James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:13 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. It is so good to be with you today. For those of you who were with us in New York, I hope you enjoyed that trip. It was obviously eventful. The President gave a major speech at the United Nations General Assembly, and he had, we felt, a very good and useful and informative discussion with former President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative.
I wanted to make an announcement before I take your questions and draw your attention to the fact that a new report has been released today by the Department of Health and Human Services showing that the Affordable Care Act will deliver on its promise to make health insurance more affordable and accessible for Americans. In state after state, competition and transparency are driving a new set of affordable options for consumers in the new marketplaces, just as the law was designed to do.
Premiums, nationwide, will also be around 16 percent lower than originally expected, with about 95 percent of eligible, uninsured Americans living in states with lower-than-expected premiums, and that’s before taking into account financial assistance. On average, consumers will have a choice of 53 health plans, and about 1 in 4 of these insurance companies are newly offering plans in the individual market, which is a sign of healthy competition.
To give you a sense of what this really means for families who will be shopping for health insurance in the marketplaces, I have these examples: A family of four in North Carolina with an income of $50,000 could pay $74 per month for the lowest-cost bronze plan after tax credits. A family of four in Indiana with the same income -- $50,000 -- could pay $46 per month, again, for the lowest-cost bronze plan after tax credits. And a family of four in Texas with an income of $50,000 could pay just $57 per month -- so an income of $50,000 could pay just $57 per month for the lowest-cost bronze plan after tax credits.
Overall, nearly 6 in 10 uninsured Americans will pay $100 or less per month for health coverage. You can check out the map of premiums by state at whitehouse.gov/acamap.
In less than a week, the new marketplaces will be open for business, and from October to March 2014, more Americans will be able to check out their choices, their options for affordable health insurance at healthcare.gov, and find health plans that fit their lives and their budgets. And I think it's worth noting here in the capital of the nation and of the national press some of the coverage of this news, which is why we have this graphic here behind me today.
Indianapolis Business Journal: "Analysis -- Obamacare exchanges will push anthems premiums lower." Pittsburgh Post Gazette: "Exchanges to provide dozens of health care options for Pittsburghers." Dallas Morning News: "Obamacare premiums projected to be lower than expected." Houston Chronicle: "Texans to have array of insurance options." Appleton Post Crescent: "Exchange rates decline with expanded choices." Miami Herald: "U.S.: Obamacare costs below forecast." The Detroit News: "Michigan health exchange has plenty of choices." Palm Beach Post: "Local Obamacare rates beat forecast."
As I mentioned at the top, President Clinton, President Obama had an excellent discussion yesterday, which I hope all of you were able to catch, about the Affordable Care Act, about health care in general both in the nation and around the world. And it is worth noting, as we learn this news about premiums across the country and how they're coming in lower than expected, that very soon, Americans who did not have the option of affordable health insurance will have it available to them.
What is important to remember about the families that I just talked about -- the families of four earning $50,000, and who will now have access to health care for their families for low premiums did not have access at all before. They could not afford it. And that is the design and the promise of the Affordable Care Act. And it's taking shape before our eyes.
Q Thank you. President Rouhani was still speaking at the U.N. last night when the White House did their background briefing, so we didn't get a real reaction to his speech. And I'm wondering if the President saw anything in Rouhani's address that signaled that there may be some actual substance behind some of the friendly overtures in terms of concessions on the nuclear impasse.
MR. CARNEY: What we heard from President Rouhani I think reflects what we've been hearing, and that is an interest in making progress towards resolving this very serious problem that Iran has over its nuclear weapons program. And that is why, as we've been saying for a while now, including in New York at the United Nations, we are very interested in testing the assertions about that interest on behalf of the Iranians in resolving this conflict diplomatically.
Ever since he took office, the President has said he is willing to engage directly with the Iranians in an effort to resolve this issue. And it is that willingness that has helped make clear that the onus is on Iran to demonstrate that it is serious about complying with its international obligations. That willingness that then candidate Obama expressed and new President Obama repeated is what helped forge the consensus internationally that led to the most comprehensive sanctions regime that has ever been implemented.
That, in turn, as I think President Rouhani made clear, and others have made clear, has had a dramatic impact on the Iranian economy. And that is why Iran is interested in, in our view, having discussions about resolving this conflict. And that is encouraging. But actions are what matter. And substantive negotiations over Iran's nuclear program will be the test -- will provide the test of whether or not Iran is serious about resolving the international community's concerns.
And we are engaged in that process. As you know, Secretary Kerry will be with his Iranian counterpart in the P5-plus-1 process this week. So that's the beginning of what we hope will be progress towards resolving this problem.
Q But I guess that's what I'm asking. Obama didn't leave his two days in New York with any greater clarity on what kind of substance may be behind this rhetoric, is that what you're saying?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that we have been and continue to this week explore the level of seriousness. And we are doing that through all the avenues available to us. That will be very much part of the discussions that Secretary Kerry has and it is part of the communications that we have had, including the communications that the President had in his exchange of letters.
And I think that what happened in New York, again, demonstrates two things. One, President Obama has always been explicitly open to sitting down and talking to the Iranian leadership provided that the Iranian leadership is serious about trying to resolve these problems with the international community over its nuclear weapons program. And that became, I think, quite apparent again in recent days.
So the Iranians have to decide, most importantly, through substantive negotiations, whether or not they want to truly resolve this. And through resolution of it, through a verifiable, confirmable agreement to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions, Iran can then rejoin the international community and its isolation -- enjoy relief from the sanctions regime.
