Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 10/22/09
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release October 22, 2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Is this -- where's --
Q He's not there.
MR. GIBBS: Where is Chuck today? Is he --
Q I thought I'd be helpful.
MR. GIBBS: Is Chuck a little --
Q I have the means, by the way, to do --
MR. GIBBS: Although I'm told this is -- is this -- whose --
Q It's mine.
Q Right, it's Major's. He wanted to be helpful.
MR. GIBBS: -- Major's electric razor for -- if Chuck is anywhere out there listening, we can solve your problem right here. And I am happy -- please pass this on -- happy to use some space here if Chuck wants to --
Q Avail himself of the White House barber? If there is such a post?
MR. GIBBS: Apparently there used to be, many moons ago, a White House barber, that office now occupied by the White House photographer. But I'm sure they'd move the fancy computers out and we could get a little space.
Q Went the way of the swimming pool.
MR. GIBBS: There you go. Ms. Loven.
Q Senator Kerry yesterday had some pretty strong words about the timing of the President's decision. He said it doesn't make common sense to wait until after the runoff -- I mean, it doesn't make common sense not to wait until after the runoff election in Afghanistan for the President to make a decision. Can you react to that and say whether the President has decided, whether he agrees with that line of thinking?
MR. GIBBS: All I can say is -- well, first of all, let me again talk a little bit about -- obviously the President had a opportunity to spend time in the Oval Office yesterday with Senator Kerry and discuss his activities over the past several days in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And obviously the administration is enormously thankful for his help, for the work of many others in ensuring the announcement that was had a couple of days ago happened.
The President, as you know, was in the Situation Room today for about an hour over video teleconference with Ambassador Karl Eikenberry from Kabul discussing the current political situation in Afghanistan as part of the review and assessment process. The President will make a decision in the next few weeks, in the coming weeks, as I've said. Jeff, I don't know when that decision will be. It could be before the runoff. It might be after the runoff on -- as planned on November 7th.
Q But as Senator Kerry said, he didn't -- he said it just didn't make sense to him that you would look into the eyes of a parent whose child you were sending overseas as part of whatever troop increase might go if you didn't know yet what government you had there. So what's -- how does he react to that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would -- I would take this a little broader, and I'd -- I think the comments that Secretary Gates made, I believe in Japan, which denote that having a partner is going to take more than just an election, to make progress through legitimacy, which is obviously tremendously important to the Afghan community, to the Afghan people, to the region and to the international community -- but making progress on issues like governance, development, and corruption will take quite some time. The President is focused on an assessment that makes the best choice for the American people, and I just don't know when that's going to come.
Q Just one follow-up on Eikenberry quickly. Senator Kerry also said that the Ambassador is pulling people together to try to fix what went wrong in the last election. So can you talk about the U.S. role and what the President may have learned from the Ambassador --
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously part of the discussion this morning, in reviewing the current political situation, was to talk about the preparations that the Afghans are making to conduct the second election on November 7th. They discussed specifically -- and I've said this a couple times now -- you know, the process -- the process and the rule of law worked. The ECC and the IEC identified votes that shouldn't be counted, those votes were thrown out, and we're at that point now.
Q You don’t want another two-month, two-and-a-half month process --
MR. GIBBS: No, we want -- but we want a process that is viewed as legitimate in the eyes of, most importantly, the Afghan people, and also the international community. But they did discuss different preparations that are being made with the IEC to ensure that the election is run in a way that people can be confident about its outcome.
Q Just a follow-up on Jennifer's question about timing. You're saying that there's more here that you're looking at than just the election. But the election itself will give an indication of fraud, and that's one of your main concerns. So why not wait if you're that close to a decision?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I don't know when a decision is going to come. The President could walk out here in a minute. I don't expect that to happen.
Q Don't freak us out.
MR. GIBBS: Right. (Laughter.) It could -- it could happen. I just -- I don't know when he's going to make that decision. But the point that I was trying to make was simply that -- and, again, to echo a little bit about what Secretary Gates said, we have -- we obviously have 68,000 troops there. We have to have a partner that works there today, as well as on November the 8th, or November whatever, or December when a new -- the next government is sworn in.
