Does Obama's insurance 'fix' go far enough?

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This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," November 16, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," with his poll numbers sinking and fellow Democrats panicking, President Obama scrambles to stem the fallout from millions of insurance policy cancellations. Does his fix go far enough?

Plus, France saves the West from what it calls a sucker's deal with Tehran. As nuclear negotiations continue, can Congress keep the administration from a bad bargain?

And the left floats an alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Could Elizabeth Warren derail the Clinton train?


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My expectation was that, for 98 percent of the American people, either it genuinely wouldn't change at all or they'd be pleasantly surprised with the options in the marketplace, and that the grandfather clause would cover the rest. That proved not to be the case, and that's on me.


GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

Feeling the heat as his poll numbers plummet and his fellow Democrats voice alarm, President Obama Thursday moved to stem the political fallout from millions of canceled health care policies, announcing that insurance companies can continue to offer those plans for an additional year. But does this fix, really fix anything?

Let's ask Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; Washington columnist, Kim Strassel; and editorial board member, Joe Rago.

All things health care, Joe, substance, does this fix anything really?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: It might fix a little bit but the president is basically a guy who has caused the apocalypse and then comes around and says I'm going to rebuild civilization for the survivors.

GIGOT: He's blown up the individual market, deliberately so, because he wanted to put people in the exchanges. Those policies, the cancellations have now proven to be very unpopular. He's trying to say, OK, you can save it, but only for a year. But what sense does that make, if you can keep your policy for a year but you have to give it up next year?

RAGO: Right. He's saying only people who were covered in 2013 can take advantage of this option. There's no -- he's not trying to create a viable individual insurance market outside of the exchanges. He's trying to calm down a political furor.

GIGOT: I see.

OK, Dan?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: The same day he gave the press conference, the head of the White House Economic Council, Gene Sperling, was appearing at an event in Washington. He said, all of this is, in his word, transitional. What people have to --


HENNINGER: Yeah. What people have to understand is ObamaCare is not going away. It's not stepping back. This is a holding pattern so they can eventually get these people back into the ObamaCare system. They have to do that. It's an insurance pool. The economics collapse if too many people use this interim period to personally withdraw from ObamaCare. They cannot allow that to happen.

GIGOT: The insurers are really up in arms about this, Joe. They basically said this is going to cause prices to rise. And they've been working for three years in good faith with the administration to accommodate their previous rules. Now that those rules are waved for a little while, are they going to be able to make this work?

RAGO: They're going to decide that probably by Monday. But they were not told about this rule change until the morning of the announcement. So they were completely blindsided. And they know how the business works and practice. It takes a long time to develop these contracts, to set rates, to set benefits, get them approved by state regulators. If the president really wanted to ensure there's a transition, he would have announced this change 10 months ago when it would have actually mattered.

GIGOT: But this does seem to have exploded politically in the short term, Kim, to the extent it has stopped Democrats from demanding even greater change. Is that a fair summary?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: That was entirely why it was done, Paul, which was to stop --


The president wanted to stop what looked as though it might have been an enormous rebuke of him from his own party as Democrats contemplated moving with Republicans on votes to go even further than what the president had proposed and allow people to keep their plans, for instance, in perpetuity or allow them insurers to offer them to anybody who wanted them. Those are some of the ideas in Congress.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: So he's trying to stop that and trying to give Democrats some political cover.

The problem is, can they actually get any cover, Paul? Because, as Dan said, as Joe said, if you want this law to work as it was designed to work, all this bad stuff has to happen. And it will continue to happen. That's the biggest problem Democrats face.

HENNINGER: Well, I think the tension now is between the Obama -- for the Democrats, it's between Obama's legacy and the future of the Democratic Party, which is going to be decided in those elections in November 2014. It was so telling that Senator Dianne Feinstein, of California, who is in an absolutely safe seat, or Jeff Merkley, the liberal Senator from Oregon --

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: -- said they were thinking of signing on to this interim fix. And they are afraid that if they lose control of the Senate, they will be in the minority. Dianne Feinstein will lose her chairmanship.

GIGOT: But if Sperling is right, this is just a transition, we just have to muscle it through, take the heat -- that's what they're telling Democrats, as I understand it, Joe. They're basically saying, look, this is going to be a rough period but you got to break a few eggs to make an omelet and this is going to be all fine by Election Day. But why is that wrong?

