Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/27/2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:12 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Big crowd. Thank you all for being here. Good afternoon. Welcome to the White House.
I have a quick announcement to make at the top. On Friday, the President will hold an event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. to announce the next round of a coordinated national program to improve fuel efficiency for cars and light-duty trucks for model years 2017 to 2025. This program, which builds on the historic agreement achieved by this administration for model years 2012 to 2016, will result in significant cost savings for consumers at the pump, dramatically reduce oil consumption, cut pollution, and create jobs.
That is on Friday. And I know that we all look forward to some other kind of news story to cover, so I'm sure you'll be all over that.
Separately, I just want to say that we are obviously paying a lot of attention -- I know you are; we are, clearly -- to the process ongoing that must by necessity result in some sort of compromise so that we do not, for the first time in our history, lose our borrowing authority and risk default. The President made clear the other night that the way to do that is to reach a compromise. We still firmly believe that a compromise is essential and possible.
I would note that when we look at the various pieces of legislation that are on the Hill and whether or not they are vehicles for compromise, I think it's worth noting that the Speaker of the House earlier today, in pitching his plan, made the point on the radio that, in his words, "Barack Obama hates it, Nancy Pelosi hates it, Harry Reid hates it." Now, I don't think there’s really much to add to that when you -- if you’re trying to make the case that this is something that we can come together around as a country, that this is something that represents a fair compromise between Democrats and Republicans and the White House, that it doesn't really hold up.
So we believe that there is a place to find compromise. The President has made clear that he believes that this has been an opportunity to do something big and historic that requires political will by Democrats and Republicans, a willingness to take heat from your base, as opposed to placate your base. But it requires a will on both sides.
And with that, I’ll take your questions. Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two questions. We’re obviously 24 hours closer to potential calamity here. Is the White House any closer itself to an endgame strategy? And what is the President doing to achieve it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the Congress needs to take action. We have been intensely engaged in negotiations, in conversations, in proposals and counter-proposals with Congress at a variety of different levels -- the talks led by the Vice President, the private conversations and negotiations that the President had with the Speaker of the House. We have continued even since the Speaker of the House walked away from those -- from that potential compromise last Friday, we’ve continued to have conversations at all levels, with Democrats, Republicans, principals and staffers, in search of a solution to this problem that's balanced and fair.
We continue to this day and to this hour to do just that. One of the problems we face here is that last week while we were engaged -- the President, rather -- while the President was engaged, and obviously others, in trying to reach an historic bipartisan compromise, we were told that the House had to go through the motions -- sort of go through the ritual of debating -- crafting, debating and voting on a measure that everyone knew from the start would never become law. So that happened. That ate up a week. Now we’re doing it again. The Speaker’s words themselves make clear that they are not now working on a measure in the House that there’s even a pretense of an attempt to create something that would get bipartisan compromise.
Time is running out. We need to come together now. We have only -- it is only a matter of days before the August 2nd deadline. And while at midnight on August 2nd we don’t all turn into pumpkins, we do as a country lose our borrowing authority for the first time in our history. And that would be a very bad thing.
Q You’ve said from the podium that the President would only sign a short-term extension if it’s basically to let a bigger bill work its way through, and then later said -- talked about a few days. Is that still the President’s stand, or would he be willing to go for something like the 30-day extension if it comes down to it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t -- there is nothing that I’ve said in the past that I would change now. So what I said before about a willingness for a couple of days if we had an agreement and needed to, because of all the procedural things you need to go through in Congress to get something done, that that potential remains.
Beyond that, an extension only adds to the great uncertainty that is already having an impact on markets in the economy. It only casts further doubt around the globe, as well as around the country, on whether or not Washington can get its act together. The greatest country in the world, the strongest economy in the world, the rock-solid gold standard haven for investors around the world for 100 years -- can we function?
So there’s plenty of time to get this done. What’s lacking isn’t time -- because we all know the details. Everybody knows the numbers. We’ve all become experts in what adds up to the necessary amount of deficit reduction, what, in the random association that was established a while back between dollar-for dollar-deficits reduction and -- or spending cuts, rather -- and increasing the debt ceiling -- we all know how we get there and the variety of ways to get there. What is required now is political will. And there’s time. If people are willing to find it and use it, there's time to take action.
Q A number of Wall Street firms are saying that Treasury actually has enough cash on hand to continue through August 10th or 15th, even if the borrowing authority runs out on the 2nd. Can you respond to that and tell us what would happen August 2nd if the debt limit remains in place?
