The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Daily Briefing by the Press Secretary, 12/16/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:14 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here on this Monday. It’s Monday, right? Good. Before I take your questions, I have something to say about health care reform and saving consumers money.
Today we are focusing on the savings that millions of consumers have already seen because of the health care law’s provisions that ensure Americans receive more value for their health insurance premium dollars. For decades before the Affordable Care Act, insurance premiums skyrocketed for many middle-class families. And while insurance companies still set premiums rates today, the health care law put into place new rules to make sure that the vast majority of consumers’ premium dollars were being spent to improve the quality of their care and to better protect against unreasonable increases in premiums.
First, the law requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care and on efforts to improve the quality of care, instead of things like overhead or profits. If they don’t, insurers have to send consumers a refund to meet this threshold, either through a check in the mail or by lowering future premiums or through another means of refunding these savings to the consumer. Almost 80 million consumers saved $3.4 billion up front on their premiums in 2012, and 8.5 million customers received an average refund of approximately $100 per family.
The health care law also requires insurance companies to post publicly and justify any proposed rate increase of 10 percent or more. As a result of state action and public scrutiny, many insurers are withdrawing or decreasing proposed rate hikes. If the Affordable Care Act were repealed, these refund checks would no longer be required -- safe to say they’d no longer be sent. And yet another way -- which is yet another way the Republican repeal plan would potentially raise costs for millions of Americans. I have a graphic to go along with it.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. Over the weekend, Paul Ryan spoke about wanting to extract concessions from Democrats in the next fight over raising the debt ceiling next year. Does the President’s position from the previous debt ceiling fight that you will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, does that hold true for the next debt ceiling fight?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s position has not changed, and I would point you to two things. One, I think Congressman Ryan as well as Senator Murray deserve a lot of credit for the compromise they reached on the budget deal. As I said last week, it’s a small step, but given the expectations that have been set over recent periods by Congress, it’s an important step. They exceeded expectations by proving that a return to regular order can be good for our economy -- is good for our economy and good for the middle class.
That’s why we hope to see the Senate follow what the House did by passing the budget agreement. And we hope to see what outside forecasters are predicting, which is that as a result of the rather new notion of certainty created by a two-year budget deal, that we might see added economic growth and job creation as a result. That would certainly be a welcome change from what we’ve seen, certainly most recently in October when Republicans in the House decided to shut the government down out of partisan pursuit and to threaten default for the same reason.
So we do not expect Republicans to walk that path again, precisely because it proved to be so disastrous for them politically and, more importantly, for the economy and for the middle class when they went down that path in October. I would point you to numerous statements, including from the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate, who have promised that Republicans wouldn’t do that again, and we certainly don’t expect them to do that again.
So right now we’re focused on the positive accomplishment that we’re seeing develop in Congress now over the budget. We hope and expect the Senate to act, and then we can continue to address the many agenda items that need to be addressed when it comes to growing the economy and helping the middle class.
Q But if they do pursue that again, considering that their budget chairman has said --
MR. CARNEY: I said the President’s position hasn’t changed. But I would simply suggest that the numerous statements from Republican leaders of all stripes essentially forsaking that strategy would lead us to believe and might lead you to believe that they won’t pursue that strategy again. It’s bad for the economy, bad for the middle class; at least some people think it’s bad for the Republican Party.
Q And can you update us on anything that the White House is doing actively to push for extension of unemployment benefits other than merely calling on Congress to do that? Is there anything going on behind the scenes here?
MR. CARNEY: Sure. We’re working with Congress directly on how we make this happen. It’s happened in the past. It happened under President George W. Bush when the unemployment rate was significantly lower than it still is today; when the average unemployed person was unemployed for 17 weeks as opposed to 36 weeks, which is the truth today -- the unfortunate truth. Despite all the progress that we’ve made in bringing the rate down and despite all the jobs that have been created in the private sector, we still have more work to do. And there’s still too many people out there who depend on these benefits.
And so we will work with Congress continually to try to find a way to make sure that these benefits are extended, as they have been in the past.
Q And some of the Republican groups that had been -- some Republican leaders who have been pushing back against some groups that have put them in a corner, recently we’ve heard some of those groups come back and say that they think that Speaker Boehner was maybe trying to lay the groundwork for immigration next year by creating some distance there. Do you share that assessment?
MR. CARNEY: The only assessment we have is that it is absolutely imperative that Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform. And there are just myriad reasons for why that’s a good thing to do, including very conservative reasons as to why that’s a good thing to do. And we think that the broad-based support we saw in the Senate, the broad support across the country from business and labor, law enforcement and faith communities demonstrates that this is an issue that can and should be embraced by Democrats and Republicans. And we remain very hopeful that the Republicans in the House will pass comprehensive immigration reform the way that the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform. It’s the right thing to do.
And as I’ve said many times in the past, it’s good for the economy, it’s good for the middle class, it’s good for border security, it’s good for innovation, and as at least some observers have said, it would be good for the Republican Party -- again, going back to -- like, you could sort of pick your reason for doing it, but we think it should be done. And we’re optimistic that Republicans will do it. Eventually we hope they will.
Q Would the President consider amnesty for Edward Snowden if he were to turn over all of his documents?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, our position has not changed on that matter at all. And what I can tell you is that Mr. Snowden has been accused of leaking classified information, and he faces felony charges here in the United States. He should be returned to the United States as soon as possible where he will be accorded full due process and protections in our system. So that’s our position and it has not changed.
