8/18/09: White House Press Briefing

Uploaded by whitehouse on 18.08.2009

Mr. Gibbs: Good afternoon, guys. Sorry for being late.
The Press: Were you late?
Mr. Gibbs: Did you hear something? Good morning Jake. Ah, yes.
Better late than never, Jake.
Just one quick follow-up from this morning's discussion.
I think I was asked how many times -- this is in conjunction
with the meeting today where the President looks forward to
hearing from President Clinton and thanking him for his recent
humanitarian mission to North Korea. President Clinton has
debriefed with NSC staff twice and members of his team have
discussed events extensively with NSC, State Department,
and other agencies. So that's just a follow from this morning.
The Press: Does that include this --
Mr. Gibbs: I assume so, yes.
The Press: Thanks, Robert. On the reports that Israel has stopped granting
permission for new settlements in the West Bank,
projects there are continuing, but does the U.S.
view this as an answer to the President's demands that
settlements stop at all? I mean, does this suffice?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I don't want to -- I'll simply echo what I think
you heard the President say in the Oval Office in that we have
made good progress on this and other issues with the Israelis,
on both sides. I think we're moving forward on a process that
continued today with President Mubarak being here to discuss
long-term peace in the Middle East.
The Press: Does that mean -- I'm interpreting here, of course,
but it seems as though you're saying that there's been
progress but it doesn't go far enough.
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I don't think I said that. I simply denoted that we were
pleased and the President has been pleased that progress has
been made. I will say this, though -- I think this bears
mentioning every time we talk about this, and I said this,
this morning, so let me reiterate it -- this is not --
these are not steps for one side to take.
The President had the discussion with President Mubarak about the
steps and the responsibilities and the obligations that all
have in this process. We've talked about -- in your question
-- some steps that this administration believes the
Israelis should take. There are obviously steps that we believe
the Palestinians have to take.
There are steps that we believe that the neighboring Arab
governments in the region have to take.
We're all going to have to take steps together in order to see
comprehensive Middle East peace.
The Press: Does the President agree with President Mubarak's
statement that Israelis must forget temporary solutions and
temporary borders?
Mr. Gibbs: I would have to talk to the President on that.
Yes, ma'am.
The Press: What's been the response so far to the suggestion that the
health care reform might not include a public option?
I mean, is it winning any converts?
Is it angering supporters?
Mr. Gibbs: First part of the question again?
The Press: What's been the response so far,
what kind of feedback to the suggestion in recent days that a
public option might not be part of the health care reform?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, as I've said, now, yesterday and earlier today, the
President -- his position, the administration's position is
unchanged; that we have a goal of fostering choice and
competition in a private health insurance market.
The President prefers the public option as a way of doing that.
If others have ideas, we're open to those ideas and willing to
listen to those details.
That's what the President has said for months.
Coincidentally that's what the Secretary of Health and Human
Services has said for months. It's what I've said for months.
I think the suggestion somehow that anything that was said
Saturday or Sunday as being new administration policy is just
not something that I would agree with.
The Press: There seems to have been a lot of people -- a lot of
people took it as kind of floating a trial balloon,
maybe looking for --
Mr. Gibbs: Meaning the media.
The Press: Well, no, your supporters -- some of your
supporters in Congress actually do read it as a change.
And in fact, Robert, if you look at what the President said to
the AMA on June 15th, he said, "The public option is not your
enemy. It is your friend." He's not saying that anymore.
Mr. Gibbs: What do you mean?
The Press: He's no longer proactively -- forgetting about what he's
leaving in or out. Let's just say he's proactively saying --
Mr. Gibbs: Ed, you --
The Press: Can I finish my question?
Mr. Gibbs: No, I'll finish my answer first.
The Press: Okay, go ahead.
Mr. Gibbs: The President was clear in two questions that he
received at the town hall meeting on Saturday about the
public option. The second question, which was a man in a
red shirt over on the right-hand side, asked about the public
option, and then the second-to-last question,
the guy -- about the debate -- in the second or third row right
off the podium, had the same question.
Let me read this to you, Ed. This is -- you'll notice -- let
me just read -- Secretary Sebelius, July 12th, 2009:
"I think you're going to hear from senators in a little while
about a variety of strategies to get to a public option.
This isn't one size fits all. I think the President has said we
could have competition -- the issues of competition and choice
and how to bring that into the private marketplace.
