaten over the head about getting people out of what they call subpar insurance plans and people clinging to those plans if they were wonderful things you can keep. you know you have a problem in an administration when you're trying to sell a benefit and you're finding that the marketplace is clinging to something you consider -- >> there are people who will argue that they just need insurance to really cover them in case of catastrophe.
there are people who will say look, i will pay for my own mammogram if my insurance pays for my breast cancer. and so since the administration, since they wrote this bill with a gigantic benefits policy that covers a lot of preventative care, a lot of benefits that maybe you won't use if you're a man, you won't get pregnant. there's an argument that preventative care saves money in the long run. but a lot of people are saying hey, look, i just want my insurance there for the emergency. >> a number of members of congress say if this is such a mess and can't sign up for it can't we just postpone the deadlines? give people some slack in terms of when they have to sign up. >> any real conversation going on -- >> the administration doesn't seem to want to talk about it. >> a number of democrats are now joining republicans in arguing for this. including a number of senate democrats whose jobs are on the line in the next election. gwen: has there been any discussion at the white house, alexis, about this, about a aying, denying, or
concession they should have done that sooner? >> yeah. this is the answer we get. that is very realistic assessment they're making. if the website cannot be fixed, really truly fixed to allow the kind of shopping that you would envision, within a certain range of time leading up to the january deadline, january 1 deadline, as you know, insurers normally -- for all the paperwork we need several weeks. the plan goes into effect. you can be insured january 1. or you can be insured all the way until march 31 which is what we were just talking about. so the administration is saying holding the line, we don't think we need to enroll. but what they're telling democrats quietly is listen, if it turns out that all of these people that we need for these risk pools, not just older and sicker but the younger and the healthier, if they're not signing up, then we may have to reassess. gwen: and there's the political fix question. which we're still waiting to see whether they come up with one at the white house. the president was in massachusetts this week. and he was making the case that
it took a while for them to get their health care plan right. and he also was -- began the digging exercise. let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say. >> there's no denying it. right now, the website is too slow, too many people have gotten stuck. and i am not happy about it. and neither are a lot of americans who need health care. and they're trying to figure out how they can sign up as quickly as possible. so there's no excuse for it. and i take full responsibility for making sure it gets fixed asap. we are working overtime to improve it every day. gwen: everybody's taking responsibility. anything changing? >> well, again, if this gets fixed in a few days or a week, i think that the long-term consequences may not be so bad. gwen: give it a little more than a week, karen. >> but this does remind me of in the tone of the president's voice, reminds me of the b.p. oil spill. where you could just sort of
see the frustration. and yet, you say i take responsibility. and yet nobody's lost their job over this. who exactly is being held to account for this? >> during the big shutdown debate the president over and over said that once that was behind us, he was open to negotiation. is there any kind of negotiation taking place? are there -- what happened to the medical devices tax? are there any legislative changes that might now be considered? >> i think those sorts of things might come up in the budget negotiations which actually began this week. we haven't seen a conference committee in a long time. we actually saw one. but i don't think that things like that are going to be put on the table in the middle of just trying to get this working. gwen: final. >> i think that the administration is going to continue to try to give these updates, that incrementally every day things are getting fixed and hope that that turns out to be the truth. gwen: we'll be watching it. because that's what we do. thanks to both of you. now, another look at the rapidly accumulating evidence that very little you communicate or that the german chancellor communicates for
that matter is really private. the latest drip, drip, drip from former n.s.a. contractor edward snowden suggests that the nation's biggest tech companies are being breached, too. and as far as we know, it's all legal. is that right, tom? >> well, that's being debated. and i'm not a lawyer. so i sort of deal with things on a dumbed down level. gwen: ok. do that. >> there's one rule that basically underlies all the law here. which is you can't spy on americans without a court order. gwen: right. >> but apparently you can spy on foreigners. and that's what these latest rounds of disclosures have involved. whether it's spying on angela merkel or in this case the n.s.a. found a way to intercept the data as it was transiting through data links into data centers that were held by google and yahoo in europe. so the argument would seem to be, the legal argument would seem to be because those data centers are in europe, they're not -- they can assume they're not american data.
