Press Briefing

February 22, 2010 | 1:00:12 | Public Domain

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

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Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/22/10

*Press Secretary Gibbs was referring to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874.

12:31 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, sir.

Q    A few questions on health care, Robert.  The detail about a new rate authority to oversee and shoot down premium increases that are deemed to be unjustified, unreasonable -- how is that not big government, the feds getting into the business of regulating and shooting down rate increases?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, Ben, you understand and you've heard both the President, on numerous occasions, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services discuss unjustifiable rate increases by insurance companies that are experiencing profits and whose rate increases -- proposed rate increases greatly outstrip health care inflation.

I don’t think anybody would consider what a state insurance commissioner would do to be regulating the increases, largely unjustifiable, for health insurance to be an intrusion in their lives, but in fact a help.  This is a process that we’ll work through with the Secretary of Health and Human Services in order to ensure that the public has some protection against this, Ben.

I think -- we’ve certainly seen a lot of the coverage around individuals that received those letters.  We know that this is not the first time, and I doubt it will be the last time -- unless we get comprehensive reform in place -- that people will see in the individual market rate increases near 40 percent.

Q    On the bigger picture, about the overall plan, would the President be willing to accept anything less ambitious than this?  In other words, is this a starting point or is this a minimum?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I think -- well, look, I think this is a starting point.  I think this is what -- a series of ideas that relate to cost, that relate to insurance reforms, and that relate to coverage that the President would like to discuss on Thursday.

But, Ben, I think it’s a starting point in as much -- in as much as Republicans come to Thursday’s meeting with constructive proposals that they’re willing to discuss.  I think that's the key to having a successful bipartisan approach to this legislation, and that is the willingness for both sides to sit down, discuss common approaches to dealing with the skyrocketing costs, to dealing with insurance abuses, and finding a way, as we have said, to take those good ideas and put them into legislation.

Q    So if you get that kind of process the White House is willing to bend itself -- is willing to accept something less than what was put forward today?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, obviously the President believes that we have to do something on cost.  The President believes we have to do something about insurance reforms.  The President believes we have to do something about the millions of Americans that don't have health care coverage.  We are tremendously hopeful, which is why the President posted ideas of his on the White House Web site today.  We hope Republicans will post their ideas either on their Web site, or we'd be happy to post them on ours, so that the American people could come to one location and find out the parameters of what will largely be discussed on Thursday.

But I think what comes out of Thursday will be predicated on a willingness by both sides to sit down and have face-to-face discussions and look for that commonality.  I think that's what the American people want Democrats and Republicans to do in Washington.

Q    One last one on this.  For Americans who are tuning back into this, process perhaps for the first time in a while, can you explain how this gets done?  You've got Democrats who are still divided over some of the key issues, about taxes and abortion language and so forth; Republicans are still saying start over.  So how do you take this plan and get it done?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, the process is going to start -- well, it started today with our posting of ideas.  We hope that it continues before Thursday with Republicans putting out more of their ideas.  And then we're going to work this through on Thursday.

I don't want to get ahead of a tactical legislative discussion, ahead of what the legislation might be, understanding that the President is hopeful that this is a broad discussion where good ideas can be incorporated.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, two questions, one on health care and one on financial reg.  Dan said this morning that after Thursday that the proposal that was put online this morning was designed to overcome a Republican filibuster if one were to occur.  Is that not a sign that you're ready to support reconciliation?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, look -- first of all, reconciliation, as you know, is a legislative vehicle that has been used on a number of occasions over the past many years.  In 2001, the $1.35 trillion tax cut that went through the Senate went through the very same way.  The tax cuts in 2003 -- $350 billion -- went through in a similar way.

Again, I don't think the President wants to get ahead of Thursday's meeting.  I think we believe there can and should be a constructive discussion.  I do think the President believes there ought to be an up or down vote on health care.

Q    But just even what you're saying now in terms of talking about the history of reconciliation sounds like you're paving the way for the use of that.

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I just simply do that for anybody that is hearing this as a word or a legislative vehicle that may not previously understand its scope and its history.

Q    But just saying that you -- the President wants an up or down vote, is that a sign that if that doesn't happen reconciliation is the way to go?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I think what that means is that we have seen in survey after survey that the American people want Republicans and Democrats to work together on health care reform.  That's our goal for Thursday.  I think it's premature to get ahead of what happens on Friday before Thursday.

Q    How is that getting ahead after 13 -- how many months on this?  Why can't you say yes or no?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think I answered Jeff's question, but, Helen, I --

Q    No, you didn't.

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I don't think it's --

Q    Is he for reconciliation or not?

MR. GIBBS:  The avenue exists if one wants to pursue it.

Q    Does he want to pursue it?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I don't think it makes any sense to get ahead of what happens with the legislation on Friday before discussion on Thursday.

Q    But it seemed like Dan got -- at least the signal this morning on the call, without saying -- I mean, he said you haven't decided whether or not to support it, but the direction seems moving that way with the comments about an up or down vote.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'm not going to get into prejudging the outcome of Thursday on Monday afternoon.

