The President’s Solution for Medicare and Boehner’s Promise – Today’s Q’s for O’s WH – 12/15/2011

TAPPER: If you don't - if you don't support the Wyden-Ryan plan, then what is the president proposing a plan to solve the problem of Medicare and funding in the future?

CARNEY: Well, what I mentioned at the top is the president has in fact proposed that as part of his comprehensive deficit reduction and debt control plan, and he looks forward to working with Congress on that. And his whole point during -

TAPPER: That just nibbles around the edges, doesn't it?

CARNEY: No, the whole point that the president made during the negotiations this summer on the debt ceiling, and again when he put forward his proposal for the supercommittee, is that if we approach this in a balanced way - the way that bipartisan commissions recommend that we approach it, the way that the vast majority of Americans want us to approach it - we don't have to privatize Medicare.

We don't have to, you know, severely constrain Medicaid. We don't have to slice or slash programs that fund education or innovation or clean energy, because if we do it in a balanced way, we can reform entitlements in a way that preserves Medicare for seniors and doesn't stick them with a $6,000-a-year cost hike, as the original Ryan plan would.

TAPPER: I just want to make sure I understand. You're saying that what the president proposed is all that needs to be done to contain the growth of health care and Medicare and whatever problems Medicare created? Because that's what the Ryan-Wyden plan is attempting to do.

CARNEY: It was attempting to do, although within it, as I understand it, there's no - even in their own proposal, there's only the hope of cost savings. So what the president has proposed, as I just laid out, would result in $320 billion of savings over the next 10 years, would reform the entitlement programs in a way that would continue to allow them to provide the essential services that, in the case of Medicare, seniors deserve and must have and would not require the kind of radical privatization or ending of Medicare as we know it that the Ryan proposal suggests and that the Wyden-Ryan plan gets you to eventually.

TAPPER: But - so that's a yes, that all that would need to be done to Medicare is what the president -

CARNEY: Look, I'm not saying that five year, 10 years down the road that - I mean, we are always having to, you know, push forward with reforms in different parts of our government. But the plan - the president's proposal, as you know, dealt, you know, in an expansive way - $4 trillion, if you include the trillion in savings through the Budget Control Act - dealt with our need to reduce our deficit and get our debt under control at the same level of magnitude as the Ryan plan.

And it did it without asking seniors to bear the burden of the - of the - of the costs. So this goes back to the need for balance.

You don't have to do something that's radical. As the president has said, our problems are not as great as they are in some countries that we would have to do something that radical if we were only willing to take a balanced approach, which is what the president -

TAPPER: I'm not advocating for the Wyden-Ryan plan. I'm just - I'm just saying - you're actually saying that that's all that needs to be -

CARNEY: Well, no, I know you're not. No, and I'm just - that's the president's plan.

TAPPER: OK. The other question I have is Speaker Boehner today said there's no need to tie the omnibus bill to the payroll tax because he is willing to keep Congress here, to keep the House here, so that as soon as the Senate passes a payroll tax fix, the House will reconvene within 24 hours and act on whatever the Senate passes. Your response?

CARNEY: Well, I'm not going to negotiate on behalf of the Senate or the president here. These are ongoing conversations. What is unacceptable is the idea that we should take a promise of future action on behalf of 160 million Americans when, as you know, once Congress passes a spending bill, they can go home. And it sounds like the speaker would let them go home. He might call them back, or he might not. I mean, again, it's a promise. What we want is -

TAPPER: So you're saying you don't believe his promise?

CARNEY: Well, I'm saying I don't know. What is essential here - the absolute top priority that this president has is that Congress makes sure it does not go home on its vacation until it has taken care of the payroll tax cut extension and unemployment insurance extension because it would be unacceptable, he believes, for Congress to hike taxes on 160 million Americans as it's heading out the door here.

TAPPER: He - OK, he's saying you don't need to tie the two, right? You don't need to do this - and he's trying - he says he's trying to avoid the government shutdown tomorrow night. Congressman Moran has said the deal has been done and the Congress is ready to act.

CARNEY: Well, the deal is not done until some of these issues that Senator Reid and others have mentioned, I've mentioned, need - are - need to be resolved. It is - they are resolvable, no question. There's no need to shut down the government. There is time to get all of it done. And if more time is needed, Congress should do what it's done seven times already in this year and pass a CR - a short-term CR, just to ensure that they get their work done. There's no reason to talk about government shutdown.

TAPPER: I guess I'm just surprised that the Speaker of the House is basically saying "You don't need to do this; I'll keep the Congress here. We'll reconvene as soon as they're ready - "

CARNEY: But we need to make sure -

TAPPER: You said that "we don't believe you." Basically said -

CARNEY: No, look, I'm just saying -

TAPPER - a promise is meaningless.

CARNEY: Jake, I'm just saying that there are negotiations going on. As Ben noted in his questions, there have been some signs that - of a willingness to find some bipartisan compromises here on these big remaining issues.

But the president's priority is - you know, this is not a question where 50 percent is OK, because if you take these two issues - the omnibus and the payroll tax cut - it is not OK just to get one of them. It simply isn't, because it - because that means 160 million Americans are stuck with a bill of congressional inaction. So that's not OK.

-Jake Tapper

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