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• Will Obama delay individual ObamaCare fines?
• Quack, Quack: Nominee bust shows Obama’s waning clout
• Christie to CPAC: I’m your brand
• Man, those guys were the life of the party
WILL OBAMA DELAY INDIVIDUAL OBAMACARE FINES?
As the President Obama’s health law delays pile up, the biggest potential rewrite of the troubled legislation is looming at the end of the month. Americans who do not voluntarily comply with the law and enroll by March 31 are supposed to be fined an amount equal to 1 percent of their income. Not cool. When House Republicans voted to delay that penalty on Wednesday, 27 Democrats joined in. The mandate was never popular with Democrats, and as the president claims the power to unilaterally change the legislation for the benefit of big business and the insurance industry, is he prepared to let ordinary folks pay the price? Given the crash landing of the program last fall, it seems particularly cruel to penalize people for not enrolling in a program that has been offline so often. But delaying the individual mandate would come with a high price. From National Journal: “Roughly 1 million more people would forgo health insurance this year if Obamacare’s individual-mandate penalty were delayed, according to projections from the Congressional Budget Office….”
[Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein says: “It’s hard to see how this two-tiered health care system can sustain itself. Obama is saying that some individuals get to keep their old, cheaper and better health insurance plans. But other individuals are forced into an increasingly expensive insurance market.”]
What will that cost you? - Delaying regulations that intentionally banned policies hurt ObamaCare enrollment, but not on this magnitude. Democrats facing angry voters, though, may demand that the president use his pen again. But these rewrites are getting very expensive. Health insurance giant Humana has already forecast that it could soak up as much as $450 million in bailout provisions this year under the law. The president’s initial estimate for the bailouts is $5.5 billion overall, but that’s likely a lowball figure to start with. Delaying the much-hated individual mandate that provides so many customers to Obama’s insurance-industry backers could add many billions more to the cost.
HILLARY ON OBAMACARE: ‘WE HAVE TO DO A BETTER JOB’
President Obama’s decision to delay ObamaCare regulations expected to result in another tidal wave of insurance cancellations could be a boon to 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton since Obama took the unheard of step of delaying the rules’ effects until after the next presidential election. In a speech at UCLA, Clinton seemed to agree with the prevailing Democratic that the first priority for their party was enduring the backlash against the law in 2014, consolidating power in 2016 and then fully implementing a health-care overhaul. Politico reports: “We have to get through this election, and we have to do a better job than has been done, quite frankly, in explaining the benefits… There’s been an enormous amount of, frankly, misinformation and disinformation… We need to keep working on this,” Clinton said.
OBAMA TELLS DEMS TO FORGET ABOUT HILLARY, FOCUS ON MIDTERMS
Boston Herald: “President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Massachusetts Democrats to focus on this fall’s midterm elections including boosting turnout, and to pass the hope of opportunity to future generations. …He warned that Democrats could get ‘walloped’ again this year if they turn prematurely to the 2016 presidential race. ‘Nobody’s going to be more interested than me in having a Democrat succeed me,’ Obama said. ‘But right now, we’ve got to make sure we’re fighting in this election.’”
BAIER TRACKS: CIRCUMVENTING OBAMACARE…
“With the latest delay in ObamaCare now pushing more of the painful parts of the law past not only the 2014 election, but also the 2016 election, it is becoming increasingly clear the Democrats’ strategy has changed. This electoral cycle started with the head of the Democratic National Committee proudly touting that Democrats will be able to RUN ON ObamaCare and President Obama saying on the stump that he would campaign across the country extolling the virtues of the law. That stance has devolved devolved into headlines like this one at Politico today: Democrats’ new 2014 plan: Neutralize Obamacare.
