Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/21/2011
12:41 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everybody. Good afternoon. Thanks for coming to the White House.
Before I get started, I would like to read to you something I am still looking for -- here we go -- a readout of the President’s calls with Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Harry Reid. Today the President made separate phone calls to Speaker Boehner and Leader Reid. In his call to Speaker Boehner, the President reiterated the need and his commitment to work with Congress to extend the payroll tax cut for the entire year. And the fact that the short-term bipartisan compromise passed by almost the entire Senate is the only option to ensure that middle-class families are not hit with a tax hike in 10 days and gives both sides the time needed to work out a full-year solution.
The President urged the Speaker to take up the bipartisan compromise passed in the Senate with overwhelming Democratic and Republican support that would prevent 160 million working Americans from being hit with a holiday tax hike on January 1st.
The President also spoke with Leader Reid and again applauded him for the work he conducted with Minority Leader McConnell to achieve a successful bipartisan compromise that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate on Saturday, and Senator Reid reaffirmed his commitment to secure a bipartisan, year-long tax cut after the House passes the two-month extension.
The President urged the Speaker to allow a vote on the one compromise that Democrats and Republicans passed together --
Urged the Speaker? Did you mean the senator?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, the President urged the Speaker -- returning to the Speaker here -- to allow a vote on the one compromise that Democrats and Republicans passed together to give the American people the assurance they need during this holiday season that they will not see a significant tax hike in just 10 days. Those calls took place within the last half hour.
Q Did he get an answer from either one?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s the extent of the readout I have for you.
Q Jay, given the calls, is the White House more confident at this point that some sort of compromise could get through to prevent this tax hike from --
MR. CARNEY: The compromise exists. It is embodied in the Senate bill that was supported by 90 percent of the United States Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike. It is available even now for the House to vote on.
Unfortunately, thus far, the House leadership has refused to allow the House of Representatives to vote on that measure, which has overwhelmingly -- overwhelming bipartisan support. We urge the House leadership, Speaker Boehner, to reconsider that position, to allow the Senate bill to come up, to allow the House of Representatives to vote on it, because we are confident that it would pass with both Democratic and Republican support.
I know you all are aware, because many of you have been reporting on it, on the growing chorus of Republicans who are calling on Speaker Boehner and the House leadership to do the right thing and to pass this bipartisan compromise so that Americans don’t have their taxes go up in 10 hours -- 10 days and 11 hours. That’s the result of failing to act: Taxes go up.
The bipartisan compromise exists; it was worked out by the Senate Democratic leader and the Senate Republican leader in a process that was agreed upon with the Speaker of the House that produced a result that the Speaker of the House told his own membership that he supported and that he recommended they support.
They should just get it done, and then we can all -- the Senate, the House, the administration -- work on extending the payroll tax cut for the entire year, a commitment this President has made from the beginning when he was the first to put on the table, through the American Jobs Act, a payroll tax cut extension for 2012.
But we have to get this two-month extension done or else taxes will go up on the American people. And it really is not that difficult. The House has the ability to call up the Senate legislation, pass it and move on, and taxes will not go up. The average American family will not have to worry about how to make ends meet with $1,000 less next year.
So we urge them to do that. That’s what the President urged the Speaker to do just moments ago.
Q Would the White House and congressional Democrats be willing to give some sort of ironclad commitment to pass a full year’s tax extension by a certain date early in 2012 in exchange for passing this two-month extension?
MR. CARNEY: The President is committed to a one-year tax cut. That’s what he’s been pushing both here in Washington and around the country since September as part of the American Jobs Act, and then when it was separated out from the American Jobs Act. Senate Democrats, House Democrats are all committed to doing that. Republican leaders of both houses say they are committed to doing that. It can be done, so it would require finishing the work that Senators McConnell and Reid started as they tried to reach a year-long agreement.
They made good progress, but work needed to be done, which is why they then moved to the two-month extension to ensure that Americans didn’t have their taxes go up. That is the sensible thing to do -- pass the two-month extension, return to work on the year-long extension, or else explain to the American people -- 160 million of them -- why Congress would not listen to them, would not listen -- why the House Republicans would not listen to their Senate colleagues, would not listen to Republican elder statesmen and stateswomen all around the country and the city telling them to do the right thing here. It’s bad for the country and it’s bad for the economy and it’s bad for the American people not to pass this bill. So we feel very strongly about it, as you can tell.
Q Does the President expect to hear back from Speaker Boehner on whether this might be an option?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think it’s pretty clear -- again, not because I say it but many others are also saying it -- that the ball is in the House’s court. There is a compromise available, an avenue out of this blind alley, if you will, that they’ve driven themselves into, and it is the Senate bill. Vote on it, pass it, and we can move on to discussing and figuring out a solution for the year-long extension.
Senator Corker, Republican from Tennessee: “I know what’s going to happen and I agree with the editorial this morning in The Wall Street Journal -- probably the best thing to do at this point is just get this behind us and move on,” urging the House Republican leadership to change course and endorse a compromise reached in the Senate that got the support of 90 percent of those members, Democrats and senators alike.
Senator McCain: “It is harming the Republican Party. It is harming the view, if it’s possible anymore, of the American people about Congress.”
So do the right thing: Pass the payroll tax cut; make sure Americans don’t have their taxes go up on January 1st.
Q Jay, just staying with this theme, so specifically what is the President offering the Speaker in return for sort of reversing himself on this?
