Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 22, 2013 – 12:50 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here today. Before I go to our regular briefing, I have with me as a guest, Jason Furman, who’s the President’s chairman — rather the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Many of you know him. Today, because of the shutdown, is Jobs Day, as you know, and he’ll mention that at the top. But I think he also is here to give you a quantitative look at the economic effects of the shutdown that this country experienced and how those effects were negative for the economy and for the American people.
So I’ll turn this over to Jason. He will give you remarks at the top. He’s here to take your questions about his analysis and other job and economic issues. And then I will return to the podium to take your questions on other subjects. Thank you.
MR. FURMAN: Thank you, Jay.
This morning we found out that the economy added 148,000 jobs in the month of September; the unemployment rate ticked down to 7.2 percent. And those are both part of a steady, more than three-year trend of job creation and reduction in the unemployment rate.
There’s no question, though, that that pace of job creation is below what we can be fully satisfied with and that the conversation we’d like to be having is a conversation about how we’ll add to jobs. Instead what we did in October was a self-inflicted wound that will subtract from jobs when we eventually learn the jobs number for October.
Normally, economists love Jobs Day because it’s the most recent, fresh look at what’s going on in the economy. This Jobs Day was delayed several weeks and, as a result, covers data from September, which was before the very significant changes that happened in October. So one thing we’ve been trying to get a handle on is what the economic consequences of that economic shutdown and debt limit brinksmanship have been.
This first slide gives you a number of private sector estimates of the consequences, and they all show that GDP growth in the fourth quarter was reduced by anywhere from .2 to .6. These estimates are useful and informative, but it’s important to understand that they’re based on predictions. Basically they say if government services ceased for this amount of time or this amount of money, we have some type of multiplier model: Here is the consequence for GDP. They’re not based on actual data and they don’t necessarily capture the full set of effects on confidence, on uncertainty, on things like oil drillers not getting permits, small businesses not getting loans, homeowners not able to get mortgages.
What we tried to do at the Council of Economic Advisers was look at actual data on the economy — and the next slide shows some of the data we looked at. These are all indicators that are available on a daily or weekly basis. The most recent set is available through October 12th, so it covers about three-quarters of the shutdown or most of the first half of October.
And these eight indicators all tell a very consistent story: Sales growth, as shown in those first two indicators, slowed in the first half of the month — and one survey said 40 percent of consumers cut back on their spending because of their uncertainty. UI claims soared by 50,000. The Gallup Job Creation Index slowed. Economic confidence fell to the lowest level in years. Steel production fell, and mortgage applications slowed as well. And we think some of that is certainly a direct effect of the shutdown.
What we then tried to do was take all of these disparate indicators — each one of them is individually noisy and tells you only part of the picture — and try to extract a consistent economic signal from all of these indicators, using something that my colleague, Jim Stock, who’s a member of the Council of Economic Advisers and one of the country’s leading time series macroeconometricians, calls “principal component analysis” — wanted to make sure we got that word in the briefing — and you see that in this next chart.
The blue line is an index that combines all eight of these variables into a consistent measure of the economy. If you look in the past, it generally tracks job growth and job destruction, so it’s a reasonably accurate measure of the economy. And one thing you see is that it fell very sharply in the first 12 days of October.
You see similar size, although not quite as sharp, falls the last time we did the debt limit brinksmanship, and the eurozone crisis in 2012. And if you calibrate that fall, you see circled there at the end, it translates into 0.25 percentage points off the fourth quarter growth rate. We’re 120,000 fewer jobs than we otherwise would have had in the month of October — and I want to stress that’s just based on the data we have through October 12th. So as we look at more of October, those numbers could change and could potentially get worse.
This all just really underscores how unnecessary and harmful the shutdown and the brinksmanship was for the economy, why it’s important to avoid repeating it, and instead consider jobs that are adding to growth, not subtracting. And later today, we will have the report out that provides the mathematical derivation of all of this, for those of you who I know will be turning straight to the appendix of that report, and it will work through all of this. And I think, as I said, it’s a clear story. You see private sector forecasters; you see it in the actual data that it was a significant and unnecessary self-inflicted wound that we shouldn’t be repeating.
MR. CARNEY: Questions for Jason?
Q Jason, will this trend continue? We still have the threat of another shutdown.
MR. FURMAN: I certainly hope it doesn’t and there’s no reason that it should. We’re now going through regular order with a conference committee on the budget. There’s time to figure these things out, the significant economic opportunities when it comes to upfront investment in job creation, replacing the sequester in a balanced way, more medium- and long-term deficit reduction. And the President will be urging the conference committee and the Congress to do exactly that.
Q Jason, even if there isn’t another shutdown, how concerned is the White House that the cumulative effect of a weak September jobs report and the impact that we may have seen over the last three weeks could lead to slowed economic growth through the end of the year?
MR. FURMAN: I think the good news is we’ve had a private sector that’s really led the recovery throughout this past year. So we’ve had things like the eurozone crisis, the sequester, the shutdown, the brinksmanship, and throughout it we’ve continued to see the private sector adding jobs.
We’d like to see them adding more jobs, and we’d like to do what we can to help — whether it’s investments in infrastructure, business tax reform — rather than being an obstacle in the way of that job creation by adding uncertainty and having this type of shutdown.
So I think in September you did see job creation. You saw 148,000 jobs. You saw the unemployment rate come down. That’s consistent with the roughly 2 million jobs a year pace we’ve had. It’s consistent with the roughly nearly three-quarters of a point per year reduction in the unemployment rate.
