Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 8/4/2011
12:16 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House. This is your daily briefing.
Before I take your questions, I have a couple of announcements.
As you know, last week the President announced historic fuel-efficiency standards for the cars and trucks we drive, which, combined with steps already taken by this administration, will save American families $1.7 trillion at the pump and reduce oil consumption by 12 billion barrels by 2025.
Building on that, next week the President will hold two events to highlight this administration’s ongoing commitment to saving families and American businesses money at the pump, slashing our dependence on oil and creating cutting-edge jobs.
On Tuesday, August 9th, the President will travel to Interstate Moving Services in Springfield, Virginia, to announce first-of-their-kind fuel-efficiency standards for work trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles. The new standards will save American businesses who operate and own these commercial vehicles tens of billions of dollars in fuel costs and will dramatically reduce oil consumption and cut pollution.
On Thursday, August 11th, two days later, the President will travel to Holland, Michigan, to tour the Johnson Controls, Incorporated advanced battery facility. While at Johnson Controls, the President will highlight the key role innovative technologies will play in helping automakers achieve the historic fuel-economy standards, establishing U.S. leadership in advanced vehicle manufacturing, spurring economic growth and creating high-quality domestic jobs in cutting-edge industries across America.
Those are my announcements. Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Jay. The President said yesterday that it was his expectation that the FAA dispute would get resolved by week’s end. Can you update us on whether you’re seeing any movement on that issue and whether the President has had any additional role in trying to get to that resolution?
MR. CARNEY: The President has had a role in this. He had spoken with the Speaker of the House. He, and obviously members of his administration, are actively engaged in trying to find a solution that would put 70,000 Americans back to work. We hope that a solution can be found and that Congress will take the action necessary to ensure that those Americans do go back to work, because at a time when we’re trying to grow the economy and create jobs, it’s simply not acceptable for Congress to -- because of a political dispute or political disputes -- not to take the measures that it’s taken in the past to allow for these jobs to -- for these folks to maintain these jobs, stay on the job, and continue working.
And since so many of these jobs are construction-related, this is not -- this is a lost opportunity here. You can’t get the construction season back. And obviously for those folks who haven’t had a paycheck now -- this is day 13 -- they can’t get that money back, which they need to pay down their mortgages, to -- their car payments and, obviously, to make ends meet for their families.
Q Is progress being made?
MR. CARNEY: I think that conversations continue as we look for ways to resolve this, and we hope Congress will take action. I mean, we cannot be clearer that it is simply inappropriate for Congress to go on recess, leaving this issue unresolved. And when there are political disputes on the overall authorization bill that gets larded up with agenda items that are politically motivated -- and they -- and I’m not saying that they may not be -- they may not represent sincerely held views, but they should be set aside to allow for an extension that permits these hardworking Americans to go back to work.
Q The stock market took a steep dive today, which I’m sure you saw. Any reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I don’t have a specific reaction to the market. Markets go up and down. We obviously are monitoring the situation in Europe closely. And there’s no question that we have -- this economy has faced headwinds this year, a variety of them, including the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the increase in oil prices, energy prices that resulted from the unrest in the Arab world, and the situation in Europe also.
So our focus has to be on the things that we can control, which is to take the necessary measures working with Congress to ensure that our economy grows, that we create jobs. We took an important step towards creating economic certainty here in this country by resolving the debt ceiling crisis earlier this week, and we need just -- but these are big issues and our work is not done and we need to continue to focus on what we can do to ensure that our economy grows and that it creates jobs.
Q Any details on what kind of birthday bash you plan to throw the President today?
MR. CARNEY: I think, as has been out there, the senior staff will toast the President later today to mark his 50th birthday with him, and then he will have a -- there will be a birthday gathering with friends and family this evening.
Q Will we see him?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t anticipate that, no.