Q    All right.  Let me just ask the one financial reg question.  Does the White House -- would the White House consider having a consumer financial protection agency that is independent but is part of another regulator, or does it have to be a separate entity?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me check with NEC.  Look, I think obviously the elements of this are -- have to include the independent authority of a CFPA, whether it's housed in -- whether it's housed someplace I think is one thing, but does that -- does the office of the CFPA have the independent authority to act without the permission of wherever that is housed, I think that is what advocates on the consumer side, like Elizabeth Warren, have discussed as the appropriate authority with which to protect consumers and what's been envisioned.  I will double check with NEC, see if they have any other guidance.

Yes, sir.

Q    Walk us through the best-case scenario, in your view, of Thursday -- the Republicans come, they have some ideas, you guys have some ideas, then what?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, hopefully, that -- look, each of these -- each of what I've talked about, what the President has talked about, in terms of changes in cost, changes in insurance reform, changes in coverage, as well as fiscal impact, all of these sections will be discussed in detail at the meeting on Thursday.  I think envisioning if there are additional ideas that the Republicans have, that will cut costs for the American people.  If they've got a plan to do that, they discuss it, and the President agrees that it should be added, that would be -- I think we would hope that out of the process on Thursday, that would be yet another Republican idea incorporated into the legislation that would be ultimately and later considered by Congress.

Q    It would be -- you have the Senate bill, you have your list of fixes to it.  So it would be added to the list of fixes or changes?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm not a parliamentarian, Jake.  I don't --

Q    You worked in the Senate.

MR. GIBBS:  Which is why I'm now here.  (Laughter.)  But I don't -- there are certainly people that can do the legislative counsel -- look, I think suffice to say if we can get, and the President believes we can, get people in the room to discuss these things to come to a broad agreement, that legislative tactics is not what is going to hold up good ideas on both sides merged together from becoming law.

Q    But just in terms of expedience, I mean, the way that you guys -- theoretically, if nothing happens on Thursday, that is if there is no kumbaya moment, then you guys send the Senate bill to the House, the House passes it; then the fix goes through the Senate.

MR. GIBBS:  Jake, you asked me what I envision was going to happen on Thursday.

Q    Right.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't want to -- before the end of your question -- dispense theoretically with nothing happening on Thursday.  I think that would be a prejudgment that I don't think --

Q    Fair enough.  But if something does happen, it would be added to the fix, is the idea?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I'm not a parliamentarian.  I could seek some guidance from Legislative Counsel.

Q    There's one other thing I wanted to ask about.  You guys have been talking a lot about how premiums are going up at the same time that insurance company profits are going up -- the President talked about it in his weekly address, Secretary Sebelius talked about it.  Some of the insurance companies that Sebelius mentioned in her report and the President mentioned in his weekly address are non-profits -- specifically in Rhode Island, Oregon, and Michigan -- that have been operating at a loss and are by definition regulated by the state and non-profits.  Why are they included in the same breath as groups like Anthem BlueCross, that are for-profit ventures?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me check with HHS on -- and I would direct you also to them -- on the report.  Obviously, the notion of them in the breadth of making profits doesn't correlate to them because they're nonprofits.  I do think it is a demonstration, though, profit or nonprofit, we see what is happening to the cost of health care greatly outstripping health care increases as a result of health care inflation -- which health care inflation has always -- or in many ways over the past 15 or 20 years been greatly ahead of the average increases in normal cost of living.  What we're seeing now -- Anthem Blue Cross and others -- is something on an exponential magnitude of what we had seen in the past, even in that increase.

So I think that's why the President felt strongly about including the authority for rate review, and I think that's why the American people want -- the American people want someone to be on their side looking into this.


Q    Robert, based on the signals that you're getting from Republicans, does it appear that they're coming to that meeting willing to work with the White House, or resist this plan?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, Dan, I think this is largely -- I have not seen everything that everybody has said.  I saw the statement that Congressman Boehner put out.  Again, I think that the product that comes out of Thursday is dependent upon the Republican willingness to come and discuss health care solutions and be open to ideas and ensuring that those ideas are passed on to the people in the form of a change in health care reform.

I've seen certainly comments where folks have said, we should go just to tell everybody why this is a bad idea.  Well, that's great.  And I hope -- I just hope that the second page of the talking points that those guys -- that any individual would bring on that would be to list what you would do.

We do know this, that health care, as we've talked about, the price is skyrocketing; small businesses are dropping their coverage; some of them are going out of business; it's crippling families' budgets.  We know what it's doing to the federal government's budgets.  Simply saying no, simply discussing why we oppose -- why some people oppose one idea without bringing to that table a series and set of solutions that will help the problem is not fulfilling a role in representative democracy that's intended through their representation.

Q    I've got a question on Iran.  Has there been any sign at all that China might be more willing to embrace sanctions in light of the IAEA report?