MR. CARNEY: You misunderstand here. There is not -- this is not a game of poker, high-stakes poker, as one Republican congressman deemed it. We’re talking about 160 million Americans and their paychecks. There’s no political quid pro quo here. There was a bipartisan compromise reached with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, at the direction of the Republican leader in the House, that initially garnered the support of the Republican leader in the House.
And let’s review some history here. The President and Democrats initially supported, put forward the American Jobs Act, which was paid for entirely, including the payroll tax cut extension and expansion, and the pay-fors in that bill were what the President very firmly believed that if he could have his way entirely was the way it should be done.
When Republicans blocked that and the Senate Democrats crafted a separate payroll tax cut extension with UI extension and some other measures, and tried to move it and have it paid for by asking the 300,000 wealthiest Americans, millionaires and billionaires, to pay a little extra, Republicans blocked that. So we compromised. The President, the Senate compromised.
And the deal that was passed, the compromise that was passed by the Senate by a vote of 89-10, did not have the pay-fors that the Democrats wanted, did not have the pay-fors that the President initially submitted, but they had a compromised set of provisions that paid for it that won the agreement of 89 senators, including 39 Republicans. That is the essence of compromise.
The bill even included an extraneous political victory that Republicans insisted on.
Q Let me try something else, but staying with the theme. The CR runs out on Friday. When will the President sign the omnibus bill?
MR. CARNEY: When it gets here.
Q What happens if it hasn’t got here by --
MR. CARNEY: It will get here. I’m sure -- I’m not sure if it’s physically here yet, but when it arrives there’s a process in that august institution that takes time in terms of producing the bill for him to sign, but he will sign it when it gets here.
Q All right. And on Syria, what do additional steps to pressure the Assad regime mean? What are you talking about there specifically?
MR. CARNEY: The fact is -- of the matter is that we have throughout this process worked both unilaterally and collectively to increase pressure and isolation on the Assad regime. What you’ve seen is a continuation of horrific acts of violence, needless violence, against the Syrian people.
And it’s clear that every metric shows the situation is moving against Assad: Defections of the military are on the rise. Diplomats have begun leaving their posts and coming out in support of the Syrian opposition. The opposition is more unified and more inclusive. The regime has been cut off by the Arab League, by its traditional allies and neighbors like Turkey, and the regime is under increasing financial duress due to international sanctions and weak domestic economic policies.
It is only a matter of time before this regime comes to an end. Only fear is holding it together, and governing that is based on fear is always doomed to fail.
Q Are you talking about sanctions or what?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have details to provide to you about additional measures we will take, but we will continue to pressure, working with our international partners, the Assad regime. And the writing is on the wall. The isolation increases. And more and more members of the international community of nations are joining the call for Syria to stop this atrocious behavior.
Q Clearly the President will stay in town to sign the omnibus, but now he said it’s up to the Speaker to take -- make the next move. So what is the President’s next move? Will he go join his family in Hawaii?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any scheduling updates to give you. We are obviously in a pretty fluid situation. But the President made clear in his call to Speaker Boehner earlier today, as I made clear in the readout, that the action that must be taken is the House needs to take up the Senate bill that was supported by an overwhelming percentage of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and pass it to make sure that taxes don’t go up.
Q Which is to say he has no intention of negotiating --
MR. CARNEY: The negotiating has happened already. It is not -- as I just explained, it is not at all the case that this is simply the President saying, here’s what I want and do it; this was a compromise worked out by the Republican leader in the Senate with the Democratic leader in the Senate, with the approval -- in fact, even the instigation -- of the Speaker of the House.
Q So The Wall Street Journal today opined that the President has won this battle politically -- to paraphrase, not quote them. But if the payroll tax cut is not extended, the economy -- most economists are saying we will suffer. So how concerned is the White House that it doesn’t get extended and the nation’s economy will take a big hit?
MR. CARNEY: We are very concerned of two things, the micro and the macro, if you will -- the macroeconomic effect on growth that not extending this tax cut, not extending unemployment insurance would have; outside independent economists, not the ones who seem to disagree with basic economic fact, say that it could have a negative of up to 0.5 percent of GDP.
We firmly believe that in the end, because there is such, now, overwhelming support for the payroll tax cut and extending it for a year, that this will get done. We believe that eventually the House leadership, House Republicans, will understand that this is not about giving President Obama a victory; this is about exercising their authority on behalf and at the demand of the American people, a bipartisan consensus of the American people as represented by the enormous bipartisan vote in the Senate. It’s the right thing to do.
And at the microeconomic level, we’re worried about individual families who need that extra money, an average of $40 a paycheck. As you know on Tuesday, the White House called on Americans to add their voice to the conversation here in Washington about why we need to extend the payroll tax cut. If Congress fails, if the House fails to act, the typical family making $50,000 a year will have about $40 less to spend or save with each paycheck. That adds up to about a thousand bucks for the year.
The response has been extraordinary. Over 17,000 submissions I think is the last information I got. Someone contacting us from Connecticut says, “I can buy lunch from the cafeteria for almost a whole month for my twins. I can buy food or pay for gas. I can save it for my daughter’s prescriptions -- prescription deductibles. To some people $40 is nothing, but $40 is big money for us.”
In West Virginia someone wrote in saying, “After everything that comes out, including my mortgage, my take-home pay is $150 every two weeks. So minus $40 would be $110. I can barely get by now. That 40 bucks is my gas for my car to get to work. Taking $40 away from my pay would just about put me under.”