Whether that works or not remains to be seen. While the administration pushes things around for what appear to be political reasons, the healthcare industry will find ways to adapt. Health care experts say there is already starting to be an alternate cash-only system where doctors and patients are unplugging from the system and flourishing. One expert told me, ‘It’s like water around a big rock. The water will always figure out a way to get downstream.’ And since actual health care administered by doctors is regulated by the states and not the federal government, the Department of Health and Human Services can’t stop it by just writing another regulation (at more than 20,000 so far, they’ve become good at that).” – Bret Baier
OBAMACARE STRIKE COULD SHUT DOWN LAS VEGAS HOTELS
Buzz Feed: “Contract negotiations are stalled for thousands of workers at casinos on the Strip and in downtown Las Vegas to the point where they may go on strike — and the sticking point is Obamacare. On Feb. 20, thousands of housekeepers, porters, cooks, cocktail servers, and others represented by Nevada’s largest union, the Culinary Union Local 226, voted to end a contract extension the workers agreed to last summer. The union wants to maintain its current benefits — including health care coverage at no cost to workers, pensions, and guaranteed 40-hour workweeks.
Rising health care costs due to provisions in the Affordable Care Act could put those benefits in jeopardy, the union says. ‘The biggest hurdle to reaching settlements in Vegas is the new costs imposed on our health plan by Obamacare,’ Donald ‘D’ Taylor, president of Unite Here, the parent union of CU Local 226, told BuzzFeed in a statement. ‘Even though the president and Congress promised we could keep our health plan, the reality is, unless the law is fixed, that won’t be true.’ On March 20, workers will have the opportunity to decide whether or not they would want to walk off the job at several hotels, including the Stratosphere, the Riviera, and the Plaza.”
OBAMACARE MAY COST UNC $46 MILLION
WRAL: “After years of having its budget squeezed by state budget cuts and rising enrollments, the University of North Carolina system now faces a potential $46 million hit from the Affordable Care Act. Starting next year, large employers must provide insurance for all employees who work more than 30 hours a week. The UNC system has 8,586 visiting professors, graduate assistants and others who meet that threshold but don’t qualify for coverage under the State Health Plan because they are considered non-permanent employees. Under the Affordable Care Act, the university system would have to provide insurance to all of those workers. The average cost of state health insurance is about $5,400 per year, bringing the total potential cost to $46.4 million. ‘This is an unfunded mandate that’s coming down on us,’ said Charlie Perusse, chief operating officer for the UNC system and a former state budget director. UNC administrators say they might reduce the hours for many of the temporary workers to fewer than 30 per week to dodge the health care law’s coverage requirement.”
[Daily Caller: “A local CBS affiliate in Raleigh opened its phone lines for seven hours Tuesday to promote Obamacare. With the deadline for enrollment fast approaching, Raleigh’s WRAL brought in 27 Obamacare ‘experts’ — including navigators, certified application counselors, and marketplace-savvy insurance agents – to answer callers’ questions from noon until seven in the evening. WRAL’s news broadcast also cut into its normal coverage to advertise the experts and the number to reach them. ‘For 1.3 million North Carolinians who are currently uninsured now is the time to think about getting coverage,’ Renee Chou, a WRAL reporter explained, while standing in front of people answering phones.”]
ObamaCare crash figure to resign - Bloomberg: “Gary Cohen, the top U.S. health insurance regulator accused by congressional Republicans of misleading them before the troubled start of the Obamacare insurance website, will resign.”
QUACK, QUACK: NOMINEE BUST SHOWS OBAMA’S WANING CLOUT
With his job-approval rating hitting an all-time low of 38 percent in the Fox News poll, President Obama is having a hard time keeping Democrats in line. The best evidence so far of Obama’s intensifying lame-duck status came Wednesday as the Senate dismissed White House demands to confirm a controversial attorney for a top post at the Justice Department. When Obama denounced the Senate’s failure to confirm Debo Adegbile as a “travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks” he was talking about a rejection that included seven Democrats. As political forecasters increasingly predict major Republican gains, including the loss of the Senate majority for Democrats, the strains are starting to show. With the defeat of a cherished nominee for a prized spot, dissension among the blue team to increase the minimum wage and disagreements on EPA regulations on making electricity and the Keystone Pipeline, midterm strains are showing.
[Watch Fox: Correspondent Shannon Bream considers how vulnerable Democrats are distancing themselves from the administrations more liberal agenda.]