Q Is this market drop, Jay -- is it any -- have anything to do with the debt deal as far as you’re concerned?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not -- I’m just not qualified to make that analysis. I haven’t heard that, and I don’t see that reflected in some of the reports. In fact, I think -- our view of this is that while the agreement, the compromise did not achieve the kind of super-sized deficit reduction that we sought, it did end the uncertainty around the perception, the possibility that the United States might default on its obligations for its first time. That was a good thing. It made clear -- I mean, a major accomplishment in this was that the -- in the final days here, the Republicans were insisting that whatever process that became law would force another vote on raising the debt ceiling, another clash and conflict over this that would create more uncertainty in the next six months. The President adamantly opposed that and ensured that this compromise extended the debt ceiling into 2013.
It also has upfront deficit reduction of a trillion dollars and sets up a mechanism for another $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.
So we think these measures, while not enough, are positive and should have a positive impact on the economy.
Q There are a lot of reports out there today about Secretary Geithner. Can you shed any light on -- is he expected to stay on now or he’s being asked to stay? What exactly?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as Secretary Geithner has said, he hasn’t decided when he will leave. And he has said he will be here for the foreseeable future. So I point you to those comments. That’s what he tells us. And he’s obviously a key member of the economic team. His service has been extremely valuable to the President, to the administration, to the country. But I don’t have any more information on that for you.
Q Larry Summers in The Washington Post yesterday suggested that the economy had a one-in-three chance of heading back into a recession. Does the President share that view?
MR. CARNEY: I was asked about this yesterday and --
MR. CARNEY: No, that’s okay. I don’t -- again, that’s a piece of economic analysis. We believe that -- the President believes that the economy will continue to grow, that the economy will continue to create jobs, and that we need to do everything we can to enhance that growth and enhance that job creation.
Q Well, one of the --
MR. CARNEY: I pointed out yesterday it’s certainly the case, and this is an observation, about outside analysts who continue to believe that the economy will grow the second half of this year, and then we need to just focus on the things we can focus on, which is to take the measures necessary to spur economic growth and job creation.
Q I believe the Dow has gone down -- and obviously the day is not over -- but I believe the Dow has gone down now more than during the controversial TARP vote. And analysts are saying that the reason that this is happening is because of uncertainty about the American economy, that we are entering a double-dip recession, or at the very least a period of real softness and weakness for the U.S. economy. What is the administration doing to prepare for that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the analysis I saw today did not -- was not about the American economy, particularly in terms of what’s happening, but there are obviously -- there are a lot of global issues that affect the global economy and that obviously affect the American economy.
We strongly believe, as I’ve said, that we will continue to grow and we will continue to create jobs and we need to take the measures necessary to do that. We have encountered in this calendar year a number of economic headwinds that could not have been foreseen -- the tsunami -- earthquake and tsunami in Japan that disrupted global supply chains, the unrest in the Middle East, which had an impact on oil prices, and the situation in Europe.
So obviously that has hurt the economy globally and has slowed growth and job creation, but we believe that growth and job creation will continue.
Q But what is the President doing? What is -- we know that he went to a -- he went to fundraisers last night. What is he doing today?
MR. CARNEY: Jake, that is --
Q What is he doing --
MR. CARNEY: The President has worked --
Q He stood up there and hectored Congress about all the stuff that needs to be done to help create jobs, and this needs to take place --
MR. CARNEY: That’s right, and Congress --
Q -- and then he flew off to Chicago. What’s he doing today?
MR. CARNEY: Congress has -- the President is having meetings with his senior staff. The President has called on Congress to move quickly on things that are -- have bipartisan support and are in Congress’s lap -- the trade --
Q So the same stuff he was doing a couple of months ago, calling on Congress to pass things?
MR. CARNEY: Congress has the power to pass legislation that the President can sign. The actions that it can take could create more jobs right now if it passed the patent reform, if it passed the free trade agreements, and, as you know, there are other issues that the President encourages and will push hard for the Congress to take up when it returns from its recess, including extension of the payroll tax cut, which would put -- which has this year put an additional $1,000 in the pockets of every American or typical American family. And he believes we need to do that again next year, because that assists those families in having -- giving them the ability to make ends meet and puts money back into the economy, which in turn sustains businesses and creates jobs.
And he will continue to come up with and propose measures that we in Washington, together, can take to spur further economic growth and job creation.