MR. GIBBS:  I can check with NSC.  I have not heard anything specifically on China.  Look, I do believe, Dan, that one of the  -- the IAEA report represents one of the clearest denunciations of what the Iranians have been working on.  It is a clear -- it is clear and concise in the ways in which the Iranian government has taken steps to conceal over many years what it's done.  And I think this continues the nations of the P5-plus-1 and members of the IAEA and quite frankly the greater international community in collectively bringing forward the notion that Iran continues to thumb its nose at its international obligations.

The President has been clear, leaders in the IAEA and the P5-plus-1, our allies have been clear, that without a change in behavior the Iranian government faces necessary consequences.  We're working on that.  We've been -- we've worked quite closely with the Chinese on the strongest sanctions that have ever gone through the Security Council in resolution 1847 [sic] dealing with North Korea.*

So we believe strongly and I think the Chinese believe that an arms race either in the Middle East or an international arms race is in no way in their interests, particularly -- we certainly know that -- for what drives the Chinese economy, energy is a big part of it.  An arms race in the Middle East, which could clearly be touched off as a result of this, is not in the interests of anyone.

Q    Who would the race be with?  And why are you so hopeful about the summit coming up?

MR. GIBBS:  Helen, I think that, first and foremost, this is what a number -- we've heard a number of people say:  "We'd like to go through the President's plan with the President.  We'd like to bring forward our ideas."  We're happy to host the venue -- a venue for that to happen.

Q    The President has never taken a strong stand on most things and I think he doesn't come across that way.  That's why you've lost so much time.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, Helen, the President never believed that any of this would be easy, or that any of this would be fast.  This has been an issue that many Presidents for many decades have worked on.

Q    But he never should have left it to Congress to --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, the founders included a legislative branch for a reason, and we have to --

Q    They also expect the President to have leadership and --

MR. GIBBS:  Helen, I don't think anybody would -- we would not be at the point where we are were it not for the continued leadership of the President asking that members of Congress work to get this done.


Q    Following up on her question, how hopeful is -- and what are the chances, do you think, that a bill similar to the proposal the President put out today will be passed and signed into law?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think the President continues to be quite hopeful that we will get this done.  Again --

Q    What are the chances?  I mean, is it likely?  Do you think it's likely that it will be?

MR. GIBBS:  I do think it's likely that we'll get health care reform done this year because I think that the price of failure for everybody involved is far greater than anything else.  But I'll say this, Chip, I think -- again, I want to stress that the effectiveness of Thursday will be predicated upon the willingness of those involved, Democrat and Republican, President and Republican member of Congress, to look at, fairly evaluate the ideas that each bring to that table, and if there's commonality, figure out a way to get that into the proposal.

Now, if there -- again, as I said today, if you read in the paper that somebody says, "All I'm coming to do is to make sure that the American people know that what the President has proposed is a bad idea" -- well, again, you're elected to Congress or you're elected to the presidency to propose new ideas and solutions for the problems that everyday Americans face every day.  That's what we hope -- that's the constructive notion that we hope participants will bring to Thursday's event.

Q    Aren't the insurance companies sabotaging it?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think we've all, Helen, been struck by --

Q    Raising prices beyond the pale?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'll tell you what is amazing to read is when -- is when you take an insurance company that raises their rates 39 percent, like we saw in California, they're called out for raising their rates.  They say they're raising their rates because we don't have health care reform.  And then you figure out who has been pushing most against and funding the ads against health care, and you realize behind curtain number one are the same people that just jacked up rates.  I think that demonstrates probably as illustratively as anything why health care reform can't wait.

Q    If you talk to people on Capitol Hill, they say if it's likely that a bill similar to this is going to pass then it's likely that it's going to have to be done by reconciliation.  So, I mean, to get something like this through, you've got to do reconciliation.

MR. GIBBS:  But again, Chip, if what the President wanted to do was simply not listen and take that through the process, we would be having a discussion about the process, not about the event on Thursday.  The President wants to hear people bring their ideas about how this will change costs, how this will increase coverage --

Q    We've already heard what they're going to do.  I mean, as you mentioned, Boehner says this cripples the credibility of the summit.  McConnell yesterday characterized putting out a proposal like this as “ramming” it down their throats.  Don't you already know -- isn't it already clear this is going to be political theater with each side digging in their heels?

MR. GIBBS:  I can only hope that Mitch McConnell and John Boehner and all the other Republican participants who say they're serious about dealing with issues like health care reform, that are -- want to be serious about dealing with the issues that the American people have.  They've pushed back greatly on this notion that they're the “party of no.”  If they're not the “party of no,” Thursday is a perfect venue to be the “party of yes.”

Q    One other thing, the administration has gone to great lengths to make clear that jobs and the economy are job number one this year.  But once you get back into health care all that’s going to be just overwhelmed by health care.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Chip, I --

Q    It's going to -- as far as the American people are concerned, health care is going to be priority number one, once it gets out there like this.

MR. GIBBS:  You know, I've got to tell you, Chip, I think the American people believe -- I certainly -- I know people in this building believe that Washington can and should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time; that we face -- look, if you just list the problems that we face -- getting the economy moving again; wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; health care; job -- I mentioned jobs -- education -- the American people want to believe, because they have to deal with multiple problems at one time, that Washington can and should be able to address multiple problems.  The only way we're actually going to be able to do that is if we set aside the talking points, get in a room, roll up our sleeves, and try to make progress.  If all we do --

Q    -- talking points on the Democratic side on Thursday?

