Press Briefing by the Press Secretary, 12/3/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:18 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the White House for your daily briefing. Thanks for being here. The President, as you know, is speaking at 2:30 p.m. We're going to shoot for a wrap of this briefing around 2:00 p.m. so that everyone who wants to attend can make their way over to the site.
With that, I go to Julie Pace.
Q Thank you. There’s a new IG report from Treasury that says that the health care subsidies in the insurance exchanges may be vulnerable to fraud. Was the White House aware of this risk?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I would say that the IRS aggressively safeguards our information systems and combats tax fraud. Our efforts to protect the integrity of our Affordable Care Act programs are no exception. And as the IRS has said, they have a “strong, effective system in place for administering the premium tax credit. We have a proven track record of safely and securely transmitting federal tax information and we will have a robust and secure process in place to deliver this important credit for taxpayers.”
And beyond that, I would refer you to the IRS.
Q But they also say, beyond what you say there, that these subsidies are vulnerable to fraud.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I would tell you is that the experts who do this every day over at the IRS have said what I just read to you. And I would --
Q So are you disputing the IG report?
MR. CARNEY: I'm pointing you to the IRS’s response to the IG report.
Q And was the White House aware of this possible risk before the report came out?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that the IRS has a great deal of experience in protecting taxpayers’ information and would point you to what the IRS says.
Q You didn’t answer that question, though, whether the White House was aware.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have any more information for you on that. What I can tell you is that the IRS has responded to the IG report and the IRS handles taxpayer information and does it effectively. I would point to what they said in response to the report.
Q On a separate topic, American Alan Gross is marking his fourth year in a Cuban prison. He’s written a letter to the President asking that he personally get involved in trying to seek his release. Do you know if the President has seen that letter, and does he have any plans to get more personally involved in trying to seek Mr. Gross’s release?
MR. CARNEY: Well, thank you for the question. Today is the fourth anniversary of Alan Gross’s incarceration in Cuba. Cuban authorities arrested Mr. Gross on December 3, 2009, and later sentenced him to 15 years in prison for facilitating uncensored Internet contact between a small religious community on the island and the rest of the world.
Mr. Gross is a 64-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing aid to underserved communities in more than 50 countries. We reiterate today our call for the Cuban government to release Alan Gross. Mr. Gross’s detention remains an impediment to more constructive relations between the United States and Cuba.
Regarding your question about the President’s engagement on this, the President has, himself, personally engaged foreign leaders and other international figures to use their influence with Cuba to promote Mr. Gross’s release. The State Department has kept Mr. Gross’s case at the forefront of discussions with the Cuban government and made clear the importance the United States places on his welfare. They have also engaged a wide range of foreign counterparts and urged them to advocate for Mr. Gross’s release.
Q Do you know if the President has received this letter, though?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know if he has seen it. I’m aware of it. I can tell you that he is engaged in this in the ways that I described, and that this is always very much a part of any discussions we have with the Cuban government and also with those governments and others who have influence with the Cuban government.
Q Thanks, Jay. I wanted to go back to something you talked a little bit about yesterday, and that’s the East China Sea defense identification zone question. China has praised the United States’ action, giving advice to its commercial flights to notify Chinese authorities of their position, causing some consternation in Japan, which, as you know, has instructed its commercial airliners not to do that. Why that difference in approach? And what about the problems that causes with Japan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me answer that question, which I appreciate. We remain steadfastly committed to our allies and partners and we will maintain close and constant communication with our Korean and Japanese allies, including, as you know, during the Vice President’s trip.
Contrary to prior reporting, the FAA did not issue guidance to U.S. carriers with regard to the specific Chinese notice to airmen. It has, however, reiterated longstanding practice and policy that for the safety and security of passengers on commercial airlines, U.S. civilian aircraft flying internationally operate consistent with notices to airmen issued by foreign countries.
As we have said, and I said yesterday, the U.S. government does not accept or recognize China’s newly declared ADIZ. Indeed, U.S. military aircraft have been instructed to continue to operate normally in the area in line with U.S. government policy. The United States remains deeply concerned with -- concerned that, rather, China announced the establishment of an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone because this appears to be a provocative attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea, a highly sensitive area, and thus raises regional tensions and increases the risk of miscalculation, confrontation and accidents.
The United States urges China not to implement the ADIZ, to refrain from taking similar actions elsewhere in the region, and to work with other countries, including Japan and North Korea -- or rather, Japan and South Korea -- to establish confidence-building measures, including emergency communications channels, to address the dangers its recent announcement has created and to lower tensions.
We note that China announced the ADIZ without prior consultations even though the newly announced ADIZ overlaps with parts of the longstanding ADIZs of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Taiwan, and includes territories administered by other countries, as I mentioned yesterday.
So I want to make that clarification that this was a reissuance of longstanding guidance regarding commercial aircraft. But our position on this that we do not recognize it and call on China not to implement it remains clear.
