Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/28/2013
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:56 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here. A couple of things I want to bring to your attention before I take your questions.
First of all, you should have seen moments ago a statement from the President on the House passage of the Violence Against Women Act. The President says in this statement:
“I was pleased to see the House of Representatives come together and vote to reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act. Over more than two decades, this law has saved countless lives and transformed the way we treat victims of abuse. Today’s vote will go even further by continuing to reduce domestic violence, improving how we treat victims of rape, and extending protections to Native American women and members of the LGBT community.
The bill also reauthorizes the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, providing critical support for both international and domestic victims of trafficking, and helping ensure traffickers are brought to justice.
I want to thank leaders from both parties, especially Leader Pelosi, Congresswomen Gwen Moore and Senator Leahy, for everything they’ve done to make this happen. Renewing this bill was an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear. And I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk.”
I would note that the vote in the House was bipartisan, substantially. It was 286 to 138. That included 199 Democratic yes votes, 0 Democratic no votes; 87 Republican yes votes, 138 Republican no votes.
Secondly, I’d like to mention the Republican bill in the Senate that supposedly would provide flexibility on how to deal with or implement the sequester. We have put out a statement of administration policy on this, and I think you will note that we believe no amount of flexibility changes the fact that these severe cuts threaten thousands of middle-class jobs and slash vital services for children, seniors and our troops and military families.
There is no way to cut spending this dramatically over a seven-month period without drastically affecting national security and economic priorities. The Republican proposal is the worst of all worlds. It explicitly protects pork-barrel projects and every single tax loophole that benefits the wealthy, but puts on the table cuts to things like Medicare and education, forcing middle-class families to bear the burden while asking nothing from the wealthiest Americans. This doesn’t solve the problem; it makes the problem worse.
This bill is an effort to shift the focus away from the need for the Congress to work toward a bipartisan compromise that would avoid sequestration. The Congress must act responsibly to avert sequestration through balanced deficit reduction, and stop endangering the nation's economic recovery.
With that, I'll go to the Associated Press.
Q Thanks, Jay. This meeting with congressional leaders tomorrow, is this a meeting to focus solely on dealing with the sequester? Or does the focus turn now to a bigger deal to deal with the spending cuts, but also some of these other deadlines with the CR and with debt ceiling issues?
MR. CARNEY: That's a very good question, Josh. Two things I would say. First of all, the Senate will vote on the proposal put forward by Democrats that would deal with the sequester, postpone the sequester in a balanced, responsible way. We expect that that bill will get majority support in the Senate. The only reason why it might not pass the Senate is because a minority of Republicans, led by the Republican leader, would filibuster that bill -- a pretty stark indication of the state of things when a bill that has majority support is blocked by a minority, when that bill would avert the problem that we have confronting us with this imminent deadline.
So we'll have to see what the Senate actually does, whether Republicans filibuster this bill. That has not happened yet. Maybe they'll have a change of heart. And that will obviously affect the topics of conversation tomorrow in the meeting with the President.
The President believes we need to come together and deal with the sequester. And the sequester is just one piece of the broader challenge here, which is reducing our deficit in a balanced way. That's what the sequester was part of when it was included in the Budget Control Act. And it was designed as policy that would never come into effect because it was so onerous for both sides. It would compel Congress to reach a compromise that reduced our deficit by a further $1.2 trillion.
The President, as you know, has put forward a proposal that is balanced, that works on -- that continues the progress that we've made in deficit reduction, $2.5 trillion thus far, more than two dollars in spending cuts for every dollar in revenue represented in that $2.5 trillion of deficit reduction -- the kind of balance that tilts toward spending cuts that this President has put on the table, the kind of balance that we haven’t seen, unfortunately, from Republicans.
But he hopes that -- whether it is action by Republicans to deal with the sequester in the short term in a balanced way, or to take up the project of a bigger deal and more deficit reduction that helps us reach that $4 trillion goal, he will be hoping that Republicans, whether it's the short term or the long term, are ready to talk seriously about compromise and making sure that Washington is not inflicting wounds on the economy right when the economy should be growing and creating jobs.
Q Well, is there anything that's off the table for tomorrow? Were there any preconditions from either the President or from Republicans in terms of taxes or things that are not to be part of what's asked for tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, there are no preconditions to a meeting like this. This is a meeting with the President and leaders of Congress, both parties. And obviously, any topic is up for discussion if one member of the group decides he or she wants to broach it. The immediate purpose of the meeting is to talk about the imminent sequester deadline and the need to avert it -- the need, if it is implemented, to take action in a balanced way to deal with our deficit reduction in a way that doesn’t unduly burden seniors, or middle-class families, or parents of children with disabilities, that asks everyone to bear the burden, and that by doing that, allows our economy to continue to grow, to continue the recovery that we've seen underway now for three years, but that still has a long way to go.
