Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 7, 2013 – 1:22 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon on this very rainy Monday. Thanks for being here. I trust that you heard the President speak at FEMA, where he talked about the hard work done at that agency on behalf of the American people, the hard work that continues there despite the effects of shutdown there as elsewhere, and about the need for Congress to pass a budget, open the government, pass a bill so that the United States can pay its bills, and therefore, not continue to do or threaten damage to our economy.
Before I take your questions I just wanted to note that earlier today the President received another update on the effects of the shutdown from Alyssa Mastromonaco, Rob Nabors, and Sylvia Burwell. One of the items that they noted was that, in total, we have now seen Head Start closures in six states — Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina — by seven grantees who operate approximately 100 centers and serve 7,200 children. Now, this comes on top of the 57,000 children cut from Head Start this year in every state in the nation due to the harmful effects of sequestration.
Again, there are multiple negative consequences to the shutdown of the government, the choice made by House Republicans to do this. And those effects are being felt in this, the second week since they made that choice.
Q Thank you. I know the President has said that he’s willing to negotiate with Republicans on a variety of topics after they pass a clean CR and clean debt ceiling. I’m wondering, though, if the White House would be willing to somehow in more specific terms lay out what they’re actually willing to negotiate on and maybe include it in a bill, or somehow put it in sort of a nonnegotiable way to give Speaker Boehner a little bit of cover to maybe take those two votes on the floor.
MR. CARNEY: Let me say two things about that — and I appreciate the question. One is, the President has laid out specifics about what he’s willing to do and willing to negotiate in his budget —
Q Well, sort of beyond that —
MR. CARNEY: — which is broad and specific. And the President said at the time when he released his budget that he knew he would not get it passed verbatim, that more negotiation and compromise would be required. But what is also required in this case is a willingness by Republicans to compromise and negotiate.
And the President has been open to negotiation all year long, and he remains so today, when it comes to how we make our choices to fund our priorities in our budget, make those choices in a way that ensures our economy grows, make those choices in a way that ensures that our economy grows in a manner that most helps the middle class — because the stronger our middle class, the better the country does. That is what history has taught us.
So the door has been open all year long, and again and again and again, Republicans have, when it came to the process in the Senate and the House that they demanded, refused to appoint conferees for that regular order to continue and for the negotiations to take place there. And even in the meetings with the President, some of which were very productive and thoughtful, Republican lawmakers never came back with a compromise proposal of their own.
But he is ready to do that, just not under threat of shutdown, not under threat of default. Those are fundamental, core responsibilities of Congress that they need to fulfill, and he won’t allow the American people and the economy — and the American economy to be held hostage to ideological demands in return for fulfilling those simple functions.
Let me also say that when it comes to putting a bill on the floor of the House — which the Speaker could do today to reopen the government, because, apparently, everyone but the Speaker is confident that that bill would receive a majority in the House and would receive votes from Republicans as well as Democrats — that would be simply doing — would be simply extending government funding at levels that Republicans set.
Let’s be clear that Democrats, in going along with a temporary continuing resolution to ensure the government wouldn’t shut down, and now to ensure that it would reopen and allow time for further negotiations, is not some sort of fulfillment of Democratic priorities. You know that. Everybody here who covers the budgets knows that. Democrats and the President have asked for and believe it’s necessary to have additional funding beyond the level set by the CR, but have made no demands associated with that — none, whatsoever, zero.
Q You guys have been saying this now — we’re going into the second week, as you said. You were making these points before the government shutdown and it doesn’t seem to be having a lot of impact on Speaker Boehner. And I understand all the points that you’re making, but given that the politics in the House seem to be making it difficult for him to put a clean CR on the floor, does the President feel like there is anything he can do to lay out something specific, make some kind of promise to Boehner and House Republicans of negotiations afterwards, something specific that they want that would give Boehner the political cover to take this step?
MR. CARNEY: Your question contains within it, I think, the essence of why Americans hate the dysfunction here, because the suggestion is that the Speaker of the House can’t do the obvious and right thing because of his internal party politics; that this has to do with his job, as opposed to the jobs of those who have been furloughed or the jobs of those Americans who would be out of work if we were to allow — or the House Republicans and the Republicans in Congress were to allow the unthinkable, which is a default on our obligations.
And I hope and don’t want to believe that that’s the case — that the Republicans and Speaker have said — they’ve staked out their position that they insist on getting something out of this, extracting some political concession in return for opening the people’s government, in return for paying the bills they racked up.
And what the President is saying is we can’t do that because that would be putting in jeopardy the stability of our economy for the long term, and it would do great harm to our democratic system if every time it was necessary for the United States to take action to pay its obligations, a minority in Congress — a faction of one party in one house of one branch of government — could make a series of ideological demands and refuse to pay our bills if they didn’t get it. And that would be regardless of party. That would be true if a Republican were sitting in the Oval Office and the roles were reversed. It’s a precedent that should not and must not be set.
Q Just on the raids this weekend, can you say who is questioning the suspect that was picked up in Libya and what the benefits are of questioning him in international waters?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can obviously confirm that Mr. Abu Anas al-Libi was arrested and that he is in U.S. custody. I don’t have more details for you about where he is. The operations were conducted, as you know, by the U.S. military under the authority conferred by the authorization to use military force from 2001, which authorizes the use of military force against al Qaeda and associated forces.
This operation was made possible by the superb work and coordination across our national security agencies and the intelligence community. The fact of the matter is, is that Abu Anas al-Libi has been indicted in the Southern District of New York in connection with his alleged role in al Qaeda’s conspiracy to kill U.S. nationals and to conduct attacks against U.S. interests worldwide, which included al Qaeda plots to attack U.S. forces stationed in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia, as well as the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. And so that indictment has been pending, and we believe in a system that brings people to justice through indictment, and that’s what we’re witnessing now.