So I don’t want to overstate any of those worries, but again, we want to be pushing this in the right direction, not what we did in October, which was the wrong direction.
MR. CARNEY: April.
Q With these negative numbers, is there a chance that we could dip back into recession? And what does this do for the global economy? Are we bringing them down as well since it’s a ripple effect around the world?
MR. FURMAN: I don’t want anyone to overstate what you see here. You see 0.25 off the growth rate. You see 120,000 fewer jobs for October. So there’s no question that the shutdown and the brinksmanship associated with the debt limit are moving us in the wrong direction. But this isn’t the type of catastrophic economic effects that we would have risked had we actually hit the debt limit and defaulted on our obligations. So we didn’t go all the way to the end of what we might have. But even getting close to it is moving you in the wrong direction, not the right direction.
Again, I don’t want you to lose that big-picture trend. We’ve had 43 straight months of job growth. That unemployment rate has come down steadily. But we just can’t be satisfied with where it is, and we want to be doing more to move it in those right directions.
Q But what about global impact? What is the global effect?
MR. FURMAN: Certainly we heard from the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, I think last weekend, and a number of others that this had global economic ramifications. And I think we are very — we’re still a leader in the world economy. We still have among the strongest growth rates of any of the comparable countries. And we’re still a key force in driving that global economic growth. But, again, we don’t want to do anything to imperil that or change that. And that’s precisely why the President is out there urging that we don’t repeat anything like this shutdown, anything like this debt limit brinksmanship.
MR. CARNEY: Margaret.
Q Thanks. Jason, do you see any economic impact this early on with the problems with the healthcare.gov website and the signups? Is that something that you’re looking at, or do you think that that would have no negative effect as long as the problem is improved by, say, the end of the year?
MR. FURMAN: I think when it comes to the website, as you know, people are working around the clock to fix that, and the enrollment process is a six-month process, and that’s what you’re focused on in that regard, economically. If you ask me, I think the things that matter most in the Affordable Care Act for the economy is that health premiums are now growing at their slowest rate in 50 years. I think that helps businesses and helps job creation; it also helps wages. You don’t have people locked into a business because they need to keep their insurance. People are more free to move from jobs to jobs. That helps them match with the job where they’re most productive, get a raise, and help entrepreneurship. And you’re also seeing more affordable and new options for small businesses.
So I think taken as a whole, you’re going to see the Affordable Care Act being good for the job market, good for the economy, and I don’t think anything about healthcare.gov in the past three weeks changes that bigger story.
MR. CARNEY: John.
Q Thank you, Jay, and thank you, Jason. You’ve twice mentioned sequestration, in fact, putting it on a par with the eurozone crisis and the recent government shutdown. Do you have hard evidence that the cuts in sequestration are a negative effect on the recent jobs situation that you described and are causing a diminished job creation in the private sector?
MR. FURMAN: I think a reasonable estimate comes from the Congressional Budget Office, and they said that the sequester would cost us 750,000 jobs over the course of a year. That works out to be about 60,000 fewer jobs per month. And think how different this month’s report would have been if you had had an extra 60,000 jobs. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has testified, referring to similar numbers for the impact of sequester, and a number of private sector forecasters have seen that as well. So I think if you look at the pattern of growth or job creation over the course of the year, it’s certainly consistent with those types of estimates from CBO and others.
Q Thank you very much for doing this. I’m mildly confused by your statistics. You say a 0.25 drop in growth, and then you say a loss of 125,000 jobs. If we hadn’t lost the 0.25 in growth, are you saying we would have gained 125,000 jobs, in which case, were you predicting a growth of 400,000 jobs?
MR. FURMAN: Let me just be clear about two things. First of all, I’m talking about October, so the data we saw today was for September. So this is about October. And second of all, this is a change from what otherwise would have happened. So if we hadn’t had a shutdown and we hadn’t had the debt limit brinksmanship, I’ll go out on a limb and predict we would have had X jobs created in the month of October. As a result of it, we will now have X minus 120,000 jobs created in the month of October. So this is the delta, or, in other words, a measure of the cost of the shutdown and the brinksmanship.
The growth rate, the same thing: If you look, private sector forecasters had forecasts of growth for the fourth quarter; most of them have published new forecasts. Their new forecasts are .2 to .6 of a percent lower than what their old forecasts were. They’re still forecasting positive growth for the fourth quarter, for example, but less than they were before.
MR. CARNEY: All right. Thank you, Jason. Appreciate it.
We now return to our regular programming, and I’ll go to Julie Pace.
Q Thanks, Jay. I just had one question on a separate topic. Amnesty International released a report today on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. It has new details about civilian victims, including a 68-year-old grandmother who was hit while farming with her grandchildren. I’m wondering how the White House sees these types of reports squaring with the President’s comments that the U.S. doesn’t conduct drone strikes unless there is near certainty that no civilians are killed, and also, what the President plans to say about these drone strikes when he has his meeting with the Pakistani leader tomorrow.
MR. CARNEY: Let me start with the beginning of your question, to say that we are reviewing these reports carefully. As a part of his commitment to transparency, in a comprehensive address at NDU on May 23rd of this year, President Obama laid out the legal and policy framework for the U.S. counterterrorism strategy. The President directly addressed the issue of civilian casualties in that speech and he made clear that it is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties — a risk that exists in every war.
He also made clear that there is a wide gap between U.S. assessments of such casualties and nongovernmental reports. To the extent these reports claim that the U.S. has acted contrary to international law, we would strongly disagree. The administration has repeatedly emphasized the extraordinary care that we take to make sure counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable law.