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what’s important to know: We began this process with a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury to Congress in January, identifying with, it turns out, great precision when we would hit the debt limit. We did -- May 16th. Since then, the Treasury Secretary has been able to take extraordinary measures, as some of his predecessors have, in order to extend the period before we run out of borrowing authority. That deadline is hard and fast. Now -- and there is no escaping that. There is no -- there are off-ramps. People keep looking for off-ramps. They don’t exist. Okay?
What I have said, what everyone has said, is that once we lose our borrowing authority we become at risk of default on our obligations. Now, does the United States continue to take in money? Of course it does. But the point is that beyond -- after we cease to have the capacity to borrow money, every 60 cents we take in is 40 cents short of the dollar we need to pay out. And you create a situation -- movie analogies are popular these days -- you create a situation where you have real people who suffer -- in addition to the impact on your interest rates, whether you have a car loan, a mortgage, a student loan, a credit card -- interest rates go up. It’s a tax on everybody. Okay?
In addition to that, among the many obligations we have, the 80 million checks that the Treasury Department alone issues, payments that it issues every month, of the 1.2 billion payments the federal government makes in a year -- those include veterans’ payments, Social Security payments, disability payments. They include the bills to contractors, small businesses, big businesses that do work with the government, the people who manufacture the ammunition that we send to our troops in Afghanistan.
And choices then have to be made. And it’s a Sophie’s choice, right? Who do you save? Who do you pay? That’s an impossible situation that this country has never faced, and should never face if Congress does what it was elected to do and does its job.
Q Can I also ask -- messages from banks and brokerages to investors saying that even if default is avoided, a downgrade is likely. Could you speak to a downgrade as the sort of urgent matter or the consequences of a downgrade?
MR. CARNEY: The rating agencies are obviously -- they make their decisions. We’re not -- a downgrade is a bad thing; a default is a catastrophic thing. We obviously -- the focus we have to have is on the necessity of reaching an agreement that can pass both houses and be signed into law, that will extend our borrowing capacity to pay the bills we’ve already run up for a substantial period of time so that we don’t have this cycle where -- I mean, imagine. There’s one measure right now, there’s one notion associated with one of the measures in Congress, in the House, that would have us doing this again around Christmastime. Does anybody think that’s a good idea? What kind of impact would that have on the economy? One of the most important seasons of the year for our economy, for anybody who sells anything, right -- let’s throw into doubt whether or not the United States is going to go into default around Christmas. Brilliant.
Q Just to clarify, a downgrade is a bad thing but it’s not a serious thing --
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no. They are -- a downgrade is obviously very serious. And if we take the -- we don’t control what outside rating agencies do. We do control whether or not we default. Congress controls that. Congress can establish that we raise our debt ceiling. We’ve had the highest rating available for a hundred years, and we should maintain that if we just do the responsible thing.
Please do not get the wrong impression. I’m simply saying we -- if we take the actions that we are able to take -- we, in Washington -- if Congress acts accordingly, we can take care of all of this if we behave responsibly. And there is time to do it.
Q What’s your response to critics who say the Reid plan, which the President supports claims to save more money than it actually does because it includes some savings from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is money that would never have actually been spent anyway?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s examine that. There are two points to make. First of all, the savings gleaned by winding down the wars in Afghanistan are savings created by policy decisions. If you make a policy decision, if you are so callous as to do so, to slash Social Security benefits or Medicare benefits or education spending, you would then -- as you made a budget -- count that as savings, right?
Paul Ryan when he submitted his budget counted what they call OCO savings in his budget because these -- this is the result -- any other policy decision you make is a choice about how much money to spend, and that's what these decisions are. You’re saying -- I mean you’re asking are we going to save a trillion dollars because of the policy decisions that this President made, I’d say yes. And I encourage you to write and talk about it because those are wise policy decisions for our national security interests and for our fiscal health. So they absolutely are legitimate. They are part of any serious bipartisan compromise that has been discussed by any major player in this town all year, okay?
But we’ve also identified in great detail, Ed, significant spending cuts in domestic spending, significant spending cuts in Pentagon spending, extraordinarily difficult savings in entitlement programs that we would be willing -- that the President would be willing to make a case for to his own party in the name of accomplishing something very big that would fix this problem for a long period of time and put us on sound economic footing for the 21st century.
Those are tough choices. That's what leaders do; they lead. They don’t cater to their base.
I mean, we’re all -- look, I get that it’s politics and people are -- there’s a lot of politics in Washington. That’s, of course, how it is and how it should be. But there are times when you have to make hard choices. There are times when you have to say, you know what, I’ll suffer some losses here, I won’t bring my whole party with me, but I know that I have to do this because the country requires it. This is one of those times.
Q And also, when was the last time the President spoke with the Speaker? Have they talked since their addresses?
