Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 9/26/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:01 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, hello, hello. Good afternoon to you. Thanks for being here. Thank you for your patience, as ever. I have no announcements to make at the top of this briefing, so I will go straight to the Associated Press.
Q Thanks, Jay. The Speaker today said he will not simply ask the House to pass the Senate bill with a clean stopgap spending measure. I’m wondering if the White House believes that that makes a government shutdown inevitable.
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what we know. It would be bad for the economy, bad for the middle class to allow the government to shut down. There is a simple way to prevent that, and that is for the House to do what the Senate will do, which is pass a continuing resolution that keeps the government open for a period of time while we can continue to negotiate over a broader budget deal -- one that funds the essential functions of government; makes the key investments that allow us to grow and create jobs; and if the Republicans are serious about wanting to address this, reduces our deficits in the middle, medium, and long term in a responsible, balanced way.
So the power to do this resides, according to the Constitution, with the Congress. To threaten to shut down the government in order to achieve a partisan objective that could not be achieved through the normal process is irresponsible. So we hope it doesn’t happen.
Q One of the things they want to add is repeal of a tax on medical devices. Is that something that the White House can support --
MR. CARNEY: No, absolutely not. The fact of the matter is we need to make sure that the government continues to function, that services continue to be provided. And the responsible, sober thing to do is to pass a continuing resolution that keeps the government open and allows for continued negotiations over a broader, balanced, longer-term budget deal that ensures we invest in the right areas of our economy, and that ensures that we educate our kids and allows us to invest in infrastructure and other things that help us grow, and that reduces the deficit in a responsible way.
All these attempts -- we’re going to get to triple digits, eventually, with the number of ways that Republicans have tried to go after Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. They have all come to naught, and they will all come to naught, because it was passed by Congress, signed into law by the President, upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States, and validated in a presidential election.
We are implementing the Affordable Care Act. We are ensuring that millions of Americans will receive benefits that will allow for many of them, for many millions of them, to be able to afford health care, health insurance for the first time. And I think what Republicans who oppose Obamacare fear most is that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the arrival of additional benefits -- the ability for Americans to purchase insurance for their families that they could never afford before or were blocked from getting entirely -- will be something they won't want ever to try to take away because the American people will say no.
So we're going to continue to make sure that the Affordable Care Act is implemented, that Americans receive the health insurance that they deserve, and that they can get it at affordable prices. We talked a lot about that yesterday. You heard the President talk, obviously, about it today in Maryland -- the efforts to derail the essential function of government in order to achieve a political objective are irresponsible.
Q Obamacare aside, you have -- if this stopgap measure passes, you’ll get until maybe November 15th. That's not a heck of a lot of time to negotiate the kind of long-term budget deal that you're talking about. And I think the public is a little confused as to where the President is willing to negotiate, which is on a potential another government shutdown on November 15th, but not negotiate on a debt ceiling that comes in October 17th, perhaps, according to the Treasury. Why are you sending that kind of mixed message?
MR. CARNEY: I think we've been sending very clear signals and obviously hoping that those signals are transmitted by you in this room clearly and accurately. The fact of the matter is the President has been willing in a demonstrated way to offer compromise solutions to our economic challenges and our budget challenges. And he has put his money where his mouth is with concrete, moderate, balanced proposals to do that.
And he has met with Republicans all year long who -- Republican legislators who have said that they are interested in finding common ground. And he is absolutely willing to continue to have those kinds of negotiations. What he will not do is engage in an attempt by Republicans to extort from him what they could not get through the legislative process, what they could not get at the ballot box, what they could not get at the Supreme Court of the United States, and offer as an alternative to getting what they want through extortion, tanking the economy and crushing the middle class. He will not do that.
And as many, many Republicans have said, as many, many business leaders have said -- it is an irresponsible approach to take.
Q Last night, Denis McDonough met with some Democrats on the Hill. What came out of that meeting? And what is your strategy going into these last few days before the end of the fiscal year? Is it simply using the bully pulpit, or what exactly?
MR. CARNEY: We are in conversations -- as the one you just noted demonstrates -- all the time with Congress, and we will continue to be in conversations with Congress about how to move forward here. Right now, it's up to Congress to pass a continuing resolution. We wasted a lot of time, especially in the House, pursuing measures that will never become law. The Speaker said he had a preferred path, but then he was yanked in the opposite direction by the most conservative members of his conference.
And now we've been through a lot of theater this week as this process has played out. But, in the end, Congress needs to act to ensure that the government doesn't shut down, and we hope that it does [act].
And then, obviously, we need to be sure that -- and the American people need to be sure -- that the faction of one party in one house of Congress thinks that it's okay to default if they don't get their wish list of partisan agenda items, that they don't succeed. And this President won't let them succeed.
Q One of the ideas that Republicans are floating on the debt ceiling is negotiating taking away the sequester cuts in exchange for entitlement reform savings. Does that fall under the no-negotiation clause?
MR. CARNEY: Here's what's important to note. Everybody says -- every leader in Congress, as far as I can tell, based on the public record -- and it's hard to find even a rank-and-file member, although in the Republican Party there are a few, who doesn't agree with the general proposition that it would be bad -- devastating, in fact -- for the economy if we defaulted on the full faith and credit of the United States for the first time in history.
