The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 10/29/13

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:50 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being here for your White House briefing.  Before I take your questions I have a couple of announcements. 

First, I'd like to note that yesterday, Majority Leader Reid filed cloture on several qualified nominees, including Patricia Millett, who is the first of three nominees that have been nominated to serve as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court.  Ms. Millett, a military spouse, is a leading appellate lawyer.  Only one woman has argued before the Supreme Court more often than she has.  And she is supported by an impressive list of bipartisan lawyers, as well as leaders from the law enforcement and business communities.

While some cynically raise the workload of the court, it is important to keep in mind that Millett would fill the ninth seat of this 11-member court.  The last time the Senate confirmed a judge to the ninth seat was in 2003, when the court had almost 50 percent fewer pending appeals, compared to today, and yet John Roberts was confirmed by voice vote -- that John Roberts.  And as you know, the Senate later confirmed the 10th and 11th seats with President Bush’s nominees.  So we urge the Senate to follow that precedent to give this enormously qualified nominee a confirmation vote.    

Secondly, I'd like to note that a new report released by the Department of Health and Human Services shows good news for young adults under the Affordable Care Act.  The report looked at 18-34-year-olds in 34 states and found that nearly half of single young adults who are uninsured may be able to get coverage for $50 or less per month in the health insurance marketplaces in 2014, and nearly 7 out of 10 of single young adults who are uninsured may be able to pay $100 or less per month for coverage in 2014.

According to the report, an additional 1 million eligible uninsured single young adults may qualify for Medicaid in the states that have opted to expand that program next year.  This is good news for young adults who have been priced out of the market in the past or could not get affordable coverage because of a preexisting condition, or decided to risk it and then ended up tens of thousands of dollars in debt after an accident.

Today’s report also shows that if more expanded their Medicaid programs, the number of young adults who could get low-cost coverage would be even greater.  Specifically, if all 34 states that are run by the federal government or in partnership with states were to expand Medicaid, about 4.9 million uninsured single young adults would be eligible for Medicaid instead of 1 million.  So think about that -- and additional 3.9 million single young adults would be eligible for Medicaid, would receive that security from the coverage provided by Medicaid, if those other states were to expand their programs, as some have. 

Now, because of the Affordable Care Act, young adults can shop for quality, affordable coverage for themselves and their families and they may get a tax credit to make it even more affordable.  So that is good news, indeed.

With that, I'll take your questions.  Julie Pace. 

Q    Thanks, Jay.  There’s a report that the spying that's been revealed in France and Spain was actually done by intelligence services in those countries, not by the NSA.  And since the administration has said that there were unspecified inaccuracies in some of the reports about these revelations, can you say that if that is what you were talking about, that this spying was done by French and --

MR. CARNEY:  You want me to specify what the unspecified inaccuracies might be?  We have important cooperative relationships with the security agencies and intelligence agencies of other nations, of allied nations, and I'm not going to get into the specific alleged activities -- intelligence activities -- of the United States or our allies.

We're obviously, more broadly, engaged in a review, as I discussed at length yesterday, of our intelligence-gathering activities, mindful of the fact that because of the explosion in our technological capacities, we need to look at and make sure that we are not just gathering intelligence because we can, but we're gathering it because we need it, specifically.  And that review is underway, at the President’s direction, and will be completed by the end of the year.

Q    One of the things that officials say is under review is the surveillance of ally heads of state.  Is the administration’s plan to conduct this review and tell the public of its outcomes all at once, or is it possible that we could learn in days or a shorter timeframe of the decision on that specific program, the head of state surveillance?

MR. CARNEY:  I think, generally speaking, you should expect that upon conclusion of the review we will endeavor to make public as much information as possible, mindful of the fact that these are national security programs and national security operations and intelligence matters that, almost by definition, demand that not everything be revealed about them.  So it's a long way of answering that I think you would expect us to have much more to say at the conclusion of the review than we can say now.

I can tell you that in the course of the review, some decisions have been made about our intelligence-gathering activities even as we proceed with it, and some of those decisions have been made and are being implemented.  But we're not going to get into details about those issues or all of the activities that are under review until we come to a conclusion about the way we can balance those security and privacy concerns.

Q    If some decisions have been made and you have this uproar both overseas and on Capitol Hill, why not make public some of what you are changing to show people that you are taking action?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we are engaged in direct communications through diplomatic channels with a number of countries on these matters.  And a number of countries have, as you know, expressed concerns about the reports, the disclosures that have emanated in the wake of the unauthorized leaking of classified information, so that communication is happening and it's robust. 

And as I said yesterday, we understand the concerns that have been raised, and we are working with our friends and allies to discuss these matters, to explain what we're doing in terms of the review that we're engaged in, and to continue to focus on the cooperative relationships that we have when it comes to intelligence-gathering -- because it's important to remember, as I said yesterday, that the purpose of this intelligence collection is to enhance the security of the American people and the United States and our allies.  And the actions that are taken by the intelligence community and the information they collect helps the United States protect lives, and protect the lives of our allies, the citizens of those countries, and vice versa.  We rely enormously on efforts undertaken by our friends and allies, by their intelligence services; we share information and together, we enhance each other's security. 

Having said that, it's important to note, as the President has, that we should go about this review of our intelligence-gathering activities, mindful of all of our security needs and demands but also of the need for balancing those demands against the sincere privacy concerns that Americans and others share.

Q    I wanted to see if I could yield what little was left of my time to Roger, who has to take off with the pool shortly. 

MR. CARNEY:  Roger, it is great to see you.

Q    I thank the gentlelady from the Associated Press.  (Laughter.)  Following up on Julie's question, Senator Feinstein said yesterday that she had been told that the data collection on the allies will not continue.  Is that one of those decisions that's been made?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me say two things.  First of all, we consult regularly with Chairman Feinstein as a part of our ongoing engagement with the Congress on national security matters and we appreciate her continued leadership on these issues as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  When it comes to statements that Senator Feinstein has made, I would refer you to her about them.

What we've made clear is that we are undertaking a review of our activities around the world with a special emphasis on examining whether we have the appropriate posture when it comes to heads of state, examining how we coordinate with our closest allies and partners, and examining what further guiding principles or constraints might be appropriate for our efforts.  So the review encompasses a lot of activity, but there is an emphasis -- a special emphasis on those areas.

Beyond that, the review is ongoing, so I'm not going to discuss the details or the outcomes -- going back to Julie's question -- until it’s completed.  But as I said, we’ve made some decisions, the President has made some decisions, and I would expect that we’ll make more as this process continues.  And then, when it’s over, we’ll have more to say about the decisions we’ve made.

Q    So you’re not ruling out the accuracy of what she --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would just refer you to Chairman Feinstein about that.

Q    On another subject, the cyber meeting this morning with CEOs, did the President give the chief executives some sort of idea of the draft standards that are supposed to be coming out?  And how did they react?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, that meeting ended not long ago, and the meeting focused with CEOs from the financial, energy, defense, and information technology sectors on cybersecurity.  The President was there, as well as senior White House and National Security Council staff. 

