Tough numbers as Sebelius heads to Hill

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Buzz Cut:
• Tough numbers as Sebelius heads to Hill
• Budget sales pitch: In defense of piffle
• Poll check: Trust deficit swamps Dems
• Cruz walked out on Castro
• Don’t hire uncle Billy

TOUGH NUMBERS AS SEBELIUS HEADS TO HILL - New numbers out this morning on ObamaCare enrollees show time running out for the administration to avoid worsening disruptions for Americans who already have health insurance. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius heads to the Hill today for another battle with House Republicans over the balky mechanics of the program. Sebelius is making a new concession and calling for an inspector general to review her team’s work on the crash-prone, still-unfinished enrollment system.

So far away - Her agency released new enrollment numbers ahead of Sebelius’ arrival: A total of 258,497 people enrolled in an insurance plan through ObamaCare in November, leaving the administration nearly 1 million signups behind the target for the first two months of the six-month enrollment period. The administration is also touting the fact that 803,077 Americans signed up for Medicaid, a welfare program that covers care with some doctors and hospitals, but that’s not related to the larger insurance market. In order to prevent further premium spikes, the administration is aiming to enroll 7 million Americans in the program before the end of March when ObamaCare fines kick in for those who do not comply.

[Watch Fox: Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., previews today’s hearing with Secretary Sebelius in the 9 a.m. ET hour]

Cost estimate fishy - From Bloomberg’s Kathleen Miller: “President Barack Obama’s health agency said it has spent $319 million building an online health-insurance marketplace through October. More than three years after the passage of Obama’s signature health-care law in 2010, it’s almost impossible to verify and track that spending through public records.”

BUDGET SALES PITCH: IN DEFENSE OF PIFFLE - The best thing House Republicans may be able to say about the budget deal between Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is that it is piffle. Ryan is making his sales pitch today to GOP members for the two-year spending plan that would hike spending by $85 billion over the next two years. The budget pact would partially lift caps imposed as part of the 2011 debt-ceiling deal. The caps, known as “sequestration,” would be lifted by $63 billion, restoring about half of the scheduled spending increases for defense and domestic spending alike. In short: Small beer for a country with a $17 trillion debt tab. But that may be the selling point to conservatives grouchy about not getting more from the deal.

[Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham lays out the group’s opposition to the deal in a USA Today OpEd.]

ObamaCare bombsight - The major concession from Democrats seems to be that they promise to not politically punish (too much) Republicans for things like letting long-term unemployment benefits return to normal. That’s appealing for a party trying to look caring as it makes a pitch to toss ObamaCare. But most of all, Democrats are offering a way around distracting budget battles in an election year. As Rep. Ryan told Greta Van Susteren, the pact takes off the table a repeat of the government shutdown drama of October and lets Republicans do what they love most: carpet bombing ObamaCare: “The administration is not really high on the ObamaCare focus that is occurring in this country because this law is completely unraveling,” Ryan said, “They’d like to get off ObamaCare and by not shutting the government down, we’re not going to get off ObamaCare. Read the full text of the bill here.

[Watch Fox: Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., gives his reaction to the budget deal in the 11 a.m. ET hour]

Stuff your stockings - Democrats are getting much of what they want on the spending side, though the shrinking flock of GOP defense hawks will be happy about feathering the Pentagon nest. But this isn’t about spending, really. With ObamaCare’s woes continuing and the president’s poll numbers dragging Democrats down, the question in the House is whether Speaker John Boehner can convince enough of his conference to accept the proposal’s meager spending cuts of $23 billion over 10 years in the name of avoiding election-year drama. In a statement, Boehner called the compromise proposal “modest in scale,” with the tepid endorsement of a “modest step forward.”  A senior House Republican tells Fox News the GOP has the votes to pass the deal but that they may lose a “healthy chunk” on their side. Fox News has more.

[Listen to Fox: Rep. Adam Smith,R-Wash. joins Kilmeade and Friends in the 9 a.m. ET hour]

POLL CHECK: TRUST DEFICIT SWAMPS DEMS - A flood of new polling data suggests that the anger over ObamaCare is still driving Democrats downward. Most of the new polls show that President Obama’s job approval is still slipping and that voters are looking to turn Democrats of office. This makes it hard for Team Obama to continue to keep Democrats quiet about the troubled law. Worst of all, the anger doesn’t seem to be focused on the technical woes of the program but instead to a lack of trust in Obama and the government he leads. Here are the top lines on the surveys:

Obama job approval 

AP: Approve: 42 percent, Disapprove: 58 percent

NBC News/WSJ: Approve: 43 percent, Disapprove: 54 percent

Bloomberg: Approve: 42 percent, Disapprove: 55 percent

CBS News/NYT: Approve: 42 percent, Disapprove: 50 percent

Quinnipiac: Approve: 38 percent, Disapprove: 57 percent

USA Today/Pew: Approve: 43 percent, Disapprove: 51 percent

He liked your trust, but he couldn’t keep it - If nearly three out of five voters believe that President Obama is not honest and trustworthy, how will he govern? That’s the question posed to the administration in the wake of the rollout of the president’s health insurance program. It’s not whether Americans can be again made to believe that the president is competent – though the current proportions look even more dire for the president – but whether Americans believe him at all. The latest poll of registered voters from Quinnipiac University shows the president cascading down to a new valley of lows. It’s his lowest job approval at 38 percent and even core constituencies like women and younger voters have turned negative on the president’s job performance. Hispanic voters, a bulwark of the new Democratic coalition, have even dropped down to just half approving of the job Obama is doing.

