Should red state Democrats start to panic over ObamaCare?

This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," March 29, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the Supreme Court hears a major challenge to ObamaCare's birth control mandate as the administration announces yet another enrollment delay. Are red state Democrats starting to panic?

Plus, as concern grows over Vladimir Putin's next military move, can President Obama rally our European allies and calm their fears with the promise of U.S. energy exports?

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

The Affordable Care Act returned to the Supreme Court this week as justices heard a major challenge to law's birth control mandate. Oral arguments in the sp-called Hobby Lobby case came the same day the administration announced yet another delay in the health care law, giving consumers who claimed to have had difficulty signing up for insurance through the federal exchanges more time despite Monday's official enrollment deadline.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Joe Rago; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

Kim, let me go to you first.

This latest delay, what are the consequences? What does it say about whether there will be any deadline at all?

KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: That's just it. We don't think there will be any deadline at all. All you have to do to qualify for this is check a little box on the website that said you tried to get health care and you just didn't meet the deadline. And in terms of how long that will go on, the regulations say, at least at the moment, it's indefinite. There is no final deadline in terms of when you no longer qualify for that.

GIGOT: Remarkable.

STRASSEL: So this is a sort of a permanent extension.

GIGOT: Does this suggest, Joe, that the individual mandate, which the president has said was so crucial -- we had to have it for the law because you need that incentive, that stick to buy insurance, to finance health care in this program for everybody -- does this mean the individual mandate is especially a fiction?

JOE RAGO, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think it's definitely been eroded a lot. It's probably in hospice, if you want to take a medical analogy, and it's probably time for the death panel.


At some point -- this is by far the most unpopular part of this law. And I think that helps explain why they've been delaying it, why they've been relaxing it.

GIGOT: Now, they did announce this week there are six million enrollees in ObamaCare. Is that a real number? How firm is that?

RAGO: It's not firm at all. The Health and Human Services Department is really harming its credibility with neutral observers. They say we don't have any information, when things are going wrong. When they find something, where they think it might be going right, they immediately release it on a dime.

GIGOT: We don't know how many people are paying their premiums of that six million.

RAGO: We don't know how many people are paying their premiums. We don't know how many people have succeeded in getting through some of the ongoing enrollment glitches. And if things are going so well, why announce another delay, number 38 since last year?

GIGOT: Dan, no --if things are going so well, you wouldn't know it from the way the Senate Democrats are behaving. They are starting to roll out an alternative to suggest that we need to fix this. How is that going?

DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, it's interesting in its political implications. These are all moderate Senate Democrats. They have proposed something --


GIGOT: Who all voted for ObamaCare.

HENNINGER: Who all voted for ObamaCare. They still say they support it. But they've got an alternative called the Copper Plan. There are the three other metals and now we've got copper. The interesting thing about it is, if you read through it, the word "choice" keeps coming up. They want to give people more choice, which I think is a word that Milton Friedman made famous when it came to health insurance. They also want to sell insurance across state lines.


GIGOT: This is sort of Republican ideas --

HENNINGER: That's the point.

GIGOT: -- the president refused to endorse.

HENNINGER: Refused back when the legislation was being created. He got no Republican votes. And now you've got moderate Democrats talking the way Republicans did back then, which suggests that the reality is that the law itself, it's just got -- political support is dropping away completely.

GIGOT: Kim, are you going to see more Democrats support this kind of strategy or -- that failed in this recent House election, you know, fix -- mend it, don't end it. But is this the only alternative they have?

STRASSEL: You are. The fix-it approach is the strategy for any Democrat who is facing electoral pressures right now. It was six that started out with this. You'll see more join it.

The problem though, of course, Paul, the bigger one, is that Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is never going to allow a vote on this.

GIGOT: Right.

STRASSEL: So this is really an election-year strategy. They want to look as though they've got problems themselves with the law and solutions for fixing it, knowing that none of this is ever going to come into being. I think that is actually one of their political weaknesses because voters know that, too.

GIGOT: Joe, let's turn to these court cases. First, the Hobby Lobby religious liberty case at the Supreme Court. You read the oral argument. You know what the justices do. How will this turn out?