There are probably a variety of strategies,
all of which are on the table."
Any guess on what network that was on?
The Press: I'm assuming it was on CNN, but on Sunday she was also on CNN --
Mr. Gibbs: A very correct assumption.
The Press: Okay.
So on Sunday she was also on CNN and said that the public option
is not the essential part of health reform.
She didn't say that on July 12th or whenever you picked that out.
And in -- on June 15th to the AMA,
repeatedly the President proactively said, you know,
the public option was the way to go,
and said the public --
Mr. Gibbs: I just said it wasthe preferred option.
I just said it was the preferred option.
But what I think --
The Press: But then why did he on Saturday say, if there is a public option
or there's not, and then the Secretary on Sunday says it's
not the essential part --
Mr. Gibbs: No, no, the President said that on Saturday.
The Press: Right, I said on Saturday, he said if there is one or not one
-- he hasn't said that before. Well, answer that one part
before you get -- he had not said if there is one or there is
not one. He's not said that --
Mr. Gibbs: The President said -- the
President has said repeatedly that he's open to different
ideas and discussions; that his preferred option was the public
plan. He said that on Saturday. He said that on -- he said that
on Saturday. I said that on Sunday. Secretary Sebelius on
your network said that on Sunday. This notion that somehow
something is markedly changed -- let's understand, first of all
-- I want to step back just for one second and discuss --
because we threw around the notions of choice and
competition. Let's discuss why you need choice and competition.
In an insurance market where 30 million or 40 million or 46
million new participants or consumers could come into the
marketplace, in a marketplace that's potentially dominated by,
in some regions or areas of the country,
one insurer dominating the market -- my home state of
Alabama, BlueCross/BlueShield has roughly 89 percent of the
private health insurance market, okay?
We all understand that in a monopoly,
where one side dominates the entire market,
it's going to be hard to keep down costs, right?
If you had one place to eat lunch before you came to the
briefing, do you think it would be cheap?
The Press: Probably not.
Mr. Gibbs: Probably not. If you had two places to eat, my sense is
competing dishes might not be as expensive as if there were only
one. The notion of adding that consumer choice through greater
competition is the goal that the President has always said has to
be paramount. When he talks about the essentialness of
health care reform, okay, let's understand the principles that
he's put up there, right?
We have to cut costs for families and small businesses.
That's essential. It has to be deficit-neutral. That's
essential. What's essential is ensuring that we provide
accessibility in health care reform to millions of those who
don't currently have it.
The Press: So when you say a public option is now the
President's preferred choice, has been and is his preferred
choice, is it --
Mr. Gibbs: I'm not just saying that now, I'm saying --
The Press: Okay.
Mr. Gibbs: -- I said that repeatedly;
the President has said that repeatedly.
The Press: Okay, so is the public option an essential part
of health reform?
Mr. Gibbs: I think the President answered that on Saturday.
The Press: So it's yes.
So why did --
Mr. Gibbs: No, no, no, no, no.
The Press: Why did the Health Secretary say no on Sunday?
Mr. Gibbs: What did the President say on Saturday?
The Press: So it is essential.
Mr. Gibbs: No, no, no, no, no.
What did the President --
The Press: It is essential. The Secretary said Sunday it's not.
Mr. Gibbs: Ed, Ed, what did the President say on Sunday?
Or Saturday?
The Press: Saturday he spoke positively about a public option
but also said we could have or -- we may have it,
we may not have it.
Mr. Gibbs: I think he used the word "essential."
The Press: I'll have to go back and
see if he used the word "essential."
Mr. Gibbs: You go back and look at the transcript --
The Press: So let's say, let's say -- I don't have the transcript,
but if he did use the word "essential" on Saturday,
why did his Health Secretary not use the
word "essential" on Sunday?
Mr. Gibbs: They said the same thing on Saturday as they did on
Sunday. Go back and look at the transcript, Ed.
I think you'll find --
The Press: If it's essential, why did she say it's not?
You can't answer that.
Mr. Gibbs: Go find the transcript,
and I promise you you'll answer your question and wonder why you
were phrasing it the way you did because, no offense, Ed,
you seem to have heard what the Secretary said on Sunday but not
what the President said on Saturday.
The Press: I heard what he said.
Mr. Gibbs: Well, go back and take a gander at the transcript.