Q Has he called Mitch McConnell? Has he called John Boehner? Has he -- is he working on things that they can do? If every --
MR. CARNEY: Jake, I don’t -- I know you weren’t here yesterday, but I know you were here for most of the days before that, when this President and those leaders and others worked seven days a week to avert a major economic crisis in this country that would have made --
Q You’re the one that’s always saying the President can walk and chew gum at the same time. I’m asking you --
MR. CARNEY: But what are -- are you asking me --
Q What is he doing?
MR. CARNEY: He is focused --
Q Other than calling on Congress to pass things that you’ve been calling on Congress to pass for months -- what is he doing to help the economy?
MR. CARNEY: He is working very closely with his senior economic advisors to come up with new proposals to help advance growth and job creation. He is working with members of Congress to help advance growth and job creation. And he will continue to do that. There are things that Congress can do now to create jobs, and they should; there are things that Congress will be able to do when they return from recess to help create jobs and spur growth, and they should. And he looks forward to working with Congress to do that.
Q When the President looks at all these negative economic numbers, or “headwinds” as you like to call it, does he believe that he’s made all the right choices when it comes to the economy since he’s taken office?
MR. CARNEY: Does he believe he’s made all the right choices? I don’t -- I haven’t asked him, but I’m sure that he would say that there are always things that, in hindsight, he might have done a little differently.
The simple fact of the matter is, as I know everyone in this room knows, that the recession that this country faced when this President took office was the worst since the Great Depression. And when he took office, there were many analysts who believed that we were going to go back to another Great Depression; that we could see levels of unemployment that rivaled the Great Depression; that we could see global economic collapse; we could see the necessity of nationalizing the banks; that whole industries would go under.
That’s the world we lived in when this President was sworn into office. We had a recession that cost 8 million American jobs that, in the month prior -- in the quarter prior to and the quarter during which he was sworn into office, the economy was contracting at something like 6 percent. As you know, for a number of quarters now the economy has been growing. For over 15 months, private sector jobs have been created, more than 2 million private sector jobs.
None of this is enough, because 2.1 million private sector jobs is only a portion of the 8 million jobs that were lost by the recession that this President inherited, which is why he has worked so hard, why he has taken measures like he did -- against a lot of advice, and against the advice of a lot of folks now who have to explain why it was okay with them to lose the 1 million jobs in America that the auto industry would have lost had this President not moved to save the domestic auto industry. The measures that he took to stabilize our financial system and our banking system, and obviously the measures he took to begin the recovery in this country. Is it enough? Not even close to enough, which is why that every day this President’s focus is on the economy and on job creation.
Q But just to continue on Jake’s thought, what else can the President do? I mean, he does make -- we hear often from the podium here that he is making calls, that Congress needs to do more. Is there anything out of the box that he’s looking for?
MR. CARNEY: As I said yesterday, there is no silver bullet and I have not heard one proposed by anyone in Washington or beyond that there is a silver bullet to help our economy grow faster or create jobs.
Q Is he looking at other kinds of smaller bullets, then?
MR. CARNEY: I would note that just in recent weeks, as he was negotiating with a Congress that seemed hell bent in many ways on precipitating an economic catastrophe, he also passed historic -- or put forward a historic fuel-efficiency standards agreement with 13 major auto manufacturers at his side that will result in enormous -- $1.7 trillion in savings for American consumers and will create jobs in an industry that the United States of America should own in the 21st century, which is the clean energy industry.
So he has also -- he took a measure to allow for loan -- mortgage forbearance for the unemployed, to help those folks who are unemployed stay in their houses by giving them additional forbearance in paying their mortgages. So there are small things, medium-sized things, and big things that this President has done and will continue to do, and will look forward to doing. And he will work with Congress to do all of them.
Q And quickly, on the FAA, beyond calling for Congress to return and get this funding -- vote for this funding, what else -- what are some of these options? What other options exist out there?
MR. CARNEY: There is one simple option. You mean, to do with -- to restore the 70,000 Americans to their jobs? For Congress to act, to pass -- to come to an agreement, because of the nature of the recess there and they have the capacity to pass a unanimous consent measure that would allow an extension to be passed, which is the same kind of extension that has been passed 20 previous times just since 2007 that would send those Americans back on the job.