Q One of the NSA officials brought this up. Is this --
MR. CARNEY: He was expressing his personal opinion. These decisions are made by the Department of Justice, and I would refer you there for more. But there’s been no change in our position. He has been charged and accused of leaking classified information. He faces felony charges here. He ought to be returned to the United States -- again, where he will face full due process and protection under our system of justice that we hope he will avail himself of, and we are obviously pressing the Russians and others on that issue.
Q And on health care, you’re coming up on the December 23rd deadline. What assurances has the White House received from insurance companies that they will be flexible?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have taken a series of steps to ensure that all those Americans who enrolled, or enroll by December 23rd and are seeking insurance coverage by January 1st are covered. And we are taking a number of steps to do that, and that includes the sort of belt-and-suspenders approach -- reaching out to those who believe they have enrolled, or have enrolled, to make sure that they are aware of deadlines for paying their premiums; that all their information is correct, as we've talked about when we have discussed the backend issues, the 834 forms. We're working to make sure that all of those 834 forms are accurate, both past and present 834 forms. And I think there's been some reporting that shows the progress we've made in the transmission of that information, and we're continuing to work on the site on those issues and others.
So we're focused on this issue very closely, the team that is working on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and working on the improvements to the website and working directly with insurers to make sure that the fixes that have been in place have had the desired effect in terms of improving the accuracy of the information that's conveyed to insurance companies, and making sure that those problems that existed in the past and the results of those problems when there are inaccuracies are addressed, so that those who enrolled or believed they enrolled, that they're made whole essentially; that they know that they're in the system, that they're insured, and that they take the steps necessary to pay their premiums.
Moving around. Jessica.
Q Question related to the NSA. This is something coming from a lot of our foreign press colleagues, this idea that a lot of countries have a problem with the NSA spying on their citizens, which is under a different set of rules than obviously surveillance of U.S. citizens. Can you say whether or not you would consider limiting the surveillance of foreign citizens since you’re addressing this domestically?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President has made clear that in the reviews that he has asked for, that we are looking at the entire system of intelligence-gathering and evaluating it through the lens of whether we are doing everything that we can and should in order to protect Americans and protect the United States and our allies; or are we doing more than that -- are we doing things just because we can, because we have the tools and capabilities to do that. So that process remains underway.
When it comes to the concerns raised by other countries, by allies, we are communicating with him directly through diplomatic channels. We have engaged in a variety of levels with different countries and leaders, as well as counterparts at the State Department-level and elsewhere on these matters, and we have taken steps to address those concerns and explain what we do in order to try to allay those concerns as we review this process.
What I can tell you is that on Friday, the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology submitted its report to the President. The President is grateful to the group -- that includes Richard Clarke, Michael Morell, Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein, and Peter Swire -- for devoting themselves to this effort over the past several months and providing thoughtful input for the administration to consider as we conclude the ongoing interagency review of signals intelligence collection being led by the White House.
The review group's report draws on the group members' considerable expertise and intelligence, counterterrorism, civil liberties law, and privacy matters, and on consultations with the U.S. government, privacy, and civil liberties advocates in the private sector. Over the next several weeks, we will be reviewing the review group's report and its more than 40 recommendations as we consider the path forward, including sorting through which recommendations we will implement, which might require further study, and which we will choose not to pursue. We expect the overall internal review to be completed in January. After that, the President will deliver remarks to outline the outcomes of our work, and at that time we will make public the review group's full report and other conclusions of our work.
Q Can we follow on that?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, follow-up, sure.
Q On Kim Jong-un reappearing over the weekend, really today, after the death of his uncle, is there any White House reaction on that?
MR. CARNEY: We don't have any reaction here. We expressed our views on the reports about his uncle last week. For more, I would refer you to the State Department.
Jon and then Brianna.
Q Jay, as we approach this deadline for people to enroll by the first of the year, how confident are you that all of those who lost their insurance will be able to enroll in new insurance by January 1st?
MR. CARNEY: I think, Jon, as we've talked about a lot lately, we are working overtime to make sure that everyone who wants insurance by January 1st -- coverage by the 1st is able to get it. Those who have -- either they enrolled early in the process in the post-October 1st period and experienced some problems with their enrollment, perhaps some accuracy issues on the backend, we've taken steps to address that to make sure all the information that's necessary has been accurately conveyed to insurance companies, that the two entities are linked up -- the enrollee and the issuer -- and that premiums -- that enrollees know when their premiums are due.
When it comes to those who received cancellation notices, those who fall into that group that the President discussed, we obviously took action to encourage states to allow for a greater duration, an extension of the current policies that they have, and a number of states -- I think more than half -- have taken that up.
So we’re working as hard as we can to make sure that everybody who wants coverage by January 1st receives coverage by January 1st in all the ways that I discussed in answer to Steve’s question.
Q But taken in its totality, all those efforts, I mean, not all the states went along -- you said half did. Taken in totality, is the White House reasonably confident that everybody who needs to get coverage by January 1st will be able to be covered?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously there are -- this is a six-month enrollment period and there are uninsured Americans who may not, for a variety of reasons -- may not enroll until January or February or March. I don’t think the expectation was that every uninsured American would have insurance on January 1st -- as welcome as that development would be.
