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.