This matters. This is real, real stuff. This is not about high-stakes poker or political brinkmanship. It’s about 160 million Americans and their families and the impact that failure to act would have on them. And the voices are growing louder from average Americans, from Republicans in Congress and the Senate -- even in the House now -- from respected commentators within the conservative arena. The House needs to act. They’re not behaving in the interests of the country. We want to do this together with them. We want to work with the Congress, with Republicans and Democrats alike. That is how we achieved the compromise in the Senate that was authored -- co-authored by Senator McConnell. It’s time to get this done for the American people.
Hey, Mr. Knoller. Nice to have you in the front row. How are you?
Q Well, thanks. Don’t tell Norah. (Laughter.) Is the White House at odds with Speaker Boehner when he said earlier today that rather than do a two-month bill now, there’s plenty of time left in the year for the Senate to come back, choose negotiators and work out a year-long extension of the payroll tax cut bill?
MR. CARNEY: We disagree with that proposition because we need the insurance -- we need to make sure that taxes do not go up on January 1st, and that insurance is the compromise two-month extension that was voted on by -- 89-10 -- by Republicans and Democrats alike in the Senate.
We are absolutely committed to working with Congress for a year-long extension. The President was out there, certainly without any Republican support in the beginning here in the fall pushing this. Republicans have gone from opposing it to tepid support to now insisting that it would cause -- we’d rather have taxes go up on the American people on January 1st than create the uncertainty of a two-month extension.
Let’s take you back to that, for some of us, distant period in the summer when Republicans were insisting that, as part of the deficit, or rather the debt ceiling negotiations, that we return to raising the debt ceiling every few months; and in fact that we would return to it by the end of the year. You want to talk about an uncertainty that would be created for the economy? The threat of default? You remember what it was like in August. So their concern about the uncertainty of passing this two-month extension seems hollow to my ears.
Q On another subject before --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, sorry, Mark, go ahead.
Q -- we let you go, is there any White House comment about eight American soldiers charged in the death of a fellow soldier in Afghanistan?
MR. CARNEY: I apologize, Mark, I haven’t got anything for you on that. But I can take the question and get back to you.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Thank you, Jay. There were reports that there were three, I believe, Iranian -- or, sorry, five Iranian engineers that were captured in Syria working on a power plant. With the statement that you issued earlier today, you said that you’re condemning, I guess, the Syrian regime and you are calling for action, I guess, bend the -- people in the region to bend against the regime, but are you calling for stronger action? I mean, this is -- or have you been speaking to your allies in the region to take stronger action against Syria? Because things are -- I mean, especially with the Iranians now in the country, I mean, it seems that things are ramping up there.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that, from the start of this process, with regards to Syria, we have ratcheted up pressure on Syria. You have seen the United States working with our partners, working with our allies, participate in an effort that has increased international isolation of Syria. And so the steps we have taken have been all in one direction, if you will, which is to put pressure on Syria to make clear that Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and to further isolate his regime as we call on him to cease the violence and to begin a democratic transition in that country.
We will continue to take those steps to pressure the regime to stop its crackdown. I think as we’ve seen in terms of the -- by the reporting and by the international condemnation of what’s happening in that country, the world is watching. And increasingly, Assad’s legitimacy is -- has been lost around the world. And that process will continue.
Q Are you aware of these reports of the Iranian engineers?
MR. CARNEY: I do, but I don’t have anything -- I mean, I’ve seen the reports, but I don’t have anything specific for you on that.
Q And there have not been discussions with people in the region for increased action?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t know -- I don’t have any response on that.
Let’s go Ed and then --
Q Thanks, Jay. Yesterday you were graciously answering my question about the President on 60 Minutes saying that maybe --
MR. CARNEY: You want to know if the invitation for Christmas still stands?
Q Well, I was going to let that pass. But have you had a chance to talk to the President? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: No updates on scheduling.
Q Okay. In all seriousness, I did ask you yesterday -- I didn’t want to belabor it after the President came out. He came out while you were talking about -- there’s been a lot talked about this week, with the President telling CBS that if you stack up his accomplishments in the first couple of years it’s the fourth best in history. He said only Lincoln and a couple others were ahead of it. So can you talk a little bit about how he compares to --
MR. CARNEY: Sure, I mean, this has obviously been of great interest in the conservative blogosphere, but the fact of the matter is, he has -- he was making a point about the volume and substance of the legislative accomplishments, and the foreign policy accomplishments, in his nearly three years in power. He was not making an assertion of -- that only historians will make about the success or -- this was not a comparison of success to other presidencies except in the significance and substance and size of the legislative accomplishments, whether it’s health care reform, which was an effort that took 100 years to accomplish; or the Recovery Act, which was an enormous response to an historic economic crisis; the bailout of the automobile industry, the saving of the American automobile industry against great political opposition; and on the foreign policy front, continuing to take the fight successfully to al Qaeda, embodied most notably in the successful mission to remove Osama bin Laden from the battlefield; the successful efforts that we led to bring the international community behind the effort of the Libyan opposition to remove Moammar Qaddafi from power.
I could go on, and believe me, I will, as time permits. But it was within the context of the substance and volume of what has happened in the face of enormous challenges in these past nearly three years.
Q Can I just follow up on another subject, which is there had been commentary a couple weeks ago but now it’s sort of died down because of the payroll tax cut fight -- but that the President might make some recess appointments. And there are a lot of people in both parties wondering, does he reserve that right? I mean, we don’t know when they’re going to actually recess, I suppose, as we continue -- this drags out. But is there a possibility that Richard Cordray could be named by recess appointment? Are there people in the NLRB? What’s your sense about that possibility?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have any announcements to make or speculation to engage in on that front. I mean, we’re not relinquishing any rights here. That’s certainly the case.