So there's an area of near consensus. The President says raise the debt ceiling. That's Congress's responsibility. Do it. It's been done without drama or delay time and again. The only party to this conversation or this discussion or this debate that is saying -- attaching any condition to raising the debt ceiling is the Republican Party.
President Obama, the Democrats, they're not saying, well, we'll only pass or sign a bill that raises the debt ceiling if we get these items on our wish list. Because it's not a concession. That’s the myth and the farce about the approach that’s being adopted up there on Capitol Hill by Republicans, is the idea that it's a concession to raise the debt ceiling. It's not a concession. It is your constitutional responsibility.
You were not elected to tank the economy. You were not elected to punish the middle class in order to achieve a political objective that you lost through the legislative process and you lost through the elective process, and you lost through the judicial process.
Q So this is a nonstarter, then? (Laughter.) I think I'm reading you correctly. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.
Q So, Jay, if House Republicans stand their ground, if the President will still refuse to negotiate, then the debt ceiling will then be breached?
MR. CARNEY: House Republican leaders have said that they will not let the country default. They have it within their power to ensure that that does not happen. They are the only, again, party to this discussion here in Washington who are suggesting that raising the debt ceiling is conditional, and it is conditioned upon them achieving what, based on reports today, is an extraordinary laundry list of Republican perennials. The only thing I didn’t see mentioned was, like, a birther bill to attach to it.
So I mean, it's -- this is too serious to be playing games with. We saw what this kind of brinksmanship can do to our economy in 2011; that was not nearly long enough ago for people to forget. And I think that the American people would have no tolerance for their elected leaders being willing to punish them, and punish them harshly, in order to achieve these objectives. And one imagines, as many have written -- including Republican commentators -- that there would be a political price to pay for it.
Q So you're saying, though, if Republican don’t drop all of their demands, we will default?
MR. CARNEY: I'm saying that the President will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to raise the debt ceiling, and the debt ceiling has to be raised. It is not a concession to anybody for Congress to do that. It is not a concession for Republicans to do their constitutionally mandated job. We absolutely have differences, and we should debate and discuss and negotiate over those differences, but we should not hold the American people hostage while we do it. And it is the height of irresponsibility to even suggest it.
Q Are you willing to consider -- is the White House willing to consider approving the Keystone XL pipeline as a possible --
MR. CARNEY: Again, we are not negotiating over raising the debt ceiling. And that's a perfect example of another, like, item on the partisan agenda of the Republican Party; in that case, one that is being handled in the way that those issues have traditionally been handled in the administrations of both parties through a process that must be allowed to take place and be completed. And it would be another example of irresponsible handling of a very sensitive matter.
I don't think there’s any doubt, if you talk to experts in the field about what would happen should the United States default, that the result would be calamitous. I mean, it would be devastating to hardworking American families everywhere. And it would have a lasting impact. Even the flirtation with default that some Republicans engaged in, in 2011, had a significant impact on our economy.
Q But isn’t it -- you said -- isn’t it irresponsible to negotiate if we otherwise default?
MR. CARNEY: It would be irresponsible to begin a process that the Republicans attempted for the first time in our history in 2011, where every time Congress’s responsibility to ensure that the United States pays its bills arose, that this became part of a political extortion game. That would do enormous harm to our power and prestige economically around the world. And the result of that harm would be to inflict pain on the American middle class and the American people. The irresponsible thing would be to follow that path that the Republicans are proposing.
Q If Republicans don't budge, when do you start talking about the day after default? Is there any contingency planning going on here?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we’re not going to engage in speculation about something that the Republicans assure us won’t happen. We obviously are stewards of the executive branch and take all the necessary precautions in a variety of situations. But we’re not going to -- Republican leaders say that we won’t default. It is their responsibility to ensure that we don't. And unfortunately, we’re seeing leaders apparently being guided by those forces and voices within their own party who seem to think that it’s okay to flirt with default and to potentially default in order to achieve political goals.
Q There are reports that the Security Council has reached an agreement tentatively on enforcement of the Syrian dismantling of its chemical weapons, and it will include references to Chapter 7 consequences if not agreed to. Is that something the White House can confirm? And do you have any overall assessment of the situation?
MR. CARNEY: I would only say that negotiations in both The Hague and New York, at the United Nations Security Council, are proceeding and they’re proceeding concurrently regarding the implementation of the framework that was agreed to by the United States and Russia in Geneva.
In The Hague, U.S. and Russian delegations are working on the procedures for the expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program and stringent verification thereof. We hope that that product will be circulated to members of the Executive Council in the near future. The reason why I go there first is these are concurrent efforts that are tied together.
Meanwhile, negotiations in New York between the United States and Russia continue at the ambassadorial level, and the P5 members are also consulting closely on the draft U.N. Security Council resolution text to which you refer. I don’t have contents of drafts to reveal to you now. That work is ongoing. And the purpose --
Q It would be premature to say an agreement has been reached?
MR. CARNEY: I think that we have made good progress, and we hope that this will be resolved and the process will move forward quickly in both cases, and they are tied both in The Hague and in New York at the United Nations.