Q I guess I’m specifically asking if those who need coverage because they lost their coverage -- they got those cancellation notices.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think we’re working very closely with the states and issuers to ensure that those who are seeking to purchase insurance, enroll in insurance on the exchanges are able to in time for January 1st. I think that that universe also -- you have to parse it pretty carefully, because people who got notices didn’t necessarily get notices that their policies ended on December 31st but that they would not be renewed when those policies ran out, and that could be any time through a period of months into the next year.
So the action the President took was to basically waive the requirement in the ACA and therefore to make it possible for state insurance commissions to extend those existing policies further than previously allowed. So we’re working very closely, again, as I said, to make sure that everybody who wants insurance on the market is able to get it. We’re also, obviously, working very closely with those states that chose to expand Medicaid to ensure that those who qualify under the expanded Medicaid program are getting the coverage that they now qualify for.
Q Are you able to guarantee that everybody who enrolled on the website by December 23rd will actually have their insurance policies go into effect by January 1st?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell is that we are working overtime to make sure that every 834 form is accurate when it goes to the issues of the backend problems that existed, and I think you’ve seen a lot of reporting on how those backend issues have been addressed -- or continue to be addressed. One of the processes here is to ensure that those who enrolled are in communication with their issuers to makes sure they know when their premiums are due, and that’s something that we’re trying to help facilitate. And all I can tell you is we’re doing everything we can to make sure that everyone who has enrolled and who pays his or her premium is aware of all the information they need to do that and is covered on January 1st. And this is something we’re going to push through all the way to the end of the month.
Q But some will fall through the cracks.
MR. CARNEY: I can’t speculate about who may fail to pay his or her premium or what may happen. All I can tell you is what we’re doing now to make sure that all of the forms are accurate, to make sure that everybody is being contacted who may have enrolled and may not be sure that the information got to their issuer. And we are doing that -- CMS is doing that very aggressively.
Brianna, and then I’ll go back again, and then I’ll come to the front.
Q You said you’re sort of -- it seems like maybe putting some of the onus on people needing to follow through, make sure that they paid for their plans. But it’s hard for them to pay for it if there’s I think, what, 10 percent of enrollment files at this point there are still errors. So there’s a part of the -- I guess my point is just it seems like you’re leaving room --
Q Sure. I wasn’t trying to combine the two. I was saying that one of the things that we’re doing is making sure that those who have enrolled --
Q People need to know they have to pay and that they’re not fully enrolled unless they pay. But it seems --
MR. CARNEY: Right, that they need to pay on time. And we’re working with issuers, encouraging them to be flexible --
Q Yes, and to reach out. We hear you saying that. But it seems that you’re leaving room for the fact that there may be a lot of people who want insurance, who apply for insurance, who enroll for insurance, and who really need to have it by January 1st but they may not have it January 1st.
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying is that we are, as I’ve been talking about for at least a couple of weeks now, taking all the steps we can to reach out -- we being the administration, CMS principally -- reaching out to those who have enrolled to make sure that their information is accurate, the information conveyed to the issuers; making sure that they are in contact with their insurance company so that they know when premiums are due. We’ve taken steps to encourage insurers to be flexible in terms of the receipt of premiums, again with the mind to making sure that everybody who has enrolled and seeks to be covered by January 1st is covered.
And we have engaged in a process of evaluating all those 834 forms to make sure that they are accurate, especially -- including those going back into October, which is a relatively small pool, given the trouble we had with the site, but where there were more problems throughout the site, including on the backend.
So when it comes to everything that we can do, we are doing it, and with the idea that those who have enrolled and seek insurance coverage by January 1st will get it. Again, we extended the deadline from the 15th to the 23rd; we’ve taken steps to encourage insurers to be flexible; and are working on all the issues with the 834 forms.
Q How problematic is that rate, the 10 percent error rate for enrollment files?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think there’s been a lot of reporting on this, and I think what you’ve seen is a dramatic reduction in the problems with the 834 forms. There are some --
Q I’m talking about like where it is now. I mean, we know there’s been -- it went from thousands of enrollment files that weren’t transmitted. But that rate, I guess I’m trying to get a sense of how it’s been communicated to the White House and the President, and how problematic --
MR. CARNEY: But you're citing data that also is -- since the beginning of December enrollments that did not generate the necessary transaction form that goes to the insurance company -- in other words, that backend problem has been close to zero since the November 30th deadline.
So obviously there are past problems that we’re addressing, but in this month --
Q But the 10 percent that still may have some errors, like how big of an issue is that, I guess?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s been clear that it’s our top priority. CMS’s top priority is making sure that every 834 form -- both past and present -- is accurate. So that my point about December is that the fixes that have been made to the site have resulted in a lot of improvements including the fact that the enrollments -- that the problem we had when our enrollments weren’t generating 834 forms has been reduced to zero, close to zero. That doesn’t mean that we don't have to deal with those enrollments, those 834 forms that were inaccurate or where they were not completed or did not send, and that's what CMS has been working on to make sure that all of those past 834 forms are accurate so that those who enrolled for insurance on January 1st are able to get it.
Q And I know you’ve been asked about this, but it’s been a couple weeks -- has the President signed up for insurance yet?
MR. CARNEY: I have no updates on that. The President will purchase insurance on the exchanges.
