Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 11/13/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:41 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: I welcome you to the White House today. Thanks for being here. Before I take your questions, I have several announcements here at the top.
First of all, as has just recently been reported, there’s a bit of big news. In October, for the first time in nearly two decades, domestic oil production, which is at a 24-year high, surpassed foreign oil imports, which are at a 17-year low. This milestone is a result of both increased production and administration policies like increased fuel-economy standards that cut oil consumption, cut carbon pollution, and cut consumer bills.
I have some visual aids here. The first chart shows what the Energy and Information Administration has found. For the first time since the 1990s, the monthly average of U.S. crude oil net imports will be less than the amount of crude oil we produce domestically during the same period. This transformation is driven by three primary factors. First, the improving efficiency of our cars and trucks, sparked by the President’s historic fuel-economy standards. Second, continuing catalytic investments in advanced vehicles and fuels, and increased biofuel production. Third, increasing domestic oil production.
Taken together, these factors not only reduce our dependence on foreign oil but work to reduce overall carbon pollution in our communities, as is shown in this second chart. As you can see, carbon pollution from the transportation sector was the lowest it’s been in more than a decade in 2012. Improved efficiency in the transportation sector as well as deployment of alternative fuel technologies like electric vehicles and biofuels are driving this reduction in carbon pollution.
The final chart underscores the important point that we do not need to choose between growing the economy and cutting pollution. While CO2 emissions are dropping, our economy is not slowing and our GDP continues to grow.
The President’s climate action plan will spark innovation across a wide variety of energy technologies, resulting in cleaner forms of American-made energy. The President’s plan will also help families cut energy waste, lowering their gas and utility bills.
So this is a significant milestone, a reflection of the President’s all-of-the-above approach to energy production as well as his commitment to reducing carbon emissions. And it’s rather remarkable if you look at the trajectory over the course of the last two decades that we are now importing less foreign oil than we are producing here at home, and that’s something that is very welcome news indeed.
The second announcement I have at the top is that today at 3:00 p.m. in the Oval Office the President will sign H.R. 2094: The School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which amends the Children’s Asthma Treatment Grants Program and other asthma programs administered by the Department of Health and Human Services in order to encourage schools to plan for severe allergic reactions. There will be a photo spray at the top of that signing ceremony.
Finally, we applaud congressional leaders in both the House and Senate for introducing a bill today that would help realize the President’s vision of high-quality preschool for every American child. It’s notable that the House version of the bill includes a Republican co-sponsor. Parents deserve safe places for their children to learn, and we know that for America to succeed in the 21st century, we will need the most dynamic, educated workforce in the world.
There is no better down payment towards that goal than a great early start to education. Studies show that every dollar invested in early learning and development programs save as much as $7 down the road in higher earnings that yield more revenue and lower government spending on social services and crime prevention. That’s why governors from both parties are investing in early education at the state level. But even so, most 4-year-olds are not in a high-quality public preschool program.
This is an investment we need to make at the federal level, too, and one that the President has a plan to pay for -- with a small increase to the federal tax on cigarettes, which would also discourage kids from smoking and benefit their health. The President believes we can and must do more to provide every child an opportunity, a great start in life, and this bill is a crucial step in that direction.
Education, of course, cannot stop in the early years, and that is why, as Valerie Jarrett announced last night, next month the President will host a summit that will produce -- that will bring together, rather, college presidents, the private sector, and others to focus on increasing college access and completion for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This will include ensuring that we reach disadvantaged students early enough so that they are on a path to succeed in college and in their careers, and to help them wherever possible to match to the colleges where they are most likely to succeed.
Finally, there is a lot of evidence out there about what works, and we want to use this event as an opportunity to see how we can scale up the most successful approaches to helping students reach and succeed in college. And this will complement our efforts to address the issue of college cost for all students by focusing on their mission of a quality education at an affordable price.
Q When is this?
MR. CARNEY: Early next month. April, early next month.
With that, I will go to the Associated Press. Jim.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple things on health care. The House is expected to vote Friday on Congressman Upton's bill to continue to provide current health coverage to Americans even though it doesn’t meet the new health law's standards. You voiced your opposition -- or the White House opposition to that yesterday. But I'm wondering if there's something -- is there an alternative that the White House will provide to Democrats who seem eager if not desperate for something that they can support, if not this Upton bill? And do you have a view on Senator Landrieu's bill today now that it's gaining more Democratic support?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, I thank you for the question. The President has always been eager to work with lawmakers of both parties who are sincerely interested in improving the Affordable Care Act. Major reforms like this, the past tells us, are upgraded and improved along the way through legislative action. And the President, as I said, has always been interested in and has expressed that interest in working with lawmakers of both parties who envision a way to make legislative fixes so that improvements can be introduced.
The problems I mentioned yesterday with the bill that you cited in the House are that, intentionally or not, the bill would not just address the problem that has been discussed with cancellation notices for those in the individual market, but would essentially allow insurers to sell new plans that were substandard that did not meet the minimum benefits standard of the Affordable Care Act, and thereby potentially undermine the central promise of the Affordable Care Act, which is that Americans ought to be able to have certainty that when they purchase coverage, they are going to receive minimum benefits and quality and affordable health care.
So, having said that -- and this goes to your second question about the work that Senator Landrieu and others are undertaking -- the President does want to, and is discussing with lawmakers ways that we can make improvements that go to the problem that he talked about with Chuck last week.
In addition to that, the President has instructed his team to come up with options for him to review. And you can expect a decision from him and an announcement from him sooner rather than later on options that we can take to address the problem that we’ve been discussing here with regards to those individuals who have had their individual insurance plans canceled because of the transition to the Affordable Care Act marketplaces.
So we’re working on all levels to address these problems, and we welcome sincere efforts. And we certainly agree with Democrats that the problems we’ve seen with the website, the problems that we’ve seen that have been caused by the gaps and holes in the legislation that the President mentioned need to be fixed and need to be addressed. Because the purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to create that system where there is quality, affordable health insurance available to every American. And it is important to remember, when we’re talking about efforts largely undertaken by Republicans that don’t try to fix problems or improve the Affordable Care Act, but try to eliminate it altogether or sabotage it, that the alternative they are proposing is the status quo.
There has been a great deal of focus, deservedly so, on the problems with the rollout of the marketplaces, but we should not lose sight of the fact that there was a reason that this President, as so many presidents before him, pursued health care reform. The system was broken. It is broken. It needs reform. It needs fixing. It needs to be better so that the American people can count on affordable, quality health care as a right and not a privilege.