I would note that it is unfortunate that although we had some significant nominations succeed, many, many others unnecessarily have been blocked. The effect of that, whether it’s on ambassadorial nominations or judicial nominations, is very damaging, and it is a constant problem and a growing problem where random senators put holds on nominations that are absolutely uncontroversial. And that practice should stop.
And I think this President will continue to nominate highly qualified people for important positions around our government and our foreign service and onto the bench. You mentioned Richard Cordray, and this is a perfect example of an abomination in terms of Senate behavior. He is widely respected, has broad bipartisan support across the country. He is exactly the right person for the job to be the consumer watchdog, the overseer of this agency that is in place to ensure that average Americans don’t get taken advantage of by financial institutions, that they have an advocate for them here in Washington. Republicans blocked that because they want to water down Wall Street reforms, reforms that were put in place to help prevent the kind of financial crisis that almost tipped the global economy into a depression. Seems like a bad idea.
Yes. I’m sorry, I did say -- David, go ahead. Yes, sir.
Q Yesterday, the President said he needed the Speaker to do something. The Speaker said, “I need the President to do something.”
My assumption would be the Speaker expected something more than a phone call. He was looking for something from the President as far as negotiations; you say there’s nothing to negotiate. The Speaker is in a corner, he’s boxed in a corner. Is the President going to do nothing to help the Speaker get out of that corner?
MR. CARNEY: The President is doing everything he can to help the American people. The Speaker is very capable of helping himself by calling a vote on the Senate compromise, a compromise that received the support of 80 percent of the Republican senators and even a greater percentage of Democratic senators. There is a bipartisan compromise available to him as a lifesaver, if you will.
Q But politically he’s in a box. Is there anything the President can do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, honestly, the important thing here is not who’s up and who’s down politically because, as I talked about yesterday, we are beginning to see some positive signs in the economy. We are a long way from full economic recovery, but the last thing we need to do is fail to pass a payroll tax cut extension which would have a negative impact on the kind of economic growth that we have been seeing and need to continue to see. It’s just wrong at every level to prevent this from passing.
Q On North Korea, there were some indications coming out of China that maybe there’s some power-sharing agreement. Can you update us on the situation in North Korea? Have you had any kind of communications through intermediaries or the North Korean government itself?
MR. CARNEY: All I can say is that we’re monitoring the situation closely. Kim Jong-il had designated Kim Jong-un as his official successor, and at this time we have no indication that that has changed.
We hope that the new North Korean leadership will take the steps necessary to support peace, prosperity and a better future for the North Korean people, including through acting on its commitments to denuclearization.
As I stressed I think the day before last, we are in a period of transition. North Korea is in a period of national mourning. We’re monitoring events closely. We hope that the new leadership will support peace and prosperity and a better future for its people, and that it will abide by its commitments on denuclearization.
Q And no communication from the North Korean government or intermediaries?
MR. CARNEY: No, not that I’m aware of.
Q Thanks, Jay. On Tuesday, the administration called on the American people to weigh in, to lend their voices to this. Realistically speaking, do you think that that’s going to help break this impasse? And if so, why? I know you just read some testimonials.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I do think it will because as I’ve said now for a while, even prior to this current situation, we are optimistic or at least hopeful that Congress will act on some of these common-sense, mainstream measures to help grow the economy, help the American people and improve our employment situation, not because we’re for them -- that’s probably a negative in the eyes of the highly politicized and partisan House of Representatives Republican Party, but because their constituents are demanding it.
And I, of course, don’t have a ton of data here, but I suspect that the voices that we’re hearing from -- by people who are responding to the #40dollars that we started yesterday, that they are representative of folks around the country in the districts of House Republicans, as well as Democrats in the states all over the country for whom $40 a paycheck is a big deal, that it means the difference -- for someone from North Carolina, it’s the -- “That $40 buys my gas for a week to drive to work, or it buys my groceries for a week. It’s hard enough making ends meet and $40 is a lot of money to me.”
In Texas: “That is almost one week of groceries for me or how much it costs to fill my gas tank for one and a half weeks or medical co-pays at the specialist office. Which one am I to go without? This is going to hurt. Please don’t let this happen.”
Look, I think that the thousands of responses we’ve had so far are representative of the hundreds of thousands and millions of responses you would get if you were -- and if the members of the House of Representatives were to survey their own constituents.
For most people, $1,000 out of their paycheck next year is an enormous hit, and in this economy, we cannot let that happen.
Q And on Afghanistan quickly --
MR. CARNEY: Sorry.
Q -- a senior military commander suggested that troops might need to, in fact, stay -- American forces might need to, in fact, stay beyond 2014. Can you respond to that? And is that a possibility --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question. Thank you, Kristen. As established in Lisbon at NATO and as made clear through the President’s Afghanistan policy, one, we are in the process of drawing down the surge. And by the end of 2014, we will have turned over full security lead to Afghan forces.
We have made clear all along that much as in Iraq when we turned over full security lead to the Iraqi forces that would be part of a process that may include troops in support. And make no mistake -- and I have an announcement to make, which is that we have met the commitment to reduce by the end of this year our forces by 10,000 in Afghanistan, as we begin to reduce the surge forces, as the President committed to do. And we will continue that process, and when the surge forces are out between that end date, which I guess is September of next year, through the end of 2014, there will be a continued reduction in U.S. forces as we turn over more and more of the country to Afghan security lead.
That has been clearly spelled out from Lisbon on so that -- and is entirely consistent with what General Allen said.
