Press Briefing

December 06, 2013 | 01:01:58 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

Download mp4 (619MB) | mp3 (149MB)

Read the Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/6/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:00 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  I want to wish you all a happy Friday, even though it’s raining, and say that I have a topper. 

Today, as part of our daily messaging effort to highlight specific benefits of the health care law that are already making  a big difference for families and our economy, the White House and supporters of reform are focusing on how, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, growth in health care costs is at historically low levels along multiple dimensions.

According to the most recent projections, health care spending grew at the slowest rate on record over the last three years.  Real per-person spending grew at just a 1.3 percent rate.  And this slow growth was seen in Medicare, Medicaid and in private insurance.  Health care price inflation is at its lowest level in 50 years.

The health care law is contributing to this progress through provisions that reduce waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare.  The law is also reducing costs and improving quality through a variety of innovative reforms, including by providing incentives to hospitals to reduce the readmission rates.  In fact, today, HHS is announcing new data showing that these incentives have avoided 130,000 readmissions for people following a hospital stay over the last two years. 

High readmission rates, which is the percentage of patients being discharged from the hospital and then having to be re-hospitalized is costly for patients, insurance companies, and if the patient is on Medicare, to taxpayers too.  It also can be a sign of low-quality care.

So this new data is another step in the right direction for patients and for taxpayers.  Overall, these trends are encouraging news for families, businesses, and our economy.  When families spend less on health care, they feel more secure in their own budgets.  When businesses spend less on health care, they can hire more workers.  And over the past 45 months, as you know, businesses here in the United States have created more than 8 million new jobs -- which is a perfect segue to something I just wanted to note.

Today, as you know, of course, from information that was released earlier this morning, is Jobs Day.  And figures on job creation in November were announced.  And I think it’s worth noting, when you look at this graph, that not only obviously was the economy in free fall, and job loss was terrible at the end of 2008 and early 2009 when President Obama took office, and not only has the trajectory since then been consistently in the right direction, but if you note when we first began on a monthly basis positive job creation in the wake of the Great Recession, it was right around when the Affordable Care Act passed. 

Now, this is obviously not a direct correlation, but we're moving in the right direction.  The information I cited in the beginning about the positive effects of the Affordable Care Act on reducing the growth in health care costs combined with the steady job creation we've seen now for so many months reinforces a number of things about the Affordable Care Act and about the need that the President spoke of a few days ago to continue to focus on those trends, making the move in the right direction, and increasing job growth even further.

With that, I'll take your questions.  Jim.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  On the President's travels to Africa for Nelson Mandela's services -- one, I wondered if you could give us more specific details on what the timing might be; as you know, there's a memorial service, there's also a funeral; Mr. Mandela is also lying in state.  And will the President invite other former U.S. Presidents to accompany him on this trip?

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you for those questions, Jim.  And I should have noted at the top, obviously for those of you who didn’t hear the President speak in the wake of the news of President Mandela's death, I would point you to those remarks.

All I can say at this point is that President Obama and the First Lady will go to South Africa next week to pay their respects to the memory of Nelson Mandela and to participate in memorial events.  At this point, I don’t have more information for you on logistics or the timing of the travel.  That is all being worked out.  And in terms of others who are going to make that trip, I would refer you to them at this time. 

We'll have more information.  We hope to have it fairly quickly, and when we do we'll be able to provide it to you. 

Q    But I mean, yes, it's up to others whether they go, but would the President invite them to travel on Air Force One?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, at this point, I just don’t want to get ahead of a process that’s being worked on as I speak in terms of the timing and logistics for the whole trip.  And when we have that information, we'll get it to you right away.

Q    On the jobs numbers, you've been there and other White House officials have told us that the shutdown and the sequester were going to have dire consequences with job growth and with economic growth, and today's numbers obviously are a welcome surprise for you guys.  Is some of the austerity simply just not having the effect that you all predicted?

MR. CARNEY:  I would not look to what we said about it and have predicted about it, but to what outside private economists have said about the effect of the sequester on job creation and of course of the shutdown on jobs and economic growth.  You're talking about trying to prove a negative or a counterfactual, but they say, those economists, that absent those impacts, the picture would be even better than it is.

And let me just be clear:  No one in this building, no one who works on these issues in the administration is satisfied even with the steady progress that we've been making and the positive news today.  It's nowhere near enough for the President, as you heard him talk about just a few days ago.  We need to keep working on this problem. 

Seven percent employment, just like 7.3 percent -- I mean, unemployment -- just like 7.3 percent unemployment is far too high.  And we need to keep doing everything we can here in Washington to make sure that we're not inflicting any wounds on the economy, not setting it back, which is what happened with the shutdown, but investing in it and making the right choices about it so that we can build the foundation necessary for further economic growth, for further private sector job creation.  That's what the President is focused on.

And something that these numbers don't address but that the President talked about the other day is of a continuing concern to him and to so many around the country, and that is the growing inequality and the diminishing ability for Americans who are born in the lowest quintile, the lowest 20 percent, to move up, move up the economic ladder.  That upward mobility has been something so elemental to America’s economic experience and Americans’ identity that it’s something that merits a great deal of attention and focus, as the President discussed the other day.

