This White House Press Conference Transcript came from the White House at 7:51 PM EST Wednesday, October 2nd, the first full day of the Government Shutdown.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
October 2, 2013
BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:38 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for being here. Before I you’re your questions let me offer a few things. First, the President, earlier today, had another update on the shutdown and the issue of the need to raise the debt ceiling. Again, the participants in that meeting were Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Sylvia Burwell, and Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco.
The President, as you know, met with members of the Financial Services Forum — the President and the Vice President did. And I think you had an opportunity to hear from some of them at the stakeout not long ago, and I hope you took note of what was said.
Furthermore, the President will meet with the four leaders of Congress at 5:30 p.m. today in the Oval Office, with the Vice President. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew will, in that meeting, brief the leaders on what were the impacts of the threat of default in 2011 and the economic imperative for Congress to act to raise the debt ceiling without the threat of default, and without delay and drama, shortly.
With that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Any coverage on that?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a meeting with the leaders.
Q No photo op?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on that, Mark.
Q Thanks, Jay. The meeting today, is that something we should be looking at as a negotiation on the government shutdown, or is this more about the President gathering these leaders in the Oval Office to just tell them what we’ve heard from him publicly over the last few days?
MR. CARNEY: I think I can answer your question this way: A negotiation in the Washington sense traditionally implies a give-and-take, tradeoffs, demands, if you give me this I’ll take that — I’ll give you that. The President’s approach from the beginning in this is that he’s asking for nothing — nothing — from Republicans. He is attaching zero demands to the general proposition that Congress should simply open the government, keep it open. He’s asking for nothing, he is making no demands, he is attaching no partisan strings to his request that Congress fulfill its responsibility to ensure that the United States does not default on its obligations for the first time in our long history.
So, in that sense, no, the President is not going to sit down and start asking for puts and takes. He’s not going to engage in that kind of negotiation because he does not want to hold — or have held the openness of the government, the functioning of the government, or the world and American economy hostage to a series of demands.
What the President is asking the Congress to do, what the President is asking Republicans in the House to do is quite literally the least they could do. He is asking them to extend funding at the levels set in the previous fiscal year to keep the government open. That’s the least they could do.
And the Speaker of the House should hold a vote on that proposition and see what happens. If he is convinced that a majority, that all of his Republicans in his conference will vote no to opening the government, to a clean CR — in Washington-speak — to just a bill that opens the government and funds it at the levels that it has been funded for the previous year, then we’ll see what we do then.
But my guess is, and the estimation of numerous observers and members of Congress of the Republican Party is that if John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, who has this power alone, put on the floor of the House a bill to fund the government, to open it up without partisan strings attached, it would pass overwhelmingly.
I think you know that’s true. I think every member of Congress knows it’s true. And it reflects the simple fact that, unfortunately, the Speaker won’t do that because he is responding to the demands of one faction of one party, in one house, of one branch of government — and everyone is paying the price of that decision.
Q So that position of the President is pretty well-known at this point. So if he’s not budging off of that going into this meeting, what’s the purpose of having the congressional leaders here?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President said and he is true to his word that he would be having conversations with the leaders of the Congress about the essential need to keep the government open — or now, in this case, to reopen the government — and to ensure that we do not default. And he will have that conversation.
Look, we all realize this has put the Republicans — they’ve gotten themselves in a box here in the House and it has put them in a difficult position and they’re under a lot of pressure, a lot of it applied by Republicans, and there’s a simple way out. Do the democratic thing — pass a bill, see if it can win a majority. Put a bill on the floor, see if a majority votes yes. Be surprised and delighted by the fact that a number of your own Republicans would vote yes — by some estimates, quite a number of them. Take that as a win, and move on.
And then we can ensure that the government doesn’t — rather, that the economy doesn’t default, the United States doesn’t default; we raise the debt ceiling in an orderly fashion without drama and delay. And then we can go about debating and discussing and negotiating our budget priorities: How do we move forward? How do we fund the government in a way that assures that our economy continues to grow, that the jobs that have been created thus far in this recovery — 7.5 million private-sector jobs — are added to as quickly as possible with more private-sector jobs? And put to vote different propositions about how we should do that — have negotiations, discussions. Put it to a vote.
But do not — I mean, it is profoundly undemocratic for one faction of one party to say, I didn’t get what I wanted through the normal legislative process, I didn’t get what I wanted through the Supreme Court, I didn’t get what I wanted when the American people nationally voted, and so I will, therefore, hold the government hostage and the economy hostage in order to achieve my aims. I don’t think that’s good for our democracy and it’s certainly not good for our economy.
And I think you heard Lloyd Blankfein, the head of the Financial Services Forum, say that you cannot use U.S. obligations to repay its debt as a cudgel. And there’s a consensus — this is, again, quoting him based on reports I’ve seen — I was not out at the stakeout — but there’s a consensus that we shouldn’t do anything to hurt this recovery. And that’s a consensus among CEOs who might not otherwise all agree politically with the President, because this isn’t about — shouldn’t be about partisan politics. We keep the government open. We pay our bills.
Q Can we just move on to the Asia trip?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, come on. I was just getting started. (Laughter.)
Q You’ll have plenty of opportunity, I’m sure. The cancellation of the two stops was presented as sort of a logistical decision. And I’m wondering if there’s also any concern here about just the optics of having the President be abroad during a shutdown, and when the final decision on the Indonesia and Brunei legs needs to be made by.
