THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 16, 2013
BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
*See insert below
12:56 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome, everyone. Thanks for being here, as ever. We can go right to questions because I have no announcements to make — although I’m sure I know what you’re going to ask.
Q All right, then can you please give us the White House reaction to the Senate deal that was struck today?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that the bipartisan agreement announced by leaders of the United States Senate will reopen the government and remove the threat of economic brinksmanship that has already harmed middle-class families, American businesses, and our country’s economic standing in the world.
The President applauds Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell for working together to forge this compromise and encourages the Congress to act swiftly to end this shutdown and protect the full faith and credit of the United States of America.
Q And I assume that means that he supports the provisions that are included in that, including the two dates for opening the government and raising the debt ceiling.
MR. CARNEY: Well, he does — he believes that this agreement achieves what’s necessary in terms of reopening the government and removing the threat of default and the kind of brinksmanship that we’ve seen. And, again, we haven’t seen legislation move through either house at this point, so we’re not issuing an official statement of administration policy, but he looks forward to Congress acting so that he can sign legislation that will reopen the government and remove this threat from our economy.
Q Is he confident that both the Senate and the House will be able to vote on this measure today?
MR. CARNEY: We leave parliamentary procedures to the Congress. We obviously hope that each House will be able to act swiftly, because we’re already on day 16, I think — correct me if I’m wrong — of a wholly unnecessary shutdown of government with real consequences for real people, and we are obviously very close to the point beyond which the United States Treasury no longer has the authority to borrow new money to meet our obligations. So as soon as possible is essentially the recommendation we would have from here.
Q Since we are so close to that deadline, are there any operations or procedures that are going in place today to prepare for the possibility that Congress cannot pass this measure today?
MR. CARNEY: The Treasury is the place that would answer questions like that. What I can tell you is what Secretary Lew has made clear in his testimony and in his letter to Congress, and that is that the Treasury Department will exhaust borrowing authority at the end of the day, tomorrow, Thursday, October 17th, and that beyond that point, the Treasury would have only cash on hand. It would not be able to borrow new money to meet obligations.
Q Jay, how confident is the White House that the House will pass this deal?
MR. CARNEY: We are not putting odds on anything. We’re simply applauding the leaders of the Senate for reaching the agreement that they’ve reached and calling on both houses of Congress to act swiftly to take action to ensure that the government reopens and the threat of default is removed, and that the continuing harm that these two situations have caused to our economy can stop.
Q The President has said from the beginning that he would not negotiate on this. Now that it looks like there is a deal, do you feel like he fulfilled that pledge?
MR. CARNEY: What the President made clear was his position is that he would not allow a situation to develop where he paid ransom to any party in Congress that was trying to extract unilateral political concessions in return for Congress fulfilling its fundamental responsibilities. And he believes that’s the right position for his to take, that it was the right position, it is the right position, and it’s the right position for presidents of the future to take, because our economy is extremely dependent on the faith and credit that is invested in it by investors around the world.
In other words, there is a real, even if intangible, value to the safeness of investing in the United States. And as we’ve discussed many times over the past days and weeks, threatening that does real harm, and obviously default would cause even more harm. But we’re already — there is already a price that has been paid, as we saw in October — I mean, in 2011, and we’ve seen again now in the various ways that the flirtation with crossing that line and flirting with default has brought about consequences.
So he felt and feels that it’s the right position to take, and again, applauds the leaders of the Senate for coming together and working out a bipartisan solution.
Q Is there any concern, even with this deal being made, that a downgrade from some of the credit rating agencies could still be pending?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to Treasury for those kinds of assessments. I think that we focus on the things we can control, which is calling on Congress to quickly act on this compromise agreement and ensure that the government reopens and that the threat of default is removed.
Q And lastly, this is leading to additional budget talks later this year. Once those talks are underway, will the White House and will the President insist that revenue continue to be on the table?
MR. CARNEY: The President has insisted that in these budget negotiations that he’s been calling for all year, everything has to be on the table, and that will be his position going forward. What he believes is a fair approach to resolving our budget challenges is reflected in the budget he submitted. He knows that even though that was a compromise proposition from the beginning and reflected the offer he made to Speaker Boehner at the end of last year, that he will not get in a budget negotiation everything he wants, and neither will Democrats and neither will Republicans. And that’s the nature of compromise.