Q And so just to put a point on it, the commander was wrong -- was not --
MR. CARNEY: No, I said it’s entirely consistent with what General Allen said, that the process of turning over entirely the security lead to the Afghans is the result of a gradual reduction of forces and a building up of Afghan security forces.
We have said from the beginning that there could be U.S. forces in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014 in a support role just as they were after August 2010 in a support role in Iraq. From that point forward in Iraq, we have drawn down now to zero in accordance with our agreement with the Iraqi government. So that is entirely consistent.
Q Back on the payroll tax cut for a second, a follow-up to David’s question. Put yourself in the Speaker’s shoes -- are you suggesting that he cobble together maybe a House majority of willing Democrats and whatever Republicans he might be able to get to go along, even if it goes against the majority of his own caucus in the House?
MR. CARNEY: Am I suggesting that for the sake of 160 million people he should allow this vote to happen and allow his House Republicans to vote their conscience, which would result, because of overwhelming Democrat support, in the passage of the Senate bill? Yes.
Q That’s one way he could do it.
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. That’s the reason why they didn’t vote on it the other day, because it would have passed. And that’s the shame of all this. There are, I’m confident, more than enough House Republicans who want to bring this to an end, who want to ensure that Americans don’t have their taxes go up on January 1st and certainly don’t want to explain to their constituents why they took a vote so that their taxes would go up.
And if it came to the floor of the House, it would pass. It would have near unanimous support from Democratic members, and I am confident that the 30-odd Republicans it would require to pass this measure would vote yes, at least. And then we can move on to the next thing that we all agree on, which is that we have to get this payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extended for the full year.
Q Might that not spark a revolt within his own caucus?
MR. CARNEY: The President has an enormous amount of responsibilities. Every President does. He cannot be responsible for the internal politics of the other party in one house of Congress. He is simply focused on doing what is best for the American people, and working with Republicans, as well as Democrats, to achieve what’s best for the American people. And that’s what the bipartisan compromise reached in the Senate represents. Ninety percent of the United States Senate on a substantive issue, an important issue like this, is quite an accomplishment. Senators McConnell and Reid deserve a lot of credit for the work they did on achieving the two-month extension and on the progress they made towards a full-year extension. And so the House should act on that.
It doesn’t happen that often when we have this kind of bipartisan consensus on an important issue. We should act on it.
Q I’m just trying to get a little bit better sense of what happens next. As you said, the ball is in the House’s court. Did the President set any time -- did he and Boehner set any time to talk again? Or is this the time, the time that’s behind here on this clock?
MR. CARNEY: There is nothing more I can read out to you from the conversation with the Speaker of the House. The President was very clear, and I provided you the essence of what he said to the Speaker. There is an available solution: The House should pass the two-month extension to ensure that Americans’ taxes don’t go up.
The President, as he has repeatedly, affirmed his commitment to a one-year extension. He, after all, started this conversation and has been pushing for a full-year extension since September -- and there is a way to get there. And this President and Democrats have been clearly willing to compromise, to accept that they could not get Republican support for what we believe and they believe was the right thing to do, which was ask the 300,000 wealthiest Americans, millionaires and billionaires all, to pay a little bit more so that 160 million Americans got a tax cut.
But since the Republicans oppose that almost unanimously, Senate Democrats, with this President’s full support, were able to work out a compromise with Senate Republicans, that included pay-fors that we found acceptable and that made sense as a policy matter, that did not violate the President’s principles in terms of doing damage to the economy or harming the very people you’re trying to help with the payroll tax cut extension or with unemployment insurance.
Q So why did he decide to call Boehner? When you were asked yesterday if he was going to be calling Boehner you laughed it off.
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn’t laugh it off. I simply said that there was an available action here that the House should pass the Senate bill. The President speaks with Speaker Boehner periodically. He called him to urge him to do the right thing here, which is bring up the Senate bill in the House, which is something he can still do, contrary to some tweets I’ve seen out there. They absolutely can take up the Senate bill and pass it. It will be signed by this President, gladly.
Margaret, and then -- I’m sorry, then I -- Margaret, then in the back, and then I’ll jump around -- Laura. Settle in, folks.
Q I’m going to, like, take a stab at this, but I feel like it may not work. (Laughter.) So I feel like we’re all caught in the middle of basically a game where I’m wondering -- are you guys just sort of making the House Republicans twist in the wind a little bit more, and then this is going to get worked out? It just seems, if the President was really done with it wouldn’t he just be on a plane to Hawaii right now?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any scheduling updates to give you. The President just got off the phone within the last hour now with the Speaker of the House, urging him to do the right thing, to take up the Senate bill.
This is not about, like -- look, there’s a clear avenue here. We’re shining a light on the path out of this cul-de-sac that they’ve driven themselves into, and it is to vote on a bill that -- we’re not asking them to vote on a bill that only Democrats supported, we’re asking them to vote “yes” on a bill that 82 percent or something, or 80 percent of Senate Republicans supported.
Q Doesn’t the House --
MR. CARNEY: It seems not that much of an ask.
Q Doesn’t the House’s way out of it now effectively do that with just sort of a little bit more so that their members can vote for it? And I mean, in the end, if what you really want is just a resolution, doesn’t that resolve that without really undercutting the places where you guys want to --
MR. CARNEY: Closing what resolve?
Q A two-month extension with some language that requires a year-long deal. I mean, isn’t that -- it doesn’t seem that out of reach.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know what that means. Requires a year-long deal on whose terms? I mean, you saw what the House Republicans put out yesterday, and clearly demonstrating that this is not a payroll tax cut for them, it’s about trying to get some political victories on ideological issues. So they took the willingness that Senate Democrats demonstrated and this President demonstrated to accept their totally extraneous provision on Keystone, and decided that that wasn’t enough, they wanted a little more, and they wanted a bunch of other things that simply moved them away from bipartisanship and moved them away from compromise.