Q And just jumping to the Affordable Care Act implementation, there’s reporting that enrollment records for a large number of people who have signed up for health plans contain errors that could cause problems for the insurers who have to process that information. Does the administration have any deadlines for cleaning up the backend of the website?
MR. CARNEY: I am very glad you asked that question, because that statistic that was cited in a newspaper today does not reflect at all the picture of what is happening right now. In fact, I’m not sure it’s an accurate picture of issues with the backend of the system even going back weeks.
What I can tell you is that our general contractor has stood up a team of experts who are working already closely with issuers to make sure that every 834 form, every one -- past and present -- is accurate. And we believe that and are confident that they will be able to ensure that accuracy in time for the January 1st beginning of coverage for those who have signed up for it.
We have made huge improvements to the 834 forms, including over the weekend -- a process that has been going on for weeks, but including over the weekend some significant upgrades that we believe address many of the problems with the 834 forms. I would point out that some of this reporting about this seems to be a reiteration of the basic assertion with which we do not disagree that the website was functioning poorly in October. But it is functioning much more effectively now, and that includes on the backend with the 834 forms.
MR. CARNEY: I promised yesterday that I wouldn’t do all front row at the top. Jared.
Q Jay, over the holiday weekend, the President engaged with senators on Iran. Can you tell us where the President’s outreach is on negotiations regarding Iran and nuclear talks and the deal that has been in place in Geneva?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that our position is clear, that the -- it is the right position to take, rather, that the agreement reached by the P5-plus-1 with Iran needs to be implemented, and that both the President and Congress have a responsibility to fully test whether we can achieve a comprehensive solution through diplomatic means before pursuing alternatives.
Passing any new sanctions right now will undermine our efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to this issue by giving the Iranians an excuse to push the terms of the agreement on their side. Furthermore, new sanctions are unnecessary right now because our core sanctions architecture remains in place and the Iranians continue to be under extraordinary pressure. There is no doubt in Iran that should this agreement fail, Congress and this administration will quickly impose harsh new sanctions. It would make more sense to hold our powder, or keep our powder dry, rather, until we see whether Iran violates the understanding we have reached, and act accordingly at that time.
If we pass sanctions now, even with a deferred trigger, which has been discussed, the Iranians and likely our international partners will see us as having negotiated in bad faith and this would have a bearing on our core sanctions architecture.
So as you know, the agreement that was reached contains with it verification procedures that will, if implemented by the Iranians, assure the P5-plus-1 that they have halted the -- that Iran has halted progress on its nuclear program and has rolled it back in some important areas. The relief is modest and reversible and does not -- deliberately does not affect the core sanctions architecture which this administration built.
And the purpose of sanctions was obviously to press Iran to see if Iran would change its behavior. The preliminary agreement reached with the P5-plus-1 is a step along the road of the process of testing whether they will change their behavior. So we think it’s important to continue that process and to hold in abeyance, if you will, any new sanctions for the time when they might be necessary and more effective.
Q Obviously the diplomacy is in a difficult position right now, tenuous. Would the diplomatic process be enhanced by the President’s visit at any time in the second term?
MR. CARNEY: If you’re asking about reports that are utterly false about a planned visit, I will simply say they’re utterly false.
Q And then on the website and healthcare.gov generally, does the President believe that for people who have spent hours and tried and failed to log on or failed to enroll, or for people who are spending time with their insurers and having difficulties there, is there any make-good that the President or the administration or the website can do to try to compensate people for the hassle that has been --
MR. CARNEY: Jared, I think -- I’m glad you ask, because as I think CMS announced today, there were over 1 million visits to the site yesterday -- 1 million. 13,000 consumers who were put in the queuing system requested email notifications as to when to come back to the site, and all were invited back the same day. Sixty percent of those folks who were sent an email saying to come back have returned.
And I think what this shows is that in spite of the problems that the website had upon launch and that we have been addressing aggressively over these days and weeks, there is an enormous amount of demand for quality, affordable health insurance. And that is a reminder to all of us, and we hope to everyone in Washington and around the country, that the Affordable Care Act is not about a website. The website is a means to an end, and the end is the provision of quality, affordable health insurance to millions of Americans, many of whom have not had access to quality, affordable health insurance in the past.
It is also about benefits that everyone in this room enjoys, as well as those who don’t have insurance or who are shopping for insurance on the exchanges today. That includes the fact that your twin sister, if you had one -- maybe you do -- cannot any longer be charged double for the same insurance that you buy. It means that those of you with children between the ages of 18 and 26 can stay on your plan now, whereas before they could not. It means that millions of Americans avail themselves of preventive care that they could not before. And it means that the 105 million Americans are no longer subject to lifetime limits on their health coverage, and up to 129 million Americans who have a preexisting condition for which they could have been denied coverage or charged more up to now are protected because denying them coverage is prohibited beginning in 2014.