Q So many Democrats see that as a failed promise -- the idea that you could keep your health care, your insurance. And so is there something that they’ll be able to rally around by the end of this week when they face -- when they have to actually vote on something that the White House doesn’t support?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we don’t believe that proposed legislation that actually causes more problems than it fixes is the right way to go. But we are interested in other avenues that actually address the problems identified. And as I just said, the President tasked his team, as he mentioned last week, to come up with proposed solutions. And you can expect us to be announcing something sooner rather than later.
Q Briefly then, last week, the President, in Dallas, speaking about the health care website, said, “By the end of this month, we anticipate that it’s going to be working the way it is supposed to.” Yesterday, you said, “We expect it to be functioning properly and effectively for the vast majority of Americans by the end of the month.” And today, Todd Park, the White House Chief Technology Officer, wouldn’t guarantee that it would be fully functional by November 30th but said it was a goal. So the President gets updated on this daily, and I wondered, what is today’s appraisal of November 30th? Is it going to be functioning? And when you say “for a vast majority of Americans,” even if it doesn’t help everybody, you could still be leaving millions of Americans not getting access to that website.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me say a couple of things. As Jeff Zients, who is managing this effort, said publicly to the press, we are working 24/7 making changes and improvements to the website, and it is our belief that we are on track so that by November 30th, healthcare.gov will be working smoothly for the vast majority of users. That’s what Jeff said, and that remains the case today.
As I think Todd Park said in his testimony, and others have said and I have said, there are still problems that need to be addressed, even as we work through a punch list, or the team, the tech team works through a punch list of issues that need to be resolved.
The fact is, on November 13th, we are not where we will be and want to be by November 30th. But it remains the case that we believe the site will be working smoothly for the vast majority of users by the end of the month. That was the frame that Jeff Zients talked about when he first established this goal, and we believe we’re on track. We make assessments all the time. Today, we are confident that we are on track to achieve that. If that changes, we will certainly let you know.
Let me also be clear, as I said yesterday, as with any major website that’s complex, as this one is, it can be working smoothly for the vast majority of users and there can still be individuals who experience problems. So I do not doubt that if we meet this goal and it is working smoothly for the vast majority of users, that there will be stories of people who experience delays or difficulties. But it is our conviction that we can, with the fixes that are being implemented, reach that goal by November 30th.
And again, the purpose of this is to ensure that Americans who are interested in reviewing their options and purchasing quality, affordable health insurance through the marketplaces are able to do so in a satisfactory way. And there's no question that from the launch date on October 1st, the performance of the website has been far less than satisfactory.
I think that it's important to note -- and CMS has released some of this information, but I can do it from here too -- that this progress that is being made every day is measured against metrics that focus on response time and error rate and site stability. Progress on these metrics are moving in the right direction -- pages are loading faster and error rates are down -- and we expect to see more progress each week. On response time, we have cut the average wait time of eight seconds for pages across the site to load to less than one second. That's progress. We're not where we need to be, but that is progress.
On error rate, we have reduced the error rate -- the frequency on a per-page basis of system timeouts or failures that prevented the user from advancing -- from 6 percent to 2 percent as of last week. That was announced last week. And I can tell you today that that error rate is now below 1 percent. That's progress. It is not where we need to be. It is not where we expect to be on November 30th, but that is progress.
On site stability, as you know, the system has gone down with some consistency since it was launched on October 1st. But stability has greatly improved. I think that has been noted by people who cover it. And we are implementing fixes and changes every day that help improve stability, as well as error rate and response time.
So this is the kind of stuff that often CMS releases, but I'm trying to give you some context here so that it's not just a goal that we'll all evaluate on November 30th as to whether we've made it or not, that there are specific metrics by which progress is measured and there is measurable progress to report. And there are software fixes being made, hardware fixes being made. And each day, we get closer to where we need to be.
Q Jay, on a separate topic -- Iran. The President spoke to Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande today and recently. Is the United States preparing a new package or a new deal along with its allies for the next round of talks? And if the next round of talks also proves to be unsuccessful, would that be the time for harsher sanctions or a new round of sanctions against Iran?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, Jeff, we have not gotten into a great deal of specificity about the proposals or the substance of the negotiations. We have said -- and it remains absolutely the case -- that the P5-plus-1 presented a unified proposal, which was not accepted by Iran. It is also true that the negotiations in Geneva were serious and that progress was made.
And while an agreement was not reached on this first phase that we’ve talked about, it is evident that the comprehensive set of sanctions that have been implemented, coupled with the efforts to isolate Tehran that we have pursued, have had a dramatic effect on the Iranian government’s view of its dilemma here. And they are engaging in serious negotiations about how they can verifiably comply with their international obligations in a way that allows the P5-plus-1 and all of our allies and partners, in every country in the region and world, to be confident that Iran cannot and will not obtain a nuclear weapon. That is the goal. And as I said yesterday, it is the right goal.
The President takes no option off the table, but it is absolutely his responsibility as Commander-in-Chief to pursue the possibility of preventing Iran from achieving or acquiring a nuclear weapon through a peaceful negotiation as opposed to the alternative. The alternative remains on the table, but it is far preferable, if possible, to achieve an agreement that is verifiable, transparent, and the product of concrete steps with Iran. And that is what we are pursuing.
Q Moving back to health care, is the White House encouraging Nancy-Ann DeParle and Jeanne Lambrew to testify about Obamacare?
MR. CARNEY: I have to take the question. I haven’t looked into that.
Q It’s something that the congressmen and women are asking for that they say they’ve been denied. Also, there was a meeting between Obama administration officials and House Democrats about the health care law.
MR. CARNEY: If I could just say in general on -- I think you saw today again with Todd Park testifying that there has been an enormous amount of cooperation with oversight, multiple committees looking into this, many senior officials testifying, witnesses being interviewed, documents being provided.
And Todd Park did go up and, as you know, testify this morning. And I think as I noted yesterday -- it bears repeating today -- that Todd Park is working 24/7 on the efforts to fix the website, and if the focus of congressional committees and their chairmen is to get the website fixed, they would have been more successful in pursuing that goal -- if it is their goal -- if they had allowed Todd Park to continue that work and for him to come up, as we made abundantly clear he would, in December to testify.
Q Okay. My last follow-up was there was a meeting between Obama administration officials and House Democrats about the health care law. Can you tell us who was present from the White House at that meeting and what types of assurances are being made to House Democrats, following up on Jim’s question, that this will be solved and that it’s not going to hurt them in 2014?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I believe David Simas was at that meeting. I can find out who else was there. So the meeting took place, and these are reflective of the kinds of meetings and the many meetings that we’ve had on the Affordable Care Act and its implementation, and the problems that we’ve experienced with the website and other challenges.
And I think that the frustration that Democrats who strongly support the Affordable Care Act and who strongly believe that it is the right thing to do and needs to be implemented so that it can benefit their constituents and the American people is similar to the frustration the President feels. Nobody is satisfied. Nobody who supports health care reform and supports successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act is satisfied with what we’ve seen out of the website and with some of these other problems.