And to the point of the need for ideas to create jobs and grow the economy, I would suggest that perhaps some questions should be directed at Congress for why in the midst of a situation where we’re not growing enough and we’re not creating enough jobs, actions taken for political reasons in Congress have thrown 70,000 people out of work.
Q Jay, does the White House have any information about what’s happening at Virginia Tech? Has the President been briefed on that at all?
MR. CARNEY: The President has been briefed and will be updated. Beyond that, obviously we’re all reminded -- these kinds of situations are frightening regardless, but the horrible -- happening as it is now at Virginia Tech, we’re reminded of the horrible and tragic event there in 2007. We’re monitoring the situation. Right now, I would refer you to state and local officials.
Q Yesterday, you said that President Obama received a birthday call from President Medvedev from Russia.
MR. CARNEY: Well, they also had some business to transact.
Q And they had to talk about WTO. On that call, was some of the other business President Obama weighing in on Prime Minister Putin saying that Americans are parasites?
MR. CARNEY: No, to my knowledge that did not come up.
Q Does the President have any concerns about the
Prime Minister saying that about Americans?
MR. CARNEY: No. Look, the President believes that we have reset our relationship with Russia, it has borne significant fruit, that policy approach of his, and that we work together in a number of areas that are beneficial to American national security interests and American economic interests.
Q On the debt, today the Treasury Department said that because the debt ceiling has been lifted, the debt -- U.S. debt has now shot up to 100 percent of gross domestic product. It puts us in league with indebted countries like Italy and Belgium. How concerned should the average American be that we’re now in league with Italy and Belgium on debt that is 100 percent of GDP?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as those Americans, and I think many did, who paid attention to the debate over raising the debt ceiling and deficit reduction know well now, this is an important issue, and that’s why it was so important for Democrats and Republicans to come together to ensure that we addressed the need to cut our deficit and the need to do something about our long-term debt.
I think it is important -- and it’s important for everyone here when they write about this issue, even now, so late in the game -- to explain what raising the debt ceiling is. Raising the debt ceiling is not additional spending. It is simply saying, you, the United States of America, can continue to borrow the money you need to pay the bills you have already rung up. Those bills include everything that the United States government does, including paying its soldiers, sending out Social Security checks, and all the variety of things that the United States government does, and its obligations and responsibilities, including paying interest on the debt that it does have.
There is no question, we’re all in agreement and this President has been very clear about that he agrees with the idea that we need to get our long-term debt under control, which is why he worked so closely with the Speaker of the House in trying to forge a bipartisan agreement, a grand bargain, that would not just reduce spending in our domestic discretionary budget but would tackle some of the long-term drivers of our long-term -- some of the drivers of our long-term debt. And that obviously includes entitlement -- the need for entitlement reform and the need for tax reform, and why he looks forward to trying to do that again, because one of the issues that goes to our long-term debt here is that we can -- you can slice and slice and slice your domestic discretionary budget, and in the case of the Ryan budget, just your non-defense discretionary budget, and you are not really going after the problem. You need to go after the problem.
And that’s why the President looks forward, through this joint committee that’s being established through the legislation, to working with Congress to try to see if we can get something even more significant that goes right at the issue you’re asking about, which is our long-term debt.
Q Very last thing. When you were talking about jobs, undoubtedly tsunami, other disruptions have hurt the economy, but every President, either party, has these things. President Bush had Hurricane Katrina; affected domestic oil production, et cetera. These things happen.
Do you worry at all that the message to the American people is that you’re blaming all these things that are happening around the world and not taking responsibility for the jobs crisis?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don’t worry about that. And we’re not blaming anything. We’re simply pointing out that there have been factors that have affected growth globally and affected job creation at home, and those are -- I mean, it is certainly our responsibility and your responsibility to inform Americans of the facts, and those are certainly the facts, just as it’s important -- I think I saw in one television network today a graphic about the number of jobs lost under the -- during the Obama presidency that did not note the fact that when he took office we were in a job-loss freefall due to the policies, obviously, that were enacted prior to his becoming President, and that because of that recession America lost 8 million jobs, and that this President has, since the day he took office, done nothing but focus on what he can do and what he can do with Congress to reverse that, which he did and they did, and to then grow us out of the terrible hole that that recession dug for American people.