So that’s what the Affordable Care Act is about. That’s what we all need to remember -- we, who are working on improvements to the website, working on talking about the Affordable Care Act -- that this about providing quality, affordable health insurance, and the security and peace of mind that comes with having quality, affordable health insurance for millions of Americans.
And the fact that the website launch was hugely problematic is on us, and I think we’ve been very candid about that. And that’s why it’s been our responsibility to improve it as quickly and effectively as possible. And I think we’ve seen in the last 48 hours that significant improvements have been made and that the demand that we saw initially is still there, despite the challenges that you identify. And we owe it to the American people who had been struggling with the website in October to make it better so that they can get the insurance that they clearly want.
Q Jay, can you just describe what the President is going to do every day on health care between now and December 23rd?
MR. CARNEY: Every day for 21 days?
Q Well, no, I'm asking are we going to hear from him every day.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think we have that time.
Q What is the plan between now and the end of December?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, today, the President in about an hour will hold an event here to deliver remarks about the Affordable Care Act, highlighting the benefits that have already kicked in for millions of middle-class families who have insurance, and the importance of continuing to help as many hardworking Americans as possible enroll for their new health care options through the marketplaces. Americans who have personally benefited from the health care law and supporters of reform will join the President at today’s event.
As our work continues to improve healthcare.gov, more Americans are signing up for insurance every day and are already benefiting from the health care law. Healthcare.gov met our self-imposed November 30th deadline, and even as we continue to make improvements to the website -- and we are and we will -- we will also remind the public about how the Affordable Care Act is already making a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans. The benefits of these consumer protections will only accumulate in the weeks and months ahead -- some of them I just mentioned. While work continues on the website, we think it is important that proponents of health reform undertake a renewed effort to refocus the public and the public’s attention on the benefits of the law that have already been implemented.
And so that’s what we're going to be doing. The President is kicking off that new effort with the event today. And I don't have a day-by-day plan. I can tell you that we'll talk about preventive care, we'll talk about preexisting conditions, we'll talk about slowing the growth in health care costs. There was significant data on that piece of it of late that demonstrates that for the past three years, the growth in health care costs has been the slowest in half a century -- that is the three years since the Affordable Care Act was passed. I think that conflicts rather significantly with the predictions made by opponents of the Affordable Care Act.
There was a significant story in The New York Times today in the business section about the fact that the costs of the Affordable Care Act are actually coming in below estimates. So this is just a sample of the kinds of things that we want to talk about as the month progresses and as obviously millions of Americans are shopping for health insurance and enrolling in plans.
Q Well, what can we expect -- how frequently can we --
MR. CARNEY: You want to know where you're going to go and what events you're going to cover?
Q No, no, no. What I want to know -- this is a crucial period. You lost a lot of time. You have until December 23rd for people who need it by January 1st. Should we expect to see him frequently talking about health care? I mean, what have you planned for him in these weeks, which is kind of a crucial period?
MR. CARNEY: If I told you now it wouldn't be a surprise when it happened, Mara. We are going to be engaged, the President is going to be engaged. He is kicking it off today -- I would point you to his remarks. I've given you a little bit of a preview of some of the things we're going to be talking about and focusing on. We plan to use a number of different venues to push this message to the public, including press events, digital media pushes, and highlighting the stories of Americans who are being helped by these specific benefits.
Q Is this top priority between now and Christmas?
MR. CARNEY: The President has many priorities. It is certainly one of his high, top priorities.
Q Thanks, Jay. Maybe this is asking you to state the obvious, but could you talk about the thought behind that strategy a little bit? I mean, do you think if people hear more of the benefits that will make people who are currently not going to sign up more eager to do so?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'd say a couple of things. One, everybody in this room for the most part and in this building and elsewhere in Washington who are focused on this issue have been focused on the problems with the website and some of the other issues with the rollout -- and that's appropriate given the challenges that we faced with the website. But it is important, too, as the improvements have been made to the website and more and more Americans are visiting the site and having it function effectively for them that we remember what the ACA is all about, what the benefits are that are being provided to millions of Americans, that it’s not just the website. The website was important and the fixes we've made were absolutely essential. The fixes we will make are important, too. But the Affordable Care Act is about the things I just mentioned before.
So when it comes to -- I think I talked about this yesterday -- I think that the numbers we've seen demonstrate that the demand and interest remains extremely high. What this effort is about is focusing on some of the benefits -- or the many benefits that the Affordable Care Act has already delivered and will deliver beginning on January 1, 2014.
Q When the President talks about the economy tomorrow, is that a health care speech, or is that something --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I will tell you this since you asked that tomorrow at 11:20 a.m., the President will deliver remarks on the economy at the ARC, which is a Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus here in Washington, D.C. The ARC is a campus located in D.C.’s Ward 8 with a mission of working to improve the quality of life for residents of Ward 8. The ARC is home to 11 nonprofit agencies, all of which share the goal of helping children and adults reach their full potential. That event is being sponsored by the Center for American Progress.