So the President is firm in his conviction that we need to include balance in our deficit reduction. It is unacceptable, it is a “my way or the highway” approach to say that revenues shouldn't be part of it -- because as it's true of the proposal Republicans in the Senate are putting forward today, what's true about that proposal is true with the general Republican position, which is that they would rather see sequester take effect with its job loss, with its negative effect on economic growth, than ask a single wealthy individual to pay a little bit more, to give up a special tax break, to ask some big corporations or industries to forego their loopholes or limit their deductions. And that's just not a position that is sustainable, we believe, and it's not fair to the American people.
Q On another topic, today is the deadline for the administration to file an amicus brief if it chooses to do so in the Prop 8 case before the Supreme Court. Will the administration be filing a brief in that case?
MR. CARNEY: As I've said in the past, decisions about filing briefs are legal and constitutional matters, so best to address those questions to the Department of Justice.
Q Just going back to what you were saying earlier, why is the President so concerned about closing loopholes now when six weeks ago as part of the fiscal cliff deal, he was very interested in agreeing to sign into law loopholes that protected certain industries like the wind industry and NASCAR and films?
MR. CARNEY: Well, a couple of things. One, as part of the end-of-the-year negotiations, we were focused, as were the Republicans, on the imminent prospect of taxes going up on middle-class Americans. And that had to be resolved and was resolved. We were also focused on the need to return the top marginal rate to the level it was under President Clinton, 39.6, for the wealthiest Americans, and that was achieved. And that produces now in the 10-year window a certain amount of revenue toward deficit reduction. That's obviously a positive development.
The fact is the loopholes that we have identified are similar to some of the ones that John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, has identified as worthy of closing, as not good for our tax code, not good for economic fairness. And those are the ones we believe should be closed.
And additionally, in our proposal to the Speaker of the House we’ve put forward a provision that would cap deductions at 28 percent for millionaires and billionaires -- that would produce a certain amount of revenue -- and the combination would achieve the level necessary of revenue as part of an overall deficit-reduction package that includes savings from entitlements that would complete the job of getting $4 trillion-plus in deficit reduction over 10 years.
The fact of the matter is that proposal that the President made to Speaker Boehner, which everyone here I think, or most people here recognized as an effort by the President to compromise, to make tough choices for Democrats, is still on the table. And we hope that the Speaker would consider taking up that proposal, because just -- I think it was yesterday or the day before -- the Speaker talked about how he believes we could and should reform the tax code. The fundamental difference here now seems to be not that we shouldn’t close loopholes and cap deductions for the wealthiest individuals and corporations that are given special treatment in the tax code -- the Speaker seems to agree with that. The disagreement here now seems to be that he believes that the savings from that action, the savings from closing those loopholes, should be funneled back to the wealthiest individuals in tax cuts.
We believe adopting a conservative position that that savings should be applied to deficit reduction, and thereby by applying that savings to deficit reduction we’re not asking seniors and middle-class families to bear the burden of deficit reduction all by themselves -- and that's a pretty conservative position. That's a pretty reasonable, middle-of-the-road, common-sense approach to both tax reform and entitlement reform.
Q But on the specific issue of tax loopholes and allowing -- or agreeing to continue some but now saying these other ones are bad, is there any contradiction that you have to square your messaging on that?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don't think -- if you’re asking me is the wind energy tax credit that helps support thousands of jobs and, importantly, contributes to the development and growth of clean energy technologies in this country, so the jobs in those industries are created in this country, I would say absolutely yes. And a number of Republicans agree with us.
If you ask me if an industry -- we’re talking about clean energy, energy jobs of the future -- if you’re asking if subsidies that have been in effect for 100 years for the oil and gas industry, taxpayer subsidies given to an industry that is doing quite well, as everyone here who has filled up their tank recently can attest, whether those subsidies and special tax breaks should be continued, the answer is no. They're bad policy.
That's something that actually Ronald Reagan agrees with. He said numerous times he had proposed to close that special tax break and loophole for the oil and gas industry back in 1985 when he thought at the time that the need for that subsidization of the oil and gas industry had run its course. And that was almost 30 years ago.