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’re right that it was a logistical decision related to the shutdown, and it was because of where assets were and people were, and the fact that they had not been deployed to those two countries, which were scheduled to be at the backend of the trip and, therefore, because of the shutdown, it made it logistically necessary to cancel those two stops. We had assets and personnel in the first two countries, and as of now we continue to — we intend to have the President make that trip, because it is important —
Q Does the President intend to make that trip whether or not the government is shut down on Saturday?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to spin ahead to Saturday, and we’ll obviously evaluate this as each day goes by. If the Speaker were to do what I just talked about, the government would be up and running by dinnertime.
So there remains the opportunity here for that hypothetical to be moot, and we hope that it is, because it’s an important responsibility of a President to travel and conduct foreign policy, to conduct discussions about economic growth and investment in the United States, in our economy, that creates jobs.
The two summits that are taking place in Indonesia and Brunei offer opportunities, both economic opportunities and security opportunities, to the United States. And that’s why a trip like this for any President is useful and important to the American economy and the American people.
So I can’t give you a prediction about what things will look like Saturday, except to say that I hope the majority has an opportunity to speak in the House of Representatives.
Q Jay, why did the President wait until the second day of the shutdown to call this meeting with congressional leaders?
MR. CARNEY: The second day? Well, he spoke with the Speaker not long ago. He’s made clear his views. What we’ve seen over the past 10 days is the Republicans being quite involved with their own internal politics and with digressions in the Senate and dictates from one body to the other about what the proper course of action should be. And the President, again, has had discussions with leaders. He looks forward to the discussion today.
But, unfortunately, as I mentioned yesterday, he does not — despite the awesome power and responsibility of the presidency of the United States — have the power to order up a simple vote to see if it gets a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. That is a power that the Speaker of the House has in our democracy, and he should exercise it. And I think he would be surprised by, based on reports from Republicans, what the outcome would be. He might even be able to claim he got a majority of his majority, or something close to it.
So we won’t know unless he does it. What we’re absolutely sure would happen is that a majority of the House of Representatives would vote to open the government in five minutes, if given the opportunity.
Q Jay, if the President was willing to let the government shut down in response to House Republican demands to alter the Affordable Care Act, would he be willing to let the country go into default instead of —
MR. CARNEY: I completely have to dispute the way you framed that question. He’s not willing — he is not the party to this that is making extraneous partisan demands. He’s asking for nothing from the Republicans. He thinks it would be wrong — as I said the other day, he could, if you were playing that game, that small game, that game that does not look at the interest of the United States but looks at partisan interests, he would attach — he’d say, you know what, we need to — this is my opportunity, even though I haven’t built a consensus yet for it, to eliminate, for example, the subsidies for oil and gas companies that taxpayers pay.
You know that’s been something he thinks is the right thing to do. You know that that’s something he’s asked Congress to vote on. You know that’s something that Republicans have rejected and successfully prevented from becoming law that he could sign. But if he took the Republican tactic, and basically tried to circumvent normal democratic process here, he would say, I’m not going to open the government — I would refuse to sign a clean — I wouldn’t sign a clean CR. I would only sign it if it had my partisan demands attached to it, or my personal principled demands attached to it.
But he won’t do that. He will not play the game that Republicans are playing, which is a game that has as its principal victims hardworking Americans who are home now, wondering when they get to go back to work, wondering if they’ll ever get paid for this time off — and then, even more frightening, folks out there, including the CEOs who were here today, wondering what the world economy and the American economy would look like if we defaulted for the first time. Because we know one thing: It would not look pretty. The impacts would be catastrophic, according to the IMF and others. But since it has never happened, we don’t know quite how catastrophic it would be. And we do not want to and we should not even contemplate trying to find out.
Q On the Asia trip, would it be — would the President not go if the government is still shut down? What would cause him to either decide to go or not go?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said to Julie, we don’t believe that’s a decision that needs to be made now. That’s speculation, as there’s an opportunity for the House Speaker to place on the floor now, hold a vote, see how the majority responds, see how the majority votes. And if it, as we expect, votes to open the government, without partisan strings attached, then your question is answered. So we’ll see.
Q I just have a question. Up until now, you’ve said the President is willing to negotiate on the budget, and he’s even willing to entertain ideas for improving the Affordable Care Act. Why shouldn’t we see these talks as that kind of negotiation, as opposed to negotiating on the things you don’t want to negotiate?
MR. CARNEY: Because they’re not about that. He will not negotiate — he will not offer concessions to Republicans in exchange for not tanking the economy.
Q I understand that —
MR. CARNEY: So today’s meeting is about the need to open the government and the need to ensure that we do not default. And the President has made clear that he is happy and willing, as he has been all year round — all year long, to engage in serious conversations and negotiations with Republican lawmakers who want to find common ground on our budget challenges — absolutely willing to. What he is not willing to do is negotiate under the threat of default, or under the threat of continuing to shut down the government.
Congress has a responsibility to open the government. Again, Republicans have had ample opportunity to repeal, defund, delay, dismantle, undermine the Affordable Care Act. Ample opportunity. And they have taken advantage of that opportunity and voted — I’ve lost count — 40-plus times. Each time, they have not succeeded. But hope springs eternal, I guess, and they can keep doing it. But one way to do it, as I think some people wrote about today, is to continue to argue your case, take it to the people, see what they say when they vote in the next election, see what they say when they vote in the next presidential election, and then pass legislation.