But he firmly believes that balance — when it comes to further reducing our deficits and building on the work that has been done over these past four years in which we have reduced our deficits by half, we need to continue to take a balanced approach so that no sector of society unfairly has to bear the brunt of that project. That’s always been his position, and it will be his position moving forward.
Q Thanks, Jay. Can you just give us a little color, how the President was informed of the deal, who told him, what his reaction was?
MR. CARNEY: No.
MR. CARNEY: Right now, Brianna, I think we’re looking to Capitol Hill for action to be taken. The President, as you know, has been in contact with leaders in Congress, as have members of his team, and we are encouraged by the progress that we’ve seen and hope that it is fulfilled through votes in both the Senate and the House.
Q Can you give us any more about how he was involved in the process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I’ve said and as you know, he’s had meetings with leaders of Congress, he’s had phone calls with leaders of Congress. He invited all the members of both houses to the White House. And it is also the case that we don’t inform you of every phone call that he makes either to members of Congress or to others. So he’s been engaged in this process. His team has been engaged in this process.
Ultimately our position has been consistent and clear and, therefore, not that complicated to communicate either to you or the public or to Congress. We have simply urged all sides to put down sort of — or put aside the efforts to achieve partisan advantage and leverage and instead to move forward with an agreement that opens the government and raises the debt ceiling so that the threat of default does not hang over us at this time.
Q The President said yesterday basically once this whole mess was resolved — he said, once that’s done, the day after, I’m going to be pushing to say call a vote on immigration reform. Does he really think that a recipe for success on immigration reform, one divisive issue, is to deal with it right after another divisive issue is resolved?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that one of the consequences of these manufactured crises is that time is taken away from the pursuit of other goals that we have as a nation, and that includes economic goals that go to the heart of his agenda to building a better bargain for the middle class. And it goes also to the project of bringing about legislation that he can sign that comprehensively reforms our immigration system in this country.
Now, that legislation passed the Senate with a significant bipartisan majority. And he absolutely believes that the House ought to take up that legislation and pass it. And as we’ve discussed in recent days, that’s not a partisan pursuit — it’s the opposite of a partisan pursuit, one, because it requires votes from both parties, and it also would benefit both parties.
Q But does he think pushing it right away increases the chances of yielding a result that he might —
MR. CARNEY: I think the President was simply reflecting that, unfortunately, even though we’ve been pushing for comprehensive immigration reform all year long and it’s been a major priority, there is no question that the decision by the House to shut the government down and to flirt with default has forced him and everyone in Congress to pay attention to those problems and to those crises, rather than the many other things that we could and should be working on. And immigration reform is one of them.
And I don’t think — again, there are many, many proponents of comprehensive immigration reform in the Republican Party and within the broader Republican universe. So this is not a — he’s not saying that he’s going to — wants to come out and push some Democratic agenda item. He wants to continue the effort that has been underway all year to try to pass a bipartisan immigration reform legislation that would strengthen the economy, help our middle class, reduce the deficit, and make us more competitive in the future. So that is one of the many priorities that he will be pushing and he hopes members of Congress will be pushing once we can move past these unfortunate and unnecessary crises.
Q He thinks he has a better shot to do that right now, though?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t think that I can sort of place quantitative odds on the prospects of any of this. The Congress is a difficult institution to make predictions about.
So our view is simply that it’s the right thing to do and we’re going to push for it. And we think there’s a strong argument to be made on a whole array of areas when it comes to immigration reform. It’s the economically right thing to do. It’s the right thing to do when it comes to deficit reduction. It’s the right thing to do when it comes to ensuring that the best and the brightest from around the world who come here and get an education stay here and start businesses. It’s the right thing to do when it comes to further strengthening our border security.
So there is something in that bill for everyone, which is why it’s the right thing for America.
Q On just one — got to try on phone conversations. When was the last time the President spoke to the Speaker of the House?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any new conversations to read out to you, but as I’ve noted many times — so don’t read anything specific into this — the President has conversations with members of Congress that we do not read out in all cases. So at this time, I have no readouts to provide.
Q Does the President have an assurance from the Speaker of the House that the House will vote on this?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the House in terms of actions that the House may or may not take.
Q Does the President expect the Speaker to bring this up for a vote?
MR. CARNEY: The President hopes that both houses will act swiftly on this agreement in order to reopen the government and remove the threat of default and this continued brinksmanship from the harm it’s causing to this economy. I’m not sure that was a great sentence, but I apologize. You understand what I’m trying to say.