Now, there are those who are clearly rooting for failure because their preference has always been that there not be any reform, that --
Q -- what kind of assurances can be made to Democrats, people on your team right now, that this isn’t going to hurt their election chances next year?
MR. CARNEY: I think that there are two things that I can say in response to that. One, the President, and everybody else here, looks at this as a matter of policy first and politics second, because the policy here is what matters. Democrats supported health care reform against mighty resistance from Republicans, and it is absolutely vital that we get it right; that we do everything we can, as we are doing, to make sure that the marketplaces function and that the American people get access to quality, affordable health insurance as promised by the Affordable Care Act. And that’s on the individual level.
And then, on the broader, macroeconomic level, that the Affordable Care Act continues to deliver on the promise of bending the cost curve, producing savings within our health care system, reflected as we’ve seen in the fact that health care inflation has been lower in the last three years since the Affordable Care Act was passed and at any time in the previous half-century. And that’s the assurance we can give them -- that we are working every day and we’re working with them, and as I mentioned earlier, talking to lawmakers about ideas they have to help improve this situation so that we deliver on the policy promise. And the policy promise stands in stark contrast, if fulfilled, with the alternative, and that goes to the politics.
I’m going to move, because yesterday I think we spent almost 45 minutes on the front row. John.
Q Two questions for you, Jay. One, when you say sooner rather than later, as far the President announcing some sort of administrative plan here, would sooner be before Friday when the House votes on the Upton bill?
MR. CARNEY: Sooner rather than later. And as I mentioned yesterday, when the President says -- or asks his team to work quickly to come up with policy options, people respond quickly to that request.
Q Secondly, the meeting today with House Democrats -- this wasn't a group of moderates in swing districts that were taking issue with what David Simas and Mike Hash were telling them; it was Anna Eshoo from California, from Silicon Valley, a good friend of Nancy Pelosi; Mike Doyle, who was a big interlocutor to get Catholics on board with the original vote on ACA, somebody who is a big supporter. Is the President concerned about a slide in Democratic support here, something that might be irreversible if you don’t get things fixed soon?
MR. CARNEY: The President is concerned about getting implementation of the Affordable Care Act right, which is a concern shared by the members you just mentioned, and by every Democratic member of the House, I trust, and every Democratic member of the Senate. It might, perhaps, be shared by even some Republicans. We'll see.
The fact is, it's the law of the land. It provides exceptional benefits to the American people, and it needs to be gotten right. And that’s what the President is focused on.
When it comes to political support, I would simply say what I just said earlier, which is that politics follows policy here. The fact of the matter is -- and I know that a lot of attention is being paid to polls, and I'm not discounting that at all, and I know that the current situation is turbulent when it comes to the problems that we've seen with the implementation of the marketplaces -- but it was just three or four weeks ago that I stood in this room and took questions about whether or not the Republican Party was in terminal decline in the wake of the decision by House Republicans to shut the government down over their opposition to Obamacare.
So politics is a fluid business.
Q If you’re a --
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t make that assertion, reporters did. And what I said in response to those questions was what the President believes, which is that this country thrives with a vibrant two-party system, and that we need a strong two-party system in which both parties are trying to achieve compromise on behalf of the American people. That’s what the President believes.
So the whole point is that politics are fluid. The policy is what matters. The policy and the benefits are what matters. And that’s what we're focused on.
Q Can I follow up?
MR. CARNEY: I think I'm going to get to ABC. Victoria.
Q Senator Elizabeth Warren was saying today that with Republicans filibustering a candidate for the D.C. Court of Appeals yesterday, they are effectively trying to nullify the results of the last election and seriously looking at going for the nuclear option. Would you like to comment on whether you think they're going that far?
MR. CARNEY: The opposition and obstruction that we've seen in the Senate to highly qualified nominees to this court is highly regrettable. The reasons thrown up for that opposition are insincere at best and laughable in general. This is the same court which had a smaller workload to which Republicans gladly voted for President George W. Bush's nominees.
So to cite caseload, in an effort obviously to prevent the duly elected President of the United States from appointing his nominees to this court, I don’t think anybody takes seriously -- I don't think anybody in this room, with the possible exception of a handful, take seriously.
And we will defer to Leader Reid on the actions that ought to be taken in response. But it is shocking, really, when you think about the nominees that have been blocked through filibuster, how qualified they are and how rightfully they ought to be able to sit on that court, because the President of the United States has nominated them.
I noted -- I don't know if others saw -- there was an amazing piece about the last nominee, Ms. Millett, who was filibustered from a military reservist who was represented by her in a discrimination suit against his employer who discriminated against him because of his service as a reservist and his deployment. And she is a military spouse, and she took up that case and she won in the Supreme Court. And that's the kind of representation that ought to be on that court. And we will continue to fight for the President's highly qualified nominees to be confirmed by the Senate as the Constitution prescribes.
Q Thank you, Jay. Does the White House have any reaction to Speaker Boehner's comments today that the House would not take up a comprehensive immigration bill, that that would not go to -- would not do a conference committee on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the Speaker has said -- and I'm just reading what he was quoted as having said -- that the House would not take up the Senate bill. I think there's a procedural reason for why that couldn't happen anyway. But what the House could do this week is take up its own comprehensive immigration reform bill. There's one that the House Democrats have put on the table that reflects the President's principles, reflects the principles put forward in the bipartisan Senate bill and that we strongly believe would pass the House with a substantial majority, including voters from both parties if the Speaker were to bring it to the floor for a vote.
I noted that the Speaker said that he has instructed members of his team to devise principles on immigration reform, and I think that's a welcome step. It seems a little bit late in the game to be developing principles on this substantial issue and priority for American businesses, for labor, for faith communities, for law enforcement communities. The President, as you know, put forward principles on immigration reform a number of years ago and those principles are reflected in the Senate bipartisan bill.
But the fact of the matter remains that however they do it, the House ought to move forward with a process that will result in comprehensive immigration reform becoming law. It’s good for the country, it’s good for the economy, it’s good for the middle class, it’s good for business, and it’d be good for the Republican Party. And I know that you know that every Republican leader you talk to agrees with that sentiment.
And the President is more than willing to assist in delivering that benefit to, if we’re talking about politics, to the Republican Party. And every conservative Republican who wants to explain to his or her constituents why it’s the right thing to do has just ample evidence that CEOs and other business leaders can provide to them, and economists can provide to them, about why comprehensive immigration reform is the right thing to do from a conservative and economic perspective.
Q Do you think this will happen this year?
MR. CARNEY: I think it could happen this year. Obviously, the House is the obstacle, or the opportunity. And we, as I said, believe that if there were the will in the House to act quickly and decisively on comprehensive immigration reform, it could be achieved and it would receive a broad bipartisan vote in the affirmative.