Q    In terms of the long-term unemployed, do you still believe --

MR. CARNEY:  This is a problem.

Q    Well, and should that -- the CBO estimates $25 billion is the cost for UI extension.  Should that be paid for?  Or is the White House position that it’s an emergency issue and --

MR. CARNEY:  We've had a plan put forward on this and I would refer you to that plan.  The President made clear the other day, and I will again, that we believe Congress ought to act on this.  Congress has in the past, in a bipartisan way.  I noted the 7 percent unemployment rate, which has ticked down from 7.3 percent, which is good news, but it is still far too high and it is still significantly higher than the 5.6 percent unemployment rate, which compelled President George W. Bush to sign an extension of unemployment benefits when he was in office.

And on the long-term unemployed, I think that the news we have today reinforces that we need to address this problem and to extend those unemployment insurance benefits to those individuals, because this is a persistent problem.  As I noted, when President Bush signed the law extending unemployment insurance benefits, the average person was unemployed for a period of I believe 17 weeks, and now it’s 36 weeks.  And what we saw today is that for that portion of the unemployed, even though the overall number of unemployed Americans fell in November, the number of long-term unemployed stayed pretty steady.  And that is more evidence that we need to address this problem and that it would be terrible to tell more than a million families across the country just a few days after Christmas that they’re out of benefits.

So we hope that Congress will, as it has in the past, address this challenge.

Q    Without offsets?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would just point you to our plan.


Q    We're a week away now from the deadline for lawmakers to come to a budget deal.  How close does the White House feel lawmakers are getting to that?  And is the White House insisting that part of that deal include something on extending UI?

MR. CARNEY:  I'll start with the second part first.  We, as the President said, believe Congress should extend unemployment insurance.  The vehicle that they use to do that is less important than the fact that they do it.  So I'm not going to negotiate from the podium about how that gets done.

And on the ongoing discussions and negotiations in Congress on the issue of a budget agreement, I would simply say that we hope and expect that they can reach one.  But I don't want to characterize the progress in any way except to say that any sense that there is a return to an ability for each side to come together and to reach a compromise on budget matters would be welcome.

And that is certainly what we've talked a lot about and we talked a lot about this over the course of the year -- a return to regular order.  But I don't want to prejudge any work that's being done or make any predictions about how successful they will be, except to say that we obviously hope they will be.

Q    How's the White House involved in this, if at all?

MR. CARNEY:  We are regularly involved in discussions with those on Capitol Hill who are engaged in this process.  But this is something, as we've talked about before, that needs to be worked out by the relevant committees and the relevant leaders in those chambers who need to reach a compromise so that we can move forward, avoid another government shutdown, address some of the self-inflicted wounds that have occurred over the past, including the indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts that the sequester imposed that both Democrats and Republicans have noted as a problem.

So we're engaged.  We provide information.  We consult regularly with those working on this process.  But this is something that Congress needs to achieve. 

Q    We're also about a week away from the anniversary of the shooting at Newtown, and I was wondering if the President is going to be doing anything next week to talk about that issue, gun violence?

MR. CARNEY:  That day for him and I think for all of us will stick in our memories forever.  In terms of what he or we will be doing around that anniversary, I don’t have any information to provide today.  But it certainly will be a somber occasion.

I want to do what I did the other day, just because I realized for going on three years now, because of my habit of -- maybe because this is my better side, that I start over here -- that I've been getting to the right a little late here, and I'm all about getting to the right.  (Laughter.) 


Q    Okay.  So we'll start on the --

MR. CARNEY:  And then I'll do Jim.  I'm going to do -- okay.

Q    Just a couple of things to go through some of the busy work in terms of Nelson Mandela's passing.  Can you tell us the last time the President did have contact with Nelson Mandela?  We know they spoke occasionally with letters and calls.  When was the last time they actually spoke or communicated?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we're looking at this.  I don’t have a specific date.  I believe it might have been 2010 or 2011, by phone.  I know that Nelson Mandela called the President when he won the presidency in 2008, and I know they spoke by phone on several occasions after that.  But I'll have to get, and I'm sure we have, the last occasion on which they spoke. 

You probably also know that the First Lady and the Obamas’ daughters traveled to South Africa and met with Nelson Mandela.  I believe that was in 2011.  But on the President's last conversation, we'll have to get that information to you.

Q    And then it's still a work in progress in terms of plans for your South Africa trip.  Are there any plans in the works to go to the South African Embassy here where there's a statue that honors Nelson Mandela and some --

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any scheduling updates involving the President of that nature to provide.  And I want to forewarn you that because of the logistics that are still being worked on, I will not have a week ahead to give to you at the end of this briefing.  But we'll get one to you when it's all prepared. 

I did myself drive by that yesterday, and the number of people obviously had already gathered as well as the media.  And it's -- that statue just went up.  It's pretty great to have it here in Washington.