I don’t have a full readout yet, Roger, but I understand that they discussed the implementation of the President’s executive order on improving critical infrastructure, cybersecurity, and particularly the preliminary, voluntary cybersecurity framework that has been developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in partnership with industry.

The preliminary framework, which is intended to provide voluntary guidance for industry to encourage companies to adopt sound cybersecurity practices, was released last week and published in the Federal Register today and is open for public comment.  The companies that met with the President were among those that worked most closely on the framework.  And this meeting is part of the administration’s ongoing dialogue with the private sector on cybersecurity, which is an issue, as you know, that has received a great deal of attention from the President and the rest of the administration because it is of such great importance to our national security and to our broader interests.

Q    Any reaction from them?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to them for their reaction. But the President certainly appreciated the meeting.

Yes, Roberta.  Wait.  Roger, are you good?  Okay.

Q    Can you explain in just really clear and plain terms the disconnect between what the President said about if you want to keep your plan you can keep it, and what we see people complaining about, which is being kicked out of their plan or being told they have to buy a more expensive plan, or just general unhappiness in that segment?  Can you explain that?

MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question and I thank you for the opportunity to explain this.  And I understand that there’s a lot of attention being focused on it and that it deserves fuller explanation -- and I think fuller explanation by us and fuller explanation by everybody reporting on it, so that viewers and readers and listeners are getting the full picture about this issue.

So let’s step back.  If you are one of the 80 percent of the American people who receive insurance coverage through your employer or through Medicaid or Medicare or the Veterans Administration, this conversation doesn’t apply to you.  These reports do not apply to you.  If you’re one of the 15 percent of the American people who are uninsured entirely right now, this conversation does not apply to you.  So what we’re talking about here is the 5 percent in the country who currently purchase insurance on the individual market. 

And that market has been like the Wild West.  It has been under regulated.  It is the place where Americans have most keenly felt the challenges posed by the insurance system in this country, where, for example, insurers could deny you coverage if you have a preexisting condition, or they could offer you coverage that in its fine print excluded benefits specifically related to your preexisting condition.  So if you have hypertension or you’re a cancer survivor, they could carve out coverage on those specific issues and then give you a plan that would cover you on other things. 

They could also, and did, routinely, change your plan or eliminate it altogether, annually.  They could throw you off.  They could jack up your premiums.  They could change your coverage.  And one of the issues that the Affordable Care Act was designed to address was the need to provide greater security to those Americans who had no other option but to seek insurance on the individual market. 

So that’s the universe we’re talking about:  5 percent of the population.  And I think it’s important to know that, because in some of the coverage of this issue in the last several days, you would think that you were talking about 75 percent or 80 percent or 60 percent of the American population.  So there’s that.

     As the law says, and as the President made clear in the statements that you cite, if you had insurance coverage on the individual market when the Affordable Care Act was passed into law and you liked that plan and you wanted to stay on it, even though it didn't meet the minimum standards that the Affordable Care Act would bring into place on January 1, 2014, you can keep the coverage.  You’re grandfathered in.  That plan and your association with it are grandfathered in, in perpetuity -- not for a year, not for five years, but forever.

     But what is not the case is if your insurer basically threw you off that plan by telling you after a year or two that it was changing and said, here’s your new option because your plan has changed, that that new plan is grandfathered in.  Because how could that be?  You can't grandfather in a plan in 2010 that didn't come into existence until 2012 or 2011?

     Q    So it’s the insurers that are at fault is what you’re saying?

     MR. CARNEY:  It’s not about fault.  The insurers, in the lead-up to the creation of these marketplaces, were doing what they’d always done, based on the incentives that existed in the existing insurance market for individuals.

     The good news is that for every one of these individuals who might have a plan that is almost by definition providing less than minimal benefits, and that may, as is normally the case, charge you twice as much if you’re a woman, or penalize you because of your age or because of a preexisting condition, you now are being offered a variety of options, including options by the very insurer that covers you today, for new coverage.

     And what is also true is that you can look at those options and then go and check what your qualification might be for tax credits, and you might discover, as a significant portion of this 5 percent will discover, that you’re actually going to pay less come January for better coverage than what you’re paying now for far worse coverage.

     There was a story the other morning that highlighted this phenomenon, the sending of letters, that featured a woman in Florida who was worried because she could not continue coverage under her existing plan.  And as reported, it made it sound like she had a plan and she wanted to keep it, but she couldn't.  And the reason for that would be that this is a new plan that has been created since the Affordable Care Act passed, or that she dropped coverage and reinstated it, again, after the Affordable Care Act passed.  But what the report didn't say is that her plan doesn't cover her for hospital visits; that her plan is basically one of the most basic kinds of plans available that provide almost no security.

     And what we stipulate that the Affordable Care Act, as campaigned on by the President, as the health care reform that he campaigned on, and as drafted and passed into law by Congress and signed into law by the President, and upheld by the Supreme Court, was designed specifically to protect those Americans who were getting a raw deal in the existing insurance market, and protect them by ensuring that everybody could get affordable coverage, or the universe of people who could affordable coverage would expand greatly, and that that coverage would provide basic benefits that are not currently covered in many of these plans.

     So I know it’s hard to explain all that when you’re writing about it, and I know it’s hard especially if you’re doing a TV package on it -- two minutes it not a long time.  But it is important to remember the context here.  We’re talking about 5 percent, and we’re talking about -- when you look at what actually happened since the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the clause that allows you to grandfather in, the fact is that millions of Americans who have been subject to the whims and vagaries of this individual insurance market are going to have security that they’ve never had before, and better coverage, in most cases, than they’ve ever had before, and cheaper coverage, in many cases, than they’ve ever had before.


     Q    So people who are unhappy are misinformed about the quality of the insurance that they have?


     MR. CARNEY:  I think a couple of things.  One, every individual story has a story behind it.  So someone may not have had insurance coverage when the Affordable Care Act passed, or maybe they were covered by their employer.  So maybe last year they lost their employer coverage or they lost their job or they changed jobs, and now they don’t get employer coverage.  And they saw and purchased a plan on the individual market, an individual market that provides very few options and very little desirable coverage at affordable costs.


     So what is certainly the case is that come January 1st, 2014, plans that don’t provide these basic benefits, plans that don’t provide maternity care, plans that don’t provide mental health care, plans that don’t provide other preventive services, plans that place caps on your annual benefits or caps on your lifetime benefits -- all of those can no longer exist, because the purpose here was to create some minimum benefits for the American people so that they could enjoy the security of health insurance coverage, quality health insurance coverage.


     But for people who were on a plan when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law and who want to keep that plan, and they’ve stayed on that plan, and the insurer hasn’t pulled that plan away from them and replaced it with something else in the interim that does not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act, they can keep that plan if they so choose.  They may want to investigate their options on the marketplaces, because in so many cases those options are superior to their existing plan.




     Q    The context and the caveats that you just presented there about the President’s repeated claim that if you like your plan you can keep it was never really mentioned to the American people when the President was time and again saying this in the run-up to the passage of that law.  Is an essential question here, Jay, did the President mislead the American people when he made that comment repeatedly?