Q Hey, Jay, since you’ve been helpful giving out some CMS numbers today, can you tell us how many people have enrolled for health care through the federal exchanges?
MR. CARNEY: I do not have that information, but I believe that CMS will have an announcement later today.
Q And assuming the numbers will be low, as you’ve told us many times, how much of a reason -- I know the reasons; it’s first month, sixth months and all of that, people do it late -- how much will the numbers be deflated because of the problems with the website?
MR. CARNEY: I can only tell you that we fully expect that the numbers will be even lower than anticipated because of the significant challenges caused by the website. I would defer you to CMS and the briefing that they’ll give on the numbers when they present them.
Q And we learned from GAO today, at the hearing in the House, that the website development cost, in the words of the GAO, north of $600 million. Do you have any comment on that number? It seems like --
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t see that report. I can refer you to HHS and CMS for how the contracts work for the development of the website. I know that the teams now that have been brought in are working under existing contracts in an effort to fix the problems that the website has and to continue to work down the punch list, as I described earlier.
Q But does the President think that taxpayers got their money’s worth out of that?
MR. CARNEY: The President certainly thinks that the website has functioned far below expectations and is wholly unsatisfied with its performance thus far, and he believes that the American people, and most specifically those Americans who are seeking insurance through the marketplaces and quality, affordable insurance for many of them for the first time, deserve better. And that’s why he has insisted, in very stark terms, to his team that they get this right. And they’re working 24/7 to get it right.
Q And finally, more than $600 [million] spent so far; is there any sense of how much more is going to be spent to get this right?
MR. CARNEY: For those kinds of questions, I refer you to CMS and HHS. Again, I believe early on in this process, when we began putting together the tech surge and the team of people who are working on the fixes -- they, HHS, that we made clear that those individuals who are part of that effort are working under existing contracts.
Q Thanks, Jay. Secretary Sebelius, we now know, during the briefing is participating --
MR. CARNEY: Brianna, can I ask your indulgence for one moment? I just wanted to bring up one other point in answer to Jon, which is that it’s important to note, and it is often neglected as a data point by critics of the Affordable Care Act, that, as scored by the CBO, the Affordable Care Act will significantly reduce the deficit both in the first 10 years and truly significantly in the second 10 years -- as scored by the CBO, a nonpartisan body that Republicans and Democrats frequently cite and I’m citing today.
Q We’re expecting the announcement of enrollment numbers today, as you’ve said. Obviously, the President has seen them, is that right?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t spoken with him about this today. So the President is regularly updated, so it’s certainly -- I just don’t know if he’s seen the final figures. I think what we’ve said all along is and was true, which is that this is data coming in from a lot of sources; it has to be scrubbed, it has to be checked so that when it’s released, that it is as accurate as possible. So what I can’t --
Q I mean, it’s a huge deal. He doesn’t have a reaction to it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think we should wait until the thing to which you’re asking for a reaction is released publicly, and then we can talk about what it means. What I can tell you --
Q Will you come out again and talk to us about it?
MR. CARNEY: I’m hoping that I’ll be done for the day after this, but one never knows.
Q Maybe the President will come out and talk to us.
MR. CARNEY: You never know. But my point, Brianna, is I promise you that no one will be satisfied with the numbers because they will be below what we sought prior to the launch. And while it is fully expected and was fully expected that enrollment would be low in the first month, because that is the historic experience here with Massachusetts being the best example to look to, the lowness will be exacerbated because of the significant problems with the website and the website obviously was a major avenue through which people would be able to enroll.
Q But he’s been briefed on this.
MR. CARNEY: Again, Brianna, I just said that I haven’t talked to him about this today so I want to be careful about blithely stating yes. I suspect the answer is yes, but I don’t know. And again, final numbers would be dependent upon the sort of final scrub.
Q Can we talk about the punch list? Talking to sources, it sounds like the punch list is comprised of priorities as well as defects, that some of the defects don’t necessarily meet the threshold of making the website not operational. Why not, in the interest of transparency, just put out the punch list? Because right now you have Secretary Sebelius having said that there is hundreds of items. I mean, it sounds like this huge avalanche of problems, but maybe in the interest of transparency, wouldn’t it make sense to put out the punch list?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, again, I was struck by this when a reporter who covers this very closely late in the day was unaware of some of the information that we were giving that reporter yesterday that had been public from CMS last week about the data. So we are making information about the progress being made and the metrics that are being used, and I’m sure that in the regular briefings that CMS has been doing that more data than I’ll be able to provide is being provided and will be provided.
You’re absolutely right that there are basically -- on the software side and the hardware side there are priority problems that are being addressed as priorities, because fixing them will have the greatest impact on error rate and stability and delay time, which are the principal problems that need to be resolved. But there are a whole host of other small issues that are also sort of on another list that are addressed when the site goes down for maintenance, for regular maintenance overnight that are addressed as well as the major priority list.
Q You’re sort of I think sketching out a scenario of what the website functionality may look like come November 30th when you said some people will be experiencing some delays still.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m just guessing that, as is the case with every major website that I’ve ever used, that it’s not a perfect experience for everyone. So I just don’t want to -- I want to anticipate for you that even if we meet our goal, which we're assessing regularly the progress toward it, of having the website working smoothly for the vast majority of users by November 30th, that we can both meet that goal and have individual experiences reported back to us that are less than satisfactory. And I think that those will be tackled in the same manner that the more serious and higher volume problems have been tackled heretofore.
Q But what is the goal? When you say "vast majority," I mean, it sounds like the people who are actually on the -- or I understand it to be the case, that the people who are actually on the ground working out the technical fixes for healthcare.gov don't know what that means. Is that rhetoric or is it an operational goal?
MR. CARNEY: I think it reflects -- and I would point you to briefers at CMS for more details, including Jeff Zients, who has addressed this -- the realistic goal of the site working as it was intended to, i.e. smoothly, for the vast majority of users.
Q What does that mean, the "vast majority?"
MR. CARNEY: I think it means what I'm saying, which is that we do not and would not set a goal, and should never have set a goal --
Q But there has to be a number, right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have a number attached to that. I think that, again, it would be hard to pinpoint when you're getting anecdotal cases of individuals who have not had a satisfactory experience what that percentage represents.
Q Except you're citing -- I mean, Park is on the Hill today citing how many people can go on the website. You know the number of how many people can --
MR. CARNEY: Right, but today is November 13th. What I'm saying is in the goal that we're setting, we know we have a vast majority.
Q So what is the number goal for the vast majority?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, there's a number goal of concurrent users, if -- that's what Todd Park was talking about today, I believe, in his testimony. And there are number goals in terms of volume capacity. And I think others were testifying or someone else was testifying about the number of people who are registering or signing up in an hour.