RAGO: I think you probably had six justices, including Stephen Breyer, one of the liberals, really kind of discomforted by the arguments the administration was making here. We're talking about a legitimate religious minority. They object to the owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores --

GIGOT: Right.

RAGO: -- object to just a few forms of contraception. They are saying, look, we --

GIGOT: But they, under the law, are forced to provide for their employees.

RAGO: Right. The big weakness in the government's case is that there is a law that says, when the administration trenches on religious liberty, they need to have a compelling argument and impose the least restrictive methods for it. And the Justice Department and oral arguments didn't have a good reason why we can't create a free federal birth control program to cover Hobby Lobby employees rather than implicating the owners in what they consider to be grave moral wrongs.

GIGOT: What about the -- Dan, go ahead.

HENNINGER: The supporters of ObamaCare have argued that if you allow these religious exemptions --

GIGOT: Right.

HENNINGER: -- you go down this road, it allows people to propose absurd religious beliefs to get out of complying with government laws.

GIGOT: Providing vaccinations. Hey, I don't believe in vaccinations --


GIGOT: -- so I don't have to provide for that.

HENNINGER: I think Justice Roberts put his finger on this in a similar religious exemption case in 2006 called Gonzalez, in which Roberts said, what Congress wants the court to do is strike what he called, quote, "a sensible balance." Imagine Congress asking the courts to be sensible about these issues. And I think that's what's going to happen in the Hobby Lobby case. Rather than accepting a total mandate to provide contraceptives, a carve out for people with real religious beliefs like this, I think, is where the court's going to end up.

GIGOT: If the Hobby Lobby people lose, it means the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is essentially nonexistent.

RAGO: It would essentially be a meaningless statute. No one could ever bring a claim under it. And this is really what that law passed for. It's what it was designed to do.

GIGOT: These kinds of religious conscience claims.

All right, when we come back, President Obama wraps up his European tour amid growing concern over Russia's next military move. Will the president's words this week make Vladimir Putin think twice?



PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If the Russian leadership stays on its current course, together, we will ensure that this isolation deepens. Sanctions will expand and the toll on Russia's economy as well as its standing in the world will only increase.


GIGOT: President Obama Wednesday delivering the keynote address of his European tour, a trip meant to rally Western allies in opposition to Vladimir Putin's illegal annexation of Crimea. But as Russian troops continue to mass at the Ukraine border, will the president's words cause the Kremlin to think twice about its next move?

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

So, Bret, was the president able to rally a united Western response to Putin?

BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: In a sense, yes, because there was relatively little appetite among Europeans to take a really firm stance, anything more than a rhetorical stance against Putin, against Russia for a variety of reason, not least, Europe's heavy dependence on Russian natural gas. The president went over and offered a kind of fairly weak -- laid down a weak and rhetorical marker. He said very clearly the United States or Europe would not be coming to Ukraine's defense militarily.

GIGOT: But we weren't going to do that anyway.

STEPHENS: Yes, but we didn't need to explicitly tell the Russians that if they want to amass troops, as they are, on the Ukrainian border, they wouldn't even face a notional opposition.

GIGOT: But he did invoke NATO's Article 5 saying we would go to war, in essence, if one of the NATO countries was invaded. He called the allies to step up, as he put it, and start to spend more on defense --


STEPHENS: This -- this --


STEPHENS: in 1950 when Dean Acheson gave a speech which was interpreted to suggest --


GIGOT: Secretary of State Acheson.

STEPHENS: Right. In the Truman administration, that Korea did not fall within the America's security perimeter. Well, the North Koreans listened to that speech and they decided to invade South Korea, creating the crisis. Then Truman had to reverse his secretary of state's statement. And we did end up losing 30,000 lives --


GIGOT: The implication of that is, you're saying that this is an invitation, Matt, for Putin to do more, even though the president explicitly said, if Putin does more, he'll face tougher sanctions.

MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think Vladimir Putin is not listening, doesn't care very much for the rhetoric that's employed here. He is looking for the actions behind the rhetoric. At every single step with President Obama in Brussels, he did say NATO must step up. He didn't say how. He didn't offer any new serious measures that the U.S. would deploy forces in Eastern Europe in greater numbers.


GIGOT: Or even consider deploying them.