Q Jay, thank you. Earlier today, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling didn’t — wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a debt limit increase that would last for only two or three weeks to give a short amount of time, presumably to do
— talk further. Would you — would the President accept something like that? Is that something you’d see as a positive development?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question because there’s been some, I think, particular misunderstanding about this. We don’t, at the White House, get to raise the debt ceiling. We don’t get to set the time frame under which the debt ceiling is raised, or the duration of the raising of the debt ceiling. It is our view, as I think both those officials stated this morning, that since the whole purpose of this argument is to remove the uncertainty created by the threat of default, the threat of not raising the debt ceiling, that the longer you raise the debt ceiling for, the better. And we would support efforts underway in the Senate by Senate Democrats to move a bill, a clean bill that would raise the debt ceiling for a year. That would certainly be viewed here as something we could support.
But we don’t get to make those determinations. What our position has always been has not been, raise it for a certain amount of time. It has been, raise the debt ceiling without drama and delay. So whatever the duration, our position will not change, which is, raise it so that the United States can continue to pay its bills and continue to ensure that the world knows that we are good to our word and that we fulfill our obligations.
And when it comes up again, our position will still be we will not negotiate over Congress’s responsibility — sole responsibility to pay the bills that Congress racked up.
I mean, so I think the way to view this is really around the issue of certainty. And I think there’s an instructive past experience in our recent past here to demonstrate how this works. In 2011, Republicans in Congress decided really for the first time in our history to threaten default if they didn’t get what they wanted out of negotiations over the budget, and that threat, once people realized it was real, caused significant harm to our economy. Default did not happen, but the threat of it caused harm. It was measureable harm, and it included a downgrading of the United States for the first time in our history.
Eight months ago the Congress — essentially the same Congress extended the debt ceiling without drama, without delay, without making a lot of ideological demands, and they did it for a period of time that we’re running up against now. But I think if you look at that period when they raised it earlier this year, you saw that not only were there no harmful effects to our economy, there were positive impacts if you can acknowledge that the lack of drama, the lack of uncertainty about raising the debt ceiling contributed to the sustained economic growth that we’ve seen, and contributed to the significant job creation we’ve seen this year.
So we saw what happened when you mess around with this, when you threaten default in 2011. And you saw what happened when Congress does what it has traditionally done, which is raise the debt ceiling without making these kinds of threats. So certainty is what it’s about in our view.
Q Speaker Boehner this weekend said that there would be no increase in the debt limit without concessions from the President. Can you comment on that?
MR. CARNEY: Contradicting a host of occasions where he himself has said we would never default. Republican leaders in the Senate and the House have long said that they would never allow us to default, and now we see the leader of the Republican Party on Capitol Hill saying that he will not raise the debt ceiling if Republicans do not get what they want. That’s highly reckless and irresponsible. It is astounding really if you think about it, on October 7th, given how little time there is left that the Speaker of the House is announcing to the world that he will not allow a bill to raise the debt ceiling to pass if Republicans don’t get their specific demands. That’s very —
Q But that’s not what he’s saying, Jay. He’s saying it’s negotiable.
MR. CARNEY: Hey, Jon, I’m having a conversation here. I’m sure I’ll call — I’m sure that you’ll represent what the Speaker is saying in a minute. (Laughter.) But —
Q Very funny, but that’s not what he said.
MR. CARNEY: Okay. He said that he would not — I think, Mark, you asked the question. Why don’t you say what is your understanding that the Speaker said?
Q The Speaker apparently said that it is no — it’s still the case that he will not raise the debt ceiling without concessions from the President. And I was asking you to comment on it.
MR. CARNEY: And our position is this is too important to attach political demands, demand political concessions in return for fulfilling the responsibility by Congress to ensure we pay our debts and we do not default.
Q Can I just also ask about the raids over the weekend? Apparently, the raid in Somalia failed to capture the intended target. Can you talk about whether the President ordered that specific raid and whether he was disappointed in the outcome?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can say that the President approved both operations in both Libya and Somalia. I think it’s important to note that although it occurred at the same time, these were separate operations, approved separately. And when an approval like this happens, there is obviously discretion given to commanders as to when they initiate and fulfill those missions. So it is a coincidence that they happened at the same time. And I think it’s important, because there’s a lot of conflation of the two, to make that point.
Separately, on the mission in Somalia, most of the questions about it I would refer to the Department of Defense. But I can confirm that on October 4th, U.S. military personnel were involved in a counterterrorism operation against a known al-Shabaab terrorist. And as you know and has been reported, no U.S. personnel were injured or killed. And, again, for more information about that operation I would refer you to the Department of Defense.
Q I’ll let Jon question what the Speaker said, but I mean, it’s fair to say, though, it would help if you had short-term debt ceiling increase to turn down the temperature and give both sides a little room to talk about this.
MR. CARNEY: Jim — and I’m glad that you’re asking, because I know that you’ve been remarking upon this as if it’s huge news. Our —
Q That’s not the case.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, but seriously, it’s —
Q I suggest in my reporting that that may not be —
MR. CARNEY: But I understand it’s been out there that our position has never been to say that the debt ceiling ought to be raised for a certain period of time. Our position has been from the beginning that the debt ceiling ought to be raised without drama or delay, and that the problem around these votes has always been the uncertainty created by threats — at least in 2011 and this year — by Republicans not to raise the debt ceiling, not to fulfill their obligations here to ensure that the United States doesn’t default unless they get what they want, and they have a list of demands.
So I think that what my two colleagues —
Q You’d like to talk to us out of reporting that there might be some kind of conciliatory language coming out of this White House with respect to a debt ceiling increase of whatever length might be worked out.
MR. CARNEY: All I’m say is that —
Q Because if you’re saying — if you want to talk us out of that, go right ahead, that’s your podium.
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m simply saying that we have never stated and we’re not saying today that the debt ceiling ought to be or can be any particular length of time. It is our view that a longer debt ceiling increase, a more substantial debt ceiling increase that then averts another kind of confrontation like this for a longer period of time is a good thing. And we would support what Senate Democrats are initiating now, which is a bill that would extend the debt ceiling for a year.