The purpose of the U.N. Security Council resolution is to ensure that there is a strong, legally binding, and enforceable mechanism that allows the international community to hold the Assad regime accountable for the implementation of the framework and the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program. So this is obviously a key objective to achieving the implementation of the framework that the Russians and the Americans -- the United States and Russia agreed to, which is to ensure that the U.N. Security Council resolution provides a strong, legally binding, and enforceable mechanism. I think that goes to part of your question.
Q So can you say if there’s been -- when you say progress, the sticking point this week had been largely about Chapter 7 -- inclusion of that as an enforcement mechanism. Is that what you’re referring to as far as progress?
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying, again, is that the process continues. We’ve made good progress, in our view, and we -- I don’t have a timeline for when we expect completion of this process, but we hope it is -- that it moves forward quickly; and that we are working for and expect the product to have strong, legally binding, and enforceable mechanisms to ensure that the international community can hold Assad accountable.
Q President Rouhani told David Ignatius of The Washington Post that he would like a timeline of three months, outside six months, to resolve the nuclear file, as he likes to describe it. What’s the White House reaction to that timetable? And does it strike the White House as overly optimistic or attainable?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have long wanted, with our international partners and a basically united international community, to resolve this issue with Iran. And resolving it requires Iran to, in a verifiable way, give up its nuclear weapons program and its nuclear weapons ambitions. How long that process might take depends entirely on the level of seriousness and cooperation that the Iranians display through substantive conversations.
Now, as you know, today we have a P5-plus-1 meeting, which Secretary Kerry will be a part of and the Foreign Minister of Iran will be a part of. So this will -- I don’t want to -- we’re not expecting any breakthrough in this initial meeting, but I think that this is part of us testing the seriousness of the Iranians, who are obviously engaging in new overtures and showing new interest in trying to resolve this very serious matter and this conflict that they have had with the international community for so long -- a conflict that has resulted in uniting the international community around the idea that Iran cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, and uniting the international community behind a sanctions regime against Iran that has clearly had profound effects on the Iranian economy and that in no small measure is the reason why we have seen this new interest from Tehran in trying to resolve the problem.
Q Is this another way of saying that the United States will know very soon whether or not the Iranians are serious of this timetable?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn't put a timeline on it. I think that these are obviously somewhat complicated issues. But I think that we hope and expect to see progress if Iran is serious and the new government is serious about making progress.
Q The President said in his remarks today that the websites available to consumers who want to obtain health insurance could be as easy as various travel websites. There are reports today from the Associated Press that for some small businesses, this will not be available to them for a certain period of time, and some rather old-style technology will be required -- fax machines and snail mail. Can you reconcile these two facts? One is assertion from the President, and a fact about --
MR. CARNEY: Sure. What is absolutely true is that on October 1st, everyone will be able to enroll --
Q One way or another.
MR. CARNEY: -- one way or another. And when it comes to -- and here's the distinction that's important in when you talk about the online -- the opening of the online application process, and the plan compare process for small businesses, is that unlike for individuals, the small business enrollment period is not limited as it is for most. It's a six-month period for individuals. The small business period is forever open. It's a monthly process.
And so they will be able to apply for the tax credits beginning October 1st. And they will be able to enroll, if you will, for these programs beginning November 1st. And, again, they don’t kick in again until January 1st. And unlike with individual enrollees, there's not an open enrollment period. It is a permanently open window.
Q But you'd prefer that it would be online, would you not?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that what's important is that, as the President described today, there will be available for small businesses, for individuals, for everyone the possibility of enrolling, with individuals, in these new marketplaces and for small businesses in programs that will give them tax credits to allow them to provide insurance to their employees at affordable costs that they could not before.
And, by the way, small businesses have already been able to access tax credits at 35 percent up to now. And the marketplaces haven't existed yet, but they've been able to apply that against the existing markets. And one of the problems that small businesses have encountered that has been one of the issues and obstacles that needed to be resolved in our insurance market here in the United States is that small businesses, because of their size, were not able to get reduced rates or lower rates the way that small [large] businesses were because of their size. And so what the marketplaces will do is allow them to pull together and have that same kind of access. Come January 1st, those tax credits go up to 50 percent.
So this is good news for small businesses that want to provide insurance to their employees, and it's good news for individuals who, until now, haven't even had the option of affordable health care; they've either been priced out of it, or blocked from it because insurance companies wouldn’t give it to them because a family member had a preexisting condition. That will all change.
And when we talk about this debate that’s ongoing now about Republican efforts to undermine or defund or eliminate Obamacare or delay Obamacare -- which is just another way to try to kill it -- through this budget process or the debt ceiling process, they're in a rush to do this because they know that the family of four in North Carolina that, beginning on October 1st -- or in Florida or Maryland or Ohio -- that makes $50,000 and is struggling to pay the bills, and has not been able to afford insurance before, will look at the options available to them and find that they can get affordable health insurance for the first time for everybody in their family.
And they will not say, you know what, I voted Republican, I don’t want this; my congressman is fighting tooth and nail to repeal Obamacare, so I'm not going to get this affordable insurance for my family. That’s not going to happen. And I think that’s the reason you see so much agitation right now, and so much willingness by Republicans to attach purely partisan goals to the essential responsibilities of Congress.
