This afternoon, in his second press briefing, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs fielded questions on energy independence, the stimulus package, and the auto industry. Here are some selected responses from the press conference.
On the remaining bailout funds:
"I do think what is incredibly important for you and for the American people to understand is the President believes that -- and outlined this to Congress before they voted -- we have to use the second $350 billion far differently than we used the first $350 billion to address the foreclosure crisis, to do so in a way that's transparent, so the American people will know where the money is going. There was a report today in the Wall Street Journal that many of the banks that had gotten money are actually lending less now that they have that money. That clearly has to change. The point of that money was to go to banks to free up lending, free up credit, capital…. We're going to change the way that money works to ensure that money that is injected into banks is used to provide small businesses with loans, to provide families with college or auto loans. We have to do so in a way that's transparent. And we have to make sure that there's some change in executive compensation as it relates to entities that participate in that program or get the money."
On how today's memoranda regarding environmental policy might impact the nation's struggling auto industry:
"The particular action that the President took today was to take legislation that Congress approved in December of 2007, and President Bush signed, and in January of 2009 implement changed CAFE standards for model year 2011. So I don't think it comes as any surprise to automakers or consumers that a change in our fuel mileage standards was on the horizon. In fact, between December of 2007 and October of 2010 -- which is when manufacturers begin the next model year -- we believe, and I've seen testimony from the auto companies, that changing those fuel mileage standards is certainly doable. The President wants to work with the auto industry to ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are produced and built here in America for Americans to buy. And I think that government working with the auto industry can ensure that we have a sustainable path toward the production or more fuel-efficient autos, that those fuel-efficient autos will be more appealing to American consumers, and that that can be a win-win for both. The actions that the President took today put us on the path when we realize a fuel efficiency standard of 35 miles to the gallon -- it's 27.5 now -- 35 miles to the gallon will constitute a savings of 2 million barrels of oil a day, which is roughly comparable to the amount of oil that we import each day from the Persian Gulf."
And later, in response to a similar question:
"I think what ultimately we'll come up with is something that moves along the twin goals of ensuring a strong manufacturing sector while at the same time ensuring that we take the necessary steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
In response to the question, What is a green job, anyway?, Gibbs replied:
"Each year, at least at the end of last year, you had tax credits for wind energy jobs -- there's a one-year tax credit, right. And so the -- every year in August or September, there's a huge scurry to make sure that next year's tax credit is available. Well, if you're going to build a windmill [sector] the size of which is going to produce energy to lower the power costs of millions of Americans, there's some lead time that's involved. So in instituting a renewed tax credit in this economic stimulus bill to give the producers of wind energy some understanding of what's available for them to use in creating these jobs and to give them some economic certainty is important. That's just one example….You've got biofuel jobs. You've got solar projects. I think there's any number of clean energy jobs that can drive not only our path towards energy independence, but also a path towards creating jobs."
There were also a lot of questions about the President's plans for bipartisanship. Gibbs said that President Obama will hear out Congressional Republicans in two meetings on Capitol Hill tomorrow -- first with the House GOP, then the Senate GOP.
"The President is very serious about this….[T]he job announcements today underscore the necessity that Washington not respond to the latest crisis simply by doing what Washington always does best and does more frequently, and that is get into too much of a back and forth and have important issues that the American people are concerned about become a political football. That's why the President is willing and eager to go first to have Republican leaders and Democratic leaders here, and now to go talk only with Republican leaders tomorrow to seek their input. And we hope that this is a process that will continue until the bill goes through Congress and the President has something that he can sign.
"The goal is to seek their input. He wants to hear their ideas. If there are good ideas -- and I think he assumes there will be -- that we will look at those ideas; that those ideas will go through a process in Congress; they'll be debated and voted on….And I think because of that bipartisan dialogue we'll create a better economic plan for the American people when all is said and done."