But whether it’s for that period of time or a shorter period of time, what will not change is the President’s view that he cannot and must not allow for a ransom situation to occur when it comes to fulfilling that responsibility. So he will make no demands from Congress, will ask for nothing from Congress in return for Congress raising the debt ceiling. And that will be true this time, and it will be true next time whenever that it is.
So I’m not ruling out a specific duration, and I want to make that clear. I’m just saying that actually our view is that longer is better because we continue to have these — or we at least of late continue to have these suggestions from Republicans that they would threaten default if they don’t get what they want. And I think that Congress, whenever it reaches its determination about what it’s going to do here in terms of how long they will raise the debt ceiling, has to take into consideration also when they want to have to deal with this themselves.
And it’s no mystery to those who’ve covered the Congress or understand how it works, those who have worked there, that this is not a pleasant vote for a lot of members. And in the past there have been times when Congress has increased the debt ceiling for a longer duration for that reason, as well as some of the others that I mentioned.
Q And, Jay, does this administration know what a debt default would look like?
MR. CARNEY: It would look bad, Jim. I think we know —
Q But what would it look like?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that there are independent reports out there about what the consequences of default would be. I would refer you to the Department of Treasury for more information about our view. But we’re hard-pressed to say with any specificity what the catastrophe would look like since it’s never occurred before.
We know from the 2011 experience, and you saw the report from the Treasury last week, what even the threat of default can do to our economy, can do to our economic growth and our job creation, what it can do to confidence and the willingness of investors globally to invest in the United States.
So we know those consequences would be severe. I don’t think anybody who is credible doubts that. When you hear some talk about suggesting the idea that somehow default would not be so bad, they’re really wrong. And I don’t think any credible economist or financial institution would take those kinds of claims seriously.
Q Because Tom Coburn, as you know, who has been close with the President over the years, said that we won’t go into default on October 17th if we hit the debt ceiling and go over it. Is he wrong?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, because — I don’t know if he’s talking about prioritization, but prioritization is default by another name. If you pay some of your bills but not all your bills, you’re in default on the bills you don’t pay — period.
And when you’re the United States of America — and let’s keep it local here — if you pay some of your bills, but not all of your bills, you’re in default on the bills you didn’t pay. Moreover, your credit rating becomes worthless, even though you’ve paid some of your bills, but because you haven’t paid the other ones. So the next time you try to get a loan, you can say, well, I kept paying my mortgage. I know I didn’t pay the phone company and the electrical company, and I probably didn’t pay my cable bill, but I paid my mortgage. And they’re going to say, well, you got to pay all your bills. That’s how you maintain creditworthiness.
So the fact of the matter is prioritization is default. And as the Treasury Department has laid out they run out of measures to postpone default and that will create a scenario that we’ve never experienced before if the House — if the Congress — Republicans in Congress — do not fulfill their responsibility to ensure that we pay our bills.
Q Jay, would the President be willing to negotiate a situation where there would no longer be the threat of a debt limit increase — in other words, where Republicans would offer in exchange for a negotiation that we’d have a permanent increase in the debt ceiling?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure that that offer is available or on the table, and I’m not sure what you mean exactly. If the Republicans act and allow the Congress to act to raise the debt ceiling for whatever duration, that obviously meets the condition the President has set, and then he is willing to — assuming they also act to reopen the government. But then that creates the situation that the President says, yes, he will negotiate, yes — because he has been.
The thing that is so important to remember is that the President has been negotiating and demonstrated a willingness to negotiate all year long, and in a process that Republican demanded at the time must take place when it came to Congress passing budgets, the House and the Senate passing budgets, and then those budgets — which obviously were different, the one in the Senate, the one in the House — being reconciled through a conference, the President said, okay, let’s do that, and the Democrats in the Senate said, okay, let’s do that, and that was a principal demand of Republicans in the negotiations last year.
And of course, once we did what they asked, they then refused to do what they said they wanted to do, which was allow a conference to take place where those budgets could be hammered out and the differences could be eliminated and then a compromise could be reached.
The President is very eager to start that process again, but not under threat of default and not under threat of continued shutdown.
Q To go back to what the Speaker said is the key — they are not going to pass a clean debt limit increase. They aren’t — he didn’t give a specific set of demands that actually have to be met, but he said he’s not going to have a clean debt limit increase. If the Speaker of the House sticks to that position, are we going into default?
MR. CARNEY: You’d have to ask the Speaker of the House.
Q I’m saying if he sticks to that position, if the Speaker does not move from that position, are we going to default?
MR. CARNEY: If you’re saying, if the Speaker attaches to the debt ceiling a recognition of the importance of motherhood, we might accept that. But what you’re saying —
Q — without some concession.
MR. CARNEY: I’m trying to be funny, but nobody laughed, so I apologize. (Laughter.) It’s been a long shutdown already. But the — we will not — we’re not going to negotiate over Congress’s responsibility to raise the debt ceiling. So if he’s — what he and others in his leadership have said is that they want concessions from the President, presumably because they couldn’t get them through other legislative or electoral means — concessions from the President in return for raising the debt ceiling. That dynamic amounts to an attempt to extort from the executive branch and from the Democrats in Congress concessions in order to prevent default. And that’s off the table.
We are not going to — we’re not doing that, because the damage to our economy in the long term and to the ability of this President and future — this President’s successors and future Congresses to ensure that we do not become a laughingstock internationally because we either come to the verge or brink of default every quarter or every year, or we do default every quarter or every year — we cannot have that.
So the President is making clear that he’s not asking for anything in return from Congress for Congress to do its job when it comes to opening the government at levels of spending Republicans set, and he’s not asking for anything in return from Congress for Congress to do its job in paying our bills.
Q So we do go to default if they don’t move from that position?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, the President’s position is clear. The Republican position has changed with every new day on the calendar, so I don’t know — I can’t predict where the Speaker will be. What I can say is the President’s position has been consistent from the beginning.
