President Obama defended his administration’s means of marketing his signature health care law to consumers, rejecting an outside adviser’s statements that Obamacare’s success hinged on the “stupidity” of voters, during a news conference in Brisbane, Australia following the G-20 summit Sunday.
“The fact that an adviser who was never on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is not a reflection on the actual process that was run,” Obama said. Earlier this week, media seized on a videotape that showed MIT professor Jonathan Gruber – a paid consultant to the Obama administration – declaring that key details on the financing of the health care law were obscured by the White House in order to ensure passage.
“If you have a law that makes explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it wouldn’t have passed,” Gruber is shown saying. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage and, basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever. But basically that was really critical to getting the thing to pass.”
In Brisbane, Obama implored “every press outlet here” to “pull up every clip and every story” on the discussion surrounding Obamacare.
“I think it’s fair to say there was not a provision in the health care law that was not extensively debated and was fully transparent – it was a tough debate,” Obama said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said Sunday in an exclusive interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she “fundamentally” disagrees with Gruber’s comments.
“Since I’ve been at the department, one of the things that I’ve focused on is transparency, making sure all of our numbers come out whether they’re good or bad,” Burwell told host Chuck Todd.
In sharp contrast to the functionality issues that plagued the launch of healthcare.gov this time last year, the online “marketplace” for health insurance under Obamacare, more than one million people have been able to browse the site during this second open enrollment period, Burwell said. She added that 100,000 people have submitted applications for health coverage, while five times that many were able to successfully log in.
Top Obama adviser David Axelrod weighed in on Twitter Sunday, saying, “As one who worked hard to make ACA and its benefits clear, let me say: if you looked up ‘stupid’ in the dictionary, you’d find Gruber’s picture.”
Obama summarized his trip to Asia and Australia as “a good week for American leadership and American workers,” touting his achievements on the climate change front, including a deal with the Chinese to limit greenhouse gas emissions. He also praised China’s commitment to greater transparency on economic data.
“From trade to climate change to the fight against Ebola, this was a strong week for American leadership,” Obama said.
As Republicans prepare to take the majority in the Senate, Obama defended his opportunity to enact legislation through executive action.
“The record will show I have actually take fewer executive actions that my predecessors,” Obama said. “What I think has change is the reaction of some of my friends in Congress to exercising what are normally a, frankly, fairly typical exercise of presidential authority.”
Obama said he has shown “extraordinary patience” while waiting for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation on immigration reform, including a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants.
“There is a very simple solution to this perception that somehow I’m exercising too much authority,” Obama said, “Pass a bill I can sign on this issue.”
He cautioned ascendant Republicans against threatening a government shutdown to achieve their goals, and said he trusts newly-elected Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to keep his promise to avoid such a tactical move.
“There’s no reason to shut down the government. We’ve traveled down that path before. It was bad for the country and bad for every elected official in Washington.”
As the White House ramps up its effort to combat the ISIS’s advancement in Syria and Iraq, Obama indicated he would be open to sending ground troops to the region.
“There are always circumstances under which the U.S. might need to deploy ground troops,” Obama said, including a scenario in which ISIS gained possession of a nuclear weapon.
Aside from a warning to Assad’s forces that “they would be well advised not to take us on” when the U.S. operates in Syrian airspace, Obama said there is no expectation that the U.S. will enter into an alliance with the embattled dictator.