But just because you can’t get what you want through the American democratic process doesn’t mean you should subvert that process to achieve what you want, when you’re a minority within one party and one house of one branch of government. It’s just wrong. It’s bad. The American people don’t deserve this.
Q But the serious conversations that you’re willing to have, is that what’s going to happen today? Or does a clean CR have to be passed before those serious conversations can begin?
MR. CARNEY: Correct. Correct.
MR. CARNEY: The President is not going to negotiate about how we can come to an agreement on our budget challenges, how we can come to an agreement about funding necessary priorities to ensure that we grow our economy and ensure that the middle class is protected and expanding, ensure that our kids are getting the best education possible, and then ensure that we reduce our deficit in a responsible way — as we have been doing, by the way, since President Obama took office.
The President has been willing to do that all year long, and he has reached out, as you guys reported on, repeatedly to Republicans who have been — at least who suggested they were open to finding that common ground, who suggested they were open to making the same kind of compromises that the President proved he was willing to make.
But he won’t negotiate — on behalf of the American people and the economy, he will not negotiate under threat of continuing to keep the government shut down or defaulting on our obligations for the first time.
The precedent here, when it comes to default, would be monumental and monumentally bad for the future of the American economy. Imagine what this process would look like if every time the debt ceiling needed to be raised, a minority of one party’s representation of one house could dictate to the President of whichever party demands they couldn’t achieve through the congressional process, the legislative process, and if they didn’t get what they wanted, they’d tank the world economy. It’s the wrong thing to do.
Q — that it happened in tandem —
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q — while they’re threatening a shutdown or a default.
MR. CARNEY: Again, Mara — and I know you know this — there has been one occasion in our history, since the debt ceiling was in place, when a participant to negotiations used the real and tangible threat of default as part of those negotiations in raising the debt ceiling, and that was in 2011. And we saw the consequences, and they were concrete and they were very negative. And that was simply the threat of default.
Prior to that, the debt ceiling was raised without the threat of default, without drama or delay. And that is how it should be — because it’s too serious a matter to suggest that we should leave open to question around the world whether the United States of America will pay its bills; whether treasuries that investors buy or sovereign governments buy are ever going to be repaid.
Q Are you saying that the President wouldn’t accept a solution to reopen the government that doesn’t deal with the debt ceiling issue at the same time?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think I said that. I said — look, if the House voted today, if John Boehner decided to let the majority speak and vote and be heard, and they voted today to open the government, as I’m sure they would, then they ought to move very quickly to ensure that the debt ceiling was raised without drama and delay.
Our position has not been to negotiate the mechanics by which they do it. They should just do it without making any threats and without attaching partisan demands to it.
Q Do you have anything on these U.S. diplomats who were expelled from Venezuela?
MR. CARNEY: I do. First of all, we completely reject the Venezuelan government’s allegations that U.S. diplomats were in any way involved in some type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government. Our officials were conducting normal diplomatic engagement. And as we’ve said many times, we maintain regular contact with people across the Venezuelan political spectrum.
This action by the Venezuelan government is clearly an effort to distract from its domestic problems and is not a serious way for a country to conduct its foreign policy. As the State Department has said, the United States has taken reciprocal action by declaring three Venezuelan officials persona non grata, including the Venezuelan chargé d’affaires and a second secretary at their embassy here in Washington, and the Venezuelan consul in Houston.
I’d refer you to the State Department for further details about the actions we’ve taken.
We would like to reach the point where we are able to make progress on areas of mutual interest like counter-narcotics, counterterrorism, and economic and commercial ties. But getting there would require a demonstration of seriousness on the part of the Venezuelan government in Caracas.
Q A whole lot of non-shutdown questions related to health care — it’s sort of a big deal, too, actually.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, it sure is.
Q New York said that they’re looking into abnormally high traffic on their site yesterday — 10 million page hits in a state with only 20 million people. Is there any evidence or concern that either state or federal exchanges have been the victims of hacking campaigns, perhaps in an attempt to stymie them or —
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I have not heard that. I mean, I would refer you, obviously, to New York for whatever they may be looking at, and to HHS. I think what we are confident of is that the high volume we’ve seen around the country, the 4.7 million unique visitors in the first 24 hours to healthcare.gov reflects the extreme interest in the opening of the marketplaces and the opening of the opportunity for individuals to shop for and select affordable health insurance for the first time.
So as I said yesterday, it’s a first-class problem. There’s no question that the volume was so high and continues to be so high that that has caused some delays, but it is related to — those delays are, in our view, related to the high volume. And we are working on them to ensure that they’re fixed and the process becomes more and more smooth for visitors to the website every day.
Q In a similar vein, the people who cover health care for us tell me that this morning there were still long wait times at exchanges. What is the level of concern, or is there any concern that this will discourage people, especially young adults who are key to the success of the problem and who, at least some think, would be more easily discouraged by that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say two things. It is, as I mentioned, a good problem to have that interest in these first two days exceeds what we anticipated. And we have an extremely competent team that developed a very user-friendly website and they are working on these problems every day, and the process gets improved every day.