Q And if I can just do two quick ones. Was the Speaker of the House not telling the truth when he said there aren’t the votes to pass a clean funding bill?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we haven’t done any whip counts here among — especially among Republicans. I am simply noting that there have been published accounts of I think more than 20 now House Republicans who have said they would vote —
Q Twenty-one by our count.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, ABC has 21 — of House Republicans that have said on the record, in public, that they would vote for a clean CR, the one that passed the Senate already. If you add that to the Democrats who would vote for a clean CR, you have the majority you need.
And I would note that other Republican members of the House, as well as other Republican commentators and political folks who know a lot about the Republicans in the House, have said that at least that many would vote for a clean CR if the House Speaker would allow it to come to the floor.
And so we — as I think we responded over the weekend, or yesterday when the Speaker said that, I think he should — if he’s sure that he’s right that the majority doesn’t exist, then he should put it to a vote. Why not vote? I mean, just vote, right? We could resolve this, both the dispute over whether — who’s right and who’s wrong if there’s a majority, which is a smaller dispute, and we could resolve the shutdown if he would simply allow it to come to a vote.
Q And do you have an estimate on how many people have attempted to access the website for the health care?
MR. CARNEY: Let me see what facts and figures I have. As of now, I still have — in the first 72 hours healthcare.gov had over 8.6 million unique visitors. As you know, there were seven times more users on the marketplace website that first morning than have even been on the Medicare.gov site at one time.
Q But you still don’t know how many people have signed up?
MR. CARNEY: I’m glad you asked that question because I want to be clear about it. When it comes to enrollment data — I want to clear this up — we will release data on regular monthly intervals, just like was done in Massachusetts and just like what was done and is done when it comes to Medicare Part D. What I can confirm right now is that people are signing up through federal exchanges. But we’re not going to be — this is an aggregation process and we’re not going to release data on an hourly or daily or weekly basis. We’ll follow models that have existed in previous programs, including a similar program in Massachusetts, including Medicare Part D, which is the most recent federal example of this kind of thing, and release enrollment data on regular monthly intervals.
Q But you can give us numbers of traffic, how many people go to the website, but not how many people sign up?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is a large volume. There’s no question that there’s large volume. And these are rough estimates about the volume. One of the reasons why we’ve been able to — or why we’ve provided the information about the volume is because it is the principal reason why we’ve had slowdowns and other issues that we’ve had to try to resolve to make the consumer experience better.
Q Jay, you’ve often mentioned the January experience of raising the debt ceiling. As you are probably aware, there was a rough agreement to have a sidecar understanding with the raising of the debt ceiling. Senate Democrats would have a budget resolution; if they didn’t pass it, they wouldn’t get their pay. It wasn’t attached to the debt ceiling but it was a sidecar understanding, and these things moved simultaneously though the debt ceiling was clean. Using that as a model, is that something the White House would be open to in that —
MR. CARNEY: Sidecars?
Q Yes. I mean, it’s not a brand-new legislative technique. You saw it; you covered it when you were there and when I was there as well.
MR. CARNEY: Let me be clear — and I think it’s an important question — that our position has been that the Congress ought to raise the debt ceiling without drama or delay. And so how they do that — and I’ve answered this in different ways when it comes to past Congresses in past years when the debt ceiling has been raised without drama or delay, and has been attached to something. So —
Q — this January example.
MR. CARNEY: Correct. But you’re talking about the distinction between clean versus without drama or delay. And the point I’ve made is that it is true that in the past, prior to 2011, there have been times when the raising of the debt ceiling has been attached to something, but there hasn’t been a threat made by one party or the other to withhold payment or allow for default if they don’t get what they want. So I’m not going to —
Q Right. But this case is one where Republicans had a policy priority and a procedural priority, Senate Democrats pass a budget — and please don’t repeat all that. I know the drill about them doing that. So they achieved something that they wanted as they were having this discussion — so they achieved something that they were seeking that was unrelated to the debt ceiling, and it was all within the same legislative neighborhood — if you understand what I’m saying. Is that something that can be achieved in this context?
MR. CARNEY: What I will say — because I think this goes to the issue that I think —
Q Because on pure negotiation, on the question itself, whether other things can be added —
MR. CARNEY: What I will say is we support the effort that is being worked on now by Senate Democrats for a clean bill raising the debt ceiling.
Our overall position has always been that Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling so that the United States can pay the bills that Congress racked up without drama or delay, and how they do that I’m not going to specify or rule in anything or rule out anything. What I can say is that we’re not going to negotiate over a set of ideological demands for concessions from the President or concessions on spending priorities in return for Congress fulfilling its fundamental responsibility.
As I’ve said in the past, how Congress fulfills it, as long as they fulfill it without drama or delay, without brinksmanship, without threatening default, is up to them, and the duration that they attach to it, again, is up to them.
Q And as you know, the duration is not just a policy question. It can sometimes be a political question, because the longer you extend it, the more money is being added to the debt ceiling. I know it’s not an appropriation, but in some constituents’ minds, for some of these members, it sounds like it. And so there’s a political price that they fear of paying if they go for a year, as opposed to two weeks or three weeks. And by you saying today, two weeks or three weeks is acceptable, it does send a signal to the Congress. And is that the signal you’re intending to send?
MR. CARNEY: As I was trying to explain to Jim, we are not trying to send a signal about anything about the duration beyond that we do support the efforts underway in the Senate. But —
Q But you could say we wouldn’t sign anything that that’s short if you wanted to.
MR. CARNEY: What we will say is that, whether it’s today or a number of weeks from now or a number of months from now or a number of years from now, it will always be Congress’s responsibility to raise our debt ceiling so that the United States can pay the bills that Congress has incurred, and it will always be, as long as he’s President, President Obama’s position that that responsibility is not negotiable. There’s not a game of trading for political priorities or agenda items that, in this case, Republicans have not been able to achieve through legislation or through the ballot box.