Q The President also said that there will be immediate curiosity about places where the Affordable Care Act is either not working, or where people are having their work hours shortened, or there are some glitches in the system. I mean, there are credible reports, anecdotes around the country -- and this has come up in this briefing a couple of times before -- about things where either expectations aren't being met, or people's hours are being cut, or budget cuts are being made -- like the Cleveland Clinic.
What is the -- is the White House assessment that none of those anecdotes matter, or that they are overwhelmed by a preponderance of other evidence? I mean, for Americans who encounter this and find difficulty with it -- and those stories are real -- do not they have some consequence equivalent to other stories that you and the President tell about whether a law succeeds?
MR. CARNEY: On the issue of shifting to part-time employees, there's simply no evidence -- I'm not saying that, anecdotally, there may not be employers who say that they are shifting around the way they provide health insurance. And some of them may say it's because of the Affordable Care Act, and I'm not -- I'm just saying, they may say that.
What is true is that this has been an ongoing trend for years. And what is true across the board is that the increase in employment that we have seen since the implementation -- or since the passage of the Affordable Care Act has been overwhelmingly, more than 90 percent, in full-time jobs. And that, I think, is pretty clear refutation of this suggestion that employers are adding workers only at part-time levels to avoid providing insurance.
I think most employers -- to make them attractive as employers and because it's the right thing to do and because they want healthy workers -- would like to provide insurance to their employees. And one of the things that the Affordable Care Act provides is the opportunity for small businesses that have struggled in the imbalanced market that exists now to provide insurance to their employees to have the ability to do that.
Q Jay, how are you today?
MR. CARNEY: I’m excellent. Thank you, sir.
Q Good. I want to follow up on Major, because I didn't really hear an answer on the part-time work part in terms of -- are you saying that it’s just not true that people are having their hours cut from, say, 40 down below into part-time areas because of health care? You just don't believe those anecdotes?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Ed, all I can say is that I don't know that each individual -- you can have anecdotes, and I’m not disputing anecdotes. I’m saying that what we know is that there has been a long-term trend that has been part of the problem that needs to be fixed of employers changing the way they provide health care and often dropping their employees from health care.
And what is absolutely true and factual is that since the Affordable Care Act became law, more than 90 percent of the gain in employment has been in full-time positions. That's according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And according to a CEA analysis, corroborated by other economists, there is no systematic evidence that employers are shifting employees to just below 30 hours a week so that they're not bound by the ACA to provide insurance. Again, and we have a real-life case study. This is important -- a real-life case study with Romneycare in Massachusetts. The shift to part-time work did not happen. Did not. Critics, I assume, might have predicted that it would, but it did not happen in the state when it enacted its own health care reform, which, as we all know, is similar in many ways to the Affordable Care Act.
So moreover, the part of the law that some are saying could cause this change, even though there’s no evidence that it has, doesn't even take effect until 2015.
Q After yesterday’s briefing, a viewer from West Virginia contacted me and said she listened to your answers, and that her husband works at a restaurant in West Virginia. He had 40 hours a week just a few months ago. It’s been cut down, cut down. He’s now working 22 hours a week, and his boss has said it’s because of implementation of health care. And maybe that's true. Maybe it’s not. She said she’ll send her husband’s pay stubs in. I just wonder, are you just dismissing people saying --
MR. CARNEY: Of course not. Of course not.
Q So what would you say to those people?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say --
Q If your hours are being cut because your boss says it’s because of health care, and whether you think, look, this is going to be better for you in the long run, and you’re going to have health care, et cetera, fine -- you can make that case. But what do you say to those people who say, look, now my husband’s pay has been cut in half from 40 hours to 22 hours?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Ed, every individual anecdote is obviously hard to verify. And I will not contest it, and I certainly will not contest the caller or the viewer who is suffering from the fact that her spouse doesn't have the same number of hours in there, so therefore not the same size paycheck.
Now, for whatever reason that that restaurant has cut back on the number of hours for an individual, what the facts are, including in the restaurant industry, is that that has not been happening across the country in any systematic way.
Secondly -- and here’s what I think is really important when you do the story that you mentioned -- anybody who has insurance provided by their employer who quits or loses their job or sees their hours cut to part-time, because of the Affordable Care Act will have an option to buy insurance that they did not have before -- they did not have in a system that Republicans want to perpetuate.
Q But if you go from 40 hours to 22, and you have less in your pocket, how do you pay for that health care?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Ed, first of all, there’s been increases in employment. There’s been a steady increase in employment in the restaurant industry that has been overwhelmingly in full-time. I can't -- I don't know each individual anecdote, obviously. What I can say is that the system that Republicans want to persist is one where individuals who lose their jobs, who are working hard but their employers don't provide insurance, who have families but can't provide insurance for their families, will have affordable health care options that they did not have before.
And the real-world result of the efforts being made by Republicans now, if they were to come to fruition, is that those families would be deprived of those benefits, those families would not have health insurance. So they would be going back again and again to the emergency room because their child has asthma, and they would be scared to death about what would happen if one member of their family had a chronic illness that landed them in the hospital, and the bills started piling up -- $20,000, $30,000 -- and they didn’t have health insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, they will have health insurance.