In the President’s speech, he addressed why the United States may choose to undertake strikes using drones. He said, “Conventional airpower or missiles are far less precise than drones and are likely to cause more civilian casualties and more local outrage. Invasions lead us to be viewed as occupying armies, unleash a torrent of unintended consequences, are difficult to contain, result in large numbers of civilian casualties and ultimately empower those who thrive on violent conflict.”
I think it’s important to note that by narrowly targeting our action against those who want to kill us and not the people they hide among, we are choosing the course of action least likely to result in the loss of innocent life.
U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective. And the United States does not take lethal strikes when we or our partners have the ability to capture individual terrorists. Our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute. We take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law and that they are consistent with U.S. values and U.S. policy.
Of particular note, before we take any counterterrorism strike outside areas of active hostilities, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured, and that is the highest standard we can set. I think we have demonstrated in the policies that we’ve adopted and the strategies that we develop and execute that we take the matter of civilian casualties enormously seriously and that the actions that we take, we take mindful of the absolute need to limit civilian casualties and to, in this case, reach a standard of near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured, which is the highest standard we or any country could set.
Q You’re confident that the strikes that are still ongoing meet that standard?
MR. CARNEY: I am confident that — again, I can’t speak about specific operations but that the policies that the President spoke about in his speech at NDU, when they are executed, meet international and domestic legal obligations and meet the standards set of near certainty that I just mentioned.
And the President has committed to undertaking these activities with the greatest possible transparency and we will continue to share as much information as possible about them with the American people, the Congress, and the international community, consistent with our national security needs and the proper functioning of the executive branch.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Steve.
Q Today, the House Oversight Committee asked what role the White House Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer had in the rollout of healthcare.gov. Can you explain to us how they were involved and when they became aware that there were all these problems?
MR. CARNEY: Steve, as I mentioned yesterday and the President mentioned in the Rose Garden, we are focused right now in the administration on identifying and fixing the real problems that exist with the healthcare.gov website. And HHS and CMS have launched a tech surge that is well underway, bringing some of the most talented experts to bear on this problem, and they’re working 24/7 on fixing the website.
We’re not interested in Monday-morning quarterbacking. I think the President acknowledged, and I acknowledged yesterday that he is not and we are not and no one in the administration is satisfied by the performance of the website thus far and the consumer experience that it’s provided. We’re focused, however, on improving it because the goal here was not to build a website; the goal was to create marketplaces for insurance that would make it possible for millions of Americans, for many of whom for the first time in their lives — the ability to purchase quality health care or health insurance at prices they could afford.
And we understand and we acknowledge the problems that consumers are experiencing and have experienced with the website. Every day improvements are being made. I discussed some of them yesterday; so did the President. Every day we are seeing more indications of more and more Americans getting access to affordable health insurance that they did not have before.
I would point you to the news out of Ohio yesterday, the significant decision taken there, a state with a Republican governor, which is now joining other states with Republican governors to adopt the expansion of Medicaid, which will provide insurance to several hundred thousand — I don’t have the number right here, but it’s a significant number of Ohioans who did not otherwise have access to affordable health insurance.
So that’s what we’re focused on. We’re focused on the real Americans out there who have a high interest in and demand for the product that the marketplaces is providing. And it’s on us the fact that the website has not functioned as effectively as it should. It is also the reason why we have made clear that there are other avenues available to Americans with this deep interest in finding affordable health insurance to shop for that insurance and to sign up for an apply for that insurance. And that’s happening.
And meanwhile, we have an enormous number of — not an enormous number, but a number of very qualified people involved in the process of making improvements, identifying problems, isolating them and fixing them.
Q Will the White House cooperate with this committee?
MR. CARNEY: We cooperate with all legitimate congressional oversight. I would note that, as the President said yesterday, rooting for failure in this case, no matter how much you violently oppose the Affordable Care Act, perhaps even if you voted 45 times to repeal it or defund it or sabotage it in some other way, perhaps if you even voted to shut the government down and cause all that economic harm to the American people because you are so opposed to a bill and a law that provides affordable health insurance to millions of Americans, you ought not celebrate the fact that Americans might be struggling with a website that will provide them information about obtaining that insurance.
We should be focused on those Americans. The struggles they may be having with the website pale in comparison to the struggles they’ve had lacking affordable health insurance. That’s what this policy is about. It’s not about who is to blame for glitches in a website. What we need to focus on is fixing those problems, making the information that the American people want available to them in an efficient way. And that’s what we’re doing.
Q And lastly, Jay, the Saudis — Prince Bandar is saying there’s going to be a major shift in Saudi relations away from the United States. How seriously do you take this? Are you seeking more information about it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that Secretary Kerry has spoken at length about this today, coming out of meetings with the Saudi Foreign Minister, and they had candid and productive discussions on these issues — rather when they met yesterday in Paris. And the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have a longstanding partnership and consult closely on a range of regional, political and security issues, including Iran, Syria, the Middle East peace process, and Egypt.
In terms of Prince Bandar’s comments, I would refer you to him for an explanation of them. On core national security issues, the United States and Saudi Arabia have a very strong and stable relationship. And while we do not agree on every issue, when we have different perspectives, we have honest and open discussions. And, again, I can point you to very constructive, positive meetings that the Secretary of State had with his Saudi counterpart in Paris.
Q Follow on Saudi?
MR. CARNEY: Follow on Saudi, sure.