Q    Digressing to a couple other separate topics.  On the Affordable Care Act, the Government Accountability Institute, the GAI analysis shows that between July of 2010 and November, the end of November of this year, the President's public schedule was released showing that there were zero one-on-one meetings with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, though there were 277 other one-on-one meetings with other members of his Cabinet.  That draws some questions about the President's leadership skills as the chief executive.  And I'm curious what the White House response --

MR. CARNEY:  Peter, I wish you had called me beforehand because I'm in a very charitable mood today, so I won't go too strong on this.  But that report -- not the report you cited -- but the published report that was written by an advocate is based on a ridiculously false premise.  As those of you who remember stories about WAVES records that supposedly indicated that Hillary Clinton, then-Secretary of State, met surprisingly infrequently with the President, showed that, with a little digging -- which most of you know -- Cabinet Secretaries don’t regularly get entered into the visitors logs because they come frequently.  And Kathleen Sebelius comes frequently, and she meets frequently with the President. 

I will refer you to the Department for more information and more detail.  But she’s here a lot and meets with the President with regularity.  And with the exception of when you look at public calendars and things, there are standing meetings for the secretaries of Defense, State and Treasury that this President has that are regular things, but he meets with other Cabinet secretaries in one-on-ones and small groups all the time.  And I would note that those calendars may never show a meeting I’ve had with the President -- I had two yesterday.  So that’s how it works.

Q    And I have one final question then on the topic that we started with, which is Nelson Mandela.  And I guess the question a lot of people will be thinking about when we consider the life of Nelson Mandela and the challenges that exist in our own country is, what lessons Washington can learn from the example of Nelson Mandela?  I’m curious.  Because I know you’ve had conversations within the White House, and what you think the message that we can learn is.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the President put it very well yesterday and in remarks he made when he was in South Africa earlier this year about the remarkable example that Nelson Mandela set when he was released from prison and made clear that he would embrace those who jailed him and that he would seek to help build a South Africa that judged every person by his or her character and not by his or her skin color.  And I think that sort of spirit of reconciliation, as the President said yesterday, is one that should imbue the work that all of us do here -- at a professional level and, as the President said, on a personal level.  But I cite the President here because he said it best.


Q    Picking up on Peter’s question about Nelson Mandela, it just sort of struck me that the President talked about this great impact that he had on his life, but he only met with Nelson Mandela one time face-to-face.  I was just curious, for people who are wondering, if you could provide more details about Nelson Mandela’s influence on the President’s life.  Have you had a chance to talk to him about this?  I know he made some comments about this yesterday.  People might just be wondering.  They only met one time, but yet he had a big impact.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that Nelson Mandela had a profound impact on millions and millions of people around the world, and beginning with the citizens of South Africa -- millions and millions of people who have never met him -- who never met him.  And the President, as senator, had the good fortune to meet him.  But I don’t think that’s the reason why he had an influence on Barack Obama.  That influence extends, as he said yesterday, well back in time. 

And I know those of us who were in college in the ‘80s remember the debates and protests that were happening on college campuses over divestment in South Africa because of apartheid.  I think that’s what the President was referencing in his own experience.  I know I had a similar experience in college during that time.  And it was a profoundly important issue internationally.  And the amazing transformation that happened from that period to his release, and then not much time later, just a few years, to his election as President was part of an era of historic change around the world that I think will be remembered as such for a long, long time.

So I know that’s the -- the President has spoken a lot about this, not just last night, so I would point you to what he has said in the past.  But it’s a remarkable thing, and you guys all in broadcast and in print have been doing a terrific job of celebrating his life and noting how unique he is in world history.  I mean, there is just -- there is no debate around the world about the fundamental goodness of this man.  It wasn’t always that way, but it is today.

Q    And we’re getting really close to -- Roberta was talking about dates -- but to December 23rd, when people have to sign up for insurance to have coverage starting on the first of the year.  January 1st, which is a date when a lot of people are just going to be focused on, well, is the system actually working the way it should be working -- any concerns at all about these dates that are coming up?

MR. CARNEY:  We’re extremely focused on it, and especially the teams at CMS and the tech teams that Jeff Zients is working with -- because, as I noted earlier, that even though we met the goal that we set with the website for the end of November, we’re still engaged in a lot of work and we still have a lot of work to do to make sure that we continue to address whatever problems remain with the website so that it is functioning as effectively as it can for the millions of Americans who want to use it, and that we’re doing all the other things that we talked about to improve this period of implementation and enrollment. 

That includes what CMS is doing to reach out to everyone who has chosen a plan to make sure they’re communicating with their issuer and know that they need to, if they enrolled for insurance to kick in on January 1st, that they obviously need to meet whatever premium deadline is set by their issuer.  They’re making sure that everyone who enrolled is enrolled, in fact, and addressing the challenges that were particularly keen in the beginning of this process -- on the backend, the 834 forms.

This process is still going on, and we’re obviously encouraged by the progress that’s been made.  But there continues to be a lot of work to do, and the work is not about -- somebody I spoke to today, a reporter, was sort of asking about corners being turned and things and what that means for the President.  It’s what it means for the people who are trying to get insurance.  And what is remarkable --

Q    Do you feel like you’re turning a corner?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m saying I feel like we’re making progress.

Q    Are you seeing the corner?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we’re making progress, but we’re not there yet and we’re not going to suggest that we’re there yet, because this is about making sure that the millions of Americans who have persistently showed that they want what the exchanges offer are rewarded with an experience that allows them to shop and select the coverage that they think suits their lives best and their pocketbooks best.  So that's the work we're undertaking, and that's what the President is focused on and everyone else.