     MR. CARNEY:  Jim, no, the President was clear about a basic fact:  If you had insurance that you liked on the individual market and you wanted to keep that insurance through 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and in perpetuity if you wanted it and it was available, you could -- you were grandfathered in. 


     What no health care reform could envision or could responsibly stipulate is that any plan that might come along in the next few years would be grandfathered in, because that would undermine that basic premise of providing the minimum benefits for the American people.


     So, again, in all of these cases, what is absolutely true is that if you had a plan before the Affordable Care Act that you liked on the individual market, and your insurance company didn’t take that away from you and offer you instead something else that you then purchased, but they provided you the same plan this would time, you can keep it.  And that's true and if you're -- again, I would encourage you and others to --


     Q    There are people out there who don't -- or who do like their plan, as crummy as it might be, in the views of this White House.  Those folks are not being able to keep their plan in some of these cases in the individual market because it does not meet the requirements of the law as it stands now or as it will be next year.  So I just don't understand how you can say that the President's claim back in 2009 and 2010, if you like your plan you can keep it, was an accurate claim.


     MR. CARNEY:  Well, Jim, again you're --


     Q    Because there are people now who are now losing their insurance.  It just doesn't --


     MR. CARNEY:  But, Jim, you're basically saying that if somebody bought a plan on December 15th that did not provide hospital coverage, did not provide maternity benefits, charged your sister -- if you have one -- double what they charged you, even if she is a twin and genetically the same --


     Q    But if you're a 27-year-old male who doesn’t want maternity coverage or isn't worried about being put in the hospital?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, isn't worried about being put in the hospital?  That is precisely the point, because there are 27-year-olds out there --


Q    His choice.


MR. CARNEY:  Well, that goes to the fundamental debate about whose responsibility it is to cover the cost of that 27-year-old when he or she ends up in the emergency room.  Because if he’s not covered or she’s not covered, you're paying the costs and you're paying the costs and I'm paying the costs.  And that's not fair to taxpayers who deal with those costs or to individuals on the private insurance market who absorb those costs through their own insurance plans.


     Q    But this isn't really a new issue.  PolitiFact said back in 2010 that this was "half-true." said, "The President can't make this claim" back in 2009.  So there are questions about this claim --


     MR. CARNEY:  Well, wait.  You're saying, on the one hand, people didn't know, and on the other hand they did.  So the claim the President was making, the only claim we could make, because we couldn't predict what plans would exist between the passage of the law and the full implementation of it, was that if you had a plan prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act that you like, you could keep that plan and stay on it even if you might get a better deal with better benefits through the marketplaces. 

     But it is true -- and there was a debate about this and I'm sure there will continue to be a debate that a fundamental premise of the Affordable Care Act is that there ought to be minimum standards for insurance coverage for everybody.  And that is what the marketplaces provide.


     Q    One of the top Democrats in the House, Steny Hoyer, said this morning, "I think preciseness would have been better." He was making that comment about the President's claim if you like your plan you can keep it. 


     MR. CARNEY:  Jim, I appreciate that and as I was saying --


     Q    Is Steny Hoyer missing --


     MR. CARNEY:  -- to another reporter, look, if you want to make that point, you can.  Again, I've explained exactly what was possible when the law was written.  You can't grandfather in plans that didn't exist.  You can't grandfather in people who didn't have insurance and then bought it in the interim.


     Q    Some precision might have been better on the President's part.


     MR. CARNEY:  Well, Jim, again, you can focus on that level, or if you do --


     Q    It's an important point to focus on, Jay --


     MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely, focus on it --


     Q    This is something that the President said time and again to sell the health care law to the American people, and it was something that reassured millions of Americans out there that their plan would not be changed.  So it's not something that we're just picking on one little thing here to make a big political point or conflate --


     MR. CARNEY:  All I ask is that when you do the report, you note that anybody who had a plan the day before the Affordable Care Act passed and was signed into law, and has not been thrown off that plan and had it replaced by their insurer, has not dropped coverage of their own volition and then purchased it again in the interim, but has had that plan, is grandfathered in and can keep that plan.  That is what we were saying and that is a fact. 


Also, when you do this story, just please remember that the universe you're talking about here is 5 percent.  That’s the whole individual insurance market -- 5 percent of the population. And that’s an important 5 percent.  That’s a 5 percent that is of outsized concern to the drafters and implementers of the Affordable Care Act because they're the ones -- those are the Americans who have been most subject to the wild vagaries of the system as it existed before the Affordable Care Act, who at the drop of a hat could have lost coverage or been told that their premiums were doubling, or that they would have no longer been able to get coverage for a specific condition because it was preexisting.  All that changes come January 1st. 


Q    All right.  Finally, does the President regret making that claim?


MR. CARNEY:  Jim, I think I've answered the question. 


Q    Does he believe he should have been more precise?


MR. CARNEY:  The President said, as many others said, that if you had a plan that you liked on the individual insurance market -- and, again, that’s the individual insurance market.  Obviously, if you're on a plan that your employer provides or if you're on Medicare and you like it -- as virtually every recipient of Medicare seems to -- or Medicaid, or you get benefits through the VA -- again, when you report this, make that clear -- all of these populations are not affected by what happens on the individual market.  But if you had a plan on the individual market and you liked it and you like it, and you've kept it, you can keep it forever as long as your insurer offers it.  We can't -- you have to remember --


Q    It’s your requirements.  It's your law's requirements that are putting insurers in that situation. 


MR. CARNEY:  Jim, I stipulate that -- and I think it's important to talk to insurers, Jim, because if you ask them do they want those consumers, those customers out there who are now shopping around for the options available to them on the individual market -- options that, almost by definition, are superior to the ones they've had before -- the answer the insurers will tell you is, yes. 


And they are going to aggressively pursue those customers, because the Affordable Care Act has changed the entire dynamic of the marketplace so that you don’t have a marketplace in which it is the sensible business decision for insurers to deny coverage to you if you're sick, or charge a woman twice the price, or refuse basic services like maternity care or mental health services.  It is in their interest now to sign up as many customers as they can, because this system now allows for individuals on this market to purchase affordable health insurance that they haven't been able to purchase before.




Q    If I can switch subjects -- is the United States now listening in on the phone conversations of friendly presidents and prime ministers?


MR. CARNEY:  As I said yesterday, Jon, I'm not going to get into a discussion of specific reported activities, intelligence-reporting activities.  What I --


Q    So you wouldn’t rule out that we're listening in on the phone conversations of friendly heads of state?


MR. CARNEY:  Again, Jon, I'm not going to talk about specific alleged or reported intelligence-gathering operations.  I can tell you that the review that the President initiated and that has been ongoing for some time now has as an emphasis on an examination of our practices vis-à-vis heads of state, as well as --


Q    You have told us you're not listening in on Angela Merkel's phone calls.  That's why I'm asking.  So can you say the same thing about Prime Minister Netanyahu?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, we read out a phone call that the President had with Chancellor Merkel, and read that out, including the assurances he gave her about the fact that the United States is not and will not gather information on her communications.