Q Just on Syria briefly, is the U.S. government helping in any way to train Syrian opposition rebels?
MR. CARNEY: I think you saw Secretary Kerry announce an increase in our assistance to the opposition, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, in Rome today. He stood with our partners in that coalition and reaffirmed the commitment of President Obama to help the Syrian people transition to a Democratic inclusive and peaceful Syria.
Bashar al-Assad has lost all legitimacy and must go. We stand united with the Syrian people on this, and we will continue to offer support to the Syrian opposition even as other countries choose to make it possible for Assad to continue his violent campaign against his own people.
Secretary Kerry announced today that to translate our support into tangible assistance, we will provide an additional $60 million in nonlethal support to the Coalition’s operational needs. That comes on top of $50 million already provided in nonlethal assistance to the opposition, and is separate from the $385 million in humanitarian assistance that we have been providing to the Syrian population.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Major.
Q I’ll get to sequester in a minute. I just wondered if the President took note yesterday at all of the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act, if he was briefed on it, has any particular reaction to it. It could be described in many ways, but lively would be one way to describe it.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t spoken with him about it. I know that White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler was in attendance, but I have not spoken with the President so I don't have a reaction from him on those arguments. I will say that while I can't comment on specific litigation -- and for comment on that, I would refer you to the Department of Justice -- I can say that it is the President’s position and the White House position that voting is a basic democratic right. And the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act itself passed with bipartisan support in Congress and was signed into law by President Bush just seven years ago.
The protections offered in the Voting Rights Act have been critical to reducing discrimination in voting in the more than four decades since the law was first passed, and continue to play an important role. As the President has said, “We must remain vigilant in guaranteeing access to the ballot box.”
Q On the sequester issues, when will the President’s budget be sent to the Congress, and why is it so far behind schedule?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve addressed this question in the past. I don't have a date --
Q There’s word of a new delay. That's the reason I’m bringing it up.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know about that. I don't have a date certain. I don't think we’ve provided a date certain for when the budget will be put forward, but I think it will be in March.
Q And is sequester complicating it?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the series of manufactured crises around budget issues certainly has resulted at least in part in those experts in the administration who work on those issues being -- having to spend a lot of time dealing with those crises rather than on that. But that’s part of the job, and they’re working on the budget.
Q The Education Secretary was here yesterday. He said some things that didn’t prove to be true about the immediacy of pink slips for teachers. He mentioned a specific school district in West Virginia. They’re not sequester-related at all. He made some sort of mild -- suggested that they might not be. They’re clearly not. How confident are you, Jay, and confident is this administration that the things it’s saying and the portrait it is presenting to the country is not only accurate but will stand the scrutiny of time once these cuts begin?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re very confident --
Q Because it’s not the first time that there was a note of exaggeration or factual inaccuracy.
MR. CARNEY: Oh, really? Because if you want to provide other examples, I’d take them.
Q The FAA can’t explain definitively there will be 90-minute delays. That’s another example.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know that the Secretary of Transportation was giving you an absolute minute target for how much the delays will be. If there are going to be delays as a result of reduction in man-hours and personnel among our air traffic controllers, that’s a fact. And I hope you keep that in mind when you’re on your next commercial flight and you’re delayed, if that does in fact come into effect with the sequester.
I would refer you to the Department of Education and to the superintendent of schools in the district that you mentioned for specifics about that. I’m certainly not familiar with it. I can tell you that the impacts of sequester are real, and to diminish them --
Q But you're familiar with that example -- it’s wrong. That was wrong.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m unfamiliar of the example. I would refer you to the Department of Education and to the superintendent of the school district for more information about it. I don’t have it. What I can tell you is that --
Q Jay, it came from your podium, right? You guys said that. You guys made the statement.
Q It was in this room, and --
MR. CARNEY: I’m just saying I don’t have any -- I am not personally in contact with individual school districts --
Q So you’re asserting something and you’re asking us to check with a local school affiliate on whether or not --
MR. CARNEY: No, no, Hans. Let me rewind the tape where I said I would refer you to the Department of Education, which is here in Washington, D.C., not a local school district, for more information.
Q You also referred us to the district.
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously, the school district is a good place to go for information about the school district.
Q But they said the information said at that podium was false, it was wrong. So I’m asking you to acknowledge that.
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I don’t have any more for you in it. I welcome -- I encourage you to make phone calls in the old-fashioned reporting sense to find out more if you like. I don’t have anything more for you on it.