Those remarks will focus on the economy. We will continue, beginning today, pushing -- or discussing the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in a variety of ways. The President’s remarks tomorrow will be on the economy.
Q And you're not worried about message whiplash there at all?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think that -- no, no, no, no. I think that the economy is elemental to most Americans, and it is the principal focus of this presidency. Remember, when he took office our economy was in free fall. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. The economy in the fourth quarter of 2008 contracted dramatically in the worst recession we’ve seen since the Great Depression. And he has -- the President and his team have worked assiduously over these years to halt that decline and reverse it, and we’ve seen sustained economic growth and job creation for a long time now.
But we are not where we need to be. We need to continue focusing on growing the economy. We need to continue focusing on investing in those areas of the economy that will create jobs today and greater economic growth and job creation in the future. So those are the things that the President will want to continue to address. And health care security is an element of economic security, so they are interrelated.
Q Can I just follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll get up and back. Jim.
Q Even before this new push on Obamacare, the polls have been showing that the law and the program itself are just stubbornly unpopular. And I’m just curious, does the President believe that this program will ever be popular?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President believes and the polls reflect that the elements of the Affordable Care Act and the benefits that it provides are popular and supported by majorities of the American people.
Q But as a whole it’s not --
MR. CARNEY: I think, also, it’s important to note that a lot of the polls that have been discussed, when you combine those who support the law as it is, those who wish it were more -- or different on the liberal side, if you will, and those who believe that we ought to fix it, fix the problems that we’ve seen with it, rather than discard it and repeal it -- that discard and repeal is a distinctly minority position, because most Americans believe that the status quo ante is not a good place to be -- the status quo ante where insurance companies could cancel your policy for a variety of reasons. They could deny you insurance because you had a preexisting condition. They could deny your child insurance because he or she had asthma. They could charge your twin sister double what they charge you. And they didn’t provide --
Q But people may want it to be single payer, but it’s never going to be single payer.
MR. CARNEY: But that’s not -- I think you understand that’s not the whole thing that I was saying, Jim. So if you’re asking me, has there been an enormous fight for years now about whether we should reform the health care system or not, there’s no question. And that fight has been highly ideological and political fundamentally. When you ask people, do they believe that insurance companies ought to be prohibited from denying you insurance because you have a preexisting condition, I think we'll take the numbers on the side of no -- I mean, yes, they ought to be prohibited from doing that.
If you ask them, should women be charged double for the same insurance policy that men get, they’ll say no. Do they want the benefits of free preventive care; do they want the benefits that have been provided to millions and millions of Americans for prescription drug costs, and the rebates that millions of Americans have received because of provisions in the Affordable Care Act that ensure that insurance companies dedicate the appropriate amount of their expenditures on providing coverage as opposed to administrative and other costs.
But we’re focused on providing the benefits, we’re not focused on the polls.
Q And getting back to the backend process, I mean, you said you were confident that these issues are going to be worked out before January 1st, but obviously you can’t guarantee that there might be some folks out there who might see potentially a gap in their coverage, because they thought they were insured but their enrollment package did not get to the insurance company properly. So can the administration guarantee to people that if they get a hospital bill or a medical bill for thousands of dollars that should have been covered under Obamacare, but because of this potential gap in coverage that was inadvertently caused because of these computer problems, that they won’t have to pay that bill?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, first of all, there’s not an insurance policy called Obamacare. I think it’s important to your viewers that they understand that they’re purchasing private insurance, first of all. Secondly, the general contractor, QSSI, has stood up a team of experts working very closely already with insurers to make sure that every 834 form, past and present, is accurate in time for January 1st. And we’re confident that they’ll be able to achieve that.
Going back to the story that was cited earlier today, even though we know that that -- or believe that the description is inaccurate in terms of what’s happening today, even if you look back at the worst period after the launch and the troubles we had with the website, the fact is very few people, as we know now -- because we have the October numbers -- were enrolling. So the universe of people who might have, in their enrollment, had problems with 834 forms is not particularly large, which is an outcome of the problems we had with the website. And the --
Q So people aren’t going to get socked with a medical bill because of an inadvertent gap?
MR. CARNEY: I’m telling you that the contractor and the issuers are working together and will make sure that every 834 form, both past and present, October 1st forward, is accurate.
Q Okay. And let me ask you just very quickly on -- last week, the National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, said to President Karzai in Afghanistan that if this bilateral security agreement is not signed the United States and NATO may pull all of our forces, all the forces there on the ground in Afghanistan, out of that country around the end of 2014. Is that a real threat? Could that really happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as Ambassador Rice noted last week, we have concluded negotiations, and deferring the signature of the agreement until after next year’s elections is not a viable option. It would not provide the United States and our NATO allies the clarity necessary to plan for a potential post-2014 military presence, nor would it provide Afghans with the certainty they deserve regarding their future in the critical months preceding elections.