Q Is there like a time -- he doesn’t have to do it. He doesn’t need it by the 1st.
MR. CARNEY: He doesn’t. Obviously, the enrollment is still March 31st. So when we have an update on it we'll provide it to you, but our guidance on that has not changed.
Q And what exchange will it be? And also, will we get a chance to see him do it?
MR. CARNEY: I just don't have any new information on that beyond what we said in the past, which is that he will.
Q Assuming that the Senate passes the bill, the Ryan-Murray bill, what assurances can the President give a very anxious global financial market that this may, in fact, be the end of financial uncertainty, including the debt ceiling -- raising the debt ceiling?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to what I said earlier about the small but important step that has been taken here by Congress and that this budget deal represents: compromise by both sides, bipartisan cooperation, and a return to regular order. And what a return to regular order means is that, at least in this instance and hopefully moving forward, this period of governing by crisis and governing by congressionally generated crisis has at least, if not come to an end, has been pushed back into the future for some time.
And we hope, as I mentioned earlier, that when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States and any willingness or suggestion that Republicans would again threaten to default, that that will not be the case because of all the damage that that approach has done to our economy and to the middle class, to job creation, and to the Republican Party.
So we're very hopeful that the many Republican leaders who have said that they will not go down that road again, go down the same road they went down in October, speak broadly for the party itself and for Republicans in Congress, and that would be a good thing. That's why we welcomed the deal that Senator Murray and Chairman Ryan produced, because as we've seen in the private sector analysis, merely the certainty created by it would be a positive for the economy, for growth and job creation. And that's a good thing.
And the details would also be -- in the buying down of the sequester, that obviously has positive impacts because it means that we're able to invest in very key and necessary areas of our economy so that it grows and creates jobs and lays a foundation for the future on scientific research and other areas.
So this is what counts for significant progress in a period when Congress has been inflicting wounds on the economy instead of making it easier to grow and create jobs.
Major, and then Chuck.
Q CBS News talked to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif yesterday about the Friday decision or announcement of freezing of assets and transactions for companies evading existing sanctions. He called it a very wrong move, and he said the process -- meaning the technical discussions -- over implementing phase one has been derailed, it has not died. What’s your reaction to those comments, that the process of reaching agreement on phase one implementation has been derailed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we made clear, and I think that the Foreign Minister’s comments in many ways reinforced this, that implementing existing sanctions was always intended and not part of the Joint Plan of Action, not part of the preliminary agreement. Our call on Congress to refrain from passing new sanctions came with it the assurance that we would continue to maintain the existing sanctions structure and we would continue to implement existing sanctions, which the action that was announced last week represented.
And we continue to prepare --
Q Did that help you calm things down on the Hill a little bit?
MR. CARNEY: It is a fulfillment of what we’ve been doing all along. And again, the issue here is new sanctions versus existing sanctions. Our view has been that Congress ought to wait until it is necessary, if it is necessary, to impose new sanctions, to pass new sanctions for a time when Iran either fails to meet its obligations on the preliminary agreement or fails to reach agreement with the P5-plus-1 on a comprehensive solution, our comprehensive agreement. And if Congress were to do that it would have the kind of effect that sanctions are meant to, and rather than if they were to impose or pass new sanctions now, which could undermine our unity internationally with the P5-plus-1 and cause problems and potentially scuttle the initial preliminary agreement.
But I think that the point that’s been made here is that this administration has led the way in building the most comprehensive sanctions regime in history, led the way in building international consensus behind that and behind the central premise that the problem here was Iranian behavior -- not Western behavior, not American behavior, but Iranian behavior. And the steps that President Obama took in his first term were persuasive, which allowed us to create that consensus. And as you know, when it comes to this kind of sanctions regime, it’s only as effective as it’s been when it includes not just the United States but all of our international partners, which has been the case.
So we’re going to continue to implement the sanctions that exist, that have been implemented and then continue to work on preparing to implement the Joint Plan of Action. And we’re prepared to meet again with our P5-plus-1 partners and Iran as soon as possible to resume the technical talks that were taking place last week. The EU will make an announcement once the date for the talks is finalized.
Q Do you agree the process has been “derailed,” in Mohammad Zarif’s words?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, we don’t. We think that implementation of existing sanctions is completely in keeping --
Q No, no, he’s talking about the process of working out the technical implementation of phase one. That’s what he’s referring to.
MR. CARNEY: Again, what you cited to me is that he was saying that was the result of the implementation of existing sanctions, and our position is of course that’s not the case. And we certainly look forward to the resumption of technical talks. It was always going to be the case that these highly complex, detailed technical conversations and negotiations would require the teams to return to their capitals, which is what happened, and we look forward to the resumption of those talks in the near future.
Q A big meeting on the Trans-Pacific Partnership this morning. Is that a signal that the administration feels it needs to regain momentum, has lost some momentum? Missed the deadline for the end of this year and you need to sort of re-gather your strength?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think that it represents a couple things. One, that this remains a top priority of the President because of the positive economic benefits that come from it, and that’s why he met with members of his Cabinet and senior staff to receive an update on his trade agenda. They specifically discussed trade promotion authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The team updated the President on the progress made by trade ministers last week on the TPP and discussed the importance of trade promotion authority. Congress and the American public have high expectations for the TPP. The administration is determined to get the best deal possible, and we are pleased with the progress made towards achieving an ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard agreement.