Q Does the White House have a particular reaction to Saudi Arabia rejecting a seat on the U.N. Security Council?
MR. CARNEY: I thank you for the question. A seat on the United Nations Security Council affords member states the opportunity to engage directly on issues of great importance, including issues like Syria, Iran, Egypt and the Middle East peace process. Whether or not Saudi Arabia takes a seat on the Security Council is, of course, its own decision. We will continue our close bilateral cooperation with Saudi Arabia on the host of shared challenges we face, including those issues that the Security Council takes up directly.
Again, we have disagreements with Saudi Arabia on some issues, but we work through them and discuss them in honest and open conversations. We also have a core relationship in national security areas that is very stable and important to U.S. interests, as well as Saudi interests.
Q On the issue of the website, many of the states seem to be doing better with the website. One of the key things, at least in Kentucky, we’re being told, is that they do not require someone to enroll first before shopping. That’s a structural difference than what happens in the federal website. Is the White House considering — or is the department considering changing that structurally in order to help improve the performance?
MR. CARNEY: I’m glad you asked. As a matter of fact, the night before last — overnight and beginning yesterday morning — Americans across the country, when they log onto — or rather when they go onto the website, can type in their ZIP code and shop and browse, and see what the options are that are out there available to them to comparison-shop and begin to make decisions. And then, the website itself, which contains numerous improvements — the homepage that I mentioned yesterday has that, but also allows — right upfront makes clear to users that they can make a toll-free call to get questions answered on their options. They can enroll by phone, by mail, online or in person.
And so the answer to your question is, yes, Americans can do this by typing in their ZIP code. And they can also access a calculator, a tax calculator from the website that will give them an estimate of what tax credits may be available to them to apply to their premiums depending on their income levels.
I just think the question goes right to the heart of the matter when it comes to the efforts we’re undertaking to improve the website. Again, as I said yesterday, you’ll get no argument from me or anyone else here that there are problems and there were problems that need to be addressed. And we’re improving the experience for consumers every day, and we won’t rest until Americans who want to get more information about the affordable health care options available to them through the website are able to do that smoothly, and are able to register and sign up.
It’s also important to note, Jim, that even though we’ve had these issues, people are signing up. And that’s both in the state exchanges — some of which have reported a great deal of success — and in the exchanges run at the federal level. And those individuals are what this is all about.
And whether — it is unacceptable to the President that these problems exist on the website, and he wants them fixed. He made that clear yesterday. He does not at all like or accept the fact that some Americans are out there having to spend a lot of time on a website that should be operating more efficiently. But the fact is, when you’re able to enroll in and purchase insurance affordably for you and your family for the first time, the struggles that you went through with a website pale in comparison to the fear and struggle that you endured when you did not have any insurance or could not afford it.
That’s not an excuse, but I think it helps put in perspective what the Affordable Care Act is all about when we’re having these questions and issues, which are understandable, with regards to the website.
Q I understand that yesterday and today — you’re not about pointing fingers and not about doing that at this point — but that is a structural change, is it not? What you’ve just described, reflecting what other states are doing by not forcing you to log in first? Are there other structural changes, not just — so that it wasn’t just the amount of people who were logging in — although that may be a factor — there were structural problems. Are there other structural problems that are now being addressed by the government?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the experts who are working on this are identifying, I think, technical problems and addressing them. They’re identifying — I don’t think that’s necessarily a structural problem — but identifying ways to make the user experience more efficient and effective for consumers. And in every case, they’re isolating, identifying and fixing the problems that they find.
And we have a lot of work to do, no question. The experience is better, but it is not nearly good enough. So, yes, improvements are being made, and improvements were necessary and remain necessary.
The important thing is that in this six-month period, open enrollment period, there’s going to be time for all those millions of Americans for whom these marketplaces were built to look at the options available to them and make a choice about whether or not they — what kind of insurance they can purchase with the kind of quality coverage that they desire and in many cases have not been able to get in the past.
Q Is it a fact that the requirement you just mentioned as having been changed a day or two ago was, in fact, in the original plan, and at the last minute or as close to the last minute before the website debuted, the White House insisted that people who are going on the web have to file their application first before seeing a menu of plans?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, again, I don’t know — there’s a lot that went into the development of the website and all the specifications and how it operates that exceed my brief. I am not a computer expert. I don’t build websites. But what I can I tell you is that where there — the goal is to get insurance affordably to the millions of Americans. So every step that we can take to make that process easier, we’re going to make. And again, you’re not going to find an argument from me that there isn’t an enormous amount of room for improvement here. And that is why we’re tackling these problems head on, and why we’re acknowledging these problems head on, and why we’re also making clear to all those millions of Americans for whom the debate about who’s to blame for a problematic website is of far less interest than the question of how do they get quality, affordable health insurance for the first time. We’re trying to answer that question, principally.
Q Even though you don’t do IT, maybe you can tell me whether — the contractors on the outside are telling us and others that there was a lot of pressure from the White House, despite many known problems, to start on October 1st and not to miss the date.
MR. CARNEY: Again, when it comes to contractors and testing and all that sort of thing, I would direct you to HHS, which is obviously running the site as well as the principal when it comes to the Affordable Care Act in general.
The launch date was October 1st. The website has not performed up to the President’s expectations or anyone’s expectations to this point. It is improving. And we’re focused on continuing to make improvements to the website so that the Americans that it serves and that the Affordable Care Act was designed to serve are getting the benefits that they deserve. And that’s what we’re focused on.