Moreover, the lack of a signed bilateral security agreement would jeopardize NATO and other nations’ pledges of assistance made at the Chicago and Tokyo conferences in 2012. Ambassador Rice reiterated that without a prompt signature the United States would have no choice but to initiate planning for a post-2014 future in which there would be no U.S. or NATO troop presence in Afghanistan. We simply can’t do it. And the fact is everybody negotiated in good faith, there was an agreement, there is substantial support for that agreement in Afghanistan, and we believe it ought to be signed promptly.
Q Back to Iran, just a clarification on the sanctions bill. If Congress were to pass such a bill, would the President veto it?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, all I can tell you is that we strongly believe that passing new sanctions now will result in our international partners, as well as Iran, seeing us as having negotiated that agreement in bad faith, which would then have a bearing on our core sanctions architecture. So the passing of new sanctions during this period would actually undermine the overall core sanctions architecture, which this administration took the lead in building with our international partners and with the essential assistance of Congress.
So I think our view and our position, which we have expressed clearly in many meetings with members of Congress, is that the sanctions regime that they helped us build has provided this opportunity. It has succeeded in the sense that the sanctions were designed to pressure Tehran into changing its behavior. And because of the impact of the sanctions, Tehran has changed its behavior, or indicated that it is willing to change its behavior. And we had a series of negotiations with the P5-plus-1 in Geneva; the result of those negotiations was the agreement, the preliminary agreement reached by the P5-plus-1 with Iran, and we now foresee implementation of that agreement.
And if Iran abides by the elements of that agreement, it will result in the positive development that there is a halt to progress in their nuclear program, as well as the rolling back of elements of that program, which would essentially put time on the clock as we continue to test the theory that Iran is willing to take the necessary steps to assure the world, the United Nations and everyone else, that it will abide by its international commitments and it will in a verifiable, transparent way forsake any ambitions for a nuclear weapons program.
We believe that Congress should hold and reserve the options of passing new sanctions if the moment arises when Iran has failed to comply with its agreement, and that taking that action would have a positive result as opposed to the negative result that I just mentioned.
Q I understand. But my question is a very simple one: Would the President veto a new sanctions bill?
MR. CARNEY: There’s not a -- I don’t have a statement of administration policy on a specific bill. What I can tell you is we strongly oppose, for all the reasons I discussed -- and we are engaged in discussions with numerous lawmakers about this issue
-- the passage of new sanctions at this time because of the reasons I just enumerated.
Q And are Senator Menendez and Senator Corker wrong when they say that this interim agreement does do what the Iranians says it does, which establishes a right to enrich?
MR. CARNEY: I think if you read the agreement, it’s clear what it does and does not do. What the President said and others is that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program. The negotiations over the next six months, if Iran complies with the preliminary agreement, will address a whole host of issues.
What this President has made clear and his policies have proven out is that he is committed to the fundamental principle that Iran must not have a nuclear weapon, and he has made sure that all options available to him to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon remain on the table, and they remain on the table today.
The whole purpose of building up the sanctions regime with the unprecedented international consensus that the administration and the President built was to test whether or not Iran could be pressured to come to a diplomatic resolution to this challenge rather than a military resolution to it.
Q Right. But the question is, is there a recognition that Iran has the right to enrich uranium, which of course is a critical step in the path towards building a bomb. The agreement it seems at least implies that they have such a right, and the agreement says that a final accord “would involve a mutually defined enrichment program.” How is that not right in words there saying that they have a right to enrich?
MR. CARNEY: I would not impute added meaning to words that are printed in black and white. What I would tell you is that the President has --
Q “Final accord would involve a mutually defined enrichment program.” That’s saying a final accord --
MR. CARNEY: And I could discuss with you for many minutes and hours probably what that might and could mean in the full resolution of this through a six-month process. What the President has made clear is that Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear energy. What the President has also made clear is that he is adamantly opposed to and will not allow for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. And that is the threat that has been posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. That is the problem that was created by Tehran’s flouting of its international obligations and its refusal to demonstrate to the international community that it did not have non-civilian designs for its nuclear program. And it is the commitment that Iran will have to make in a transparent and verifiable way if there is to be an accord with the international community through the P5-plus-1 process.
Q And Jay, finally, I just wanted to give you a chance to respond to Senator Menendez, who said that you were fear-mongering in the way you were characterizing his position on these talks.
MR. CARNEY: What I said and what I believe is and we believe is the case is that the construction of the sanctions regime was meant to pressure Iran to change its behavior; that the impact of the sanctions on the Iranian economy, on the Iranian currency would hopefully bring Iran to the table with a new disposition towards resolving its commitments with the international community with regards to nuclear weapons. That regime, which this President and this administration working with our partners and allies has constructed, has been effective in the sense that we have seen a change or a potential change in Iranian behavior that has led to the negotiations in the wake of the elections in Iran and to the preliminary agreement that was reached in Geneva.