So there are questions that have to be addressed obviously in the lead-up to November the 7th to ensure fraud doesn't happen, which will ensure that whoever is victorious on November the 7th is viewed as legitimate. But not just -- again, issues of governance, of development, of all of those things are not simply going to be decided on one -- through one act on November the 7th. This is an ongoing and long process that the President and his team are addressing.
Q Can you talk, though, about what's going to happen over the next few weeks -- how many meetings are scheduled and what is the President going to be doing as he prepares his final --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have an updated schedule. I've asked for one and as soon as I have it we will relay that to you all. The President obviously will meet with different members of his team in regular meetings that -- obviously he'll talk to them about Afghanistan and Pakistan. I think he thought it was tremendously important to spend time yesterday with Senator Kerry about what he'd seen and heard, but also with Ambassador Eikenberry today to get a sense of the political situation moving forward.
Q Gates has been saying, though, that this is moving into a different phase in terms of his own decision-making about what he'll recommend to the President.
MR. GIBBS: I think I've said that last week, so I don't doubt that at all.
Q What can you tell us about the Eikenberry meeting today?
MR. GIBBS: Well, just, again, that it was primarily focused on the current situation there, the preparations that, as I said to Jennifer, are being made to ensure a fair election, what has to be done to make sure that what caused votes to be thrown out before are not, and then also, a longer -- just larger and longer discussion about the future of -- overall of governance and of having a partner in Afghanistan.
Q There's this --
MR. GIBBS: Let me just -- in attendance besides the President and Ambassador Eikenberry, his deputy -- which I'll get you his name -- in Kabul; General Jones; the Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel -- I'm trying to do this by where people were sitting -- John Brennan was there; Tom Donilon was there; Denis McDonough was there; Ben Rhodes was there; General Lute was there. I think that -- I was there. But I think that's most of the --
Q Holbrooke, Clinton, Gates?
MR. GIBBS: No, they -- this was just with the President.
Q Obviously not enough was done during the last election in August to prevent the kind of widespread fraud that the ECC concluded happened. What extra steps are being taken?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there was a discussion during the videoconference about, to boil it down, sort of lessons learned from observers with the IEC, and steps that can or should be taken in this more shortened period to ensure a fair election. I don't want to get more specific.
Q As long as there isn't fraud, is President Obama confident that -- presumably it will be either Karzai or Abdullah -- is he confident that whoever wins, again, as long as there's not widespread fraud, can be a reliable, credible partner?
MR. GIBBS: We believe -- obviously the Afghan people are going to choose their leader, and we will work with whomever that is to ensure a strengthened partnership, that we're addressing the issues on the civilian capacity side, on development, and ensuring that as we work in Afghanistan to improve the security situation and the development situation, that there are comparable gains made in training by an Afghan national security force that can ultimately provide the type of protection and the government that's needed to secure our country in the long run.
Q That's a yes?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Okay. Vice President -- former Vice President Cheney was quite critical of the President over the timeline of the decision on going forward in Afghanistan, saying that the President seems afraid to make a decision, that this delay hurts our allies and emboldens our adversaries. I'm wondering if there's any comment on that from the White House.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's a curious comment, given -- I think it's pretty safe to say that the Vice President was for seven years not focused on Afghanistan. Even more curious, given the fact that a increase in troops sat on desks in this White House, including the Vice President's, for more than eight months, a resource request filled by President Obama in March.
What Vice President Cheney calls "dithering," President Obama calls his solemn responsibility to the men and women in uniform and to the American public. I think we've all seen what happens when somebody doesn't take that responsibility seriously.
Q On the executive pay, there are those who believe that these executives who are working very hard to turn these companies around and return taxpayer money are being penalized now.
MR. GIBBS: Who thinks that?
Q There are some out there. I mean, we've heard some on Wall Street and I can --
MR. GIBBS: Joe Some?