Q What is the policy reason not to take up the House Republican offer on the case of FEMA, to have that appropriation put forward and signed, considering what the President went through and the country went through this weekend and the fact the President said we’ve dodged a bullet but there may be more bullets and FEMA ought to be up and ready under all circumstances? What’s the policy reason?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all — when it comes to response to disasters, there is a fund that is funded that’s available that’s separate from the shutdown process, and we’ve made that clear in the run-up to that tropical storm and its possible negative consequences for the United States, as well as other severe weather incidents that may occur.
All of this piecemeal stuff begs the question that the simple — it begs the question, why not just open the government? If you’re going to say this is okay and that’s okay and this is okay — some of the things that they say are okay because they’ve been raised in the media by you guys about impacts, whether it’s NIH or FEMA, are things that in other situations they’re desperate to cut — SNAP funding, for example.
Our position is, open the government. Open the government. Why play these games? Just open the government. Continue the funding levels at levels that Republicans embraced, in many cases with great enthusiasm, so that we can then continue to discuss our longer-term budget deal not with the government shut down and not with the threat of a shutdown.
Q One last thing before I let you go. I’m not a computer programmer, I’m not a specialist in writing code, but there are lots of people out in the country who have been blogging about this for the last three or four days, some of them very sympathetic to the Affordable Care Act, not hostile to its implementation, and actually believe that, yes, there is a problem with very strong curiosity, people logging onto the system, but they also have detected through some pretty simple forensic work on their own that this is a failed system, that it’s coded improperly, that basic sort of fundamental steps that should have been anticipated and built into a large government system like this simply don’t exist or don’t exist in near the capacity they ought to. Is it too early to talk about this particular rollout as being systematically flawed in its construction?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that our top issue when it comes to the glitches has been the extraordinary number of people coming to check out plans and find out more about Obamacare. And the number has obviously exceeded expectations. Traffic on the website and at the call center continues to be high, suggesting a sustained interest by consumers in their health care options.
Now, getting to your question, nothing like this has been done before. But peak levels of Medicare enrollment concurrent users were one-eighth of the concurrent traffic on healthcare.gov.
Q But you have to anticipate that those numbers would be much smaller than this rollout, wouldn’t you? I mean, Medicare is a discrete audience that has discrete user curiosity. This is a rollout, right at the beginning. Wouldn’t you have assumed there would be this huge interest and you should build a system ready for it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, if we had listened to Republicans, I think the assumption is nobody would have enrolled, nobody would have called, nobody would have —
Q Yes, but you’re not interested — I mean, you have to consult other people when you build the system, not congressional Republicans.
MR. CARNEY: The answer is that there has been unexpectedly high levels of interest and we are taking action every day —
Q That’s the only reason there’s a problem?
MR. CARNEY: That is the principal reason that there’s a problem. Now, when traffic hit healthcare.gov at this level, a particular component of the system within the account registration function was not able to handle that level of volume, creating issues that consumers experience when going through the registration process.
CMS has put up a gate at the front end of the system that places visitors into a waiting room and lets them in at a particular pace, so that the surge in volume does not cause the problems that it caused in the past. CMS has simultaneously been working intensively around the clock to address the drivers of this issue. And thus far, we’ve reduced waiting room times by a third and are increasingly moving more users through the system.
But we’re not satisfied with the performance. We can do better. And to make further improvements, we are doing several things at once, including adding server capacity and making software changes to make the system more efficient to handle higher volume.
And I think this addresses — I, too, am not an expert in the field. But I think that what you can expect is that the folks at CMS, the folks at HHS who are running this are working around the clock and addressing all of the issues that have arisen because of the high interest and high volume that we’ve seen.
Q Jay, on the debt ceiling, to kind of sum up the series of questions you got on that — whether it’s two weeks, three weeks, three months, since you’ve said repeatedly it doesn’t — you’ve never demanded a specific duration of lifting the debt ceiling, if there’s a shorter-term debt ceiling lift, will the President sign it if it’s clean?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to — we think that the Congress ought to raise the debt ceiling without drama or delay. If they do that, that’s a great thing. It’s up to them to set the duration of that. What we think is a bad thing is that to create an expectation that somehow it’s okay to do it without drama or delay now, and then threaten default in three weeks or a month or six months. That would not be acceptable either.
So our position, and just so I make clear, is that we do support the efforts in the Senate by Democrats to pass a bill that would raise it for a more extended period of time. But the broader — and that’s our view of a specific option being explored right now. The broader position is raise it without threatening default. Do it the way you did it in January, when there were no ideological demands attached, there was no threat of default, there was nobody saying that shutdown is just a precursor to something even better, which is a paraphrase that you hear from some who seem to relish the opportunity to see the United States default because they imagine that somehow that will be good — as if economic contraction globally, potentially, would do anything but create enormous harm for the American people, enormous harm for the American economy, and shrink our capacity to pay our bills even more.
So, without drama and delay — that’s our position.
Q So then, my real question is, if it is without drama and delay, whether it’s a month or two months, whatever it is, does that provide — if default is taken off the table, as you say, does that provide the time and space for there to finally be the negotiations you laid out? I think this President said at FEMA, I’ll talk about health care, I’ll talk about energy policy. I think the key question is does that provide the time and space, finally, to negotiate?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I think that if we got to the point where Congress was on the verge of passing something, as opposed to folks in this room and your counterparts on Capitol Hill floating this and floating that, we could answer with more specificity about, hey, are they serious about raising the debt ceiling without threatening default and, B, are they serious about moving forward with the kind of negotiations the President has been open to all year long. And, hopefully, we’ll get to that point.
Q Because you used the word “certainty” before, so I’m trying to get at it. Can you provide that certainty? If John Boehner is not willing to do it, that’s his issue. Are you willing to provide the certainty from this podium that if there is time and space with some kind of even short-term debt ceiling increase, that there is some certainty for the markets, for the American people that there will be a negotiation to try to come up with a broader budget —
MR. CARNEY: The President has said all along, and said again today, that he is willing and ready and eager to sit down with lawmakers to discuss our longer-term budget priorities and how we fund our government in a way that enhances economic growth, enhances job creation, protects the middle class, invests in key and vital areas, and continues the project of reducing our deficit in a responsible way.