Q I totally understand. Does this agreement represent —
MR. CARNEY: I can’t even — the Red Sox game wasn’t even late, so I can’t blame that. But since I’m speaking about the Red Sox, how about John Lackey, huh? Pretty good.
Q Moving on —
MR. CARNEY: Moving on. (Laughter.)
Q Does this agreement represent a complete win for the White House?
MR. CARNEY: There are no winners here. We’ve said that from the beginning and we’re going to say it right up to the end because it’s true. The American people have paid a price for this. And nobody who is sent here to Washington by the American people can call themselves a winner if the American people have paid a price for what’s happened. And the economy has suffered because of it, and it was wholly unnecessary.
And let’s just remind ourselves we’re not even out of it yet. This is not done. We need action to be taken so that the government can reopen and the threat of default can be removed.
Q The President — in this agreement, is there a little bit of ransom paid? I mean, there is a provision in here that requires verification for recipients of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
MR. CARNEY: The income verification provision to which you refer was negotiated by Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans and is a modest adjustment to the existing Affordable Care Act law. We have always said we are willing to make improvements and adjustments to the law. Ransom would be a wholly different thing and —
Q Well, it’s a little bit of ransom because it’s something that was done with a gun on the table or the atomic bomb or —
MR. CARNEY: No, not if both sides agree to it and we support it. We’re fine with it.
Q Okay. And very quick, two factual things on the Affordable Care Act. Can you give us some updated figures on web traffic? You were very free with this in the first few days, so where are we now?
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what I can tell you. Today we are two weeks into the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace where Americans, regardless of their income, job status, or age or health status, can access quality, affordable health coverage they can rely on.
Health care reform is more than a website. Across the country, people are getting health insurance. Although the glitches are unacceptable, so is the idea of leaving millions of Americans on their own, including families across the country who now have access to health care that they did not have.
I noted that on one network today that there was a suggestion that that network could not find a single story of someone enrolling, which was ironic because they’re all over the rest of the media, including in Delaware a small business owner found a plan that cost her $150 less than the cost of her previous plan.
Again, these are other media reports, not information we’re collecting or disseminating. Kaiser Health News refers to a college student who will pay $70 a month after federal subsidies, the same amount he is currently paying but for much broader coverage in this case. And he says, “I’m thrilled to get something this good at that price. It was a complete surprise.”
In New Mexico, a business owner signed up his employees and got quoted a policy that will save $1,000 per month. This is the owner of a law firm in New Mexico. And I mentioned some other stories.
And these are just stories that reflect that, despite the glitches that we acknowledge and that absolutely must be fixed, people are getting on and enrolling. They are finding an enormous array of options available to them that weren’t available to them in the past.
And we are focused on consumers here. And consumers are just regular Americans out there who want the option of being able to buy affordable health insurance. And what we’re seeing from the anecdotes that have been reported are that people are finding those options available to them and are excited about them. And the volume that we’ve seen reflects the fact that the interest is extremely high. And that volume continues. I don’t have in front of me — maybe I can find it for you — it continues to be extremely high. We have 560,000 calls have been made to the marketplace call center. And I’m sure — I just have a lot of material here — I know that the numbers of people coming to the website remain extremely high.
Q So you’ll get that — you’ll get the updated numbers?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.* [NOTE: Healthcare.gov has had 17 million unique visitors since October 1st.]
Q And do you have even an estimate for me now — we’re two weeks into this — of how many people have enrolled?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve said repeatedly, Jon, that we will release enrollment figures monthly. So I would expect the first figures to come out in mid-November.
Q Jay, I understand what you were saying about there’s no winners. But, clearly, the White House and the President wanted to establish a new norm — no reopening of the government with what you consider to be partisan legislative attachments; avoiding default with the same approach. Has that strategy been vindicated? Do you believe 16 days of shutdown was worth that effort to achieve what you hoped —
MR. CARNEY: The shutdown was wholly unnecessary and this was a manufactured crisis. The President’s position from the beginning was that Congress ought to pass a continuing resolution at existing funding levels. He made no request associated with that, demanded no concessions in return for signing legislation that would extend government funding to allow for broader budget negotiations.
Q But he did want to push back on the idea that you could use either one of these pieces of — these deadlines as leverage.
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that it was the right position to take and it remains the right position to take that — especially when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States — that neither he, nor any of his successors, can allow a dynamic to take root where raising the debt ceiling is used as leverage — or the refusal to raise the debt ceiling is used as leverage to try to achieve some partisan policy objective.