Q I can get you Joe Some's name, but we have some reaction from those on Wall Street who are saying these are people, these are executives who are working very hard to turn these companies around, and that taxpayers benefit because of their work and now they're being penalized.
MR. GIBBS: Understand that there's a lot of -- a lot of folks have jobs because of what the taxpayers did to ensure their stability. So first and foremost, let's ensure that, as the President has continually talked about, that pay for executives is based on their performance, not on wild risk-taking, the type of wild risk-taking that got us into a situation where taxpayers then had to become involved to stabilize the financial system.
Q My guess is these guys aren't taking risks now. I mean, they're not involved in any kind of risk-taking, right?
MR. GIBBS: Banks?
Q No, the executives who are being penalized now.
MR. GIBBS: I don't think I understand your question. Maybe I'm just --
Q What I'm saying is that these executives now, who will be penalized by having a pay cut, right, they'll be --
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to -- I'm not going to characterize the fact that an executive on Wall Street has been penalized, but --
Q Well, that is the argument. So I'm saying, they are trying to turn these companies around and now they are getting hit for doing it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the President will have more to say at remarks at a later event on what Ken Feinberg has come up with. I think most people in this country believe that compensation at a number of places on Wall Street has always far outstripped common sense. And I think that ensuring that as we go forward people are making decisions, again, based on what's good for -- good for the country, not just what's good for themselves, I think the American people need to have that confidence based on the fact that they've made tremendous sacrifice to ensure the stability of our financial system.
Q Just one quick question on the fundraiser -- one quick thing on the fundraiser. Why is the President doing so many fundraisers? I think it's 23 or so down so far -- it's much more than the former President did up to this point in his --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would remind you that -- I think the comparison that was done was first-year fundraising. I'd remind you that campaign finance rules that were in place in 2001 allowed someone to write a check for an unlimited amount of money to a political party. Many did to both parties. So this President doesn't accept money from PACs, doesn't -- or doesn't accept money from PACs or lobbyists and doesn't allow lobbyists to give at fundraisers that he's at as well.
Q Robert, may I follow up on that?
MR. GIBBS: I'll come back.
Q What can you tell us about the meetings recently -- excuse me -- in Cairo --
MR. GIBBS: It sounds like you're -- like you got a radio voice or something. (Laughter.)
Q Be careful or I'll breathe on you. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I won't show you what Jennifer just did. (Laughter.)
Q In which U.S. and Israeli and Iranian interacted, discussing Iran's nuclear program.
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the meetings concluded yesterday in which the Americans, the Russians, the French, and the Iranians, under the auspices and guidance of the IAEA, met to discuss technical -- on a technical agreement around the Tehran research reactor, which in concept was agreed to in the earlier meetings in October. Those draft agreements were taken by the respective teams back to -- back to their capitals, and hopefully we'll learn by tomorrow what those agreements are.
Q There were meetings in Cairo over the last month or so in which Israel interacted with Iran and where there were American observers at the table, along with some other nations.
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I'd have to get some information on that. I don't have anything on that.
Q Can you follow up on that?
MR. GIBBS: I will -- I would also encourage you -- it sounds like the meeting was between the Iranians and the Israelis and I would ask --
Q It was, but there were Americans at the table, and we know they happened, so tell us about it.
Q Now. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I better do it before you lose your voice.
Q In his Saturday Internet radio address, the President noted the existence of legislation in Congress that would revoke insurance companies' antitrust exemption. The next day David Axelrod was somewhat ambiguous or ambivalent about whether or not the White House backed such legislation. You now have a concrete bill that came out of the Judiciary Committee; got the backing of three relatively conservative members on the committee. Does the President favor that legislation?
MR. GIBBS: The NEC -- (cell phone rings) -- I was going to say, what is this? The chimes of the White House have rung, and I didn't even know we had chimes at the White House.
Q Good idea.
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- yes, I was going to say, that happens every time Bill Plante has a good idea. (Laughter.)
Q I've heard it twice already. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say -- the NEC, the National Economic Council, as I understand it, is undertaking a review of that legislation and is working on that now.