Real Clear Politics Averages - Obama Job Approval: Approve – 41.5 percent//Disapprove – 53.9 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 27.6 percent//Wrong Track – 64.9 percent 

CHOICES SLIM FOR OBAMACARE HOLDERS IN CALIFORNIA - Washington Examiner says the rebellion among California doctors against ObamaCare is spontaneous, quoting leaders of the state medical groups disavowing any role in the refusal – estimated at 70 percent of the state’s practitioners – to accept patients with ObamaCare coverage. The consequences could be enormous. The magazine talked to one insurance broker who compared private insurance options to those under ObamaCare for expectant mothers seeking obstetricians: 83 choices in a private insurance plan, 10 in ObamaCare.

Don’t hold your breath, fellas - A group of 34 House Republicans are trying to take President Obama up on his offer to talk about solutions to ObamaCare’s problems. Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., and fellow Arkansan, Rep. Tom Cotton, the frontrunner in the race to challenge Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., have sent a letter to Obama to talk about their ideas in response to the president’s invitation at a campaign event last week. “If you’ve got good ideas, bring them to me,” Obama said at the event. “Let’s go.” The Hill has the details.

[Listen to Fox: Rep. Adam Smith,R-Was. joins Kilmeade and Friends in the 9 a.m. ET hour]

REID REACHED OUT FOR DONOR VISAS - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid intervened on behalf of Democratic donors looking to get visas for foreign investors in their casino. According to documents obtained by the Washington Times, Reid personally reached out to Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services who is President Obama’s pick for the number 2 spot at the Department of Homeland Security. Mayorkas is set for his Senate confirmation hearing today and is likely to face questions about his role in Reid’s effort on behalf of his patrons as well as an ongoing federal probe of a subsidized electric car firm that benefited insiders of the Clinton political operation. Fox News has more. – Watch Fox: Correspondent Doug McKelway is following Mayorkas’ Senate confirmation hearing today.

DEMS BOW ON IRAN SANCTIONS - Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson will drop a plan for sanctions against the Islamist government of Iran following pressure from the Obama administration. Johnson told Politico President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry “have made a strong case for a pause in Congressional action on new Iran sanctions.” Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will meet privately with senators today to bring them up to speed on developments in Iran and lay out the administration’s interim deal. State and Treasury officials will testify before the banking committee on Thursday.

[Watch Fox: Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., discusses today’s Hill briefing with Secretary Kerry on Iran in the 11 a.m. ET hour]

COOKIE MONSTER - WaPo: “The National Security Agency is secretly piggybacking on the tools that enable Internet advertisers to track consumers, using ‘cookies’ and location data to pinpoint targets for government hacking and to bolster surveillance. The agency's internal presentation slides, provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, show that when companies follow consumers on the Internet to better serve them advertising, the technique opens the door for similar tracking by the government.”

Sheepdogs and Shetlands -Three of the government’s top-players in the spy world, including NSA head Keith Alexander and officials from the Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. – Watch Fox: Chief Intelligence Correspondent Catherine Herridge is following the hearing.

[Sorry, Snowden -Time Magazine has named Pope Francis its Person of the Year: “He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing. The septuagenarian superstar is poised to transform a place that measures change by the century.”]

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE...Author Edward Lucas considers How the West Lost Ukraine to Putin for WSJ: “Western leaders have missed no chance to show the Kremlin that they are not to be taken seriously. The EU merely murmured when the Kremlin imposed trade sanctions on Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Lithuania. Its leaders have done little to make waverers in Ukraine think that Europe is to be counted on in a crisis. The belated diplomatic support that the Obama administration has given the EU in its eastern neighborhood is commendable. But it also highlights the shameful neglect of previous years.”

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

CORNYN WON’T GET CLUBBED - The Club for Growth is taking a pass on the primary challenge from Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, against Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. The conservative group opted not to follow the Jim DeMint-founded Senate Conservatives Fund into the fray against Cornyn, the second-ranking Senate Republican. Cornyn was an outspoken foe of the DeMint-backed push to make funding the government conditional to eliminating funding for ObamaCare. Stockman, who has famously compared ObamaCare to Chlamydia and President Obama to Saddam Hussein, is hoping to draw in other conservatives beyond DeMint’s sphere of influence, but the Club for Growth move suggests it will be a tough pull. Meanwhile, as expected, the U.S. Chamber announced its backing of six-term Cornyn for re-election. The Hill has more.