The TPP is critical for creating jobs, promoting growth, providing opportunity for American workers, and leveling the playing field for American businesses in the Asia Pacific. As you know, the President has put a priority on engaging in the Asian Pacific region at all levels, and that’s why we believe that the work being done on TPP has been so important. The President welcomed the opportunity to get an update on our progress on that issue.
Q And just one more question, following up on the one about immigration. The President has identified several times that the reason that the Speaker of the House hasn’t brought immigration reform to the floor is a faction within a faction within the House Republican conference. Last week, the Speaker of the House defied that faction and those who, from the outside, support it. It seems obvious -- or at least arguable -- that that could create a window that you see, that you didn’t see before, on immigration since it’s that very same faction that would likely be in a position or try to be in a position to scuttle immigration reform. You don’t see an opening created in the aftermath of the budget deal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, if you’re saying that there’s an opening created, I would say, from your lips to the Speaker’s ear, we hope that’s the case. We’re not going to get into analyzing the --
Q But you have analyzed what the fundamental problem is legislatively, and I’m just saying, well, here’s the Speaker --
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s been the fundamental problem --
Q -- was taking on that problem and that may create an opening.
MR. CARNEY: Or it remains to be seen whether the Republican leaders, not just the Speaker, but Republican leaders broadly decide to act despite some opposition from some quarters on comprehensive immigration reform. And I wouldn’t project into the future based on what’s happened recently --
Q Are you even asking?
MR. CARNEY: We have been pressing all of the House Republican leaders who have demonstrated an interest in this and talked about the need to deal with immigration -- and the Speaker is one of them, others are among that group -- about the necessity and wisdom of moving forward. And we hope that we’ll see progress from the House as soon as possible because of all the benefits that passing comprehensive immigration reform would deliver.
Q Is what you saw last week give you any more optimism that that's possible than you had let’s say two weeks ago when you were still advocating, pressing all the same buttons? Do you think the terrain has shifted any way?
MR. CARNEY: I think we can only hope that there is more interest in pushing forward on comprehensive immigration reform. I would hesitate to assume that the decision to push ahead with a budget agreement against some resistance from some elements of the Republican Party would mean anything more than that decision was made and followed through on.
But of course we remain hopeful. And if this is a sign that there’s the potential for more compromise and the potential for a greater willingness by Republican leaders to listen to the center as opposed to the wing, or the wings, then that would be a good development I think for American people and the American economy.
Q A couple on health care. The top Democrats on seven different House committees are asking for a classified briefing with Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi to talk about the risks of releasing documents that spell out security protocols at healthcare.gov, and it appears from the reports that these documents were turned over to Republican Darrell Issa un-redacted. And so my question in part is, was that an accident that they were turned over --
MR. CARNEY: They weren’t turned over. My understanding -- Ed, I think you need to look into this story -- is that the concern -- I shouldn’t speak for the House Democrats, but my understanding is the concern was that there has been not exactly a demonstration of care taken in the release of documents by that committee. And when you’re talking about documents that contain information --
Q Well, was some turned over by the -- or were they leaked? Or what is the concern by Democrats?
MR. CARNEY: No, no, I think this might have to do with an outside -- a third-party, a contractor is my understanding.
Q Is turning them over to Issa?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would look at the stories. I don't have all the details.
Q But does the White House have concerns about it?
MR. CARNEY: I think we would have, in general, concerns about the potential for the release of information that could provide guidelines to would-be hackers of any federal IT system. But beyond that, I would refer you to the committee that's called for this meeting that you mention.
Q The very same committee, run by a critic of the administration, Darrell Issa, is having a field hearing in Texas today where they’re alleging that some of the health care navigators that try to help people sign up for the new law have in some cases, they allege, have committed fraud and told people, lie about your income so you can get better subsidies, and that there’s not proper background checks of some of these people to see that they’re actually -- they can be trusted to guide people. What’s the reaction here?
MR. CARNEY: This is just one more data point in the Republican obsession with sabotaging Obamacare. All navigators must complete about 20 hours of training, including training on privacy issues. And this training is not a one-time only process. Navigators have regular refresher opportunities where they can share updates, receive information, and address issues as they are in the process of helping people in their communities.
All navigators must complete their training and pass course exams to ensure appropriate understanding of relevant exchange-related information, which includes privacy issues. Navigators are required to comply with privacy and security standards and they should not obtain information without the consumer’s consent.
And let’s pull back a little bit further. When Republicans attack navigators they’re attacking folks like the University of Arkansas, the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida, the Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa, Ascension Health, Ohio Association of Food Banks, and the National Urban League. These are just a few of the organizations that actually hire and supervise these navigators. These are people who are engaging in an effort to help Americans who want health insurance to get it.
So I think it’s pretty evident upon scrutiny that this is an effort to in a partisan way sabotage the Affordable Care Act that’s in keeping with a long line of efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. And let’s put some faces to the name “navigators” here. These are folks in their communities working for organizations like the ones I discussed who are doing something very simple but important: helping their fellow community members get the information they need if they seek to enroll and purchase health insurance -- for many of them, health insurance coverage that they have not had in the past that's quality and affordable coverage.