The Press: Understanding that the President believes the
public option is the best way to force private insurance
companies to bring down their prices, is the White House --
does the -- is the President convinced that co-ops, while not
as strong a measure, would be able -- are a viable alternative
to the public option, is he convinced that cost savings
could come from co-ops?
Mr. Gibbs: Jake, in all honesty, I don't think anybody has seen a
level of detail thus far that would -- that you'd be able to
make a completely educated assumption on what we've seen.
The Press: Conrad said on Sunday that the votes are not there in
the Senate for the public option. Do you guys agree?
Mr. Gibbs: I'd have to talk to Leg Affairs on that. I think that's simply
what -- that's what a lot of people have said.
The Press: Right, but you guys count votes and you guys are involved in --
Mr. Gibbs: I haven't talked to them recently about the
exact vote count.
The Press: Okay. There's also a thing I wanted to read you.
In a letter sent last week to the White House from the
National Association of Postal Supervisors,
the President of that union, Ted Keating,
said that his union had a "collective disappointment that
you -- meaning the President -- showed the postal service as a
scapegoat and an example of inefficiency."
Does the President -- has the President seen that letter?
Has he responded? Does he regret using the post office as an
example of inefficiency?
Mr. Gibbs: I doubt he's seen that letter and I don't have any
reason to believe he regrets it, since he repeated it.
The Press: So far, I'm 0-3. Let me just try one more.
The ACLU in April put in a Freedom of Information Act
request for information about detainees in Bagram.
The Pentagon responded to the ACLU, saying,
we have information; we're not going to give it to you.
Does that live up to the President's promises of
transparency, given that the Pentagon has released that
information about Gitmo detainees?
Mr. Gibbs: I saw your blog post on this, but I have not seen the letter
and don't have any other information on it.
The Press: 0 for 4.
The Press: Setting aside the issue of whether or not what was
said over the weekend at all was a different policy position,
what your policy position is consistently is that the public
option, while being the preferred method,
is not a deal breaker for the President.
And I guess my question --
Mr. Gibbs: You should talk to Ed.
Yes, that's --
The Press: Right? I mean, that's what I'm -- we are understanding.
Mr. Gibbs: That is what we have said -- that's what we said in
June, that's what we said in July,
that's what we've said --
The Press: Okay, so working from that premise, which we all can
agree on is the stated position today --
Mr. Gibbs: We can.
Mr. Gibbs: We can.
The Press: -- that does not give much comfort to many --
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I got the transcript right here.
The Press: Okay, go ahead. Go ahead.
Mr. Gibbs: You read this.
The Press: Sorry.
The Press: Before the AMA, the President never said it's
not a deal breaker.
Mr. Gibbs: Just read that.
The Press: Did the President ever tell the AMA in June that
it was a deal breaker?
Mr. Gibbs: Just read that.
The Press: Just remember, consistency is the hobgoblin of
little minds.
Mr. Gibbs: Thank you for that, Bill.
The Press: Not yours, particularly, but just collectively.
Mr. Gibbs: I'm not sure whether we should go on.
The Press: That's a "foolish consistency."
The Press: Okay, consistency aside,
I guess my question is that assuming this has been the
consistent position, this is a position that really bothers
Democratic members of Congress.
We are seeing it probably expressed more virulently than
we had in the past because maybe they were unclear that this has
been the administration's position all along.
But what, essentially, the President is saying is the
public option, at the end of the day, is optional.
And I guess my question is what have you to say to members of
Congress who are threatening to walk out if they -- if there's
no public option, I'm not in this?
Mr. Gibbs: I would say that it is the preferred option.
The Press: Does that give them a lot of comfort?
Mr. Gibbs: I'm not a Democratic member of Congress. I don't --
The Press: Yes, but you're the White House, in a position to lead on this
issue -- it's clearly something that's important to them.
Mr. Gibbs: I'll point you back to what the President said -- Ed
has got my transcript -- on Saturday.
The President strongly believes that we have to have -- and I
mentioned -- I walked through the notion of why choice and
competition are so fundamentally important to this debate -- that
in a monopoly, without consumer choice,
without competition among health insurance providers,
you're certainly not likely to see cut in cost,
you're certainly not likely to see a competition on quality.
And those are the goals that the President has.