therefore, it was legal to go in. however, the data companies, google and yahoo, are absolutely furious about this. for various reasons. one of them is that their reputations have now been tainted. in europe, google has like a 90% market share of the search software. that's much higher even than in the united states. you're now seeing people closing their g-mail accounts in europe because they don't want their data compromised. so google is losing, yahoo is losing, people are upset. governments are upset. it's really become a mess. >> is the united states the only ones doing this? this data in europe, are europeans coming through it? >> there was a sort of embarrassing episode when french and spanish newspapers were reporting that n.s.a. was going through the data of those citizens. and then it turns out according to the n.s.a., that in fact the intelligence services in those
countries were actually helping the n.s.a. do it. but this kind of defense can actually backfire in a way. because for two reasons. one, it makes intelligence sharing to the extent it does happen more difficult. because now governments, the public in those countries will be outraged to find out their governments are involved with the n.s.a. and make it harder for those intelligence services to cooperate with the n.s.a. the other thing is to the extent that the argument, the defense is everybody does it, then the chinese get off the hook because they're engaged in a lot of cyber espionage and feel that's a defense they can use. the french are engaged in a lot of industrial espionage against the americans. so, you know, there's almost no way to see where this works out well. >> tom, you mentioned the spying, the interception of data from google and yahoo. are companies like that now shutting those doors that -- or those windows or whatever the right metaphor is that the
n.s.a. was using? is the n.s.a. actually losing capability across the board because of these revelations? >> well, that's interesting, doyle. because the google and yahoo saw this coming. i mean, there's been so much out there in the last few months. and they're describing it as they've been kind of in a race with the n.s.a. they have an idea where their vulnerabilities are and trying to patch them. they've been trying to encrypt the data. n.s.a. has some pretty sharp decrippings capabilities. they've gotten ahead of google and yahoo. but they're trying their best to close the vulnerabilities. but the n.s.a. was ahead of them in this case. further ahead than these companies realized. and what's going on now, i would presume that there be some negotiations behind the scenes. but those companies are embarrassed. the n.s.a. didn't want to talk about it. this is so secret we don't know. >> tom, one of the things we hear a lot about at the white house is murkiness about what the president knew about the -- i'm talking about specifically about the surveillance of other
heads of state. more broadly, what do we know about what he did know about that and the administration's very eager to talk about the president's review, this review through the end of the year as if decisions are being made, being ended or repaired or fixed or adjusted, what do we know about what's going on from the white house? >> there is a review. there are two separate reviews. and there are -- competing legislation on capitol hill as well. to sort of -- much more modest than the other. it's clear that there will be changes. but there's also this blasme game going on that's opened up within the administration. this extraordinary situation this week where general keith alexander, the head of the n.s.a., basically said ambassadors are asking us to find -- to get personal information on the heads of state or the heads of government in the countries where they work. to which the diplomatic corps really objected and we're not -- we had several ambassadors or former ambassadors, people
like tom pickering coming out saying this is outrageous and we never asked for that kind of stuff. the white house is saying we didn't know about this. and intelligence officials say there's no way that the white house did. gwen: what puzzles me, what members of congress knew about it? they said this is an outrage and heard the head of the house intelligence committee say well, this is the kind of thing we do. how -- and everybody knows it. i don't quite understand how those two things can be true the same body of lawmakers. >> well, mike rogers, chairman of the house intelligence committee, said that if there's disagreement within the committee about whether they knew about it, it's because some committee members were doing their homework and other ones were. but the ones who people like adam schiff in california really took umbrage at that because i've been doing my homework and didn't know about it. mike rogers never specifically said he knew about it. gwen: he can't. but he kind of hinted. this will be fun. sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between what's policy and what's politics in
washington. but interestingly enough, the american people don't seem to have that problem. both the president and congress are clocking record low levels of public approval of their performance. and it's not just about health care. it's about syria and about shutting down the government and the general idea that no one here is worried about them. but that's not the case. health care reform, if it ever works properly, could be the biggest federal government expansion in decades. and therein lies the partisan rub. doyle. >> that's right. a lot of things we've been seeing all year long and not just this year is when things are going badly in washington, everybody's numbers go down. republicans' numbers go down, democrats' numbers go down. and we see polls all the time but a poll this week, "wall street journal," nbc, numbers are striking enough that they're worth going back to for a minute. president obama hit his lowest job approval ever in that particular poll. 42%. john boehner speaker of the house 17% positive. not so good.