Q So there is no number? So there is no number goal?
MR. CARNEY: Brianna, I think that, again, we're talking about November 30th and we're talking about having the website function effectively for the vast majority of users. And I'm being I think very clear here, as I was yesterday, by saying that that does not mean and nor should you or do we expect it to mean that there will not be, even if we meet that goal, any individuals out there who didn't have the website time out or didn't have an eight-second delay for one page loading, because that happens as it does I think for all of us on websites every day.
Q Does it meet the President's rubric when you're talking about some people experiencing delay? So, presumably, because you won't commit to a number, that could be a sizable number. Does that meet with what he said a week ago --
MR. CARNEY: I think it would be the other side of a vast majority.
Q -- where he said we can anticipate that it is going to be working the way it is supposed to?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, for the vast majority of users.
Q He didn't say that.
MR. CARNEY: Okay. It should be working the way it's supposed to be working. And that means that for the vast majority of users, it's working smoothly, they have a satisfactory experience -- that the wait times are not problematic, that the pages move through quickly, they don't get error messages, and they're able to shop and successfully register and enroll in a way that allows them to feel comfortable with the process. That's the goal.
And, obviously, because this in part has to do with individuals having an experience with a website and its interface, some of the factors of satisfaction are hard to measure. So we have metrics that try to address that in terms of error rates and load rates.
So they're focusing on those technical fixes that will improve the experience and have already, as I noted, improve the experience for users thus far.
Q Jay, you were talking about when the President would soon announce what he thinks is the solution for the folks who got cancellation --
MR. CARNEY: Sooner rather than later.
Q Right. But you made clear that he would like himself to explain what that is. At that time --
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn’t say that. I mean, I think -- we are going to, at the President's direction -- as he made clear in his interview with NBC, he's tasked his team with coming up with proposals that would address the problem.
Q Oh, so he might --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm just not making a scheduling announcement about either specifically when, except that it's sooner rather than later, or how those proposals will be put forward. I can just tell you that the President has made very clear to his team that he wants these proposals reviewed, and then he'll make a decision about how to move forward. And then, again, in the context of questions about Senator Landrieu and other potential legislative remedies, we are in regular conversation with lawmakers who are sincerely focused on trying to address the gaps and holes in the legislation.
Q Okay. Well, back to the land of vague, then I want to move forward to the question I was going to ask, which is, Jeff Zients has been very clear in the calls that he's been on that, realistically, they have encountered many unexpected things that have occurred, even though progress has been made. My question is, is the President prepared at some point this month to talk publicly about the potential that folks will not be able to actually get and pay for insurance that they need by January 1 for whatever host of reasons? Would he be able to say, I have contingency plans, or here's what we --
MR. CARNEY: Sure, as I said earlier, we continue to believe that, with the progress we are making, that we are on track to meet the goal for the website to be functioning smoothly for the vast majority of users. And I can tell you right now that as of today, we are on track. But I’ll also say that if that changes and we are no longer on track, we will tell you.
So I know that there’s been speculation hedged and vaguely sourced that we’re not on track -- that’s not the case. But I’ll tell you that if we aren’t -- if we aren’t, I will tell you or we will tell you that that’s the case. Again, I think it goes to some of the questions that I addressed earlier about what the purpose of all this is, which is getting the implementation of this policy right so that the benefits that accrue to the American people are delivered to the American people who need them and who will benefit from them.
So that’s what we’re focused on, and we’ll -- as we have in taking ownership of the wholly unacceptable problems with the website, we’ll continue to be candid about where we are. And where we are today is we’re on track to meet that goal.
Q Jay, as we all know, the U.S. is, along with many other nations, sending assistance to the typhoon-ravaged Philippines. Have the cuts resulting from the sequester affected the ability of the U.S. military to deliver this type of assistance not only abroad but here in America as well when disaster strikes?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are engaged in a comprehensive effort to provide direct assistance to the Philippines as they deal with the aftermath of this horrific storm, historic storm, and typhoon. I talked about some of the details, but the airlift of USAID heavy-duty plastic sheeting and hygiene kits arrived in Manila yesterday. Those supplies were delivered to Tacloban today -- that’s one of the seriously affected areas. DOD and USAID are coordinating closely and preparing to airlift additional U.S. relief supplies and food aid to Tacloban in coming days.
The USS George Washington carrier strike group is scheduled to arrive on November 14th, tomorrow, which will help expand search-and-rescue operations, provide medical care, and logistical support, and serve as a platform for helicopters that can move supplies to remote areas. And we can provide you with greater information.
In answer to your question about the budgets, we are deploying all the resources that we can to this effort. I would refer you to DOD about the effects of sequester on that. I have not heard that the sequester has caused a problem beyond the overall squeeze that sequester has placed on defense spending.
Q Secretary Hagel seemed to be concerned about the sequester --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would certainly defer to Secretary Hagel who knows in greater detail about those challenges than I do.
Let me go to Major.
Q There hasn’t been a statement of administration policy I’ve seen. So just to clarify, if the Upton bill were presented to the President, would he veto it?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we don’t have a statement -- well, not again, but as you noted, we don’t have a statement of administration policy, so I don’t have a formal response or statement for you.
What I said yesterday and today is our view of that legislation or legislation like it that would, in attempting to address the problem that we’ve been discussing with those who have had their policies canceled and are not necessarily part of the group who will be able to get free quality health insurance through Medicaid or better, higher-quality insurance at the same or lower cost because of the tax credits, that that -- in trying to fix that problem, this would introduce a whole other series of problems that potentially could undermine the central promise and premise of the Affordable Care Act and the minimum standards that it sets.
Q Is that something the President would want to veto?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, Major, I don’t have a statement of administration policy. The language we use goes to -- there are formalities involved in that. I can tell you that we do not support the legislation as it’s been described or introduced.
Q To use your phrase, the Upton bill or a piece of legislation like that -- does the Landrieu bill fall into that category of legislation like the Upton bill, therefore having the same defects?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that Senator Landrieu’s proposal shares a similar goal to what the President has asked his team to explore. There may be ways to help some people with cancellation notices without legislation, but we are happy to work with her and any member of Congress who has ideas on how to make the Affordable Care Act better. So I think there is a distinction. And again, even with -- well, I think if you look at the language surrounding both bills, there are substantive distinctions. The overall point I would make is that any lawmaker here, any member here, of either party, and if they’re -- and the President has said this all along -- if there are Republicans who are sincerely interested in making improvements and fixing problems to the Affordable Care Act so that it delivers the benefits that the American people have coming to them by law, then the President is very interested in working with those members.