Q    Has he given similar assurances to President Hollande or Prime Minister Abe or --


MR. CARNEY:  I just don’t have anything more specific about specific alleged operations or conversations the President may or may not have had with foreign leaders.


     I can tell you that the review is focused in part on this issue within the broader context of the overall review, which is looking at where we’ve come in these past 10 or 12 years in the post-9/11 world where our security needs have grown substantially and our capacities have grown, as have the capacities of those who would do us harm when it comes to communications. 


So this is the kind of thing that merits review.  And that's why the President initiated it, and he wants to make sure that the way we conduct our intelligence-gathering activities is measured against or balanced against the privacy concerns that Americans share with our allies and others.


     Q    So just two things on Senator Feinstein.  The first is Senator Feinstein said, “I do not believe the United States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and prime ministers.”  Is that a statement that the President agrees with -- a principle that he agrees with?


     MR. CARNEY:  Jon, these are excellent questions, and I would simply say that these are issues that are under review.  And I cannot discuss specific reported operations.  I think that if you step back and look at that, it’s understandable why.  The fact of the matter is that the concerns raised by some of our allies cause us concern, and we have been engaged with our allies in direct, diplomatic communications about these issues because these are important relationships.


     It is broadly true, too -- again, I’m not talking about a specific reported activity -- but it is broadly true, too, as we’ve said in the past, that we gather foreign intelligence much as much nations gather foreign intelligence.  So I think we have to stipulate that, as well.  And we also have to remember that the purpose here is to protect the American people and protect the United States and protect our allies.  That's the fundamental mission that the NSA and the other agencies that are a part of the intelligence community have, and they work every day very hard on behalf of the American people to try to fulfill that mission.


     Q    Can you just finally clarify, Senator Feinstein -- this was brought up earlier -- Senator Feinstein said that the White House had informed her “collection on our allies will not continue.”  So just a simple question:  Is Senator Feinstein correct?  This is her statement, so I’ve already gone to her office.  So don't refer me back to her.  This is what she said.


     MR. CARNEY:  Sure.  No, I get it.  I can tell you that we have ongoing conversations and consultations with Chairman Feinstein.  I don't have specific conversations to read out to you, but we appreciate her leadership on her committee and her leadership on these issues, and we’ll continue to consult with on these issues.  We are conducting a review that goes right at -- with some specificity -- the matters that you raise.


     Thanks.  Major.


     Q    Jay, on NSA, Chairman Leahy and Jay Amash put together a bipartisan piece of legislation called the Freedom Act, which seems to accomplish a couple of things I’d like to get your comment on:  Ending what they describe as the “dragnet collection of phone records under Section 215;” and to appoint a special advocate before the FISA review process for future collection of intelligence-related data.  It’s got 70 co-sponsors in the House, 16 in the Senate, bipartisan.  White House support it?


     MR. CARNEY:  I am not in a position to discuss specific legislation, but I can tell you that in August, the President announced that the administration will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act.  And the President believes that there are steps that can be taken to give the American people confidence that there are additional safeguards applied to that program, that section of the Patriot Act, to prevent abuse.  


For example, steps could be taken to put in place greater oversight, greater transparency, and more constraints on the use of the authority provided within Section 215.  The administration is also working with Congress to improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the FISA Court, which goes to the other piece of the legislation that you mentioned. 


So we’re working with Congress.  There are others who are looking at possible legislation on these issues.  And this is an ongoing dialogue, again, part of an overall process that we’re engaged in to look at the way we gather intelligence, make reforms that are necessary, or propose them, and also to ever be mindful of the fact that programs that are authorized under Section 215, for example, serve a very specific purpose in providing valuable intelligence to help keep the American people and the country safe.


Q    Did this consultative process interact with the drafting of this legislation?  Did they run any of these things by you?  Does the White House find anything objectionable about this?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I’m not going to --


Q    You don’t want to give them any indication --


MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to judge any legislation at this point. 


Q    Why not?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, because obviously there are -- there’s more than one effort underway here, and there’s an ongoing consultative conversation happening between the administration and Congress on these matters. 


Generally speaking, as I just noted, the President is supportive of the idea that we need to make some reforms to increase the confidence the American people have in these programs and to perhaps provide greater oversight and greater transparency, as well as more constraints on the authorities that exist under this program.  And I say that because you’re talking about making improvements to a program that in and of itself has intelligence value when it comes to keeping the American people and the country safe.


Q    As for the Affordable Care Act, Valerie Jarrett sent out a tweet last night saying nothing in the Affordable Care Act is requiring any of these changes.  And I’d like to see if you could just say -- understand how many in the American public would say, wait a minute, the law itself creates the means by which the administration judges whether an individual insurance policy has changed sufficiently to meet the standards -- meaning if you’re after the grandfathering period, and something about the coverage changed, then the administration can judge whether or not that qualifies for the grandfathering exemption.  So the administration is evolved in evaluating whether or not this coverage does or does not meet the standards, and whether people have to receive a cancellation notice.  Is that not true?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, let’s be clear.  That would be true a year from now or five years from now, if an insurer put forward a plan and asked if it met the standards and it did not meet the standards -- it didn’t provide maternity care, or it didn’t provide mental health services, or it tried to impose annual caps, or something like that, the answer would be, no, that didn’t meet the standards.  So the only thing that could be done, when the law was written, is that --


Q    -- in the regulations enforcement, right?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, right.  But the point that she was making and that I and others made last night and I’m making today is that, as written, the law granted a grandfather status to individuals who had insurance on the individual market before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and kept that insurance and wanted to keep it for as long as they were alive, if the insurer wanted to have them on that plan. 


But if the insurer, last year or the year before or earlier this year, told -- let’s say, it’s you -- that guess what, your plan that you signed up for for a year, we’re changing --


Q    It has a higher premium or --


MR. CARNEY:  -- reduced benefits or anything --


Q    And the administration steps in and says, we judge that to be a significant --


MR. CARNEY:  The administration doesn’t step in.  The insurance company understands, and has understood since the passage --


Q    -- a significant enough change, and so now that’s no longer grandfathered.  That’s the process, is it not?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, in terms of the agency here, I think the insurer is making the decision to basically cancel the plan and reissue or offer the individual a new plan with different benefits or different costs.  So the insurer makes that call, and made that call over the course of the -- since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  And then individuals on this very volatile and difficult market made the decision as to whether to continue on that plan or to see if there was anything else available to them in this difficult market that will be vastly improved come January 1st.


So it’s important to remember both before the ACA was ever even a gleam in anybody’s eye, let alone passed into law, that insurance companies were doing this all the time, especially in the individual market because it was lightly regulated and the incentives were so skewed.  That will change and is changing.  And I think, to credit the insurers, you are seeing -- and they deserve this -- because you are seeing them actively solicit customers to the new offerings that they have that meet the general minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act, that provide these basic services, and which allow individuals on this market to shop around in a way that they couldn’t before, and then look at the tax credits that may be available to them -- up to half of them, based on some of the analysis out there -- which would result, in many cases, in insurance coverage that is far superior and cheaper than what they had before, if they had it.


