Gibbs defends healthcare bill transparency, tax compromise

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Friday came under fire from reporters who implied the Obama administration has fallen short in two key areas of the healthcare bill negotiations.

As they have multiple times in the past two weeks, reporters grilled Gibbs on President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to broadcast healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN.

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Gibbs also faced scrutiny over the deal struck late Thursday between the White House, House and Senate Democrats and labor officials over the excise tax on high-cost healthcare plans contained in the Senate health bill.

Merger negotiations between the House and Senate healthcare bill have been conducted behind closed doors between the White House and congressional Democrats since lawmakers returned for the New Year.

Gibbs defended the White House's position on each charge. 

"The president believes in the standard of seeing the healthcare negotiations [has been met]," Gibbs said.

He repeatedly referred reporters back to his response to the questions from two weeks ago, when he defended the White House's record on transparency.

The briefing became tense at times. Gibbs repeatedly asked reporters to "hold on" after they bombarded him with questions about C-SPAN cameras in the middle of his question and answer session. 

After one reporter said that the White House issued a gag order on leaks from the meetings, Gibbs replied incredulously, "I'd say that's working like a charm!"

Gibbs was also pressed by reporters on charges that labor unions received a special carve out from the compromise on the excise tax.

The agreement that was reached exempted union and government  healthcare plans from the tax until 2018. Other plans will be taxed starting in 2013.

"We believe the agreement in the structure is fair," Gibbs said adding that other provisions in the bill such as a fee on medical device manufacturers are also offset for a number of years.

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