Last one, Jim.

Q    Can I get one more question in there?  The President was asked by Chris Matthews about choosing between the Vice President and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Is the President just going to stay out of it?  Is he just going to stay to the sidelines here?

MR. CARNEY:  Jim, it's 2013.  And what I can say is that --

Q    We can't help ourselves.

MR. CARNEY:  I know, I know.  I couldn't either when I was a reporter.  But the fact of the matter is the President -- I'm echoing the President here, that the President is enormously grateful for the service of Hillary Clinton as his exceptional Secretary of State in the first term, and is ever grateful for the extraordinary service that Joe Biden provides as Vice President that we've seen just this week on his very important foreign trip. 

The President feels lucky to have had Hillary Clinton on his team and to have Joe Biden on his team, and that's what he's focused on.

I'm going to do a little in the back, Jon, and then I'll get you next.  Voice of America.

Q    Thank you.  Ambassador Rice had a very heartfelt statement about Nelson Mandela, and she also had this major address of human rights the other day, which got some attention.  Did she consult -- how closely did she consult with the President on that speech?

MR. CARNEY:  On that speech itself?  Oh, I know he was aware of it, and they meet every day.  I don't know how much they talked about it.  But I know she felt strongly about the speech, and encourage everyone here who hasn't seen it to read it.  But as you would expect, because she's the National Security Advisor to the President, they spent a lot of time together.  So I'm sure they discussed it.

Q    Can I ask you about one aspect of that?  On Iran, she said, “As we test the potential for a diplomatic resolution on the nuclear issue, another key test is whether we begin to see progress on human rights.”  So are human rights -- people who assume that human rights will be a separate track completely -- has human rights issues been raised at all, or will they be raised over the six-month period between now and --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think we raised the issue of human rights with regards to Iran and other countries, where we have profound issues with their poor track record on human rights.  And we will always do that and consistently do that. 

I think what Ambassador Rice was referencing is that the progress we've seen out of Tehran, in terms of their willingness to proceed with negotiations and to engage with the P5-plus-1 and to reach the agreement, the preliminary agreement that they reached, is important.  It is all based on actions, as far as we're concerned, and that's why it's so important that compliance is upheld, and all the verification measures are there to ensure that.  And that will be true all the way through to the completion, if there is one, of a comprehensive agreement.

But if that's achieved, that will be a good thing for the world and we think for Iran, but there are obviously other issues.  I think the people of Iran very much demonstrated in the election and have demonstrated since that they want improved relations with the world, that the isolation, their pursuit of a nuclear weapons program has brought onto them has been unwelcome.  But there's more to it than that.  So I think that's what she was talking about.


Q    On that one meeting that the President had with Nelson Mandela, have you ever talked to him about it?  Have you ever heard him reflect on that meeting? 

MR. CARNEY:  I have. 

Q    And what -- is there anything --

Q    I would let him discuss it.  But I think if you -- I can't remember if you were with us, but if you look at the occasions that he spoke about Nelson Mandela when we were in South Africa, I think it reflects his feelings about the example Nelson Mandela set, and how remarkable his life is, how unique he was.  So I wouldn't -- I would just point to what the President said, because there's a pretty long public record of comments about it.

Q    And then just a follow-up on the question of meetings.  So you’ve referred us to HHS.  Will HHS be able to tell us how many times --

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know.  Again, because --

Q    Because they tend to refer us back to here.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, no, I think on this case --

Q    They'll be prepared.

MR. CARNEY:  -- they'll have information for you.  The point I'm trying to make here is -- as I was making to a reporter earlier -- is that there's obviously a lot of folks out there who have been rightly critical of, and in general, opponents of Obamacare and the whole effort who have made arguments, and that's fine. 

This one is just based on bad information.  That's the only point I was making.

Q    And I just wanted to make sure we can get the correct --

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have all the figures in front of me, but if you think about the Cabinet and the importance of, in this presidency, in particular, health care matters and health care reform, it's safe to say that Kathleen Sebelius has been one of the more frequent visitors to an attendance of meetings with the President. 

So I don't have the figures, but if you -- there's the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Treasury, as well as Department of Homeland Security, to be sure.  And they all have spent a significant amount of time with the President and met with him on the issues that they oversee.  But because of the preeminence of health care and health care reform in this administration, first-term and second, it's safe to say that Secretary Sebelius spent a lot of time here.

Q    So could you just explain, though, how does -- because you mentioned that on the schedule we see that the standing meetings with Secretaries of Defense, State, Treasury, and the other meetings don't show up on the schedule.  How do you determine what you decide you're going to publicly notice, and what you're not going to?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we endeavor to put as much as we know in advance, and as much as we can on the public schedule that we release the day before.  We talk often about meetings that have happened that either are thrown on in the last minute.  I mean, when I mentioned that I was in to see the President a couple of times yesterday, they're not things that I knew I was going to be seeing him on the day before.  So I think it's a lot -- it's probably kind of like your lives, that, even though he's President, it's pretty fluid, and -- maybe not like your lives, but -- (laughter) --

Q    Ours is a little different.

MR. CARNEY:  But also, obviously, there are some meetings that he has that are private, and we don't put them on the public schedule for a variety of reasons. 