KAMINSKI: Right. He would sort of rotate a few through. He didn't talk about missile defense. He didn't even sort of -- we haven't really put any serious naval presence in the Black Sea since this started. He actually bent over backwards to say, we won't do anything, don't worry about it. He even tried to belittle Russia, saying it's only a regional power and it's a sign of weakness. What is needed here was more of a muscular response backed by substantive actions. That was what was missing here.

GIGOT: But it may be that the president actually believes what he says about Russia -- regional power, no threat us to. He essentially said that Crimea's takeover is no threat to us. Maybe he believes Putin is acting out of weakness and we really don't need to do much more than we've done.

HENNINGER: Yeah. It's interesting. It depends on the meaning of regional. Because the poles, Hungarians and all three Baltic States think they are under threat by what Putin is doing. And the idea would be, of course, to pull them towards Russia rather than allow them to slide over to Europe. I think, over time, using the gas weapon and so forth, plus the threat of the military, he would be able to do that.

And I honestly have to say, Paul, looking at what happened in Brussels last week, it looks as though the wind is going out of the sails here. The head of NATO said, what are we going to do? We are going to help, quote, "modernize the Ukrainian military." We are going to, quote, "review our relationship with the Russians." The United Kingdom's defense minister said, as a reality, the Europeans do not have the defense structure in place to take any kind of significant position.


STEPHENS: Paul, this is a reminder of just how misconceived the pivot was and the idea --


GIGOT: Pivot to Asia.

STEPHENS: Right. And the idea --


STEPHENS: -- that our main security crisis was likely to come in Asia. We had no idea that we would be facing such a security crisis right in the heart of Europe.

As Dan was saying, NATO, under Obama, has been allowed to become a really hollow shell. Defense spending in almost all the European countries and the United States, as well, has been declining very dramatically.

GIGOT: Right.

STEPHENS: For most European countries, it's below 2 percent of their GDP, which is the baseline for NATO memberships. So they're not even meeting the baseline. We just had, a month ago, Chuck Hagel, secretary of defense, announcing brand-new huge, steep cuts. So no wonder Russia is looking at this saying that it has the military wherewithal to act.

GIGOT: So, Matt, briefly, does this mean essentially we are going to go back after a little interval here, do you think, to sort of what it was before? Putin gets to keep Crimea and we'll go back to business as usual?

KAMINSKI: The signal here is that we just want this to go away. And that's what the Europeans -- they don't want to deal with this problem anymore. The problem is Vladimir Putin sees the same thing. He is not being punished for the takeover of Crimea --

GIGOT: Crimea.

KAMINSKI: -- as we said he would be.

GIGOT: Right.

KAMINSKI: And he has thousands of troops amassed along Ukraine's eastern border, now in the south, too. I think that's a green light for him to move ahead.

GIGOT: That's the place to watch.

When we come back, as Europe faces a Russian oil and gas squeeze, will America move to shore up its allies with U.S. energy exports or will domestic American politics get in the way?



OBAMA: This entire event I think has pointed to the need for Europe to look at how it can further diversify its energy sources. And the United States is blessed with some additional energy sources that have been developed in part because of new technologies.


GIGOT: President Obama in Brussels this week acknowledging the need for Europe to reduce its dependence on Russian energy and holding out the potential for expanding exports of American natural gas.

We're back with Dan Henninger, Matt Kaminski and Kim Strassel.

Matt, first of all, how vulnerable is Europe to Russian energy supply, and how is Putin using that advantage?

KAMINSKI: Europe gets about 25 percent of its natural gas --

GIGOT: This is overall.

KAMINSKI: -- from Russia. The E.U. does, of which -- and that's only 6 percent of the total supply.

GIGOT: But that's not the case with the eastern side of --

KAMINSKI: They get more. And --


GIGOT: As many as -- 100 percent or 90-some percent is the eastern states.

KAMINSKI: In the Baltics. Germany is about half, gets their natural gas from Russia. That numbers has been going down. As a total share of the energy mix, it's only about 6 percent. So there is dependence, but it can be overstated.

On the other hand, Russia is entirely dependent on Europe to sell its natural gas. Russia's biggest market is Ukraine, actually, followed by Germany. If Russia were to cut off its natural gas supplies, Russia would stop getting revenue for it's --


GIGOT: But Russia is already trying to squeeze Ukraine by raising prices through Gazprom, its oil and gas company.

