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After President Obama’s address to the joint session of Congress last night the White House hosted a blogger conference call with Dan Pfeiffer, the Deputy Communications Director. He made a short opening statement then took questions for about twenty minutes. Blue Girl and I were in on the call (I’m not certain if any of the rest of the clan around here dialed in). Bloggers from Kos, MyDD, Firedoglake, and other places in blogtopia (yes, skippy coined the phrase!) also participated.

Dan Pfeiffer, White House Deputy Communications Director: …I assume you all just got a chance to watch the President’s speech, or at least had a chance to read it. Just a little top line stuff here. We feel very good about the speech and think it accomplished many of our goals tonight. Primarily to communicate to the American people what health reform is and what it isn’t, and to make a compelling case for why we need to act now. Getting into this debate we knew, we were comforted by the fact that according to some polls three in four Americans still believe, three in four Americans believe that we need to reform the health and [garbled] we need to do it now. There was clearly a lot of confusion about what health reform meant. That confusion was a product of a [garbled] process that, that did not have one specific proposal, of a lot of lies and distortions that gained traction over the course of the summer. And so the President sought to clear up a lot of that confusion. We believe he was successful in that and have sort of regained the momentum here to proceed forward. And with that I will take any and all questions folks may have….

….Question: …Do you believe that after, what was the actual political expectation from this particular speech?

Dan Pfeiffer: In terms of?

Question: What, what is the, I think, what is the best and most desirable outcome?

Dan Pfeiffer: I think the, the outcome is that, a few things. One, that we, the President leaves the, leave the American people with a very core understanding of what health reform means. That if you have insurance now you get to keep your plan, you get to, you get to keep your doctor. And what you get is more security and stability. If you don’t have insurance you’ll get access to an affordable insurance, you’ll have a choice of plans. And there will be some mechanism to keep the insurance companies honest. And that health reform will lower costs for families, the government and the system as a whole. We can communicate that to people that is an incredibly appealing notion and for, for them to have some sense of confidence that that is the end result of this somewhat messy process that is the crafting of major legislation. And then, sort of secondarily, we’ve begun the, hopefully tens of millions of Americans who watched the speech tonight, there were five hundred thirty-five members of Congress who were in the audience, and to, with that, you know we’ve entered, we’ve entered a new phase, this is a time for action, is to kick start that process, begin to pull the strands of all of the various proposals that have been out there and move towards one singular solution that accomplishes the goals the President laid out at the beginning this debate and reiterated tonight. And like I said earlier I think that our initial assessment is that, is that we went a long way towards finally dealing with this, with the health care crises in this country….

….Question: Does the White House have a comment on the action of Representative Joe Wilson who has been tagged by several news outlets as the member who shouted “liar” from the House floor?

Dan Pfeiffer: I, I have seen those reports. I certainly do not know for a fact who it was that said that. I think that the President addressed in the speech, addressed in the speech tonight this sort of partisan bickering and, that has sort of plagued this debate. And you could probably cast some of that heckling along those lines. What he tried to do tonight was speak to the American people and the Congress like an adult. And sort of rise above, and rise above that bickering. I think you’re always gonna have some of that. And whenever you do it’s always unfortunate. But we’ll continue to move past it and try to make progress with the, what we hope are the vast majority of the members who will heed the President’s call tonight and step up, come together and take on, take on this big challenge….

….Question: …I was looking at the President’s plan that you posted on the White House web site.  And I was just wondering what parts if any are negotiable? What parts aren’t?

Dan Pfeiffer: I think that the principles thee President laid out for the plan are not negotiable.  The need for competition, the need for choice, the fact that we need to provide more, the insurance, the fact that we need to provide more security and stability for Americans who have insurance, the fact that it, that would, this, back up a step.  I would say that the basic principles are non-negotiable as he said in, in his remarks. And he is open to good ideas. He wants to listen to members of Congress from both parties on how to proceed. And wants to work with the Congress. But the very, the core guarantee that Americans who have insurance will get to keep their insurance but get more stability and security. Americans who don’t have insurance will get it, be able to achieve it affordably. And that the overall effort is [garbled] to the deficit. Those are the issues that will be part of any bill the President signs.

Question: …This, this list that you put out, it’s not just core principle, it’s specific proposals. And so what I’m trying to get a sense of is, are these specific proposals that he’s saying this is what I want or this is sort of what I want? Is it all negotiable [crosstalk]?

Dan Pfeiffer: He’s, he’s saying, he’s saying, he’s saying this is what I want. I’m not being, the mechanisms for achieving those goals will work with the Congress [garbled] to find the best way to do it, but he’s very clear that the, those principles I laid out are, or that he laid out in the speech are what he believes to be real health reform. And he, his intention is to sign a real health reform bill.

