Thomas Roberts   |  October 28, 2013

Alter: Sebelius hearing won't go well

Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., discusses her reasons for not supporting the president's health care law and Jonathan Alter discusses the glitches plaguing the Obamacare site and this week's hearing with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good morning, i'm thomas roberts . topping our agenda today, glitch-gate. this week is going to be all about wednesday, and that is the day kathleen sebelius will testify on capitol hill about the issues with the federal exchange site and president obama will take his enrollment push on the road now to massachusetts . first overnight the health care website got a whole new look. it now features a new four-way enrolling link. this after a crucial component crashed yesterday taking the entire website down with it, renewing republican calls to delay the next big step.

>> if you really believe that the progressives really believe the government ought to be running this much of the economy, then at least wait a year on the whole thing and fix it to where it's somewhat effective.

>> let's talk about how we can make it work, and if there are problems with them -- with it, let's fix it along the way. i think that's how most americans feel about this program.

>> so when it rains, it pours. in the last 24 hours the obama white house has been dealing not only with the website crash but also a new offering from edward snowden. a major spanish newspaper reporting today that the american spy agency may have been listening to at least 60 million phone calls in spain. this week two representatives from german chancellor angela merkel will visit washington. their leader is calling for talks about the nsa's reach after reports she was too big brothered by uncle sam .

>> clearly damage has been done. i think we have to evaluate whether the costs of the method of gathering some intelligence greatly exceeds the benefit of that intelligence.

>> joining me right now is north carolina republican congresswoman renee ellmers, a member of the house and energy commerce committee which is overseeing hearings on capitol hill into the federal health care website . congresswoman, it's great to have you with me. you had your chance to speak to the contractors last week and we have kathleen sebelius in the hot seat this week. what are the first questions that you want to ask of the secretary?

>> well, what i'd like to know from the secretary is, number one, why did she repeatedly over time tell us that by october 1st , that website was going to be ready to go, that every american would be able to come on. i also want to understand who did what when. who was calling the shots? why was this process interrupted? you know, things like the shop and browse portion were turned off. there are so many questions. but now i'd also like to know from kathleen sebelius how am i going to respond. i am getting thousands of requests from -- reaching out to my office telling me that their health care premiums are going up and that their health care plan that they have is being cancelled. how do i respond to that. those are the questions i'd like to know.

>> have you asked anyone in north carolina why the state didn't start its own exchange, knowing that there was going to be a 3.5% increase on all those people in your home state of north carolina that would seek insurance that that bill would be larger than other states ?

>> the reason that the exchange was not set up in north carolina is because of the vast failure that we've seen. we've seen --

>> but you wouldn't have known about any glitches or gaffes. you won't have known about any glitches or gaffes going into it. we have kennect in kentucky doing great, maryland is doing very well. those are examples that we have seen where a success rate is building. why wouldn't north carolina preemptively try to build its own exchange for as we know over the one million people who are uninsured in your state ?

>> let's go back to months ago what max baucus said. he said this is a train wreck. i took that to heart. from what i've seen this was going to be a failure all along and that's why we repeatedly brought many of the agency heads to the energy and commerce committee to ask the very vital questions. now we have results and the results are failure. how long are we going to continue in this effort?

>> but it's a website issue, it's not about a health care issue. it's about a website issue. a glitch can be fixed and americans overwhelmingly are interested in affordable and accessible health care . being someone with a medical background who's married to a surgeon, you would know most likely what it is like for people that don't have access to affordable health care , especially coming from north carolina which would be considered one of the poorer states .

>> absolutely. that's exactly why i came to washington.

>> so what is your plan to row place or enhance obama care?

>> my plan -- my plan is let's get rid of this failure and let's start over with something that will work. let's delay this. why should the american people be penalized for a website that's failed where they're told that they should go there and buy something they can't afford and into the new year, into 2014 millions, it's projected now that 16 million will have their health care premiums and their health care coverage cancelled. so now we've just increased the number of americans without health care coverage. that's what i want to see. i want to see us delay that penalty and i want to see us put forth something that will work like the american health care reform act that i support from the rnc.

>> do you think that massachusetts and we should be utilizing the example of what's taken place in massachusetts that was instituted under then governor mitt romney as a better example for how we can do this on a national level? because nearly 100% of adults and children in massachusetts have health care coverage.

>> well, you can't take massachusetts and compare it to the entire country. you know, tennessee had a plan as well and it was a complete and total failure. so i think you have to take all of these things into context. this is what you get when you have the federal government take over something as important as health care coverage for every american.

>> all right. so over the weekend, though, we heard president bill clinton talking about this, congresswoman. i want to play a small portion of what the former president had to say.

>> look at america today. we've got to implement this health care law . the computer deal will get fixed up, don't worry about that. everybody has forgotten, by the way, that when president george w. bush , a republican, put that medicare part d drug program in, it was more unpopular than the health care law and they had terrible problems with the computers.