But those are matters of substantive negotiations. And the process is in place and has been in place through the P5-plus-1. And we will continue to test these assertions and to see if this opportunity is real -- because the window, as we've been saying for some time now, even predating the elections in Iran, is open to resolve this diplomatically, but it is not -- it will not be open indefinitely. And we would agree with those who say that there is a need to assess and act on this opportunity with haste.
Q On the domestic front, I’m wondering if there’s any White House reaction to Ted Cruz’s hours of arguing against Obamacare overnight. And now that the process on the CR looks like it’s almost inevitably going back to the House, are there any plans for the President to talk with leadership to ensure that a deal can be reached on Monday?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I indicated I think earlier in the week, the President will, I’m sure, be discussing these budget issues with the leadership. I don’t have a specific meeting to preview for you. As you know, he has held discussions with Speaker Boehner as well as others in the past about this and about our position -- his position on these issues: One, that Congress has to act to ensure that we don’t -- that they don’t shut down the government; that it would be irresponsible to not fund the essential functions of the government out of ideological pique; that we can continue to negotiate over a broader budget deal in a responsible way, and to do that we need to make sure that a continuing resolution is passed that allows the government to stay open, and for the President to continue to show in his presentations to Congress that he is and has always been serious about trying to find common ground when it comes to making the right choices in how we fund our government and investing in our economy to ensure that our kids get education and that our roads and bridges get built, and that we reduce our deficit further in a balanced and fair way.
So that’s one. And then two, the other position we obviously hold and will not waver from is that the responsibility of Congress to pay the bills of the United States, bills that Congress has incurred, is not a subject of negotiation. Everybody agrees, all the leaders and I think most of the rank-and-file agree that the debt ceiling must be raised. So you have this unique situation in Washington where everybody agrees on this single thing, so Congress ought to just raise it. And don’t forget they did it not that long ago -- you might forget because there was no drama and there was no delay and there was no threat of default -- just at the end of last year and the beginning of this year.
So the idea that this could be or should be a situation where default is on the table and threatened, and all the ramifications of that take place, all the harm that does to our economy, is somehow the norm we just reject. We cannot allow that to happen.
Since Congress raised the debt ceiling the last time, without drama and without delay, this economy has created more than a million jobs. Since Congress, without drama and without delay, raised the debt ceiling -- that means Republicans in Congress, not just Democrats -- we’ve seen remarkable strides in the recovery and our housing market. We’ve seen continued economic growth. So if they were able to do it just a few months ago, I see no reasons why they shouldn’t do it now. It’s the responsible thing to do if the goal here that we all share is to allow the economy to continue to grow and create jobs.
Q Did the President catch any of the 21 hours-plus of the speech by Senator Cruz?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe so.
Q Does the White House have any reaction to the speech? Did you watch it? Or any parts of it?
MR. CARNEY: I did not. I certainly read about it. Look, I would simply say that a family of four in Texas will have available to it the option of purchasing affordable health insurance for $57 per month. A family of four with an income of $50,000 after receiving tax credits will have that option. That is a good thing.
This family doesn’t have insurance now, cannot afford insurance under current conditions. And that reality is something that we’re seeing now in state after state after state. Quality, affordable health insurance is something that every family of four making $50,000 and struggling to get by deserves. That’s what the President believes.
So, certainly, we oppose any efforts to engage in a political battle of the past to try to achieve some sort of ideological victory in a way that not only shuts down the government, but then, if successful, would deprive these very families of health insurance that they need. And we obviously have a difference of opinion.
Q Since those conversations that you read out -- that were read out on Friday between the President and Speaker Boehner and Leader Pelosi, has Denis McDonough or any other White House officials had conversations with people in Congress or their staff about --
MR. CARNEY: Oh, certainly, and we are in fairly consistent communication with Congress at different levels here at the White House. I don’t have any specific conversations to read out. I think the Chief of Staff is going up to the Hill at some point to talk with Democrats. But those conversations will continue, as I said in answer to Julie’s question.
I don’t have any meeting or conversation involving the President to preview at this time. But, as I think we’ve seen of late, there’s a lot of activity going on that reflects enormous divisions within the Republican Party that are hard for us to influence. Our focus is, of course, on the need to make wise decisions to ensure that the government does not shut down, and especially to ensure that the United States does not default for the first time in its history.
Q If there’s no resolution on those two issues, will the President still travel to Asia, as he plans to?
MR. CARNEY: I have no scheduling updates. The plan is on the books and we intend to go.
Q Jay, thank you. I mean, it’s one thing not to engage Speaker Boehner when it comes to the possibility of a government shutdown. But when you're looking at breaching the debt ceiling, aren't you forced to negotiate? Aren't you forced to engage?
MR. CARNEY: Here’s the thing. I'd say a couple things about that. I don't have the quotes in front of me, but I know you all remember that it was the Speaker of the House who said -- declared publicly that he would never negotiate with the President again -- which seemed a little extreme. He has, of course, since then -- the President has had conversations with him and enjoyed them, as he always does.
There is no negotiating over Congress’s responsibility to ensure that we do not default. We saw what happened when that path was traveled in 2011, and the result was terrible. Even the flirtation with default, when it became apparent that there were actually members of Congress in the Republican Party who were willing to default as a matter of ideological purity, and who were willing to inflict that harm on the economy and on middle-class families, the economy reacted badly. Markets reacted badly. And people suffered --
Q But you negotiated. But you knew their perspective on that and still negotiated.