‘Furious’: the inside account of the DOJ debacle -NYT lifts the veil on Team Obama’s response to Democrats rejecting Debo Adegbile, the former champion of cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, to lead the Civil Rights unit at the Department of Justice: “White House officials said they believed until Wednesday morning that the nomination would succeed, a vote count that proved disastrously wrong. Top aides to Mr. Obama were ‘furious’ at the Democratic senators who voted against Mr. Adegbile, one senior official said. Senior congressional Democrats were incredulous about the White House’s surprise. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, called Mr. [Denis McDonough] at 10 p.m. Tuesday to inform him the votes were not there. He made the same call Wednesday morning, also informing the attorney general. The White House pressed forward anyway… In the case of Mr. Adegbile, Mr. Obama’s team appears to have misjudged the effort required to secure his nomination in the face of growing pressure from angry police groups and Officer Faulkner’s widow, who also lobbied senators. The president made no effort to mount a public campaign on behalf of his nominee, instead betting on his own powers of private persuasion and on the procedural mastery of Mr. Reid. That bet did not pay off. Seven Democrats voted no, including two – Mark Pryor of Arkansas and John Walsh of Montana – who are standing for election in states where Mr. Obama is decidedly unpopular. With the president’s approval ratings stubbornly low, especially in Republican states, the Democratic lawmakers apparently decided that losing the nomination would not be that harmful to Mr. Obama. Mr. Biden was in the Senate chamber to cast the tiebreaking vote, but he did not get the chance.”
[“I broke down in tears … So I just have gratitude for the senators that were brave enough to vote and do the right thing. Sometimes I feel as though Danny is looking down upon me through all of this giving me the strength to speak out, not just for him and his brutal murder… But also for all police officers throughout the country.” – Maureen Faulkner, widow of the Philadelphia police officer killed by Adegbile’s client, in an interview on “The Kelly File.” Watch here.]
Vulnerable Dem Udall tries to block Obama CIA pick - Denver Post: “U.S. Sen. Mark Udall finds himself on a collision course with the White House over the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation techniques and his belief that the agency is trying to use ‘intimidation to subvert congressional oversight.’ A letter the Colorado Democrat sent to President Obama on Tuesday explaining why he would not back the administration’s nominee for CIA general counsel … ‘I’m deeply concerned that the CIA is trying to subvert congressional oversight through intimidation,’ Udall told The Post. ‘My job is to fight like hell to make sure the CIA never dodges congressional oversight again and that the White House publicly commits to declassify as much of the intelligence’s committee report as possible.’’’
OBAMA BUDGET BOSS BLANKS
President Obama’s budget chief, Cynthia Burwell, had a bad outing in her Senate testimony on Wednesday. The video of Burwell refusing to answer Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as to whether Obama’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year raises spending (it does) is cringe-inducing. Maybe Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will do better when he appears before the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee today.
WHITE HOUSE OFFERS SLIM SANCTIONS OVER UKRAINE
Fox News: The White House announced this morning that the U.S. government is imposing visa restrictions on Russians and Crimeans who it says are “threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,”… President Obama also signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against “individuals and entities responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine.”
[“Unless we are willing to go to war for Ukraine – and I believe that would be unwise – Russia without question has the military might and geographic advantage to control the Crimea and the Russian dominated areas of Ukraine… It will not be American or European might that deters or defeats the Russian bear. It will be a 14-year old Ukrainian with their flag as a bandana wrapped to cover the scars of the police truncheon.”—Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in a Breitbart OpEd.]
Defense cuts play into Putin’s hand? - Was it just a coincidence that Russian Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine just days after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced massive troop cuts in the U.S.? The situation in Ukraine is sure to be in focus and what the budget cuts mean during a time of uncertainty in Eastern Europe when Secretary Hagel and Joints Chiefs Head Gen. Martin Dempsey appear before the House Armed Services Committee today. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Buck McKeon will likely hammer the two over how the cuts will affect the military’s readiness. –Watch Fox: National Correspondent Jennifer Griffin has the latest on the hearing.
[Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton is putting distance between herself and the Obama administration on Ukraine, but conservative group America Rising says nyet.]
It’s not about you - Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone explores what he says is Obama’s mistaken belief that others see the world as he sees it: “Solipsism. It’s a fancy word which means that you assume others see the world as you do and will behave as you would… Being on the lookout for common ground is sensible. Assuming common ground when none exists is foolish. And often has bad consequences.”