KAMINSKI: That is a purely political move. I mean, that's sort of the -- the price that Gazprom charges just happen to be a fictional price. Remember that Russia cannot live without getting the revenue for its energy supplies. So this is a two-way street. And Russia is a far more energy- dependent economy. It is effectively a petro gas state.

GIGOT: How much of a difference can U.S. energy exports make?

HENNINGER: I think it can make a difference over time. This is -- it takes a while to create infrastructure to allow these sorts of things to happen.

GIGOT: Sure.

HENNINGER: So you need to approve the liquid natural gas depots and ports in the United States. You have to set up the pipeline infrastructure inside Europe. It exists, but it has to be adapted to this.

The point is someone has to lead and allow the markets to go forward and start this process. Once those market forces are in play, then I think all these countries that Matt was describing can think about signing contracts that are alternative to the Russians over maybe the next four, five years.

GIGOT: Kim, we had one approve -- the Energy Department approved one export terminal this week in Oregon. There are still 24 more applications to go. But how is this whole Russian crisis, Ukraine, changing the politics of American energy and American exports of gas and oil?

STRASSEL: What you see here, Paul, there are a lot of, interestingly, Democrats who are running to natural gas as a sort of political safe harbor. They are under fire for Obamacare. They want to look like they are pro-energy and pro-jobs. So you have the sight of guys like Colorado Senator Mark Udall or Virginia Senator Mark Warner suddenly embracing the need for more exports and more natural gas.

This is putting a lot of pressure on the Obama Department of Energy to approve these 24 applications that are sitting there, which is really important that they get blanket approval because, only when you get all them out the door can the market decide which ones are the best positions to pass further regulatory reviews and get all the capital they need and get this process moving quickly.

GIGOT: Well, the Senate Republicans and even some Democrats wanted to have a vote to expedite the energy process approvals this week in the Senate, attached to the Ukraine aid bill, and Harry Reid didn't allow a vote. It would pass the House when it comes up. The House will pass something like this. So is this proforma posturing by some of these pro- drilling Democrats or are we going to see something happen?

STRASSEL: It is posturing to some degree. This gets into the tricky politics of this. The White House has always played a very careful walk with natural gas. They like to say they're in favor of it, again, because it resonates with Americans. But their environmental base hates gas. They hate fracking. And they have threatened to have repercussions if the White House embraces this. So Harry Reid did block that vote. And I think the real test of whether or not these Democrats mean what they say is whether or not they insist their leadership move ahead on this.

GIGOT: And it's a good illustration how green-energy politics and renewables, the focus on renewables, has hurt Western European independence, energy security, and made it more vulnerable to the supplies from the Soviet Union. A good lesson for us.

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


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

STEPHENS: This is actually a hit for our colleague and beloved friend, Dorothy Rabinowitz. She is -- this is music to her ears. The city bike program in New York City that she so famously detests is running into serious financial trouble, in part, because of a hard winter and, in part, because of the mismanaged financials. I happen to like the city bike program, as many other people do. But it's fun to see a colleague so richly vindicated as in this case.

GIGOT: All right.


RAGO: Paul, a hit to the FBI sting that exposed Leland Yee. He's a long-time California politician, now a state Senator, known as a big proponent of gun control. And it turns out he is actually an international arms dealer with ties to the Chinese --


GIGOT: That's the accusation. He denies it.

RAGO: -- and Russian mafia. But wait, there is more. The indictment goes on to allege bribery, racketeering, kickbacks, ties to a crime boss with the nickname "Shrimp Boy." It's an amazing story of political corruption. And a hit to the undercover agents who infiltrated his network.

GIGOT: All right.


STRASSEL: A miss to the National Labor Relations Board, which this week ruled that the football players at Northwestern University could unionize. The tortured logic is this. The young men supposedly play 40, 50 hours of football a week and, therefore, that counts as a service. And since they get a scholarship to attend university that counts as a payment. Therefore, they are employees who may unionize. I know the Obama administration is really keen to get more people in the union movement, but this is pretty crazy, Paul.

GIGOT: Yeah, and I think the collective bargaining that I would like to do, if I were a wide receiver, is I never have to go across the middle and risk getting hit by a free safety.


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

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

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