Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that the Obama administration is making “strong progress” in fixing enrollment problems in health-care exchanges under the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: Joining me now is White House Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell. It’s always hard for me to say “Burwell,” because I knew you when you were first Mathews, but thank you so much for being with us.
SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL: Thank you.
HUNT: Madam Director, we’ve just been through one political, economic trauma. I’m sure that you had a lot of almost sleepless nights, but we have another -- budget and debt deadlines are looming in January and February. Given the political polarization, why is it going to be any different?
BURWELL: I think one of the things that hopefully will be different is having passed through and been through what we have been through and seeing the ramifications of that, especially with regard to the shutdown and what that meant economically and to people as individuals, in terms of how they interact with their government, I think we’re hopeful, and we see signals on a bipartisan basis that a shutdown is no longer on the table.
HUNT: Just as a quick aside, how much will it affect your economic forecast? And how much will it affect unemployment and the budget?
BURWELL: So one of the things is, we will have to work through exactly what that will mean. One of the things that didn’t happen because we had a shutdown is we weren’t able to close the government’s books for the year. And so now that everyone’s back, that’s one of the first tasks at hand that we’ll be setting about to do, to close the year’s books and think about how we set our baselines for the following year.
HUNT: Let’s look ahead to these budget -- House-Senate budget negotiations, which you will -- are very important, due to report Dec. 13. What is your realistic expectation as to what could come out of that in a broad sense?
BURWELL: I think what we’re hopeful for is that having a conference we’ll return, one, to regular order, get a process that will work in terms of the way historically these things have happened, and I think that we’re hopeful that many issues can be on the table, both big and small. And that means -- I think you’ve seen the president’s budget has a wide range of issues in it, in terms of long-term deficit reduction, in terms of the ability to buy out the sequester and do those kinds of deficit reduction in a way that we believe is healthier for the current economic recovery and taking care of some of our long-term problems, as well as other issues like corporate tax reform that we have mentioned in our budget and the president’s mentioned recently as part of talking about a grand bargain and what we need to do to grow this economy.
HUNT: Well, let me tell you what Paul Ryan and some of his allies are talking about. They say there is a deal, there is a deal to be made that they would accept the president’s own proposals on entitlements, means-testing in Medicare and chained CPI, in return for alleviating much of the sequester. Does that sound like a good deal to you?
BURWELL: I think when we think about those things that were in the president’s budget, we actually thought of a larger deal and a deal that included both revenues, as well as entitlement issues. And as we think through what we’re going to do, I think we want to understand, what is the size of the package that people are talking about?
HUNT: So that deal would have to include revenues, too, as well as what I just enumerated.
BURWELL: That is what we have said.
HUNT: The Republicans say they’ve given the opposite. In January, they increased revenues.
BURWELL: I think when one thinks about the long-term issues, deficit reduction, and when you look at the president’s budget, that was a $1.8 trillion proposal, $1.2 trillion of that was to shift out the sequester and then an additional $600 billion. To do those kinds of changes in long-term changes, we believe you have to think about it in a balanced way over time and include not just entitlements, but also revenue.
HUNT: And do you have any realistic idea what the scope could be of either over one or two years, over 10 years of such a deal, if you got it?
BURWELL: So I think when one thinks about what the conference can do, I think the conference can think about a 10-year deal that includes some of these big issues that you and I are just talking about, or can think about a smaller approach, and that approach would be more like one or two. And so I think either are possible.
And I think what we’ve seen in the last weeks, in the last months is, one, you actually can’t predict exactly what will or will not happen in terms of where people will go and what you can get. So I think what we need to do is go in with optimism, put everything on the table, and see how far we can take moving the economy forward using fiscal policy.
HUNT: Let me ask you about these next eight weeks and how involved the president will be. Leon Panetta, one of your predecessors at OMB and also a former White House chief of staff, says the president -- these are his words -- can no longer walk away from the table. And if he feels Republicans won’t deal with him, he, quote, “ought to be willing to delegate that responsibility to someone who can do it,” end quote. Your reaction?
BURWELL: My reaction is that the president and the administration have been engaged and been engaged throughout the spring and the fall, since I entered the administration five months ago, in terms of whether it’s dinners, meetings, conversations, calls, with both sides of the aisle, and we’ll continue to do that.
HUNT: So you expect the president to be deeply involved in these next eight weeks, in these negotiations?
BURWELL: What I expect is that the administration and the president will do what we have been doing up to this point and will continue to do, and that is engagement in the way we have been engaging, as well as a clear articulation of our principles. And that’s what the president and the administration did during the period leading up to where we are today.
HUNT: Madam Director, as well as budget, you run the Office of Management. Now, the administration just saw a management debacle. It’s not your primary responsibility, I know, but the rollout of Obamacare frustrated millions, including my own son, who went to try to sign up. What can OMB do in supporting the implementation of these exchanges to make sure this is -- this is rectified? This really was awful.
BURWELL: So I think, first, I’d start with the fact -- what the president has said in terms of his disappointment about the problems and challenges that you’re articulating. And the administration has put together a team and is deeply focused on the issues of, how do we fix those problems?
Second, in terms of one of the things, as OMB thinks about our programmatic and policy, focusing on two very large issues, and one is actually what the Affordable Care Act set out to do, and that is provide a product, affordable insurance, for those who are uninsured. And on that front, I think we’re making very strong progress.
HUNT: But people can’t sign up. They can’t get affordable care. And can you guarantee the public that by Dec. 15, say, which is a little over two weeks before they can, you know, really join, that these problems will be largely rectified?
BURWELL: I think that the administration is working deeply on the problems that exist, and I think it’s also important to recognize that there are other places and ways, in terms of whether those are the phone numbers, the navigators, and other tools and choices that people have to do that.
I think also, from an OMB perspective, it’s important to also recognize, in addition to the issue of health care for the uninsured, the issue of people who have children up to 26 being covered, the issue of pre-existing conditions, all of those are being worked on in a very successful way, in terms of the substance and reducing cost.
HUNT: Cautiously optimistic you’ll have it rectified by Dec. 15?
BURWELL: I am optimistic that we will continue to make progress on that issue.
HUNT: Sylvia Burwell, thank you so much for being with us today.
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