Since that’s what the sanctions are for, i.e. to test whether or not this can be resolved peacefully, the alternative, which is, as I’ve described, our view is that if you pass sanctions now and undermine the core sanctions architecture and cause our allies and partners internationally as well as Iran to view us as having negotiated in bad faith, the result is that you create a situation where keeping the commitment of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon leaves you with very few options, which is for --
Q But he’s saying you were fear-mongering.
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q This is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that Senator Menendez and every lawmaker up there who is rightfully concerned and has been concerned and worked on their concern about Iran’s nuclear program shares the same goal that the President has, which is to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
I believe that the Chairman and most and hopefully all members of the Senate believe that the optimal way to resolve this challenge is peacefully, through diplomacy -- for two reasons. One, because war should always be a last resort, military action should always be a last resort. But two, the way to ensure for the long term that Iran has forsaken its nuclear weapons program and cannot obtain a nuclear weapon is to have Iran agree to forsake it and give it up in a transparent, verifiable way. Because military action would not have the same long-term effect.
Q But isn’t it fear-mongering to say --
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q -- the only difference -- the only choices are this interim agreement or a war with Iran? I mean, that’s why he was saying --
Q This is an interview.
MR. CARNEY: This was an interview? Is that -- (laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I think, Jon, that our belief is that if sanctions were passed now, even with a delayed trigger, that it would undermine the core sanctions regime and would potentially undermine the negotiations, which, if you want to resolve this peacefully, we need to test whether or not Tehran is willing to do what it takes and to make the commitments necessary to resolve this peacefully. And the only way we can do that is through diplomacy. Because bottom line, this President’s policy is and his position is that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon.
Roger Runningen, and then Bill.
Q Thanks. Back to China. Mr. Biden is meeting with Chinese leaders tomorrow. Will he make a direct appeal for them to back off or drop their air defense zone?
MR. CARNEY: I think the Vice President has already on this trip and will tomorrow repeat this administration’s position, which I just delivered again moments ago, which is that we do not recognize and believe that China should not implement this ADIZ. So I’m sure that will be a subject of the Vice President’s conversations. As I noted yesterday, this trip to Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea was long planned and there are a host of items on the agenda in addition to this particular issue.
Q But what leverage does the U.S. have?
MR. CARNEY: I think we are making clear our views and our concerns that these kinds of unilateral actions are provocative and create risks of miscalculation, and that miscalculations could undermine peace, security, and prosperity in the region. And it is in everyone’s interest in the region to not have peace, prosperity and security put at risk. So I think we’ll be very clear about that, as we have already.
Q Will there be some consequences for violence?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to negotiate or preview conversations the Vice President will have. But our position has been clear.
Q Okay. One other thing -- on the economy, following up on Christie’s questions, is there anything new in the economic speech tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’ll have to see.
Q In his upcoming push for the Affordable Care Act over the next several weeks, will the President acknowledge the problems that some people have with it in terms of cost or availability? Or will this simply be a propaganda war between the two sides where one side highlights only the losers and the other side only the winners?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, I think the President has, over the past several weeks, as have all of us, acknowledged the problems that the rollout of the marketplaces --
Q I'm not talking about the --
MR. CARNEY: And he has acknowledged some of the issues with cancellations and others where problems have been created by this transition period. So our approach has always been to acknowledge those problems and to address them and to fix them.
If you're -- some of your question goes to whether or not -- and this has been a central issue in the debate about whether there should be health insurance reform, whether or not there should be an individual responsibility provision, and obviously we came down on the side of yes, and that if you're a 28-year-old and you're uninsured and you're healthy and you don't want to pay for insurance, but you end up in the emergency room, and that's the way you get your coverage, that it’s costing you and Jon and Mara and everybody else, and me to pay for that coverage. So that it is the right and responsible thing to do for everyone to avail themselves of affordable, quality health insurance through the marketplaces if they don't already have it.
As you know, because of the way the Affordable Care Act was written, through the expansion of Medicaid, which a number of states have embraced, many uninsured Americans will be able to be covered through Medicaid, and there has been a substantial increase already since October 1st in those states that have expanded Medicaid in the numbers covered by Medicaid. Also, many, many Americans will be able to avail themselves of tax credits, depending on their income, to make sure that the coverage that they choose is affordable.
So I think that the fundamentals of this debate continue. What we're focused on is making sure that people know what the benefits are and know what the options they have available to them. Because in spite of all the problems that the misfunctioning website has created, and challenges and obstacles that it has thrown up to the American people over the past several months, we have seen, again, in the last 48 hours, that there is enormous demand and interest in this product. And the reason for that is because people want the security that health insurance provides. They want the security of a system where they know that they can't be jacked around anymore, and that they can have a basic set of benefits that they cannot be --
Q I'm not talking about the website. I'm talking about
-- I'm asking whether he will acknowledge complaints --
MR. CARNEY: The President has acknowledged complaints. He stood up here --
Q -- of those who lose coverage --
MR. CARNEY: -- before you -- I can't remember if you were here, but I'm sure you watched, that he very clearly acknowledged some of the issues that have arisen with the transition to the marketplaces. And we're not shying away from that. But we are also focusing on the many benefits to millions and millions and tens of millions of Americans that the Affordable Care Act provides.