Q Okay, last one. Over the weekend, there was an issue about the Amber Alert website. You received criticism that it was shutdown initially. It went back up, and it led to these charges from Republicans that the government is somehow picking and choosing things that would make it more painful, so that the public will put more pressure on Congress to act to reopen the government. Can you comment on it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, A, that’s, of course, not the case. B, I would refer you to DOJ about how the website is administered. But I can tell you that the website that DOJ maintains is informational and it’s not a law enforcement tool used to issue Amber Alerts. And at no point during the shutdown has the Amber Alert system been interrupted. But in terms — as you know, it’s been —
Q Because it’s state by state where it’s issued?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would hesitate to give details that I think are best answered by DOJ. But to eliminate any confusion among the public about the status of the program, a furloughed Justice Department employee was called into work in order to restore the informational site. But again, it’s informational. The system itself was never interrupted. And I think that’s important for people to know and to report.
Q To button up, the President — you are not issuing a veto — the President is not issuing a veto threat if it’s a short-term debt ceiling, right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, we don’t introduce veto threats for propositions thrown forward from the briefing room or from — do you see a bill to extend the debt ceiling currently under consideration by the House of Representatives? So I’m not going to speculate about that. Our position —
Q It’s clear you’re not ruling it out, and it’s clear you guys — you’re trying to give a lot of room here, it seems to me. I mean, everything I’m hearing, you’re giving Boehner plenty of room. If he wanted to do the six-week breather, clean CR, clean debt ceiling, it doesn’t sound like you guys would refuse to sign that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s fair to say that we simply believe Congress ought to take its responsibility seriously and fulfill it without threatening default. And how they do that is up to them. And how often they want to vote on it is up to them.
Q So we’re interpreting this correctly, then? This is a correct interpretation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it’s correct to say that —
Q You don’t have any timeframe?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not setting a timeframe on it. I think that when it comes to the issue of the full faith and credit of the United States and creating doubts about that, as opposed to reinforcing confidence about that, Congress ought to consider how it acts. Because what if you raise the debt ceiling for an hour? I mean, that probably wouldn’t solve the problem, would it? So this is an issue about — that goes to the heart of our place, the United States’ place in the world economy, and the way that we are viewed as a bedrock and as the most reliable partner, and the most reliable place to invest. And because of that, we have the economic strength that we have internationally.
So Congress ought not to threaten that and they ought to take actions — whatever actions they do take — to raise the debt ceiling in a manner that removes that threat.
Q Chuck Hagel ordered furloughed workers back to work today. Why not do that in other parts of the government?
MR. CARNEY: Again, there are issues that go to security that are particular to the Department of Defense and particular to the fact that we have active missions abroad, and I think Secretary Hagel has addressed this. The answer here is not the piecemeal — when you talk about the broader shutdown here — is the piecemeal accepting of individuals or the piecemeal passage of legislation that addresses a small part of the problem. The answer is to reopen the government at levels set by Republicans, levels that they thought were great at the time, and then get about the business of negotiating a longer-term budget deal.
Q Do you think the President has the power to —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not a lawyer, but I think that the answer is probably — there’s a law in place here, and statutes in place and regulations in place when it comes to a shutdown that obviously govern how a shutdown is administered. So again, we live in a world and in a democracy where powers are divided between branches of government, and the powers that reside with Congress appropriately include funding the government, they include the responsibility — the power and responsibility to pay the debts of the United States. And those are powers and responsibilities that ought to be taken seriously and not to be treated with anything but great caution.
Q I’m going to al-Libi a minute. Was there an attempt to ask the Libyan government to extradite?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is that we’re in regular communication with the Libyan government on a range of security and counterterrorism issues, and we don’t get into the specifics of those communications. We value our relationship with the new Libya and support the aspirations of the Libyan people as they participate in their democratic transition after 42 long years of dictatorship.
So we’ll continue to work with Libya and its other international partners to strengthen that democratic transition, and support Libya as it rebuilds the country’s institutions. But on the issue of communications on this specific matter, we’re not going to get into specific communications.
Q You can’t say whether you told the Libyan government that you were doing this beforehand?
MR. CARNEY: I can say that we consult regularly with the Libyan government —
Q Did they know before?
MR. CARNEY: — on a range of security and counterterrorism issues? And —
Q I understand that. Can you answer the fact of whether the Libyan government was told beforehand?
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that we consult regularly with them.
Q So that question you can’t answer?
MR. CARNEY: And I’m not going to comment on the specifics of our communications with a foreign government.
Q The President said in a speech at the National Defense University that he thought the use of force that you just cited earlier as the sort of legal means as to why you were able to snatch this guy off the street was too broad and that he wanted to negotiate a narrowing of it or even the possible elimination of it with Congress. Do you have any update on the status of those negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m sure that we here would very much look forward to having those consultations and negotiations more intensively with Congress if we could get to the point where Congress would reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling so that — we weren’t all preoccupied —
Q But before the government was shut down —
MR. CARNEY: — with the shutdown and — look, I think there are —
Q Have there been any serious attempts to try to wind down the use of force —
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that there are all sorts of regular communications and consultations with Congress on these kinds of, like, substantive, serious matters. And often, to everyone’s credit, including Republicans on Capitol Hill, those kind of conversations tend to take place without the sort of partisan frills attached, which is a good thing. But I don’t have a status update on that. What I can tell you is that this operation clearly fell within the AUMF, and it represents our approach to —
Q Why do you say “clearly fell”? I mean, you say “clearly fell” — it was an operation, and this guy did this attack — masterminded this attack in 1998, before this existed. And you say —
MR. CARNEY: Right. And he was indicted in 2000, and the AUMF was passed in 2001, and he is clearly al Qaeda and he is clearly wanted on charges that I enumerated before. And it is our position that when we are able to, we prefer to capture someone like Mr. al-Libi, and that’s we did in this case.