Q What's not to like about it? I mean, it does away with bid-rigging, price collusion, price-fixing.
MR. GIBBS: The NEC is evaluating -- evaluating that legislation, and when they have come to a conclusion on it, they'll make a recommendation to the President.
Q Also on health care, it appears that congressional schedule is slipping. There's the distinct possibility that the final vote in Congress, if there is to be one, would happen after the holidays. Is that a concern?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that I would necessarily buy into that. I think the President is still confident that we can go home for the holidays with a health reform bill that bears his signature.
Q A follow-up on Dan's question. Although the announcement Ken Feinberg, the federal pay czar, has made with respect to limiting bonuses will undoubtedly be politically popular, what steps, if any, is the government considering to keep the top talent from leaving the U.S. financial community and moving to a more friendly regulatory environment -- considering a brain drain, in essence?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think that -- I think there are -- I don't think anybody would denote or come to some conclusion that those whose pay was affected here are somehow underpaid. I don't --
Q I mean, it's an incentive, though, obviously.
MR. GIBBS: You know, I don't know that the President subscribes to the notion that somehow what is the rules and regulations that have to be followed by institutions that received extraordinary taxpayer assistance. I don't believe he thinks that puts them in any undue burden to attract the best workers.
Q Dick Cheney actually made a fairly specific charge. He said that the Bush administration had done a review of Afghanistan and Pakistan policy and that they briefed the transition and the transition asked them not to talk publicly about it and that the policy that was announced in March reflected that review. And I wonder if that's --
MR. GIBBS: I have not looked at that review. If -- I don't know whether what he describes is accurate. Jonathan, this was -- we would have been in what, year seven of that? We would have been -- again, we were eight months from a commander's recommendation in Afghanistan to provide additional resources after spending a few days at his new post writing a report back, landing, I presume, even at -- even on Dick Cheney's desk, for additional troop resources. I mean, it's a little -- I find it interesting that he's blaming us for something that he didn't see fit to do over, best I can tell, seven years of a war in Afghanistan.
Q And real quickly, can you say anything about what the President wants to talk to Senator Webb and Senator Leahy about?
MR. GIBBS: Senator Webb I believe was on a schedule earlier to see the President -- I think it was actually the day that the schedule got a little messed up on the -- on Friday because of the Nobel Prize. That's rescheduled. I think the topics there are certainly health care, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Senator Leahy is here. The President has had on a number of occasions committee chairs from the Senate in and he's not had a chance to do that with Senator Leahy, who's the chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Q Robert, did the White House give Ken Feinberg a nudge or signal that he should move to announce what he is announcing in a little while?
MR. GIBBS: No, as you know that -- this review was required by provisions in the Recovery Act looking at executive compensation. The administration made a decision about the best way to implement those would be through somebody independent like Ken Feinberg, who obviously is enormously qualified, having performed the task that he did around compensation for the victims of 9/11, and he completed that review.
Q On his own, hands off by the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Hands off.
Q And in the lunch that President Obama is having now with Speaker Pelosi, are they discussing the doctor fix?
MR. GIBBS: Since they're in it now, I don't know exactly what they're talking about, but I assume the subjects span and include -- certainly include health care.
Q Does the administration believe that would be pulling a fast one, separating the Medicare doctor fix from the rest of the health care bill?
MR. GIBBS: Understand that the cut in payments to doctors is something that is to be implemented every year and gets fixed every year, for the past six years. The President included in his budget fixing for and paying for that fix. We don't want to do anything that harms Medicare patients. And the President is still hopeful that we can fix this formula for doctors this year.
Q And passing that as a separate bill is all right with the White House?
MR. GIBBS: It is, absolutely. This is --
Q Even if it's not paid for?
MR. GIBBS: In our budget it was paid for.
Q The Senate is set to pass a defense budget today that includes money for a backup engine for the F-35 joint strike fighter. And you said the President would veto a bill with that funding. Does that veto still stand?