Question: [garbled] But as I’m reading my way through this list, should I think to myself, ah, this is what, this is what he wants [crosstalk].

Dan Pfeiffer: I think if you read, I, I , what I’m saying is that the principles that I laid out are the, the, the overall goals here. Are what are essential for any bill he signs. If there are better mechan, you know I think he addressed this very specifically with, he addressed a couple times in the speech that if there are other ways to do this or ways to tweak it he’s willing to do that as long it achieve, it achieves the goals he laid out…

Question: …Following up…are you considering setting this up a separate legislation? And where does this leave the four bills that we have reported out of committee?

Dan Pfeiffer: We are, we’ve, our goal here is to find the way that gets health reform to the President desk the quickest. We are heartened by the fact that the Senate Finance Committee, which had been the last and final committee that had to act, has said they’re going to begin to act, begin, begin their work next week. If, we have not made the final decision about whether a bill needs to be sent up, but the goal here is to help the existing, if possible, to shape the existing proposals into the, what the President laid out tonight.

Question: …[garbled]in that area, and particularly in the House Bill?

Dan Pfeiffer: I think that [garbled], in terms of, you know, where does it meet the Presideent’s test, or?

Question: Yeah.

Dan Pfeiffer: I think that we, I mean, every, couple things, one, there is s
hocking, frankly shocking amount of agreement amongst all of the bill, the four bills that have been marked up between Senate HELP, Energy Commerce, Ways and Means, etcetera. So, that’s good news. There are a lot of details to be worked out amongst them. The, also the good news is that all of them achieve the President’s goals. Every American will have access to affordable coverage, Every American will have more security and stability in their health care. There is a mechanism in there that promotes competition and choice and keeps the insurance companies honest. So there’s, they all achieve that. There are clearly a lot of, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to meld all of those together. It’s probably not constructive at this point to try to pick each one apart. We’re gonna continue to work with the Congress to move it, to move them all towards one final solution. If it’s, one of the things that is, has sort of stalled progress here has been a series of big questions that have loomed over August. How do you, how do you pay for it? Where’s the President come down on some of the financing? We know, what are we gonna do with the public option? What about the individual mandate? What about the employer mandate? Where, where does the White House stand on that? The President has let the legislative process play itself out, but tonight he stood up before Congress and the nation and answered the big questions. Which we believe will, and leaders from the House and Senate agree with us, will give a boost, tremendous boost of momentum to the process….

….Question: …I’m wondering how you guys are gonna define affordable? I know the, the Baucus bill that just came out yesterday expects basically median income families with a significant medical event in a year to pay thirty-one percent of their income that year, leaving them just seven thousand dollars for things like utilities and education and debt and clothing. And I’m wondering if that is considered affordable.

Dan Pfeiffer: I have read the, some, some of the reports you have about what the Finance Committee is planning on doing. The chairman hasn’t released a mark yet. I believe he’s not planning on doing that ’til, I think it’s in the middle of next week, so we’ll have to look at that when it comes. The President did not lay out a specific number tonight, but one of the things he’s committed to doing is working with all of the committee, all of the various committees here to make sure that we have one that common, the common sense will tell you was affordable that works. This is a very, this is a critical part as you may remember from the primary campaign. The President was very clear that an individual mandate only worked if you were able to lower the cost to make it affordable for people. And that’s something he’s committed to in this process.

Question: So common sense is the best measure that you can offer? [crosstalk]

Dan Pfeiffer: Well, what I, what I , what I, kind, the, common sense is not the, it is a critical component of it. We will work with them, but I don’t have a number, a specific dollar amount or percentage for you tonight. But we’re committed to working with the Congress to make sure it’s one that is affordable and that we’re not putting undue burdens on middle class families trying to have health care for their family….

….Question: …Insurance is regulated at the state level. And…if there would be preemption at the federal level and to what extent that preemption would take place? Would states be allowed to impose their own regulations on top of what the federal system [garbled] in place? I was curious about the Kucinich amendment which said that if a state decided to go the single payer route the [garbled] legislation would get in the way of that.

Dan Pfeiffer: A couple things. As it relates to the consumer guarantees in the, in the President’s plan, things like caps on out of pocket costs, prohibitions against rescissions, prohibitions against denying people coverage for pre-existing conditions, all of that would be handled as part of participation in this process. And would be, work for everyone. The President also said in order to insure that every American who has a pre-existing condition now who can’t get insurance could get a, we would announce these high risk, we’d start these high risk pools which would allow at least individuals to buy catastrophic coverage at very affordable rates [garbled] right away. I have to admit I do not have the, I don’t know exactly the interaction between federal and state insurance regulation on this point, but I will attempt to get that for you and have Jesse [Lee] get you the answer tomorrow….

