The Washington Post

Health-care woes follow Obama to New Orleans

President Obama talks about the importance of growing the U.S. economy while at the Port of New Orleans in Louisiana on Nov. 8. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

President Obama, beset by problems with his health-care rollout, sought again Friday to reassure the public that he is personally involved in the administration’s effort to fix the program’s malfunctioning Web site by the end of the month.

“I wanted to go in and fix it myself, but I don’t write code,” he said during a speech at a port in this Gulf Coast city. But he pledged that despite the troubled start to the Affordable Care Act, the law will ultimately benefit millions.

“I know health care is controversial, so there’s only so much bipartisan support we’re going to get,” Obama said, “until it starts working really well and they stop calling it ‘Obamacare.’ ”

The stop here came a day after Obama apologized to millions of Americans who had their low-cost health coverage in the individual marketplace canceled despite his promises that they could keep their plans. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters en route to New Orleans that the president has instructed his aides to examine potential administrative solutions to the matter, but the spokesman offered no details.

Obama had hoped to use the remarks in New Orleans to push his proposals to increase U.S. exports and send a message that his administration has not been sidetracked in its bid to improve the economy.

A look at four past presidents who stepped forward to accept responsibility for events that happened on their watch. (The Washington Post)

“The feeling that you can make it if you try has been slipping away,” he told a few hundred supporters, speaking outside, with oversized port gantry cranes rising above him. “My driving focus is to restore that sense. That should be Washington’s focus, too.”

Even as Obama sought to refocus the conversation on economic growth, he could not escape the political fallout from the health-care mess. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) joined him aboard Air Force One, but she did not appear with him at the port event, citing a conflicting engagement elsewhere in the state.

Landrieu, who is expected to face a tough reelection campaign next fall, has called on Obama to extend the March 31 deadline for the uninsured to purchase health coverage under the Affordable Care Act or face fines. She was among a group of 16 Democratic senators who expressed concern to Obama during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

But the president assured the Democrats that the health-care Web site will be fixed by the end of the month and said he has no plans to push back the deadline. The public will still have four months to enroll through the Web site, Earnest said, calling it “a really long time.”

The White House has tried to fight back. On a conference call with reporters Thursday evening, administration officials, joined by elected officials from Louisiana and Florida, criticized the Republican governors of those two states for failing to use a provision in the Affordable Care Act to extend Medicaid benefits to more uninsured residents.

Obama was scheduled to visit Miami for three Democratic fundraisers after speaking in New Orleans.

The president’s appearance in the Big Easy was intended to help him keep the pressure on Republicans as Congress begins to negotiate a potential budget deal. Democrats are seeking relief from mandatory federal cuts known as sequestration in exchange for permanent “structural changes” to federal health programs such as Medicare. But Republicans are balking at the Democrats’ demand for new revenue through the closing of tax loopholes.

Obama has tried to make the case that the sequester puts the pace of economic growth at risk, and he has pushed for greater investments in infrastructure, education and scientific research.

The Port of New Orleans is thriving, with statewide exports up 3.4 percent during the first six months of the year, compared with the first half of 2012.

But ultimately, the president knew he could not ignore the health-care woes in his remarks.

“There’s not as much bipartisan progress in fixing our broken health-care system,” Obama said. “We took it up knowing it would be hard. There’s a reason no other president has done it.”

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

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