Q Two other quick ones on this. Securitas AB, the largest security company in America, announced in the last 24 hours it’s ending its lowest-cost health plans, steering people into the insurance exchanges. That affects 55,000 employees across America. Now, they may end up -- we don't know -- they may end up with better health care in the insurance exchanges. You can make that case. We don't know how that's going to work out. Maybe they’ll be just fine. But this was sold a couple years ago as if you currently have health care, you get to keep your doctor, you get to keep your health plan, you're not going to see any changes. Fifty-five thousand people at this one company are now finding out, actually, they had health care one day -- they’re still going to have health insurance, it appears, or they’ll go into the exchanges, but they don't have the same one they had last week.
MR. CARNEY: Again, Ed, not to diminish any individual’s experience, and not to contest any assertion about why that's happening, the aggregate truth here about what we know what’s happening in the employment market and what’s happening in the insurance market does not bear out claims that the Affordable Care Act is causing employers to drop employees from insurance --
Q But they said that on the record. Just to be clear, you’re saying we're moving these 55,000 people.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, what I'm saying is I acknowledge that there may be individual anecdotes or companies that are saying this. What has been true for a long time is that businesses have been changing the way they provide insurance or they have been stopping the provision of insurance. And the cost of premiums have been skyrocketing up until the last three or four years, which happens to coincide with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. And now, for the past three years, we've seen the slowest growth in health care costs in 50 years.
What you hear opponents say is that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare is driving up the cost of health care, and they're counting on you to either ignore the facts or not know the facts, or not have seen the data that utterly refutes that assertion.
Q Last one. This is largely -- when you were talking in the beginning about the debt ceiling and Republicans trying to end the President's health care law, you do have a Democrat today, Joe Manchin, telling Bloomberg that he wants to see a one-year delay to the individual mandate. So how do you like them apples? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Here's what I would say. Senator Manchin has long been opposed to the individual responsibility provision of the Affordable Care Act. And the fact that he has restated that position doesn't change two facts: One, an attempt to achieve this agenda item by threatening a shutdown of the government or default on our obligations is irresponsible. Two, attaching it to a continuing resolution will not pass the Senate, will not become law, but will only draw us closer to a shutdown. So it doesn't change anything.
And then, generally speaking, what we see with some people who have been critical of the individual mandate is that what they like about the Affordable Care Act is that it bans insurance companies from refusing to provide insurance to people with preexisting conditions. And we want to keep that. You hear a lot of Republicans say, boy, one day when we come up with our own replacement for Obamacare -- something they've been promising for a long time -- we're going to include that part. But as anyone who knows the facts of how the system works, the health care system works in our country, you can't do that without the individual mandate.
The reason why the Affordable Care Act will ensure that no one in America -- none of your relatives, and one out of four people in America or something like that -- I've forgotten the statistic -- who has preexisting conditions cannot be denied coverage because of their condition, their diabetes or asthma or whatever, is because of the expansion of the number of people who will be covered and participate in these marketplaces provided for -- by the Affordable Care Act, through the individual mandate.
So it's all steak and no veggies, right? I mean, the fact is you have to make the system work. And that is why the Affordable Care Act is designed in a way to ensure that young people, for example, are able to purchase insurance through the marketplaces, as individuals, that for the first time will be affordable. And we're going to be engaged, beginning October 1st, in a campaign to make sure that Americans across the country -- and this includes very much young Americans -- are aware that these options are available to them for the first time.
Q Jay, thanks. According to the latest Bloomberg poll, 61 percent of Americans want to see an increase of the debt limit linked to spending cuts. So this is not just Republicans. So what do you say to those Americans who say they want to see spending cuts?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say is that the President has proposed a comprehensive budget that reduces the deficit significantly over both the medium and long term. The President has presided, as President, over a reduction in the deficit by 50 percent -- again, after inheriting the largest deficits in history from his predecessor whose economic policies were broadly supported by those who are now critical of the President's policies.
What I think is absolutely the case -- and it's complicated and it's difficult -- is that the association that is created in the reporting on this between raising the debt ceiling and the deficits is actually not factual. The debt ceiling has nothing to do with the deficits. Raising the debt ceiling does not add a dime to our deficits.
Q So you're saying these Americans are confused --
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that Americans are absolutely correct that the debt ceiling should be raised, and they absolutely do not want us to default for the first time in our history, and are absolutely correct that we need to continue the work of reducing our deficit in a responsible way.
But what we cannot do is agree to an extortion game where Republicans attach every item on their wish list, their partisan wish list, and if they don’t get, they're going to blow up the economy and hurt the middle class.
Secondly, as I think anybody -- and this gets into serious wonkery -- anybody who looks at the Republican proposals that are emerging out of this, they don’t even reduce the deficit. So they don’t even fulfill the wishes of that poll item, that poll question, right?
Delaying the implementation of Obamacare increases the deficit. The Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit. Republicans who are now on the other side of the issue, who voted for the expansion of Medicare through Medicare Part D, and voted to do it without paying for it, are now singing a different tune and, in fact, they're for a proposal that would increase the deficit in the name of deficit reduction.