MR. CARNEY: I think that's the point I'm making, is that this cannot and should not be a matter of negotiation. We can and should debate our differences and negotiate and reach compromises over our budget priorities, absolutely. But we cannot have the American economy and the global economy and the American middle class held hostage to an insistence by a faction of Congress, especially in one house, that it achieve its political objectives that it had not been able to achieve otherwise through at the ballot box or when the legislative process played out three years ago, or in front of the Supreme Court when the Supreme Court declared that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional.
It’s just incredibly irresponsible. Think about -- and the irony of ironies is when we talk about the debt ceiling, that one proposition on the table that Republicans have suggested is that they would threaten default over a provision that would delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and if that were carried out it would add significantly to the deficit.
So the charade, what we have seen this whole time in these kind of negotiations that the principal preoccupation of the Republican Party in these matters in Congress is the need to further reduce our deficit and not be irresponsible in our spending -- they now put forward a proposition, a proposal that is wrong on so many fronts, but would raise and increase the deficit along with it.
Q It just seems hard to believe that the President would be prepared to breach the debt ceiling without having engaged House Republicans on the issue --
MR. CARNEY: He doesn’t breach the debt ceiling; Congress has the power of the purse strings. That is the power --
Q But it seems unlikely that he would allow them to breach the debt ceiling without having engaged them. So we get to a point where there’s a default and the President hasn’t stepped in to engage them.
MR. CARNEY: Brianna, again, let’s be clear. The President has been and continues to be willing to negotiate with Republicans over our budget priorities and how to make the right choices and make compromises along the way to make sure that we grow our economy, we create jobs for the middle class, and we bring down our deficit further in the middle- and out-years -- has always been willing to do that.
We've been through a process this year where, at the insistence of the Republicans as part of the last budget deal, the Senate, led by Democrats, passed a budget. That's what the Republicans insisted had to be done. We had to follow regular order. You’ve covered the Hill, right? You’ve heard that cry. “Democrats refuse to follow regular order.” “They refuse to pass a budget.” So the Senate passed the budget. That’s what the Republicans wanted. The House passed its budget, the Ryan budget 2.0, and what happens then in regular order is that conferees are appointed and the two houses try to reach an agreement, a compromise.
Republicans in the House were so opposed to the idea of compromise, the idea of negotiation, the idea of finding common ground, that to this day they have refused to appoint conferees in a process that they themselves said was essential. So the President has demonstrated again and again his willingness to be reasonable and find common ground, and he will continue to do that.
When it comes to the debt ceiling, everybody says we ought to raise it, we can’t default, would be wildly irresponsible, so Congress should just raise it. One side is saying, we’ll let the economy default unless we get what we want, which is essentially defunding or delaying of Obamacare. I think it’s pretty clear -- and a lot of Republicans seem to agree with this -- that that is a wholly irresponsible position to take.
Q Jay, is the President disappointed that President Rouhani turned down the offer to meet him at the United Nations?
MR. CARNEY: The President is not. He was open to the possibility of an informal encounter with President Rouhani and remains open to that, as he has, broadly speaking, since he took office.
The President believes that the most important issues when it comes to Iran’s relationship with the rest of the international community, including the United States, are ones that need to be resolved through negotiations over substantive matters around Iran’s nuclear weapons program. And so I think that we should not over-interpret the fact that the Iranians decided against having an encounter and that it was too complicated in terms of assigning meaning to that about the potential for progress in negotiations. The potential for that progress exists, and we are going to test it through the avenues available to us.
Q Why does the White House think Rouhani said no to the meeting or encounter, whatever you want to call it?
MR. CARNEY: I think that --
Q He’s meeting with just about everybody else, right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say two things. One, obviously -- I’ll say first that I’m not going to delve into an analysis of Iranian politics because that’s not the issue for us. The issue is how serious is the new government as well as the Supreme Leader about resolving this significant problem it has with the international community. Two, I would simply say that, as I mentioned earlier, the most important thing here is whether or not we can make progress on the substantive talks.
The President was open to an informal encounter, but even if something like that had happened, that is less significant than whether or not the Iranians demonstrate seriousness of purpose when it comes to making progress in negotiations that have been available to them now for many years. And their failure to be serious about it for so many years has led to the most comprehensive and punishing sanctions regime in history. And it is because that unity in the international community exists -- which, in turn, exists because of the President's leadership on this issue -- that Iran is now suggesting it's willing to resolve the problem.
Q So you say you want to have real actions, not just words. What specifically are those actions you're looking for now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the State Department about how this will unfold or would unfold if we make progress. But it is our policy that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. And it is the international community's position embodied in the various resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and elsewhere that Iran needs to give up its nuclear weapons program in a way that is verifiable. And that's our position. And, obviously, there are steps along the way. And that's for Secretary Kerry and others to work out.
Q As you well know, Iran says it has no nuclear weapons program. The President of Iran also said that, as other Iranian Presidents have said, enrichment of uranium is a fundamental right for the nation of Iran. Does the White House disagree with that?
MR. CARNEY: I think you heard the President say in his speech that access to nuclear energy is certainly something that is fair for Iran to have. The specifics of the negotiation are things that are going to be worked out through the P5-plus-1 process.
Q But the White House has not drawn a line on the issue of enrichment?
MR. CARNEY: I would just point you to what the President said and what we have said in the past on the matter.
Q And then, one last question on this. It's clear that the Iranians are looking for relief from sanctions, that they want those sanctions -- they want relief quickly. How quickly realistically could you see some lifting of U.S. sanctions?
MR. CARNEY: I think that depends entirely on the Iranians. But this is about verifiable actions that need to be taken to relieve the international community's concerns about Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
Q And the window, you said, is not going to be open indefinitely?
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q What does that mean? What kind of timeline are we talking about? I know you're not going to give me a deadline, but are we talking about something has to unfold over the next few months?