The Press: But inherent in the President's position --
consistent or not -- is that he could envision a scenario in
which he lives without a public option.
Many members of your party cannot envision --
Mr. Gibbs: He cannot envision a scenario in which we live with anything that
doesn't provide choice and competition in a private
insurance market that allows people to get the best deal
possible on both the price and quality if they enter a private
health insurance market.
That's what the President's bottom line is: Do we have a
system that provides that choice for consumers and that
competition among insurers on quality and cost?
The Press: And if it's acceptable to the President,
but not acceptable to members of Congress in the Democratic
Party, that's okay with you?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, the President is focused on many different
goals: cutting costs, coverage for millions who don't have
accessibility, making this deficit-neutral -- which he
reiterated at each of the town halls -- and
ensuring choice in competition.
That's what's important to the President of the United States.
The Press: And real quickly, have there been any calls either
between the President or perhaps Rahm or David or any of these
folks to members of Congress who are concerned about this?
Mr. Gibbs: No, not that -- I mean, the President hasn't made any.
Rahm is fishing out West and David is in Michigan
and I doubt they're --
The Press: So all quiet on the Eastern front.
The Press: Rahm is fishing?
The Press: Have you seen this charge from Republicans on the
Hill that they're asking is he profiting from a payment he's
getting from his firm, his firm involved in the PhRMA
advertising deal?
Mr. Gibbs: That's ridiculous.
David has left his firm to join public service.
The Press: They say he's about to get -- million-dollar payout.
Mr. Gibbs: An agreement I think that was made because David
started and owned the firm.
He left the firm and, if I'm not mistaken,
is being paid for the fact that he created it and sold it,
which I think is somewhat based on the free market.
Yes, ma'am.
The Press: Robert, what message will the President be delivering
to religious groups on health care tomorrow?
Mr. Gibbs: He's going to talk about again just the -- you're
not going to see a difference in message.
You're going to see the boring consistency of ensuring that we
cut costs, ensuring that we take the steps that are necessary to
relieve the burden on families and small business.
Obviously the President will talk about the importance of
providing access to affordable health insurance for millions of
those that currently don't have it. Boring consistency.
The Press: So it will be on the uninsured rather than on this --
talk about a public option?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, the President will continue to talk about what
he thinks is important in health care and it will include all
those topics. Mark.
The Press: Robert, is the White House taken aback by the $7
million pay authorized for the new CEO of AIG?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I believe this is an agreement that will go
through the process of Ken Feinberg and to ensure that it's
consistent with his principles.
And obviously the board wants to find a CEO that's knowledgeable
about insurance companies and running an insurance company and
hopefully getting an ailing company that was once a
successful insurance company that somebody had the bright
idea of putting a hedge fund on top of --
The Press: But AIG is the company that is 80-percent owned by taxpayers,
taxpayers who make $30,000 and $40,000 and $50,000 a year.
So why shouldn't taxpayers feel like suckers if they see the CEO
of a government-owned company getting $7 million a year?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, look, Mark, the board is going to make a decision.
We've talked about, and the President has talked about,
we're not micromanaging these companies,
government is not making these decisions.
The board wants an insurance company CEO that can help take a
company that was once successful -- as I said,
somebody hatched the bright idea of putting a hedge fund on top
of it, and it's now a royal mess.
I think the board wants to see some good,
competent leadership that can lead the company back toward
profitability and hopefully the recoupment of some of the
investment that taxpayers put out in order to prevent a
calamity to our economy.
The Press: And on another issue, does President Obama ever speak
with either Bill or Hillary Clinton about health care and
their experience?
Mr. Gibbs: I don't -- obviously the Secretary of State is in the
Oval Office today and was part of the Mubarak -- larger Mubarak
delegation meeting. Obviously President Clinton, as we've
talked about, will be here later today.
I don't know the degree to which they've discussed health care.
The Press: That's a question that we've asked you a couple
times, and you said you were going to check on it.
Have you actually asked or --
Mr. Gibbs: I haven't asked, and I will be honest with you that I'm not
entirely sure that I'm not going to keep private
conversations between somebody like the Secretary of State or
the former President between the current and former President.
Yes, ma'am.
The Press: Can you talk about reports that the administration will present
a Middle East peace plan in September and what will be in
that plan, and will it be in September that
it will come out?
Mr. Gibbs: Yes, I saw that right before I came out here.
