Health care

President repeats willingness to negotiate ObamaCare changes

FILE: Oct. 4, 2013, President Obama during an interview with The Associated Press in the White House library in Washington, D.C.

FILE: Oct. 4, 2013, President Obama during an interview with The Associated Press in the White House library in Washington, D.C.  (AP)

President Obama is saying he's willing to negotiate changes to his signature health care law, ObamaCare, but won’t until Congress resolves its budget issues -- reaching a spending deal to reopen the government and raising the debt ceiling.

Obama has said before that he’s open to improving the law and would negotiate on anything when it comes to a bigger deal, or a so-called "grand bargain." However, his remarks, as part of a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, come amid increasing pressure to make changes to ObamaCare.

A small-but-powerful group of conservative House Republicans forced the chamber's leadership to make changes to ObamaCare part of negotiations on a temporary spending bill. And the failed negotiations resulted in a partial government shutdown that began Tuesday.

In addition, open enrollment for ObamaCare, which began the same day, was marred by widespread computer problems for Americans trying to buy insurance on government-run websites.

Obama told the wire service there's a majority of lawmakers in the Republican-led House who would vote to end the partial government shutdown and raise the credit limit without conditions.

In the wide-ranging interview, the president also said he doesn't expect Congress to breach the deadline to increase the nation's borrowing limit, with that debate coming later this month.

The government is expected to hits its $16.7 trillion debt ceiling in mid-October.

Failure to raise that limit could lead to a first-ever default. Republicans want cuts in federal benefit programs and future deficits in exchange for their votes.

Obama also said U.S. intelligence assessments show Iran is still "a year or more away" from building a nuclear weapon, during the interview conducted Friday and released Saturday.

His assessment puts him at odds with Israel, which says Iran is just months away from being able to build a bomb. He acknowledged that Americans’ estimates are "more conservative" than those of the Israelis.

Obama also said Americans are poorly served by first-term senators who seek controversy to boost their own profiles.

"I recognize that in today's media age, being controversial, taking controversial positions, rallying the most extreme parts of your base, whether it's left or right, is a lot of times the fastest way to get attention and raise money," he said.

Obama sought to distance himself from first-term senators such as Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida. All three have become quick celebrities in the Senate, channeling the tea party's anger toward Obama and raising their own status as potential White House contenders.

The president also said that if he owned the Washington Redskins, he would "think about changing" the team name, wading into the controversy over a football nickname that many people deem offensive to Native Americans.

Obama said team names like the Redskins offend "a sizable group of people." He said that while fans get attached to the nicknames, nostalgia may not be a good enough reason to keep them in place.

"I don't know whether our attachment to a particular name should override the real legitimate concerns that people have about these things," he said.