MR. GIBBS:  This goes for Democrats and Republicans.  What I've said up here today, Chip, isn't just about the Republican Party.  Democrats and the President have to be -- and I know on behalf of the President, that he's willing to listen to these ideas.  I think that that's the only way we're going to make progress on this.  And people will get to judge for themselves the willingness for everybody to be part of that progress.


Q    I know you're bringing the Congressional Budget Office folks to the summit to sort of be able to --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if they're coming, to be honest with you.  I know they were invited; I don't know whether or not -- I don't know whether or not they're going to be in the room for the event.  We will have OMB there.  I think it is safe to say -- you may have a longer question, but whatever happens is going to have to ultimately be costed out by CBO, understanding that because of the number of estimates that they've made throughout this process we have fairly good guidance on what things cost.

Q    Well, I was just going to say, what is the cost of this new bill, which you guys described in this call as the Senate bill with some important changes?  So it's the Senate bill, we know how much that costs -- but with these changes, are you going to get the Congressional Budget Office to give a final estimate, or do you guys come up with your own?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, again, I think it would be premature to go through that process prior to Thursday.

Q    Well, cost is an important part of this, though.

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely, it's an important part of it.  I think we'll have estimates on different sections that -- for the discussion.  And again, I think that CBO has costed out a number of differences --

Q    Have you sent any of this specifically to CBO now, or today or no?

MR. GIBBS:  I can check with Nancy-Ann to see if -- I doubt that that paper has gone to CBO, per se.

Q    Now, you’ve called this -- you said it's a starting point, you said it's a posting of ideas.  Can we -- is this the President's health care plan?  Is this fair to say what was put out today -- now, I mean, I know we've been through semantics before, you guys had your principles and the Senate -- this is now the President's health care bill?

MR. GIBBS:  This is what the President is bringing to Thursday.  This is a product, though, of months of work in committees on the House and Senate side.  It incorporates Democratic and Republican ideas and it's a starting point for those discussions.  Again, I think -- we're hopeful that these will be -- these ideas will be added to by the good ideas Republicans will bring.

Q    Wouldn't it have been odd if the Republicans -- they've been spending -- they spent six months saying this was a bad bill, the Senate bill and the House bill, and this is what you're bringing to the table.  Wouldn't it have been odd if they didn't criticize it?  I mean, they don't believe this is a good bill, so if this is the -- you see, I mean, that's sort of where they're coming from.

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, but, Chuck, this isn't a -- I don't think the President believed that on Thursday they weren’t going to criticize the efforts that he's been working on for six months.  But that's not determinative -- that's not going to be what determines the outcome of the meeting.  There are six hours for Republicans to discuss with the President sitting there in the room what their ideas are, why they believe that an idea that they propose is a better policy idea than he has.  They can discuss both the merits of and the facts of those proposals.  If there's commonality we can -- we'll agree to those things.

But I think your question actually is in many ways exactly what will determine the outcome of Thursday.  If the outcome of Thursday is -- or if the setup for Thursday is simply walking in there and saying, I don't support what you've done, and there's nothing else to that, then I think the American people will be disheartened that Democrats and Republicans even sitting in the same room discussing the same subject are incapable of even having a discussion about what alternative ideas there are.  I think that's what's most important to this process, is the ability not just to discuss one person's ideas, but to discuss a range of concepts.

And I -- Republicans have wanted this, Chuck, for months.  They've wanted to get in the same room with the President, walk through his ideas and talk about why their ideas are better.  That's going to happen Thursday at 10:00 a.m.

Q    This new idea for the health insurance rate commission, I guess my confusion is, is this a commission that would sort of be -- serve as a guide to the other states, to the 50 states that do the actual regulating?  Or is this supposed to be a regulatory agency with --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, no.  This is a -- the Secretary in conjunction with states will develop a review process for unreasonable premium increases.

Q    So the states are still going to be the regulators?  The federal government is --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, obviously they're still going to have --

Q    -- acting as a guidance counselor of sorts?

MR. GIBBS:  They're going to still have a big role in this.  Obviously there are state insurance commissioners that have some ability to change these.  Not everybody does.  But these can -- these will be looked at and evaluated in conjunction with the states, and then steps and measures can be taken.  Because again, Chuck, I think that -- I mean, we've even seen it now with Anthem, that proposed the 39 percent increase, that they've even put that increase on hold.  I think they understand that this was not a --

Q    No, I understand, but is this supposed to be a new federal regulatory agency?

MR. GIBBS:  It's not a new federal agency.  There's no new bureaucracy.  This will be done out of the Secretary's office in Health and Human Services.

Q    Out of HHS?

MR. GIBBS:  And we'll get -- I'll get Reid to walk you through some more --

Q    Okay, because that -- it's just a little confusing if this is a new agency.

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, ma'am.