Q Last one was an allegation put out not by Republicans, but The Washington Post over the weekend had a long story suggesting that people who used to work for this administration were suggesting that regulations were held back last year because it was an election year -- not just on health care, but a whole range of issues -- because the President didn’t want to pick fights on some of these issues, wanted to wait until after he got reelected to lay out some of these new health care regulations. How do you react to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to OIRA, which is the agency that handles regulations, and as they have said, their approach to regulatory review is consistent with longstanding precedent across previous administrations of both parties, and fully adheres to the established principles guiding regulatory policy. OMB works as expeditiously as possible to review rules, but when it comes to complex rules with significant potential impact, we take the time needed to get them right.
The administration is committed to a regulatory strategy that maintains a balance between protecting the health, welfare, and safety of Americans, and promoting economic growth, job creation, competiveness, and innovation. Our goal is to move -- is not, rather, to move rules hastily, but to maximize the effectiveness and benefits of the rules we complete.
And I would say on that issues, in 2012, one of the most important sets of economically significant rules completed in decades was the fuel economy standards for cars and light-duty trucks issued in August of 2012. Two other economically significant rules issued during the President’s first term included the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards issued in December 2011, and the Unique Device Identification rule issued in July of 2012.
In addition, in 2012, the administration issued more than 20 rules related to the Affordable Care Act and affordable insurance exchanges. And I can tell you that from November 6, 2011 to November 6, 2012, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs -- the aforementioned OIRA -- concluded review of 436 rules, 81 of which were economically significant.
Finally, through the fourth fiscal year of President Obama’s presidency, the net benefits of major rules finalized was about $159 billion per year. That's four times the net benefits through the fourth fiscal year of the previous administration.
Q Just to follow up, though, can you say with certainty there was no politics? Politics never entered --
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you what --
Q I understand the rules that were made. Can you say with certainty, though, that anything -- that politics didn’t enter any decision to delay a regulation?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I can just tell -- OIRA runs this process. They run a rigorous process. And I can either point you to a number of high-profile, highly economically significant and contentious rules that were put out and acted on in 2012 and late 2011.
Q This report referred to politics, referred to the campaign. I mean, it’s not like made up by -- it wasn’t made up by a political opponent, in fairness.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would just point you to what actions were taken. The fact that 20 -- again, as regards the Affordable Care Act, 20 rules related to the ACA and to the affordable insurance exchanges were issued in 2012 alone. So those actions were taken; they seem to contradict the assertions of that story.
Q I want to ask about Syria. Considering the suspension of some of the non-lethal aid to some of the moderate groups, is there a sense that essentially they’re losing Syria, considering -- that basically it’s a choice between extremists on one end and Assad?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I think on the suspension of aid, that relates to the material security of aid itself after the raid of the warehouse. And that suspension of deliveries of non-lethal assistance into Northern Syria, while we evaluate the situation and gather additional details, continues. But it is related to that specific instance.
And our humanitarian assistance, which is distributed through international and non-governmental organizations, including the U.N., is not affected by the suspension, nor is our broader commitment to providing non-lethal assistance to the Syrian people, as well as assistance to the opposition. We are the leader in the provision of assistance and we’ll continue to do that.
What is unquestionably the case is that there is no resolution to the conflict in Syria without a negotiated political solution. And that is why it’s important to move forward to Geneva, and why it’s important to engage in a political process that can produce a resolution so that the bloodshed can end and the Syrian people can begin to rebuild their country and enjoy the better future that they deserve.
There’s no question the situation there has been and is terrible for so many reasons. But the only way out of this is through a political resolution.
Q Does the administration -- does the President feel almost powerless now?
MR. CARNEY: No, look, we have a broad-based effort to provide substantial assistance to work with the opposition, to move forward on the political process. There’s no question that it’s difficult and there’s no question that Assad continues to brutally murder his own people, including with his recent use of barrel bombs in and around Aleppo, which killed dozens of citizens, many of them women and children.
The use of those bombs further underscores the brutality of the regime and the lengths it will go to attack and kill its own people. These specific weapons are not intended to strike a particular target but rather are intended to cause mass casualties, which is what they did, including the killing of women and children.
So the brutality continues, and that is why it is so important to take the actions that we’ve taken and move to a political process and resolution.
Q Is the administration considering any actions against the Ukraine government, considering what’s going on?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve made clear our view that the government there needs to respect the rights of its citizens to peaceful protest. And we’ve made clear our views on the issue in terms of European integration. But I don't have any new updates on our policy position toward Ukraine in light of this.
Q -- talking about some sort of substantial economic or anything like that?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to State for more information about Ukraine, but our view is that the government there needs to demonstrate that it allows peaceful protests and that it listens to its people.
Q Thanks. There’s a ruling out announced today from a U.S. District Court judge who happened to be an appointee of President Bush’s saying that the NSA’s telephone eavesdropping program appears to have been unconstitutional. My understanding is there’s actually a stay on his order pending appeal. But what is the administration’s initial reaction? This is sort of the first --
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Department of Justice. I don't have anything. I’m not even aware of that ruling.
Q Do you expect you may have something yourself later today?
MR. CARNEY: Since I’m just learning about it from you, I couldn’t even say. But I would refer you to Justice.
Q Okay, well, I may come back to you after going to Justice.