MR. CARNEY: I won't give a timeline to it. I think that we've made clear in the past about our assessments of where Iran is in its program, what our capabilities are in terms of being able to be aware of a so-called breakout move. And I would refer you to substantive briefings that others have given on that, and even I have, but it's been a while.
So the point is that this is not an indefinite period of time. The threat of a nuclear arms race in the region is a huge problem for the region, for our allies, for the United States, for the world. And the Iranian nuclear weapons program is central as a problem that needs to be resolved to avoid that nuclear arms race.
Q I just wanted to give you a chance to respond to a couple of comments made a little bit ago by the new Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif up at the United Nations. When asked what the Iranian goal was at the P5-plus-1 conversations, he said, "to jumpstart the negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement within the shortest span." He also said the Islamic Republican has the "political readiness and political will for serious negotiations, and we are hopeful that the opposite side has this will as well."
MR. CARNEY: We certainly have the will. We've demonstrated it for many years now.
Q Have you the readiness --
MR. CARNEY: In the past, no. And I think that the comments that you just read to me -- and I have not seen them, but they're in keeping with some of what we have heard and seen -- demonstrate certainly a different rhetorical approach to this problem that this new government is taking. And I think, as we've said, that is absolutely worth exploring and testing, so that we can discover -- we, the United States and our allies -- can discover whether or not they're serious and whether or not we can resolve this conflict diplomatically.
As you heard the President say in his speech to the General Assembly, this is a significant opportunity that ought to be explored, and it would certainly be to the benefit of the world and to the benefit of the Iranian people to resolve this diplomatically. So that’s what we're undertaking to try to do. But we do it understanding the history here and with the clear assertion that actions here are what matter, and a process that allows for the verifiable decision by Iran to forsake its nuclear weapons program is essential.
Q So, using the Foreign Minister's words of reaching an agreement within the shortest span, that entirely depends on how many concessions the Iranians are prepared to make?
MR. CARNEY: This is a negotiation. And it's a negotiation that involves other nations, part of the P5-plus-1 -- the P5-plus-Germany. And I will leave it to the negotiators, including Secretary Kerry and then others who will be working on this, to give assessments of where we are and what that negotiation looks like. But the end result has to be that the international community, the P5-plus-1, is confident that Iran has given up its nuclear weapons program.
Q In his speech yesterday, President Rouhani described economic sanctions carried out under the U.N. authority as a violent crime and an inhumane crime against ordinary Iranians. What's the White House reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: I think the fact that President Rouhani spoke about the impact of the sanctions demonstrates the impact of the sanctions. We made clear when we solicited the consensus that we achieved on this matter that the onus was on Iran, because we were willing to -- let me back up a little bit. Prior to President Obama taking office, the international community was divided, and some people believe that our intransigence -- our, the United States' intransigence -- on this issue, our refusal to engage with the Iranians on this issue was part of the problem. And whether you believe that to be true or not, there was that view that divided the international community.
President Obama, taking a position as a candidate that was somewhat controversial, and then reasserting it as President, including in his inaugural address, took a different approach. And that different approach, his willingness to engage with the Iranians made clear that the problem was the Iranians. And it allowed us to build the most comprehensive sanctions regime in history with considerable international consensus, a consensus that did not exist before.
So when the Iranian President speaks about the impact of the sanctions, I think it reflects something we've been saying, which is that these sanctions are real. They represent the will of the international community and the seriousness that the international community takes the problem posed by an Iran potentially possessing nuclear weapons.
Q Alongside some of the language you've noted is more conciliatory than in the past, is this a worrisome assertion from the Iranians that U.N. sanctions are, in fact, a crime and are punishing ordinary Iranians, and that itself could be a problem?
MR. CARNEY: I think that we would acknowledge that the sanctions have had an impact on the Iranian economy. And the sanctions are a direct result of Iran's refusal heretofore to resolve the international community's very serious concerns about their pursuit of a nuclear weapon. All of this -- I don't mean to make it sound easy, but this can all be resolved if Iran takes a different approach. The United States and its other partners on the P5-plus-1 are willing to engage as they have always been. And we will see whether or not the kind of progress that apparently the Foreign Minister just suggested was possible is, in fact, possible.
Q To follow up on Brianna, one last thing -- you have a very careful construction about the President not negotiating on the debt ceiling. The President will not negotiate over Congress' responsibility to pay its bills. Does that also not leave open the possibility that if Congress says, Mr. President, we are going to raise the debt ceiling; we'd like to discuss with you methods of achieving that, meaning not if, but how -- does that open a window for negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: No, not in the sense that -- I'm not attempting to be nuanced at all on this. We will not negotiate over Congress's responsibility to raise the debt ceiling.
Q But if they say, we are going to raise the debt ceiling, but we would like to include some other things in it, we'd like to talk to you about that, can we have a conversation along those lines?
MR. CARNEY: No. No, because that's what they've been saying all along. And saying that we want to achieve a political agenda item and if you don't give it to us we'll tank the American economy and make the American people suffer -- the President is not going to accept that proposition. He’s just not. We will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to pay the bills that Congress racked up.
And the irony of this discussion -- and it’s nobody’s fault, nobody in this room -- that it is widely misunderstood that raising the debt ceiling does not add a dime to the deficit, does not represent a single nickel in spending. Raising the debt ceiling is just authorizing Congress to write the checks for bills it’s already racked up, that have already added to the deficit -- or not if they’re programs that have been paid for, like the Affordable Care Act, for example. But this is about just being responsible stewards of the American economy.
