Week In Politics: A Month Of HealthCare.gov

Robert Siegel turns to regular political commentators E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks with The New York Times to discuss the week in politics. At the top of the list of subjects: problems with HealthCare.gov, the federal health insurance online marketplace.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And here now to talk about politics are our Friday regulars, columnists E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and the Brookings Institution and David Brooks of the New York Times. Good to see you both.

E.J. DIONNE: Good to see you.

DAVID BROOKS: Good to see you.

SIEGEL: This was another week of big news about the Affordable Care Act. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified on Capitol Hill ostensibly about the troubled website, but there was at least as much questioning about people who have lost their insurance policies - policies they liked. E.J., is the rollout of the president's signature achievement the tunnel at the end of the light, which seems to go on and on?

DIONNE: Well, Secretary Sebelius called it a debacle so they're not sort of sugar-coating it, and I think it was significant that although she didn't put it into her advanced testimony, when she showed up, she apologized and took responsibility for it. And I think one of the things that was striking about that hearing is that, A, the Democrats really stood up for the program. There's some worry on the part of the administration that Democrats, especially in swing districts, might pull away, but a lot of them are inclined to say, look, we're in on this and we got to make it work. The Republicans didn't use the hearing very well. My colleague at The Washington Post, Dana Milbank, rather pointedly noted that the Republicans did themselves no good with questions, talking about Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz and Sebelius' Kansas roots.

They got to fix the website and they've got to make the case that the very small number of people who are part of a small number of people who buy insurance on the individual market are actually going to get better insurance and some of them, maybe many of them, will pay less. The president stuck with that statement. He's tried to correct it, a statement that no one will ever lose anything, it's going to be true about 98 percent of people, but mostly they got to make the thing work.

SIEGEL: But David, two percent is a lot more than none of you will lose insurance.

BROOKS: I think it's going to be a lot more than two percent if you look at the actual numbers. There are at least 12 million people in the individual markets and some significant portion of those will be paying more, having higher benefits - or lower benefits. Listen, we're in the foothills here. The website is an issue which was really the easiest issue. The cancelling of these insurance policies is a small issue. We haven't gotten to the big ones, the death spiral that may occur when young people don't sign up for benefits that are really not in their interest. The subsidy mechanism, which is extremely complicated where people have to tell the government their modified adjusted gross income as part of the subsidy calculation, that's a big extremely complicated thing.

Basically, you have regulators who are asked to reorganize 17 percent of the economy and they can't even do a website right. So I think we're in the foothills here of what's going to be a continuing set of problems.

DIONNE: Just real quick. We're not in a death spiral yet. Yes, they got to get young people to sign up to make the thing work and then the other point is, a lot of the people joining this are going to get subsidies and pay less and lastly, the part that is the most big-government part, which is the Medicaid expansion, is working very well, which is going to feed people who want single payer an argument that, well, when you do it directly, it's easy.

BROOKS: Right. That is true. The Medicaid expansion is working in states. What's not working in pretty much any of the states is the exchanges and the exchanges are the core to the whole thing.

DIONNE: Kentucky and a number of states, it's working well.

SIEGEL: Well, onto other matters. Before we see you guys next week, we'll have witnessed elections for governor in Virginia and New Jersey. And in New York City, New Yorkers will elect a mayor. David, what significance, if any, do you - what would you expect to see in any of those results?

BROOKS: Well, the most interesting state is the Virginia state. It's a - nominally a purple state or at least a bipolar state with a heavy red part and pretty heavy blue part now. And so there, Terry McAuliffe looks like he is going to win. There's a big libertarian candidate who's, right now, got like 10 percent of the vote. He's not going to end up with that. So there may be some swing back to the Republicans, but Cuccinelli, the Republican, has not led really in any of the polls.

And I think his problem is not so much the government shutdown, not so much even the demographics; Sean Trende of RealClearPolitics said it's his stridency. His social issues are very strident and the postures he's taken are very strident and that's just out of tune with the times, even in a state like Virginia.

SIEGEL: Polls show Cuccinelli, the Republican, way behind with women voters in...

DIONNE: The Washington Post poll showed him 24 points behind among women. I think that you're going to get similar messages, even though an opposite partisan result, from Virginia and New Jersey. The message of Virginia, as David said, is the Republicans can't nominate somebody far to the right who's strident about it and win.

The message in New Jersey, where Chris Christie is on track to win a very big margin, is Republicans who reach out to constituencies Republicans don't usually win, African-Americans, Latinos and even a lot of Democrats, are in pretty good shape. And that's going to be an argument that Chris Christie probably will bring to the 2016 election.

And in New York, although this'll sound strange to people, Democrats are likely to win the mayoralty for the first time since the 1989 election, and they have a very progressive candidate in Bill de Blasio. That's one liberals around the country are going to cheer and pay a lot of attention to.

SIEGEL: David, will Chris Christie be - will this mark the beginning of his presidential campaign after he's re-elected next week as governor of New Jersey?

BROOKS: Yes, I think so. He certainly seems to be positioning himself for a big debate with Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. And the way he's winning dictates that he's going to run as a more moderate, as a more national Republican. And so we - I think this Republican primary campaign for president is going to be one of the best campaigns we've had in a long time because it really is an issue over the future of the party.

SIEGEL: OK, in the little time that remains, E.J., feel free to gloat and argue some bigger-than-baseball importance to the Red Sox victory in the World Series.

DIONNE: This is one of the greatest events all year, but I think it's a great event only - partly because of...

SIEGEL: All year?

BROOKS: Why not all century? Why...?

DIONNE: Well, we've won two other times in this century. You know, at the beginning of the year, in April, there was the horrible Boston Marathon Patriot's Day bombing, and the Red Sox became a focal point of pride and resiliency in Boston. You had the hats with "be strong," "Boston strong." And David Ortiz, the brilliant slugger and MVP, first thing out of his mouth when they won: This is for you, Boston, you deserve it.

And then everybody's made a big deal of the fact that the Red Sox haven't won since 1918. Well, that's important...

SIEGEL: At home.

DIONNE: At home, at Fenway. And that's because Babe Ruth was on that team. So the curse is finally over.

SIEGEL: Shall we just say agreed?

BROOKS: Well, I'm against pride, but I agree.

SIEGEL: OK, David Brooks and E.J. Dionne, thanks to both of you.

DIONNE: Thank you.

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