The fact is the effects of sequester will be real if it takes place, beginning tomorrow night. In Ohio -- Ohio will lose approximately $25.1 million in funding for primary and secondary education, putting around 350 teacher and aide jobs at risk. In addition, about 34,000 fewer students would be served, and approximately 100 fewer schools would receive funding. If you don’t think that’s real -- if this happens, you should go out to Ohio and ask the families that are affected if they think it’s real.
California will lose about $3.3 million in funding for jobs search assistance, referral, and placement -- meaning around 129,770 fewer people will get the help and skills they need to find employment. If you don’t think that the effects of sequester are real, if sequester takes place, after a few weeks, fly to California, go to a jobs assistance placement office, find the people who aren’t getting served, and ask them if they think it’s real.
Ask the family whose child will not have a slot in Head Start whether they think it’s real. Ask the civilian Defense Department employee, who’s already gotten a notification that he or she will --
Q But even the President has said that --
MR. CARNEY: Jessica, let me finish -- that he or she will be furloughed, whether that has a real impact. They might lose 10 or 20 percent of their pay for the month or the year -- whether that has a real impact on their family budget. I think to suggest otherwise is --
Q No one in this room suggested otherwise. I asked you about what the Education Secretary said --
MR. CARNEY: And I’m saying for more information about that you should go to the Department of Education. What I’m saying is you’re using an example -- again, I don’t have details on it -- to suggest that the whole argument --
Q I asked you about it. I just asked you.
MR. CARNEY: Right, again, let’s rewind the tape, because what you said after that was, do you think -- using this as an example -- that we’re exaggerating the effects of sequester. And I just gave you concrete examples of what’s going to happen. Those are real people with real impacts. And I think they wonder, when they sit around their kitchen tables, why Washington can’t compromise, and in this case, because compromise represents willingness to accept policies that aren’t 100 percent of what you want. The President has done that again and again. Unfortunately, Republicans seem to be unwilling to do that when it comes to sequester, so the sequester may take place with the effects that we’ve talked about.
Q Even the President said last night, economists say this is not a cliff, it’s a tumble downward. It’s conceivable in the first few weeks, the first month, that a lot of people may not notice the full impact of the sequester.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Is he concerned that you’ve overstated the impact of it initially and he’s trying to dial it back?
MR. CARNEY: It’s our responsibility to be upfront about the fact that you cannot responsibly cut $85 billion out of the budget in seven months without having -- in the way that the law is designed without having dramatic effects on the defense industry and civilian workers, on our national security readiness, on teachers, on kids in Head Start. That's just a fact. It’s also a --
Q It’s a markedly different tone from the tone that, for example, was in what the Attorney General said when he says, this is going to have an impact on the safety of this country, and anyone who says otherwise is lying.
MR. CARNEY: But that's -- if you reduce the number of border security guards, that has an impact on our safety. If you are forced because of the sequester to change our military readiness posture, that has an effect on our safety.
I think the reporters are the ones who are suggesting that we -- that all of this was going to happen the stroke after midnight when the sequester goes into effect. We've never said that. We've always been clear about when you talk about -- furloughs, notices go out; once you receive a notice there’s always a 30-day warning before the furloughs actually begin.
We've been very clear about the different impacts. When Arne Duncan was here yesterday, Secretary of Education, he made clear that a lot of the actual effects in the education world won't be felt concretely until the fall because that's when the new school year begins. There are some specific areas like school districts outside of military bases or on Indian reservations that will feel the impact immediately because they’ll be forced by the nature of their grants to cut their budgets for this school year.
We've been very clear. What the President said last night is -- and I think what other people have said -- is that this will be a rolling impact, an effect that will build and build and build. And as the CBO has said, and as outside economic organizations have said, we'll see a contraction in the amount of GDP growth -- reduction in the amount of GDP growth by a full half of a percent or more. And we'll see up to 750,000 jobs lost. That's the CBO. That's Moody’s and Macroeconomics Advisors. So that's real. At least we agree with those assessments. And it affects real people.
Q On a different topic, at last year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, the President said he values a free press that is not afraid to ask questions, to examine and to criticize. Has he ever spoken to his aides about the tone he’d like them to take, you all to take, when talking to the press?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the President expects us to fully explain his policies, to answer questions about his positions, and to make clear when we believe factual errors are being stated, which is what we do. And look, I think as anyone who has done this from either side of this podium can tell you, these are about real issues. These are about the concrete effects of policy on people’s lives, on our national security, on our children’s future. And everybody who’s involved in these issues feels passionately about them. But we are enormously respectful of the work that you do, that I used to do, and we also believe it’s important for us to make clear when we think, as we have in the past, somebody is out there getting the facts wrong.