But I think especially those numbers that Peter was citing are based -- a lot of them are based on those standing weekly meetings, like the Vice President's standing lunch, weekly lunch, that are imprinted on there, and those numbers show up.


Q    I know the details are still coming together, but is it anticipated and has the President been invited to deliver remarks or a eulogy for Nelson Mandela?

MR. CARNEY:  I just don't have any more details for you on that question or any of the other logistics around the visit the President and First Lady will be making.

Q    By that, you’re not trying to imply he might not give remarks?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not trying to imply anything on this.  (Laughter.)  No, honestly, because this is, for obvious reasons, still being worked on.  And I promise you we'll get that information to you.  I know obviously for a lot of you and your organizations when it comes to coverage, is the sooner the better in terms of information and we'll get it as soon as we can.

Q    In the New Republic this morning there’s a posting that says the error rate for 834 processing is now down to 10 percent -- this is the kind of the topic we brought and discussed yesterday.  I wonder if you can tell me if that is a verifiable or verified-internally statistic that you are confident in discussing or amplifying, and if that’s the beginning of a greater, if not floodtide, at least larger data set on this 834 question that we can expect, if not today in the coming days.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the data sets would be coming from CMS, and I know they’re working on this issue broadly.  All I can say what I know with confidence -- and I try to deliver this information from here, only that information that I know with confidence and that I've checked out myself -- that we are confident that the error rate, which is a complicated thing, but that the overall number of errors and problems with the backend of the system and the 834 forms has been decreasing significantly since the October 1st launch date, and significantly over the course of November.

As I mentioned earlier this week, one of the major fixes that went in over the weekend prior to the change in the calendar to December was one that addressed some of these backend issues.  But I don't have a percentage figure to put on it.  I think that the only thing from that report that I can confirm is that we do know that it’s better now than it was.  We do know that there are still issues we need to work on, which is why CMS has stood up a regular meeting of experts with issuers to address these specific problems on the backend, because it’s very important that we make sure that every 834 is accurate, both past and present, and we're going to do that.

Q    And I want to follow up on Steve Collinson’s question from yesterday, because you mentioned the Vice President’s trip to Asia.  There is a sense in those dissecting not only the Vice President’s words, Secretary Hagel’s words and others, that though the United States formally rejects the ADIZ, that there is nothing it can do about it and may, in fact, be accommodating itself to its reality, even though it objects to it.  Is that a fair characterization?

MR. CARNEY:  I tried to be as clear as I could, and I would point you to the Vice President’s remarks today about this matter.  We, the United States, do not recognize and do not accept the newly announced East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone.  And it will not change -- will not change -- how the United States conducts military operations in the region.  It does not have any practical effect on U.S. government operations.

We have been very clear about our view on this, and have been clear not just in our public pronouncements but in the -- as the Vice President said -- in his meetings with Chinese leaders.

So the broader point I think we're trying to make to the Chinese is that this is not how major powers conduct themselves and that there is enormous danger in these kinds of provocative actions in a region of the world that --

Q    Picking up on that, it sounds as if the U.S. posture is to say to China, don't do anything like this again that could create any confusion, misunderstanding, or lead to a confrontation; and that though it doesn’t want to accommodate itself to it, it may in fact have to.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure where you're seeing that.  Obviously, China made an announcement.  It is for China to not implement it, which is what they're calling -- we're calling on them to do.  We don’t recognize it, we don’t accept it.

So an announcement is an announcement.  And the fact of the matter is, we've been very clear about our view of it and how we will react to it.  And our broader concern about the tension in the region and how these kinds of provocative actions could lead to miscalculation and to further tension in the region, which is not in the interest of any of the nations involved.


Q    On health care, I wanted to ask a couple.  You said yesterday and again today that in order to make sure people who have tried to sign up actually get their insurance starting on January 1st, that the administration is endeavoring to contact these people in some way to get their paperwork in order.  Wouldn’t that suggest you have some sort of enrollment figures?  If you're contacting people, you know that they enrolled.  So what are the enrollment figures for November?  We haven't heard those yet.

MR. CARNEY:  My understanding is, as was the case for October, that those numbers are being verified, scrubbed, data is being checked.  There's a lot to come in from states, and that HHS, CMS will provide those figures in the middle of the month, which I think is next week, consistent with the need to make sure that those numbers are tight. 

Obviously, we know October, and they can see who's pressed some buttons and reach out to them, and maybe they find out that this was part of the process -- you find out that maybe there was an error or duplication in that effort.  So in the release of numbers, we're going to be very consistent, which is to make sure they're as accurate as possible before we release them.  And that requires some time, especially in a circumstance like this where you have the federal site, which is administering the marketplaces on the number of states that it is, and then you have the individual states that are running their own marketplaces and providing data.  So that’s all being combined.  And we'll get it to you when it's ready, HHS will. 

The broader thing that we've been talking about -- I mean, I'm not -- I haven't disputed or confirmed any numbers out there because we're waiting for the hard, verified data.  I think that the reports that we've seen reflect what we believe based on the early information that we have, which is that the system is working much more effectively; that many more people are successfully enrolling, getting from beginning to end in the process; that the number of problems with the site has been reduced significantly, and that includes the frontend and the backend, but that we continue to work on it.