MR. GIBBS: I have not looked at the bill. I know that there was a statement of administration policy that I have not had a chance to re-review today. And I can pull something on that. I will put that on my list and we'll --
Q Okay. And will the administration follow up on Feinberg's report with a greater push to give shareholders more say on executive pay?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. I mean, we know it's made progress on Capitol Hill, and the President strongly believes that the collective power of shareholders' voices can have an impact on executive compensation here, as it has in other countries that have employer similar ideas.
Q Will any announcement be made on that when Feinberg comes out?
MR. GIBBS: No. Not today.
Q Robert, is your point about the Bush-Cheney approach to Afghanistan that on the request for troops and the overall lack of focus you would suggest there was a dereliction of duty to deal with Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: I'm just saying that the focus was not on Afghanistan. I think --
Q To the detriment of our efforts there?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think it helped.
Q And when you said the nation has seen the consequences when the President doesn't take that responsibility seriously -- is that an allegation you're laying at the feet of President Bush, that he did not take troop deployment --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what President Bush has said about this recently. I know what Vice President Cheney said last night, and I was referring to that.
Q So that --
Q Which war?
MR. GIBBS: Which?
Q What troop -- I'm sorry to interrupt, but what troop effort are you talking about wasn't taken seriously?
MR. GIBBS: I think you were asking about my response on Afghanistan.
Q Yes. So that's a specific reference to McKiernan's request that said -- that specific troop request was not taken seriously?
MR. GIBBS: Wasn't -- whether it was taken seriously or not, it wasn't filled. I assume since it wasn't filled, it was not taken seriously. Maybe they didn't -- maybe they filled unserious ones and didn't fill serious ones. That's a fabulous question for the Vice President, who seems to have forgotten his role in the last seven years of Afghanistan.
Q Is it proof of unseriousness to not necessarily agree with a request for troops submitted by a commander in the field?
MR. GIBBS: No, I am simply saying I think it's interesting that what the Vice President is suggesting the President isn't acting on is what the previous administration didn't act on, right? There were half as many troops in Afghanistan under --
(Cell phone rings.) (Laughter.)
Q I turned it off.
MR. GIBBS: See, you must have had another good idea, Bill, I just heard those chimes. There were half as --
Q I just got six down. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what the rationale is -- help me understand by asking the Vice President how one goes from half as many troops as are now in Afghanistan under his watch to 68,000 to now wanting an additional 40,000 when you didn't want the additional troops that President Obama put in. I mean, how do you go from 68,000-plus when you didn't want 34,000-plus? How did -- did you not want -- I mean, it defies some modicum of logic to get, "I didn't want to go from 35,000 to 65,000, but I wanted to go from 65,000 to 100,000." Fuzzy math.
Q On pay compensation and Ken Feinberg's role, is the goal of this policy, Robert, to punish or to discourage or change the incentive formula on Wall Street?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President -- and I think you've heard him say -- has no desire to be -- to run banks or car companies. He doesn't want to set pay for banks or car companies. He believes there is a special responsibility for the financial system that has used taxpayer money in order to stabilize itself; that pay should be commensurate not with and not based on how much risk one can take putting others on the line for the bill, but instead based on the performance of their company. That's what the President wants to see. Obviously you heard him speak earlier in the year about excessive bonuses and excessive compensation, and I think the President believes that --
Q Why not apply the standard if you owe or -- whether you owe or don't owe? If you pay it back, should that standard still not apply?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President doesn't believe that the government should set that standard for banks that haven't received extraordinary assistance, but does believe that there's a special responsibility by those to ensure that their compensation isn't excessive, and certainly that that excessiveness isn't based on wild risk-taking.
Q I know the President's budget paid for the Medicare doctor fix, but nothing before Congress currently pays for it for more than one year. So I'd like to follow up on Mark's question. Will the President sign a Medicare fix that is not paid for, period?
MR. GIBBS: I'd certainly ask him. I think we're a long way away from having that signature.