Q So when Gene Sperling told Bob Woodward that he might regret his reporting, what was intended by that?
MR. CARNEY: Jessica, don't you think it would be a responsible thing to ask that question in the context of the full email since we know what the full email said, where Gene Sperling, in keeping with a demeanor I have been familiar with for more than 20 years, was incredibly respectful, referred to Mr. Woodward as his friend, and apologized for raising his voice? I think you cannot read those emails and come away with the impression that Gene was threatening anybody, as I think others have observed.
The point, though -- I wish that reporters would pay attention to the policy substance of that email because the point that Gene was making is a point that I've made and others have made and the President has made. This is really important policy, and one thing that is absolutely irrefutable is that the President, from day one of signing the Budget Control Act, has been absolutely clear that in dealing with deficit reduction going forward and in replacing and eliminating the sequester, he believed we had to have balance. You’d have to have your head in the sand not to know that. Everybody here has reported it ad nauseam. So I think that's the fact that Gene was concerned with. That’s the fact that we're all concerned with.
Q I'll stop after this, I promise. But as you’ve remarked, you're in a unique position because you’ve been on both sides of a reporter-source relationship. Any regret about the erosion of trust between sources and reporters? Does it hurt the public?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think that I've seen this play out before in both White Houses I've covered previously. I think we've talked about this just in recent weeks where the naturally adversarial relationship between the press corps and any administration, any White House, means that you guys, appropriately, are always demanding more information and holding our feet to the fire. That's absolutely how it should be. You go out and you report everything you can find about what we're doing and what Congress is doing and what the agencies are doing. And we get out there and try to explain the President’s positions and articulate why we think his positions are the right positions, and contest assertions to the contrary.
‘Twas ever thus. And it was certainly that way when I got here and covered the Clinton White House, and when I was covering the Bush White House. And I don't think it’s any different now. In fact, I would suggest that the atmosphere in this room was a lot more tense when I got here in 1993 than it is today.
Q Jay, when you were just telling Jessica that the tone of that email from Gene Sperling was respectful -- last night on Twitter, David Plouffe, who very recently was a very senior advisor inside this White House, put out a tweet that was basically comparing Bob Woodward to an aging baseball player who has sort of lost his talent, and sort of belittled him. Do you think that's respectful? Is that something the White House also supports?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, the fact of the matter is there was an accusation that Gene had been threatening. And as I think everybody who knows Gene knows, that's hard to believe. So, one. Two, Gene has been working on these issues all his life. He is very passionate about them. He works 20 hours a day, often, on behalf of the American people and this President to try to advance an economic agenda that helps middle-class Americans, average Americans. And he'll continue to do that.
Look, I have enormous respect for the work that Bob Woodward is famous for. I think a lot of us probably got into the business in part because we read “All The President’s Men” or we saw the movie, or both. But we had a factual disagreement that I think we stand by, which is that the President was very clear from the beginning that he would push balanced deficit reduction. I mean, how can that be a mystery? That's been his position since the day he signed the Budget Control Act. It was even the position that various Republicans adopted in trying to eliminate the sequester. So the phrase, “moving the goalposts” is not one we agree with. But that's it, really. It’s just a disagreement about the facts.
Q Okay, so we're concerned about the facts in this debate about the sequester. In the back-and-forth just here about Arne Duncan, are you acknowledging from this podium now, though, that some of the things he said yesterday were not true?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I haven't independently looked into them, so I can't really --
Q How can the public believe what you're saying day in, day out, about flight towers and everything else if you're not checking it out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I had the Secretary of Transportation come up here and talk about the impacts on the FAA, the Secretary of Education talk about the impacts on areas of his budget. And that's because they’re the experts in those fields. And I had the Secretary of Homeland Security talk about the effects on her areas of responsibility. So we do that because they know the most and the most in depth about those areas. So when you want an answer to a specific question I think you ought to take it to them.
I think the broader point, setting aside that issue, was I think strongly made, which is that there will be substantial effects on school districts around the country, on budgets to help poor children and budgets to help disabled kids, which are, as Secretary Duncan described, two of the biggest portions of his budget and that will unavoidably be affected when sequester is implemented.
So, again, those are real people out there who will suffer if sequester goes into effect and stays into effect for a substantial period of time.
