But that simple question repeatedly was ignored by Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, who told Wallace, “It’s the wrong question.”
“How many actually signed up, sir?” Wallace asked Lew.
“You know, they have six months to sign up. This is a big decision. We never—“
“How many signed up?” Wallace asked again.
“I don't have the exact number, but the question isn't how many -- the question --
“Do you have any number?” Wallace asked. “Because the government has refused to tell us how many.”
“It’s the wrong question. It's the wrong question,” Lew said.
“No it isn't,” Wallace replied.
“The right question--” Lew said, but again, Wallace cut him off.
“The question is, how many people have actually signed up?” Wallace asked.
“Chris, we know that people take time to make important decisions like this. They go on(line), they compare their options. The fact that so many millions of people rushed to get information is a very good sign.”“The answer is they couldn't,” Wallace said.
Lew repeated that Americans have six months to make their decision.
“[D]o you not know, or is it that the number is small?” Wallace asked.
“Well, it’s obviously not my primary area of responsibility. So my knowing or not knowing is not -- is not going to be indicative.
“The important issue -- the important issue here is that millions of Americans want to get affordable health care. They came online, they're getting the information, and you know what they're learning? They're learning they can get affordable health care. They can save money; they can avoid having a situation where they have pre-existing conditions but no health care, where they have children who have no health care. This is a very important development.”
“They just can't sign up for it at this point,” Wallace said.
“Well, I think they are going to be signing up.”
“But technically they can't,” Wallace said, ending the interview.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Lew said he thinks the first week of shopping for government-mandated health care went well:
“I think, you know -- well, you know, I'm -- I wouldn't say I'm the most early adopter to technology, but I have a fair share of apps on my devices. And, you know, I usually, you know, wait until a few days into them because they make corrections on day one, day two, day three. I think we're going through the same kind of a process here, and it's working well.”
Lew’s exchange with Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” was reminiscent of his exchange with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in July 2012, when Stephanopoulos tried to pin down Lew on whether the individual mandate was a tax.
“Frankly what you call it is not the issue,” Lew said at the time. He called it a “penalty” or a “charge,” but never a tax, as the Supreme Court did.