MR. CARNEY: You know, we’re not reading out individual conversations, so I’m not going to do that now. I can just assure you that, broadly speaking, there are lots of conversations happening between senior people in the administration, up to the highest levels, if you will, and senior people in both houses of Congress, and obviously the staffs. I mean, we are looking -- we are eager to get the kind of compromise that will resolve this in a way that will not prolong the uncertainty that is so clearly a drag on our economy.
And when you look at these measures, the measure that Senator Reid put forward, as others have pointed out, wait, there are no upfront -- there’s no upfront revenue. Well, good point, right? Not the balanced approach that we would ideally want to see and, therefore, not of the total size of deficit reduction that we would want to see. It has within it the potential for that in a committee that would look at the hard issues of entitlement reform and tax reform. But we’re willing to compromise, because we’ve got to get this done.
We’re the United States of America. We pay our bills. We honor our obligations. We grow our economy and we create jobs. It’s time to do that and focus on the important things.
Q Jay, you say that a short-term increase in the debt ceiling in the absence of a deal creates uncertainty. But it seems that it would be pretty easy to argue that uncertainty is better than a default. Does the White House see it differently?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we have made clear that we need to pass legislation through both houses of Congress. That requires a bipartisan compromise, by definition, okay? What is essential for the health of the economy is that we lift the debt ceiling for a substantial period of time, because as I just went through -- and we’re talking now about a measure that’s working its way through the House that could require that we go through this again in five months or six months -- terrible idea. Just objectively, a terrible idea.
Q Worse than default -- worse than a default?
MR. CARNEY: But that’s not -- that’s a false choice. We don’t have to -- I mean, you’re asking me to game out a scenario that hasn’t happened.
Q We’re days out.
MR. CARNEY: Well, precisely. So why are we voting on measures that have no chance of becoming law? I mean, I know you guys have congressional reporters, but you may ask them to ask members of Congress why we’re doing that, why we’re voting on legislation in the House that the author of the legislation, in selling it, has made clear publicly was never intended to garner a single Democratic vote? Right?
Look at Harry Reid’s proposal, Senator Reid, the Majority Leader in the Senate. It achieves exactly -- randomly, the Republicans decided that for the first time in history, we had to link -- we had to do dollar-for-dollar reductions in spending to match the increase in the debt ceiling. Senator Reid’s bill does that. That gets us -- that clears the bar both of their objective, their goal, and getting us into 2013, and it sets up a process that could potentially, if there’s the political will, allow us to reap even more significant savings on the hardest issues out there -- entitlement reform and tax reform.
And if there’s the political will, we could do that -- because, by the way, there’s not all that much work to do. We have the blueprints. We have the Gang of Six; we have the detailed positions put forward and many positions agreed upon between the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States that could glean substantial savings. The President stood before you and said that in his negotiations with the Speaker of the House, they had come to an agreement on $650 billion in entitlement savings. This is in the detailed negotiations between the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States that some people have decided doesn’t constitute a plan, and reported it accordingly.
As opposed to the false -- I mean, there are plans where you create things to satisfy your base, that you vote on that don’t become law. When people want to get something done, they sit in a room and they try to get it done. And then they come out of that room and they say, here’s what we’ve got; it’s filled with tough choices, but we -- Democratic President, Republican leader -- believe it’s the best thing for the country and we encourage our members and our fellow party members to come with us. That’s how you achieve something.
Q You said come -- if nothing changes and August 2nd comes and goes, we’re at risk of a default. You didn’t say a default. I mean, that seems like an important distinction.
MR. CARNEY: We lose our borrowing authority, okay? And I refer you to Treasury about -- and obviously people keep paying their taxes, revenues come in, money comes in. The problem is, there’s not enough money, because we can no longer borrow money, to pay all our bills. And you’re basically running on fumes, as the Secretary of the Treasury has said. From midnight August 2nd forward, you are running on fumes.
And it’s a cascade effect, and once you begin to default on your obligations, a bill comes due and you don’t have the money to pay it, you are in default. And that process begins at midnight on August 2nd in terms of no longer being able to borrow, which puts you at risk of default. There is no doubt about this.
Q But if August 2nd comes and goes, nothing has changed --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, we’ve lost our borrowing authority for the first time in our history. We have bills coming due that we cannot pay, potentially.