Q When did the President speak with the Speaker?
MR. CARNEY: Yesterday.
Q It was yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q And he urged him, we can assume, to call the Congress and the House of Representatives back --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think they just discussed this matter and how important it was to resolve it.
Q And did -- how did the Speaker respond? I mean, is there any prospect for Congress coming back or getting --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t speak for the Speaker, but I can tell you that that call did happen and the President is working on this issue because one thing we can do, when it comes to job creation, is -- pretty instantly, if Congress takes action -- put 70,000 people back to work.
Q Does the President have higher hopes after that conversation that Congress will come back and deal with it?
MR. CARNEY: That’s another way of asking if there was progress, and I simply will say that it is not resolved and it needs to be resolved and we remain hopeful that it will be resolved by the end of the week.
Q Again on the headwinds question -- the tsunami, higher gas prices in the spring were headwinds against the economy. Are those headwinds still in existence?
MR. CARNEY: Well, clearly, higher energy prices continue to affect the global economy. The situation in Europe is one that we believe Europe has the capacity to address and is taking measures and needs to take measures to address. Those continue.
In terms of the effect, I believe that the effect of the -- on the supplies chain that was caused by -- the global supply chain, especially in automobile manufacturing, that was caused by the earthquake and tsunami, that that has certainly diminished.
But, I mean, to Ed’s point, there are obviously things that go on that you have to -- that we have to manage and that the economic team and the overall American economy has to manage, and does. And then we get -- and then we focus on the things that we can do to mitigate the headwinds and to allow the economy to grow.
Q Well, given all that, is there an expectation by the President or among his top economic advisors when -- the unemployment numbers obviously come out for July tomorrow -- is there an expectation among the top-level folks here when the unemployment rate will begin to go down?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I won’t get into the business of forecasting unemployment figures or job growth figures, except to say that we need to work together to drive employment up and drive growth up, and that if we do that, if we do the things that we can to build a foundation for solid economic growth, to make the investments, for example, that -- in education and innovation and infrastructure that allow for economic growth and create jobs, do the things like he’s done with this historic fuel-efficiency standards agreement to give further -- give a further boost to an industry that will be so vital globally and that America should own in the 21st century, that we will see the kind of growth and job creation that we need.
Q Sort of to follow on that, why should Americans believe that the White House can create jobs when the unemployment rate has been so stagnant and the record is sort of anemic?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the White House doesn’t create jobs. The government together -- White House, Congress -- creates policies that allow for greater job creation. And that can be through tax cuts, for example, for working Americans; everyone who works pays a payroll tax. And the tax cut that this President pushed for, for one year, for this calendar year, he’s pushing for to be extended next year.
They can -- he can work to do the things that I just talked about, in terms of fuel-efficiency standards or clean energy investments. He very much supports the creation of an infrastructure bank, which has bipartisan support, which would leverage very relatively minimal amount of taxpayer dollars to allow private companies to hire folks to rebuild our infrastructure, which in turn will help create a more solid foundation for economic growth and job creation.
But as I said yesterday, there’s obviously not one single measure that solves this problem. And we can also do what this President has done, which is cut taxes for small businesses 17 times, because small businesses are the greatest job creators in this economy. So he looks forward to finding other ways that we can do that.
Q I guess what I’m saying is the President has been talking about this, as you said, since he came into office and the results haven’t been what you guys have wanted them to be -- or what Americans have wanted --
MR. CARNEY: Which is why we have to keep working.
Q And so -- and he is going on this bus tour. Like, what can he -- why should people believe him, that he is going to be able to do what he hasn’t been able to do for the last -- since he took office?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he will continue to make the case that we need to take the measures necessary as a country, working together with Congress, to -- that will spur greater economic growth and create more jobs. And he will make the case that we need to do that in ways that -- economic plans we’ve seen from others basically include sustaining or expanding tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, sustaining or expanding subsidies for industries making record profits, slashing spending in programs that assist middle-class Americans, and eliminating or ending programs like Medicare as we know it.