     Q    So, to summarize, one of the goals was to essentially get rid of this Wild West, as you describe it, to eradicate the individual market and all the vagaries and --


     MR. CARNEY:  No, no, no.  In fact, we’re expanding vastly the individual market.  The Affordable Care Act --


     Q    Picking up on Jim’s question, there are, as you said, some people who choose not to have coverage because they don’t think it applies to them -- in some cases, it absolutely doesn’t apply to them, or they’re accepting the risk of not taking on certain coverage, and those consumer decisions are being flattened in order to conform with the law.  That’s true, is it not?


     MR. CARNEY:  Well, I guess I follow you.  But on the question that Jim raised and that I think you just raised again, are there young invincibles out there, 27-year-olds, for example, because up to 26 now, thanks to the Affordable --


     Q    Or a 54-year-old that doesn’t need maternity coverage.


     MR. CARNEY:  Well, there are basic requirements of the Affordable Care Act for basic coverage in a plan.  And mental health services and not being able to be kicked off for a preexisting condition or denied coverage -- the list is long, and it is important to many people who need that security.


     What is true is that -- on the issue that Jim and you just raised on the so-called young invincibles -- yes, if you’re 27 or 28, and you think you’ll never get hurt, and you’ll just depend on the emergency room if you do, the Affordable Care Act says you should be covered.  We had that debate and that’s a sincere and important debate to have in the Affordable Care Act that was passed into law -- signed into law, upheld by the Supreme Court, and validated through a national election -- because we believe that the -- and the premise of that part of the Affordable Care Act if founded on the idea that the taxpayer should not foot the bill for the decisions by some to take that chance, because you could be young and healthy at 27, or you could be like somebody roughly that age that I know very well who just found out he had cancer, and fortunately he has coverage.  And if you don’t, and if you didn’t, you would be faced with enormous expenses and probably substandard care, and a lot of those expenses potentially could be shifted onto taxpayers.


     The Affordable Care Act was designed to make the improvements necessary so that that kind of insecurity is no longer prevalent in so many Americans’ lives.




     Q    Jay, first on NSA.  A moment ago, you entertained a hypothetical by saying -- you used the phrase “broadly true.”  In general, there are certain things that happen --


     MR. CARNEY:  I don’t think I said “broadly true,” but okay.


     Q    Broadly true.  In general, surveillance of key allies is so extraordinary that something of that magnitude would be put in the presidential daily brief, right?


     MR. CARNEY:  I was asked this yesterday and I stipulate that it is a valid question, but I simply cannot talk about the contents of the President’s intelligence briefings, and I can’t get into specific alleged or reported operations of U.S. intelligence services.


     What I can say is that the issue that you raised is one that is specifically emphasized in the review that the President initiated by the White House, concurrent with two other reviews that are being undertaken independently of the White House. 


     So I know that is less than would be the ideal answer, but given that we're talking about intelligence-gathering activities, I simply can't get into specific alleged activities. 


Q    But the notion that the President wouldn’t know about this for potentially years would seem odd.


MR. CARNEY:  Again, to engage in that discussion would be to engage in a discussion of activities involving intelligence-gathering that have been recently alleged reported, and I just -- I can't do that.  What I can tell you is that when it comes to actions involving other heads of state that is part of the review that’s being undertaken.


Q    Specifically, on what Major just asked on health care, about Valerie Jarrett's tweet last night -- the first sentence, "Nothing in Obamacare forces people out of their health plans."  I understand the long context that you had, which is important, but specifically, in fact, it is the law, the President's health care law, that is forcing insurance companies to make these changes.  So isn't that law leading to these cancellation notices, for better or for worse?  It may work in the long term, but this law is forcing those letters.


MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me just indulge -- please ask you to indulge me for one moment.  The issue here -- if you're asking does the Affordable Care Act, as written, passed and signed into law, and upheld by the Supreme Court, demand that there is basic coverage for every American when it comes to their health insurance options, the answer is yes.  That was, in many ways, the whole point.  So the answer to that is yes.


What Valerie and others were responding to was reports that these individual who had gotten letters from their insurance companies were getting those letters because the Affordable Care Act forced the insurers to write those letters.  The only reason why those letters have to be written is because the insurers either changed plans -- in other words, canceled one plan and offered another that the insured purchased -- during this interim period since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or individuals purchased individual coverage since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  And I guess the point is we couldn’t grandfather in plans and individuals who didn’t exist at the moment of passage.


So the good news for everybody on this market is that there are now going to be -- there's going to be a vast increase in options available to them.  All of them will contain minimum standards of coverage that so many plans on the individual market now do not meet.  And for the first time, you can't be thrown off your plan because you get sick.  You can't be told that you're no longer getting benefits because you've hit an annual or lifetime cap that you didn’t even know you had because it was buried in the reams of paperwork that you signed.  And you can't be charged double because you're a woman, which was standard practice prior to the Affordable Care Act.


So circling back to your basic question, does the Affordable Care Act, when implemented, require minimum standards for coverage?  The answer is yes.


Q    Right.  And so Jonathan Chait, who's usually friendly to the administration, has an article, column in New York Magazine today saying "they are receiving those notices because the regulations Obama promised ended the individual insurance market as we know it."  And he suggested Valerie's tweet is absurd, because it ended the way that market ended.  So when you say nothing in Obamacare caused that, that’s not true.  That was the whole point of the law.


MR. CARNEY:  Well, Ed, again, I'm not going to challenge this in the sense that -- if that’s the point, the fundamental point which Jonathan and others make, that the Affordable Care Act creates a minimum standard for all insurance plans, the answer is, of course it does.  There was 18 months of debate about this before it passed.  There's been much discussion about the Affordable Care Act since.


What is also true is that, as the law states, if you had a plan on the individual market that you wanted to keep, you could keep it.  But the law could not order insurers not to cancel that plan, which, based on the way the individual market existed prior to the Affordable Care Act, they did all the time, and then said, well, guess what, Ed, we signed this contract for a year, your year is up, and if you want to keep insurance with us, we're going to double your premiums or we're going to do away with coverage for your knee or whatever it is -- they certainly had the ability to do that. 


And if they did that and the individual then said, well, I don't really have any options -- but I'm looking forward to having options when the Affordable Care Act is implemented -- but I don't really have any options now, I take what you give me --  then, yes, that plan does not meet the minimum standards of the Affordable Care Act.  And, therefore, people, again -- and I trust FOX will report this -- the 5 percent of the population that is affected by this is now --


     Q    The 5 percent is 14 million people, by the way, which is not a small --


     MR. CARNEY:  And these are incredibly important people.  These are the people for whom these marketplaces are being created, for whom better coverage and affordable prices are being created, the people who have lived with great insecurity for too long.  So, absolutely, they're important people. 


     But the basic point is for those people who have been told by their insurance companies that the plan they currently have doesn't meet the standards, they're being offered alternatives.  And they are also, many of them, qualified to receive substantial tax credits, which will make that better insurance coverage affordable. 