Q Yes, but if there are not real ramifications, is there a certain “boy who cried wolf” quality that the White House and the Treasury --
MR. CARNEY: You mean, will all the power go out in America and -- no. But the fact is --
Q But something that convinces people who maybe don’t have --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure what you’re --
Q -- the same urgency as the White House on this matter.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I invite people -- and don’t count on me; talk to economists and business leaders. If they’re so convinced that this is all made up, buy and hold, see what happens. Tell your members of Congress, don’t worry about it. I mean, honestly, it’s just a false argument. It is the gorilla dust that I’ve talked about. This is real and dangerous. There’s a reason why it’s never happened before -- because it’s dangerous territory for the largest, most important country and economy in the world.
Q Can I follow up --
MR. CARNEY: Yes. I’m working on this. I want to say thank you to everybody, because I know that yesterday I spent a lot of time up front, and I want to make sure other people have a chance. So, Norah.
Q The President has made clear that he will not sign a short-term extension raise in the debt ceiling. But isn’t really an average -- wouldn’t a six- or seven-month extension really be an average for what most Presidents have signed? I know the President has talked a lot about Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan signed three of them during his reelection in 1984. So why is President Obama asking for something very different than any other President got from a Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Well, because we’ve never been in a situation like this before, where a Congress has decided that there should be a dollar-for-dollar correlation between deficit reduction -- spending cuts, actually -- spending cuts; not just deficit reduction, spending cuts --and the amount by which they will raise the debt ceiling.
And here’s -- I mean, we understand what’s happening here, right? The policies that that faction that’s pushing this wants to see put in place do not have even anything close to majority support in the public. They don’t have majority support in the Congress. They couldn’t get out -- it couldn’t pass the Senate. They could never become law. But what they would like to see happen by using the loaded gun of refusing to raise the debt ceiling is an implementation of those policies anyway -- spending cuts, by the way, that would be more draconian -- not spelled out, but more draconian than we saw in the Ryan budget, which did not go over so well in the general public.
Q But why does it have to be all the way through the President’s reelection?
MR. CARNEY: Because of the -- I mean, it’s not about the reelection. You’re buying something that is being sold to you, but it’s not the case. The issue here is the effect on the economy.
Q Well, I went back and looked, and in fact, Reagan had three times --
MR. CARNEY: I understand that. I think I’ve just explained to you why this is different, in terms of the behavior of Congress, the insistence on tying it -- really no correlation between increasing the borrowing authority of the United States government to pay bills that this Congress ran up in the past, right, and whatever measures we take to reduce the deficit, okay? That parallel doesn't exist.
Secondly, given that we have a packed house here, given that we’re however many days from August 2nd, do you believe that it will be any easier in an election year? What we all know as veterans of Washington and understand how cycles work, it gets a lot harder to do hard things in an election year, right? And that's not a question of who it helps or hurts politically. You could argue, because the public is overwhelmingly in support of the President’s position, that we should do this in a balanced way, that this fight is good politically. But it’s bad for the country. And it’s bad for the economy. And we shouldn’t do it in six months or eight months.
Q And if the Boehner bill passes in the House, gets brought up to the Senate, Reid indicated today that clearly they can make some changes to it, they can do it pretty quickly. Is the only objection that the President has to something that the Senate does to change the Boehner bill would be the short-term extension? He would accept all the other stuff?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't want to negotiate the details. I think it has been pointed out -- what I’m pointing out is that Senator Reid’s measure here has substantial cuts; it does not call for tax revenue, even though everybody says the only way to do significant long-term balance -- I mean significant long-term deficit reduction size plausibly is to have it be balanced, including revenues -- it doesn't have that in it upfront; sets up a committee to try to address that. This is -- there are people out there, cooler heads who say -- Republicans who say, wait a second, what’s wrong with this deal? Shouldn’t you just take it for the sake of the country and, by the way, to claim that you helped create a situation where we embedded into law these substantial spending cuts?
Q And the President has received an assurance from Senator Reid that there won’t be any short-term deal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I’d let Senator Reid speak for himself. He’s said on numerous occasions that he opposes a short-term deal.
Q Jay, since you said there’s a lot of great detail the President has put out in a plan, when are you going to submit the Obama plan to the Congressional Budget Office --
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I understand -- we can do this again, okay?
Q No, but when are you going to submit to CBO like Boehner did and Reid has --
MR. CARNEY: Has the Speaker of the House shown you the positions that he took in detail in the negotiations that were designed actually to achieve a compromise, as opposed to have a show vote --
Q But those happen behind closed doors --
MR. CARNEY: -- have a show vote.
Q -- happening in public.