Q But you frequently have quoted the history of the many times the debt ceiling has been raised, but you also must concede in that history there are complex interactions with Congress and chief executives where other things have been added into the mix as a part of a process. So are you trying to rewrite not just that history or reassert some new history?
MR. CARNEY: No, no. We discussed this the other day. And what is an incontrovertible fact is that roughly 40 times since President Reagan took office the debt ceiling has been raised. And only once -- only once -- was default ever in the air, and that was in 2011.
Q This goes to the heart of my Congress -- you take default off the table and say we’re going to raise it, but we have other items worth talking about in which you can put some things and we can put some things, and it can be a negotiation -- that’s not possible?
MR. CARNEY: Because if the alternative is, we’re not going to raise it -- that’s what they’re saying -- then the answer has to be no. If the Congress -- if Republican leaders in Congress or rank-and-file members in Congress want to pursue efforts legislatively to dismantle, disrupt, and ultimately defeat Obamacare, they can. And they have, but they’ve failed. And it’s because they failed that they’re now trying to attach this to the full faith and credit of the United States, which is a wildly irresponsible thing to do.
We can talk about how we fund our priorities and how we responsibly reduce the deficit, and we will. But Congress cannot, for the sake of the American people, put the threat of default on the table.
Q How are you?
MR. CARNEY: I’m great.
Q Good. First, on Kenya. Mike Rogers, the House Intelligence Chairman, who has sometimes been supportive of the President, on Syria, for example, is being critical now about, in the wake of the terror attack in Kenya, he’s concerned that he believes some of your counterterror policies have changed and that the administration is using drones less because of the criticism of the drone policy. How do you react to that criticism? Has the administration been pulling back from using drones in a way that is potentially allowing extremists to move forward with attacks, like in Kenya?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple things. One, I would point you to the President’s speech on this matter and then make clear that we have worked with our partners very aggressively when it comes to al-Shabaab, the organization responsible for the attacks, or we believe responsible for the attacks in Kenya, and we will continue to do that. And the United States and Kenya have a very strong relationship and a historic partnership.
And we are providing law enforcement assistance to the government of Kenya, and we continue to globally engage in the struggle against al Qaeda and its affiliates, including an organization like al-Shabaab.
Q On the health care report that you put out, I’m curious as to why it is framed by HHS as people are going to be paying lower premiums than were projected. Why are you not comparing premiums of what people are paying today to what they will pay next year and the year after under the President’s law?
You’re saying -- American families looking at how this is going to cost them, they’re wondering, okay, I’m paying $100 a month right now; I might be paying $50 or I might be paying $150 next year. You’re saying, instead, this report presents it as you’re going to be paying less than was projected. That’s sort of a Washington thing. Why is not apples-to-apples, year-to-year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there have been numerous reports
Q I’m talking about this report you put out today. What you’re saying -- 95 percent of Americans -- no, hang on. You’re saying 95 percent of Americans are going to pay less.
MR. CARNEY: Tell me when you want to ask the question and not argue.
Q That’s the question.
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q I’m not talking about previous -- don’t go off on previous reports. This report today.
MR. CARNEY: There were numerous projections about what these exchanges -- which, by the way, did not exist before -- including the multitude of plans that will now be available to consumers that were not in place before. So obviously, this is not an apples-to-apples. It’s an apple filled with worms compared to an apple that’s fresh and delicious. (Laughter.)
I mean, seriously, you’re talking about situations where some families in some states had one option, and it was unaffordable. And now they have multiple options -- on average, 50-some-odd plans to choose from -- and the report that’s released today demonstrates that these plans are affordable and there will be plans available to families who could not buy insurance; that their insurance -- even though they are working families doing everything they can to get by -- their insurance was the emergency room. So they don’t have anything to compare it to. They don’t have -- but I can guarantee you that the cost that they will pay for their premiums and the cost of their health care will be infinitely -- well, not infinitely, but considerably less than the cost of the American taxpayer of those families using emergency rooms as their sole source of health care.
Q So then why does the Wall Street Journal have a different report today that says in Nashville, Tennessee, 27-year-old male non-smoker could pay as little as $41 a month now for a barebones policy, but would pay $114 a month; it would go up from $41 a month to $114 a month for the lowest-cost “bronze option” under the President’s health care law?
They’ve got somebody in Philadelphia -- they would rise up from $73 today, per month, premium, to $195 a month. So that apple not so nice?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I don’t know --
Q This is the Wall Street Journal -- pretty credible.
MR. CARNEY: I’m simply about to say that I didn’t read all the examples in there, and every specific example is not the same. Overwhelmingly, premiums are coming in -- I mean, I could see the Republicans might want to refute this overwhelming evidence, even though some state Republican governors are acknowledging it, but it’s there. And when you go on -- maybe not you -- but when people avail themselves of the opportunity to enroll in these marketplaces and click through and see the options available to them that were not available before, and that are available to them because of the subsidies, if they're lower income, at extremely affordable costs, I think they'll find it a very good thing indeed.
And what is remarkable about this whole process is that Republicans who oppose Obamacare have been trying now for years to repeal it, or go after it in a variety of manners. We are now at a point where enrollment is about to begin, and I think that part of the fear that you see, the intensity of the political agitation is that they know that when 27-year-olds in a lot of the parts of the country who -- well, they now, thanks to Obamacare, only just left their parents' health plans, a benefit of the Affordable Care Act that’s already there -- a lot of those 27-year-olds would have gone out on the individual insurance market and said, there is no way I can afford what's out there, the choices are too few and it's too expensive. And I know maybe you can cite an example of one place where that may not have been true, but it is overwhelmingly the case. It is an established fact that the individual insurance market has been unaffordable in many ways.