Q Well, but is it not important to send a signal to Congress about what it ought or ought not to do on this, which is tying them up in pretty significant knots?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the seriousness was in our budget after six years of delaying these cuts. We're at a point because -- on this issue and a number of issues because for years and years and years we haven't addressed the big problems. Right now we've got to address the problem of a looming cut that would impact Medicare beneficiaries.
Q That must be paid for.
MR. GIBBS: I will check on that part.
Helen, do you have something?
Q Since the government is so responsive now to the public chagrin over huge bonuses, why isn't it responsive to a government insurance plan, in terms of pushing it? I mean, the public finally is speaking up all over the place.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, again, Helen, the President believes we have to have choice and competition, thinks the best way to do that is through a public option, and is watching to see what Congress does on both the House and the Senate side as they come together and merge legislation and announce the proposals that will go through, we think before the holidays, go through the House and the Senate, and we'll make sure it ensures that choice and competition.
Q Does he think he has led enough on this subject?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think we'd be at this point if he hadn't.
Q He's happy?
MR. GIBBS: He's happy with the progress that we're making. He won't truly be happy until he gets to hand --
Q So he thinks it will pass.
MR. GIBBS: -- the uninsured accessibility to affordable health care, until he can look into the eye of somebody who's been discriminated against because of a preexisting condition, and tell them that's no longer going to happen, and that he can look at a small business owner and tell him that we've instituted real reforms that'll cut their health care costs.
Q Is he confident that there will be a government plan?
MR. GIBBS: He's confident we're going to get health care reform.
Q But that isn't answering the question.
Q Robert, I'm still not clear on what you're saying on Dick Cheney's specific allegation. What they seem most worked up about is Rahm's comment on Sunday that they were starting -- that this administration was starting from scratch and we're just asking the hard questions. What Cheney and other members of the Bush administration said is that Doug Lute led an Afghanistan study last year, which was given to the Obama transition team and General Jim Jones, and that this White House asked them not to make public.
MR. GIBBS: I think I said I haven't seen that but I have no doubt that the administration -- the former administration briefed the then-incoming administration on a number of countries and a number of regions in the world. I'm specifically reacting to a very pointed charge about a current resource request, and juxtaposing that against a resource request that didn't come to their desk during the transition, it didn't come to their desk in December, it didn't come to their desk in November, it didn't come to their desk in October, right? For eight months it sat there.
Q But that -- but those are -- that's a different -- those are different --
MR. GIBBS: No, it's not apples and oranges.
Q Yes, it is.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no.
Q Yes, it is. No, this is --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. I appreciate --
Q No, because this is -- this is a specific --
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate you opening up a fruit market, but I read -- (laughter) -- I read the relevant -- I read the relevant parts of the speech.
Q But this is --
MR. GIBBS: I didn't eat a banana while I did it, but this is -- Helene, how do you get -- how do you -- answer me Major's question. Or better yet, ask the Vice President this question. How does one get to adding an additional 40,000 troops while you resist adding an additional 25,000 troops? How does that math work? Help me understand that. Help me --
Q Well, they would say it's because they were fighting a war in Iraq at that time. That's what they would say, that they need the troops for Iraq.
MR. GIBBS: Really? (Laughter.) That's fascinating. We could ponder that a minute.
Q Okay, but can you get back to us, just because --
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what fruit that is, but it doesn't work.
Q But can you get back to me specifically on the issue of whether you asked them to make the --
MR. GIBBS: I have it on my list, yes.
MR. GIBBS: Can you get back to me on my follow-up question for the Vice President?
Q But would it be fair, Robert, to -- would it be fair to deduce, Robert, based on your lack of awareness -- central awareness of this -- and you've talked to me, and you've talked to others here that you were essentially starting from scratch, that you were asking a lot of penetrating questions for the first time; that whatever you were handed off, it played little or no role in anything you are contemplating now?
MR. GIBBS: Major, I wasn't in -- I wasn't in -- I don't want to speak about a meeting that I haven't either been briefed on or was in relating to the previous --
Q Would it be fair to say that in all --
MR. GIBBS: It would be fair to let me go find that out.