What we haven’t seen thus far from Republicans, and I think we heard from the Speaker today, is that they’re actually not -- well, I don’t know, I don’t want to label all of them -- but I think the position that they have held for so many years now has not changed, that I’ve seen, which is that their preference, their goal in all of this is to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and to return us to the status quo ante, which is one in which insurance companies can cancel your policy, and one in which, by the way -- this is an interesting statistic when we’re talking about the individual insurance market -- where on an annual basis, prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, premiums rose 15 percent on average every year.
As we’ve talked about, this is a part of the market where consumers are most susceptible to price hikes and premium hikes and changes in their policies, and have so few choices that they -- and especially so few affordable choices that they, in order to get some coverage, are often purchasing policies that provide substandard coverage.
So it can’t be lost amidst all the justifiable focus on the problems with the implementation here that the Affordable Care Act was designed to fix a real problem, and a problem for the American people, a problem for employers, and a problem when it comes to overall costs for the federal government. And that’s why it’s important that the Affordable Care Act continues to do what it has done thus far, which is reduce health care inflation.
Q Let’s focus on Senate Democrats for a second, because Harry Reid has just announced he will bring the entire Democratic caucus here to the White House tomorrow to meet with the President to talk about the health care law. A, can you confirm that? B, will this be the place where the President and his senior advisors will at least begin to brief Senate Democrats on a possible fix to this particular individual insurance market problem that he sees and wants resolved?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that any meeting we have with Senate Democrats would be one of a series of meetings that we’ve been having on this and many other issues. So it would not be -- when it comes to addressing the cancellation issues, it would not be the first conversation or meeting we’ve had with Senate Democratic leadership or rank-and-file members.
So we’ll get back to you on confirming the meeting. But the fact is that that’s consistent with the approach that we’ve taken in terms of engaging lawmakers who are focused on getting this right and are rightfully frustrated and concerned that it hasn’t been implemented well thus far. So we want to work with them and will continue to do that in an effort to make sure that the American people get the benefits that they deserve through the Affordable Care Act.
Q Last question. You mentioned polls earlier, and I --
MR. CARNEY: I know. I was the first to mention it. I can’t believe that.
Q Yes, which is unusual, which is why I’m taking the hook. (Laughter.) The Quinnipiac poll said a lot of things, but one thing -- the only one thing I want to ask you about is that 52 percent in that poll -- and this is consistent with some other survey data -- say they do not believe the President is honest and trustworthy; 44 percent said they do believe he’s honest and trustworthy.
For the first time, a majority, though a narrow majority, place the President and his word in the not-trustworthy/not-honest category. How damaging is that for the President? And I want you to sort of remember your previous life as a reporter who looked at presidents -- that can often be a tipping point for any president, where they’re not believed or their message is not as credible as it once was. Is that now a problem for this White House?
MR. CARNEY: Of course, when I was a reporter I never reacted impetuously to any individual poll. (Laughter.) But what I can tell you is that --
Q As I mentioned, it’s not only one poll.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. What I would say is that there is no question that the dysfunction in Washington that the American people have seen is taking its toll on everyone. And while the President’s ratings are low for him, they’re sky high in comparison with Congress and in particular Republicans in Congress. I’m not saying that is an --
Q He can’t be comfortable with these numbers.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was just going to say, that’s not satisfactory to us, only because it reflects a feeling among the American people that this place is not working for them. And that was reflected very clearly in the wholly unnecessary shutdown, which damaged the economy, hurt the middle class without reason, and it’s reflected I think in some of the frustration that the American people have felt or have felt in response to reports that others have felt about the website and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
We need to focus here on getting the work done that the American people sent us to do, and that means working together to fix problems when they arise, not to try to score political points, and it means taking ownership and responsibility for problems that happen on your watch. And I think you’ve seen the President do that. You saw him do it right away with the website, and you saw him do it when talking about those in the individual market who have been left in a bad situation because of these cancellations. And that’s what he can do.
What he can do is show -- and I think this would apply to any elected official here -- that what they can do against the backdrop of this dissatisfaction and unhappiness with Washington is prove to their constituents that they're waking up every day working for them. And that means spending less time fighting about ideological differences and more time focused on fixes and solutions to the problems that the American people feel.
I mean, I think we all know, if we look at this data, that most Americans aren't focused on healthcare.gov, they're focused on their economic plight and whether or not they're going to have a pay raise and whether their families' economic situation is going to get better; whether or not they're going to be able to send their kids to school; if they have young kids, do they have quality preschool for them.
So those are the issues that we need to keep in mind -- all of us.
Q Right. I promise not to belabor this, but this is a singular attitude about the President and his believability and his words. Dysfunction can be registered in polling data across the spectrum, and it's certainly not a new phenomenon in Washington, okay? This seems to represent a new low for the President, and I'm wondering if you think it's a reflection of the public's digestion of what the President said about insurance policies -- you can keep them -- that having to be revised, and that he's in an undertow of some of the rhetoric that did not meet the public's expectation.
MR. CARNEY: Major, I wouldn’t contest any analysis that’s reasonable that you might apply to this, which, whatever it is, I think the lesson that we have to draw from it is that the American people are not satisfied; that we're, all of us, focused on the things that matter to them, and we're not getting the results that they want.
And when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, that means that -- that includes the President and Congress getting the results that they believe they ought to see, and that means getting the website working and taking care of those people who are adversely affected by the transition in the individual market. And that’s what he's focused on.
And he doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about ups and downs in the polls, not because he's different from the rest of Washington or people who are in elected office -- because he knows that he wasn't sent here to have this rating in answer to this question in a poll. He was sent here to deliver on what he ran on. And I think it's very instructive -- if you go back to 2007 and look at what he said about health care reform in Iowa, he said that people have been fighting over the need to reform the health care system for years, and they have not succeeded. And they have not succeeded because the entrenched interests and the establishment have forced failure.
And what he was able to achieve with Congress was passage of comprehensive health care reform. But that’s half of the deal; the other half is implementing that comprehensive health care reform, the Affordable Care Act. And that’s what we're doing. Because that’s what he said he would do.
And doing what you said you would do is the way that you demonstrate to the American people, to your constituents, that you're focused on them.
Q This morning, senior White House aides got a briefing from the President’s intelligence review panel on their preliminary conclusions. Does the White House plan to do anything with that, or are you going to wait until the December 15th final report?
MR. CARNEY: It’s accurate what you say about the interim report, but there is no public presentation of a preliminary or interim report. We’ll have more to say about that at the conclusion of the review.
Q Without getting into the details of the report, can you say whether the White House plans to act based on this briefing today or whether the White House plans to wait until December to take actions?