It’s important to remember, in answer to your question, that this is a six-month process and we’re in the second day. There are something like 180 days left for people to enroll. And anybody who experienced difficulties or delays in getting on the site yesterday or browsing or enrolling should know that they can enroll any time from today through December and still have their insurance kick in on January 1st. That’s the earliest that insurance will kick in.
So for these first several months when people enroll, they are enrolling for the opportunity to have their insurance available on January 1st. And then the entire enrollment process lasts six months.
So we welcome the interest. We think it’s reflective of the fact that there are millions of Americans out there who want better options, more affordable options for health care coverage, and the Affordable Care Act is providing that, and these marketplaces are providing it.
If you’re an individual and you’re looking at these — you go on healthcare.gov and you check out the plans available in your state for you, there are, on average, more than 50 options. So take some time to review them. And everyone should make a considered choice about what plan is right for them and what plan fits their finances, and what subsidies are available to them if they have low incomes. That’s how the process is supposed to work.
And I think it’s worth noting that this is what, at least putatively, this fight is about, right? Shut down the government, they say — the House Republicans — if you don’t deprive these 4.7 million Americans who at least had an interest in healthcare.gov in the first 24 hours, and the millions of Americans who have the opportunity to purchase affordable health insurance for the first time, of that opportunity. That’s their position.
And this has been litigated and debated. I saw one senator, one well-known senator of the Republican Party who said Obamacare hasn’t been debated. I don’t know where he was when this debate went on for months on Capitol Hill. And it has, since passage, of course, continued and been the subject of election debates and legislative actions and judicial actions and Supreme Court action. So I think it’s been debated.
And it is certainly entirely appropriate and fine with the President and the rest of us if opponents of Obamacare want to continue to press their case through the normal legislative process. That’s how our democracy works. You take a position, you try to get that position adopted by as many people as you can in your legislative body, and you see if you can succeed in changing the law. And if you can’t, you go back to the drawing board; you try to continue to build support for it. And then you have more elections and you try to have more people who see it your way elected. And then you try to have a President who sees it your way elected.
That’s how it works. But just because you didn’t get what you wanted at the polls and you didn’t get what you wanted out of Congress, and you didn’t get what you wanted out of the Supreme Court, it is not the right thing to do to then say, well, then because I have this unique power and influence over my Speaker, I’m going to tank the economy. I’m going to shut down the government.
That’s what they’re arguing. That’s their position. And that’s why there is so much heat on Republicans now. That’s why so much of the story we’re seeing now is Republicans saying, this is bad for the American people, bad for the middle class, bad for the economy, and bad for the Republican Party.
Q Jay, thanks. Going back to this meeting — if the President is not going to negotiate, as you have said, what will he say or what can he say today during this meeting to move this process forward and try to break this stalemate?
MR. CARNEY: He will, I’m sure, express what I have just expressed, which is his concern about the impacts of a shutdown, his concern about the devastating impacts of even the threat of default and the catastrophic impacts of default itself. And he will, I think, ask the leaders to consider the fact that he’s making no demands of them in this process; he’s attaching no demands to any proposed legislation that would open the government at current levels — like, these are not levels that the President set or that the President asked for. These are current levels of spending, no increases. And he’s asking for the Congress to simply authorize the Treasury to pay the bills that the Congress has already charged.
I mean, this would be like — on default — and I’ve thought about this a lot lately — you make a purchase on your credit card. The moment you do that, because you have a contract with the credit card company, you have incurred debt. The bill comes due in a month, and if you don’t pay that bill you have defaulted. But in paying that bill, you have not incurred new debt. You are simply paying what you owe.
And Congress has authorized spending both through annual discretionary appropriations and through mandatory programs, and because of those legal obligations that Congress has established, we have debts that we must pay. And Congress is proposing — the House Republicans are proposing that if they don’t get to take insurance away from millions of Americans, they won’t let the United States pay its bills.
Q But, Jay, the President has made those arguments and the process hasn’t moved forward. So I guess the question is what’s going to be different about this conversation?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we can’t force House Republicans to vote the way we think they should. The President can, and he will, make the case for why it’s the right and responsible thing to do. He will make clear to them his willingness — his yearlong willingness, his presidency-long willingness — to sit down and try to find compromise with Republicans on budget priorities and ways to reduce our deficit in a responsible manner. But he won’t allow the American economy and the American middle class to be held hostage to the partisan demands of a minority within one House of one branch of government.
Q Jay, is it appropriate for the President and members of Congress to still be getting paid while 800,000 workers have been furloughed?
MR. CARNEY: The law stipulates how this works. Our view is the government ought to be open. The government ought to be open.
Q The President could step forward and say, I’m going to withhold my pay while this shutdown continues.
MR. CARNEY: Let’s be clear about how — it’s important to understand this is not like the furloughs caused by — in previous issues. People who are excepted and who are working are not paid, but they are guaranteed that they will be paid. Elected members, I believe, are guaranteed that they will be paid or are currently being paid by law. Then there are those who are being furloughed across the government, and of course, it would take an act of Congress for them to be paid for the time that they were laid off because of the shutdown — or they were furloughed because of the shutdown. And we certainly hope Congress would do that.
