Carney Grilled On Veteran Death Benefits: When Did Obama Know?




CARNEY: You have that skeptical look on your face, Jon.

KARL: I’m always a little skeptical, Jay. (Laughter.) On this question of families of those who have lost loved ones serving our country, you said that the White House knew that this problem would be there in the event of the shutdown and --

CARNEY: The Department of Defense informed Congress, so Congress knew about it. Yes.

KARL: Yes, so Congress knew about it, the White House knew about it. The President is the Commander-in-Chief, he’s the Chief Executive. Was there literally nothing that he could do to ensure that these families were taken care of? I mean, I --

CARNEY: He’s doing it today, Jon, because it was not addressed by Congress in the Pay Our Military Act. It was not --

KARL: Did he ask Congress to take care of it in the Pay Our Military Act? I mean, were there any discussions there?

CARNEY: Jon, the Republicans shut the government down. None of this would be an issue if the government were open.

KARL: I understand.

CARNEY: Okay. Two, the Department of Defense, as every agency did, warned Congress of the myriad consequences of shutdown. This is one of those consequences. And unfortunately, it was not explicitly addressed in the Pay Our Military Act. I’m not assigning blame for that, but it wasn’t. The President learned that this had not been addressed. He directed the OMB and his lawyers to find a solution, and they’re working on that and we expect one today.

So I don’t think there’s any disagreement that this is a matter that needs to be resolved, that it’s unthinkable that these benefits would not be available. And therefore, he’s doing the right thing as Commander-in-Chief and making sure that it’s resolved.

KARL: But what I don’t understand is there’s discretion clearly in deciding who’s essential and who’s not essential, who’s furloughed and who’s not furloughed. You’re here, these briefings are taking place. I mean, clearly, there’s decisions made. How could there not have been a decision made that if there’s anything that’s essential it would be taking care of those who lost loved ones in the field of battle?

CARNEY: And so the Department of Defense informed Congress that this would be a consequence, among many other consequences, and it wasn’t --

KARL: But this wasn’t --

CARNEY: Well, Jon, look -- I mean, again, if you want to editorialize -- the Commander-in-Chief, when he found out that this was not addressed, he directed that a solution be found and we expect one today. I think that’s --

KARL: So he didn’t find out until yesterday that this wasn’t being addressed?

CARNEY: Again, I think I’ve been pretty clear about the process here. Congress was informed, as it was informed of all of the consequences of shutdown, and they are many, as we see. And a solution to all of this is not the piecemeal reaction to them or Band-Aid approach to solving them. It’s opening the government at funding levels Republicans set.

Remember, if anybody thinks that Democrats in Congress are getting a concession by extending the government on a short-term continuing resolution at funding levels -- sequester levels agreed to and celebrated by Republicans, they’re sorely mistaken. Leader Pelosi and Leader Reid deserve credit, and Democrats in the Senate and the House deserve credit that they agreed that it was too important not to shut the government down, they agreed to an extension at those levels. And unfortunately, Republicans instead decided to launch a quixotic crusade against Obamacare -- one that everyone knew was going to lead to nothing, and everyone across the country who has even a tangential relationship with the government is suffering as a consequence.

KARL: But I’m talking about this window that seemed to be open yesterday of a short-term debt ceiling increase, short-term funding and some negotiations that could happen in the interim. Would the White House be open to an agreement that did away with much of that sequester in exchange for some entitlement reforms, for instance, things that the President had endorsed -- means testing Medicare, modest entitlement reforms, reopen the government --

CARNEY: Let me just say that I’m not going to negotiate a future budget agreement that can be worked out between the White House, Democrats and Republicans after Republicans agree to leave the matches and the gasoline outside of the room and sit down and negotiate -- that they open the government, they turn on the lights, and they remove the threat of default.

What I will say is that we have often seen proposals that basically say, give us what we want in exchange for giving us what we want. And the President has made clear, as he did in his budget, that he is willing to make tough choices -- ones that have caused consternation among Democrats, as part of a balanced package that reduces our deficit and invests in the necessary areas of research and development, in education, in infrastructure that will help our economy grow and make us stronger in the future.

So I'm not negotiating specifics, but I think it’s important to remember where we've been and how far we've come and how we can move forward, and moving forward requires a balanced approach.

KARL: Now, I'm asking for a principle here, not the specifics, but the principle. Is the White House open to an agreement that would trade sequester cuts -- which you’ve cited as being so bad -- for longer-term entitlement reforms?

CARNEY: I believe many Republicans have cited sequester cuts, including most specifically the significant cuts to the Defense Department, as bad as well. And what I'm not going to do, again, is negotiate a budget deal here when Congress’s first and foremost responsibility right now is to reopen the government and assure the American people that -- because leaders are answering the call of a minority within their representation in Congress, are willing to threaten default. We're not going to pay a ransom to the tea party so that the United States pays its bills. It’s an irresponsible and reckless approach to governing.

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