Q On a specific, substantive point, yesterday when you were asked about the ICE Agency releasing detainees apparently because of budget cuts around sequester, you had said that the White House did not intervene beforehand. There’s been some reporting overnight that perhaps ICE is rethinking this, and I wonder has the White House since yesterday’s briefing intervened with ICE and said this is not a good idea?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. Again, this was a decision made by career officials at ICE without any input from the White House as a result of fiscal uncertainty over the continuing resolution and possible sequestration. I have no more information today about it than I did yesterday.
Q Okay, last thing on -- when you were talking about the relationship with press -- today Secretary Lew was just sworn in as the Treasury Secretary. You didn’t let cameras or the press pool in. Why not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it was a private ceremony with members of his family, including grandchildren. As you know, now Secretary Lew has served President Obama in four positions -- this is his fourth. And he and the President have become close through their service together and the President wanted to have this ceremony for Secretary Lew in the Oval Office because of that relationship.
Q Okay, just the last thing on that, though. The AP reported in January of 2009 that the last Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, who I assume had his family there as well, was sworn in by the Vice President and the President was there, and actually made remarks about the financial crisis and said that we need to get our team in place. Right now there’s a budget crisis that you’ve been talking about from this podium every day. Why wouldn’t the President open it up to TV cameras and say --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, it was a ceremony, Ed, a family ceremony. The President has addressed the looming sequester challenge as recently as last night. He took questions on it from you guys less than a week ago on Friday. I’m sure he’ll be talking with you about it in the future and making remarks about it in the future. Granted it’s not as important as who he’s playing golf with, but he will be talking about this very important policy issue and engaging with you on it in the future.
Q You said earlier that you’re going to be forced to cut security guards and that’s because of the nature of the sequester -- it forces you to go down to the deepest level of government activity and then make the across-the-board cuts. Why not accept flexibility so you wouldn’t have to do that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I said at the top, no amount of flexibility changes the fact that these severe cuts threaten thousands of middle-class jobs and slash vital services for children, seniors, and our troops and military families. You can’t -- $85 billion, as we’ve had economic officials talk to you about and Cabinet Secretaries talk to you about -- there is no way to mitigate the damage that cuts made that deeply and that swiftly in the budgets identified go away.
Q But it wouldn't have cut security guards. It would force you to make a choice.
MR. CARNEY: Mara, I’m not sure if you were here when Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano was here and explained how that’s not the case. And in these personnel-intensive agencies when you’re forced to deal with the kinds of cuts envisioned here, you have to apply them to personnel through furloughs and the like, or reduce man-hours.
You cannot -- that’s the problem. The Fed Chairman made clear that no changing of the nature of the $85 billion in cuts would change the effect on the economy, which he described as negative, in talking about the effect on our fiscal situation.
The best way to go about this is to postpone the sequester or agree to a bigger deal that eliminates it entirely in a balanced way -- in a way that doesn’t ask seniors, or the border security guards, or middle-class families who depend on important services for disabled kids or help sending their kids to college -- if you ask them to bear the burden of this deficit reduction, the burden is onerous.
If you spread out the burden and ask wealthy individuals, who enjoy advantages in the tax code that average Americans don’t, to give up those advantages, if you ask industries and corporations that have special exceptions written into the tax code because they have really good lobbyists here in Washington to give up those special exceptions and exemptions, you can spread the burden and make it less onerous on regular folks. And that’s the approach the President believes is the right way to go.
Q I just have one question about Arne Duncan. Wait, can I just finish with one last question about Arne Duncan? Are you in essence saying that one inaccurate example should not undercut your larger argument about the overall --
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that I don’t know the specifics about this example, but I’m certainly saying that the larger argument remains true. There’s just -- it’s irrefutable. It’s been attested to by Republicans who, until they changed their political strategy, were shouting from the rooftops about the terrible effects of sequester. You guys reported on it --
Q You're asking for some forbearance on the specific examples.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t know the specifics so I’m not even sure I’m asking for forbearance. I’m just saying I don’t know the specifics.
Q Jay, thank you. I know you want to leave questions about the Prop 8 brief to the DOJ, but as the President’s spokesman, I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about his deliberations on this.
MR. CARNEY: I really don’t have anything for you on it. The President obviously has expressed an opinion in the past on this issue as a matter of policy. But when it comes to legal and constitutional issues around it, that’s a jurisdiction that resides at the Department of Justice. So I don’t have anything for you on it.
Q A decision about whether to weigh in wouldn’t be a policy decision made by the President?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have anything more for you on it. I would refer you to the DOJ.