But it is — our view is the shutdown ought to end right now, when John Boehner puts to a vote a clean CR and gets a substantial majority with both Republicans and Democrats voting aye. And then they should, as part of that, make sure that those who don’t know whether they’ll be paid are made whole again. And if it happens today, that’s great. If it happens tomorrow, that’s great. But in any case, we would envision that as the right thing to do.
Q I just think that part of the frustration with Washington revolves around that point. I understand what you’re saying, but I know that you’re aware of the fact that some people are concerned about making ends meet while their pay is being withheld. So what would you say to those people who say Washington is not working so why are we the ones who are suffering?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that that’s why it’s so important for Congress to do the right thing and attach no partisan demands to a simple vote to open the government, and ensure that those hundreds of thousands of hardworking Americans — neighbors and fellow worshipers, friends who are on the sidelines of our kids’ baseball and soccer games — have the security of knowing that the paycheck is coming.
Q I just have one more on Jamie Dimon. He has been meeting with the DOJ to work out a deal over his bank’s dealings during the financial crisis. Is there any concern about a conflict of interest with President Obama meeting with him today?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Department of Justice. Obviously he was here as part of the Financial Services Forum, which was in town and —
Q Does the President have any concern about that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, he met with the President as part of this group of CEOs from the financial services industry.
Q Jay, House Republicans are willing to vote funding to reopen national parks, museums, memorials, veterans’ payments and the D.C. government. Why is the White House against it? Why not take what you can get?
MR. CARNEY: Because that’s not how this works. It’s a gimmick and it is unsustainable and it’s not serious. And the lack of seriousness in their approach has been demonstrated again and again and again, and this is yet the latest iteration of that.
If they think that those functions ought to be open, vote to open the government. We’re not asking anything from them, Democrats are not asking anything from them in return for making that simple vote. They ought to — the people that Kristen was just talking about, let’s send them back to work. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They go to church and synagogue with us. They’re good people who deserve the security of being able to work for their families and knowing they can pay the bills.
And all the various effects of the shutdown, both large and small, both serious and just inconvenient, can be resolved in a minute if the Speaker of the House holds a vote. What’s he afraid of? Is he afraid that 250, 300 members of the House of Representatives will vote to open the government without partisan strings attached, without the insistence of the tea party that they get to dismantle a law that’s passed both houses and been signed and upheld by the Constitution and litigated in an election? What is the fear here? What is the problem with simply allowing members of the House to vote on opening the government — the whole government?
Q Well, Speaker Boehner says one of the issues you haven’t addressed is the fairness issue, that some people and some groups have been getting waivers and delays on their mandates in Obamacare, but individuals haven’t. If he brings that up at the meeting today what will the President tell him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, that suggestion, as we’ve discussed for a long time, is absurd. Speaker Boehner and the folks who are trying to undo and kill Obamacare any way they can are not interested in improving it or delaying it to make it better. They’re interested in doing what they’ve said all along, which is to repeal it, get rid of it. There’s that.
But the fact is the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. It is being implemented as we speak. For the past three years, the benefits of the Affordable Care Act have already been felt by millions of Americans — by seniors, by families who have their kids up to the age of 26 now on their insurance policies, by millions of Americans who have gotten rebates from insurance companies because of the provision within the Affordable Care Act that makes it the law that these insurance companies spend a certain percentage of those premiums on health care and not on CEOs’ salaries and advertising and other administrative costs.
So you know that’s a ruse; we know that’s a ruse. The President is certainly interested in having discussions about how to improve the Affordable Care Act to make it better, as it provides insurance options for the first time to millions of Americans. But the call to delay the individual responsibility provision, the individual mandate, that’s an attempt to get rid of Obamacare — because everyone knows who knows anything about how the system works that provision is essential to ensuring that every member in your family who has a preexisting condition cannot be told by the insurance companies that they’re out of luck.
Remember the consequences of this policy position. And we can debate it, and we should in elections and on the floor of the House and Senate, through the normal means. But it is completely inappropriate to try to get what you could not get through the normal democratic process by threatening the faith and credit of the United States, or threatening to keep the government shut down.
Q Jay, did you not open the door, though, to that piecemeal approach that Mark is referring to when the President signed into law allowing men and women in uniform to be paid while this happens? Now the Republicans are saying, well, then why not also pay out veteran benefits and other things? You did open the door at least a little bit to some people being paid.
MR. CARNEY: The President believes, as obviously virtually everyone in Congress believes, that our men and women in uniform need the reassurance that we here in Washington have their backs, just like they have ours, and that is why he signed that bill.
There is no question that there are problems created by the government being shut down. There is no question that there are inconveniences and real hardship. And if Republicans are sincerely concerned about those problems they have an option here, which is to vote to open the government — full stop. Just do it. The theatrics and the gimmicks only cause delay when the option is available to put a simple bill on the floor that keeps the government open at spending levels set in the previous fiscal year.
So they didn’t shut the government down over those spending levels a week ago. They didn’t say a month ago, this is unacceptable; we’re shutting it down. So why this week? Why are the spending levels from last year suddenly so unacceptable that they’d shut the government down with all the negative consequences thereof? Because they are on an ideological crusade and because the party has been hijacked by a faction within it.
And I say that quoting Republicans. I say that not to score a point, but to make an observation that I think is widely held here by people of both parties and people who are independent observers. And it has a negative impact on the normal functioning of our democracy.