Q Robert, briefly, I know the President has a statement out calling the House financial -- the House Finance Committee vote on financial overhaul a major hurdle. But there is still big hurdles ahead here, right? This is very, very far from a done deal, and it's certainly not going to happen this year, right?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we think it -- we think that regulatory reform needs to happen this year, and we think a central part of regulatory reform is a consumer finance protection agency that looks out for, in all of this, normal, everyday consumers. It took a big step forward in the House committee today.
But you're right, make no mistake, there are big special interest forces aligned against ensuring that consumers have the voice they need. The President will work every day to -- on the side of those consumers to ensure that those special interests don't have the last say on important financial regulatory reform.
Q You're acknowledging that you're likely to get some sort of House vote -- you're not -- it's not going to pass the Senate this year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think Senator Dodd and Senator Shelby are working on a bipartisan basis to get financial regulatory reform through the Senate. I wouldn't argue with you that the House is on a bit faster pace. They dealt last week with legislation on derivatives. They've dealt this week on -- by consumer finance. But I think Senators Dodd and Senator Shelby are also working quickly and expeditiously to ensure financial regulatory reform is something that happens and is written into law. We can't afford -- no pun intended and for whatever many reasons -- to go back to a regulatory system that we had in place that led to the type of financial collapse that required the taxpayers to become involved. That's what we want to fix.
Q Robert, you're telling us that the Afghan review that the Bush folks said that they handed over, you didn't know about? That just seems hard to believe. You're in a lot of these --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, look, Jon, I've now said this three times. Let me go back and find out some information. I don't have information on that.
Q Can you get back to all of us?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Okay. Secondly, Neil Barofsky, who's overseeing -- he's the IG for the $787 billion bailout -- said yesterday on CNN that because there has not been regulatory reform to date, things are actually worse than they were before because of the merger of large companies together. Now they're even bigger and too big to fail again. And there's now moral hazard that's been proven -- in other words, we will bail you out. Does the administration share Mr. Barofsky's view?
MR. GIBBS: I think part of regulatory reform is addressing this notion of too big to fail by giving the authority to -- that doesn't currently exist, as it does with places like the FDIC, to break up bigger entities and close down parts of them and deal with the problems that exist. We certainly have sought that in regulatory reform to address this concept of too big to fail and, again, want to make progress on those issues during this Congress.
Q Do you share his opinion, though, that things are worse now than they were before in terms of moral hazard and too big to fail?
MR. GIBBS: I don't agree with that. I think we are in a different position than we were September 14th or September 15th of last year. I don't doubt that we have steps that need to be taken and I don't doubt that without new rules for the road there is the potential to go back to what we had and forget what we went through in the financial system. That's why the President is working and pushing so hard for regulatory reform.
Q Robert, Christina Romer told Congress today that the stimulus has had its biggest impact already and it's not likely to contribute to significant growth next year. Does that suggest either you could forego the rest of the stimulus or --
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q -- in the alternative, that you need another stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think -- in fact, I think she says later in her remarks that the notion of increased growth in the second and third quarter of 2009 "does not mean the stimulus is no longer having an effect." In fact, stimulus will be having an effect by keeping GDP "above the level it would be at in the absence of stimulus."
This is legislation that, as you know, is a two-year bill and spends out over that two-year period -- two fiscal-year period of time. I don't -- but I think if you read her -- the full context and the -- not just the context, but actually read what she testified to, I think what she says is there continue to be very positive impacts after the third quarter of this year because of the recovery plan.
Q Does the President and the White House still think there's no need for a second stimulus? The Speaker, of course, is having lunch. She thinks there's a need for a second stimulus.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't know what they'll discuss today. Obviously the economy will be something that comes up. There are obviously programs around a housing tax credit that were in the recovery plan, different programs such as unemployment insurance that expire toward the end of the year, that the administration is working on with Congress. And we're looking at certainly, as I've said throughout this period of time, any idea that can help our economy become stronger, and we'll continue to look at that.