Q Jay, going back to 2011, I understand it was a part of a broader deal, so saying that off the top. But didn’t this administration set a precedent for linking --
MR. CARNEY: We have made no -- we have made very clear that we think that the deliberations in the summer of 2011, in which the President entered into prolonged, sustained, sincere negotiations with the Speaker of the House and others in hopes of finding a broad compromise, a budget proposal that would reduce our deficit and allow us to continue to fund essential aspects of government and invest in the middle class, resulted in a process whereby Republicans, in the House in particular, were engaged in flirtation with default. And that that had never happened before. And the result of that was hugely consequential -- not least in the downgrading of the United States for the first time in its history.
So we can't -- what was true before that began is that nothing like that had ever happened before. And the President certainly hoped that he could achieve an agreement with a grand bargain, so to speak, with the Speaker of the House that would be good for the economy and would represent compromise by both sides. Compromise was not forthcoming, as we have seen many times now, out of the House Republicans. And there was a huge price to pay for that.
Q And, Jay, finally, the last conversation we heard about between the President and Speaker Boehner was on Friday. Have they spoken since then?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any other conversations at the presidential level to report.
Again, the situation we have here, you’ve seen what the Speaker says about what they're going to do and all the things they want to attach to -- as a condition of doing their jobs. So we’re not negotiating over raising the debt ceiling. They're going through a complicated, convoluted, unnecessary process hopefully to get to a point where they pass a continuing resolution so the government doesn't shut down. And then we’ll see where we are when it comes to raising the debt ceiling.
I am sure that the President will be engaged with Congress, as he has in the past, on the broader issues. But he will not negotiate -- he will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to ensure the United States doesn't default.
Q Thanks. Is the White House looking for a new candidate to replace Ron Binz as chair of the federal --
MR. CARNEY: Look, Ron Binz is a qualified -- is a very qualified candidate for the position that he’s been nominated for, and he’s one of -- I forget the number -- 100, 120, 140 nominees that are pending before the Senate, and that the Senate ought to act quickly on. So he’s qualified and the Senate ought to act on his nomination.
Scott, and then Reid.
Q Jay, the delays that were announced today -- they're technical in nature? Is that the reason for them, the online -- delayed online registration?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I believe so -- that the opening happens on time October 1st. There’s the ability to -- when it comes to SHOP, the small business piece of this, you can sign up for tax credits right away. And then when the online portion comes online, you can do the plan comparison beginning November 1st, as I understand it.
The important distinction with the small business aspect of this is that there is not a closed end to the enrollment period, as there is in the individual market, which is very similar obviously to employer-based insurance around the country.
Q Do you have a sense of how many small business entities are affected by that?
MR. CARNEY: Affected in what sense? I know that hundreds of thousands --
Q That would have been going -- is there an estimate on how many would have been going online?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't think it changes -- first of all, it doesn't kick in until January 1st, so there’s no effect on --
Q I understand their employees -- but when they want to go online October 1st to begin shopping, as you said, they can't do that. Do you know how many --
MR. CARNEY: Right, but they can begin the process prior to going online. And since the Affordable Care Act, the marketplaces don't begin -- they don't kick in until January 1st. There’s no change in -- it’s not as if they're missing out on a period when the benefits are available.
Moreover, as I said before, because of aspects of the Affordable Care Act that have already been in place and providing benefits, small businesses have already -- hundreds of -- more than 100,000 -- I think 200,000 perhaps -- small businesses across the country have already taken advantage of a 35 percent tax credit as they provide insurance to their employees, and that tax credit will go up to 50 percent on January 1st.
Q I’m sorry, one other thing. I guess another delay is going to be in the Spanish-language online registration. Is that correct enrollment?
MR. CARNEY: The online portion of it I believe comes -- will come on sometime in October. Again, everything opens on October 1st. Anybody can call in. There will be Spanish speakers available, navigators available, who speak Spanish, in order to walk enrollees through the process.
Moreover, we know that 70 percent of the Latino population will be accessing the Affordable Care Act healthcare.gov through the English-language portal to begin with, but the Spanish-language portion of this will come online in October.
Q Jay, with all the talk -- all the shutdown talk and the debt ceiling talks coming up in October, has the President considered --
MR. CARNEY: It leaves very little time to talk about the pending playoffs in baseball, the dismal start of the season for the Washington Redskins, and other topics, but go ahead.
Q Well, among those other topics, has the President considered and had conversations about shortening or canceling his Asia trip plan for October?
MR. CARNEY: As I said yesterday -- I don’t think you were here -- but our schedule remains as planned. I mean, here’s the thing. There are some fundamental, basic responsibilities that Congress has, granted to it by the Constitution. One is, as described, the power of the purse strings. They need to ensure that government is funded. They need to take action to do that. There is readily available means for them to do that. They need to ensure that the United States does not default, that it pays its bills. And Congress should do its job.
One of the jobs of the President of the United States is to ensure that markets that offer great potential for American business -- to create jobs here at home and economic opportunity here at home -- in Asia are exploited. And as the President of the United States, he wants to make sure he does that. That’s one of his responsibilities. He’s going to fulfill it. Congress ought to fulfill theirs.
Q You said the schedule remains as planned. But have there been discussions about changing the schedule?
MR. CARNEY: None.
Jared. And then Evan.