MR. CARNEY: Ed, we’ve put forward a budget, we’ve put forward a framework, and we have --
Q -- has failed to get through --
MR. CARNEY: As has every measure that the Republicans have put forward, okay? Both leaders, the senior-most Republican in the land, third in line, okay, a powerful figure with great authority, sat in a room with the President of the United States and worked out a detailed compromise. It is the nature of these kinds of difficult things that you do that in a way so that you agree on the tough choices, you come out together, and you announce them and you begin to make the argument, a hard argument for each person to his party that this is what we need to do for the sake of the country, that this is a good deal, okay? And that’s what Speaker Boehner --
Q Why not put that on paper, give it to the CBO, and as Chuck said yesterday, have a senator introduce it as an actual bill? We’re six days away.
MR. CARNEY: Chuck -- I mean, Ed, the Speaker walked away from this deal.
Q Right, but you think it’s a great deal, so put it out there. Let the American people --
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ve answered the question.
Q Okay, one quick thing.
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I know you’re creating -- you’re creating a thing here for FOX --
Q No, no, no, I’m not. You said a minute ago -- that’s not what I’m doing, and you know better than that. You said a minute ago, to Brianna I think, that the Reid bill that was --
MR. CARNEY: Ed, somebody from FOX sat in a room with senior White House officials and got more detail on the President’s proposal and what was agreed upon between the President and Speaker of the House than you could name me now was in any of the proposals put forward by House Republicans, and you know it. Okay?
Q Okay. You haven’t made that plan public. You just haven’t. Okay. A minute ago to Brianna, you said that the Reid bill goes dollar-for-dollar spending cuts for raising the debt limit. In fact, CBO said that it’s $500 billion short. So how can you say it’s dollar-for-dollar?
MR. CARNEY: CBO, as you know, scored both the Boehner plan and the Reid proposal on the March baseline -- going to do a little economics for you -- because it wasn’t asked to do it on the January baseline. Every single proposal this year -- put forward this year by Democrats, Republicans, and worked on by the Speaker and the President, worked on by the Majority Leader and the Vice President, used the January baseline. And this applies to both the Speaker’s plan and to the Senate Majority Leader’s plan. If you use the January baseline that everybody else has used, there is enough deficit reduction to do the dollar-for-dollar to put you into 2013.
This is a technicality. It’s not a political point, okay? That’s how it works, for both -- both are the same. And in fact, Jack Lew, the OMB director, posted -- made a blog post last night that explained that and made the same point about Speaker Boehner’s plan, which was criticized for having less than advertised because the Speaker used the same baseline that everybody has used all year long. Because we’re talking about 10-year proposals, so you start with a January baseline, as opposed to the March baseline, which was created by the one-year or half-year fiscal year agreement that Republicans and the President and the Democrats reached in March. That’s the answer to that.
Q Does that mean the debt limit passed goes down from $2.7 to $2.2 trillion?
MR. CARNEY: I think this is -- at that point I’d refer you to Congress because I think they're figuring that out. I’ve seen both the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader addressing this issue, but I’m not sure how it works.
Q On the initial first-step process of the cuts, I mean, I understand -- but when it comes to Reid and Boehner, the issue is less about the two-step process and more the debt ceiling is linked on the second step. But on the first step, are there any White House objections to the list of cuts that Boehner has in there? Or is there --
MR. CARNEY: Well, this is the great thing --
Q Is there an agreement --
MR. CARNEY: -- on mystical plans and specificity that doesn't exist --
Q Reid and Boehner are --
MR. CARNEY: The spending cuts that the Speaker and the President agreed to, which overlap with the spending cuts that the Vice President and the Majority Leader agreed to, they're all in these bills. I mean that's -- we’re talking about --
Q -- the cuts that were agreed-upon cuts.
MR. CARNEY: Well, at the --
Q The big disagreement is just simply --
MR. CARNEY: Well, up to a point. Because, remember, what is inherent in the proposal in the House is either a committee takes action or there’s a trigger that forces $1.8 trillion in all spending cuts, which requires, therefore -- and it’s important that House Republicans spell this out -- should spell this out -- which would require more substantial reductions in Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid than called for in the Ryan budget.
Q So it is the second part of this that you guys object to? The first part --
MR. CARNEY: There’s no question, as we’ve said for a long time now, that there is general agreement on a trillion plus in cuts.
Q And those cuts are the ones Boehner uses in his -- you guys are happy with that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't want to --
Q "Happy" is the right word. You guys are accepting?
MR. CARNEY: The issue is the requirement that we go through this again as a way of forcing into law a budget proposal that doesn't come close to having support in the Congress.
Q And what are the cuts that are associated with that second tranche?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't think they're specifically identified, because if they were, people would run screaming from the room, because they're deep or they would require cuts deeper than called for in the Ryan budget.
Q Thanks. Can you tell us anything more about the thinking at Treasury or here about if you do face a Sophie’s choice, how you would prioritize what bills to pay?