Q    Robert, my question is on the meeting this week with the Business Roundtable.  And first of all I'd like to know what members of the administration will be present at the meeting with the President?  And also, does he --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't have that with me, but I can certainly try to find out.

Q    Okay, thanks.  And does he have a specific proposal for them, particularly on taxation of overseas earnings?  Multinationals in this group have been very vocal in their opposition to a rollback of deferral tax breaks.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, the President included in his budget the notion that if -- of rolling back the tax break that allows people to enjoy the benefits of moving jobs overseas.  That's likely going to be an area that -- I'm sure there are those that will make their strong case for why they think there should be a tax benefit to that.  I think the President will make a case, has made a case, and it is in his budget a proposal that does not allow them to do that.

Q    So it sounds like the message he'll be delivering on that front is a sort of, you know, we're doing this, and there's no --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, the President has long felt a fundamental unfairness in rewarding companies that are moving jobs overseas.  I don't think that's the only thing that will be discussed.  Like any relationship --

Q    What else will be --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, as we get closer to that, we'll get a chance to go through what the President will say.  I think, as in any good relationship, you're not going to agree on everything.


Q    Robert, does the President regard his plan today as a compromise plan?

MR. GIBBS:  Again, I think it's a compromise between what you have -- what you saw come out of the processes in both the House and the Senate, yes.

Q    Well, those are plans that Republicans nearly universally opposed.  Can you point to something in this plan today that you think Republicans might like?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, it's always been in -- there's always been concepts in the plan to allow people to purchase insurance across state lines.  That's what you hear most of all from their proposals -- Senate McCain in the campaign had a proposal to add those dependents onto your parents' health care up to a certain age to allow for what is a gap in the uninsured based on when someone leaves the dependency of their parents and gets a job that provides health care.

There are -- I don't know in this legislation -- or in this compendium of stuff, but legislation went through the process on the Hill, contained amendments, over 160 Republican amendments.  But again, Mark, this is a --

Q    And they still voted against it.

MR. GIBBS:  And inexplicably all those ideas weren't good enough.  I will say this, Mark:  This is a starting point.  This can be added to by the ideas that Republicans bring on Thursday.

Q    But it sounds like your starting point is on the hundredth floor of a building and they wanted to start from scratch at the ground floor.  How do you reconcile that?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if I can reconcile the analogy.  (Laughter.)  But I will say this, we -- health care is not -- this isn't a subject that we started discussing at the federal level upon the election of the 44th President of the United States of America.  We know there are people up on Capitol Hill that have been working on health care on the Republican side for several decades.

Understand that the starting point of what the President has put forward is a proposal that was endorsed by, and mirrors quite a bit, a proposal put out by Bob Dole and Howard Baker along with Tom Daschle.  Again, two of the three of those individuals just happen to be Republicans.  The notion of -- the notion of starting over after decades and decades of discussing this problem is not -- is not what the American people want.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, in the health proposal today there is a new tax on unearned income.  So I'm wondering, would retirement income be exempt from the Medicare tax --

MR. GIBBS:  Let me get -- let me get Reid and Nancy-Ann to walk you through some of the specifics of that.


Q    Also on health care, the governors have complained that they're not at the table.  Are they -- is there an invitation for them to be there Thursday, or a representative for them?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, obviously they've got representatives.

Q    Thursday?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, members of Congress represent the interest of both their districts and their larger state.

Q    They have specifically asked that the NGA be there --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know if the NGA will be in the room.  Obviously, I can't imagine that if a governor from X state didn't have a concern -- that had a concern that it can be birthed by any number of people attending the meeting on either side.

Q    One other question, on the schedule is a private meeting with the governor of California.  Is he going to be appealing for federal help to help pull that state's --

MR. GIBBS:  If I'm not mistaken, I think that meeting is either going on now, or happened before I came out here.  We will get a readout on what the President talked about in that meeting.  And I'm sure that Governor Schwarzenegger will discuss what he brought up with the President.


Q    Republicans are saying that the proposal that the government have more authority to deal with excessive rate increases suggests a lack of confidence in the overall reform's ability to bring down the costs of health care.  What do you say to that?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, understand that our proposal, there's a time in which exchanges will be set up.  And there's a time in which we want to ensure that rate increases aren't slipped through as a part of the gap between when a bill is signed into law and when those exchanges are up and regulating price increases.  Again, the insurance company that proposed increasing by 39 percent said their proposal to increase was because we lacked health care reform.  So I don't -- it's hard to -- it would be hard to reconcile the notion that having health care reform didn't have confidence in doing this since they said the lack of health care reform is what caused -- purportedly caused such a sharp increase.

Q    No provision that I see here to accommodate the Republicans call for medical malpractice reform.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, first and foremost, the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services use the authority -- regulatory authority that had existed for years to set up demonstration projects in states regarding medical malpractice.  And look, Wendell, I think it's an area which will probably be addressed in the very first section of what's discussed on Thursday, and I think the President is anxious to discuss it.

Q    The President expects Republicans to bring that to the table on Thursday.

MR. GIBBS:  I have read that, yes.

Q    And does he have an open mind about it?

MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely.

Q    On another issue, on Friday Rashad Hussain said, "I made statements to the panel" -- in '04 the White House has defended his appearance at -- "that I now recognize were ill-conceived, not well-formulated," this in reference to a man convicted of supporting -- or raising money for a terrorist organization.  Were you misled?  Do you maintain confidence in this man the President wants to be his delegate to the Islamic conference?

MR. GIBBS:  We continue to have confidence.  The statement says that the judicial process has concluded and that he has full faith in the outcome of that judicial process.  This is an individual that has written extensively on why you have -- why some have used religious devices like the Quran to justify this, and why that is absolutely wrong, and has garnered support from both the left and the right.  So we continue to obviously have confidence.


Q    When you say that med-mal is going to be discussed in the first section on Thursday, is there a structure in place that you can tell us about?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, if I'm not mistaken -- and I don't have it in front of me -- but I think one of the first sections will be a discussion on cost, and I presume that's where discussions on medical malpractice, as it relates to cost, will be discussed.

Q    And how soon after Thursday are you going to know whether it succeeded?  I mean, are you going to know on Friday if there are House votes to actually pass this in some form, or is it --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know whether there's -- I don't know whether -- look, I think we'll be able to evaluate to some degree on Thursday whether there's been a discussion first and foremost that included more ideas to the table.  And I think you'll have a chance to see agreement on -- hopefully agreement on some of those ideas.

Q    And will this be the last opportunity for Republicans to bring new ideas?  I mean, is this it?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, this has -- I assume you're factoring into that the committee process that included 160 Republican amendments as part of this process.  Republicans have been involved in every stage of this.

Peter.  You're good?  Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you, Robert.  In the past week, John Brennan, your counterterrorism expert, has been under fire for remarks he made in an interview in which he likened the criminal release in the United States and the U.S. penal system to that of the detainees in the war on terror returned to the battlefield, saying 20 percent is not that bad.  Senator Graham and Senator Bond criticized this and said he should be fired.  What's his status right now?

MR. GIBBS:  He was here at work early on behalf to the American people keeping them safe and secure.  Let's understand for a second that -- I don't know what Senator Graham or Senator Bond said in 2005 when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an analogy that if you compared the recidivism rate of detainees at Guantanamo with the U.S. penal system, the detainee rate is less for -- the recidivism rate is less for Guantanamo detainees.

I know in your reporting that the next thing you'll talk about is the fact that John said that any recidivism is too much.  And it is why we have taken the time to evaluate those that remain at Guantanamo, to ensure that those that are transferred or -- that those that are transferred either through a court order or by other means, that there is a plan in place for their -- for the safety and security of those around them.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Robert, of the Republican health care points that they have put out on the Internet, has the President read those?  Any Republican points, things that the President could accept?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think up on our Web site is a list of Republican ideas.  I know the President has gotten from folks here a list of -- a compilation of Republican ideas in the past. I'd be happy to print for the President -- if Republicans have posted the ideas that they're going to bring to the meeting on Thursday, I'd be more than happy to print that document and I'd walk it into the Oval Office this afternoon.

Q    They haven’t done that yet?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't -- I don't know if they've posted -- I don't know if what they've -- again, we'd be happy to host the posting.

Q    And so far the White House hasn’t seen anything out of all those Republican ideas that you think you might embrace?

MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry, what?

Q    You haven’t seen anything in anything the Republicans have put forward that you think you might embrace?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I think that's a good point to be left for Thursday.  I don't -- again, there are ideas that Republicans have proposed, including the sale of insurance across state lines.  Now, I will admit that we have added into our legislation a minimum set of standards to ensure that somebody that's seeking a policy isn't fooled by a policy that may sound too good to be true and in fact becomes too good to be true.

So there's a minimum set of insurance standards that would apply to that sale.  But there are Republican ideas already and I think the President looks forward to hearing and discussing more.


Q    Robert, one of the things the President has done is he's laid down these predicates for the meeting, saying, I'm willing to listen to any ideas so long as they -- and then he ticks off his goals -- expands coverage, reduces costs, et cetera.  The Republicans don't share his goal of expanding coverage to 30 million or universal.  Is he coming into this meeting with an open mind on bedrock issues like that?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President has an open mind and is happy to hear proposals and ideas.

Q    Even if they don't meet his long-stated goals?

MR. GIBBS:  Understand, Mara, I don't -- I've been asked a number of times, would the President just sign anything, be able to call it reform, and then run around saying we did reform?  I don't think -- we've got, depending on which figure you use, 35-36 million people in this country that don't have access to affordable health care insurance.  The President has I think important and strong views on ensuring that that number, the number that we cover, is as high as it can be, because understanding -- we hear a lot about the cost of health care.  Well, it costs us in higher premiums each and every time somebody without health insurance gets in a car accident, gets sick, and has to go to the emergency room for treatment.

You've heard Governor Schwarzenegger talk about this a lot because in the largest state that happens because of the large number of uninsured.