CLARK ELECTED AS MARKEY SUCCESSOR - Democratic state Sen. Katherine Clark won the Massachusetts congressional seat formerly held by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. Clark handily defeated Republican attorney Frank Addivinola in Tuesday’s special election to win the seat Markey left after he won a June special election to fill Secretary of State John Kerry’s Senate seat. Clark will serve the remainder of Markey’s term and will be up for re-election next year. AP has more.

NO REFUND: DEM DUMPED OVER TAX WOES - Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is in search of new running mate after a litany of tax problems forced State Sen. Eric Kearney out of the race. Kearney, whose personal connections to President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were part of his appeal to Ohio Democrats, announced Tuesday he was ending his bid for lieutenant governor after intensify pressure over owing nearly $1 million in back taxes. In an interview with the Columbus Dispatch, FitzGerald said he knew about Kearney’s debts and blamed the media: “I suppose if we made a political error, it’s that we did not anticipate that the political process would make no distinction whatsoever between the finances of the business and Sen. Kearney’s personal finances or his wife’s finances.”

PODESTA PROMISES TO STAY OUT OF KEYSTONE DECISION - Part of the portfolio for new White House adviser John Podesta is trying to achieve one of President Obama’s longest-sought goals: getting the U.S. enrolled in a U.N. treaty on global warming. But facing bipartisan pressure to allow the construction of a pipeline to bring oil from western Canada to Gulf Coast refineries, the Keystone XL, the administration promises that Podesta will not offer any advice about the project, much despised by global warming believers, including the folks at Podesta’s Center for American Progress. The lobbying firm Podesta founded with his brother, Tony, also represents clients who stand to benefit from global-warming regulations and a decision to block the pipeline. White House aides tell Politico that Podesta will recuse himself from any consideration of the Keystone project.

THE JUDGE’S RULING: WINTER VERDICT VICTORY FOR PRESS - Judge Andrew Napolitano celebrates the ruling in favor of Fox News reporter Jana Winter as a Victory for Freedom of the Press at Fox News Opinion. “This is a landmark decision. It means that those of us in the media who live or work in New York can claim the highest protection for our work, no matter where it is published or where our sources may be. It also means that with sources protected, the public will soon know more of the truth -- a value essential to making choices in a free society.”

A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION? - The blog Red Millennial shares the scene from a weekend gathering of nearly 100 state lawmakers from 32 states at George Washington’s Mount Vernon to discuss calling a constitutional convention to propose new amendments. Such a convention, provided for in Article V of the Constitution, would require 34 of the 50 state legislatures to call for an amendments convention. Once assembled, the convention could enact new amendments if supported by delegates from 38 states. Attendees of the Mt. Vernon Assembly discussed gathering support and possible amendments, including term limits and a balanced budget requirement.

CRUZ WALKED OUT ON CASTRO - While the media was gnawing on President Obama’s decision to greet Cuban ruler Raul Castro with a handshake and a smile at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, less noticed was the walkout by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Cruz, the only U.S. senator present, is the son of a Cuban émigré. The freshman senator strode out of the audience when Castro took the podium. “Senator Cruz very much hopes that Castro learns the lessons of Nelson Mandela. For decades, Castro has wrongly imprisoned and tortured countless innocents. Just as Mandela was released after 27 years in prison, Castro should finally release his political prisoners; he should hold free elections, and once and for all set the Cuban people free,” Cruz spokesman Sean Rushton told Fox News.

WHAT’S THE SIGN FOR ‘FAKE?’ - The national director of Deaf Federation of South Africa told the AP that the interpreter on stage during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela  was a “fake.” UPI reported on how the phony got flagged by deaf bloggers. The South African government told the AP it is preparing a statement. Bruno Druchen, the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, said the interpreter “was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for.”

DON’T HIRE UNCLE BILLY - The Week’s Matt Lewis shares the lessons of “It’s a Wonderful Life”: “1. Your life has purpose…2. Keeping up with the Joneses is for saps…3. Bad guys don't always get punished…4. Don't hire someone just because they are family…5. Appreciate how blessed you already are…6. How to deliver a good toast…7. Marry the right person…”

AND NOW A WORD FROM CHARLES…“The United States by far is the most religious country in the West.  It's not even close.  I don't see any eruption of atheism upon the land…You have got people in a lot of minority elements who want to get attention or who want to be offensive. And you have got them among the atheists. I would bet the vast majority of atheists are silent atheists who move among us and don't announce it and don't wear it on their sleeve – simply have their own worldview and leave other people alone.” Charles Krauthammer on “The O’Reilly Factor”

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here. To catch Chris live online daily at 11:30 a.m. ET, click here.