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q You were asked twice today about the administration’s position on negotiating the debt limit and said the position hasn’t changed. Would you be willing to go one step further and say prospectively that it will not change just so we can stop asking you about it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, yes, because it is simply unconscionable to imagine that Republicans are going to try to exact -- or extract, rather, ideological wins in exchange for fulfilling their responsibility to pay the bills that they’ve already racked up. I mean, we’ve --
Q But even if it’s unimaginable, you will not change your position?
MR. CARNEY: We have not and will not change our position, nor do we expect Republicans to travel down that road again, because, one, so many of them have said they won’t, including those who endorsed the approach in October; and two, because that approach and pursuit was so disastrous for them and for the economy and for the middle class. So I’m not going to anticipate a decision by Republicans to do that again, to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States, because we don't believe, obviously, that they should, and nor do we believe that they will. The President's position has not and will not change.
Q One quick last one. Our week-ahead had nothing on it except for a Friday evening departure from the White House. I was wondering if you could sort of fill the tree a little bit. What's he trying to do before he leaves for a well-deserved family vacation? What can we expect this week?
MR. CARNEY: Well, sure, he will have and is having a series of meetings, substantive policy meetings. As you know, he had one earlier today on a trade agenda and will continue to have a variety of policy meetings through the week. I would note that also in that week-ahead was the events surrounding the anniversary of Newtown on Saturday. But as some of these meetings take shape, I'm sure we'll have more information about them for you, at least some of them.
Q And an end-of-the-year news conference?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a scheduling update to provide to you. But as we get more information about this schedule, we'll let you know.
Q To follow up on Margaret, who was following others, on your optimism about there not being another fiscal showdown when the debt limit needs to be raised --
MR. CARNEY: You think it's naïve? (Laughter.)
Q Do you?
MR. CARNEY: No. (Laughter.) I don't, because, again, leader after leader in the Republican Party, including those who endorsed the strategy back -- or at least held their nose as the strategy was pursued in October I think have come out and made clear that it was the wrong strategy to pursue and that they would not pursue it again. So what we obviously can't do with 100 percent certainty is predict the future, but we do not anticipate that Republicans would want to threaten default again. But under great pressure, I committed to Margaret that our position on Congress's responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has racked up would not change.
Q Well, those comments you suggest from Republican leaders who were saying that the shutdown was the wrong strategy --
MR. CARNEY: But they were also --
Q -- they were speaking to the shutdown and --
MR. CARNEY: No, there were Republican leaders who have also spoken to debt limit and threatening default.
Q But some of those who have spoken to the debt limit have said they want the administration, the President has to pay a price, that there has to be more savings. Some have talked about Speaker Boehner's previous policy that there would be dollar-for-dollar budget cuts to raise the debt limit.
MR. CARNEY: As fun as it sounds to engage in that kind of negotiation now in anticipation of something that may or may not happen months from now, I think that we're focused on making sure that Congress takes the final steps to pass the current budget agreement. I would note something you don't hear from those who talk about a willingness to shut down the government over deficit reduction, that we have seen the deficit come down at the fastest rate in our lifetimes -- unless some of you were here prior to World War II. And that effort continues. And even the budget agreement, as modest as it was, that was reached between the House and the Senate, Senator Murray and Congressman Ryan, contains within it continued modest deficit reduction to build on the deficit reduction we've seen thus far.
The focus we need to have and that the American people want us to have is as we maintain steady progress on dealing with our deficits to take action to help the economy grow faster, to help it create more jobs and help it to create the kinds of jobs that middle-class families can rely on.
Q Isn't there a prospect that the fact that the Republicans -- House Republicans did compromise, as they see it, on the appropriations for the next fiscal year will make them dig in on the debt limit and try to --
MR. CARNEY: I suppose there is. I mean, it goes to the question I had earlier about whether or not the decision to compromise and reject the advice of some of the advocacy groups on the right harbors well for the potential of reaching a comprehensive immigration deal with the House. It might or it might not. What I can simply say is that the President's position is what it is, and it won't change. And I would be surprised -- and maybe you'll tell me how wrong I was -- but I would be surprised if Republicans wanted to go down that road again right as we continue to see positive signs in the economy and continue to see people going back to work and positive numbers in industrial production and the like.
So we need to be focused on growth and job creation, not just deficit reduction. We continue to maintain that that's important. We have seen significant deficit reduction over the course of this presidency, and the President is committed, as you've seen in his budgets, to addressing the medium- and longer-term issues related to our debt in a way that's responsible and balanced.
So we'll work with Congress on those issues, but I don't think that we would expect -- we're always ready -- but I don't think we would expect Congress to want to threaten default again after what we all saw happen in October.
Q Thank you. I don’t know if this broke just while we were in here, but Yemen’s parliament voted to immediately halt the U.S. drone strikes in their country. Does the White House have a response and are you in touch with President Hadi about this?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific response. We obviously cooperate closely with the government of Yemen on counterterrorism -- have in the past and will continue in the future to do that. State Department might have more reaction.
In the back.
Q It’s less than two months until the Sochi Olympic Games kick off and we have not heard who the delegation from the United States will be to the opening ceremonies. It was like four months ahead of time for London that you announced that the First Lady was going, so why the delay in the Sochi Games and when can we expect to see a delegation announced?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any updates on the answer I gave to that question last week, which is that when we have a delegation to announce, we’ll announce it, but no new information to provide today.
Q Jay, two questions on two different subjects -- 2014, we know immigration is going to be the issue. What about gun control? When will we see the President lean and put his shoulder in on the issue of gun control?