Q You mentioned — just one more — you mentioned that you welcome legitimate congressional oversight. What other kind is there? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve seen some that isn’t. I’m not suggesting that about this. I’m not familiar with — what is this, Chairman Issa’s committee?
MR. CARNEY: So we’ll see.
Q Do you regard that as not legitimate?
Q — find that illegitimate?
MR. CARNEY: Again, nothing. I’m just saying that we cooperate with legitimate congressional oversight. That’s something you’ve heard me say frequently. The Department of Health and Human Services has engaged with Congress numerous times and will continue to engage with Congress numerous times on these and other issues.
I’m just saying that I think everybody here who wasn’t born yesterday has seen questionable congressional oversight in the past. I’m not saying in regard to this issue, I’m just saying in the past.
Q Thank you. We have a report out now that Jeff Zients is being tapped by the President — has been tapped by the President to help repair the health care website. I’m wonder if you can talk a little bit about the President’s decision to do that. Is this now to put a central person or face behind this effort so that people know who is in charge? And does this in any way sideline Secretary Sebelius? And why did the President decide to tap Jeff Zients?
MR. CARNEY: I can confirm your report and I understand that HHS is now announcing some key steps, including the fact that it is bringing in management expert and former CEO, Jeff Zients, onboard to work in close cooperation with the HHS team to provide management advice and counsel to the project. As those of you know who know Jeff, he’s an expert in the field of effective management. And HHS will be tapping his experience and expertise as they address the challenges that have come up with the administration of the website.
As you know, Jeff has led some of the country’s top management firms, providing private sector companies around the world with best practices in management strategy and operations. He has a proven track record here as acting director at the Office of Management and Budget and, previously, as serving as the United States Chief Performance Officer.
Working alongside HHS’s team and using his rich expertise and management acumen, Jeff will provide short-term advice, assessments and recommendations. As you know, he’ll be coming here in the beginning of the year as director of the National Economic Council. This is a short-term assignment for HHS.
Q Jay, following on what Bill was asking about with some of the problems before the launch, in this Washington Post report, if you could react, they’re saying that the administration before the launch, days before, tested a key part of the website with a few hundred people — a simulation of a few hundred people logging on and the system crashed, even though, as you have been touting, you were expecting millions of people — you didn’t know how many, but many, many people trying to log on. So was anyone in the White House informed at that time, days before the launch, that this key test had failed?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, first of all, let me just make clear that we are expecting that by the end of the six-month enrollment period that millions of Americans will have enrolled to get affordable health insurance. We never said, and never would have said, and never expected or predicted that we would get millions of people in the first days or weeks. And I think we’ve made it abundantly clear —
Q Just great interest in it.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, over many, many days now, three weeks now, even though for several of them we were focused on the extreme damage Republicans were doing to the economy through the shutdown and brinksmanship, occasionally we would get questions about the Affordable Care Act and the website, and we noted — and I noted many times that the interest levels, the demands as measured by the number of visitors to the site far exceeded what we expected.
And, again, there’s no question that that’s on us and that we need to fix these problems that have been identified and, in some cases, created by the significant volume of interest. And there’s no question, again, that the website that was launched on October 1st has not performed adequately.
So I’m not familiar with the testing that was done. I would refer you to HHS for that. What I can tell you is that we are fully aware of the fact that even though it’s getting better every day, the website has not performed in the manner that we expected it to perform. We knew there would be glitches. We did not expect the volume and we did not expect the kinds of problems that we have seen. And that’s why, at the President’s direction, we are addressing this problem 24/7.
Q But it seems like a big deal that days before the launch, this test is done with hundreds of people and the system crashes. My question was, was anyone at the White House informed of it? Was the President informed of that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t know about any specific tests and I would send you to HHS.
Q Can you take the question?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is what I told you yesterday, is that we believed, from the President on down at the White House, that the website when it launched would function far more effectively than it did and has. And while there would be glitches, as there always are with a launch of websites of this nature, of this complexity, in its initial stages, we did not anticipate the magnitude of the problems that we’ve seen. And that’s why we’re focusing so much attention and effort and expertise on addressing those problems.
Q The President yesterday and you today talked about a tech surge and these IT experts who are coming in. Is the White House going to provide a list of who these people are or what corporations they work for?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the tech surge was announced by CMS and HHS, so I would refer you to them. I think they have announced today that Jeff Zients is part of that surge. But for more information about them — I think we’ve identified that some are coming from the private sector; some of them are members of the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program; some come from within government. But for more information about that, I would refer you to HHS, mindful of the fact that these individuals are focused on identifying and fixing problems so that Americans can more effectively get access to the information they need so that they can sign up for and enroll in insurance plans. We’re trying to focus on fixing the problems right now.
Q But if these individuals work for companies that have business before the White House, business before the Congress, do you think, in the interest of transparency, it would be a good idea to list the people and their companies?
MR. CARNEY: At this point, Ed, I just don’t have more information than I gave you. I would refer you to HHS.
Q Okay. Last one on that then. What is your estimate on how much more money it’s going to cost then to fix the website and implement the early stages? It’s already hundreds of millions of dollars that have been laid out, have been disclosed. What’s your new estimate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. The budget for this is something that’s housed over at HHS, and I would refer you to them, including the expenses related to the website. Two, it is important to note — although it is rarely noted, certainly in some places — that the Affordable Care Act, as it is implemented, as measured by the Nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office as well as others, will reduce our deficits in the first 10 years, and then significantly in this next 10 years.
