Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined White House press secretary Robert Gibbs at the top of the briefing today to talk about simplifications being made to the federal student aid program application.
TAPPER: If this means that more students will fill out the application and more students will get student loans, do you have an estimate of how much more it's going to cost ultimately?
DUNCAN: I don't have a firm estimate on that. But, again, we think that's not a cost. We think that's an investment. We think the best thing we can do as a country is have more young people going on to college. So we think this is absolutely the right thing to do. This has to cease being a barrier to entry….
TAPPER: About the Race to the Top, are you worried that all the state are going to run out of money…miss out on money in the Race to the Top and the $5 billion that you can allocate?
DUNCAN: It's not about states missing out on money. What we're going to do is we're going to invest very significantly in a number of states who are going to lead the country where we need to go.
It's going to be very competitive. We'll be coming out in the next couple weeks with what that application is going to look like. As you know, the president's, you know, tremendous leadership and Congress' support, we have unprecedented resources. But we're being very clear, with unprecedented resources has to come unprecedented reform. And if all we're doing is investing in the status quo, that's not going to get us where we need to go. So we're going to invest lots of money in a number of states that will literally lead the country where we need to go. I think we've had a race to the bottom around the country. That has to stop. And it will be a competitive process.
We're going to be very, very, you know, objective and transparent about this. And we want a set of states to demonstrate to the country what's possible educationally. We'll probably do this in two rounds, so states that don't get in the first round will have a chance to go back and look at, you know, what — where they're deficient. And every state that doesn't — who applies, who doesn't get through, we'll send them a letter saying this is where you missed and this is what you have to work on. But investing in the status quo is not going to get our country where we need to go. This is about a very strong reform agenda.
TAPPER: During the campaign of then-Senator Obama and then- Senator Clinton — fought quite a bit about the question of individual mandates. And the president, as I understand, said to Diane Sawyer that his thinking has evolved on the issue. Just explain the process by which his thinking has evolved, and why it has, and why he has changed his position.
GIBBS: Well, I think — look, I think what's paramount in this take is the process moves forward in the Senate and the House, the president wants to be flexible to the notion to the degree to which a piece of legislation will come forward. In terms of — in terms of ensuring that everyone is covered, the president is now open to — to this idea. I think there have been in discussions with all the parties and stakeholders involved, there has been discussion about — that it will be harder to get everyone at the table to stay at the table if — if you're not getting that larger universe of people covered. And I believe that on both the left and the right.
TAPPER: Does he see…
GIBBS: Let me also say that — and I think as the president said in the interview — they're a lot of, obviously, specifics to work out, including he's a big believer in the notion that there has to be a pretty stringent hardship waiver, I think the president said, throughout the campaign. Very few people can afford it to don't — don't have it because they can afford and don't want it. It's because they can't afford it. If the help that they're getting is still not sufficient enough to have them afford it, then we have to examine a robust hardship waiver.
TAPPER: Does he have any specific lines that he would not cross when it comes to what penalties people get? And does he view health insurance the same way that some people view — well, the same way that all states view auto insurance. If you want to drive, you have to have car insurance…
GIBBS: I don't know that — I've not heard him speak about the first part, about the specifics or details of something like that except for the broader hardship waiver.