Obviously the -- I think the allusion is to the U.N.
General Assembly meeting, which is that -- I think that third
week in September. I think it will be an important opportunity
to continue to make progress on comprehensive Middle East peace.
Obviously the players in the region and the countries that
will be represented at the U.N.
General Assembly -- we hope to continue to make progress,
but I do not know of any specific plan that the United
States will present at that time.
The Press: Do you think it will include a freeze on Israeli settlements?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, it's hard for me to -- I mean, I, again,
I think you've seen what the President has said on
settlements. But it's hard for me to comment on something I
don't think exists.
The Press: On another note, the Iraqi government has backed a
referendum that would force American troops to pull out a
year earlier than originally planned. What would be the
consequence of that -- you know, security in Iraq?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I think that's a question largely for Iraqis to
debate and discuss. This is a proposal in the Iraqi government
that will be debated and discussed by Iraqis, and that's
the appropriate place that it should happen. Yes, sir.
The Press: Following up on something from the very
beginning of the briefing, could you let us know today if the
President agrees with President Mubarak's statement that Israel
needs to get over the idea of temporary solutions or temporary
borders? I mean, he did say that next to the President.
You said you would check.
Mr. Gibbs: Yes, let me --
The Press: Can I just ask that you
try to get back to us on that today?
Mr. Gibbs: Yes.
The Press: Okay. Is the President aware of a better means of obtaining
reduced costs and improved health care quality than
a public option?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I mean, obviously there have been many
ideas that have been batted around.
The Press: But when you guys -- when Jake asked about the
co-ops, you said there wasn't enough data.
There is a GAO report that's somewhat dated,
about nine years old, that says it can't achieve the kind of
marketplace --
Mr. Gibbs: It hard for me to comment about any data that's nine years old.
The Press: No, I know, but I mean,
that's one of the few things that's out there that's sort of
taken a look at co-ops, whether they can get market share
sufficient enough to challenge private insurance.
Mr. Gibbs: The only thing I know about health care in that
nine-year time period is that's about the time in which most
families see their premiums double.
I hate to surmise about a nine-year-old GAO report on
health care co-ops. I think -- you obviously have different
parts of Congress continuing to work on different alternatives.
And when there's enough information on those to evaluate
definitively, we'll certainly evaluate those and
come to that opinion.
The Press: Is it safe to assume the President considers what is
in the House bill, the three-committee products which
all contain public option, not only the preferred but the best
mechanism to achieve the goals he states?
Mr. Gibbs: Again, I think the President has discussed the public
option is his preferred method to add choice and
competition, but he's certainly open to looking at and
discussing other ideas.
The Press: Was "Flag" at whitehouse.gov a good idea?
Mr. Gibbs: Yes, still is.
The Press: Why remove it?
Mr. Gibbs: It was consolidated on "Reality Check."
If people see or hear misinformation or have questions
or concerns about some rumor that they're hearing on health
care reform, there's a mechanism to get the truth.
The Press: So it's just been put together, it's not really gone?
Mr. Gibbs: Consolidated from two platforms into one.
The Press: One other issue related on Internet privacy --
the White House announced through OMB a couple of weeks
ago a public comment period on removal of a nine-year ban,
dating back to the Clinton administration,
on persistent cookies, the idea that if you come to government
Web sites, you can be in some way,
shape or form tracked in ways you can't now.
What's the status of that?
Does the administration still think that's a good idea?
Has it learned anything from public comment about this to
change whether or not that's a good idea or not?
Mr. Gibbs: I have not talked to -- about the comments.
I know the policy of this government is not to allow
Web-tracking technology.
We are continually adding to our Internet platforms in order to
provide greater openness and transparency in government and
trying to do so in a way that always, first and foremost,
protects people's privacy.
That will always be what we do first and foremost.
The Press: And this idea of allowing, perhaps,
limited persistent cookies is consistent with that,
even though some on the other side have wondered whether or
not it might compromise some people's Internet security if
they go repeatedly to government Web sites?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, again, you should discuss with OMB some of
the -- I'm conversant on cookies, but it's slightly
different than what you and I are discussing now.
But obviously, Major, we are trying to develop tools that
broaden the amount of information,
the ease with which people get.
If somebody goes to your blog on foxnews.com,
they're providing information, personal information to a Web
site. We want to ensure that we can continue to use the best
tools possible to provide information with the greatest
ease and protect people's privacy, first and foremost.