So the President is committed to a full-year extension. He has demonstrated his willingness to agree to pay-fors that are different from the ones he put forward and from the ones that Senate Democrats put forward. But they have to make sense. They have to make economic sense, and they have to make sense in terms of the impact on average Americans out there.
So they should pass the two-month, and then we can get to negotiating the year-long.
Q On Iraq, the Vice President made a couple of phone calls yesterday, and I guess I’m just wondering, is the President -- has the President or has Vice President Biden spoken with the Vice President of Iraq? What is -- what was the point of those calls? How does President Obama feel about the arrest and the charges against this Vice President? And what, if anything, at this point can the U.S. do about it? Are you considering pulling aid? If you’re not -- if we’re not --
MR. CARNEY: Well, Margaret, let me stop you there. First of all, I think we read out some of the calls that the Vice President made. Separately, this kind of political turmoil has been occurring in Iraq periodically, as they have taken steps forward and, occasionally, steps backward, but generally made progress towards political reconciliation, towards democracy, and away from the use of violence in pursuit of political ends. That has been progress, but it has often been hard won.
That will continue. We certainly expect that there will be difficult days ahead in Iraq. But the progress has been substantial. What is utterly nonsensical is the suggestion that somehow we should have left troops in there, and that would have had any impact on the political disputes. Because maybe folks weren’t paying attention, but political disputes have been happening while there were 40,000 troops, 80,000 troops, 150,000 troops. The key metric here is that those political disputes have increasingly been resolved through negotiation, not through violence, and elections were held, a government was established -- these are all signs of important progress -- all while violence declined significantly.
We will continue to have a robust and important relationship with Iraq. We will continue to have frequent, I’m sure, discussions with Iraqi leaders. And we will continue to weigh in and encourage Iraqi leaders to make smart decisions as they continue to move forward with the development of their democracy.
I wanted to -- as long as we’re on foreign policy, I just want to be clear on a question that Kristen had about Afghanistan. I just want to say, on 2014, the President will make his decisions on the size and shape of our post-September 2012 presence, after the reduction of the surge forces, at the appropriate time in consultation with our Afghan and NATO partners. Any post-2014 presence would of course be at the invitation of the Afghan government, and would ensure that we will be able to target terrorists and support a sovereign Afghan government so that our enemies cannot outlast us. I just want to be clear about that.
But the framework that I discussed at the top was laid out at Lisbon.
I think I owe you -- yes, Lesley.
Q Can I ask a quick question, following on Margaret’s question? Do you have any reaction to the Prime Minister’s sort of suggestions today that he wants to shed some of the members of the coalition government that he might not sort of get along with?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we have -- I would refer you -- I don’t have it in front of me -- to -- we did a readout of the Vice President’s calls, yes -- to that statement. And we have worked, the Vice President has and other members of the President’s team have, with Iraq on the political process. It is very important, and has been, and will continue to be, that Iraqi leaders pursue a representative government so that everyone’s interests are properly represented. And beyond that, I would just refer you to the statement we put out.
Q He also said that the U.S. has asked him to free some of the Hashimi guards that he had jailed.
MR. CARNEY: Who did?
Q He said that the U.S. government had asked him to free some --
MR. CARNEY: Maliki did? I don’t -- I just don’t have anything more on that for you today.
Q Two quick questions. Can I just --
MR. CARNEY: Alexis and then, yes --
MR. CARNEY: John, of course. Okay, Alexis, then John.
Q Two quick questions. I want to clarify: You were reading these moving comments from people who talk about what they can do with $40. The President had originally asked for the 3.1 percent, an expansion. When he’s thinking about getting a year extension, and I just want to clarify, he’s still talking about sticking with an extension, not an expansion, considering that they would get 60 bucks a paycheck, correct?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no question, but that was part of -- and I’m glad you mentioned it, Alexis -- because that was part of our compromise.
Q He’s not going to argue for that -- if he gets the two-months insurance, he’s not going to then say, okay, look, let’s go back to talking about expanding this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to predict, but he may say that that would be a good thing to do. But he is absolutely willing to sign a appropriately paid-for one-year extension of the payroll tax cut at its current levels. He -- you’re absolutely right -- initially supported an expansion of that, and as part of the compromise -- another data point in my presentation on the ways in which the President and Senate Democrats have compromised in these negotiations, and the way that that compromise has led to a result that garnered a vote of 89-10 in the Senate -- I mean, I think that’s, again, a demonstration of his understanding that in a divided government you don’t get everything you want. And he was willing -- he is very willing to sign into law this two-month extension that was passed by the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. And he is very eager to work with Congress to continue the progress that Senators McConnell and Reid made towards extending it for a full year at its current level.
He believed, and still believes, of course, that more would be better. But what absolutely must not happen is that nothing is passed by the House and taxes go up.
Q So let me ask another question to follow up on Ed, real quick. Ed’s question about the President’s sense of history and where he fits into it -- in my previous experience covering the White House, most presidents get that information from somebody who does that analysis for them, somebody -- from a historian or a political scientist or a political advisor. Can you tell us where that assessment came from? Did the President do it himself?
MR. CARNEY: The President is a well-read individual, and was prior to coming into office, and reads voraciously in office. So, no. I mean, I think that’s -- look, I think that’s an assessment that others may have made on the outside simply by the sheer volume of what has been accomplished by this President and by Congress in the last three years. And part of the size of the record -- and voters will judge it and historians will judge it in terms of where it fits in terms of American history and its relative success or greatness.