We do not believe that that is a jobs agenda or anything close to it. So what we have to do is reduce our deficit in a balanced way that ensures that we do not actually harm our economic growth prospects or our job creation prospects. And we have to take the measures, the kinds of which I’ve just been discussing, that will further enhance job creation and economic growth.
Q And then, lastly, Senator Portman has an op-ed today, and he suggests that every other time the debt ceiling needs to be raised that Congress do a dollar-for-dollar decrease in the reduction of the deficit. Is that something that the White House --
MR. CARNEY: So make permanent the arbitrary connection between Congress simply allowing that the government should pay the bills that it rings up and link that to, again, arbitrary numbers to reduce spending. Again, this is not a related issue. I would suspect that we do not think that would be a good idea or particularly helpful to economic growth or job creation.
Q Jay, following up on something you said a few minutes ago. You said the President had small, medium and large options to deal with the economic challenges. Given the reality -- political reality that we just saw play out in this debt and deficit debate, what are the -- which one of those options is -- are on the table for him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I gave some examples of things that were smaller in scale but will assist, for example, people who are unemployed often, if not always, through no fault of their own, who are struggling to stay in their houses. And we instituted a program that would allow for more forbearance, loan forbearance. Passing a payroll tax cut, I think, is small by no one’s estimation. And if you’re an American family that has an extra thousand dollars this year because of it, you do not consider it a small thing.
And there are other things that we continue to look to do -- passing free trade agreements, passing patent reform, creating an infrastructure bank. If Congress does that together in a bipartisan way, we could leverage a small amount of private -- of public money to spur private investment and private hiring to do -- to put people to work right away repairing roads, building roads, bridges and airports.
And these are the kinds of things that we can do working together in a way that is mindful of the fact that we have to be very careful stewards of federal dollars, because we have to be careful about our deficits and spend our dollars wisely. We have to make sure that the programs that we do fund are effective and that they’re doing what they’re supposed to do in providing the benefits they’re supposed to provide.
We have to make sure that, for example, as we reduce our Pentagon spending, we do it in a way that maintains our full national security capacities. But if we do all these things at once -- and that’s why I mean -- that’s what I mean when I say that there is no single -- no one measure you can take that answers the mail in all these cases -- but if you do them all together, you will see more positive economic growth, more positive job creation.
Q One sort of economic, logistical question: Unless I’ve missed it, we haven’t seen the mid-session review yet. When is that coming out?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t asked anybody about that. I’ll have to get back to you on it.
Q It usually comes out by now.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to check. I’ll get back to you on it.
Q The President had said the other day that he was going to be talking about new measures in addition to free trade agreements, patent reform, everything else that we’ve been hearing. Is there a timeline for that? And also, is an employer payroll tax cut on the table? And also, new housing measures?
MR. CARNEY: We’re looking at a variety of options, Julianna, and actions that could be taken to spur growth, spur job creation. I’m not going to get into specifics about what they may be. We obviously, only days ago, settled what had become a near-crisis situation in terms of resolving the debt ceiling dispute, and you can expect the President to be speaking about these issues in coming days and weeks.
Q So are --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific day for you or a specific proposal to put to you.
Q But, so, housing assistance -- the payroll -- the employer payroll --
MR. CARNEY: Again, there are a lot of ideas that are under discussion, but I don’t want to identify one or the other today.
Q And also, I believe tomorrow is Austan Goolsbee’s last day. Is there a timeline for appointing a new -- or nominating a new --
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure that will be relatively soon, but I don’t have a date for you.
Q And also, with that vacancy, with questions about whether the Treasury Secretary is staying on, do you think that that adds to uncertainty about the administration’s economic agenda?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I don’t. I mean, I think that the uncertainty about some of this stuff is driven in part by all the stories about it. And what Tim has said -- Secretary Geithner has said is that he’s going to stay with -- stay in his job for the foreseeable future.
There is, and always has been in administrations, a fair amount of turnover. These are very demanding jobs, and that will always be the case. But the President has a lot of confidence in his economic team.