Q Does the President have some sympathy for lawmakers who are insisting on negotiation over the debt ceiling given that he himself, as a senator, voted against raising the debt ceiling?
MR. CARNEY: That’s a golden oldie. But, Peter, I think that the President has addressed that many times. And what the President did not do — did not do — was vow that the debt ceiling ought not be raised and that the country ought to default for the first time in history if he didn’t get his way. And he would not have done that.
And I think this goes to the whole point of the history here, which is that it is a fact that 45-roughly times since Ronald Reagan became President, the debt ceiling has been raised by Congress. And they have done it in a variety of ways — either as standalone bills or attached to other bills. But only in 2011 was a process engaged in where one party decided to use the raising of the debt ceiling as leverage to try to get political demands to the point where they threatened default. And as we noted in the report put out by Treasury last week, there were profound, negative consequences to that strategy, and that is why the President has taken the position he’s taken.
Q Does the President believe that given the calamitous consequences of default, as he’s laid them out, that this should continue to be — raising the debt ceiling, should that be a congressional prerogative? Or would he be interested in some legal recourse to take this out of the hands of Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, it is — in either case, it was not a legal — first of all, if that’s a circuitous way of asking me about the 14th Amendment, our position has been stated and restated again that we do not believe that the President has that authority. Moreover, even if he asserted it, the uncertainty around it would render it ineffective.
So our position is — the Constitution is what it is, and has clearly given — and it is — I’m not saying that it’s anything but —
Q The world’s greatest document.
MR. CARNEY: The world’s greatest — there you go. (Laughter.) It does assign to Congress the power and responsibility to pay the debts of the United States, and then the so-called debt ceiling mechanism was created in the early part of the 20th century as a means of dealing with that power and responsibility.
How Congress moves forward on this is of course up to Congress. Nothing that we say or do — it’s not a legal mechanism. Congress would have to act to decide to extend the debt ceiling for a significant period of time or a less than significant period of time, or to create an arrangement by which they could absolve themselves of the responsibility in the future. The Congress doesn’t usually give up powers and authorities, but it’s up to them.
Our position is only that it ought not to be a political football, because it’s a dangerous political football. And fumbling that football can cost you a lot more than seven points. It can tank the economy. It can throw countless Americans out of work. And we simply should not contemplate that or engage in speculation about whether that’s good or bad politics. It’s just bad for the American people.
Yes, Mr. Knoller, then Margaret.
Q Jay, I know you’re asking piecemeal funding of the government, and I know you want all or nothing. But when the President today is at FEMA, and he laments that 86 percent of the employees are on furlough or today you’ve got the House taking up funding for the FDA, when America’s health and safety and security is at stake, why can’t you just accept those bills and go for all or nothing on what’s left?
MR. CARNEY: Because this is a gimmick. The United States should have an open, functioning government. And there’s a way to do that, which is if the Speaker of the House would put his money where his mouth is, put the bill that passed the Senate on the floor and allow a vote, we can test the theory that there are more than enough representatives in that body to pass it, and then the President would sign it. And then we could negotiate over future government prerogatives and priorities and investments, and how we go about reducing our deficit in a responsible way, which is the way that we’ve done it thus far.
It is not — piecemeal is not the — they’re only doing this because they refuse to put on the floor a bill that would end this problem for everyone, for everyone at every agency. And this approach sort of exposes the lack of seriousness with which they’re taking this incredible problem.
So they should just — what is the Speaker — I think Julie or others asked about his internal politics. I mean, we ought to know if that’s what this is about, because otherwise we could ask him to prove what he said yesterday that there isn’t a majority to pass a clean CR. And if he is right, then we’ll have to deal with that reality. But based on what Republicans themselves have said, he is not right and we should find out.
So let’s just — we’re not asking for anything in return. The Republicans are employing the strategy because they keep desperately believing that they can defund Obamacare, or delay Obamacare or get something else. One other demand they attached at one point to this process was that women across America could only get contraceptive services if they got the permission of their boss. That was a grand idea that some Republicans wanted to attach to reopening the government or keeping the government open.
Maybe that’s one they’ll want to attach to defaulting or raising the debt ceiling so we don’t default. Our position is simple: pass a bill, open the government. Pass a bill. Pay our bills — pay our debts. End this shutdown. Avoid an economic shutdown. And then we can get about the business that the American people want us to focus on, which is debating and discussing and negotiating how we fund our priorities in the future.
Q But aren’t you taking a chance? Let’s say there’s an outbreak of food poisoning and because the FDA wasn’t closed, because the administration wouldn’t accept a funding bill, the food poisoning harms or kills people?
MR. CARNEY: Those who have been furloughed are at home today because the Republicans refuse to open the government. They refuse to pass a bill that enjoys majority support — that enjoyed majority support in the Senate and enjoys majority support in the House. I mean, that’s our position, Mark. And I think that one thing that is clear is that these shifting tactics, all in an effort to — as one congressman said, we’re going to get “something out of this…we’re not sure what it is,” demonstrates that this is about politics and not about fulfilling fundamental responsibilities.
Q Completely setting aside the 14th Amendment and stipulating that the Constitution is the world’s greatest document, are there any steps that the President is considering taking or could take or would be willing to take declaring national emergency, finding some other provision under the Constitution or some law to deal with averting a debt ceiling if there’s not a statutory solution?
MR. CARNEY: There are no off-ramps. There are no off-ramps. Congress owns this responsibility by law and they should take it seriously. They should act accordingly.
Q Are you saying that there are no off-ramps because the White House believes it would be wrong to look for executive ways to do it or because you have looked and there are no ways?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that, again, when ideas have been put forward and we have made clear that those ideas do not pass muster in our legal view, it reinforces the fundamental fact that the power to appropriate funds, the power to pay our bills to fund the government, these are powers that reside with the Congress and they are not powers that reside with the President. And it is not our reading of the Constitution that suggests otherwise.