MR. CARNEY: I think I have said in the past -- and this is not specific to this report or anything that might be contained within it -- that as part of the overall review of our intelligence-gathering practices, decisions are being made by the President and implemented by the President, but beyond that, I have to ask you to wait until the reviews, the various reviews have been completed and we have more to say, that we can say in a way that’s as transparent as possible, mindful of the fact that we’re dealing with sensitive, often classified information.
Q Very quick, just on the Landrieu bill, because it isn’t fully clear to me -- one of the architects, MIT professor Jonathan Gruber says it’s -- basically says the Landrieu bill, while not as bad as the Upton bill in undermining the law, also would undermine some large portions of the law. Does the administration share that view?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had a specific review. I can tell you that Senator Landrieu’s proposal, as I understand it, shares the goal that the President discussed with you and that he has asked his team to achieve through proposals that they will present to him.
So I don’t have anything more specific on the Landrieu proposal except to say that we do believe that she and other lawmakers are sincere in their efforts to try to fix identifiable problems and gaps and holes in the legislation -- in this case specifically the problem that we’ve been discussing with regard to those who have received notices in the individual market. And we’re going to work with her and we’re going to work with others. We’re open to, as I said, both legislative and administrative solutions --
Q Well you guys ruled out legislative solutions last week. This feels like no longer --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think we ruled out --
Q Not fully ruled out, but on this it seemed to -- it’s fair to say now this is going to be a legislative solution. The Landrieu bill is probably the vehicle here at this point.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I tried to convey with my “sooner rather than later” language that the President’s team has or will be presenting him with options to address this problem and that we will be having something to say about that in the near future.
That does not preclude other avenues that we would consider supporting and examine that are meant to address this problem. So it’s not necessarily an either/or. If we can achieve this administratively, we will certainly look at that possibility. If there’s a way to do this either administratively and legislatively -- or legislatively, we'll look at that.
I think that our approach has always been to work with anyone who is sincerely focused on fixing problems to make it better, as opposed to introducing legislation that's designed to actually kill reform and send the American people back to the world of health care insurance that existed before the Affordable Care Act.
Q Very quickly, are you concerned that the low enrollment numbers -- you said no matter what they are, you're not going to be satisfied -- will end up -- become sort of snowball, if you will, where it becomes where people then avoid the website, avoid signing up; that it becomes an inevitable issue that people just don't want to sign up for the health care, they don't trust it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that has to be a concern that the problems we've seen with the website have caused those Americans who actually have self-identified as being part of the universe of people who want to get insurance through the marketplaces some concern about whether it will work, even if we say it's working. And that's why we're going to have to work overtime to provide information to those Americans about how the website is working, what their options are through the various avenues available to us to get them that information and allow them to sign up and enroll -- working with insurance companies, with the states, and obviously with the team that's fixing the website. So there's no question we’ve made our work harder for us, no question.
Q Does the law have a credibility problem?
MR. CARNEY: Does what?
Q Do you feel like the law is a credibility problem?
MR. CARNEY: I think this goes to what I've been referring to, which is that the law delivers benefits that any survey, when you itemize those benefits, reflects overwhelming support for. It is our responsibility to make sure that the law is implemented so that those benefits are delivered to the American people. And the politics, good or bad, will flow from that. With all the problems, with the implementation that we've seen with the marketplaces, it is absolutely important to remember, because this is not -- the Affordable Care Act is not running against itself in the campaign of public opinion, it's also running against the alternative.
And as you know, opponents of the Affordable Care Act have offered this as an alternative -- they've said this, you're on your own, you're out of luck; we don't want to reform the health care system. You're seeing lawmakers who have shown no interest in reforming the system in a way that provides accessible, affordable health insurance to those who haven't had it in the past profess great concern about people getting thrown off their insurance policies. And these are lawmakers who have never, in the history of their time in the Congress, submitted legislation that would deal with that problem.
So there's some crocodile tears out there, and there are people rooting for failure. And that’s always been the case. Our responsibility is to focus on those people who need these benefits, and if we keep our focus on that and on those people, we'll end up okay.
Q To just quickly follow up on Major's question --
MR. CARNEY: I'm just going to keep taking questions until I have one person left, and then, Goyal, I will call on you. (Laughter.)
Q To follow up on Major's questions about honesty and credibility and what the American people think -- I've had a steady stream of emails for the last several days from just regular readers analyzing the President's interview with Chuck. Do you all consider what he did with Chuck to be an apology? And if so --
MR. CARNEY: I think he said, I'm sorry, and I regret -- yes.
Q And if so, what was he apologizing for in your mind?
MR. CARNEY: He was apologizing for the fact that the law in its implementation left people in a place who are in this -- the portion of people in the individual market who believed that they could keep their insurance if they wanted it but are now faced with a situation where, because they didn’t have insurance three years ago, this specific policy, so it couldn’t be grandfathered in, they may not -- the universe of people he's particularly concerned about are those who do not in the current environment necessarily get Medicaid or quality, affordable insurance that’s better for the same or lower price.
Q So in your mind, he was not apologizing for misleading people.
MR. CARNEY: What the President said, the statement that has been often repeated, reflects what he absolutely believed and wanted the Affordable Care Act to deliver. And it is our responsibility to make sure that, to the extent that it doesn’t, we can make those fixes so that people who are adversely affected --
Q But even if you believed it, it could be the case that he misled them even though he thought it was true but then ended up misleading. Is it an apology?
MR. CARNEY: Now, think about the logic of what you're saying. What is absolutely the case is that 85 -- or 80 percent of the American people get their insurance, like most of us here, through our employers. The standing up of the marketplaces has no impact on that except that we all get benefits because of the Affordable Care Act that we did not have before.
So another 15 percent get -- or rather 15 percent -- so the 80 percent is employers plus Medicare and Medicaid, 15 percent are uninsured, and 5 percent are in the individual market. So that’s the universe we're talking about. It is absolutely true that for those people in that 80 percent, they are in their employer plans, they're in Medicare, they're in Medicaid, they're through the VA, they don’t -- they keep what they have if they like it. And it is certainly true that people who have individual plans that as stipulated by the law were grandfathered in even though they don’t meet the minimum standards, get to keep it if they like it.
It's true, too, that, depending on the state and the insurance company, that even plans that were purchased last year or the year before that are substandard and don’t meet the standards, could be renewed through early renewal for a year if so desired. But there is still a universe of people who the President is concerned about, and he made that I think abundantly clear in his interview.
Again, this is about -- it's not about like winning or losing the week or the day; it’s about delivering on -- I’m just saying it’s about delivering on the promise of the law. And the President wants his team to focus on that, and he is confident that as we tackle these problems and we get it right, and we work with lawmakers who want to get it right, that we will end up where we need to be when it comes to Americans getting the affordable quality health insurance that they deserve.
