First Read Flash: Sebelius in the hot seat

Wall Street Journal:The Obama administration’s top health official on Wednesday is expected to blame contractors for some of the problems with the federal health-insurance website, and to defend herself against calls that she resign. The testimony by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has borne the brunt of criticism over the HealthCare.gov website, comes a day after Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee. Ms. Tavenner apologized on Tuesday, saying the site ‘can and will be fixed.’”

NBC’s Maggie Fox has “5 questions Sebelius must answer.” 

National Journal:With the disastrous HealthCare.gov rollout, you would think that if President Obama had not fired Kathleen Sebelius by now, he would have at least seriously considered it. And you’d think she might have readied a resignation letter or even offered to quit. But those close to the White House and Sebelius say there has been no such come-to-Jesus moment between the two and they don’t see one happening anytime soon. In short, Sebelius is staying.”

Washington Post:Testifying [Tuesday] before the House Ways and Means Committee, Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said: ‘To the millions of Americans who’ve attempted to use HealthCare.gov to shop and enroll in health-care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the Web site has not worked as well as it should. We know how desperately you need affordable coverage.’”

New York Times: “President Obama finds himself under fire on two disparate fronts these days, both for the botched rollout of his signature health care program and for the secret spying on allied heads of state. In both instances, his explanation roughly boils down to this: I didn’t know. As a practical matter, no president can be aware of everything going on in the sprawling government he theoretically manages. But as a matter of politics, Mr. Obama’s plea of ignorance may do less to deflect blame than to prompt new questions about just how much in charge he really is.”

Politico:For every positive statistic about the law, there’s a horror story that calls into question the broad promises of Obamacare and gives Republicans something else to criticize. It’s forced the White House into yet another frustrating round of Whac-A-Mole, beating back one negative development only to find several more right behind it.”

Washington Post: “A new controversy over the president’s health-care law is threatening to overshadow the messy launch of its Web site: Notices are going out to hundreds of thousands of Americans informing them that their health insurance policies are being canceled as of Dec. 31. The notices appear to contradict President Obama’s promise that despite the changes resulting from the law, Americans can keep their health insurance if they like it. Republicans have seized on the cancellations as evidence that the law is flawed and the president has been less than forthright in describing its impact.”

Los Angeles Times: Behind closed doors, some officials who worked on the rollout say they wish they’d left themselves a little wiggle room. They could have done more to play up ways to sign up other than through the website, such as the call centers, said one official, requesting anonymity to discuss the planning process.”

Wall Street Journal:The White House has cracked open the door to a budget compromise with congressional Republicans by signaling it might not insist on raising taxes as part of a deal to replace some scheduled spending cuts, people familiar with the matter said. The development could help end an impasse between the White House and the GOP that has persisted for three years. It is sure to arise again as a House-Senate committee begins negotiations Wednesday on a plan to fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year.”

New York Times: “The head of the National Security Agency on Tuesday vigorously challenged recent reports that the United States had been gathering the phone records of millions of Europeans, saying that the records had in fact been turned over by allied spy services. “This is not information we collected on European citizens,” said the agency’s director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander. “It represents information that we and our NATO allies have collected in defense of our countries and in support of military operations.’”

Roll Call:Utah Sen. Mike Lee said Tuesday that the turmoil he and others have fomented in the Republican Party is all part of a Reaganesque revolution that will return the GOP to its glory days. ‘The gaping hole in the middle of the Republican party today, the one that separates the grass roots from the establishment leaders, is precisely the size and shape of a new unifying conservative reform agenda,’ Lee said in a speech Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation. ‘The establishment will not produce that agenda.’”

The Hill: “Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is making another trip to South Carolina, fueling expectations that he’s giving a presidential run serious consideration. Cruz, a Tea Party hero following his lead in using the government shutdown, will head to the early-primary state next week to meet with evangelical leaders.”

ALABAMA: Roll Call:The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group that regularly spends millions to boost business-friendly congressional candidates, will endorse former state Sen. Bradley Byrne in Alabama’s 1st District special election on Tuesday….The Byrne endorsement marks the chamber’s first big move to combat tea party conservatives in the GOP whom they blame — along with many Americans — for the shutdown of the U.S. government earlier this month.”

FLORIDA:  ”Florida’s former chief financial officer and Democratic gubernatorial nominee on Tuesday confirmed exclusively to the Tampa Bay Times that she is jumping into the race to succeed late Republican U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young in a district covering much of Pinellas County. Sink, 65, has begun looking for a Pinellas home and said she will move “imminently’ into the district from her east Hillsborough home 45 minutes away.”

KENTUCKY: NBC’S Jessica Taylor: “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is getting hit from both sides in the aftermath of the government shutdown – and the latest volley comes from conservatives in the Kentucky contest. The Senate Conservatives Fund, which endorsed McConnell’s GOP challenger Matt Bevin earlier this month, is launching its first TV ad since officially wading into the race, and it charges that ‘McConnell helped Barack Obama and Harry Reid fund Obamacare.’”

OREGON: Portland Oregonian: “Monica Wehby, a Portland pediatric neurosurgeon, formally jumped into the race for the U.S. Senate Tuesday, joining a growing horde of Republicans hoping to unseat U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.”

VIRGINIA: Richmond Times Dispatch: “A new poll shows the Virginia governor’s race tightening, with Democrat Terry McAuliffe leading Republican Ken Cuccinelli by 4 percentage points, 45 percent to 41 percent, and a third-party candidate drawing 9 percent. This Quinnipiac University poll released this morning shows the contest just outside of the margin of error, and it comes two days after a Washington Post poll showed McAuliffe ahead by 12 percentage points.”

Washington Post:Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal came to battleground Prince William County Tuesday to try to lift up the lagging gubernatorial campaign of Republican Ken Cuccinelli II….Jindal’s attacks on Obamacare drew the biggest applause.”

AP:Terry McAuliffe criticized rival Ken Cuccinelli for not backing the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act during a campaign stop Tuesday with former President Bill Clinton.”

Richmond Times Dispatch: “The White House is putting on a full-court press, hoping to help Terry McAuliffe get elected governor Tuesday. President Barack Obama will join McAuliffe on Sunday for a rally at an Arlington County high school. The next day, Vice President Joe Biden will attend a get-out-the-vote canvass kick-off in Annandale with McAuliffe, volunteers and supporters.”

Washington Post: Terry McAuliffe has always fashioned himself a master salesman. He could pitch anything. Then he went to Cuba.  McAuliffe said he journeyed to the island to sell Virginia wine and apples. Yet the Cubans scoffed at his propositions during the April 2010 visit, unmoved by the full-frontal style of persuasion that has long powered McAuliffe’s success as an investor and political rainmaker. Cuban officials not only rejected McAuliffe, but in meeting after meeting lectured him about the supposed ill effects of the U.S. trade embargo on the island nation.”

First Read Flash: Sebelius in the hot seat