That’s not what he was talking about. He was talking about -- he came into office, working with Congress, facing enormous challenges for this country -- an economy in freefall, the real threat of a global depression, two wars and enormous challenges elsewhere in foreign affairs -- and he, with Congress, took action to deal with them. That’s what the times demanded.
And Congress passed some very big pieces of legislation that did big things -- Wall Street reform, successfully saving the American automobile industry, the Recovery Act, health care reform -- and then, of course, as I mentioned, a number of foreign policy successes -- successfully and responsibly ending the war in Iraq, beginning the drawdown in Afghanistan, taking the fight aggressively to al Qaeda, repositioning ourselves -- reorienting ourselves to reassert ourselves as a Pacific player and power because of the neglect that the prior administration had towards Asia.
These are all big things. And you all and your successors and historians will judge the success of the things that he’s done, and voters will have an opportunity obviously to do that in less than a year. But there’s no arguing about the volume and the substantial nature of what has been done.
Q Can we just ask -- the Speaker’s office has put out a little readout of the call, and they’re saying that Speaker Boehner appears to be dug in as well, just as the President was on the two-month. Speaker Boehner is saying, bring the Senate back, appoint the conferees, what we’ve heard before. And the quote from the Speaker’s office is that the Speaker said, “Let’s get it done today.” So where are we? We seem to be at the same spot.
MR. CARNEY: Today, Congressmen Van Hollen and Hoyer, if I’m not mistaken, attempted to bring up the Senate bill in the House and they were gaveled down by Republican congressmen.
That opportunity is there. If the Speaker wants to get it done today I’m sure we can get it done today. We can pass the two-month extension.
Q He said he wants a one-year extension.
MR. CARNEY: Well, he knows, and the President made very clear to him, that the avenue available to him, the Speaker of the House, to avoid raising taxes on 160 million Americans is to pass the measure that won overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate. This sudden insistence on the uncertainty created by a two-month extension is just -- you guys know, you’ve been covering this. You know it’s -- it just doesn’t ring true, right?
I mean, this was the same leadership that thought it would be a good idea for the global and American economy to have periodic fights and stalemates over -- and brinkmanship -- over defaulting on the full faith and credit of the United States government. Talk about uncertainty.
The uncertainty that we have to eliminate is the uncertainty that Americans have right now about whether or not their taxes are going to go up on January 1st. There is a bipartisan compromise available to make sure that doesn’t happen -- just take it. Just take it. Follow the advice of numerous Republican senators. Follow the advice of the Wall Street editorial page -- words I never thought I’d speak. (Laughter.) Follow the advice of Senators McCain and Corker and Grassley and others, and pass the bipartisan compromise. Make sure that Americans don’t have their taxes go up on January 1st.
Q Since the Speaker has now responded to your statement and says that he wants the President to urge Senator Reid to appoint conferees, isn’t this the classic definition of a stalemate or a deadlock?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s a classic -- there is a stalemate in that the Speaker will not act. A bipartisan compromise was negotiated. And as you know and reported on, it was supported overwhelmingly by Republicans in the Senate. It was the product of a negotiation that the Speaker of the House helped initiate and urged to happen. It was a product that the Speaker of the House endorsed through his own colleagues on a conference call, as has been widely reported. It is a product that has the support of Republicans in the Senate, in the House, outside, in conservative circles. It should just get done.
And what is absolutely the wrong way to look at this and would be a disservice to readers and viewers would be to say both sides are to blame; neither side wants to compromise; Democrats won’t move and Republicans won’t move. No. That’s not the story of what happened here in the Senate. Democratic leaders, Republican leaders got together, worked out a compromise that won overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats. That’s the kind of stuff people are dying to see in Washington, and it worked; the President supports it.
For a while, it seemed -- or 24 hours there -- it seemed like House leaders in the Republican Party supported it, until I guess they were told not to by a subfaction or some representation, some sizeable group within the House Republican conference.
But that’s not -- they’re not speaking for the overwhelming majority of the American people, Republicans in the country, for -- certainly for their colleagues in the Senate, all of whom want them to pass this bipartisan, sensible compromise to ensure that Americans don’t have their taxes go up, and then as everybody has agreed on, to then refocus our efforts on getting a full-year extension.
MR. CARNEY: That’s the way out there. There is a bill -- there is a bipartisan compromise available. The negotiation has happened. He sat down with Senator McConnell and Senator Reid and urged that process to begin. They worked hard on a year-long. When they felt like they couldn’t do it by the end of the year they recommended this two-year -- two-month compromise. Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly agreed. They should take it up and pass it.
Q Two questions. One is, can you tell us how long the conversation lasted with the Speaker?
MR. CARNEY: About 10 minutes. I don’t have an exact time for you, but it seemed like about 10 minutes.
Q And so obviously more was said than what you said in the readout if it was 10 minutes long.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to give you a transcript if that’s what you mean. But, look, the President --
Q Unless they just both repeated themselves over and over. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: The President was very clear in stating what I told you he said. I don’t think he could be any clearer.
Q I guess what I’m trying to figure out is both sides have now put out readouts where they say that their principals essentially reiterated their public positions. My question is whether in this conversation there was any hope for advancing this beyond the publicly stated position of each side.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’ve given you the readout. There aren’t -- it is an absolutely fair representation of what the President said, and I leave it to the Speaker to characterize what he said. But what I described to you is exactly what the President said. It is exactly his position. It is his public position and it is his private position the House should take up the Senate compromise.