And these teams are working hard -- as hard this week as they were in previous weeks.

Q    Republican Darrel Issa has been releasing documents for weeks now.  He’s got more today that he says suggest that the small business exchange -- that the administration knew as early as August that the small business exchange would not be ready by October 1st.  I think there were -- it was indicated that there might be problems with it in September, but it was not until late November that you said we’re going to have to delay that small business exchange.  Was there any intent to --

MR. CARNEY:  I think it was September that they --

Q    But that you knew in August that there were problems and that -- their charge is that --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I’m confident in is that there are dribs and drabs of information that come out that partially reflect what’s happening at CMS and HHS.  I don’t have any specific information on this latest release of information.  But anything that reinforces the fact that the site had problems in October is probably something we’ll agree with.

Q    And it was mentioned in the MSNBC interview -- the President was asked about holding Cabinet secretaries and the Cabinet accountable, and is this a reflection of his personal management style, and he said it’s actually about these big government agencies that are outdated, they need to be fixed.

MR. CARNEY:  I think he was talking about procurement issues and IT issues, which he has talked about from here.

Q    But he said that these agencies are not designed properly.  My question is, is he passing the buck?  Is there not any changes that need to be made at the White House?

MR. CARNEY:  No, no, no, no, no.  He has stood before you, and believe me, there are people who think he has --

Q    But he hasn’t talked about changes at the White House.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, are you asking me --

Q    Are there going to be changes at the White House -- management, structure?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no personnel announcements to make.  What I can say is that a lot of reporting around this has been inaccurate.

Q    Well, what’s that?

MR. CARNEY:  Here is what I can tell you.  The President believes very strongly that we ought to be functioning effectively at all levels of the government on behalf of the taxpayers.  And he has put forward -- in fact, Jeff Zients helped run that process -- put forward a pretty significant streamlining of some of our government agencies in a very sensible proposal that he certainly hopes Congress would act on.  Now, that has to do with agencies not related to the Affordable Care Act implementation.  But I think the broader view that it reflects is that the President thinks we ought to bring up to date the functionality of all of our activities here, and make it better, faster, more efficient and more responsive to the consumer -- and in this case, the consumer is obviously the taxpayer.

Q    Last one.  This interview was conducted at American University with students in the audience; the day before, the President went to a youth summit.  Harvard University put out a poll this week that got widely cited about young people seeming to be disillusioned with the health care law, maybe disillusioned with the President’s leadership.  My question is, is he concerned by going to the youth summit, engaging these students?  I know he’s done it before, but this week, as you unveil this PR campaign on the health care law, how concerned is this White House that the President’s base, particularly young people who supported him big time in ’08 and 2012, are abandoning him on health care?

MR. CARNEY:  I’d say a couple of things.  The outreach to young Americans regarding enrollment and implementation of Obamacare has to do with a longstanding observation and a plan around it that we need young people to enroll.  And that is true regardless of polling data on the Affordable Care Act.  It was always going to be true, and it’s always going to be important, and it was always the case, as I think we’ve discussed here in this room, that young people in particular were more likely to wait until later stages in the enrollment process to enroll. 

And so this effort is part of a broader effort that is and will be undertaken to make sure that young Americans around the country understand the advantages of having insurance and the need to have it and all the options available to them.

The poll you cite, I think I’ll leave it to folks on the political side who have looked at that.  There are some -- it’s in pretty stark disagreement with a whole series of other polls by organizations represented here, particularly on youth and the Affordable Care Act.  There are good polls and bad polls.  It’s not worth --

Q    There’s no fear that he’s losing his base?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, it’s not about fear or whatever.  There is no question that the problems we’ve had with implementation of the Affordable Care Act have created obstacles in the way of our efforts here.  I think a poll today -- something I saw today said that basically the percentage of Americans who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act has not changed at all in the last couple of months, and I think that speaks to the kind of entrenched political nature of this debate over the past several years. 

So it has always been in our view the case that you have to set aside those issues, those political issues, and focus on delivering the benefits of the law.  And we’ve been talking about that.  I talked about the improvements in health care costs, the reduction in the growth of health care costs that we’ve seen since the Affordable Care Act was passed.  That’s a sort of macro deliverable from the Affordable Care Act.  But we talked about preexisting conditions and the fact that the Affordable Care Act, beginning January 1st, ensures that no one with a preexisting condition can be denied insurance.  And already for a long time now because of the Affordable Care Act, children with preexisting conditions have not -- cannot be denied, have not been able to be denied coverage.

So we’re focused on delivering the benefits.  We know from similar data that breaks down what people say they like and want in health care reform that the benefits are broadly supported.  And we’ve seen, because of the remarkable resilience and grit of the American people, even when they’re trying to get insurance, that even when we, because of the troubles we’ve caused with the site that it was entirely incumbent upon us to fix, that they’re still there demonstrating in high volume the fact that they believe that this is something they need and want and want to know more about.

So that’s why we’re focused on delivering those benefits to them.  We’ll see down the road how people view the Affordable Care Act and the benefits that it provides.  Right now, we’re going to just get about the business of delivering.

Dow Jones.