We are already seeing benefits from the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act when it comes to slowing the growth in our health care costs. The three slowest years of health care cost growth have been the last three years — three slowest in the previous half-century. And all of these data I think contradict some of the predictions and even current charges by critics of Obamacare when they say that it’s going to explode health care cost growth when the opposite has been true.
They say that they’re focused now on the website, but a charge that they constantly make and that seemed to be unchecked even when they make it in press conferences and interviews is that it’s causing increases in part-time workers. Well, even today’s job’s data from September disproves that. So, in fact, in this recovery, job creation — and since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, job creation has been consistent with or above — when it comes to full-time job creation during this recovery, the percentage of full-time jobs versus part-time jobs has been at the level of previous recoveries or greater than previous recoveries — again, disproving a charge that seems to be made, regularly unchallenged.
Q To change the subject a little bit, in light of the latest Greenwald-Snowden leaks, can you update us on the administration’s latest efforts to return Mr. Snowden back to the U.S. to face charges?
MR. CARNEY: I have no updates to give. It’s obviously something that is a matter of discussion between Russia and the United States. The Russian government knows our position very well. It has not changed. But I have no updates on those conversations.
Mara, Peter, Brianna.
Q You said at the end of six months, you expect millions of Americans will sign up. Do you still expect the 7 million that you had predicted?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t remember precisely what — we have no changes in our expectations about the number of people who —
Q So you still expect that 7 million will be —
MR. CARNEY: If that’s the figure, I believe that’s correct, yes.
Q Okay. And then the second question, in the past when you had a natural disaster, the oil spill, generally, there’s somebody in charge, and I guess Jeff Zients is going to be that person. Is he going to be taking over a kind of briefing role where he answers the questions and —
MR. CARNEY: I think he’s providing management advice and consultation. But for more details about his role, because he’s being brought on by HHS, I would refer you to HHS. I don’t think this is a manmade — this is not a natural disaster.
Q Well, no, I know that. (Laughter.) But what I’m saying is — one of the frustrations has been it’s hard to get information about exactly what went wrong and what’s being done to fix it, and there hasn’t been a kind of daily update on that from somebody who is well versed in the technical aspects of this. But you don’t anticipate him doing that?
MR. CARNEY: Beyond what I just confirmed and announced, I would refer you — beyond those details about what Jeff will be doing, I would refer you to HHS and I’m sure they have other information about the efforts they’re making. But that’s the location of these efforts, and Jeff will be joining the existing team.
Q Okay. And one last question. Without describing exactly what did go wrong, do you feel that at this point the White House has a good handle on what went wrong and understands the problem?
MR. CARNEY: I am going to say that we have experts working on this, and that the President won’t be satisfied until he believes that the website is functioning effectively for American consumers and he is insisting on practices that enable Americans to get the information they need, not just from the website, and to be able to sign up and enroll, not just on the website, but through the other three avenues available to them — by phone, through in-person consultations and by mail.
So I’m not going to make any predictions. I’m simply going to say that as problems are identified, we have a team of people fixing them, and they’re going to keep at it. I think it’s fair to say that progress has been made. I think a lot of folks who are reporting on this steadily have noted that progress. But much more needs to be done, and we’re hard at work on that.
Q But you’re not able to say at this point that you — that the White House has a handle on what the problem is?
MR. CARNEY: I think we have a lot of information about what the problems are, and we’re working on them. I don’t think we’re going to presume to know everything that may or may not happen technologically in the weeks and months ahead. No one would do that.
Q I’m asking what’s happening —
MR. CARNEY: The President feels confident that he is — that there is a team working on this that has the expertise necessary to identify the problems and fix them.
Q Following up very briefly on that — so, in simple terms, we have not yet fully identified what all of the problems are? We’re still in the process of identifying the problems before we can initiate —
MR. CARNEY: Peter, all I’m saying — again, not as an expert in the field — that on any website that you visit, you may encounter a glitch or a problem. And I don’t think we’re going to get to a day where we would declare that there will never again be a problem experienced by or a —
Q That’s not what —
MR. CARNEY: Let me finish and answer Peter’s question — that there will never again be a glitch or a problem. We’re focused on identifying the problems — or the team is identifying the problems, isolating them and fixing them, making improvements to the site, making improvements to the consumer experience. Because this is about connecting those Americans who lack affordable health insurance with the options that are now available to them that can provide them that affordable health insurance. So that includes via the website, but also through the call-in centers, the in-person centers and by mail.
So we’re just going to keep working on this problem. And the President has made clear that he’s not satisfied with where it was when it was launched and where it has been, although we have seen important improvements.
Q The President has been sort of the communicator-in-chief in terms of our understanding of the way ACA, the Affordable Care Act works and the problems that exist. And he spoke on October 1st, spoke again yesterday. Should we anticipate we will hear constant updates from him as we reach that place when he can finally say, we have fixed it, it’s all good to go from here? What should we anticipate to hear from the President?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have events or — I would simply say that this is obviously something the President is focused on, but he is also focused on other issues.
He is committed to working with Congress to try to get comprehensive immigration reform passed and signed into law. He is committed to the congressional effort and the help we can provide to it through regular order and the budget process to reaching an agreement on a broader budget deal with Congress, with Republicans and Democrats in Congress. And he believes, as he had mentioned last week, that, similarly, there is the opportunity to pass and sign into law a bipartisan farm bill.
And that’s just some of the things that continue to get the President’s focus and attention — there are obviously many issues — within the budget context. And I think Jason mentioned this earlier — there is the opportunity, as the President has identified, to make policy choices that will improve economic growth and improve job creation, which is his number-one focus and should be, in his mind, Congress’s number-one focus.