And that's what we'll continue to do.
Yes, ma'am.
The Press: Robert, can you explain -- you say today that
public option is his preferred choice.
In the past he used the word "must,"
he said it must include it.
When did that become his consistent position?
We grant you that that's now his --
Mr. Gibbs: I'll pull up the
document that I have that I didn't bring out here that has a
series of comments of him talking -- I mean,
he was asked very specifically in a press conference I think in
a room -- in fact, in this room about whether there was a bright
line on the public option, and he said that it was what he
preferred, but he wasn't going to draw any bright lines.
The Press: So you've said today a couple times "a few months" --
this has been consistent over the last
three months, two months?
Mr. Gibbs: I'd have to go back and see what the earliest comment was.
I think Nancy-Ann gave an interview far earlier than that
where that was discussed.
The Press: And let me ask you about --
Mr. Gibbs: I mean, again, I hate to bring up that, again,
a little more than a month ago, the same Secretary that you
quoted on Sunday said something very similar on July 12th that,
best as I can tell -- I mean, I don't know if you
wrote a story then.
The Press: Well, and in his video address to the country on
July 18th, he said "must include."
So -- but let me ask you about the focus on this in general.
And do you regret that it has taken this kind of
larger-than-life role that it has?
Mr. Gibbs: I always regret when you guys take something and make
it an outsized thing, yes.
The Press: But how did happen?
The Press: Do we do that?
Mr. Gibbs: On occasion.
The Press: How did that happen --
The Press: Sorry.
The Press: -- over the last weeks or months,
that this took on --
Mr. Gibbs: I would love to have been in
your newsroom on Sunday and deduced the very same
rationality that you ask me about now.
Again, I don't know why the Secretary of Health and Human
Services said something a month earlier and it garnered a
different reaction. I don't know why what I said on Sunday,
which was exactly what she said on Sunday,
which is exactly what I've said in here for months,
garnered outsized attention.
It's a wonderful journalism review question that I'm sure
somebody will rightly ponder. Yes, sir.
The Press: The President's schedule in July and early
August included several interviews,
several public appearances about his position on health care.
He was using his personal appearances to drum up support
on this. Why have we not heard anything from him on Monday or
yet today about health care?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, the President --
The Press: If he is committed
to a public plan and if he is committed to going forward with
this, why is he not out there talking about this himself?
Mr. Gibbs: I think he talked about health care,
albeit briefly, yesterday that it would -- addressing the myths
and rumors that health care reform would impact the way
veterans receive their health care.
The Press: On the plan specifically, though,
he has not been out there giving interviews --
Mr. Gibbs: There weren't any scheduled for yesterday or today.
The Press: Why is that, though?
This is the quietest I've seen him on an issue,
and we haven't seen him publicly for a couple days on this.
Mr. Gibbs: We just dragged you halfway across the country to
talk about health care.
The Press: I know, but -- so when he wants to,
or when you want him to get a point across he comes to the
podium -- if it's this one or any one -- and makes that point.
Why is that not the best idea here?
Why have you not put him forward to try and clear this up?
Mr. Gibbs: Because -- I'll go back to what I said yesterday.
I go back to what I said to some people on Sunday.
We don't think there's anything to clear up. Okay?
We think what was said -- I'll make the point again: What was
said by the Secretary on Sunday is completely consistent with
what she said five weeks earlier. Why not bring the
President out today to clear up what she said five weeks ago?
The Press: Is there a political problem among how political
groups have perceived this that needs to be cleared up?
Mr. Gibbs: I think we will certainly continue to work with
and talk to groups and entities about their cares and concerns
about health care, understanding that we're at an important
moment that we can make serious progress on delivering on the
promise of cutting costs and increasing both care and
accessibility. Yes, sir.
The Press: Thank you, Robert.
I do think that you answered the question about President Obama
talking to President Clinton, whether they had talked or not
-- because when he was in Pyongyang and you were asked
that you said the last time they spoke was in March.
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I've certainly denoted that they've had
conversations. I've also said, based on what the President has
told me, he doesn't feel comfortable discussing out --
with everyone involved -- discussions that he has with
former President Clinton, that he might have with former
President Bush 43 or 41, or others.