I think we talked about this, but I think the coverage you cited to me from another network in yesterday's briefing and the story of a woman in Florida left out -- both the coverage by the other network and in your question -- that that woman's plan covered nothing in terms of hospital visits.  She goes to the hospital, she goes bankrupt.  That's not quality insurance coverage. 


     Yes, the Affordable Care Act makes sure that if you pay for a plan, you get decent coverage.  There are grades of coverage available.  But the most basic coverage covers your hospital visits, covers maternity care, covers mental health services.  That's very important to millions of Americans. 


     Q    You just spent several minutes with me and others providing all this wonderful context.  And I wonder then why --  specifically with the President -- in September of 2009, "I want to spend a few minutes debunking some of the more outrageous myths circulating on the Internet.  If you like your private health insurance plan, you can keep your plan, period."


     MR. CARNEY:  That's the same quote I think that I had read to me earlier.


     Q    So do the President's word's matter when he sells a big thing like this?


     MR. CARNEY:  Well, Ed, again, all I ask of FOX and everybody is to provide the context.


     Q    But he didn't provide that context back then.


     MR. CARNEY:  There has been essentially five years of debate about this, and there was 18 months of intense debate about what the Affordable Care Act did and did not do at the time, and then much debate since, including hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars spent distorting what it does and does not do. 


     But all I ask is that you note the population that we're talking about and you note the fact that the Affordable Care Act, as written, allows that if you had the insurance on the individual market the President was talking about before passage of the Affordable Care Act and you wanted to keep it, you could keep it.  What we obviously cannot do or could not do in the interim was prevent insurers from canceling that policy and then offering a new one. 


So the good news is that that market is now going to be much more stable, much more secure, much more competitive, and will provide for everyone in it far better minimum services and benefits. 


Peter, and then I apologize to those -- and I will get to you, in the back.




Q    Tomorrow in Boston, at Faneuil Hall, the same location where several years ago the commonwealth care law was signed by Governor Mitt Romney, the President is going to speak and make remarks about, among other things, the bipartisan nature of that law.  Is Governor Mitt Romney invited to the event tomorrow?  Has he been invited?


MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any details beyond what we’ve provided about that event.  I think that it is certainly the case that the health care reform law, health insurance reform law that Governor Romney -- then-Governor Romney signed -- helped bring about and signed into law -- provides a useful model in its implementation for what we’re now seeing as the Affordable Care Act is implemented, or this portion of it is implemented. 


And as I noted yesterday, in the first month of enrollment in Massachusetts -- and I hope I get these figures right -- I think only 123 people in Massachusetts enrolled in premium-paying insurance plans, a very low number even in a state like Massachusetts.  So what that tells us is what we’ve been saying even prior to the launch date of October 1st, is that we have an extended enrollment period of six months for a reason, because this is a new marketplace that exists for people and, understandably, they need to take time to shop and become aware of the options available to them; and that, as has been the case in Massachusetts and in other similar kinds of programs, when you have this sort of extended shopping period, most people tend to wait until closer to the deadline before they actually enroll.  And we expect that to be the case, and we expected that to be the case with the Affordable Care Act.


Q    When it comes to, issues that have been raised about whether personal data is being protected under the Privacy Act and how secure it is, what assurances can you give Americans that the information they provide through that forum is safe?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, I can tell you that security is a very important issue.  I would point to the testimony of Marilyn Tavenner today up on the Hill, the head of CMS, who I think was asked a number of questions about this and, again, citing what she said, and she’s much closer to the ground on these issues -- that as implemented, the website has met security standards. 


As you know, we’re constantly examining the Affordable Care Act, which has had a launch that has not met the standards of the President or the Secretary, or Marilyn Tavenner, and we’re engaged in efforts to make improvements to the Affordable Care Act website -- -- every day. 


Q    Tomorrow we’re going to hear from Kathleen Sebelius for the first time before a congressional committee.  Just want to get a sense of exactly what -- how frequently they are speaking. Is the President being updated by the HHS Secretary on a daily basis about where things stand right now?  And do his expectations remain the same for the number of people to enroll by the March 31st deadline?


MR. CARNEY:  The President is regularly updated on implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  He’s in frequent conversation with Secretary Sebelius, as well as others involved in this effort.  We are continuing the effort of getting information out to the American people who are interested in this market, and their interest has been demonstrated by the huge numbers who have visited the website and who are visiting the call-in centers and the in-place centers -- in-person centers.  And we are very focused on making sure that we enroll as many people as we can. 


As I noted, stipulating that there has been unacceptable difficulty in the site in the early stages here and that those problems are being addressed on a daily basis, we always expected that there would be greater numbers enrolling towards the end of the enrollment period or towards the end of some of these deadline periods than you would see in the early parts.  And we certainly expect that to be the case -- it would have been the case regardless.


Q    This is very quick.  Marilyn Tavenner apologized, a “mea culpa” before the congressional members.  Does the President expect Kathleen Sebelius should make an apology tomorrow for the flaws that have existed to this point?


MR. CARNEY:  The President expects Secretary Sebelius to answer the questions asked of her and to provide information about the Affordable Care Act and its implementation to Congress, as she has in the past.  But I don’t want to preview her remarks beyond that.


Yes, John.


Q    The President has, according to a report, ordered a curtailing of the eavesdropping at the U.N. Headquarters.  Can you confirm that report?  And if not, if the answer is, no, that he hasn’t, or if you can’t confirm the report or talk about it, why should any other country feel that they can engage in diplomatic good-faith negotiations at the U.N. Headquarters?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that, as I said in response to other questions of this nature, that I can’t respond to specific reports of specific activities -- intelligence-gathering activities.  I can say that we are undertaking a review of those activities around the world with a special emphasis on examining whether we have the appropriate posture -- I’m having trouble with that, a lot of p’s -- examining whether we have the appropriate posture when it comes to heads of state, how we coordinate with our closest allies and partners, and what further guiding principles or constraints might be appropriate for our efforts. 


So I would include the question that you asked as sort of part of that general area of emphasis.  But what I can’t do is say, yes, this is right, and, no, that’s wrong, because the nature of this conversation and the kind of activities that we are asked to publicly confirm or deny by definition have national security implications.


Q    Should other countries be willing to talk to each other in New York at U.N. Headquarters?


MR. CARNEY:  We have extremely important relationships obviously with countries around the world, including member countries of the United Nations, and we have a very important and solid relationship with the United Nations institution, beginning with the Secretary General.  And, absolutely, we will continue to engage in those -- strengthening those relationships and working with the United Nations and our allies and partners on the host of issues that confront the United States and the world.


Q    Jay, looking back on it as you think about what the White House was saying over the past few months in preparation for the rollout of the website, is there any feeling in the White House that perhaps you set the expectations too high for the website, making the assurances about the cancellations for example, as over the course of the summer?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think on the issue of letters going out to the people in that 5 percent category, that is one question.  When it comes to -- because, again, when we’re talking about those issues, the Affordable Care Act, as written, provides a grandfathering exemption for -- an exemption for those people who had plans that they liked and stayed on those plans and want to keep them for however long they want to keep them, even though they might have better and cheaper alternatives available to them.  So that’s one thing.  And that was part of the law itself and the passage of the law and the discussion at the time.