Q You’ve talked a lot about how everyone is committed to a year-long deal and we’ll get that done, but we just need to pass this crisis moment. What makes you think that it’s going to be so easy to get a year-long deal, given that, with all due respect, the parties have failed to do so until now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, Senators Reid and McConnell made progress; that process needs to continue. The ways -- there are ways to do this that are not difficult. They represent choices, but there are ways to pay for this that the President can accept, Democrats can accept, and we see no reason why Republicans wouldn’t accept.
The issues that they put forward in their -- whatever that thing is that they voted on yesterday so that they could avoid actually voting on the bill, were filled with things that had nothing to do with the payroll tax cut. Nothing at all.
Q Right, but what makes you think that you’re going to be able to get past all those things that have nothing to do with the payroll tax when you start negotiating in January?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that the voices of the people from West Virginia, Texas, Connecticut and everywhere else are going to be heard.
But let’s be clear: Great progress was made in the Senate. There are ways to do this for a year that everybody, we believe, can agree on -- certainly, at least, the President, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats, as well as House Democrats. I mean, there’s one -- speaking of isolation -- I mean, there’s one isolated group here that doesn’t want to join the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Republicans who support doing one thing on behalf of the American people.
Increasingly, I think that isolation is becoming clear. And I expect that House Republicans will be hearing from their constituents and maybe from other folks whose opinion they respect, and maybe that will have an effect.
The politics of this are really so far less important than the substance here, because as I think Jessica pointed out early on in the briefing, there is an absolute economic impact of failing to act here. There’s a macroeconomic impact, a reduction of economic growth by up to 0.5 percent. That would have a direct effect on employment. There would be a terrible and direct effect on those who would no longer receive unemployment insurance as they’re trying to meet their house payments and pay their bills while they’re looking for a job.
And all of that -- the withdrawal of all of those resources from the economy would be negative, and the effect on individuals of losing $40 in their paycheck, every paycheck, is real and harmful. At this time where we’re still in a fragile stage of our economic recovery where things are getting better but are far from good enough, the last thing Congress should do is, in an act of total disregard for a bipartisan consensus, total disregard for the effect it would have on 160 million people, refuse to vote on this compromise.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, John, it took me so long.
Q No, that’s all right. It seems that the payroll tax cut is going to expire whether it’s 10 days from now or two months or a year from now. And you just spoke about the impact that it would have if it’s not extended on middle-class families -- 160 million taxpayers out there. Has the President or his economic team given any thought to making this payroll tax cut permanent?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Why not?
MR. CARNEY: Because it was specifically -- it was specifically designed to -- a year ago, working with Republican leaders, designed to give the economy at that moment the boost that it needed and, again, notwithstanding those who choose to ignore basic economic facts and call themselves economists nevertheless, it has had a very positive impact this year on the economy, both on growth and job creation, and would continue to have that.
Now, at some point, you hope that the recovery is at a stage where we would no longer need that added help. That’s why it is a one-year measure.
Again, the debt ceiling -- the willingness to go through a debt ceiling showdown every three or six months I think makes clear that their concern about -- the stated concern about uncertainty is suspicious to say the least. But there’s also -- Republicans overwhelmingly supported the temporary Bush tax cuts, right? So this is a real-world impact. This is not an esoteric exercise. It’s not a political exercise. It’s a bill that would either provide Americans with an extra $40 per paycheck or take it away.
And Americans who live paycheck to paycheck and Americans who are doing a little bit better than that and saving a little bit will have to change their budgeting next year if the House walks away from this bipartisan compromise that 80 percent of Senate Republicans support but for some reason the House Republican leaders don’t.
Q So the President and the administration believes, then, that a year from now those taxpayers that you referenced will be able to handle that $40 hit in their paychecks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are a lot of things that -- there’s a lot of water to pass under the bridge economically between now and a year from now. There are a lot of -- as you know, reporting as you do on these issues -- a lot of other things that will have to be decided next year economically that will have potentially an effect on tax rates and a number of issues economically.
We would also certainly hope that the -- I’m not here making any kind of economic prediction about growth or anything except to say that we need to take the measures we can take to help the recovery along, to give it the kind of momentum that will lead to the kind of economic growth that will bring down the unemployment rate and put people back to work and eventually get us to a point where, yes, we would not need that kind of measure that we need now and that Americans need now.
Q The President’s shopping trip real quick? He’s got Bo, he’s buying dog stuff, he’s getting pizza and stuff. So what’s the symbolism, what’s the --
MR. CARNEY: I’m personally looking forward to a little of that pizza, having not had lunch. (Laughter.)
Q What symbolism, if any, should we read into it? Is the message that the dog is the President’s best friend because it’s Washington this time of year? (Laughter.) Is the message that everyone should go out and spend -- is the message that everyone should go out and spend money before Christmas? Is the message that -- is there no message and this is just the first time he’s had a chance to go shopping? Or is the message that he can’t get anything done until Congress acts, so he might as well go shopping? (Laughter.)
Q He did buy a game that cost about $40.
Q It’s multiple choice.
Q Hashtag 40 --
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t vote for --
Q And an expensive chew toy.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I think Scott did my work for me there. So -- no, the -- I would refer you to the pool report. I was here as this OTR, as we call them, was happening. The President is obviously very busy here. Shortly before making that excursion he was on the phone with Senator Reid and Speaker Boehner. And sometimes it’s nice to get out of the house.
Thanks very much.
1:46 P.M. EST
March 24, 2014
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