White House: Debt-Ceiling Deal’s Obamacare Change Not “˜Ransom’

The administration insists it didn’t cave on protecting the president’s health care law.

President Barack Obama speaks during a press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on October 8, 2013.
National Journal
George E. Condon Jr.
Oct. 16, 2013, 12:07 p.m.

The White House is in­sist­ing that Pres­id­ent Obama held firm in his re­fus­al to ne­go­ti­ate over the debt ceil­ing, say­ing the Sen­ate deal reached Wed­nes­day con­tains no “ransom” for Re­pub­lic­ans.

The deal, brokered by Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell, in­cludes a sec­tion that mod­i­fies Obama­care to in­clude new in­come-veri­fic­a­tion re­quire­ments for those seek­ing sub­sidies un­der the law. Only five weeks ago, the ad­min­is­tra­tion threatened to veto a Re­pub­lic­an ef­fort to force in­come veri­fic­a­tion for those same sub­sidy re­cip­i­ents.

Be­cause that lan­guage has not been made pub­lic, it is un­known how close the two ver­sions are. But White House of­fi­cials in­sisted Wed­nes­day that they aren’t even close. “Two dif­fer­ent pro­pos­als,” said one top of­fi­cial.

Speak­ing on back­ground, the of­fi­cial said the House bill would have put “at risk” the ba­sic struc­ture of the law’s tax cred­its and sub­sidies for in­di­vidu­als “by mak­ing them con­tin­gent on an IG pro­spect­ively cer­ti­fy­ing that the sys­tem was sound. This would have caused un­ne­ces­sary un­cer­tainty” and delayed health care cov­er­age for mil­lions. In con­trast, the ver­sion agreed to in the Sen­ate would have the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­ret­ary cer­ti­fy to Con­gress that eli­gib­il­ity is be­ing veri­fied. The of­fi­cial said that the com­prom­ise has the In­spect­or Gen­er­al “per­form a ret­ro­spect­ive ana­lys­is, which is con­sist­ent with the tra­di­tion­al role of an IG, and will not im­pede or af­fect the pro­vi­sion of be­ne­fits to in­di­vidu­als through the ACA.”

Press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney also struck a con­fid­ent pose when he dis­missed the sug­ges­tion that the pres­id­ent had paid even a little bit of ransom in mov­ing on the GOP veri­fic­a­tion ef­fort. That pro­vi­sion, Car­ney told re­port­ers, “was ne­go­ti­ated by Sen­ate Demo­crats and Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans and is a mod­est ad­just­ment to the ex­ist­ing Af­ford­able Care Act law. We have al­ways said we are will­ing to make im­prove­ments and ad­just­ments to the law. Ransom would be a wholly dif­fer­ent thing.” Pressed at his brief­ing, Car­ney ad­ded, “We’re fine with it.”

He said the pres­id­ent stuck to his guns in re­fus­ing to ac­cept any ef­fort by Re­pub­lic­ans “to ex­tract uni­lat­er­al polit­ic­al con­ces­sions in re­turn for Con­gress ful­filling its fun­da­ment­al re­spons­ib­il­it­ies.”

On Sept. 10, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is­sued a “state­ment of policy” on HR 2775, sponsored by Rep. Di­ane Black, R-Tenn. It con­cluded with the warn­ing that if Con­gress sent the meas­ure to the pres­id­ent, “his seni­or ad­visers would re­com­mend that he veto the bill.” It said the ad­min­is­tra­tion “strongly op­poses” be­cause “the goal of the bill is already be­ing ac­com­plished while the text of the bill would cre­ate delays that could cost mil­lions of hard-work­ing middle”‘class fam­il­ies the se­cur­ity of af­ford­able health cov­er­age and care they de­serve.”

Black’s bill would delay tax cred­its and help to mil­lions of Amer­ic­ans, the state­ment con­ten­ded, adding it is “un­ne­ces­sary be­cause the Sec­ret­ary of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices has already put in place an ef­fect­ive and ef­fi­cient sys­tem for veri­fic­a­tion of eli­gib­il­ity for premi­um tax cred­its and cost-shar­ing re­duc­tions.” It ad­ded that it would drive up health care costs for mil­lions.

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