Yes. Let me get -- yes.
Q For me? Okay. I have a few foreign policy questions. American troops in Iraq -- any decision made on whether the withdrawal will be slowed down?
MR. CARNEY: No. We continue to work under the status of forces agreement that we have with the Iraqi government, that will result in full withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of this year. We have said in the past that we will listen to -- consider any request that the Iraqi government might have to further our engagement with Iraq militarily, just in terms of what we might do there. But that has not been forthcoming, and we are on track to withdraw by the end of the year.
Q Were it to slow down, do you think the American people would tolerate that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t -- there is no slowdown, Connie. We’re on track to withdraw by the end of the year.
Q On Syria, other than the stepped-up rhetoric, any specific action on Syria?
MR. CARNEY: On Syria -- let’s see what I can tell you. I just -- I think what I said yesterday made clear our views of this: that through his own actions, President Assad has -- is ensuring that he and his regime will be left in the past and that the courageous Syrian people who have demonstrated in the streets will determine that country’s future.
It has become very clear around the world that Assad’s actions place Syria and the region on a very dangerous path. Assad is on his way out, and as Ambassador Ford said, we all need to be thinking about the day after Assad, because Syria’s 23 million citizens already are.
Q And finally, any observations on the domestic turmoil in Israel?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any comment on that. I refer you to the State Department.
Q And to follow up on that, on Syria, you used the very strong language and you condemned Syrian regime, obviously. But you have not used “Assad should leave.” Can you elaborate on that? And second quick question, Senator Lindsey Graham a couple days ago argued that Turkey should lead a coalition of pressure on Assad. Can you please tell us, do you think Turkey, as the longest border with Syria, can --
MR. CARNEY: Well, Turkey is a very close ally and partner. And we are working together with Turkey to put pressure on the Assad regime. Regarding your first question, I would simply say that in our view it’s very safe to say that Syria will be a much better place without President Assad. I think our feelings about the actions that he has taken, continues to take in places like Hama, are reprehensible and appalling. And we believe that country will be better off without him.
Q On Middle East peace process, you made clear that you are very determined to block Palestine’s recognition at the U.N., which they are saying that they are going for it. My question is, why do you think that Palestine’s leaders -- rest of the world should have any faith in the U.S. leadership after two decades of failure in the peace process? What is that this time you are going to --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say two things. One, that we absolutely believe -- and I don’t think anybody can credibly suggest otherwise -- that the path to Middle East peace lies through direct face-to-face negotiations. It does not come from declarations from international bodies. It has to come through peace talks.
As for this country’s engagement in the peace process, we’ve obviously been through -- administrations both Democratic and Republican -- very focused on this and have put a great deal of effort into trying to bring -- trying to do what we could to bring Palestinians and Israelis together to reach a Middle East peace deal agreement. And we continue to do that.
And I think that we are an important player in that, but we are obviously -- in the end, it has to be the two sides that come together, negotiate and work out an agreement that we can help facilitate with our other international partners. And we continue to work on doing that.
Q Is there anything different for this time that you believe you are going to be able to pull this off through negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to make a prediction about it.
Let me move around the room a little. Giles.
Q Thank you. On defense cuts, does the President believe that big, long-term up to a trillion dollars’ worth of defense cuts are the right thing to do anyway?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q All right, let me put it another way then. Does he agree at all with his predecessor Eisenhower the military industrial complex can distort policy?
MR. CARNEY: I have not had that conversation with him. I think that the President has been very clear, as he said when he laid out his framework at George Washington University and ever since, that he believes we can get additional savings from the Pentagon budget, which obviously has increased greatly in the last decade. But we have to do it prudently. We have to do it wisely to ensure that we maintain our national security.
The cuts -- it’s important to understand, and this is very complex, as you’re explaining it to your readers and viewers that there is the upfront discretionary savings in the agreement reached, that within which there is a firewall that ensures that $350 roughly billion of the savings come from defense spending. That is separate and distinct from -- and we believe, as the President said, that that is within range that is acceptable for our -- reducing our Pentagon spending, or defense spending.