Q Just back on doc fix, did the White House take a position at all on the bill, the Senate bill?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Why didn't the White House take a position on that bill?
MR. GIBBS: I will check with Leg Affairs. I don't know the answer to that.
Q Okay. And is there any concern here about the defection of 13 Democrats on the bill? Some Republicans are saying that that's an augur of things to come in the health debate. Is it?
MR. GIBBS: I hope it's not, because there were a lot of Republicans that were opposed to that bill and there are a lot of Republicans who have constituents that want health care.
Q What is the purpose of the Israeli-American military exercises at this time? Is this a special message to Iran?
MR. GIBBS: For military exercise information I'd point you to the Pentagon.
Q Do you have any comments from the White House about it?
MR. GIBBS: Not that can't be given at the Pentagon.
Q Why did the President request a meeting at 5:00 p.m. today with Reid and other members?
MR. GIBBS: I think he's asked the leadership to come down and talk about where we are on health care reform.
Q Is there anything that he expects to come out of that or --
MR. GIBBS: Just discussions on where we are on health care reform.
Q Is it bicameral?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if it is or not.
Q Thanks, Robert. Just following up on an earlier question, proponents of the antitrust exemption, of removing that from insurers, feel a presidential boost now would give them a great deal of momentum. The House committee has passed it; the Senate committee is considering it. Why not go ahead and give that boost now?
MR. GIBBS: Again, the NEC has undertaken an evaluation of that legislation. At the conclusion of that they'll make a determination and a recommendation to the President in which he'll evaluate -- I just -- I think that process is continuing.
Q Is there any timeline on when they might act?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of.
Q Robert, does the President back antitrust -- revoking antitrust legislation in a general sense?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get into generalities. I will --
Q Well, he brought it up on Saturday.
MR. GIBBS: I understand, and I would point you to what he said there. And in terms of the position on the exact legislation that you mentioned there was a bill that could be evaluated -- NEC has evaluated.
Q Robert, Senator Snowe told some reporters on the Hill today that she does not support the opt-out public option plan. How is the White House looking at these negotiations right now? Are you trying to help Senator Reid get to 60, or what is exactly the White House role?
MR. GIBBS: I think the White House has been involved in meetings that normally happen in the evening as the two committees look to merge their legislation in a process that's being led by Senator Reid. That's all I've gotten from the folks that have been involved in that.
Q The state-based idea of a public option does have growing interest. In terms of designing it in a way that could be workable, given that senators like the swing-vote senator Senator Collins has a program in her state that isn't working quite well. But if you could find a -- if they could find a workable state public option, would that be a key way of perhaps getting the vote of some of the swing votes?
MR. GIBBS: Well, in terms of how different senators would vote on that I would point you to those individual voters as members of the Senate. Obviously we'll continue to evaluate proposals as they come down the pike that are involved in the merged legislation as we go forward.
Q Just a straightforward question -- (laughter.)
Q Thank you.
Q Could you clarify the White House's position on this Franken amendment that would bar the government from working with contractors who deny victims of --
MR. GIBBS: I would point you over to the Pentagon on that as well.
Q Thank you, Robert.
Q Robert, it's pretty clear that at this point, talking about energy -- energy and climate -- that the President is not going to go to Copenhagen in December with any kind of treaty. What then would be the purpose of even making the trip?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think continuing to make progress internationally on clean energy and climate change will be important, regardless of where we are in the domestic political debate. Obviously our involvement sends important signals to those -- what I'm saying is, being involved in the negotiations right now and moving forward is important to demonstrate to developing nations that have also in the past been reticent to enter into agreements -- places like China, places like Brazil, places like India -- I think being at the table right now to make progress and to seek those solutions sends an important signal throughout the world.
Q Just as a follow-up, solar company executives that I've been talking to say that there have been talks about reinstalling solar panels at the White House like there used to be. What can you tell us about that?
MR. GIBBS: Bill does solar panels in the White House, so I will -- I'm just kidding. I will find that out. I don't know if that's what been had before.
Thank you, guys.
1:33 P.M. EDT
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