There’s no question that when it comes to the website, that, as we’ve discussed, that we expected it to perform better.  And nobody is more frustrated by the difficulties the website has encountered than the President, followed I think closely by Secretary Sebelius and Marilyn Tavenner.  So that’s why we have made sure that the teams in place there that are working on this issue have been augmented by a so-called tech surge, a number of individuals who add brainpower and eyes and experience to fixing these challenges. 


And you heard from Jeff Zeints the other day, the site is fixable and these teams are going, one-by-one, to isolate the problems that have been identified and fixing them.  And every day, we expect the consumer experience to incrementally improve. 

Contextually, it’s important to remember that even from day one, individuals were getting onto the website; even from day one, individuals have been able to get information through other means -- by phone, mail or in person -- and that we’ve augmented those pathways as well.  And every day since we began to tackle these problems, the experience that consumers have had has improved. 


So if you’re asking in hindsight -- I mean, it’s another way of saying, did we anticipate these problems?  And the answer, to the degree that we’ve seen them, the answer is, no.  And I think you know from the way that we talked about this in the run-up to October 1st, that we expected more and better performance from the website.


Q    Well, I just wondered if -- I mean, for example, if the expectation had been, hey, it’s really hard to shop for insurance, it takes you hours and hours to do it, we’re probably going to get it down to an hour on the website, or a couple of hours -- instead of saying Kayak -- I mean, that sort of makes people think they can do it in five minutes, right?  So my question is could you --


MR. CARNEY:  I’ve never purchased a ticket in five minutes, but that’s just me.


Q    Do you think you could have prepared people a little bit for the possibility that this would be a little more onerous of a process?


MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, we are always welcome to advice on communications.  (Laughter.)  And --


Q    I’m not offering you advice.  I’m just wondering if you --


MR. CARNEY:  How much time do I have -- is that what you’re saying?  So no, look, I take your point, Christie, and I think it’s a good one.  I think it’s important to remember, too, that the purpose here wasn’t to do anything beyond encourage people to make themselves aware of the options available to them.  And the fact that the website has had the troubles it’s had makes that a greater challenge.  Oddly, some data has shown that all the coverage about it has actually increased interest in Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act, made people more aware of the affordable options available to them.  So I guess that’s not the desired way to make that happen, but we’ll take it. 


But the answer I think I can give is just that however we got here, the purpose has always been to get to the finish line. The finish line is functioning marketplaces that provide insurance options for millions of Americans that they didn’t have before, so that they have the security that they didn’t have before, and so that we can continue the progress we’ve made in restraining the growth in health care costs that have been such a negative driver, like a drag on our businesses, a drag on our economy, a drag on our federal Treasury. 

And we’ve seen a lot of progress in that regard, at the macro level.  And this is a piece of that puzzle, and it’s a piece that we’re going to have to trim the edges to make sure it fits, because it has not gone as smoothly as we would have liked.  But it’s going to fit.

     And what’s going to happen is that millions of Americans -- whether they had to spend hours on the website, or they came in later and had a smooth, shorter experience, or they got their insurance through the call-in centers, or the in-person centers

-- are going to find that they have the kind of security that quality health insurance provides that they did not have before. And that is the goal.

     Q    Well, let me just understand one other thing.

     MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

     Q    And this goes to the question of whether it was over-simplified a little bit in advance.  As recently as March, the President said a very simple statement using the present tense -- the present tense:  “If you like the plan that you have, you can keep it.”

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, again --

     Q    Not “If you like the plan you had in 2009” --

     MR. CARNEY:  Sure, and I understand what you’re saying.  And I can simply say that that was consistent with what the President had been saying since prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  And it described -- he was describing what was written into the law, which is that we would -- the law would grandfather in those who had insurance and liked it and wanted to keep it, even once the Affordable Care Act was implemented.

     And I understand that there is more to that story because of choices that insurance companies made to change the plans that individuals might have had, and that individuals who purchased a plan for the first time this year because maybe before their employer provided it, and they’ve changed jobs, and now they don't have, that while their insurer knew, and they may have known that the Affordable Care Act was coming into place and that there would be minimum standards, some of them are learning that they are going to get new options available for the first time now.

     And part of our job is to get that information out to them so that those individuals who are hearing this from their insurance companies understand that those same insurance companies now have plans that almost universally are better than the ones they had, in terms of the coverage, and that there’s now competition that didn't exist before in almost all cases, and they have the ability of receiving generous tax credits if they qualify.  So that's a communications issue.

     It’s also why I have tried to gently implore all of you and everyone else who covers these issues to -- when you write about them or broadcast them -- to provide that context so that when you -- if you’re watching on TV this morning, or last night, and you see a report on a network that suggests that 70-something percent or 64 percent of the population is getting cancellation notices because it didn't mention that we’re talking about -- even if those figures were true -- a much, much, much smaller portion of the population that --

Q    How many people are in the 5 percent?

MR. CARNEY:  What's the size of the American population now. So I think if their point, Ann, is to make the point that Ann made, which --

Q    So it’s not 5 percent of insurance holders, it’s 5 percent of --

MR. CARNEY:  No, 5 percent of the country.

Q    -- of the entire country.

MR. CARNEY:  And remember, 80 percent of the American people have insurance coverage today either through their employer -- like most of you -- through Medicare, through Medicaid, through the VA.  That’s 80 percent of the population.  Fifteen percent of the population -- and this is a challenge and a problem that has been the focus of some of the efforts to reform our health care system -- have no insurance at all.  They depend on the emergency room and they essentially depend on all of us to subsidize their health care, and they don’t even get the kind of preventive services that would obviously make the cost of their health care much lower.

That other 5 percent purchases insurance on the inadequate existing individual insurance market. 

Q    If you can provide a number, because the numbers are out there -- from industry and -- all over the place. 

MR. CARNEY:  I would consult Wikipedia for the size of the population and do 5 percent. 

Q    Thanks, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me -- I do feel -- I know everybody's got to go.  I do feel badly.  Ari, and then Mark, Cheryl.

MR. CARNEY:  I know you said earlier you couldn’t comment on the Wall Street Journal report.  NSA Director Alexander just testified on the Hill that the tens of millions of phone records were not collected by NSA, that these records include data collected by NATO allies.  Given that Director Alexander testified under oath to this effect a few minutes ago, can you respond to that?

MR. CARNEY:  I would respond by pointing you to the testimony of General Alexander.

Q    Okay.  In that case, let me just ask -- you’ve mentioned many times this review of intelligence procedures, and the thing I don’t understand is you say the review has reached conclusions.

MR. CARNEY:  No.  Oh, yes, there's --

Q    There’s some conclusions.

MR. CARNEY:  En train, yes.

Q    And some of those conclusions have been implemented, and in two months we'll learn what those implementations and conclusions were.  What do you want us to infer from that?