Q Jay, just the bottom line on these questions about the sequester. What’s it going to be like tomorrow? I mean, this thing is going to happen barring a legislative miracle. It’s going to happen tomorrow, so what are we going to see?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it will happen Saturday.
Q Well, it will happen tomorrow at 11:59 p.m. So what happens at 11:59 p.m. tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve been very clear about various areas where these cuts once implemented will go into effect and the impacts they will have. Not all of them will be felt immediately, as I think we’ve been clear about -- Secretary Duncan, the President, others -- but there will be immediate effects. And if you doubt that, how do you --
Q -- immediate effects --
MR. CARNEY: Okay, well, let's talk about GDP, which was, granted, revised upwards two-tenths of a percent for the fourth quarter. But it was as low a figure as we got, as every outside economist will tell you, because of the reduction -- in part because of the reduction in defense spending -- a historic 40-year low or drop -- in anticipation of the sequester.
We saw it again yesterday, I believe it was, in the durable goods figures that showed almost all of the drop in durable goods attributable to defense sector reductions in spending, reductions and orders made by defense industry companies because of sequester. These have real effects on business and on jobs. And we will see it when -- we've seen it already from the notices that have gone out warning people that furlough notices will be forthcoming if sequester goes into effect.
Now, I believe that if you're a middle-class family and the father or mother in that family gets a notice in a couple of days, or has gotten a notice already, that he or she will be getting a furlough notice and that that furlough will take effect in 30 days, that doesn't have an impact on your family in 30 days. It has an impact on your family right now, as you begin to contemplate life with less money to make the ends meet.
And that's just -- these are real consequences. There will be families that get notices that there's not a slot anymore for their child in Head Start. And there will be families that have to deal with reduced hours if a father or mother is a border security guard or an air traffic controller. These are real-world impacts. They don't all happen on Saturday; it's a gradual process. But the cumulative impact of sequester will be significant to our economy and particularly so to the individuals affected.
Q So what do you say to Mayor Bloomberg, who stood right over there yesterday and was asked about the warnings that have come out of the White House, and he said there's a lot of posturing. "Spare me, I live in that world. I mean, come on, let's get serious here." He was very dismissive of these warnings. Is Mayor Bloomberg just wrong about it?
MR. CARNEY: I wasn't there. I didn’t hear what he had to say.
Q That's what he said.
MR. CARNEY: Different cities and regions and states will have different effects, depending on what kind of funding they get in the affected areas from the federal government. I can't speak to what the impacts will be on New York City. But there will be real-world impacts.
And it is I think just a fact that if you're at the receiving end of a notice that you're going to be furloughed or you're going to be laid off, that's nothing small. That's huge. And the people who get those notices will have Washington to blame -- in particular, unfortunately, the intransigence, the refusal to compromise and to do something reasonable and balanced that we've seen on Capitol Hill.
Q Just one quick follow-up on the Woodward thing. Another longtime, respected Washington journalist, Ron Fournier, came out and talked about Woodward, and he said that -- he talked about his own story about how he’s received many what he called “vulgar and abusive” emails and phone calls from White House officials. I mean, have you ever heard of anything like that?
MR. CARNEY: I've been on the receiving end of a few in previous White Houses and I think -- it certainly didn't trouble me too much. And I don't have any specific comment on that.
Q Is it just whining by the --
MR. CARNEY: I think this is a situation where people feel passionately about the policies that the President has and that previous Presidents have put forward. And my predecessors and others felt the same way, I'm sure. And reporters are under a great deal of competitive pressure not just to get scoops, but also to have the most noticed opinion or observation. And there are going to be disagreements about whether those facts or opinions or observations are on the mark. I think it should be that way.
I never took it personally when my former boss here, Rahm Emanuel, back when I was a reporter, would get on the phone and give me an earful about something he didn't like. It didn't affect my relationship with him and it didn't stop me from talking to him. I just happened to know that was Rahm's way. And that was true in the Bush White House, not just the Clinton White House.
Q It won’t affect our relationship with you either, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks, Ed.
Q Jay, would the White House concede in some form that this was a miscalculation to put forward the sequester as a forcing mechanism now that we're on the eve of it going into effect?
MR. CARNEY: I feel like this is Groundhog Day. Let's go back to --
Q But without relitigating the details, you guys played a part in some capacity of it -- the President or Jack Lew, Arne Duncan --
MR. CARNEY: I think it's unfortunate that Republicans who, again, shouted from the rooftops -- and I could read page and page and page of quotes from Republicans who said sequester should never become law, it would be the worst possible thing for our national security and other aspects of the government -- who now think that sequester is an effective political tool and they're perfectly happy with the consequences of sequester. They were right that sequester was designed purposely to be bad policy. It was designed that way and to be equally onerous for both Republicans and Democrats so that the prospect of its implementation would compel Congress to make tough choices.