Q    Thank you, Jay.  I know you have said and the President has said he wants to extend unemployment insurance.  Do you have ideas about how to pay for that?  I know that Jason Furman told Reuters in an interview today that the White House has ideas for paying for it.

MR. CARNEY:  I think we’ve put forward a plan.  I mean, this is something that we’re not new to the game on.  And I would just point -- I don’t have the details of it.  I know that we’re looking to Congress to do what it has in the past, which is sit down and figure out a way to get this done because of the need not to throw -- the imperative of not depriving or withholding benefits to over a million families right after Christmas, A; B, because of the economic impact, positive impact that supplying these benefits would provide. 

So I can take the question and point you to Jason and others who have more detail on it.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  Two questions.  First of all, earlier you observed that job creation started around the passage of the ACA.  Are you suggesting any relationship there?  Or if not, why mention it?

MR. CARNEY:  As I said, I’m not suggesting a direct correlation.

Q    So why mention it?

MR. CARNEY:  Because there is an argument out there -- and I’m, again, in a charitable mood today, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it -- but there is an argument out there that the ACA is a job killer, and the data would suggest otherwise.  I’m not saying it’s creating these jobs, but there’s been an argument out there that the ACA is going to drive people into part-time employment. 

But the data -- you’ve got to -- it’s one thing to make an argument.  You’ve got to back it up with some data.  And the data suggests the opposite, or suggests that that is not true, because there’s been very positive -- the trend is very positive when it comes to increasing full-time employment versus part-time employment.  In fact, the recovery from this recession, the percentage of people going into full-time jobs rather than part-time jobs is actually better than average. 

So again, I’m not saying that’s because of the Affordable Care Act, but I’m saying that the arguments that the Affordable Care Act is causing these problems don’t hold up when you look at that data.

Q    And my second question is, in March and in September, when we faced continuing resolution and government shutdown questions, the White House set a standard of, if negotiations to find something better fail, we won't ever advocate a shutdown, we will let current law take place.  Is that the position going forward?

MR. CARNEY:  We believe that it's a good time not to predict failure.  So we think that Congress ought to do what it's been doing, which is working collaboratively to reach a compromise and a budget arrangement.  So we certainly oppose a shutdown, and I think -- I’m certain that our view of what happened in September and October has not changed and will always apply, which is that the harm done by a shutdown is wholly unnecessary and was a decision made for pretty expressively political reasons back in September and October by Republicans that turned out to be very bad for the economy.


Q    For the jobs numbers that are out today, the President, even just a couple days ago, in the economic speech at THEARC, we're not seeing new policy initiatives being pushed out by the White House.  So is the President comfortable with the decrease in unemployment as it has been?

MR. CARNEY:  Not at all.

Q    Or does he want to whittle it down sooner or faster or at a greater pace?  And what's he doing to achieve that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I appreciate the question, and I would point you to what the President said the other day.  We need to invest in our infrastructure.  Republicans used to support that with Democrats.  We needed to get that done.  We need to -- when the President has put forward an idea of doing that, and also lowering our corporate tax rate and eliminating loopholes in a way that would be a better bargain for jobs in this country.  We need to invest in universal pre-K. 

We need to continue to do the things that the President has put forward to attract jobs to America from overseas and to bring home jobs from American companies that are located overseas, bring them home, to build on those trends.  We need to continue to build on the trends, the positive trends, we've seen in the manufacturing sector in this country, represented by the automobile companies but also by a host of other positive signs and developments in manufacturing.

So, no, the President is not the least bit satisfied or complacent with where we are.  That's why he really believes that we ought to have a spirited conversation about what are we going to do to reduce inequality, what are we going to do to increase the number of jobs overall, but in particular the number of jobs that pay a middle-class wage and provide middle-class security to families across the country.

And he said in that speech that he believes that we can get some of this done with Congress.  And where Congress refuses to move, he will take action that he can on his own, because this is his fundamental preoccupation.

Q    Is he waiting until the State of the Union or some other future date to roll out a specific legislative package?  I just feel like Congress is --

MR. CARNEY:  Jared, I promise not to bore you with the numerous legislative proposals that are already out there, reflected in his budget and elsewhere, that would grow jobs now and create the foundation for further job growth in the future.  He noted that in his speech, that he has a number of proposals that he will again focus on -- because, as I was noting, a lot of them are of the nature that in the past have enjoyed bipartisan support and should in the future. 

And he looks forward to -- he calls on everyone in Congress of both parties to put forward ideas.  If they have ideas that they think are better, that they disagree with the President's approach to narrowing the gap that we've seen, the growing gap when it comes to inequality, or increasing upward mobility, he's all ears, and looks forward to having that conversation.

Zack.  I mean, sorry, Isaac, and then -- 

Q    Has the President given any new consideration --

MR. CARNEY:  I called on Zack already.

Q    It's all right.

MR. CARNEY:  You guys kind of look like, do you know that?  (Laughter.) 

Q    Thanks. 

Q    He went to the same high school --

MR. CARNEY:  Really?

Q    Yes.  Has the President given any new consideration to the executive order proposed to raise the minimum wage on federal contractors?

