There can be little doubt that President Barack Obama would like to put 2013 into the history books and head for Hawaii for a little rest and relaxation.
But before he leaves town, there’s one more torturous rite of passage he’ll undergo: A year-end press conference.Continue Reading
Last month, Obama faced reporters in the briefing room and admitted that “we did fumble the ball” on the rollout of his signature health care law. Thursday night’s announcement his administration is relaxing the individual mandate for people whose insurance has been cut ensures that Obamacare’s problems remain front and center.
There’s plenty of other unfinished business. The disclosures of U.S. intelligence surveillance activities unveiled by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has both embarrassed the White House and given Obama some beach reading: a 300-plus page report on reform options. Efforts to clear out Syria’s chemical weapons stash and curtail Iran’s nuclear program do look promising, but that can change in an instant. And Congress is, well, Congress.
Here are six questions for Obama, as he meets the press at 2 p.m. ET:1) You’ve declined to dismiss any staff responsible for the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, saying you were focused solely on fixing it first. Now, according to your administration, the website is fixed. When will there be any consequences for the officials who failed you and the American people?
It’s far from certain that he will fire anybody.
Obama hasn’t shown a willingness to sacrifice a member of his team when the Washington pundit class demands it. He tends to ease people out slowly rather than whack them for show.
So far, he has shaken up his staff by adding, not subtracting. His decisions to bring in Bill Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, John Podesta, and health care troubleshooter Phil Schiliro have been an acknowledgement that the people he had been relying on either weren’t getting the job done or could no longer do it on their own.
It’s doubtful that he’ll make any personnel announcements Friday. But it probably won’t be the last time he’s forced to explain why.2) Why did you exempt so many people from the individual mandate after your administration fought all the way to the Supreme Court to protect it? And then why wait until Dec. 19 after families worried for months about losing their coverage?
In a surprise announcement late Thursday, the administration issued a ruling that people who had their health plans canceled would be exempt from the individual mandate under Obamacare.
The move aimed to further defuse some of the public anger over Obama’s failed pledge that Americans who like their insurance plans can keep them. But it raised serious questions about the strength of the individual mandate, which is the glue that keeps the law together.
Making catastrophic health plans more broadly available poses problems for insurers. It could disrupt the insurance pools, since insurers and actuaries had assumed that people shifting from the old individual market would go into the new bronze, silver or gold plans on the Obamacare exchanges.
A senior administration official described the move as a transition policy. The administration does not expect many people will take up the new option, but wants to ensure that it is available to those who had plans canceled.
But it immediately provided new ammunition to Republican opponents of the health law who will want to hear why Obama initiated this change with only four days until the deadline for obtaining coverage Jan. 1.3) You lost on gun control. Immigration reform stalled in the House. You failed to prevent across-the-board spending cuts from kicking in last March. The federal government closed for 17 days. Where did you succeed on the domestic front in the past year and what letter grade would you give yourself?
Not even the president’s most loyal lieutenants deny that 2013 was bad for Obama.
His approval ratings dropped to the lowest point of his presidency. He’s drawn comparisons to former President George W. Bush’s dismal second term. His credibility took a serious hit after several of his Obamacare promises fell woefully short.
The biggest domestic accomplishments of the year for the president were of a defensive nature: He and Republicans in Congress managed to avoid breaching the nation’s debt ceiling. And this month’s budget deal, which adds two years to the hated automatic spending cuts known as “sequestration,” freed up some money for domestic and defense spending this year and next, but not nearly as much as the president and his Democratic allies in Congress would have liked.
Obama is likely to focus on the small breakthroughs, such as pushing immigration reform through the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote.
Despite Obamacare’s troubles, his administration hasn’t been shy about touting the more than 1 million people who have gained coverage through private insurers or Medicaid since October. And with the unemployment rate at its lowest level in five years, the president can point to several months of solid economic gains.
But like his aides, Obama would rather look forward to why he’s hopeful that next year will be better than this one.