Q Jay, earlier you said that Congress has a constitutional responsibility to raise the debt ceiling. Does Congress have a constitutional responsibility to raise the debt ceiling?
MR. CARNEY: Congress, in the delineation of powers, controls the money and Congress alone has the power to legislate a rise in the debt ceiling. Believe me, if Congress wanted to, tomorrow, to rid itself of this onerous responsibility and to give it to the chief executive, a position currently held by Barack Obama, he would accept it because he thinks it is egregiously irresponsible to flirt with default, because we are the United States of America; we do not default.
Q But it’s not the position of the White House that anywhere in the Constitution, as currently written, there’s an obligation for Congress to --
MR. CARNEY: It is not explicitly stated. Obviously, a raising of the debt ceiling is not explicitly the language of the Constitution, but there is no question that the Constitution gives to Congress the power to appropriate, the power to spend money, and the power to ensure that, as part of that function, bills are paid. And that’s what raising the debt ceiling is about. Again, that power -- if you’re suggesting that we have that power, sadly, you’re mistaken.
Q No, no, I’m not -- I don’t think the way I was posing the question was that. I was just saying that there’s a middle ground between the President being able to do it, which obviously he’s not, and Congress having to do it as part of a constitutional responsibility. They’re in this middle ground, right?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think you’re misunderstanding the allocation of powers in our system.
Q Has the President -- oh, if you were going to go to Evan, I’ll let him take it. I was going to ask about Cory Booker. (Laughter.)
Q No, actually I wanted to ask, you’re doing a lot of stuff obviously to sell the Affordable Care Act. I want to ask about one way you’re doing it. Yesterday and today, you tweeted from the White House Twitter account pictures of cute animals with the “Adorable Care Act” underneath it. I want to ask who is behind that and why you think that cute animals can help you sell the health care law?
MR. CARNEY: Everybody loves cute animals. (Laughter.) I myself haven’t re-tweeted that, so I haven’t seen them, but I will. Look, I think -- this is an important question here. For the last three years, we’ve been focused largely, when it comes to health care reform, on a political process, on the effort in Congress to craft and pass legislation. And there was obviously a big fight associated with that. It passed. It was signed. Then there was a big obviously political -- it continued to be a political issue that played a large role in debates both in the midterms and the general election. And obviously associated -- and then there was a judicial aspect to it through the Supreme Court.
What implementation is about is about focusing on consumers. It’s about providing benefits and services to regular American families out there who aren’t engaged in, at least not on a daily basis, the political struggles here in Washington.
And that’s why what I said earlier I think is so important. When a hardworking, middle-class family somewhere in this country -- in North Carolina, or Florida, or California, or Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire -- anywhere, making $50,000, and struggling to pay the bills, sees that they will have available to them affordable health insurance that they did not have before, and you’re a mom or a dad looking at that option and saying, I can now get health insurance for my family and I don’t have to rely on the emergency room anymore and live in fear of one of us getting a chronic medical ailment, I will probably take that option, even if I voted against Barack Obama and even if I support my member of Congress who has made it a principal agenda item to try to defund or repeal Obamacare -- because that’s the right thing to do for your family.
And these are the benefits that those who are trying to derail this process -- and who are trying unsuccessfully to derail it -- are ultimately trying to take away from hardworking Americans out there who need and deserve affordable health insurance for their families.
Q Some of them say this is less than serious. Do you think that some of those critics you’re talking about, do you feel like animals are a serious --
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that any way that we can get out the basic facts to Americans about the options available to them for the first time is worth trying. And again, beginning October 1st, people all around the country who don’t get insurance through their employers, who haven't been able to afford insurance because they're priced out of it or they have a preexisting condition, will be able to go and see all of these options available to them, and will see for themselves that there's affordable insurance for the first time, and insurance that can't be taken away because the Affordable Care Act forbids insurance companies from kicking you off arbitrarily if they decide that you have a condition they don’t want to pay for. And those will be powerful benefits for the American people, and will give them a level of economic security for themselves and their families that they haven't had before.
Q What Scott was asking about, the small business website -- is this a setback? To hear you describe it, it doesn’t sound like anything.
MR. CARNEY: Look, again, you can fill out an application on October 1st for tax credits. In November, you can compare plans online. Coverage doesn’t begin until January 1st. And then, unlike the individual marketplace which has a six-month enrollment, the SHOP Market, the small business market, is open all year round. So there's --
Q But haven't you been telling businesses to expect to be able to do this --
MR. CARNEY: October 1st, they can apply for tax credits. They’ll be able to compare plans in November.
What is absolutely the case is we are meeting the deadlines that make access to this available on October 1st when it comes to the individual market. And, again, because there's not a constrained period of time for small businesses, you have to look at the fact that the online component of SHOP won't be available until November, differently from the way it works for the individual market.
Q And I know the President referred to things like this as “glitches," and obviously it's a big program -- I understand that. Even if you think that the whole health plan is the greatest thing in the world, is it not an embarrassment to have had a number of delays such as this?
MR. CARNEY: But again, what is -- what the President said is right, is that there will be glitches in the rollout of this, as there have been in every program. I think, again, a good reference point is Medicare Part D, which caused, far more than we've seen in this thus far, a huge amount of consternation among consumers when it was initially rolled out.