MR. CARNEY: A choice between Jan and Eva, by the way, if you haven’t seen the movie. I realize there are young people here. It was a 1982 movie, Meryl Streep, superb performance.
Q Can you act out a few scenes for us?
MR. CARNEY: Awful choice.
Q Eighteen Oscar nominations. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Ask me the question again. (Laughter.) I was lost in reverie. (Laughter.)
Q I can’t remember. No. The question is have you given -- can you tell us anything more about the thinking about if you do face that kind of choice, what bills would be prioritized?
MR. CARNEY: I personally have not. I think that I would refer you, as I have in the past, to the Treasury Department. They are working on that, and my understanding is they will say that if and when we get closer to August 2nd, and cooler, saner heads have not prevailed in Congress, and we don't yet have an agreement.
Q But is this something that the White House is involved in -- the decision-making, the planning, contingency planning?
MR. CARNEY: It’s my understanding it is an executive branch decision process. But the Treasury -- and the details of it, the Treasury and the department is taking the lead.
Q So there isn’t a lot of White House direction?
MR. CARNEY: That's all I know.
Q Let me just go over that again. You’re saying that as we move closer to August 2nd, the administration will reveal what its priorities are so that if there is a default, you’ll tell the American people what will be paid for and what will not be paid for?
MR. CARNEY: Well said.
Q You used to say at every briefing, Jay, that we’re not going to default, Congress will act. Do you still believe that?
MR. CARNEY: I do believe that. I believe it because in the end, as crazy in many ways as this situation has become, given that it is so clearly within the capacity of Congress to find the compromise that could clear both houses and be signed into law to solve this problem. I still believe that because the stakes are so high, and because the American public so clearly wants this done in the right way, that in the end it will get done.
Unfortunately, it’s going to require this kind of brinksmanship and running-out-the-clock process that is really wholly unnecessary, because as I said, going back to January the Treasury Secretary identified this, has been clear in his communications with Congress about where we are in the process, how the analysis was being done, and when the deadline would be reached. And it’s been clear that it would be August 2nd for a long time now.
Q And on the priority disclosures, would we get that on Monday or Sunday?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have that. Again, I refer you -- I don't have a date specific. I just know that obviously it would -- as part of due diligence and responsible governance that they have to make those assessments, and at some point closer to August 2nd, there would be a discussion of that. Would that we do not get there.
Q Thanks. What’s President Obama doing today?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t tell you. (Laughter.)
Q Well, obviously. But I mean --
MR. CARNEY: He’s got a lot of meetings. He’s -- a lot of phone calls. Beyond that, I think -- I don't know what we had on the public schedule.
Q Will we see him?
MR. CARNEY: No plans for that that I know of. But as you know, this is quite a fluid situation. He could be out here in an hour, but that's not planned at the moment.
Q But it’s fair to say that he’s not just sort of sitting around waiting for Congress to figure out what they're going to do, he’s actively -- is anyone -- is he seeing anyone in person today?
MR. CARNEY: I have no meetings to announce. I saw him for about an hour and a half not long before I came out here. So he met with me and others, senior staff. But he’s having meetings, he’s on the phone. He obviously has other obligations, including national security obligations.
Q You talked about after August the 2nd the country would be running on fumes, and that the country would run out of borrowing authority. How many days between the day we lose borrowing authority and the day someone doesn’t get paid?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I refer you to Treasury. I can’t describe the process any more clearly than, at least within my capacity, than I already have -- which is, you lose borrowing authority. Obviously you continue to take in money because people pay taxes and all the other ways that revenue comes into the Treasury, but you are in a situation where, absent your borrowing authority, you have bills and obligations that far exceed the money in your pocket.
Q But it’s at least a couple of days.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t -- you have to ask Treasury.
Q Okay. And then, last question. Yesterday you mentioned a plan B. Were you just speaking like metaphorically, or --
MR. CARNEY: And let’s just be -- let me go back to your thing.
Q My thing?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, to the question. If we hit August 2nd without an agreement and for the first time lose our borrowing authority, the impact of that will be felt dramatically, without question. Right? Because we will have done something that’s never been done before, and there will be assessments made by investors around the globe about what the heck is happening in Washington.
Q So that’s not a default, right?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t say it was a default. I said we begin -- we lose our borrowing authority and we begin the process of risking default. And I’m not -- obviously, this has to do -- again, I refer you to Treasury -- with inflows and that sort of stuff. But it is a crisis situation.
Q But there is a grace period?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. I think it has to do with money coming in and bills coming due, and Treasury auctions and all that kind of stuff.