MR. CARNEY: I think we addressed that in part on Saturday on that very somber anniversary. The President remains committed to doing everything he can to advance common-sense measures that reduce gun violence. The legislation that failed in the Senate was supported by vast majorities of the American people in states across the country -- red, blue, and purple -- and it was quite a disappointment that the Senate failed to heed their constituents on that issue.
The President continues to urge Congress to take action on common-sense measures to reduce gun violence. And even as he does that, recognizing that Congress is the obstacle when it comes to legislation, even the legislation that has broad support from the American people, he will continue to take action administratively on the 23 actions that were outlined in his overall proposal and where in other areas where he sees that he can make a difference.
But ultimately, when it comes to legislation, we have to see a change in Congress so that we can do something as sensible and simple as improving our background checks system -- something that has had enormous support across the country, including from conservatives, including in very conservative states. And we’ll press on that issue, and as we press on that issue, recognizing that we hit a wall because of the Senate refusal to pass it, we’re not going to then just press only there, but we’re going to continue in the ways that we have.
Q In February of this year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said some of the safest places in this country are schoolhouses. Is that still the case?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer to Secretary Duncan. I don't have an update on his comments.
Q And on my last question --
MR. CARNEY: It certainly should be.
Q Okay. Can you confirm or deny that an administration official went to QSSI a couple Saturdays ago to look at the operation to see what was going on?
MR. CARNEY: April, I wouldn’t deny it because I’m sure numerous administration officials have visited the place where the work is being done to make improvements to the healthcare.gov website, so I would be surprised if administration officials hadn’t been engaged in that effort. I’m quite sure that they have.
Q Was Denis McDonough one of those persons?
MR. CARNEY: I know you emailed me about this. I’ll have to find out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was there. I just don't know, but I would be shocked if -- in fact, I am sure that administration officials have been deeply engaged in the effort, as you know, to improve the healthcare.gov site.
Q I'm talking about people in this building, in this building, in the West Wing.
MR. CARNEY: Right. Again, I certainly wouldn’t surprise me.
All right. Thanks very much, guys. Oh, wait, everybody, return to your seats. (Laughter.)
Q Wow, this better be good. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: The pressure is on.
Q You talked a little bit about immigration reform. Do the problems with the healthcare.gov rollout, does that impinge on the administration’s ability to convince both Congress and the American public that the administration could enact and roll out a comprehensive immigration reform system without the same sorts of computer glitches and problems that were inherent in the health care rollout?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that's an interesting question. I would argue first that these are obviously two very different steps in terms of implementation.
The healthcare.gov website is unique in its complexity and what it does in terms of linking would-be purchasers of insurance in all the states that aren’t running their own exchanges and those insurers who are offering plans in those states all the information that it provides. And there’s no question that the early stages of the rollout of that website were not up to the standards that we had set or that we expected, which is why you’ve seen all the effort expended to fix the problems with the website.
So our belief is that when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform that the wisdom of passing it comes from the benefits that it would provide to the economy -- the conservative arguments for why it would be the right thing to do in terms of making sure every employer plays by the same rules, making sure that our border is enforced even further beyond what we’ve done in the past nearly five years, and in all the other ways that comprehensive immigration reform would be a boon and a benefit to the economy and the people.
Q The question was whether people have confidence that the administration can implement all the things that you’re talking about given what they’ve seen over the last three or four months.
MR. CARNEY: Well, Reid, I guess I would say, again, that these are different systems, A; and B, I would point to the extraordinary effort that’s gone into fixing the problems on healthcare.gov, acknowledging the shortcomings -- the serious, significant shortcomings, taking ownership and responsibility for them and acting to fix the problem. Because in the end -- and this would be true of immigration reform as it is of healthcare.gov or the ACA -- the issue isn’t in the end how the process is; the process is performed in service of the legislation and the goal. And in this case, in immigration reform, it’s in service of a bill that would provide, when implemented, the benefits that we’ve described and that outside analysts have described.
So we believe that it will pass, that there will be comprehensive immigration reform that the President can sign, because of the unique, broad-based support for immigration reform among conservatives and liberals, business and labor, law enforcement and faith communities, and Republicans and Democrats. And we encourage the House to take it up and to work with the Senate and work with the administration so that we can get this done on behalf of the American people, the middle class and our economy.
Q And one last thing on this point. Nancy Pelosi, over the weekend, said that the President should ease off of the deportation policy. Is that something that the White House is considering? I know the President got a question from a hackler in San Francisco last month on this. But is there any sort of move or suggestion that this administration or the President is moving in that direction of doing something unilateral?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what the President has said is that he can’t not enforce the law. We have to enforce the law. He does, the administration does. Obviously there is prosecutorial discretion, and that is applied. The focus is on those who have committed felonies. But the broader question and the problems with this aspect of immigration policy reinforces the argument for why we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform -- that the piecemeal solutions aren’t solutions. We need the whole comprehensive reform to pass.
And that was the case with the so-called DREAMers, and remains the case, that the deferred action that has been implemented with regard to the DREAMers is, as we described at the time, not a solution; it’s an action that can be taken now, but it’s not a replacement for comprehensive immigration reform. That’s why Congress needs to act. And we believe that this situation reinforces the argument for acting on a broad base, House and Senate together, so that the President can sign a bill.
2:18 P.M. EST