Q    Just a couple of technical questions.  On reconciliation, is there any -- when you mentioned things that have been passed using reconciliation in the past, is there any reason you left welfare reform off the list?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I just -- I think there's an expansive list that goes back many years.  The point I was making was simply that I think if you listen to some talk about it now, you would -- it makes it seem as if it's a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence; that I assume if you matched up what people say about that and some of their votes on that, it might appear different.

Q    And on reconciliation, is it your understanding that the authority to use the reconciliation process is indefinite or does it run out at a certain point this year?

MR. GIBBS:  I would check with -- let me check.

Q    And I just have one other --

MR. GIBBS:  I pled lack of parliamentary understanding earlier on.

Q    And one other quick thing about CBO, just to follow up on Chuck's question.  The President has often said when he's talked about specific Republican proposals that the CBO has scored them in a certain way where they don't cover very many people or they don't add up to the deficit reduction.  And that -- and he's really looked to the CBO to provide credibility for these proposals.  Why wouldn't you submit this in advance so that you can come on Thursday and say what exactly it's been scored as?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, again, Mara, understanding the base for the proposal that the President put online today is the Senate bill.  That obviously has gone through -- that has gone through so many machinations at the CBO --

Q    Then that should be easy for them to give you a little update by Thursday.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, and I think because of the amount of scoring that we've done, you can come to a pretty good estimate on that prior to doing that.  Again, I don't -- Mara, I don't think what we lack for Thursday is a CBO score on the President's starting point.

Q    Well, they're going to come in and say that it doesn't actually do the things he says it does.

MR. GIBBS:  I understand that, but, again, the number -- so many of these proposals have been evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office.  It's not as if this is something out of newly whole cloth.  These are things that have been discussed, evaluated, and judgment rendered on, on, quite frankly, both sides of the aisle.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Robert, the White House bill eliminates the special Medicaid treatment for Nebraska, but it appears to leave in the funds that were secured by Senator Landrieu for Louisiana, as well as the special Medicare Advantage treatment that was obtained by Senator Nelson of Florida.  So I'm just wondering, how did the White House decide with these carve-outs which to do away with, which to include?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me check on the latter one.  On the former one, this is an FMAP proposal that governs any state with which the President has declared a major disaster.  So it's not a carve-out for; in fact, it covers -- potentially covers any state with which, as I said a minute ago, the President has declared how that health care relates to a major disaster.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thanks, Robert.  A couple questions, first, the President's proposal did include the individual mandate.  And many Republicans -- Orrin Hatch and others -- have said that that's not constitutional.  Will the White House have any sort of legal analysis explaining why that is constitutional?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't know the answer to that.  I have not heard anybody discuss the constitutionality of that.  I don't pretend to be a lawyer, but this is a concept that has been around for quite some time.

Q    All right.  Secondly, this is non-health care related.  But John Boehner, speaking earlier this month about the Faith-Based Council member Harry Knox, said -- I'm quoting him -- "We can't have in the White House an anti-Catholic bigot, and that's what this gentleman appears to be."  He was referring to Mr. Knox's comment that the Pope had --

MR. GIBBS:  I don't -- not surprisingly, I do not have anything on that.  I'd be happy to have one of these guys take a look at it.


Q    Robert, I wanted to clarify, you talked earlier about the regulation of the insurance rates being set up to stop -- I think you said to stop insurance companies from racing through rate increases before these exchanges are set up.  Will this rate authority be temporary, then?  Will it sunset when the exchanges start?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me get Reid and Nancy-Ann to give you -- to walk you guys through some of that.  Look, I think our strong belief is that it would be redundant authority at -- after which we get health care reform implemented.


Q    Two questions.  On health care, on the excise tax, House Democrats still are very opposed to this.  Nancy Pelosi, a few weeks ago, said there was absolutely no support for it, even if -- even if the Senate form was tweaked.  So have you spoken to House Democrats about the particulars in the President's proposal on that front?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, David, I think they were briefed on Capitol Hill after we had a briefing call this morning.  I know that they're -- I've seen the Speaker say that they're going to discuss some of the outlines of what the President has put up on the Internet this afternoon and this evening.

Q    Now, back to the stimulus.  Last week, many Republicans put out statements that the stimulus has created absolutely no new jobs, as you know.  Over the weekend, Governor Schwarzenegger said that it created 120,000 or so in his own state.  And just a few moments ago, Governor Crist, said it had led to the creation or maintenance of 87,000 jobs in Florida.  All that said, do you believe that Republicans here in Washington are purposefully lying about the stimulus?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't actually believe that they believe their own statements.  I mean, again, I used the example last week of Eric Cantor said -- Eric Cantor said that it has created no jobs, but when it came time to apply for high-speed rail funds, he said it would create jobs.  Now, speaking of reconciliation, I don't have the slightest idea how one reconciles what one says in Washington and what one says in their district when they seem to be in such contradiction.

Whether it's Governor Schwarzenegger, whether it's Governor Crist, whether it's Mark Zandi, who was the chief economic advisor to John McCain's presidential campaign --

Q    Not the chief --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, right.

Q    Doug Holtz was.