republican party, another record low. 22% positive. democrats a little better. 37%. isn't all that good most of the time. congress, three quarters of the american people think congress is the -- part of the problem, not part of the solution. and finally, only 29% say they want to re-elect their own congressmen. about two thirds say throw the bum out. and they're talking about their own congressman. what's going on here? we finally found something that everybody in america agrees on. and that is this thing isn't working across the board. gwen: and sitting at this table a couple of weeks ago the president is riding high. the republicans have embarrassed themselves. and now that didn't last. >> that was just two weeks ago. the lesson here is that when there's a government shutdown and there's a mess, it does drag everybody down. and then you got to go back to the fundamentals. is the economy working? are jobs being created? and the answer is no. and people are still angry about that. but where all of these issues get tied together is i think
that most wonderful question is the federal government part of the problem or part of the solution? people are looking at washington, and they're seeing a government shutdown. a problem for the economy, drags consumer confidence down, slows the economy. government created the problem, right? health care website. who created that problem? n.s.a.'s spying. who created that problem? so these are all problems that the federal government seems to be creating and not solving. and that is what's pulling everybody down. >> doyle, if we could rewind you a bit here. you said the lesson here is that if the government shuts down, everybody's numbers go down. we have the possibility of this happening again in the next couple of months. did they learn this lesson? do these poll numbers make any difference? >> i think -- certainly the leadership of congress and -- let's be precise. it's the house republicans we're talking about. yeah, i think a lot of house republicans did learn a lesson. but one remarkable thing is the
american public, about half the american public still thinks there's going to be another government shutdown even though most of the money in washington would be against one and that's still having a drag effect on the economy. so the shadow of the government shutdown is still over us. >> why do you think the president's numbers are down? what does this say about the perception of his leadership, his style, his decision making? gwen: competence. >> you have to go back to the economy. if the economy is lousy and not picking up, it's the president's fault. if there's a government shutdown, even though more people blame the republicans than the democrats the president should have fixed that. and these other issues hasn't helped. he hasn't found a way to help the picture. that's where health care is so important. he has staked so much on that. that's a core question of whether the federal government can manage something as complicated as this. most americans don't think the federal government can manage something that complicated. interestingly enough, in the
case of state exchanges, the picture is different because people have more confidence in state government. they see the state government doing things. they're more familiar with it and closer to the ground. >> and their computer systems are working. >> their computer systems are working. but what this -- where the health care episode has played into this is it's reinforced in a real vivid way that basic feeling on the part of the american public that the federal government and in particular president obama's federal government can't actually make the trains run on time. >> really quickly, the affordable carry act, more popular, less popular in all this hubbub? >> amazing thing. flat line. same level of popularity. actually, the affordable care act, obamacare, was already unpopular in general. a plurality doesn't like it over those who do like it. you can get into the details there and see who was there. that really hasn't changed a whole lot. but that's probably because on something as gnarly as this it takes the public a while to
change its views. gwen: and maybe it takes -- puts the responsibility on the federal government to prove why federalism is a good thing and ot just -- that's where we leave you tonight. we have to leave you now but the conversation will continue online, on the "washington week" webcast extra. it streams live at 8:30 p.m. eastern and all weekend long at pbs.org/washingtonweek. that's where you'll also find links to the rest of the great stories our panelists are reporting. keep up with daily developments, now seven nights a week, on "the pbs newshour" and we will see you here next week on "washington week." good night.
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