Q And do you believe this now settles that question?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we don’t have a bill to sign, so we’re not in a position here to even say that the government has been reopened or the debt ceiling has been lifted. So I don’t — I think, hopefully when we do, we can have a fuller discussion about what comes next, so I don’t want to get ahead of where we are today.
We are pleased with the progress made in the Senate and the agreement announced by leaders Reid and McConnell today, and very much appreciate the bipartisan effort underway in the Senate that reflects, we believe, a model for how we can move forward. And, after all, this has only been about basic stuff — funding the government, making sure the United States pays its bills.
We will have, hopefully, serious, substantive negotiations around a broader budget agreement. And in that process, hopefully, there will be a willingness to compromise by both sides. And if that is the case, then perhaps we can reach a broader budget agreement that will settle some of these disputes in a way where nobody gets everything he or she wants, but the American people win because there is increased certainty and necessary investments to help our economy grow and protect and expand the middle class. And that’s what we seek here. And we think that those are goals that really have been and can be shared by members of both parties.
Q I’ll get to those negotiations in a second. Can the country anticipate hearing from the President when this process finishes itself on Capitol Hill?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make when it comes to the President. Obviously he’s been very much engaged in this and has spoken publicly about it rather frequently. So we’ll have to see once we have a resolution as to what format his first comments about it will take.
Q Logistically, is it important, once the legislation is completed, when it is completed, that it get over here right away to avoid this scenario that the Treasury Secretary has laid out? Or do you think there’s some time — 24, 48 hours, it’s not an urgent matter that the legislation get here?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the uncertainty that has already been created has caused harm to our economy — and I’m just citing the financial press in saying that. This is not some inside information. We know it based on what’s been reported. So the sooner — as soon as possible is the approach, is the ask that we’re making of Congress: Act swiftly.
The problem with breaching the debt ceiling, the problem with reaching that date where beyond which the United States no longer has the authority to borrow new money is that it is uncharted territory and —
Q There was a degree of urgency to avoid that deadline again.
MR. CARNEY: I would point you to what Secretary Lew and others have said about this and simply urge Congress to act swiftly.
Q On the negotiations, once they occur, is it the highest priority of the White House to undo or redraw sequestration?
MR. CARNEY: The President has many priorities reflected in his budget. I think the President believes we ought to set budget policy in a way that makes wise choices about how we invest, and sequester definitely does not fit the bill in that because it was sort of mindless, across-the-board cuts that — I mean, by design — that took away from lawmakers and policymakers the ability to make wise choices about how we fund our government and what investments we make so that the economy can grow, and what programs provide the best bang for the taxpayer dollar when it comes to growth and job creation. So we certainly —
Q — in August about we need to invest and we’re not going to be so obsessed with deficit reduction; it’s important but we’re going to try to deal with other investments. You take those speeches all throughout August, this agreement, push it up to January 15th when the next layer of sequestration cuts really begin to bite in a new and fundamentally different way, it would be fair to deduce that that’s the number one priority, to redraw those numbers.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t think it’s all about sequester. The President’s budget has savings that completely eliminate the sequester and then exceed it when it comes to deficit reduction. So it is clearly his belief, as a belief shared by many Republicans, that the cuts created by sequester are done with an ax instead of a scalpel — or a cleaver instead of a scalpel — and they thereby do harm unnecessarily to various aspects of our government and our economy. And we ought to do better.
We ought to come together and negotiate a broader budget agreement in which everybody can agree on where to cut, how to reduce the deficit, where to invest and plus up some programs because they’re good for the economy and good for the middle class, good for educating our children and investing in our future. And from that, we can strengthen the foundation that we’ve built already for economic growth in the future.
Q Jay, following on Major’s question about the strategy of not negotiating over default and whether or not that’s been vindicated — during the campaign, the President also talked about if he won the election, he would break this Republican fever he felt was there to sort of not work with him. With this deal, do you think he’s made any progress in breaking that fever, or have Ted Cruz and other Republicans kind of driven both sides further apart?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a great question, and I think it’s fair to say that the experience that we’ve all had demonstrates that the kind of hyper-partisanship that was a problem in the past, especially in one house, continues to be a challenge, and that when pursued at the expense of good governance and the American people, it does harm to our economy and causes dysfunction here in Washington.