The trigger mechanism, that if the committee does not succeed or if Congress does not pass what the committee produces, the trigger that would go into effect and call for direct cuts -- 50 percent/50 percent between defense and non-defense spending -- would result in reductions that this President believes would not be prudent.
As Commander-in-Chief, he believes that they would be too deep, which is another reason why it is so important that -- these triggers are created to be onerous, to be unthinkable so that they are not pulled, and to create great incentives and pressure on Congress to avoid pulling them and to instead make the hard choices that we hope this committee will make to, and that Congress will pass, to create further deficit reduction in a wiser way, in a balanced way that includes entitlement reform and tax reform.
Q Do you not think, though, that in Afghanistan specifically there is an imbalance between the massive monthly outlay through the Pentagon and spending on the political surge, State Department and other departments?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure -- different actions you take have different price tags, there’s no question. The President, as you know, has begun -- as he made clear he would do when he laid out his policy for Afghanistan -- he has begun to draw down forces there, the surge forces, in Afghanistan, and in a process that will, by the end of 2014, result in Afghan forces taking security lead in that country.
He also believes that the State Department budget is very important and that the money, the relatively small amount of money that is utilized through the State Department to advance American interests abroad, is money very well spent, and that we need to be mindful of that as we make our choices going forward.
Lynn, I haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?
Q Fine, thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Good.
Q My question is about the Midwest bus tour. I’m particularly interested in knowing what states you’re going to, what cities you’re going to, and if you could talk a little bit about what you want to achieve.
MR. CARNEY: We will have an announcement with more specifics soon. I don’t have that for you. That announcement will include locations, states and a little more on the schedule.
I think, as I said the other day, that the President looks very much forward to getting out in the country -- he’s obviously spent a lot of time here in Washington and in the White House of late -- and to hearing from Americans, in the Midwest, in this case, as he does when he goes to other parts of the country, about what’s going on in their local economies, what they think Washington can and should do to enhance economic growth, enhance job creation in their parts of the country. And that’s what this trip will be about.
Q When will you announce the cities, or when will you --
MR. CARNEY: Very soon, perhaps before the end of the week.
Q Why is he doing it by bus? Presumably he’s going to fly on Air Force One to the Midwest. Why is it a bus tour instead of another kind of --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it creates an opportunity to be, if you will, closer to the ground, and more connected with folks in that part of the country. There’s -- as you know, it also allows for easier travel, in some ways, because of the requirements that flying Air Force One in and out of certain airports in certain parts of the country are not always that easy. So it creates a lot of flexibility. But mostly I think it’s an opportunity for him to meet with folks in those communities, which I will announce later, and he very much looks forward to it.
Yes, in the back, sorry, Japanese press, yes.
Q Thank you, Jay. The Senator Coburn and Senator Webb called for end all U.S. aid to China in 2012’s budget. So what’s the U.S. government’s stand on cutting the foreign aid?
MR. CARNEY: They called for what? I’m sorry, I didn’t --
Q End to all U.S. aid to China.
MR. CARNEY: You know, I’m not --
Q Aid to China. Cutting aid to China.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, you know, I just -- I’m not aware of that call, and I really don’t have anything for you on that. If you want to follow up with my office, we can get that.
Q When the President talks about tax reform, he often says that he would like to have rates lowered, and broadening the base as well. So would he like this committee to tackle corporate as well as individual tax reform?
MR. CARNEY: You know, I don’t think we’ve -- or it has been specified. I think that we -- for a long time, since the State of the Union, the President has made clear that he would like to see corporate tax reform, and he also would like to see individual tax reform.
And in both cases, he wants to see it in a way that simplifies the tax code, lowers rates, while eliminating a lot of the loopholes and subsidies that, if you will, bastardize the process. And -- hey, it’s in the dictionary. (Laughter.) It’s clean -- and create a situation where a lot of Americans and even a lot of American businesses and industries feel that it tilts the playing field in one direction or the other, and that there is an opportunity through tax reform, both individual and corporate, to make it a fairer, more sensible system for businesses and individuals.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: All right. Thanks a lot, guys.
END 1:04 P.M. EDT
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