Q When you talk about theatrics, one of the flashpoints in this has become what happened yesterday and it’s something that played out again today, apparently, at the World War II Memorial here in Washington. Rather than just airing — there’s allegations from Republicans that the White House, broadly speaking, somehow ordered this, put up barricades to prevent veterans from getting there. Rather than going through all of that, can you please tell us from the podium what is your version of what happened?
MR. CARNEY: The government shut down when the House Republicans decided to shut it down.
And every House Republican who has decried any impact from this shutdown as if they were surprised that it would happen clearly didn’t pay attention when every agency of the federal government posted on their websites on Friday what would happen if the government were shut down, including the closing of national memorials and national parks.
On the very night that they voted to shut down the government, some of the most vocal critics of this particular matter were quoted saying, “We got what we wanted.” Well, apparently you did.
Look, we honor our World War II veterans, and I would point you to the decisions made and the actions being taken by the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service to ensure that these Honor Flight participants are able to have access to that memorial. But the fact is when you shut down the government you shut down a lot of services, you lay off a lot of people, and there are bad consequences to that.
So if any member of Congress who got in front of a television camera to try to get some attention on this issue spent half that time on the floor of the House voting to open the government, we wouldn’t have a problem.
Q But so can you explain, are there some — the Honor veterans, are they now allowed to see the memorial? You said there are accommodations being made. If on one hand you’re saying, look, the government shut down, tough luck, the Republicans haven’t voted to open it, but then on the other hand you’re saying, we are making accommodations, what is really happening then?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Department of the Interior and the National Parks Service obviously are the sources for more specific information. But the DOI has made an accommodation for the Honor Flights and will grant access to the World War II Memorial. The DOI has granted a permit for the veterans that is consistent with the existing closure order. DOI will remain in contact with the Honor Flight organization to ensure that veterans scheduled to travel to D.C. are provided access to the memorial.
My understanding is that the closure order provides a process for accepting First Amendment activities on the National Mall and memorial parks in D.C. and in Philadelphia. And, again, for more detail on that process that is going to allow access for these veterans and heroes I would refer you to DOI and the National Park Service.
Q Last thing. James Clapper was on the Hill today at a hearing about NSA issues, and was asked by I think Senator Grassley whether or not the country is safe right now during the shutdown. He said, “I don’t feel that I can make such a guarantee to the American people. It will be much more difficult to make a guarantee as each day of this shutdown goes by.” So I want to get your perspective. Is the country less safe now, or is this James Clapper trying to scare people to put pressure on Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: I would just point you to the testimony of the head of the DNI. What we have said —
Q But how does he back that up? Are we less safe?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not the person charged with making that assessment, so I would refer you to the —
Q But does the Commander-in-Chief believe that we are less safe?
MR. CARNEY: The Commander-in-Chief believes that we ought to open the government, and that there are bad impacts, some of them quite serious, some of them just inconveniences, from a partisan decision to shut the government down over pique about the fact that they haven’t been able to do away with the Affordable Care Act.
We’re focused on trying to undo this, trying to make clear that there’s a simple way to do that, which is to have a vote and let the majority in the House decide, so that we don’t have to, a day from now or a week from now, or hopefully two or three weeks from now, not have a discussion about what has been the result, what have been the consequences of a prolonged shutdown.
Q And just to button up that, Clapper also said 70 percent of intel analysts have been furloughed. I mean, that’s got to be a real concern, or a real national security concern.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, every agency has provided information, as I understand it, about what happens with a shutdown. And I would refer you to each agency, again, for those agencies to make assessments about what the immediate effects of shutdown are. I don’t have any more information on that than certainly the Director provided.
Q And just to follow on what Mara was talking to you about — I just want to be clear and understand the parameters of what’s negotiable and what’s not. The President would be willing to negotiate on a yearlong budget, right? So if we went in — if this negotiation with members of Congress — congressional leaders coming in here were to negotiate a yearlong budget, for the rest of the year — none of this six-week stuff, but a yearlong budget — I’m sure there would be some give-and-take — could you negotiate that and then slap on the raising the debt ceiling and be done with it? And the Republicans could pretend they were negotiating on debt ceiling, but as far as you would be concerned, you’d really be talking about the yearlong budget?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the issue here is holding up the threat of default if you don’t get what you want. And that is absolutely reckless and irresponsible. And as others have pointed out in discussions we’ve had about efforts by Republicans to say it’s somehow commonplace to make that threat and has been over our history, there’s no question there’s been different means by which the debt ceiling has been raised attached to different bills. So I’m not going to speculate about the mechanics of doing it. Our concern is just that it get done without drama or delay and without the threat of default. So that’s one.
Two, we have already — the Republicans in the House have already — we are living under shutdown. They have already shut down the government. Maybe in some idealized Washington of 2013 we could negotiate a yearlong budget compromise in an hour or two. But the fact is the Congress needs, the Republicans need to open the government and remove the threat of default so that we can get about the business — which I’m sure will be contentious but hopefully successful if everybody is sincere in their efforts — to negotiate a longer budget deal.
And whether it’s — how long it is and what it contains obviously will be decided by the process itself. But right now, the Republicans have shut down the government. Right now, we’re roughly two weeks away from the first default in our history. The Republicans need to do the responsible thing. The President is not asking anything in return for them fulfilling these basic responsibilities. And then we can, and the President looks forward to, having discussions and debates and negotiations about how we move forward.
