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.
Add to Briefcase
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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