MR. CARNEY:  We strongly believe -- and I neglected to mention this, Jared, and this gives me the opportunity -- that Congress ought to act on the longstanding precedent of bipartisan cooperation when it comes to raising the minimum wage, because that will have an immediate positive impact on the lives of millions of Americans and on our economy.  And as the President noted the other day, the counterarguments upon scrutiny don't hold up, as studies show about raising the minimum wage.  So we ought to do that as soon as possible.

So he thinks there is the opportunity, given the history here, given the interest that has been expressed by some Republicans in getting this done to do it, and to demonstrate to the American people that we here in Washington can take action.  Remember, the studies out there show it doesn't have an adverse impact on businesses or job creation or growth -- quite the contrary.  And it doesn't cost the taxpayer to do it.  So we ought to do it.

Q    But progressives in Congress say that he should lead by example on the federal contractors in raising the minimum wage there, doing something that he can do on his own, and not waiting for Congress to act. 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think I've said, broadly speaking, not addressing this, that the President is always looking for ways to move the ball forward where Congress won't work with him to do that.  But he believes this is an opportunity for Congress to work with him in concert towards a goal that will help millions of Americans and help the economy.

Q    So he won't sign it before --

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not going to speculate about a hypothetical like that.  I think his focus, as he said the other day, is on Congress taking action.

Yes, sir.

Q    Jay, just to follow up on something else the President said on that, I guess you call it, TV talk show yesterday.  (Laughter.)  He said he was going to be proposing some --

MR. CARNEY:  It's not like a newfangled thing.  (Laughter.)  

Q    I don't know exactly what that show was.  I watched it, but I couldn't quite figure it out.  But he said he was going to be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA.  Where does that process stand?

MR. CARNEY:  It's underway.  And the President is continuing to review ideas.  And I think it's important that he noted an important point yesterday -- it's not well said -- but he made an important point yesterday that I know he believes deeply that the work done by NSA and others in our intelligence agencies is vital to keeping America and Americans safe, as well as keeping our allies safe, and we can't lose sight of that. 

But I think the President said in those comments yesterday things that reflected and echoed what he said in the past about things that we can do and reforms that we can make that are wise, without forgetting the fundamental mission that is undertaken by our intelligence community is designed to and does make Americans and America safer.

Q    We understand he’s going to get a report next week from the advisory group that he named about the NSA.  Is that sort of the pivot point on --

MR. CARNEY:  I just don't have any scheduling announcements on that issue to provide today.  But he’s actively engaged in this process.


Q    Since we're talking about legislative agenda, after the shutdown there were three things that the President said he wanted to see -- immigration reform, a farm bill and a budget.  And the House is about to leave.  Is there any sort of timetable on those, or is there any way to get those, or is it just an ongoing process?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we talked about budget negotiations that are underway.  And when it comes to the farm bill and the effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform, the President still believes that Congress can act and should act as soon as possible, and could act right away -- the House could -- when it comes to these issues.  So on the farm bill --

Q    They could, but they’re not with us.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that's a shame if that’s the case.  They’re not gone yet, and they ought to do something between now and their departure that could signal to the American people that, in the case of the farm bill, that we have all the necessary elements of that important legislation taken care of on behalf of our agricultural sector as well as on behalf of Americans who depend on food and nutrition assistance. 

And when it comes to comprehensive immigration reform, as I've said in the past and conservatives have said in the past, there are many things about comprehensive immigration reform that conservatives could take to the hustings and make a strong case for, including strong economic growth; including bringing people out of the shadows and making sure that they get to the back of the line in the process to become citizens and that they’re paying all their taxes; including holding businesses accountable so that everybody plays by the same set of rules; including and making further improvements to our border security; including making necessary reforms to our legal immigration system so that our high-tech industries in particular can take advantage of the talent that we see in American universities with foreign students who want to stay here, want to start businesses, want to go work for startups.

So there’s a lot to like in comprehensive immigration reform and a lot that Republicans and conservatives could like.  And a lot of Republicans support it.  Let’s not lose sight of that.  It passed the Senate with a bipartisan majority, a strong one.  It has support from across the political spectrum -- law enforcement, evangelicals, business, labor.  It has support from very, very senior Republican lawmakers and a former President and governors.  So there’s a real opportunity here for getting something significant done for our economy and our future that could be heralded as a bipartisan success story.

Ann, I'll give you the last one.

Q    Thank you very much.  Back on the NSA.  When the President volunteered the phrase yesterday that he will recommend “self-restraint” on the NSA, does that indicate that even if he hasn’t gotten this report yet that he believes the NSA’s overall surveillance program is important enough that he doesn’t think it needs to be reined in to the extent that many of those who worry about --

MR. CARNEY:  Is this like a dissection of different verbs?  I think what he said is pretty clear and I think it reflects his belief -- as I was saying earlier to Peter -- that there are steps that we can and should take to make sure, as he has said in the past, that we're not -- that we are doing everything we need to do and collecting all the information that we need to collect -- because we should collect it for our safety and security and because we should and can do it within the confines of the law, but that we're not doing it just because we can. 

And that's the sort of umbrella under which these reviews have been taking place and how he is evaluating the options available to him when it comes to the changes that are going to be made.

Thanks, all.  Have a great weekend.  I will -- we'll get you a week ahead as soon as we can and more information about next week as soon as we can.  Take care.

2:06 P.M. EST

Close Transcript