The Press: The one thing I wanted to know was the
controversy involving Glenn Beck,
the television commentator -- I know you say the President does
not watch cable television and doesn't keep up on it.
Is anyone monitoring that whole controversy in the White House?
Mr. Gibbs: Which -- I got to tell you,
it's not on my top 10 list either.
What's the controversy?
The Press: Remarks that Mr. Beck made,
and then his sponsors backing away.
You're not aware of any of that?
Mr. Gibbs: I think to keep up with some of the comments would
be more than a full-time job and I've got a good one.
The Press: Robert, the President is talking about trimming the
Medicare Advantage program. Can you talk about how important
that is to the overall idea of reform?
And is there any danger that seniors might perceive that,
or that opponents of reform in general might use that to charge
that the President is talking about cutting benefits?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I don't doubt that opponents of this may seek
to scare seniors. The President talked about this as far back as
in the middle of the campaign.
I think we did an event, if I'm not mistaken,
at a senior center in Iowa in 2007 and discussed the waste and
fraud that we can see in health care, and the notion that,
particularly among the Medicare Advantage program,
there are a lot of reports that note -- correctly,
in our opinion -- that for about $177 billion over a 10-year
period of time, there's no appreciable benefit to Medicare
beneficiaries under the Medicare Advantage program;
that it simply seems to be a multi-billion dollar giveaway
that doesn't seem necessary to deliver the type of Medicare
that seniors have come to expect.
The Press: So is the President's idea to do away with it,
to phase out the subsidies?
Mr. Gibbs: To stop subsidizing with taxpayer money a program
that thus far, based on the data that I believe the GAO has
collected, that we've seen no appreciable benefit in terms of
quality of care.
The Press: Will competitive bidding take care of that?
Or does it need to be --
Mr. Gibbs: Let me talk to those guys specifically about solutions.
But I certainly think that it is an integral part.
I think you -- I think on virtually every question that
the President has asked about health care savings I know in --
I can't remember in Montana, but I know in Grand Junction,
it was the example he used as one of the things that -- the
funding that needed to be -- I'm sorry,
the subsidy that needed to be cut. Steve.
The Press: Robert, in this -- the drive for competition from,
for instance, like BlueCross BlueShield in Alabama,
was it ever considered to try to sweep away or change the
regulatory framework so the private sector could go in there
and Aetna and MetLife could better compete against BlueCross
BlueShield in Alabama and in other states?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, I think that's what's largely envisioned
through a health exchange, Steve,
is that you'd have a number of different -- look,
understand the President's reform is built on a private
insurance structure where the vast majority of people receive
their health care benefits through their employer from
private entities. The President is building on that system in
health care reform. But part of what the President believes has
to happen is we have to broaden some of those closed markets
with that choice and competition; that if not,
you're not going to be able to drive down costs and provide
health care at the best quality.
The Press: Why does the competition have to come from the government?
Why can't it come from other private insurers?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, it doesn't have to.
But, Steve, I've lived in Alabama; it's a decent market,
there are a lot of people there.
I assume there's some reason why a series of private entities
haven't come to seek a market that at this point,
nine out of 10 people is -- dominated in nine out of 10
people by one company. I think the AMA found that 94 percent of
metropolitan areas face the same problem, where the private
health insurance market is dominated by one insurer that
doesn't allow that choice and competition.
The Press: Back to Mubarak.
Can you say how the President raised the issue of human rights
and political reform in Egypt during the talks?
Mr. Gibbs: Let me get a specific read.
I did not talk to Denis and those guys before I -- about the
other topics that were talked about.
The Press: Well, generally, do you think it's fair that there's
a perception among some dissidents and human rights
groups that this administration has downplayed that side of the
relationship in pursuit of broader issues?
Mr. Gibbs: I would not -- I would not agree with the premise
that we have somehow swept under the rug,
in either this relationship or in relationships with other
countries, the notion of human rights or greater democracy in
the world. Obviously those are important foreign policy goals
that are in the national interest of this country.
And we will continue to pursue those,
as well as issues relating to comprehensive Middle East peace.
The Press: Robert, in light of the fact that the judges have
accepted the Lockerbie bomber's request to allow him to drop his
appeal against his conviction, which could mean that he might
be released soon -- and Secretary Clinton and several
senators have urged the judges not to release him.
What official actions, if any, has the Obama administration
considered at this point?