Unfortunately, despite some -- going back to the argument about goalposts -- despite some proposals by some Republicans or at least suggestions that revenue be included in a package of deficit reduction that would eliminate the sequester and achieve our $4 trillion goal, Republicans in the end refused to do that, even though the President repeatedly put forward proposals that did that and continues to have a proposal on the table that does that.
So, yes, it’s unfortunate the sequester may come to pass, and we would simply point you to statements not just by Democrats or the President but by Republicans who warned about all the negative impacts of sequester and said we have to do something responsible to avoid it. And I think we’ve seen -- unfortunately, not from the leadership, but from a number of Republicans lately, including Senator Graham and Senator McCain and some House Republicans -- comments from them suggesting that it would be wise to close a few loopholes, or cap a few deductions, or eliminate some special breaks for corporations as part of a deficit reduction package to avoid sequester.
Q But given the intransigence and the impact that you’ve indicated in this conversation with us earlier today, is there no Plan B? Is the sequester preferable to anything without tax cuts of some form?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’ve seen numerous economists, as well as the Chairman of the Fed, say $85 billion, you can't wish away the negative effects that that will have on our economy if it comes all in cuts in the way that it’s fashioned.
The way to deal with this responsibly is to balance it with revenues gained from tax reform, closing loopholes, eliminating special tax breaks for industries that no longer need them and maybe never did, and asking millionaires and billionaires to carry some of the burden. Again, that's a proposition that the American people overwhelmingly support.
Q Thank you, Jay. So tomorrow we’re seeing a meeting between the President and congressional leaders on the sequester. Does this usher in sort of a new phase where we’ll see more direct face-to-face negotiations among the parties to try to resolve this? Or would you expect to see the President may still go out on the road, make his case to the general public? Or do you think we’ll be seeing more --
MR. CARNEY: It’s not an either -- it never has been and it will not be an either-or proposition, as we’ve said for a long time now. The President will continue to travel around the country and talk about the issues that he thinks are important and the priorities that he’s put forward in his agenda. The suggestion that that's a bad thing to do I think implies that Republicans who criticize the President for talking about sequester with the American people don't want the American people to know about what's really happening here, which is not an approach we take.
He will obviously continue to engage with Congress, as he has in the past, as he will tomorrow -- both congressional leaders and rank-and-file members of both the Senate and the House -- in an effort to try to resolve this. We have an opportunity here still on the table for Congress to take up a balanced deal that would complete the job and then some of achieving more than $4 trillion of deficit reduction over 10 years, in a balanced way that helps our economy grow, that helps it create jobs.
Q Can I change topic just for a second?
MR. CARNEY: Really, do you have to? (Laughter.)
Q Why not? Why not? In the midst of all this, has the President had an opportunity to sit down with your team, the national security team, to talk about what his message will be almost in two weeks when he goes to the Middle East?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any preview of that trip to give to you beyond what we've said already, which the President very much looks forward to it. The timing is good. He believes as he begins his second term and as there's a new government coming into place in Israel, he very much looks forward to the trip both to Israel and Jordan and to Ramallah, the West Bank.
Peter, last one.
Q Thanks. What is your understanding of how and when this thing is going to kick in tomorrow? Some people on the Hill think that it's 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning. You mentioned 11:59 p.m. There's also wording out there that the President has to sign --
MR. CARNEY: My understanding -- and I'm a layman in this, but my understanding is that the law has a provision that requires the President to order the sequester on March 1st, which is tomorrow. And that means that it has to be done by 11:59 p.m. tomorrow.
Q Will he wait that long?
Q Will he do it beforehand or will he wait --
MR. CARNEY: -- 11:59 and 59 seconds, because he's ever hopeful. No, I don't know what time tomorrow.
Q Will you let us know when it's signed?
MR. CARNEY: I think we will, yes.
Q Do you not know?
MR. CARNEY: I do not know.
Q It won't be during the meeting? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn't expect that. We haven't made a schedule yet for tomorrow.
Q What’s the coverage on the meeting?
MR. CARNEY: I think it will be a private meeting, try to get something done.
Q Is the President going to come out and speak publicly to the nation at some point?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any scheduling announcements.
1:42 P.M. EST
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