We saw jobs numbers for September that demonstrated steady job growth but not enough job growth, in our view. We’ve now gone through a period where Congress, because of its obsession with — at least the tea party’s obsession with Obamacare — we saw a shutdown and the threat of default that did direct, measurable harm to the American people and the American economy. They’ve got to knock that off and focus instead on doing the things that they can do to help the economy grow and help it create jobs.
Q Simply put, doesn’t — when it comes to a sophisticated rollout like this with a website, phones, call-in centers, all this, doesn’t the private sector do this better than government does?
MR. CARNEY: The fact is we have experts from the private sector as well as from government and academia working on this problem, or the problems with the website. The Affordable Care Act — as you know, the marketplaces that are created by it are marketplaces for private insurance companies to sell their products to the American people. It is, by design, a system that builds on the existing private insurance market. And one of the reasons why you’ve seen such an increase in the number of options available and plans available to consumers is that insurance companies are attracted to the potential market there of millions more Americans purchasing insurance. And so we’re building on the competition created by the marketplaces to expand the number of insured Americans.
Q Last question. Briefly, when we wrapped up yesterday, you guys introduced the conversation relating to the shooting that took place in Nevada. We didn’t get a lot of detail in terms of the way the President was advised of what had taken place there. Can you give us a sense of the President’s reaction of learning of another shooting, a deadly shooting, in a school, with the loss of a heroic teacher, as he’s being described today, and the frustration for this President in his inability to do anything more about it, just one day later and going forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I think we noted when we put out the transcript of the briefing, the President was briefed on the shooting in Nevada. And I can just say that in every instance like this, he’s heartbroken, and his thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims and everyone in that community.
And with regards to the need to take action on common-sense measures that reduce gun violence, the President remains committed to doing just that. And we made no secret of the fact that the President was very disappointed in the Senate’s failure to pass a bill that would have expanded and improved our background check system, that would have in no way infringed upon Americans’ Second Amendment rights, a bill that was supported by majorities of the American people in every state in the country where a poll was taken, and that includes the reddest states in the nation.
So he’s going to keep at it and keep looking at ways that we can take these common-sense steps to reduce gun violence in America.
Q Twenty-five states have agreed to the Medicaid expansion now. I think Ohio was the 25th. Does the White House have a plan to encourage or push, or a strategy to get the other 25 to agree to that? Or do you view that more as a state-by-state issue where the governors and the politics there will work themselves out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously supported and signed the Affordable Care Act, which, as originally legislated, would have required every state to expand its Medicaid program. The Supreme Court decision changed that piece of the Affordable Care Act and made it optional. So we are working, I would say, on a state-by-state basis, to do our best to impress upon governors and legislatures the benefits to their constituents, to the people of their states, of expanding Medicaid in the way that the Affordable Care Act does.
And we’re obviously pleased with developments in Ohio and in states across the country where the decision to expand Medicaid has been made, because we’re talking about a significant number of uninsured Americans who will now have insurance, and that creates enormous benefits for those states in terms of reducing costs in emergency rooms and in creating more security for their citizens, and which, in turn, enhances their prospects in the job market and can help economic growth and job creation.
So we’re going to keep at it. I think that the effort is both broad and narrow in the sense that we speak about the benefits of expanding the Medicaid program broadly, but we obviously have conversations with individual governors and other significant players in the states themselves where this decision has not yet been made.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Jackie and — oh, Brianna, then Jackie, then Scott.
Q Jay, you said there are improvements on the website. What are the improvements?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to — but I will — repeat what I said yesterday. As we just mentioned — well, as I mentioned yesterday, you can now preview — this was effective beginning yesterday morning — you can now preview plans and prices available in your area without filling out the online application. This goes to Jim’s question. You can find out, with an improved calculator, whether your income and household size may qualify you for lower costs on your monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs. You can apply for coverage four ways: by phone, online, by mail with a paper application, or with the help of an in-person assister.
Some of the features on the website existed before, but they are now made more effective and prominent for users who go to healthcare.gov, because the ones that assist users in finding out how they can get information through the other means rather than the website are more prominently featured.
Q But the first step is registering.
MR. CARNEY: Again, Brianna, I don’t know if —
Q You can’t register as we speak.
MR. CARNEY: No, you can now preview plans and prices available in your area without filling out the online application. So this goes — we just had this discussion, Jim and I, and he correctly noted that this change was made to make it easier for people who want to shop and browse and get information, to do that without encountering the difficulties that they’ve had registering. So they can do that. Then they —
Q But when can you register?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Brianna, again, if you’re asking me are there still troubles with the website, the answer is emphatically yes. The situation is getting better. We’re seeing that every day. And I daresay that if the statistics that I’ve seen reported are true, for every experience that has been difficult when it comes to using the website, there is at least one person out there, and one person who may represent a family, who successfully signed up for the health insurance options that had not been available to them in the past.
But to your point, we’ve made it easier for people to use the website to get the information they need about the plans and options available to them, to find out what credits may be available to them. And then they can use — if they’re having trouble going further in the process on the website, they can apply by phone or by mail or in person.
Q It’s a really complicated process. I mean, it seems young people aren’t —
MR. CARNEY: Brianna, but you’re absolutely right, but you know what’s — let me tell you what’s more complicated —
Q Well, my question is about young people —
MR. CARNEY: — getting insurance today, prior to the existence of the Affordable Care Act.