We don’t anticipate that here at all. We are engaging across the administration in an effort to make sure that the American people have the information they need and that they have the access they need to find out about the plans available to them.
Again, for the first time, you're going to see for the average American in the United States who needs to buy insurance on the individual market, they're going to have an average of 50 options, 50 plan options, and they will have affordable options that they have never had before.
That’s the fundamental fact. And it's hard for opponents to escape that fact. And it will become tangible, beginning on October 1st, because Americans, in the way that they purchase so many things online, will be able to make that comparison in a very simple way, look at the options available to them, and make some choices and enroll. And then on January 1st, that coverage that has not existed before kicks in.
And I think it's worth noting -- because I had this discussion with Ed yesterday and I wanted to get back to him because I think, apples aside, that it's important to make clear what the distinction is between what's available today and what will be available beginning January 1st, and what individuals will be able to enroll for on October 1st.
In most states today, the individual market, in the individual market, insurers can deny coverage because of a preexisting condition. They can charge you more just for being a woman. They can refuse to cover care for your preexisting condition. Even if they do sell you a plan, they can charge you unlimited, out-of-pocket costs. They can charge you more due to your health history or your family's health history. They can put an annual limit on your coverage. They don't have to cover essential services like maternity care or prescription drugs. And about 62 percent of enrollees in the individual market today in most states do not have coverage for maternity services.
In other words, the comparison that we were talking about yesterday -- if you buy a plan in the individual market today, you won't know whether it will be there for you when you need it.
Now, once you enroll in the marketplaces and the insurance kicks in on January 1st, in all states, insurers cannot deny coverage because of a preexisting condition. They cannot charge you more just because you're a woman. They cannot refuse to cover care for your preexisting condition. They can't charge you more due to you or your family's health history. And they can't put an annual limit on your coverage. And they can't charge you unlimited out-of-pocket costs. Every plan --
Q That's why it's more expensive.
MR. CARNEY: It's not. On average, it's less -- significantly less. And these tax credits are available for those who need them.
What Ed did was found one example that, again, didn't account for all of the worms in the plan that was offered, how it is utterly different from what will be on offer in the future. And overwhelmingly, as has been demonstrated in a variety of studies, there will be more options and more affordable prices than ever before in the individual market. Moreover, every plan -- this is not true today -- must cover essential services like maternity care, hospitalizations, doctor's visits, and prescription drugs. That's why it's a much better apple.
Q So maybe Ted Cruz should acknowledge the good things here, but why won’t you acknowledge, for example, the one I asked before -- 55,000 employees who had health care through their employer --
MR. CARNEY: Ed. Come on, Ed.
Q Did you not say dozens of times that you --
MR. CARNEY: Really, I feel like we're doing this sideshow thing.
Q I'm sorry. No, no, no. Did you sell it as you get to keep your health care?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. If you have --
Q You did. So what about those 55,000?
MR. CARNEY: You can come up with anecdotes, but --
Q That's a pretty big company.
MR. CARNEY: -- the overwhelming facts dispute this, that employers are shedding employees from insurance plans because of the Affordable Care Act, or that they're moving them into part-time status because of this. Again, you can ignore the data and present competing anecdotes. And I'm not diminishing --
Q Again, the Wall Street Journal yesterday said 55,000 people are moving.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, please.
Q That's the data.
MR. CARNEY: No, that's an anecdote.
Q You have the data and your critics have data. Why won't you acknowledge --
MR. CARNEY: There's a difference between anecdote and data.
Q Thank you very much. Jay, does the President still contend that if Americans like their health plan they can keep it? He did not manage to get that into a 50-minute speech --
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. He did get that in his speech.
Q He did not get that phrase in.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Ann. If you like your health insurance and you're lucky enough to have an employer who provides health insurance, absolutely, you can keep it.
This is the thing that is the myth about this, too -- when you ask me about whether I would enroll in the exchanges -- I absolutely would if I did not have insurance provided -- company-provided health insurance.
Q The White House previously said the President would enroll. Is he --
MR. CARNEY: Ed, could I just --
Q No, no, it’s not me.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, please, we will do it -- I promise you, we’ll get big contracts and do it on “Crossfire” -- you on the right. But the --
Q Wrong network.
MR. CARNEY: But here’s the thing. You have employer-provided health insurance. I have employer-provided health insurance. The marketplaces are for individuals, and they provide subsidies that -- if you have the option of employer-provided health insurance, you don't get those subsidies, so of course, you would keep your employer-provided health insurance if you so desired. And that's the answer to your question, too -- yes.
Q The city of Chicago is taking some retirees off of -- taking it away and putting them into the exchanges instead of letting them --
MR. CARNEY: Ann, again, you guys -- there is no question that there have been huge trends and shifts in the insurance market in our country that have been ongoing for years, and some of what you describe is related directly to that.
What is different about this is that for the first time there will for members of your family -- extended family I hope -- who have serious preexisting conditions, their insurance company can't deny them coverage. They cannot. They will not. And it is because of the way the Affordable Care Act is written, and the way it’s being implemented that that will be available to all Americans.
Thank you very much.
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April 24, 2015
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