It’s a way of asking — a good way, but a way of asking the same question that was asked before, which is, how do we — what odds do we set on cooperation and bipartisan compromise in the future? And I don’t think we would put odds on that. We would simply hope that this experience, if and when it’s over, would remind all of us here that these kinds of crises only create harm to the American people and to the American economy. There are costs that have already been incurred because of shutdown, because of the flirtation with default, and they’re not retrievable.
So we ought to instead focus on making progress instead of creating all this unnecessary conflict. But whether or not this experience will lead to different choices in the future is really a question for members of Congress.
Q And on the last part, of Ted Cruz, I know you guys don’t like to comment on him directly, but him and whoever supports him, have they been — do you think they’ve driven people apart? Do you think that there’s any room for a compromise you talked about moving forward from this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, again, completely legitimate questions. I think that these are questions that can be best answered by Republicans in both houses. What we know is that the strategy that was pursued shut the government down, caused harm to the economy and to the American people, kept people out of — a lot of people out of work — has kept a lot of people out of work — I should very much refrain from using the past tense here — and has brought us already to the brink of breaching the debt ceiling. And it certainly doesn’t seem, based on my armchair analysis, to have won — of the adherence to that approach — anything substantive.
So I would simply say that — but I think it’s important to note that the voices calling for a reasonable approach and for compromise have been both Democratic and Republican. There is a, I think, large constituency of conservative Republicans who believe that it’s not right for the American people and the American economy to take an all-or-nothing approach. And we’ve heard those voices, and some of the Republicans who have expressed that opinion are the ones who have been very helpful in the Senate in helping bring about the agreement that was announced today.
Q Thank you for trying to answer the Republican side and to —
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t, really.
Q Well, you tried. But let me ask you — take a final crack at it from the President’s perspective. In one of the interviews he did yesterday with WABC in New York, he said the problem is that Speaker Boehner gets weakened every time he negotiates with the President — these are the President’s words — he gets an agreement with him, then Boehner goes back and, “can’t control his caucus.” So if we accept that premise — I expect the Boehner people might push back — let’s accept the President’s premise, question, very simple, what is the solution? Does the President want a new Speaker? Does the President think there’s something he can add, a solution, some new approach he can bring? You said the American people paid a price from this debate. Has the President, with three years to go? Have the Republican leaders? Have they paid a price? What’s the solution?
MR. CARNEY: I think, again, everyone pays a price for the failure to function here in Washington. So on that question, the answer I think is pretty clear.
I think what the President was saying in that interview is reflected by what we’ve all seen over these past several years and many of you have reported, which is that even when there has been a sincere willingness in our view by Republican leaders to try to find a compromise on some of these broader budget issues, there has not been the support for leadership to consummate those potential agreements. And I think that is a bland statement of the obvious, and that has played out a number of times.
I think, as I’ve said many times, the President has a good relationship with Speaker Boehner — and I’m not trying to harm him by saying that — and believes that Speaker Boehner has, in their negotiations over the years, sincerely wanted to or tried to find a compromise. And when it comes to moving forward, the President is going to take the same approach with the same open-mindedness about compromise that he has in the past. And he hopes that there will be leaders and rank-and-file members of the Republican Party willing to meet him halfway and reach a deal that does good for our economy and for our people.
Q Thank you.
Q The President recently from that podium, Jay, apologized to the American people for having to put up with government by crisis. I think you’ve addressed this in some form, but why today, given the fact that this is such a short-term deal, should Americans have any faith that any broader deal can be achieved by this President and this Congress within 90 days?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s a fair question. I think that, again, there seems to be an openness not just by Democrats but by Republicans to trying to forge a compromise on our broader budget issues. How big that agreement would be will depend on how the negotiations go. But the President has sought that kind of broader compromise, and certainly Democrats have sought it, and there have been Republicans and are Republicans who seek it. So perhaps this will create an opportunity to finally reach a broader agreement that invests in areas of the economy that need to be invested in, and that makes smart and balanced choices about further reducing our deficit.
Q Does the President have any regrets about anything relating to his management of these simultaneous crises or any crises that preceded these that may have created this situation we’re presently in? What would be his number-one regret from his position?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President’s position has been pretty clear, so —
Q There have got to be lessons.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was going to — let me get — in these two manufactured crises that we’ve been dealing with in the last several weeks, the President made clear what his view was, made clear that he was asking for nothing in return for Congress doing its job, no concessions demanded on his part, and made clear that he believed that shutting the government down and threatening default would only do harm to the American people and the American economy. And I think he believes that that was the right position to take and continues to be the right position to take. And he is very optimistic or hopeful that the agreement announced today can be moved through Congress so that we can get beyond these crises.