RAGO: Well, where's the omelet?


GIGOT: Well, it's out there.


It's on the next stove. It's coming.


GIGOT: If you look at the enrollment numbers that they released this week, only about 100,000 enrollments nationwide, 27,000 through the 36 federal exchanges. So I think this program is a lot more troubled than even people realized by what's been made public. So these problems are going to ramify over time.

GIGOT: Do you think this, Kim, that the Democratic concern is going to ratchet up? I mean, I think you have this deadline coming up at the end of November where the website is supposed to be working. The president reinforced again that he thinks it will be working much better at that time. If it isn't, what happened then politically?

STRASSEL: I do think that, look, this is the problem they've got. The cancellations are going to continue because most health insurers are not going to have time to fix this. It doesn't help to extend the enrollment period. It doesn't help to do any, most of these things that they are saying. One of the problems that Democrats are coming to understand is that you can't necessarily tinker with this law around the edges. But what you're going to see are Republicans upping the pressure and upping the pressure for some sort of dramatic change, like a delay, something. And if their poll numbers continue to be where they are on the Democratic side, the question is, are these small interim little things that the president is offering to provide some cover, is it going to prove enough or are they going to have to do something larger?

GIGOT: Dan, briefly, do you think you can maybe begin to see the possibility that this thing gets delayed a whole year? I mean the whole bill?

HENNINGER: I think it's very possible, Paul, because, as the president himself said, this is all very complicated. There are a lot of moving parts here. If the milk continues to spill out of the bottles, I think they're going to have to default to that option.

GIGOT: All right, everybody, thanks so much.

When we come back, France saves the West from a disastrous deal with Iran. But as the administration pushes forward with nuclear talks, can Congress stop John Kerry from cutting a bad bargain?



SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: People need to stop and think about what happens each day now that you don't have an agreement. Each day that you don't have an agreement, Iran will continue to enrich. Iran will continue to put centrifuges in. Iran will continue its program.


GIGOT: Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva, Switzerland, last weekend after talks on Iran's nuclear program collapsed at the 11th hour, with France's foreign minister balking at what he called a sucker's deal. Heading to Capitol Hill upon his return home, Kerry defended the administration's push to reach an agreement and warned that any new sanctions on Iran would sink the ongoing negotiations and push the U.S. towards war.

We're back with Dan Henninger. Wall Street Journal foreign affair columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski, also join us.

So, Matt, you've been working your French sources, which I must say are excellent. What happened? John Kerry says, look everybody was on board, all the allies were on board. It was Iran that walked away. There really wasn't any disagreement. True?

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: No. What happened was John Kerry and the Iranians have essentially done a deal together without involving other the countries. You remember it was over the weekend in Geneva. At the last minute, the French minister, Laurent Fabius, said, hey, what's going on here? He flew into Geneva, which was not preplanned. They got the Russian and the Chinese ministers, and they said they were not happy with the deal at it was. They wanted stronger measures to stop Iran from opening a plutonium plant --

GIGOT: Plutonium, right.

KAMINSKI: -- and to do more to cut back on Iranian enrichment. My friend's sources say they now -- they have agreed with Americans and the Chinese and the Russians to put forward a proposal, which was tougher than what John Kerry wanted, to the Iranians. That's when the Iranians said, we can't do this here. We have to go back to Tehran.

GIGOT: Go back to Tehran and figure it out.

So, Bret, is this new deal sufficient, in your view, as Matt described it, to get a deal with Iran?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No. It's still a bad deal because it essentially freezes -- it doesn't even freeze the Iranian nuclear program in place. It basically slows it from a sprint to a jog. The Iranians would still continue to enrich uranium. They would still continue to manufacture centrifuges even if they weren't installing --


GIGOT: So this would not -- this is what I don't understand. This would not -- this deal, proposal, would not eliminate their centrifuges?

STEPHENS: No, it would certainly not eliminate its centrifuges. It would still be building large stockpiles and enriching uranium to civilian grades. So much so that, even if you were to remove all their near-bomb- grade uranium, they could replenish those stocks within 24 days. So it really doesn't advance the ball. What it does do is it begins the process of lifting sanctions on the Iranians and losing what ever leverage the West has obtained to get to the split.

