How do you respond to the strong and growing impression that the Affordable Care Act was not ready for prime time—and not just the website?
Let’s not go too far. What we’re talking about now is the technology, by and large. It was a heavy lift to pass it. Presidents and speakers for over 100 years had tried to pass affordable care for all Americans. It was challenged over and over. The Supreme Court declared it constitutional. In the first year, before full implementation, [we have] kids 18 to 26 on their parents’ plan, little children no longer subjected to a previous condition as an obstacle to getting insurance, lower-cost prescription drugs, and the rest. That went very smoothly. Then we come to the distribution piece, the technology piece. It didn’t work well, not unlike Medicare Part D when it opened up.
What about all those people who are now saying, “But the president promised me I could keep my policy”?
Let’s quantify what that is. Ninety-five percent of the people who have health insurance now can keep their plans. So the 5 percent, most of these people will be able to get a policy that is better for them: no preexisting medical conditions, no lifetime limits on insurance. The issue is, now we go to the distribution. We have to fix the technology.
The success of this rides on young people signing up, which they’re not currently doing.
They will, they will. For below $100 a month, they’ll have health insurance. They’re invincible, except they could get in an accident or get a diagnosis or become sick in a way that is economically challenging to them. For some of them, it would be almost free with the subsidies they would receive. They have an opportunity now. The stories are overwhelming about what it means to have a family with a child with preexisting conditions. But we’ll have an app. And it will work. And young people will catch up.
What can we expect in the next battle over the nation’s finances?
As we go to the budget negotiations, when our members go to that table, it’s with an open mind to find common ground to get a budget—to show we’ll go to any length to make sure people see that we can get something done. We should have something by Thanksgiving, so that the confidence of the consumer over Christmas and the confidence of the markets—
We should have what by Thanksgiving?
We should have a budget agreement by Thanksgiving. Why wouldn’t we? Everybody knows what the variables are. It would be small, but it would be something that would take us forward.
House Democrats stuck together during the shutdown. How did you pull that off?
My colleagues very much knew that a shutdown of the government was the wrong thing to do. It wasn’t that I was delivering votes; that’s what our members believed. And [Speaker John Boehner] didn’t accept the offer. Then when he shut the government down, almost every day we went to the steps of the Capitol, signed letters, signed discharge petitions. Finally, 16 days later, they accepted the votes.
But Boehner kept saying, “I don’t have the votes.”
You have to remember the context. The speaker offered Harry Reid in the Senate a $988 billion figure. It’s a terrible figure for the budget. The chairman of the Appropriations Committee, a Republican chairman, said, “This does not enable us to meet our needs for the American people.” Nonetheless, that was the number they offered Reid. He accepted the number. The president accepted the number. House Democrats accepted the number, even though we didn’t like it. The only people not accepting the Republican’s budget number were Republican House members. And that’s what led to this. I said to [Boehner], “All you need are 17 votes.”
Six weeks ago, nobody believed the Democrats could win control of the House in 2014.
Along comes the shutdown. I wish it never happened this way: $25 billion hit to our economy, 0.6 percent to our GDP. It was a bad thing. But we feel very good about where we are. I think it’s probably even money now.