Q If they agree to do this six-week deal, you’re right back where we are now in six weeks. I mean, doesn’t it make sense to say, okay, let’s do it all right now, let’s do a yearlong budget?
MR. CARNEY: Not under threat of continued shutdown and not under threat of default.
Q So you’re not open to that debate right now? You want the debt ceiling raised and —
MR. CARNEY: There is no scenario under which it would be anything but bad for the economy to hold the economy hostage to the threat of default while you’re involved in negotiations over trying to get what you want in a long-term budget deal. That’s the kind of damage to the economy that we can’t afford. We saw what happened in 2011. It’s reckless and irresponsible. It’s wrong.
The sad part of it is, is that obviously there are some members on the Hill who think it’s good for their personal politics, it’s good for them in their districts, and that’s all they seem to care most about. But there’s no question that at the broad level, nationally, it’s terrible. It’s terrible for the economy. It’s terrible for the middle class.
Q Just to be crystal-clear, we should not consider today’s meeting a negotiation?
MR. CARNEY: Not in the sense that the President would make any demands on Congress in return for their willingness to simply do their jobs.
Q I just want to clarify two things. So the President’s position is he won’t negotiate around the CR and that the House has to pass a clean CR and then he’ll be willing to negotiate, but then he also won’t negotiate on the debt ceiling. So I’m trying to get — are you saying that any negotiations for something larger wouldn’t be able to happen until after the debt ceiling was dealt with, not just the CR?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, again, how this plays out obviously depends on the actions that the Congress takes. But it is absolutely the President’s position that he won’t negotiate under threat of default or continued shutdown of the government budget priorities — because the Republicans are interested in holding the economy hostage and the middle class hostage to try to achieve through that process what they could not achieve through Congress in the past, through the courts, or through the ballot box.
And having said that, the President is and has been, and has demonstrated that he is, willing to have negotiations about what steps we should take to fund our government in a way that allows us to invest in the future, protect the middle class, attract businesses to the United States, and reduce our deficit in a responsible and balanced way.
And the proof of that willingness is in the budget that he proposed, which everyone here acknowledged when you covered, I believe — well, there are probably a few people who didn’t — but almost everybody here acknowledged when he released it was a serious document that represented compromises; that wasn’t a wish list of partisan priorities, but was a demonstration of the President’s willingness to try to meet Republicans on common ground.
And he hopes that Republicans will meet him there. But he’s not willing to negotiate over Republican demands to collapse the world economy if they don’t do away with affordable health insurance for the American people.
Q Right. So it’s fair to say that the President will not sit down and have those larger negotiations until there is a clean CR and a debt limit increase?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think it’s fair to say that the President will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to pay our bills. And he will not make any demands of them. I mean, I think that it’s — turn the prism a little bit here, because the only party here that’s making demands associated with opening the government, the only party here that’s making demands associated with paying our bills is the Republican Party, and more narrowly, the tea party.
President Obama is not asking for Republicans to, again, do away with the tax subsidies, the tax breaks that the oil and gas industry get in return for opening the government. He’s not asking them to pass background checks, something he believes passionately and in a principled way is the right thing to do. But he does not believe that the right way to achieve that goal is by holding the economy hostage.
Q Right. And one other thing on James Clapper. He said that the shutdown seriously damages our ability to protect the safety and security of the country. And separately from believing that the House should pass a clean CR, is the White House willing to take any steps to address this particular concern?
MR. CARNEY: Again, as I said earlier, the experts in all of these agencies can address what the impacts are of the shutdown.
Q I mean, the President has said that national — the security of the American people is his number-one priority.
MR. CARNEY: It is.
Q So if you have James Clapper saying that the current shutdown seriously damages the ability to protect the country —
MR. CARNEY: What the President is highly confident of is that if John Boehner were to allow a majority to vote on a clean CR, or to allow the House to vote at all on a clean CR to open the government this afternoon, there would be no more negative impacts.
Q Isn’t that essentially saying that his top priority is actually the shutdown and not the national security of the country?
MR. CARNEY: No, it’s not. And the President is, of course, taking every step necessary as President to ensure the security of the American people.
There are consequences to shutdown, and they extend far beyond closures of parks and memorials or other things that we’ve heard a lot about. And they affect those hundreds of thousands of people who have been furloughed and aren’t getting a paycheck and don’t know if and when they will. And that’s bad for the government, for the normal functioning of government that provides services to the American people around the country, and it’s obviously bad for those families.
Q Jay, so if the President is going to stick to his position, and the Speaker of the House is going to come over here and stick to his position, what’s the point of having a meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Republicans keep saying they want to negotiate, they want to meet, why isn’t the President meeting with them. He is meeting with them. He has called them. He has, again, met with and spoken with Speaker Boehner quite a bit during the time that John Boehner has been Speaker of the House, often, in earlier days, quietly and —
Q That weren’t read out to the press I guess.
MR. CARNEY: Precisely. For a variety of reasons, and you can surmise what they might be or who put them forward.
But the fact of the matter is it’s not about taking — the President’s only position is that the government ought to be open. The President’s only position is that the full faith and credit of the United States must be maintained. He’s not asking the Republicans for anything in return for them doing their jobs. He’s not attaching any partisan or personal agenda item to that responsibility.