Q So there’s no such thing as declaring a national emergency —
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t even heard that one mooted. Here’s the thing, and it goes to the 14th Amendment question. It’s about confidence and faith and credit. And there is no question that if an action were taken that were doubted when it came to its legality or its constitutionality, that that would put in doubt — it’s like, would you buy a car if the title was in doubt?
Q But that’s the 14th Amendment question. What I’m saying is 14th Amendment aside, is there another —
MR. CARNEY: You’re speculating about some non-existent power.
Q So there is no existing power?
MR. CARNEY: The Constitution is the governing document here, and it is a brilliant one, indeed. And that’s our read of the Constitution.
Q You just said to Margaret, “I haven’t [even] heard that one mooted.” Is the White House playing out these scenarios?
MR. CARNEY: No. The Constitution gives this authority to Congress. And in answer to the specific questions about the 14th Amendment, we’ve made clear it is our view that the authority does not reside with the President, and that even if you asserted it, you would undermine the faith and credit of the United States because there would be doubt about whether or not the debt that was issued was being issued with the full authority here in the United States.
Q I just wanted to ask — for obvious reasons, you guys didn’t put out a week ahead on Friday. The President was supposed to be in Asia. It’s a very eventful week and he is in D.C. Can you give us any sense of what he’ll be doing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he’ll — as you saw today, he is having meetings related to the shutdown. He is having — he went to see some folks at FEMA to talk to them about what they’re doing in this storm season, as well as the effects of the shutdown and the potential effects of threatening default. And we will advise you as we have more scheduling available to advise you.
But, yes, we were going to be in Asia this week, and now we’re here. And we’ll be letting you know about his schedule and his meetings as we’re able.
Q So no week ahead?
Q How about a day ahead?
MR. CARNEY: I have no week ahead for you.
MR. CARNEY: How about what? The debt limit?
Q Day ahead?
MR. CARNEY: Nothing yet. Alexis.
Q Jay, two quick things. Just to follow up on what Margaret and Ari were just asking — you remember in 2011, in the summer, the President got the authority to raise the debt ceiling because Congress gave him that authority, and then there was a resolution of disapproval so that they could actually vote if they didn’t want to do that, but he actually had the authority to do it in tranches. So is there any thought that maybe that might be a way to get out of that again this week?
MR. CARNEY: However Congress wants to use its authority is up to Congress. That was a solution they arrived at two years ago. We’re of course interested to see what solutions they might arrive at this year. But, again, the authority resides with Congress and not with the White House, and you’ll have to ask them about what avenues they’re pursuing to ensure that they raise the debt ceiling and don’t default.
Q One other follow-up. There are so many thousands of Americans who have seen the President either talk to the Associated Press or go to Rockville, or they’ve seen the Speaker on television, and they’re wondering why they’re seeing them on TV giving speeches instead of giving those speeches to one another or talking to one another. Can you just explain simply to the Americans who are totally baffled by this what would be the harm — again, just explain the harm if the President invited everybody again —
MR. CARNEY: The way he did last week?
Q Right. And did, as Newt Gingrich remembered, get them all exhausted by being in the room stuck together for day after day after day.
MR. CARNEY: Two things. The President has and is willing to get exhausted negotiating with lawmakers over our budget priorities, but not under threat of a continued shutdown and not under threat of default. The economic harm of that is too great. It is not the right thing to do for the country; it is not the right thing to do for our economy. And the precedent that people like to cite is 2011, and my answer to that is, unfortunately, Republicans used that opportunity to threaten default. And there were severe negative consequences to our economy because of it.
But this President, not using the artificial deadlines of leverage that Congress wants to use, put forward a budget that included the offer he made to the Speaker of the House in December when there was a looming deadline, when, if there wasn’t action taken, taxes were going to go up on every American, but because of the action that was taken, tax cuts for the middle class were locked in place and the very wealthiest Americans were asked to pay more.
But he made an offer at that time, and it was considered a very compromise-minded offer, a serious offer. And the Speaker didn’t take it. But instead of withdrawing that offer — which is what the Speaker did with his own — the President has made sure that that offer remains on the table. And, in fact, he built his budget around that offer. So the President very much looks forward to having those conversations and negotiations absent the threat of continued shutdown and absent the threat of default.
On your question about — the President has been having conversations with leaders in Congress. He will continue to have conversations with leaders in Congress. But that fundamental position doesn’t change. And the Speaker has to — remember that the Speaker is now — we’re now in our second week of the Speaker refusing to place on the floor a bill that he once supported and said that he would move forward. We’re now in a situation where Republicans are coming to speak publicly about their desire to support a clean continuing resolution so that we can reopen the government.
There is really no doubt that a majority of the House of Representatives — and perhaps a significant majority of the House of Representatives — would vote today to reopen the government with no strings attached, no demands from the White House, no demands from Democrats, no partisan demands from Republicans, only the fact that we’d be funding the government at levels that Republicans celebrated for a temporary period of time to allow us to continue to negotiate without the threat of continued shutdown.
Q Yes, I just wanted to pin something down here. You said that we could expect monthly reports on the enrollments on the Affordable Care Act. So just so we can plan, would that be on the one-month anniversary, which would be the 1st, or the next business day, which is —
MR. CARNEY: I’d refer you to CMS and HHS. I’m not sure when that begins, but I’m sure we’ll let you know in plenty of time so you can plan, put it in your calendar.
Q Okay, thanks.
Q Jay, on a totally different issue, but one that the President raised — does he have any plans to attend any Redskins games?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. I wouldn’t —
Q Would he go to a game?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President, asked by our own Julie Pace about this, addressed this very thoughtfully over the weekend. And as a long-time Redskins fan, a native-born Washingtonian, I really appreciated what he had to say.
Q Has he talked to Dan Snyder, or have any plans to call him?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe he has, but I don’t have any other information on that subject to impart today.
Q Jay, that means that you would want to see the name change?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I just said I was proud of my President on this issue.
2:31 P.M. EDT