>> congresswoman, it was eight years ago that the federal government rolled out medicare part d , a prescription drug benefit, and it was the first time that medicare was launching into this exclusive private health insurance plan. only 21% of americans at that time had a favorable understanding of what medicare part d was and now people would think they couldn't live without it. without proper enhancements as we live and learn . so do you think as we stand right now with the fact that the president was re-elected on obama care and it passed both houses and also vetted through the supreme court , do you believe that all americans deserve access to affordable health care ?

>> absolutely every american should have access to affordable health care . every american should be able to provide that for their families. but you know when we're comparing medicare part d to this massive takeover of government health care , i'm sorry, it just doesn't work. medicare part d is just one tiny part of medicare. now, they're calling out bill clinton . when they call out bill clinton , you know there's a problem. so you see how they're trying to do damage control . and i understand that. if i were president obama and i was faced with this huge failure, i would be doing the same thing.

>> real quickly, this understand i understand the north carolina chapter of the naacp is going to be holding a rally because of the new voter i.d. laws in your state . we saw last week that a north carolina republican official was fired after boasting about how the law was intended to restrict, quote, lazy blacks and college students. do you agree that that person should have been fired and despite the way he said it, was he really expressing a true objective of this law?

>> well, first of all, i'd like to say that the naacp in north carolina is very strong and if a comment like that was made, then i think that the appropriate action was taken. that's simply not what that voter i.d. law is all about.

>> all right, congresswoman renee ellmers of north carolina , thanks for making time for me. i really do appreciate it.

>> thank you.

>> absolutely. joining me here on set, msnbc political analyst jonathan alter . jonathan, good to have you here. i'm not sure if you got to stay up late on "saturday night live" to watch the spoofs about the website . take a quick peek.

>> we know everything about you. we've got your cell phone and your e-mail so we can do this the easy way or the hard way.

>> all right, so that was one of the actual ads that is playing right now to convince people what it means to have uncle sam , it's not from "saturday night live" although it kind of looks like it.

>> one of those right wing ads.

>> let's show it now. we've got it queued up.

>> millions of americans are visiting healthcare.gov, which is great news. unfortunately, the site was only to handle six users at a time. have you tried restarting your computer? sometimes it helps to turn the computer off and then turn it back on. we don't know why, it just does.

>> you know, if it were just that easy, jonathan, but kathleen sebelius is going to be in the hot seat later this week. how does she get in front of this to try to defend the disastrous rollout, i think is fair to say, the fact that they knew that october 1st was coming. it's almost as if they didn't know that date was a realistic one.

>> it is a disaster. all she needs to do is just get out of there alive, basically. it's not going to go well no matter what happens. but i think while congresswoman ellmers raises some good questions that will be posed to secretary sebelius that she needs to answer because this is a fiasco right now, we need to distinguish between those who want to fix obama care and those who want to destroy obama care. and congresswoman ellmers and her colleagues in the republican party are not asking questions with the intent of making the program work better, making it easier to get on obama care, get through on the computer. if that were to happen, popularity would increase, which is the last thing they want. so this goes to motive. their motive is to undermine and kill this program. the problem we have is that they don't have the votes to do that. that won't happen until 2017 at the very earliest and very likely not then because by then the program will be entrenched and popular. so they have lost the war and they're trying to win a couple of battles in the meantime. i feel badly for her constituents. i thought you asked her a very good question which is the reason that they're going to see premium increases is because north carolina and some other states controlled by extremist republicans have refused free federal money to help with the citizens of their state . this is just -- it's really almost a tragedy for some families.

>> because just to use north carolina as a example, they deferred to the federal government to set up this website which triggered a 3.5% service charge on those insurance rates. now, additionally, north carolina officials opted not to expand medicaid, which is the federal insurance program for the poor and disabled. 200,000 people who qualified for medicaid will now qualify for insurance through the aca. so it adjusts and changes the fluctuation of all those rates. now, it's different from state to state , but as you see in these examples where we have maryland or kentucky, states that are actually doing a great job because they set up their own exchanges, their own state exchanges as opposed to states that haven't, you can see where the access fluidity is that much greater.

>> you can also look at states that are run by republican governors, conservative republican governors like jan brewer in arizona, rick scott in florida, they recognize they have got to get moving. they have decided to get moving with implementing this with getting their exchanges going in the interest of their open people. so sometimes you hear critics say, what does the government matter, what does that have to do with me? if you live in north carolina , it has everything to do with you because the refusal of the north carolina republican establishment to move forward on this and the refusal of similar governors in other republican states will mean people paying higher insurance premiums, people not getting covered if they need coverage and a lot of other things that she says she's not for. but she's so blinded and her colleagues are so blinded by their hatred of the president and by extension of obama care that they will even hurt their own people in order to score political points. and that's unfortunate because there are a lot of fixes that need to be made in obama care and they should move forward with making them.

>> jonathan alter , great to have