Q So let's take the stats from the Wall Street Journal out and let's take the attacks from Republicans out. You're talking about enrollment. Will Jay Carney enroll in this? Will White House staff enroll in Obamacare?
MR. CARNEY: Again, everybody -- you, if you have --
Q Let's start with you. Are you going to enroll?
MR. CARNEY: If I, in a future life, don’t have employer --
Q Well, you said the premiums are so great --
MR. CARNEY: Ed -- does everybody here agree that we can ask questions and answer them, but if you want to -- you're not even letting me answer the question, Ed.
Q Please, go ahead and answer.
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I'm not quite sure what --
Q Would you enroll?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely.
Q It's a simple question.
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely.
Q Okay. So you are going to enroll?
MR. CARNEY: If I did not -- Ed, if I did not have employer-provided health insurance -- like I'm sure you do, unless there's something about FOX I don’t know -- then I would absolutely enroll. And it would be more affordable because of it. And I think you'll see that around the country.
But the whole purpose -- again, a fact often either ignored or mischaracterized by critics -- is that if you have insurance provided by your employer that you like, nothing changes for you. But if you change jobs, or if you get laid off, and you then take a job -- you start your own business or you take a job where you're not given insurance by your employer, you will now have -- or once the marketplaces are in effect -- options that were never available before, at affordable prices. And that’s the point.
And the irony of this argument that Republicans are making is that pretty soon they're going to be making an argument that what they desperately want to do, without an alternative, is take benefits away from the American people -- benefits that help them live better lives and healthier lives.
Q Define success, if you can. Over the course of the next six-month enrollment period, the White House would view success if how many million people signed up for -- right now, there’s 55 million that are either on the individual marketplace or 40 million that are uninsured. Success in the first six months is what?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to -- I don’t know that I have that figure -- somebody might. Our health care experts might have a target figure for you. I think HHS has put out information about what they’re looking at in terms of how many people they’re expecting to enroll, but I don’t have that available to me right now.
Q If I can, one of the criticisms has been, recently, that some of the premiums would be largely lower because the insurers are offering plans with limited networks of health providers. What’s the rebuttal?
MR. CARNEY: This was a rather remarkable story, and I’m glad you ask, because the people that that story talks about don’t have insurance. So how could -- no question, the bronze plan, lower-cost plans are going to be more limited in the services they provide and the benefits they provide than better, higher-cost plans -- silver, gold, platinum, whatever. That may be true and is often true in employer-based health insurance.
For those families who do not have insurance and cannot afford insurance currently, to have available to them an option that they can afford, that would provide insurance coverage that they do not have, how could that be described as anything but a good thing? So there’s no question that affordable health care plans, the less expensive ones, are going to be more limited in their benefits. But they all meet minimum standards and they all beat the stuffing out of the alternative, which is no insurance, which is just using emergency rooms around your city or county, hoping to deal with your child’s asthma problem. That’s the alternative, that’s the apple-to-apple comparison.
Q One of the big criticisms is that a lot of people are being -- formerly full-time, are being moved to a number of hours that will be viewed as part-time. Some businesses are already reporting this, that they’re lowering the number of hours. Does the White House -- is not convinced that that’s happening?
MR. CARNEY: There’s just ample data that refutes that. In fact, there was some assertion from the restaurant industry that that was the case, and then the data came out that showed that the growth in jobs in that industry has been particularly concentrated in full-time employment. So there’s just not the data to back that up.
Q Explain why a company wouldn’t do that, though. Why would a company not do that, though? What’s the lost advantage to the company?
MR. CARNEY: Because there is an advantage for a company to provide health insurance to its employers, A. B, there are all sorts of aspects of the Affordable Care Act that makes it easier for smaller businesses to provide health insurance to their companies -- to their employees.
And again, I think those Americans who have health insurance provided by their employers, that will not change and it is not -- it is a great mischaracterization of reality to suggest otherwise. And it is one of the things that, as the President I think mentioned onstage with President Clinton yesterday, that is reflected in the fact that Obamacare, as designed -- the Affordable Care Act, as designed, builds on our existing private insurance system, using a model established by a Republican governor in Massachusetts -- a model that was once celebrated by Republican thinkers and policy experts as the moderate/conservative alternative to more liberal proposals when it came to dealing with improving our health insurance system in this country.
Q Just a few minutes ago, the FBI released for the first time video of Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter -- dramatic pictures that show him with a sawed off shotgun walking through the halls of the building on that campus. The President this past weekend said -- and I have the quote here -- "Sometimes I fear there's a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just somehow the way it is, that this is somehow the new normal. We can't accept this."
In what active way is the President not accepting this, when given the fact that he has the budget showdown right now, the debt ceiling coming up quickly, a trip to Asia and then potentially another fiscal crisis to deal with before the end of the year -- in what active way is he pursuing this legislatively to try to shift the balance --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think with a lot of attention from the press he has pursued this legislatively, and he continues to call on Congress to do this, to do the right thing, which is not defeat a bill that's supported by 85 to 90 percent of the American people. He feels as strongly about that today as he did earlier this year when the Senate, in one of its least noble acts, defeated that bill.
So, meanwhile, the President will continue to insist that his administration act on the executive actions that were part of his plan to reduce gun violence. And he will continue to look for other means that we can act to, in a common-sense way, reduce gun violence in America. So I think the President's depth of feeling about this issue was reflected in his remarks on Sunday.
And I think that -- I haven't seen the video that you're talking about, but if it is as you described it, every American should look at that and agree with those who say, including the chief medical officer at that hospital, that this should not be acceptable to us. We should not be numb to that reality. And we should be doing something about it.