Q I want to ask you about delivering on the promise that the President made. You seem confident the website’s difficulties are going to be corrected by the end of the month, largely. Will the President also be able to deliver on his promise that if you like your health insurance, you can keep it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Wendell, as we’ve been discussing, the President addressed this in an interview last week. He has tasked his team to come up with solutions to deal with -- to help those individuals that we talked about. And you can expect more information from us on that sooner rather than later. We are also consulting with and working with lawmakers about their ideas for how to address that problem legislatively.
Q I’m not asking how now, I’m asking for a commitment. Will the President --
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made a commitment to get solutions to this problem that he talked about in the interview with NBC. And when we have those solutions, you can judge -- and I expect fair and balanced treatment in that judgment -- you can judge whether they’re effective.
Q On fair and balanced, if I can -- Majority Leader Cantor says the President told him privately at Blair House in 2010 there were people who would lose their insurance policies under Obamacare. Did that not happen? And if it did happen, how could he make the promise that he made?
MR. CARNEY: Again -- well, not again -- I will stipulate what you might expect that I was not present for a conversation -- what sounds like a private conversation between Eric Cantor and the President. What I can tell you is that, like the rest of the House Republican leadership, Congressman Cantor has worked overtime to ensure through every power he has available to him that the health care market and the health insurance system in this country is not reformed; worked overtime to put bills on the floor in the House that Republicans can vote for futilely to repeal or sabotage or eliminate the Affordable Care Act and replace it with exactly nothing.
And his answer has always been legislatively, tough luck -- if you’re somebody whose rates go up every year, if you’re a woman who pays double because there is no regulation preventing insurance companies for paying double for the same policy that a man gets, tough luck -- because there hasn’t been any indication of a willingness by Congressman Cantor or others in the House Republican leadership to address this problem. There used to be a willingness among Republicans to try to tackle this problem. The past Presidents, Republican Presidents have engaged in an effort to reform the health care system.
The bill the President worked with Congress to produce is based on a model out of Massachusetts that was signed into law and was known as Romneycare -- a Republican governor. There was a bill during the early 1990s, when President Clinton was in office, trying to reform the health care system that was sponsored by Republican senators, moderates, that is an antecedent to the Affordable Care Act.
The whole point of the path the President took through the Affordable Care Act was to cause -- to build on the existing private insurance system, because doing it that way caused the least amount of disruption. Engaging in the sort of kinds of proposals that some Republicans have put forward to end Medicare as we know it or turn that system into a voucher program have been much more radical, much more than anything the President proposed or signed into law. And bills on the left that focus on single payer obviously would be -- if that had been achieved, would have been much more disruptive.
The point of the Affordable Care Act was to build on the existing system, to build on the private insurance market, expand it, make it more competitive, add more customers to it. And through that competition, create some downward pressure on health care costs.
And I think that, again, against everything that Eric Cantor and others said would be true, we've seen the slowest rate of health care inflation over the last three years that we've seen in 50 years.
Q Can I follow on this?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Connie.
Q Thank you. Yesterday, BBC reported that some of the American planes that flew into the Philippines originally were empty. They were just there to pick up American citizens. Isn't that a bit arrogant? Why would we --
MR. CARNEY: Connie, I'm not aware of that report. And I would refer you to the Department of Defense. And I can tell you, as I just cited, that we are providing an extraordinary amount of aid. The President is very focused on what we can do and the help we can provide, as he conveyed to President Aquino yesterday, to the Filipino people who are suffering mightily in the wake of this terrible, terrible typhoon.
Q Also, on faith leaders, what did the President want from the faith groups on immigration reform?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think what the President heard in that meeting was a commitment to comprehensive immigration reform from faith leaders that reflects his commitment, and was an important reminder to all of us that there is an amazing consensus out there behind the need for comprehensive immigration reform. You don't often see a big idea like this that has the support of business and labor, law enforcement and faith leaders, evangelicals, the Catholic church, Republicans and Democrats.
I think that by all the standards that we measure these things in Washington, that represents a remarkable level of consensus. And we ought to seize that, get it done for the economy. You want to grow the economy, create more jobs, make the middle class more secure, enhance our border security, ensure that the best and the brightest from abroad who come to our universities, the best universities in the world, to study stay here and create new businesses here and hire people here? Pass comprehensive immigration reform. Do it for your constituents. Do it, because it's the right thing to do.
Roger, last question.
Q Back to Iran, Kerry and Biden are both on the Hill today, urging lawmakers to hold off on any further sanctions. What are the arguments they're making? And what would be the consequence if lawmakers do not hold off?
MR. CARNEY: You're correct that Vice President Biden, Secretary Kerry, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen are briefing the Senate Democratic leadership today to provide them with an update on the P5-plus-1 negotiations, as well as our consultations with allies. Secretary Kerry, Under Secretary Sherman and Under Secretary Cohen are also briefing the Senate Banking Committee today.
On the question of the pause that we believe is necessary in sanctions activity, I would simply say that this is not a question or debate about being for or against sanctions. This President has led an effort that has resulted in the most punishing set of comprehensive sanctions ever put together in history, and those sanctions and the isolation that, again, the United States has led in creating have forced Iran to the negotiating table.
The price for their intransigence has been very high for the Iranian economy. And thus, the new leadership in Iran as well as the Supreme Leader have indicated a willingness to engage in serious negotiations around the central obligation that Iran has to meet its international obligations for the first time in a very long time.
And it is the responsibility of this President, on behalf of the American people, to see whether or not this can be resolved diplomatically, because the alternative, if our stated goal is what it is, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, is military action. The President won’t take that off the table. He’s very serious about the fact that it remains on the table. He’s very serious about the fact that the window of opportunity to pursue a diplomatic solution is open but will not stay open forever.
But it should be clear to members of Congress who do not believe we ought to pursue the potential for a peaceful resolution here that there’s a binary choice. If not at least testing the hypothesis that Iran is serious about resolving this diplomatically, then what option do we have left? And those who take that position ought to be clear that they, in essence, are suggesting that war is the only alternative.
Q Is there concern that if further sanctions were added, that the November 20 next rounds of negotiations would get blown up, would not take place?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the specific impact I think is hard to predict, but I think that the point is that we ought to have a pause so that these negotiations can take place and we can test whether or not there is a willingness by Iran to verifiably and transparently take steps to halt progress in its nuclear program, to roll back some of the progress that we’ve seen, and then to engage in a process for a final resolution of these concerns in a verifiable, transparent and concrete way.
And our view that we are clearly and strongly asserting to Congress is that we have had great partners in Congress on this effort and that Congress ought to hold in abeyance the possibility of passing new sanctions for the time when they might be necessary, because -- to help effect a result. And our view -- Secretary Kerry’s view, the President’s view -- is that that time is not now.
Thank you all very much.
Q Thanks, Jay.
3:01 P.M. EST