Q Okay. But, so, what we’re talking about is --
MR. CARNEY: I really -- Margaret, I’ve learned an extraordinary amount about this in the last few weeks, but you pretty much tapped me out.
Q Would it help if the markets freaked out a little more? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: No. Let’s be clear -- let’s be clear, our objective here is to do the right thing by the economy, by the American people. It’s like, we are not -- like that’s -- I have said so many times that I can’t say it any more except this once: We cannot play chicken with the American economy. We cannot play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States.
Q But we have. We are. It’s not a question of whether we will.
MR. CARNEY: Right. And we cannot see it to the end because the consequences would be severe, calamitous, catastrophic, et cetera.
Q But my question is if the markets indicated that there’s pending catastrophe, would it help Washington --
MR. CARNEY: If you’re telling me that -- it is not -- it is so clear to anybody who is willing to listen to fact, logic, and reason, that what would happen if we did not extend our borrowing authority would be a bad thing -- I mean, you can -- the case has been made. And, no, we do not hope for or want in any way negative consequences in order to force action. We just want Congress to take action.
We want our economy to grow, our markets to grow, firms to hire. That’s what this is all about. Right? And so anything that happens here that causes the reverse of that is bad, in our view.
Q So you don’t take the failure of TARP the first time as kind of an instructional way to get --
MR. CARNEY: That went really well, don’t you think?
Q It’s been reported and I think confirmed by the White House that the President and Vice President have canceled or postponed some of their fundraisers over the past week or so to stay here and work on this.
MR. CARNEY: Now we’re focused on the important stuff.
Q Well, let me ask you -- I think a week from tomorrow is the President’s 50th birthday. What are his plans for that day in terms of fundraising in Chicago and anywhere else? And is he making any contingencies at this point to change his schedule on that day in case this goes wrong?
MR. CARNEY: We have made clear that the President has made a lot of adjustments to his schedule because of the need to work on this problem, and we make those judgments as this process continues. I don’t have any announcements to make about next week. What I do know -- what I do know that’s happening next week is this little August 2nd thing, Margaret's thing, that we need to resolve.
Q Has he changed any -- is he changing his schedule next week --
MR. CARNEY: Again, we’re not going to -- because we hope, we’re working for an agreement here. We’re not going to anticipate a failure to reach an agreement.
Q I wouldn’t ask because I think I know your answer, but the fact that the House Democratic leaders have come out publicly urging the 14th Amendment option -- can you speak --
MR. CARNEY: I heard that. Our position hasn’t changed. There are no off-ramps. There’s no way around this. There’s no escape. And having an esoteric constitutional argument won’t resolve the fact that our borrowing authority is due to expire on August 2nd. And Congress has the legal authority -- and only Congress has the legal authority to extend that borrowing authority. That’s our position. The President stood here and told you. We consulted to see what this was about, but it is not an option.
Q Forgive me for asking, just one --
MR. CARNEY: One more time, sure.
Q One more time, the very narrow point of what happens at midnight August 2nd --
MR. CARNEY: I really think if I could just ask you to go to Treasury on this, because I have said everything I know.
Q Just bear with me.
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q The morning of August 3rd, does any one person not get paid?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I send you to the Treasury.
Q Don’t know? Can’t say?
MR. CARNEY: We lose our borrowing authority. The consequences of that are serious, as the first time in our history, and for the first time we risk default and we have obligations that exceed our capacity to fulfill them.
Q Jay, you guys had veteran service organizations here yesterday afternoon. What was the message that you sent to them? What concerns did they express? And what should the average federal worker at an executive branch agency be thinking today --
MR. CARNEY: I confess to you I don’t know. I wasn’t in that meeting. I don’t know, in fact, what the topics of that meeting were.
But obviously -- and this does not pertain to that because I don’t know what was discussed in that meeting -- but everybody, whether it’s veterans or Social Security recipients, anybody who is dependent upon payments, whether you’re a small business, big business, Social Security recipient, recipient of veterans benefits potentially could be affected by this.
We believe that won’t -- let me just -- there’s a lot of talk about this, but I think it’s important to reiterate the position that I think Mark asked me, or somebody did -- do I still believe that -- am I still optimistic? Are we -- more importantly, is the President -- still optimistic that in the end we will come to an agreement? And the answer to that is, yes, we are still optimistic.
Q Thank you, Jay. Beyond asking the public to get involved here and call members of Congress, could the President make more aggressive use of his executive authority? Could he call out Republican members by name? Could he threaten to withhold federal funds?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think that’s an executive authority, but --
Q Well, okay -- or the bully pulpit. Could he pull military bases out of people’s districts? I mean, if this is as calamitous as you say, is there more than --
MR. CARNEY: Peter, all this requires is a willingness to budge off your absolutist position. I mean, we are now in the -- however -- whatever month in the process of an attempt to pass a budget, through different means -- back door, side door, third-floor window -- that is not going to become --
Q Front door.