Q So no one disputes the depth of feeling, but the depth of action. Tomorrow, he is going to go up to Maryland where he is going to make statements basically -- I trust among other things -- criticizing the politicking that could lead to a potential shutdown. Will he then more actively pursue this, as opposed to just the depth of feeling, but the depth of action aside from the executive orders he has done?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything to preview for you. I think our record on pursuing common-sense measures to reduce gun violence this year is robust, to say the least. And the President will continue to push that agenda, as I think he made clear.
Q Jay, what is the President doing about big labor that has problems with Obamacare? Senator Cruz read at length from a letter by James Hoffa of the Teamsters saying that he has tried to get through to the White House, but is up against a stone wall in placing complaints about the health care system?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the fact is -- this gets into sort of technical terms when you talk about the Taft Hartley plans -- there's nothing in the Affordable Care Act that changes in any way the way that those plans operate. And, obviously, this is something that we have looked at and been in discussions with a variety of stakeholders about. But that's the bottom line fact.
Q Are you reaching out to labor in any way?
MR. CARNEY: I think we have discussions with the labor community frequently. But on that issue, I think what I said is clear. It does not affect those plans at all.
Q Is there action that needs to be taken?
MR. CARNEY: For more substantive answers, I would refer you to HHS on these specific issues that have arisen. But that's obviously something that we have discussed and are aware of and come to the conclusion that I just reached, or just spoke about.
Q And on the low-premium plans, the bronze plans that you're talking about, aren't the deductibles very large on those plans?
MR. CARNEY: You would have to look at all of the plans. Obviously, each plan is different. Here is the irrefutable fact: These are affordable plans available to people who cannot afford insurance. These are plans that are now available to people who are uninsured. And they are priced competitively, because there is increased competition. And many health care experts, including in today's newspapers, cite the rise in competition that the Affordable Care Act has brought about, the fact that insurance companies are putting forward multiple plans in states that did not have them in the past, which is why you have on average 50-odd options available per state in this survey.
And each plan -- again, HHS would have all the details -- but the fact is that they provide affordable health insurance that did not exist before. And there are tiers and options for everyone to choose from in terms of the kinds of benefits, understanding that, as I saw in one article, each of these plans provides a baseline of benefits, and many of those benefits -- including maternity care and contraceptive care -- that did not exist or don’t exist in current plans available on the individual market.
Q Jay, two quick questions. My understanding is that the Chief of Staff will be on the Hill talking to House Democrats tonight. Can you confirm it's all about the budget mostly or entirely, and what his message is to the Democratic Conference?
MR. CARNEY: I can confirm that the Chief of Staff will be going up to the Hill to confer with Democrats, and I'm sure that this will be a central topic of conversation. His message is what we've been discussing, which is, Congress needs to --
Q -- to the Dems? His message to --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, the Dems are in Congress. And the message is that Congress needs to act responsibly and fulfill its obligation to ensure that there is not an unnecessary wound inflicted on the economy while we're continuing to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. And that’s a message that we carry to Democrats and Republicans alike.
Q The second question is, there are some who are suggesting that if what comes back to the House is some version of this stripped-down Senate clean CR, that Speaker Boehner will be handed a choice that could cost him his speakership. What is the President's message to Mr. Boehner on that question?
MR. CARNEY: Internal Republican Party politics, while absolutely the most fascinating story politically in Washington right now -- (laughter) -- and one that I would be choosing to cover if I still were a reporter, are not something that we spend a lot of time on, nor should we. But I would simply say that the President's view -- and this applies to members of both parties and leaders of both parties -- is to do the right thing by the American people and by the economy, even when that involves tough choices.
That’s the approach he took when he submitted his budget this year, which didn’t win him accolades in all corners of his party, but he believed was necessary to demonstrate that he was willing to find common ground with Republicans on how we move forward on our budget challenges. That budget is on the table and is available to be taken up by Republicans.
What we need to do before we have those negotiations, because time is so short, is ensure that Congress acts so that the government doesn’t shut down. And then, even more importantly, because the consequences will be so much more severe, Congress needs to act to ensure that there is never any doubt about the United States defaulting.
Mr. Jonathan Allen.
Q You mentioned that Denis McDonough is going to be talking to House Democrats and that Congress needs to act. Are you worried that House Democrats may be more willing to have a shutdown or a default situation than the White House is?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think anybody on Capitol Hill believes that a shutdown is a good thing. Well, I mean, I can't -- maybe that isn't true of all Republicans, based on some reporting I've seen. But I don’t believe that the -- we don’t believe that our allies believe that a shutdown is anything but harmful to the economy, and obviously harmful to the ability of the government to fulfill its essential functions.
But we will not -- Congress and Republicans need to be reasonable here about passing a CR so that we can have substantive, continued negotiations that we’ve been trying to have all year and have periodically engaged in about reaching a compromise for a broader budget agreement. So that’s the position we take, and I think we’re confident that our fellow Democrats share that position.
Q If I could follow up on that on the debt limit -- does your position that you won’t negotiate on the debt limit mean that you wouldn’t accept a package that included the CR and the debt limit, if there was some arrangement where you thought you could toss the debt limit into another deal that’s moving, you wouldn’t take it?
MR. CARNEY: We won’t negotiate -- we will not get into a negotiation with Congress in which -- with Republicans in Congress who say, do this, accept this highly partisan agenda item or else we’ll default. It’s off the table. We’re not going to do it. And Republicans who imagine that that’s a constructive approach to helping the economy grow and helping the middle class are deluding themselves. The consequences of that would be terrible because even the hint of that produced negative impacts for the American people and the American economy two summers ago.