I think it’s fair to say, as the President has said, that what happened in 2011 created the precedent here that was so important to avoid in 2013, and that the willingness at the time to try to link the debt ceiling issue — the absolute need for Congress to ensure that the United States pays its bills — around a series of policy demands by the Republicans did real harm.
And those I think are lessons that we all learn, because there’s no question — as we’ve debated and discussed here in the past, in previous years — legislation to increase the debt ceiling has been attached to different bills and has been discussed within the context of budget and other policy negotiations. But the concrete willingness to default and threaten default is not something we had ever seen until 2011. And the economy paid a price as a result. And I think we all, including the President, learned lessons from that.
Q Already, some businesses are reaching out to their employees — contract employees and others and preparing them to come back to work as early as tomorrow. Has the White House done anything proactively to have its entire staff back in position as early as tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of, but we’ll take the question.
Q When you were asked about how you guys — if you are confident that the House will pass this agreement, you said you’re not going to put odds on anything. So given that you seem a little skeptical about it, is there anything that the President is doing today to try and move this forward either on the House or Senate side?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the President has been in regular communication with congressional leaders. I don’t have any specific conversations to read out. His team has been in regular communication with congressional leaders and their staffs. And I’m not expressing skepticism, I’m simply not saying this is done, because it’s not done. And we call on Congress to act quickly to pass legislation that the President can sign so that we can reopen the government and remove the threat of default that has been looming over us for so many days now.
Q So investors are holding $120 billion in Treasury bills coming due to tomorrow. Should they still be —
MR. CARNEY: You guys get the sense that Bloomberg is asking the question? (Laughter.)
Q Should they still be worried that they’re not going to be paid?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to Treasury. I would simply say that the borrowing authority of the United States that Treasury has under current law is exhausted at the end of the day tomorrow, as the Treasury Secretary has made clear repeatedly. Beyond that, if there’s not a resolution to this and the debt ceiling isn’t lifted, then we have a cash-on-hand situation when it comes to meeting our obligations. For more on that, I refer you to the building down the street.
Q And given that the agreement only extends the debt ceiling to February 7th, why should investors not anticipate that they’ll be in this economically precarious position four months from now?
MR. CARNEY: I’d say a couple of things. One, the agreement includes retaining the abilities of the Treasury Secretary to exercise extraordinary measures, which is important because we need to have that cushion against the prospect of a potential unwillingness by Congress to raise the debt ceiling. And those are authorities that have always existed throughout this process, but there was some discussion at various stages of this debate about removing those authorities.
But that should not give anybody any false security. I would simply say that it is important that those authorities be retained.
Secondly, going to questions I got from the front row, we can only hope that this experience and the experience from 2011 is informative to members of Congress when it comes to the absolute necessity to ensure that the United States can always pay its bills on time without drama or delay — because even if you go to the brink, you inflict damage on the economy. You basically cause a premium to be charged to the American people so that the actions of flirting with default, flirting with crossing the debt ceiling deadline result in higher costs for the American government and therefore the American taxpayer.
And it’s just — and there’s no upside to that. That creates lasting damage. And that is why this debate has been so serious. That is why we have emphasized for so long that this is not — when it comes to the debt ceiling and the need to ensure that the United States pays its bills on time, this is not your run-of-the-mill policy debate or partisan dispute. This is something that goes to the heart of America’s economic strength.
Q As you guys have watched this play out and you’ve seen a lot — some Republicans both in the Senate and in the House push back against their more conservative members — thinking of the kind of gang of Republicans in the Senate that helped work out this deal, and then also some of the more sort of moderate Republicans, centrist Republicans you’ve seen in the House — have you guys been encouraged that maybe there’s a new path forward on other — you’ve got three more years. You’ve got other agenda items. Is there some sense that something new has emerged that could make for a more workable relationship? Or is this a passing phenomenon that then sort of everything reverts back after this gets done?