And that's the focus. I think it is important -- it came up earlier -- that the alternative here has always been nothing. It has always been the status quo. It has always been a situation where more and more people are losing insurance, where costs have been increasing at a far higher rate than inflation, where insurance companies were able to throw you off your policy, or deny you coverage, or carve out exceptions, or give you a low-rate policy that you discover later doesn’t cover you for hospitalizations, and that sort of thing.
So these are the debates that we had around whether or not health insurance reform was the right thing to pursue. It was a hard-fought debate and the law was passed. It was upheld by the Supreme Court. It was debated extensively, maybe as the principal issue in a presidential election last year. And we obviously created a lot of problems for ourselves because of the website, but we're fixing those problems. Because the issue isn't can we make the website great; it’s can we make the website effective as a means by which Americans can get what they so clearly have demonstrated an interest in getting.
Q Jay, is the President going to let Detroit go bankrupt?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I think that happened a while ago.
Q Well, a judge today says --
MR. CARNEY: As we said, Detroit’s bankruptcy is something that needs to be resolved between the city and its creditors. What we have said and what we are doing is working to provide real, tangible economic development and opportunity with existing resources and public-private partnerships to support and accelerate Detroit’s revitalization.
Q But didn’t the President say in the campaign that it would be awful for Detroit to go bankrupt? He obviously helped the auto industry, got them back on their feet. That was a positive development, but it wasn’t enough. And I thought in the campaign he said it would be horrible for Detroit to go bankrupt.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that there is enormous hardship caused by some of the problems that have happened in Detroit, which is why this needs to be resolved between the city and its creditors. Our position on this is the same as it was prior to the judge’s ruling and prior to -- or in the immediate aftermath of the declaration of bankruptcy.
Q Okay. Two quick ones on health care. As you can imagine, Senator McConnell’s office has been waiting for the President’s event anxiously today, and they put together about a dozen other times the President has launched sort of a “major PR blitz on health care.” Do you feel like he’s just sort of stuck in the same place and that you’ve made this pitch before and people just are still not buying it?
MR. CARNEY: Really? Because the law passed. The President won reelection. The Supreme Court upheld it. And a million people showed up on the website yesterday. And guess what -- 380,000 showed up before noon today. And people are enrolling every day.
Q But he’s still trying to sell the benefits. Why is he still selling the benefits?
MR. CARNEY: And Senator McConnell to this day has yet to put on the table a single idea to provide affordable, quality health insurance to the American people. Senator McConnell, I guess, by highlighting this -- clearly a political thing -- doesn’t want to engage in a debate about whether or not folks who are uninsured ought to have access to quality, affordable health insurance; whether folks who are in states where governors for political reasons chose not to expand Medicaid should have to answer for why their constituents are being denied coverage.
Q But why is the President still -- you’ve laid out at the top of the briefing all the great benefits of this. So why does the President still have to sell it? If it’s so great, why don't people already --
MR. CARNEY: Well, one reason that we've -- I think you’ve noticed and covered -- is that we've had a pretty rough go the last couple of months with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces.
Q You’ve been selling the benefits for three years, before the website. You know that.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I think your questions in many ways mirror what Jim was asking about poll numbers. What we know is that if you ask the American people whether they prefer a world where insurance companies can deny you coverage because you have a preexisting condition, or one in which they are prohibited from denying you coverage because you have a preexisting condition, they prefer overwhelmingly a world where there is a law in place that prevents them from denying you that coverage. And that is true as you go down the list of benefits that the Affordable Care Act provides.
There is no question -- and you’ve covered it, I've covered attempts to pass health insurance reform in the past. This is a contentious, very political issue here in Washington. But what I can promise you is that around kitchen tables, including in houses where families have tried and struggled with the website in October, including in households where everyone who’s an adult voted against President Obama, people are going to make a decision if they need quality, affordable health insurance and don’t have it, they’re going to look at the options available to them and choose the certainty and security that comes with quality, affordable, private health insurance. It’s as simple as that, and that’s what we’re focused on.
We’ve got to go. So Chuck, and then -- April after this.
Q In your response on the Treasury IG report, you said, “We will have these safeguards in.” Are you guys building new safeguards? Was this the re-phrased -- were you quoting the IRS?