Mr. Gibbs: It's the policy of this administration,
as enunciated, as you've said, by Secretary of State Clinton,
that this individual should serve out his term where he's
serving it right now. That's the policy
of this government. April.
The Press: Robert, whenever health care reform is acted on
-- will the issue of covering most Americans or all Americans
be a primary piece to this health care reform action?
Mr. Gibbs: Yes. Yes.
The Press: Has it been made aware by the liberals who are
upset with the White House over this preference issue that --
they're saying if you do choose to go away from the public
option that you're going back to square one on this.
Mr. Gibbs: Going back to square one on?
The Press: On health care reform, because they're saying,
look, you know, the whole premise of this was about
covering most Americans.
Mr. Gibbs: It still is. That's one of the goals I outlined a few minutes
ago as tremendously important to the President,
along with cutting costs.
The Press: So if co-oping were to be a preference at some time
-- hypothetically -- would it have to contain something that
would cover most Americans?
Because they're saying the co-op would exclude more than the 46
million that are not insured -- millions upon millions upon
millions would be without insurance with a co-op.
Mr. Gibbs: I'm not entirely sure how one could come to that -- I
don't know how one would come to that conclusion.
Obviously a set of insurance reforms are instituted in part
of the legislation that you've heard the President talk so many
times about that doesn't allow an insurance company in any form
that participates in health care reform or exists in the market
to discriminate based on a preexisting condition,
or drop a patient. So I don't -- I'd have to look at something
that denoted that more people would be uninsured as a
result of that. Yes, sir.
The Press: Two quick questions, Robert.
First, I wanted to follow up on something you were saying to Ed,
because you have consistently said -- at least since I've been
here listening to you answer this question -- that the
President strongly supports a public option but that it's not
a deal-breaker. That's been pretty much the position all
along. But when you were talking to Ed it sounded like you were
saying now that he's open to other, better ideas.
Does this mean that the administration's position is it
has to be public option or better?
Mr. Gibbs: Well, again, the President will evaluate this
idea or any idea based on the degree to which it satisfies the
goal of choice and competition.
If there is a mechanism whereby greater choice for consumers can
be had through increased competition among private
insurers as it relates to some policy idea,
he will look at that, evaluate it, and make that determination.
The Press: If he doesn't hear an idea that he prefers more than
the public option, will he sign a bill with something he
considers not as good as the public option as a compromise?
Mr. Gibbs: The President would have to be satisfied that any
idea contained in any final legislation met the strong goals
of providing that choice and competition.
The Press: Second question was, has the President let you know
whether or not he has a rooting interest in the World Series of
Poker final table?
Mr. Gibbs: I have not -- I know he likes to play
poker, but I have -- I will follow up with him on that.
The Press: Can you give us a sense of how the President is
going to keep his message moving forward while he's on vacation?
Are we going to be seeing more administration officials or --
are we going to be seeing him at all?
And the other question is, did he have any reaction
to Robert Novak's death?
Mr. Gibbs: I will ask him about that.
I have not had a chance to talk to him about that.
So let me find out something on that.
Obviously we'll have some scheduling updates for you
throughout the week on events that may or may not be added on
health care. Obviously there will be a certain point in which
the President will largely be down enjoying his vacation,
as well as I think the vacation that millions and millions of
Americans hopefully will -- a little time off
that they'll be enjoying.
The Press: Will you encourage President Clinton to come down
and see us here after he --
Mr. Gibbs: I said this morning I'm not going to get in the way of the
First Amendment if that's what he wants to do.
But I'll put it --
The Press: -- come to the stakeout?
Mr. Gibbs: I'll put in specifically a recommendation in
from April and Bill. Kirk.
The Press: Thanks, Robert.
Has the White House concluded that only a handful of
Republicans, if any, support health care reform?
Mr. Gibbs: I don't know that that determination has ultimately
been made. I think, Kirk, you've seen -- only a handful seem
interested in the type of comprehensive reform that so
many people believe is necessary to ensure the principles and the
goals that the President has laid out.
I think there seem to be many that don't share a desire to see
costs cut, increases in coverage and quality to the degree to
which others want to see.
The Press: And is the September 15th deadline still operative
for the Finance Committee?
Mr. Gibbs: According to the Finance Committee it is, yes.
The Press: Thanks, Robert.
Mr. Gibbs: Thanks, guys.