Q    And he is a Democrat, Zandi is, so --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't -- I hope you're not saying that party affiliation would change the economic analysis that one goes through.  Democrat or Republican, he was an advisor to the McCain campaign and has said jobs were created and economic growth has happened.

You watch Republicans continue to sort of trip over themselves to both put out a statement for -- on why this hasn't worked, at the same time hoping desperately that someone will read their letter for money to come to their district so it will add to what's working already there as part of the Recovery Act.

Q    But if they're playing that sort of game on the stimulus, how can you expect to make any progress with them on health care reform?

MR. GIBBS:  Because the President will be in the room, and I think if somebody makes -- were to make an argument as out of the blue as that, I think there's somebody there who would have an alternative viewpoint on that.


Q    Robert, two questions.  Governor Paterson was outside and he said that he's going to be involved in conversations today on the expected KSM trial.  Could you talk to me about what this conversation is (inaudible), who is it with, and what his conversations have been with the President and Eric Holder?

MR. GIBBS:  I did not see his statement out there.  I will have NSC check and see if -- who they're having discussions with.  My sense is there are -- well, without prejudging what he might say, obviously we have heard from the police chief and the mayor and the like of both security and logistical concerns for a trial there.  Those are being looked at and evaluated.  Obviously there is money in the budget for trials.  So I assume that he's coming to express monetary reservations relating to that, and I'll certainly see what those are.

Q    As the President has his hand involved in this, has he reached out to Governor Paterson personally to talk about this?

MR. GIBBS:  They may have -- I don't know if they talked about it last night.  My guess is no.  I was -- I don't know whether that happened last night.

Q    Okay.  And then on black farmers, there's a concern that this March 31st deadline will not happen.  And they're saying that the only way that these black farmers will get this $1.25 billion that they're due for this long settlement is that if the President steps in and stands by it as well as other Democrats on the Hill.  Is the President expected and will he step in and say, "I support these farmers" and push it through before the March 31st deadline?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think you all saw the statement the President put out at the end of the week based on the proposed settlement.  You could see the President supports that settlement.  I have not seen the deadline concerns, but we'll ask Ag or others to address that.

Q    Yes, the President has put out a statement, and so have many others, but there is a concern with the political climate right now and with deficits that this is going to go another term, possibly to another President if this President does not put his self into this and help push it through before --

MR. GIBBS:  Once again, let me talk with him specifically.  My sense is that the President has put out a fairly strong statement in support of this.


Q    I'm sorry if this has already been addressed, but can you explain why in this detailed health care proposal the President and his team did not include a public option?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think it has been asked; I think it might have been asked this morning.  Sam, the President has put forward a proposal that is based on the Senate plan with some, as you all have heard in here, some modifications to that, and as the best way forward into something that can ultimately wind its way through Congress.

Q    So what do you think of the 20 or so senators who have now signed a letter asking for this to be passed through reconciliation?  Is that a waste of --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think they've asked for a vote on the floor of the Senate and that's certainly up to those who manage those amendments and to Leader Reid.

Q    I have a question on Haiti and then one on health care reform.  There are ships carrying heavy equipment and aid that are being held at the ports of Port-au-Prince and Saint-Marc and they can't unload because people are demanding payoffs.  What is the U.S. doing to monitor the situation?  And once the airports are turned over back to the Haitians, what will you do to monitor the situation there?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me have NSC -- I'm not familiar with that transaction, but we will have NSC look into that for you.

Q    And on preexisting conditions, for a while you were talking about preexisting conditions just being for children.  Have you gone back to preexisting conditions being for everybody, for adults, too, now?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, preexisting -- barring an insurance company from discriminating on behalf or on the basis of a preexisting condition -- when the bill was immediately signed into law, that protection would go in immediately for those children.  What then is -- for the greater population, that phases in after the signing of the bill.  So we have supported then and continue to support now doing away with insurance companies being able to discriminate on the basis of any preexisting condition.

Q    But for adults it won't kick in immediately.

MR. GIBBS:  It won't kick in immediately, right.

Q    Senator Lieberman is now planning to introduce a "don't ask, don't tell" repeal bill next week.  Would the President like to see Congress pass repeal this year?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, as you know, the President is strongly in support of this, working with Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen.  There is a process that's underway.  You saw in Admiral Mullen the first joint chair to openly -- active joint chair to openly call for its repeal.

We have stated throughout this process that the only durable way for this to happen is through legislation.  We think that Senator Lieberman's proposal is obviously an important step in that legislation.  And I would point out that you heard from commanders in the field over the weekend on news shows as well as former Chairman Powell also come out strongly in support of repealing "don't ask, don't tell."

Q    A lot of people fear that if it doesn't happen this year that it very well may not happen throughout the entire first term, not just in the second one.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think the President shares that because I believe, and I think you all have seen this throughout, obviously there has been a lot of public polling on this done since the President's proposal and since Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen testified on Capitol Hill about this.  There is strong bipartisan support for its repeal among the American people.  The President obviously shares that, as do important members of the military.  And we think it will become law.

Thank you, all.

1:32 P.M. EST

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