MR. CARNEY: Because I don’t know the answer to the second question I can’t really say that we’re either encouraged or discouraged because we will just have to see. The President will take the approach that he has always taken, which is one that expresses a willingness to compromise, a willingness to discuss any idea brought to him by a member of either party when it comes to budget decisions and other policy decisions, and his willingness to find a compromise solution — because he doesn’t believe that he has a corner on all good ideas, or that Democrats have a corner on all good ideas, or that Republicans do, but that if we can approach these things with the goal of a compromise and therefore an understanding that we’re not going — no side is going to get everything that it wants, then we can probably get some important things done.
And that is true in the budget arena, but true also in so many other areas where the American people expect us to make progress on their behalf.
So I think it’s early days, given what we’ve been through, to start predicting future bipartisan harmony. I wouldn’t expect or recommend that, but I would simply say that this President, the President will take the same approach moving forward when it comes to trying to find common ground with Republicans that he has in the past.
Let me move around a little bit. Time Magazine.
Q Thanks, Jay. What is the timeframe from when this deal gets passed and when the government reopens? When do the parks reopen? When do federal employees go back to work? And how does — can you enlighten to the process by which the federal government reopens and is the administration preparing to make sure that that is a smooth process?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know how quickly everything gets turned back on if an agreement is reached and signed — reached, passed and signed. I would try my colleagues over at OMB to see if they have more information about how that process works. It would certainly be our hope and desire to return to normal working order as quickly as possible and to get people back to work — again, provided that we get the action that we hope for out of Congress and the President is able to sign something into law.
Q Thanks. Granted that you won’t negotiate from the podium, can you say whether Iran has shown a seriousness that you are looking for in negotiations in this first round of talks in Geneva?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, discussions are continuing today between the P5-plus-1 and Iran in Geneva. Yesterday, for the first time, the P5-plus-1 and Iran had very technical discussions, and we found the Iranian presentation very useful. The Iranian proposal was a new proposal with a level of seriousness and substance that we had not seen before.
And I, of course, am not going to negotiate from here, nor am I going to characterize the proposal further, as we do not want to have these technical and serious conversations in public, or go into details of these proposals that the Iranians made. Having said that, no one should expect a breakthrough overnight. These are complicated issues; they’re technical issues. And as the President has said, the history of mistrust is very deep.
The onus remains on Iran to come into compliance with its international obligations and any deal must prove to the international community that Iran’s program will be used for exclusively peaceful purposes. The P5-plus-1 remains united in this approach, and I understand that High Representative Ashton announced that the next meeting will take place in Geneva November 7th and 8th.
April, and then John.
Q Jay, could you update us on the President’s conversations with world leaders, particularly as it relates to the shutdown? Because anything happening economically here has a ripple effect around the world. Could you talk just about that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any presidential-level conversations with world leaders to report to you or read out to you on this subject. He is meeting with the Prime Minister of Italy — I believe that’s tomorrow — but not on this subject necessarily, but I’m sure there will be updates on this and many other issues. And the President very much looks forward to that meeting.
The Treasury Secretary has participated — there were some IMF meetings and foreign finance ministers in town, and I’m sure that there were many conversations about what was happening in the United States in those meetings. But I don’t have anything with the President’s name attached to it to report out to you.
Q What is the general sense, the common thread among the world leaders that maybe the Treasury is — that they’re relaying back to the White House? What the world leaders —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn’t speak for them. I would simply say that the entire world has a stake in the historic, unmatched stability of the U.S. economy, and the historic, unmatched dependability of the premise that the United States pays its bills. And that is why — going back to our earlier discussion — this whole debate around the debt ceiling and default was so, and is so, serious, and why it is not something to be treated lightly or to be used in an attempt to achieve a partisan goal. That’s simply dangerous and it’s bad for the American people, bad for the American economy, and bad for the global economy.
And we’re very hopeful that we will have resolved this issue soon, if Congress takes action, for now, but it is important going forward that the effect of flirtation with reaching the debt ceiling and the flirtation with default is negative in all cases and harmful to the American people in all cases, and harmful to the economy in all cases. And you can say you don’t care what people around the world think, but you ought to care, if only because people around the world invest in the United States and don’t have to, so the security of that investment needs to be protected.
Q So this hiccup, at this moment, could impair the global economy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I’m not going to make projections about the global economy. We know that — and I’m citing financial press reports, no inside information — but we know that there has been a negative impact already of the shutdown and of the flirtation with breaching the debt ceiling. And that is why it’s so important to come to a resolution so we can move forward.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two things. First, would the President have been willing to sign off on this deal coming forward from the Senate on September 30th?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s position all along was raise the debt ceiling and keep the government open.