The Judge’s Ruling: The law of unintended consequences - Judge Andrew Napolitano asks Could Ukraine standoff have been avoided by Obama?: “If the U.S. tightens the economic screws on Russia, American banks will suffer, and the Russian oligarchs and Russian people will suffer, but no group will suffer as much as Europeans who have grown dependent on Russian fuel. And [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is unmoved by personal embarrassment or human suffering.”
WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE...
In a WaPo OpEd Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger delves into Ukraine’s history and its path forward: “In my life, I have seen four wars begun with great enthusiasm and public support, all of which we did not know how to end and from three of which we withdrew unilaterally. The test of policy is how it ends, not how it begins. Far too often the Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. But if Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them… [Russian President Vladimir Putin] should come to realize that, whatever his grievances, a policy of military impositions would produce another Cold War. For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington… Leaders of all sides should return to examining outcomes, not compete in posturing…If some solution based on [my principles] or comparable elements is not achieved, the drift toward confrontation will accelerate. The time for that will come soon enough.”
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Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve – 42.5 percent//Disapprove – 53.2 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29 percent//Wrong Track – 63.9 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot: Democrats – 42 percent// Republicans 41.8 percent
[Poll Watch: The latest Fox News polls on military spending cuts, generic Congressional ballot, and if Americans safer moving troops to special operations will be released during “Special Report with Bret Baier” in the 6 p.m. ET hour]
CHRISTIE TO CPAC: I’M YOUR BRAND
Can Chris Christie convince conservative Republicans that he’s one of them and that they need to embrace his style of leadership to advance their cause? The New Jersey governor, who was considered the frontrunner for the GOP 2016 nomination prior to a political scandal surrounding his underlings’ dirty tricks, will try to make his case today at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside of Washington this morning. Christie will highlight his brand of leadership and contrast it with “the dysfunction and inaction in Washington,” his camp leaked to Politico, “Christie will also speak about what it means to be a conservative Republican and about the importance of focusing on what we are for and not what we are against…Christie will call on the audience and the party not to waste time with political arguments that do nothing to turn our ideas into results… [and] to stop letting the media define who we are…” Christie was snubbed by the CPAC gathering last year, but he’s no doubt more than willing to let bygones be bygones. He will instead focus on winning over conservative skeptics, much as Mitt Romney sought to do with his 2012 speech to the group.
[Déjà vu – Remember, Christie has been here before. His conservative bona fides were a point of contention in his 2009 primary contest with staunch conservative and former Bogota, N.J. mayor, Steve Lonegan]
Fox Poll: Christie’s not our man - A new Fox News poll says Gov. Chris Christie’s negatives as a potential occupant of the White House have increased dramatically. “Last year, by a narrow four percentage-point margin, voters said yes, Christie would make a good president. The new poll finds just over half -- 52 percent -- do not think so now. That’s more than twice the 24 percent who think he would be a good commander-in-chief.” Compare that to the 28 percent of respondents who said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., would make a good president.
[In the same Fox News poll 50 percent of respondents feel Hillary Clinton would make a good president while 47 percent do not. Only 28 percent feel Vice President Joe Biden would do well in the Oval Office.]
Running with the CPAC - Today’s lineup at the CPAC gathering includes speeches from Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Govs. Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., Bobby Jindal, R-La.—Watch Fox: Campaign Carl Cameron has the latest from CPAC.
[The Hill: “House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will headline the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner next month, fueling speculation the Wisconsin Republican might be gearing up for a 2016 presidential bid.]
A bit of Ben with your key sir - National Review reporter @elianayjohnson Tweets that room keys at the CPAC gathering sport a picture of 2012 conservative GOP candidate Ben Carson, along with a “Run Ben Run” 2016 push.