MR. CARNEY: They tried that initially -- that is not going to become law. It’s not supported by Congress. It’s not supported by the people. It's certainly not supported by the President. We need to reach a compromise. Time is running out. We will.
Q Just to follow up on Jackie’s question, can we infer from your answer that the 14th Amendment has been ruled out categorically by this administration?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q That come August 3rd --
MR. CARNEY: The President has spoken to that. I have. Everyone.
Q Jay, has the President talked with any other Presidents, former Presidents about this? Has he consulted with them?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know.
Q Can you get an answer on that?
MR. CARNEY: I can see if I can get an answer on that.
Q And also, when there were other stalemates in other administrations, Presidents have gone to the Hill and talked to members of Congress. And right now there’s a division within the Republican Party. Wouldn’t this White House think that this is the time maybe to go there and talk to members of the GOP?
MR. CARNEY: I think there has been no shortage of meetings between this President and leaders of Congress of both parties -- I mean, both all the ones you know about and there are probably a handful that we still haven’t leaked or let you know about. So I don’t think that the problem here has been a lack of face-to-face interaction between the President of the United States and the responsible leaders in Congress.
But we continue to be willing -- I mean, if that’s what it takes -- April, sorry -- if that’s what it takes, then that’s where we’ll go. But we need a willingness to compromise; a recognition that the result of this can’t be “I get everything I want” –- okay? The result of this -- it’s just not going to work that way. It’s not what the American people want. It’s not going to get through Congress. So it’s not just about the President saying, you have to compromise because that’s the right thing to do. We’ve got to compromise because Congress has to pass a law through both houses that's satisfactory to both houses and the President can sign.
Q But for the President -- for all the meetings to be here after the Vice President’s meetings failed and they wanted the President to come in --
MR. CARNEY: You’re talking about a President Bartlett moment? Should he walk up Pennsylvania Avenue and go to Congress himself?
Q No. I’m talking about a President Obama --
MR. CARNEY: We’re looking into it.
Q I’m talking about a President Obama moment where he would change the venue and go there to them. And if this is such a --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make, but I will take under advisement that suggestion.
Q I’m not advising, I’m asking. I’m asking.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, I hear you. I mean -- maybe. Maybe.
Q Well, what about the Treasury Secretary? Are you going to bring him out here so we can get more answers?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, Secretary Geithner has been pretty visible lately. He has been --
Q Because you keep referring us to Treasury.
MR. CARNEY: On the details of something that folks with advanced degrees over at Treasury are studying, yes, I refer you to Treasury. But Secretary Geithner has been taking questions in interviews quite a bit and I’m sure he’ll be doing that in the days coming forward.
Q Thank you, Jay. Because of the stalemate in Washington right now, the Japanese yen hit historic four-month high and one of historical high against the dollar. And also, Australian dollar hit historical high. And also -- currency hit historical high, which all means the U.S. dollar is hitting historical lows and people around the world are selling U.S. dollar. What’s your response to that? And also, people around the world is watching this very anxiously and even frustrated. Do you have any message to the international community?
MR. CARNEY: On the second part, the whole world is watching. The whole world economy is linked to the United States’ economy, and not just because of its size and its creative power but because of the security and safety it has represented as an investment for the global marketplace. We believe that will continue because Congress will do the right thing and take action.
On the other matter, I will never ever talk about currency markets from here. (Laughter.) Too risky.
Q Jay, I want to follow up on Jackie if I can. Are you saying that if Congress does not act, the President can’t act or won’t act? Or both?
MR. CARNEY: If you’re asking me about the 14th Amendment --
Q Or whatever authority you assert. It could be the War Powers Act, I don't know. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: As we discussed in relation to other questions about the Treasury Department and the process that would, obviously as a matter of being responsible, that would have to be created to follow, there would be a process followed. That would be the executive branch’s actions. But the President does not have the authority to raise the debt ceiling.
Q But couldn’t he act and then say -- and challenge people to sue him for acting without the authority?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I know that that's appealing in some ways -- I mean that could -- that's another movie scene, perhaps. (Laughter.) But it’s not -- it’s not a plausible way to address this problem, and we do not think it is an option. We believe that Congress has the sole authority to raise our borrowing -- debt ceilings and increase our borrowing authority, and that Congress needs to act accordingly.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you all very much.
2:59 P.M. EDT
March 24, 2014
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