Q So the only extra piece is a budget conference —
MR. CARNEY: The President’s position all year long has been that there ought to be a budget conference. He supported the Democrats when they called on the House to appoint conferees 19 times and were told no 19 times. And it’s a hypothetical, but the President’s position that the debt ceiling ought to be raised and the government ought to be kept open — or reopened — is reflected in this agreement, and we hope that Congress acts swiftly to pass it and send it to the President.
Q And, second, there is a lot of focus on immigration from the President’s interview yesterday, that sort of being the next big issue on the table. What would you say to the folks who want to see healthcare.gov work better, about why that isn’t the 100 percent focus? You’ve got millions of uninsured Americans that would like to be able to sign up, millions more who just want to see Obamacare work effectively.
MR. CARNEY: I can guarantee you that the efforts around the clock that have been underway since the launch of healthcare.gov will continue, at the President’s insistence and direction. So I think identifying immigration reform as something that he wants to see action on right away does not preclude or does not suggest that he doesn’t want or won’t insist upon action on other things. And when the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and fixing the issues with the website — those are obviously things administratively that we are working on and will continue to work on.
Comprehensive immigration reform requires action in the House, action in Congress. So action on one end and emphasis on one does not exclude action and emphasis on the other — quite the contrary. Let me reassure you — or assure you that the President has made clear that he wants every effort to be undertaken to ensure that the consumer experience consistently improves throughout this enrollment period.
Q But the one does not distract from the other?
MR. CARNEY: No, it doesn’t. No.
Scott, and then — two Scotts.
Q Just following up on what you said earlier about these kinds of conversations distracting, taking time from other things — the budget conference will take place at a time when — months after it was — it usually takes place under regular order. Do you think, given the way this deal has been established with these relatively short deadlines to get to the next deadlines, is there enough room, is there enough time for the President to do anything but talk about fiscal issues, concentrate on fiscal issues? And does Congress have the bandwidth to do much more than that?
MR. CARNEY: The answer to both I think is yes. I think that the President has already done a lot of work on these issues and had a lot of conversations on the budget issues with Republicans. And his positions are reflected in his budget. And I think that, as you note, the fact that there already is a process in place and budgets passed for conferees to work on reflects at least the potential for action in Congress. They don’t have to start from scratch. And we’re very hopeful that everyone who is working on that effort in Congress will have as a goal a compromise solution that reflects principles of both sides, but is a compromise, and one that invests in areas of the economy that need investment and that tackles deficit reduction in a balanced way.
So the question suggests that in this country we even have the luxury of only doing one thing at a time, and we don’t. And that’s why, given everything that is on our plate already and all the priorities that we and Congress have already, we should not be creating crises unnecessarily that suck attention and time away from the priorities that we can and should be acting on.
Q Can I do a quick — there are a lot of vacancies in senior positions around the government, in agencies — nominations pending. How quickly does the President imagine Congress will act on those? And how much do those vacancies affect his ability to act — executive action and other issues — I’m thinking of climate change and things like that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, when it comes to different agencies, obviously it depends on what vacancies there are. The President moves in a very deliberate fashion to nominate individuals for important posts, and he’ll continue to do that. And we continue to call on Congress — the Senate, rather — to fulfill its responsibility to consider nominees and then give them a vote. And we hope that, again, if we can move past these crises and focus on other issues, that this is one that can get some attention.
Q I just want to double-check, Jay. You said a moment ago that it’s the end of the day tomorrow that the existing borrowing authority runs out.
MR. CARNEY: That’s correct, that the borrowing authority is exhausted at the end of the day. Today is the last day that the United States Treasury can borrow new money — I mean, sorry –tomorrow is the last day.
Q Because that’s more specific than Treasury has been with me, and I just want to make sure that that’s —
Q So the countdown clocks are wrong.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have latitude to be very —
Q The countdown clocks are wrong.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously did not create those countdown clocks. I think if you look at what the Treasury Secretary has said, that October 17th — tomorrow — thank you — October 17th is the day that borrowing authority is exhausted. So they have the authority to borrow tomorrow.
MR. CARNEY: Inclusive, as I understand it.
Q Just in case there’s some hiccup over at the other end.
MR. CARNEY: And then, after that, that borrowing authority no longer exists and it’s a cash-on-hand situation.
Thanks very much, everybody.
END 1:50 P.M. EDT