MR. CARNEY: What I quoted was the IRS, and I’d refer you to the IRS. The IRS obviously has a certain amount of experience in handling --
Q So these are all IRS -- this is not something that CMS or HHS should be dealing with and trying to prevent this issue, that it’s all -- the IRS has to deal with this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, when it comes to tax fraud and issues of subsidies that are tax related, the IRS handles that. It’s certainly not HHS or the White House.
Q No, I understand that. But is there some way --
MR. CARNEY: So protecting that information --
Q Is there a better safeguard that HHS should be in the front --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I haven’t read the IG report. I would simply refer you to what, since it’s about the IRS, what the IRS has said in response to it.
Q Quickly, Consumer Reports, their health care reporter today said their recommendation -- saying they’re now recommending people use the website now. They were not recommending that in October. They’re saying if you started an account in October, you should scrap it and start over. Is that the advice -- is that good advice?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would suggest that that question be addressed to CMS in the briefings they have, because I don’t want to say the wrong thing here on camera. My understanding is that CMS is reaching out to consumers who enrolled, and making sure that they’re aware of the steps they need to take to ensure that that enrollment results in coverage. But specifically about obviously the problems that were had with the website and those issues about people who thought they were enrolled but may not be, I would refer you for the specifics to CMS and in terms of what steps need to be taken.
But I know that when it comes to the 834 forms, when it comes to reaching out, as I said yesterday, to everyone who enrolled to make sure that they are aware of and are in contact with their issuers about when their premiums are due, what other information they may need to provide, that those steps are being taken by CMS, and to make sure that these issues are addressed.
Q When it comes to this new push of trying to get people to sign up, is it fair to say we wouldn’t be seeing the President today if he weren’t confident this website is now functional?
MR. CARNEY: I think -- well, I’m trying to think if the -- how that question plays out. I think that --
Q You put him out on October 1 before.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q You didn’t do that, you didn’t put him out on November 30, December 1, December 2. I mean --
MR. CARNEY: Today is December 3.
Q I understand that.
MR. CARNEY: So --
Q But my point is, you were waiting to see if traffic was going to work, the enrollment numbers.
MR. CARNEY: I think the point -- I think it is fair to say that the President is going to acknowledge today and will note today that we have all been -- in the administration, in the Fourth Estate and on Capitol Hill -- focused on the very real problems with the website and other problems with the transition that needed to be addressed and fixed, and that this is an opportunity, now that the website is functioning effectively for the vast majority of users, and we are seeing high volume and high volume being handled effectively by the website, and people enrolling, that it’s an opportune time to talk about, again, the actual benefits that are provided by the law.
Q And you guys are doing -- it seems like you’re leaking enrollment numbers now left and right. You didn’t do that the first time.
MR. CARNEY: I can’t confirm -- I mean, I tell you --
Q There’s stuff popping up all over the place now all of a sudden.
MR. CARNEY: I tell you, there are a lot of numbers, and this goes back to the story that was talked about earlier today, that are out there that come from anonymous sources that turn out to be wrong.
Q So you’re not confirming these numbers that are out there?
MR. CARNEY: I’m only -- the numbers I cite --
Q Are the traffic and --
MR. CARNEY: -- I have gotten from people who know. We will provide, or HHS and CMS will provide to you the enrollment figures once those that data is scrubbed and everything is received from states, and we’ll make sure that those are accurate. That was the case for October; it will be the case for November.
Q One final question on another topic. There’s some new international test scores that came out where the U.S., particularly in math, ranks 30th -- U.S. teens. And there’s a lot of other countries surpassing the United States, particularly in Asia. Is this a -- how is this not an indictment of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top when you look at these -- are these programs just simply not working as they were intended if these standardized test scores are as bad as they are for the U.S.?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’re absolutely right, and Secretary Duncan said today that the assessment demonstrates that there’s too much educational stagnation, even as it shows some encouraging progress on other important measures. And the administration has taken steps to raise standards and improve education for kids across the country, but there is still much more that we need to do. And Congress should pass the President’s proposals to, first, make quality early education available to every child; two, redesign America’s high schools to prepare students for college and the workplace; three, make college affordable for everyone who is willing to work for it; and four, to fix, through reauthorization, No Child Left Behind, which goes to one of your questions.
Every state should commit to college and career-ready standards for its students. This is hugely important, and this goes back to the question about the President talking about the economy. This is an economic issue. And it goes to the heart of our economic competitiveness in the future.
April, I think I gave you the last one. And you guys got to hurry if you’re going to make it.
Q Yes, yes. Immigration --
MR. CARNEY: If people are afraid of not making it --
Q What is the President’s conversation with you or around the White House about the deportation hearing this week for his uncle, his father’s half-brother?
MR. CARNEY: I think that conversation is a legal matter that should be addressed over at the Department of Justice.
Q Well, has he talked to his uncle recently or --
MR. CARNEY: I have no conversations like that to read out.
Q But the President is well aware that his --
MR. CARNEY: I have not discussed it with him, so I do not know. Thanks.
2:10 P.M. EST