And so it’s like — the position the Republicans have had — and it was articulated by the Speaker at one point earlier this week — is that, give us what we want, or we’ll shut down the government. And you can’t — the opposite is not true. The President hasn’t asked for anything.
And it’s not a concession to the President of the United States, regardless of his or her party, to open the government. It’s not a concession to the President of the United States, whether he or she is a Republican or a Democrat, to pay our bills and not default and not trash our economy. That’s not a concession.
Q And is it possible that what we might see happen over the next week or so is that essentially a continuing resolution will be packaged together with an increase to the debt ceiling? Is that sort of the deal that potentially could happen in the coming days? Is that something that might be discussed this afternoon?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to speculate about how Congress goes about ensuring that we don’t default except to say that they have to get about the business of ensuring that we don’t default.
Q Does that sound like a good thing to the President, though, something like that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to — again, the mechanics of how they do the right thing I’ll leave to them as long as they do the right thing. And the right thing is not to threaten default.
Q And to follow Kristen’s question about the President’s pay, the Attorney General, Eric Holder, said he would cut his own pay earlier this week. Why doesn’t the President just do the same?
MR. CARNEY: Again, obviously individuals can make decisions, and I don’t have anything for you on the President at this time. But I think it’s important to understand that when the shutdown happens, there are excepted employees who have to work and they are guaranteed in the future that they’ll be paid for that work. And then there are those who are furloughed and they will not ever get paid unless Congress acts to — for the time that they were furloughed unless Congress — as I understand it — unless Congress acts, as it has in the past, in previous shutdowns, I believe, to make them whole.
So it’s a little different from — for example, because of the sequester and the furloughs associated with that where people took — people who were excepted and had to work but took pay cuts that were mandated as part of that.
Q And on the Asia trip, just very quickly, the President and President Putin, who will be out in Asia for this trip as well, in Bali for that summit, I was just curious, the President and President Putin have had this sort of almost debate over American exceptionalism in recent weeks. What does it say about American exceptionalism if the President goes overseas while the government is shut down and is at the risk of defaulting on its debts?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the government is shut down today. By a simple decision of the Speaker of the House to allow the House to vote to open the government, it could be open tomorrow. So you’re throwing out a hypothetical that we don’t know will come to pass.
And as I said earlier in answering questions about the President’s trip and the scheduling changes to it, we’ll evaluate the rest of the trip that’s still on the schedule as each day goes by.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: David, last one.
Q Jay, a couple on immigration. The White House endorsed the Senate’s comprehensive immigration bill. As we all know, you’ve been urging Speaker Boehner to bring that forward for a vote and saying it would pass if it was voted on on the House floor. Today House Democrats introduced their own version of a bill that stripped out a lot of the strongest border security language out of that. They’re saying it’s time to move in a different direction, try to gain traction on a different kind of plan. I’m wondering if the White House endorses either that — I don’t know if you’ve seen that bill that the House Democrats —
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen that bill. We certainly support passage of the bill that the Senate passed. We support comprehensive immigration reform.
As you know, the bill that the Senate — did I say the House? I meant the Senate — that the Senate passed. The bill that the Senate passed obviously wasn’t word-for-word the way the President would write it and it contained significant increases in funding for border security and other measures that were aimed at border security, so much so that I think John McCain at the time said — Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, at the time said that anybody who is opposing this bill on the argument that it doesn’t address the issue of border security is not being sincere — and I’m paraphrasing because it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the quote, but I think he would accept that paraphrase — because the Senate bill does address in substantial way border security and builds on the enormous strides that we’ve made in the last five years on border security.
Again, I don’t have specific —
Q But House Democrats seem to be saying, that’s dead here, we’ve got to try something else. Do you endorse that idea —
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t — I think that it is up — I would encourage the Speaker of the House, similarly, to put the Senate on the — it’s already passed the Senate. Put the Senate bill on the floor of the House and see how it does. A lot of Republicans believe that passing that bill and allowing comprehensive immigration reform to become the law of the land would not only do significant good things for our economy and for our businesses and for the middle class, but would do some political good for the Republican Party.
I bet if he — I haven’t looked at this in a while, but if he put that bill on the floor of the House, it would get a majority and significant numbers of Republicans. So I don’t want to —
Q Are you saying the House Democrats should not be doing what they’re doing?
MR. CARNEY: Again, David, you keep trying to ask me about a bill I said I haven’t seen. What I’m saying is the House ought to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Q Final thing. For the President, though, I think he almost 11 months ago now in his first news conference after winning reelection, he said we’ve got to seize the moment on immigration. Is the moment gone? And is the President going to get back to talking about this in any substantial way in the next —
MR. CARNEY: The moment isn’t gone. We saw remarkable things happen in the Senate. We saw a substantial bipartisan majority pass comprehensive immigration reform that meets the principles laid out there by the President — not word-for-word what he would have necessarily written himself, but it meets his standard, and he would sign it. And we have called on the House to act.
And I think perhaps as the Republican Party sees its approval in the eyes of the public continue to dip, and Congress sees its approval in the eyes of the public continue to dip, that maybe they want to take some action to address that problem. And once they go about the business of reopening the government, and once they make sure that we will not default in a responsible way without drama and delay, they could take up comprehensive immigration reform and do themselves some good.
Thanks very much.
END 2:40 P.M. ED