ROMNEY BACKS IOWA SENATE CANDIDATE
Des Moines Register: “An email of support for [Republican] U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst went out…[Tuesday] to Mitt Romney’s substantial list of backers in Iowa. It’s the first email under Romney’s signature sent on behalf of any candidate in the country, although he has done four regular-mail letters – for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. A letter for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is going out this week…Ernst is locked in a GOP primary battle with a millionaire former energy CEO who has self-funded more than half of his $1 million campaign, a former Iowa Hawkeyes football player who is the only candidate in the U.S. Senate field to have been on a statewide ballot before, and a radio talk show host popular with grassroots conservatives in western Iowa. Two other long-shot candidates are also seeking the June 3 nomination. The winner will take on Democrat Bruce Braley. Iowa has a rare open U.S. Senate seat due to the pending retirement of Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin. Romney’s email goes after the same people Ernst’s competitors are looking to get, which is the donor class. His pitch, which will reach tens of thousands of people on both her campaign list and Romney’s, calls Ernst ‘the very best Iowa has to offer’ and asks for ‘a donation of $25, $50 or $100 or whatever you can afford.'‘‘
COTTON: WE NEED MORE VETS IN CONGRESS
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., responded to attacks from Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who claimed Cotton had a “sense of entitlement” to serve in the Senate because of his military service. Cotton told “Fox & Friends” that “you learn a lot more about leadership at officer candidate school and leading troops in the Streets of Baghdad than in the halls of Congress.” Cotton said his service has given him a thick skin but added, “I am surprised that [Pryor] doesn’t think we need more veterans in Congress… I think if we had more people in the Congress who were veterans, Congress might be a little more respected, like our military is.”
WARNER HOLDS BIG LEAD ON GILLESPIE
The latest Roanoke College poll finds Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., leads Republican Ed Gillespie 56 percent to 39 percent. But… the same poll finds 53 percent of respondents would favor a repeal of ObamaCare, and 67 percent favor building the Keystone pipeline.
PICK SIX: GARDNER GROWS GOP CHANCES
Republicans need six more Senate seats to take control of the upper chamber. Which blue seats are the most vulnerable in this year’s midterms? The current consensus among Fox News First readers: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and West Virginia. Reader Dana Howk says, “add Colorado to that list … [Sen. Mark Udall, Colo.] is toast.”
Sunshine State News: “With less than a week to go until the election, candidates running in Pinellas County for the congressional seat opened by the death of longtime U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., made their final pitches this week, with a little help from their new famous friends. Republican David Jolly has Karl Rove… And in robocalls released this week, former President Bill Clinton stressed former state CFO Alex Sink’s ability to reach out across the aisle. Sink is the Democratic candidate. ‘On March 11th, Pinellas County voters can send a proven leader to Congress, someone who will work across the aisle to get things done,’ Clinton says in the call. ‘That leader is Alex Sink. As Florida’s chief financial officer, Alex brought Republicans and Democrats together to find common-sense solutions to some of the state’s most pressing problems.’ As Florida’s chief financial officer, Alex brought Republicans and Democrats together to find common-sense solutions to some of the state’s most pressing problems.’”
[Alex Sink has launched a new ad seeking to strike a more positive bipartisan tone. From the ad: “Bringing Republicans and Democrats together, that’s what I’ve always done and I’ll do that in Congress.”]
A new NBC4/WSJ/ Marist College poll shows “[Democratic] New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s job performance rating has dropped to its lowest level since he took office in January 2011, tumbling by 10 percentage points since November…” That’s good news for the Republican frontrunner to take on Cuomo this fall, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.
MAN, THOSE GUYS WERE THE LIFE OF THE PARTY
According to the El Paso Times, Mexican police pulled over a driver for speeding on Wednesday and made an unusual discovery. Officers in Juarez say two occupants of the vehicle offered a $60 bribe to police to let them go “because they were out partying.” But upon searching the vehicle, officers found a dead man in the back seat. No worries, though, said the revelers. The men told the officers their friend might have died from partying too much. The “Weekend at Bernie’s” re-enactors were arrested and charged with multiple offenses.
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“You look anywhere in the world, Russia, China, Ukraine, the Middle East, Syria, anywhere, and our standing is lower than it was when [President Obama] came into office. And I do think that the conduct of this administration, vis-a-vis the Russians, which has been sort of abject in the five years, contributed to that”—Charles Krauthammer, on “Special Report with Bret Baier”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.” He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.