Q My question is about young people. Are they really going to want to jump through all of those hoops? And don’t you kind of want to encourage them to —
MR. CARNEY: I agree. That’s why we’re engaged in an all-out effort to improve the online experience, and as we do that, to make available information about other means to sign up. But again, the struggles that people are encountering in trying to — and the enormous numbers of people who are interested in the Affordable Care Act and the options available to them, and the troubles they’re having with the website, pale in comparison to the trouble you have when you don’t have insurance.
Q But doesn’t it create a problem where if you’re sort of back-loading all of the young people — I mean, you want to encourage them to sign —
MR. CARNEY: We’re not back-loading the young people. We are encouraging them.
Q Well, they won’t wait until they can register, and it’s unclear when that’s even going to happen.
MR. CARNEY: But, Brianna, I think you’re asking me, does the website work effectively? The answer is, not effectively enough.
Q Have you logged to the website since the changes have been made?
MR. CARNEY: I have, yes. I did, yesterday.
Q Has the President?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have updates on his —
Q Did you register? I mean, did you succeed in —
MR. CARNEY: I get insurance through my employer, so, no, I did not register.
Q What was it like when you went to the website?
MR. CARNEY: To the point — as far as I went, it went very well, as did my telephone call I made.
Q How far did you get?
MR. CARNEY: Brianna —
Q I’m just curious because I failed to register five times.
MR. CARNEY: — I didn’t enroll because I have insurance. I would remind —
Q Jay, what —
MR. CARNEY: Hey, Fred — I would remind Brianna and everyone else that the insurance available through the individual options available through the marketplaces as set up by the Affordable Care Act are for those people who do not have insurance through their employer or through Medicare or Medicaid. So that’s 15 —
Q But it’s still — the website still works the same way, whether or not you have it or not. I mean, the website doesn’t really know that I have —
MR. CARNEY: But, Brianna, you get insurance, I trust, through CNN, so you’re not purchasing insurance. We’re focused on the people who —
Q Yes, but we’re going through the process because we have a lot of viewers who obviously want to do it, and we want to see sort of what their experience is.
MR. CARNEY: And I’m not sure what you are missing when I tell you that we know there are problems and we are working every day to try to fix them. In the meantime, because our focus is not on debating whether or not there are problems because we’ve already conceded there are, we’re focused on fixing those problems and providing information to the American people about how they can either navigate the system or apply on —
Q I guess what I’m missing is if you guys —
MR. CARNEY: If you’d just let me finish.
Q — have worked on what the problems are and when they’re going to be resolved.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s the first time you’ve asked that in this colloquy, and I think I answered that earlier, which is that we are addressing the problems every day, and the President won’t be satisfied until the website works effectively.
In the meantime, we’re making sure that the American people are made aware of the fact that there are a variety of avenues that they can use to find out more about the Affordable Care Act and the options available to them, and to discover the most important fact, which is that they will be able to purchase health insurance, quality health insurance at affordable prices, in many cases for the first time in their lives.
And I think if you ask those families who have succeeded in doing that already, or who are keenly interested in doing that, that’s what matters to them. They’re not happy with the fact that a website is not functioning as well as it should, but they’re interested in getting the insurance. They’re interested in the product, not the functionality of a website.
I think I did say Jackie. I think I called Jackie, yes.
Q In the time when Governor Kasich in Ohio has been working to get his state over his party’s objection to expand — to take the Medicaid expansion, has the President reached out to him, had any contacts directly with him?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any conversations involving the President with the Governor. I can say generally, as I did in answer to Perry’s question, that we have, as an administration, engaged with the states on this issue and on, obviously, a lot of matters related to standing up the marketplaces and the various other aspects of the Affordable Care Act. So it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if there were conversations with officials in Ohio, including the Governor, but I don’t have any to report.
Q And does the President have any travel plans in the near term to go out with the theme — on the theme of the Affordable Care Act? Or has the problems with the website caused him to delay those travel plans?
MR. CARNEY: Let me just say that the only announced travel we have at this time is Friday, where he’s going to P-Tech, a school in Brooklyn.
Q Next week?
MR. CARNEY: Friday. I don’t have any travel to announce for next week.
Q Two kind of logistics questions. Tomorrow, do you expect a two-and-two press conference with the Prime Minister?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an announcement to make yet about that.
Q The other is, obviously several times today, and in the past, quite a few times, you’re referring us to HHS for information. Is it your expectation that they will answer those questions for us? (Laughter.) I’m not trying to be glib, I’m wondering what your instruction is.
MR. CARNEY: The website that is of considerable focus, understandably, is run by HHS and CMS. They have a team in place that’s working on it. They have brought in individuals as part of this tech surge to help them deal with the problems on the website. So they are the people best situated to answer questions that you have. I would refer you to them about what questions they can answer or they’re able to answer. But I think what’s important to note is that they are focused on trying to fix these problems.
Q I understand that, too. Take Ed’s question, which seems like basic, right-to-know information — how much is this costing taxpayers money? As a longtime Washington reporter before you took this job, obviously that would likely be something that you felt was a right to know. Will we get that information from HHS?
MR CARNEY: I would address your question to HHS. I don’t have that information and this is an operation being run by HHS.
And again, all of this information is part of — I mean, all of this is about the Affordable Care Act, which is a law that was passed and was signed and upheld by the Supreme Court in order to expand and improve insurance coverage for the American people.
Q I’m just saying, should they provide that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would refer you to HHS about what information they have and what they’re able to provide.
Got to go.
1:52 P.M. EDT