GIGOT: But the president said this week, Dan, that if Iran cheats on this interim accord, you can always ratchet up those sanctions again and we'll be back to where we were. Is that realistic?

HENNINGER: Well, we've been through this exercise before with Saddam Hussein in Iraq where he played the United Nations and the U.S. inspectors for years. Inspections is a very difficult process. The counterargument to that is we've got these financial sanctions and sanctions against oil importations that are squeezing the Iranians. If you want to bring them to the table, why not let those sanctions continue to work rather than pulling off to a side road and starting to ease them at the margins? That's essentially the nature of the debate right now.

STEPHENS: But there's one other point to add to what Dan said. These are international sanctions. Some of the most effective of those sanctions aren't really being done by the United States or Europe at all.


STEPHENS: They're being done in Europe. They're freezing Iran out of access to foreign currency. So once you start dismantling the sanctions, you have to get all those other countries that you so laboriously brought on board to resume them. Iran will be tempted, as they have before, to start cutting side deals with various other countries.

GIGOT: What about Congress, Matt? You've got a lot of folks in Congress, Democrats and Republicans -- Senator Menendez, of New Jersey, has been one of Iran's biggest critics and supporters of sanctions. Can it do anything to stiffen the administration's negotiating position?

KAMINSKI: Well, they didn't seem very happy with John Kerry's case that he made on Wednesday on why they should hold off on the sanctions bill. And remember, what they want to do, they want to try and hit Iran's oil sector a bit harder and they want to limit is access to currency reserves.

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: But this bill, it takes three to six months to implement the bill. And if they get --

GIGOT: This is the new sanctions.

KAMINSKI: Exactly.

GIGOT: Yeah.

KAMINSKI: And if they get a deal, they can say, OK, this doesn't count because Iran has to come to the table. The main concern among France, those who are skeptical, is that now you have leverage with Iran. They're really hurting because the sanctions are working. So why give up very little to capitalize on a policy that's really worked for you?

GIGOT: The other thing -- interesting. The other thing I want to ask about is Israel, Bret, because I can't recall a case where a U.S. ally affected by negotiations was so publicly critical of the U.S. position while the negotiations were going on as Prime Minister Netanyahu was this week. What's going on from Israel's point of view?

STEPHENS: Well, Netanyahu, when he met with Obama in September on the edges of the U.N. General Assembly, was very clear in stressing that the moment you start lifting even a few sanction, the whole deal is going to begin to crumble. And the Israeli red line has been, if you're going to get a negotiation that actually moves towards dismantling their enrichment capability, that's the deal Israel is willing to sign off on. I think the Israelis thought they had Obama's understanding on that and the administration is kind of walking away from that kind of --


GIGOT: Oh, boy. This is sure going to be worth watching.

When we come back, Hillary Clinton widely viewed as the Democratic front-runner in 2016, but some on the left are floating an alternative. Could a freshman Senator once again derail her presidential ambitions?


GIGOT: Well, she's widely considered to be the Democratic front- runner for president in 2016 but Hillary Clinton's coronation is apparently not sitting well with everyone on the left. The cover story in this week's "New Republic" touts Wall Street scourge, Elizabeth Warren, as, quote, "Hillary's nightmare" and wonders if the soul of the Democratic Party really lies with a freshman Senator from Massachusetts.

We're back with Kim Strassel. And Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Mary Kissel, also joins us.

Kim, start with you. What's behind the Warren boom?

STRASSEL: The argument in the New Republic is, if you go back and look through the history of the Democratic Party, there's always these flashes of enthusiasm for these populist, anti-wall street candidates. Some of them, most of them, have always flamed out because they do tend to appeal to only a small part of the base -- campuses and white liberals, cultural liberals, but not necessarily with minorities or the working poor. Their argument, New Republic argument is that that has changed, the combination of the 2008 financial crisis and Barack Obama as president has shifted the party. There are now ready and eager for a candidate like Warren. Certain things, like the Bill de Blasio election in New York, prove that.

GIGOT: Right, Kim.

STRASSEL: And this is where the party should be.

GIGOT: What specific positions, do you think, Warren supported to really get these left wingers excited?

MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: As Kim says, she's an economic populous. She's basically a single-issue candidate if she runs for president. She's all about consumer protection. If you look at her record in the Senate, she --

GIGOT: Isn't that popular? Consumer protection>

KISSEL: It's popular here in New York, as Kim said, with de Blasio but I'm not sure it's popular out in the middle class, which is really suffering right now. I'm sure they feel like they need protection from the banks. I think they just want a job.

GIGOT: Isn't it also income redistribution? She supports a whole liberal --


GIGOT: --economic agenda.

KISSEL: Sure, she does, but she's also a political novice. She also has no foreign policy experience.

GIGOT: Right.

KISSEL: And I think she might play well to the Harvard campus but I'm not sure that she plays very well to the rest of the country. Look, if you're a Republican, you might be all for Elizabeth Warren for president. It might be the best thing that happened to the Republican Party.

GIGOT: That's what some Republicans -- that's what some Republicans said about Barack Obama, too, and that hasn't been an experience a lot of them want to repeat.

What is it about Warren's record? What she's done in the Senate? She's now been in the Senate a couple --


KISSEL: In the Senate? Sure. She wants tighter enforcement over financial institutions. She really wants to put the thumb of the regulators on the banks, the insurance companies, other financial institutions. She obviously started the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. She's a big protector of that, a completely unconstitutional agency that has no checks and balances. And she also wants agencies to declare guilt when they enter into settlements with the SEC. They are very inside-Washington kinds of things.

GIGOT: Right.

KISSEL: And if you ask somebody in the rest of the country, do you know who Mary Joe White is, and do you care, I'm not sure --


GIGOT: She's the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

KISSEL: Of the SEC. I'm not sure they would say, look, is Occupy wall street important today as it was three years ago? I don't think so.

GIGOT: But she's also been a thorn in the side of the Obama administration. She helped to scuttle the nomination the president wanted to make of Larry Summers, former treasury secretary, as head of the Federal Reserve. She organized that insurgency, right?

KISSEL: Yes. Absolutely, she did. She's also got a very great fund- raising operation going. She raised more than $40 million when she ran for Senate last year. That is formidable.

But, again, it may play well here in New York City, but I'm just not sure that she's going to get the kind of African-American/Hispanic/working- class/white community she'd need to get.

GIGOT: What are the chances Hillary Clinton will run, Kim? Do you think they're pretty good?

STRASSEL: I think they're very good. What Mary just said. Look, Hillary Clinton's base is minorities, the working class, blue-collar workers. They almost allowed her to succeed against Barack Obama. And the thing I think that the problem that Warren has is that, you know, the economic populism argument has a certain appeal. But with that, as was mentioned, comes a real liberalism. And that's actually been a problem for the Democratic party in national elections in recent -- like the 2010 elections.

GIGOT: Correct.

STRASSEL: It was an enormous rebuke of the first two years of the Obama administration. So that's the problem.

GIGOT: All right. This could be fun, watching this.

We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits and Misses" of the week.


GIGOT: Time now for "Hits and Misses" of the week --Matt Kaminski?

KAMINSKI: Paul, here's an update, a weekly update on Canadian politics.


Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, who last week had admitted he smoked crack cocaine, had another banner week. He said -- he went on the foul- mouthed tirade on live television. Then he said he would sue his staff for leaking news of his cocaine use to the press and that he would not resign as mayor of Toronto. Canadians are very proud of not being like Americans but I think their politics have definitely sunk to our lows.

GIGOT: All right.


KISSEL: This one is too easy but I'm going to do it anyway. A big miss to the United Nations for electing, in a secret ballot, the lowlifes of the human rights community, China, Cuba, Russian, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, to the Human Rights Council. Our ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, tweeted that she hopes these countries' practices will change. Just what we need, more promise of hope and change.



STEPHENS: This is a hit of sorts to Sotheby's Auction House, which this week auctioned off an Andy Warhol painting for $105.4 million. That's a lot of money. It shows the art market is healthy. It shows someone is willing to shell out that kind of cash. On the other hand, Andy Warhol? Really? $105 million? It tells you that there are many things in life that money gets but taste isn't one of them.


And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, please send it to us at And be sure to follow us on Twitter at JERonFNC.

That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and especially to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.

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