….Question: …What’s the [garbled] timeline for this. I was, I mean the President’s spoken a lot about wanting republican input, giving them a chance to cooperate in the process and be a part of the process instead of obstructing the process. But from my perspective anyway, I haven’t seen very much of that. How much longer is the President willing to wait before he decides that it, it’s time to go alone with the Democrats?

Dan Pfeiffer: We are moving forward as expeditiously as possible. We don’t, if there are people who want to engage in the process, legitimately engage, not delay the process, but legitimately engage, we will work with that. We will not allow anyone for, to de, to try to kill this, you know, by delay, to try and starve the process. We won’t allow that to happen. We want to move forward as quickly as possible. The [crosstalk]…

Question: Do, do you expect it to be done by the end of this year? By the Christmas break?

Dan Pfeiffer: We don’t have a specific deadline but certainly our hope is to do this in this Congress before, before they go out. But, it is, we’re, we’re working on it, we’ll see what the schedule is. As you know the President, you know the President originally wanted a, to have this done, at least through both houses, by August recess. We didn’t achieve that, so we have some time to make up here. We’re, we know we’re gonna be working with the leadership to try and get a very fast timeline for this. [crosstalk] After we’ve had those conversations with them we’ll have, you know, more, more specific date. But rest assured, when the President said tonight he would not wait for those who wanted to simply delay for delay’s sake he is [garbled] serious on that.

Question: You said this Congress, what you meant was [crosstalk]?

Dan Pfeiffer: What I meant, what I meant is before they, before they go out at the end of the year. But we’re, we have to work with the leadership on that. We will do that. So, that is a good catch on your part, but we will hopefully be able to have a very specific schedule sooner rather than later. But as you, as I mentioned at the top of this call, with the Senate Finance Committee restarting the process and with moving and acting next week we’ve already begun to make, to sort of, to kick start the process and start moving forward….

….Question: …It seemed to me in the speech that the President was open to some sort of trigger for public option. And I am curious if he is actually going to push for a trigger as a sort of compromise between a public option immediately or in twenty thirteen and a certain public option in twenty thirteen and, and the other side. And if so, what kind of trigger are we talking about? What would the level be set at? How would it be triggered? And how does this jibe with the President’s end comments about having to do this right now and having to insure the basic principles which include competition right now?

Dan Pfeiffer: Okay, let me, several questions there, let me sort of deal with them one by one. First, I think it’s important to take a step back and look at what the President said about the public option. He was very clear about his support for it. He’s very clear that it, it is in his plan. It is, he is going to work to make sure it’s in any bill, but he is clear that it is, that he, his foc
us is on the goals here and he’s open to other ideas. And he mentions the possibility of a trigger. Now you would have to construct it in a way that it actually, actually increased competition, allowed the consumer choice, and kept the insurance companies honest. There are ways you could design it that would not achieve that. And that’s not something that the President would support. So, if, if that is route that, that Congress decides to go we will work with them to insure that it, it achieves those goals. But there was a lot of speculation heading into this about what the President would say about the public option.  A lot of people saying that he was going to throw it aside, but he did not do that, he did, I think, in fact, the opposite. I mean, he’s clear, he, he wants to be very clear that this is not all health reform and it’s not the only way to achieve his goals, but he thinks it’s a very valuable tool and it’s one that he supports and is willing to push for. In terms of the timeline, you know, it is gonna take some time to get the system, an overall health reform effort up and running. That just, it’s a logistical fact of it and we’re. We’re gonna do that as quickly as possible in order to address some of the immediate concerns. We’re gonna work [garbled] very quickly, get the insurance guarantees in place. And, as I mentioned earlier, have this high risk pool available to people with preexisting conditions, many of whom cannot buy insurance even, even the well to do with preexisting conditions who are buying on the individual market or cannot get insurance. So we’ll have this high risk available as soon as we, as soon as possible to allow people to get into it to buy catastrophic coverage which will allow them, that will insure them that, if they have a chronic disease, a serious accident, a serious injury, they will be protected from bankruptcy. And frankly all of the, the taxpayer who ends up paying for some of these cases, which are by far the most expensive and take up a significant percentage of health spending in this country, will not be, will not fall on the taxpayer dime. [crosstalk]

Question: I’m sorry, just to clarify, that, that pool, that high risk pool, is that a public program?

Dan Pfeiffer: It, it would have to be started that way, yes.

All right, thank you everyone. We hope to do this again as we move through the process. I hope folks found it helpful and I hope you enjoyed the speech tonight. Thanks so much…