Q But you wouldn’t attach the debt ceiling as a rider onto a package that was already moving?
MR. CARNEY: Look, as I’ve said in the past, when Speaker Boehner and others, including some of your colleagues in the front row, suggest that that is the same as holding out, we will not fund -- we will default on the United States’ obligations for the first time in its history unless you repeal or defund or delay Obamacare -- that is wholly different from past practice, and that’s why we won’t engage in it.
Q How is the President preparing for his meeting with Prime Minister Singh, Friday at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: He very much looks forward to the meeting, has obviously met with the Prime Minister on numerous occasions in the past, and looks forward to having a discussion about all of the issues and shared objectives that the United States and India have. We’ll have I think a broader preview of the meeting later in the week and certainly more information in the aftermath of the meeting.
Q And one more question on Pakistan. More than 300 people have died in the earthquake in Balochistan. Has the U.S. offered any kind of assistance to --
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Pakistan, and we always stand ready to assist in any way we can in a terrible situation like that, a natural disaster. And it is certainly the case that Pakistan has suffered more than its fair share of natural disasters. For more specific information in terms of any requests or what kind of communications we’re having with Pakistan over their response, I would refer you to the State Department.
Q The President and you, obviously, made a number of Sherman-esque statements refusing to negotiate around the debt ceiling. Does the same go for the CR?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q You will negotiate on the CR?
MR. CARNEY: No, we've made clear -- well, look, we don’t have a lot of time. And instead of taking the road of like seriousness and compromise, House Republicans decided to, as everybody here wrote -- or at least your colleagues on the Hill wrote and said on television -- embrace a CR that was a dead-on-arrival, ideologically driven exercise. So we're still playing out -- we're still -- unfortunately, we can't run Congress all by ourselves, so that process, that choice that Speaker Boehner made is still playing out this week as we inch closer and closer to October 1st.
So we're at a point now where Congress needs to do the right thing and simply make sure that we pass a CR -- that they pass a CR that allows the government to continue to function.
Q So the fallback plan being considered by Speaker Boehner and House Republicans is to take what the Senate does, assuming they delink the defunding, and add a one-year delay to the individual mandate or a repeal of the medical device tax -- is that negotiable?
MR. CARNEY: Here's the thing. Every fallback plan is another attempt to appease a subsection of the Republican Party that happens to be the same subsection of the Republican Party that thinks it would be fine to default in order to achieve a political objective.
Q I'm just talking about the spending bill here.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the provisions you talked about they've talked about attaching to the debt ceiling, and the answer is no. The answer is no. We're not going to -- Congress has -- the House Republicans, elected and paid by the Americans they represent, have chosen to spend an inordinate amount of time in office trying to roll a rock up a hill and undo legislation that was passed by both houses, signed by the President into law, upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States, and has been in the process of being -- of providing benefits to millions of Americans already, and will soon provide substantial benefits to millions more. And they're entitled to that preoccupation, and their constituents can decide whether that is time well spent -- 40, 41, 42 efforts that go nowhere.
And in the relative harm-caused category, there is relatively less harm caused by that activity than an effort to attach that political agenda to the essential functions of government, to threaten to shut down the government if we can't achieve -- if they can't achieve what they couldn’t achieve when the bill was passing through Congress, what they couldn’t achieve at the ballot box, what they couldn’t achieve in a Supreme Court that I don’t think anyone here would describe as ultra-liberal. So this is bad for America.
And now they’re trying to do this when we are on the cusp of millions of Americans and American families across the country who have not been able to afford health insurance, having available to them affordable health insurance. And the message they’re going to be delivering is, we don’t have an alternative but we want to take that away from you because politically we think that’s the right thing to do.
Q If they attach that, that is vetoed --
MR. CARNEY: I mean, look, I don’t have a formal thing, but we would not accept that.
Anita, last one.
Q Can you talk a little bit about tomorrow’s community college event? It’s tomorrow, right? The last few speeches that he has given on the economy or health care have included criticisms of Republicans. We’re a few days away from the deadline. I’m just wondering how you see that would be helpful to this process, the negotiation process.
MR. CARNEY: Look, we are in policy debates with the other party. We are a two-party system, and we are engaged in debates about what policies we think are best to move the country forward, to help the middle class expand, to give the middle class a better bargain, and to ensure that millions of Americans who have not had access to affordable health care can have access to affordable health care. And obviously there are elected officials who oppose the positions that the President holds and that Democrats hold on to those issues, and so that’s part of the discussion.
I assume your tongue is planted firmly in cheek when you even raise this after what we’ve witnessed over the past few days, right? When it comes -- the idea that we’re alone in asserting what we believe is the right policies and making clear what we believe are the wrong policies is not worn out by close examination of the facts, as they say.
Q I’m not at all saying that they aren’t doing the same thing. I’m just wondering --
MR. CARNEY: Again, and I’m not even previewing tomorrow’s speech. What I would say is wait for tomorrow’s speech.
Q Well, I’m just saying a few days before the deadline, how is any of this helpful instead of sitting down and talking about it?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the Speaker of the House chose, instead of pursuing a compromise approach, to listen -- he had a plan, which didn’t work, again, because of the more conservative members of his conference objecting to it. So instead of pressing forward with the plan he thought was right as Leader of the House and Leader of the House Conference, he has proceeded with a plan that a subsection of his conference believes is right. And that has brought us further away from the compromise that we need before October 1st in order to ensure that the government continues to function.
2:20 P.M. EDT