MR. CARNEY:  I guess I -- look, it's a great question.  I understand that by indicating that this is not static, that some -- even as we conduct this review, some changes in our practices are being implemented -- that that begs the question, okay, what are they, and I understand that because of the constraints on us in terms of talking about the security -- national security intelligence collection activities, that that is unsatisfying. 

But I think the point I'm trying to make is that this is not static; that it is not simply the appointment of a blue ribbon commission that goes off and does a little study in a conference room somewhere and comes back; that this is an active review that has led to some changes in the way that we conduct our intelligence-gathering activities already, but that will, upon conclusion, result in us being able to make public some of the review and some of the changes that we've been able to make, mindful of the fact that we're talking about very sensitive issues.

Q    So you're not trying to, with a wink and a nod, tell us today that spying is being curtailed even as you're not able to actually tell us that spying is being curtailed?  (Laughter.)

Q    Just wink and nod. 

Q    Wink and nod.

MR. CARNEY:  I'm simply trying to make clear that this is not a static process, and that the changes that have been identified that those who make these decisions believe can be made and should be made, even as the review is being undertaken, are being made.


Q    Given that, is there a frustration about these leaks? 

     MR. CARNEY:  Generally speaking?  Absolutely.  We have stipulated -- well, not stipulated -- I don't why I'm locked on that word earlier in our conversations.  But it is absolutely the case that unauthorized leaks of classified information of the kind that we've seen have caused significant damage.  And that has been testified to by principals in our national security community, as well as of course by the President.

     So I think the answer to that is, yes.  What these disclosures -- some of these disclosures have also caused is concern and consternation among some of our allies.  And we understand that, and we are addressing these issues through diplomatic channels and through direct --

     Q    I’m talking specifically about the review.

     MR. CARNEY:  About the review?

     Q    Things like -- that Ari just asked you about. 

     MR. CARNEY:  Leaks about the review?

     Q    Like that these different things that are trickling out that --

     MR. CARNEY:  I thought you were referring to the general disclosures that have occurred.  I'm sure it will come, because it always does, despite the alleged chilling effect.  I'm sure there will be leaks of the review, but I'm not aware of anything specific.

     Q    Jay, in the General Assembly today, nearly every nation on the planet voted to condemn for the 22nd year the U.S. embargo of Cuba.  Does that carry any weight in the Oval Office?

     MR. CARNEY:  Mark, I think that the President believes, as so many Americans believe, that Cuba's --the Cuban people's future would be better served by a system that was more democratic and more open to the world, and we have had a longstanding policy in regard to that.  So I think in terms of U.S. policy, we pursue that policy because we think it's right.  And we are of course mindful of the views of other nations.  But there is no question in our mind that there is a brighter future potentially available to the Cuban people with greater freedom, greater democracy, and a freer economy.

     Q    Is there any evidence the embargo is working?

     MR. CARNEY:  These are excellent questions that I think, at the end of a long briefing about the Affordable Care Act and NSA disclosures, might be better addressed at the State Department.

     Q    Not HHS?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, maybe you could try HHS.  (Laughter.)  Everybody is allowed to leave if they want to leave, but I do feel that there was -- Cheryl, I promised you. 

Q    Yeah, real quick.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m going to bludgeon you with accessibility here.

     Q    No, on the debt limit. 

     MR. CARNEY:  Yes.

     Q    The Senate is going to be debating and voting today on the debt limit process.  Has the White House changed its mind at all about how that should go forward?  Do you support repeal of the debt limit statute -- the resolution, the disapproval process? 

     MR. CARNEY:  We are glad that the Congress, and Republicans in Congress who chose to shut the government down and engage in brinksmanship around the debt limit, chose a different path too late, as it turns out, when it comes to the damage that had already been inflicted on the economy and the American people -- damage that we’re seeing again today in the consumer confidence numbers.

     But we’re glad that this was resolved in a way that will ensure the United States will maintain its status of always paying its bills on time, and that the full faith and credit of the United States will be retained.  Our position is what it has always been, which is the authority to deal with the debt ceiling resides with Congress.  So we look to Congress to exercise that authority in a responsible way that doesn’t put the world on edge and the global economy on edge every time that the issue comes up.

     Q    Does it need to be changed?  Does the process need to be changed?

     MR. CARNEY:  Well, our view is the same, Cheryl, as it was when we were in the thick of it, if you will, which is that it is up to Congress to decide how it wants to exercise that authority.  To say that it would be better if a future President could deal with this through executive action would be sort of beside the point, because no President, not this one or any future President, as the laws are currently written, has that authority.  So Congress would have to decide how to deal with this. 

Our view is that whatever they decide, they ought to deal with it in a manner that does not send a signal to the world that we may not pay our bills and that we may flirt with default.

     Olivier and then you, sir.  Last one. 

     Q    Jay, I want to get back to the NSA review you’ve discussed throughout this briefing, and I wanted to get at two of the criteria.  You mentioned heads of state and you mentioned closest allies and partners.  Does that review include people who are below the head of state level?  I mean, obviously it wouldn’t cover a lot of prime ministers.

     MR. CARNEY:  I think I said, Olivier, that there’s a special emphasis on those areas, and then I also said that the review itself would be broader in many ways.  So without -- we could -- you could reduce this to questions about whether we engaged in intelligence gathering at all or whether we should.  And the answer is we do and we should, and we will, just as other nations do and should and will because it’s in their national security interests.  So I think it’s important to stipulate that.

     Beyond that, specificity about what kind of activities we engage in I’ll have to put off until we finish this review and have more to offer you about the changes that are made.

     Q    So that suggests to me that you then can't also define who the closest allies and partners are, is that right? 

     MR. CARNEY:  Not in this context, no.  I think that the -- again, I’m not going to be able to provide greater specificity about alleged or reported intelligence-gathering activities except to say that this review is underway, that the President think it’s important to find that balance that allows us to take the necessary actions under the law to gather intelligence that enhances our national security and enhances the security of our allies and friends, and that also is mindful of the security -- rather, the privacy concerns of Americans and others.

     Yes, sir.  Last one.

     Q    And, Jay, I’m still trying to understand the eavesdropping on Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone.  All that we hear is that the (inaudible) -- it’s a practice in general, as a matter of security and saving lives here and abroad and so on with the allies, your allies.  But can you explain to the German audience which kind of danger occurs from Chancellor Merkel?  Is she in the broader sense a terror suspect or what? 

     MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question.  And what I can tell you is what I said last week and again this week, which is that the President spoke with Chancellor Merkel about these issues as well as other issues.  He assured her that the United States does not and will not collect information on her communications on her cell phone, for example.

     When it comes to reports about specific activity or alleged activity that the United States may or may not have engaged in, when it comes to gathering intelligence, I just can't comment.  The broader issue of heads of state and allies and partners and friends is receiving special emphasis in the review that the President initiated.  And when that review concludes at the end of the year, we’ll have some more detail to provide to you.

     Thanks very much, everybody.

     Q    Is the President staying in Boston for the game?

     MR. CARNEY:  No, ma’am.


                             END         3:11 P.M. EDT

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