Daily Briefing by the Press Secretary, 9/30/13
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:31 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Thank you for your patience. Of course, I wanted to make sure that you heard the President’s remarks at the end of his bilateral meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Prime Minister Netanyahu, at which, in addition to his comments about the meeting, about our relationship with Israel, our unshakeable support for Israel’s security, the discussion the two leaders had about Syria and Iran and the Middle East peace process, among other things, the President took a question and answered it about the fact that as of now, it is up to the House of Representatives to decide whether or not they want to shut down the government in order to make an ideological point, or whether they will follow the Senate’s lead and pass an extension of government funding at current levels for a number of weeks so that we can get about the business of discussing and negotiating a long-term budget agreement.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q Can you talk a little bit more about what the President just said about having conversations with leaders on the Hill? Did that include Speaker Boehner? And is he making any progress in these talks for averting a shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President said what we've said, which is that you can expect that he will be having conversations with leaders on the Hill, as he has in the past. And I assume that would include the Speaker of the House.
The point I think, though, is that we are at a moment where the House of Representatives has to decide, and the Speaker of the House, as the leader of the House and the leader of House Republicans, must decide whether roughly 60 members of his caucus, the tea party faction, will dictate to the American people whether the government will shut down because they have not been able to achieve through normal means their ideological agenda, which is to repeal and do away with in some manner or other the Affordable Care Act -- the irony, of course, being that tomorrow enrollment begins in the Affordable Care Act, and millions of Americans for whom access to affordable insurance has been but a dream, there will be the opportunity to enroll in the Affordable Care Act through the exchanges and the marketplaces and receive, come January 1st, affordable health insurance for the first time.
And that's going to happen. Nothing will alter that. That will happen.
Q A couple follows to that. Can you say whether he’s spoken yet to Speaker Boehner?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any other conversations or new conversations to read out. I think what the President indicated is that he expects that he will, of course, speak with leaders in the coming days.
Again, there’s nothing here to debate. The President has made clear all year long that he is willing and eager to negotiate over our budget priorities and to reach a common-sense solution to funding our government. That's what his budget was about, which many of you wrote about and correctly assessed to represent a compromise. And we have encouraged Republicans to show the same willingness to compromise all year long, and the President has met with many members of Congress of the Republican Party over the course of the year to have those discussions.
What he will not do is go along with the idea that the government should be shut down over this desire to unwind history and achieve through threat and extortion what Republicans couldn’t do through the legislative process or through the election process. It's just not fair to the American people, and it's not fair to the millions of Americans who will have access to affordable health insurance for the first time.
Q Would the President veto a continued resolution that only included a provision killing the medical device tax?
MR. CARNEY: We have said that’s -- none of this is acceptable. This is just a blatant extortion. And the irony about it is -- the Republicans will tell you -- the Republicans who support this extortion game or extortion racket will tell you that, oh, well, that’s compromise; we just want you to do this on the Affordable Care Act, and chip away at it here or delay there. And yet, they'll all also tell you quite clearly that the goal -- the ultimate goal and purpose of this is to do away with the Affordable Care Act, so take away all those benefits for millions of Americans, and increase the deficit dramatically while doing it -- something they never mention.
But in the end, they want to do that for a continuing resolution that will fund the government for 45 days? 60 days? What comes next? What will they demand next? I mean, part of it was they want everybody's boss to be able to tell them -- to tell every woman in America whether or not they can get contraceptive coverage. They want to attach that to this debate.
This is not, as others have said, this is not the way Congress ought to operate, and it's irresponsible and reckless to hold the functioning of the government hostage to these ideological imperatives.
Q Given that there's no sign of any movement, Jay, isn't a shutdown inevitable this evening?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President said just now, and I certainly agree with him, that, no, that he is not resigned to a shutdown, because there's an avenue open to the House, after the Senate does what we expect, which is send back to the House a clean CR that just continues funding the government at current levels. It contains no concessions to the democratic agenda or the President's agenda. It just continues funding the government at current levels for a number of weeks in order to allow for the negotiations the President is eager to engage in. That’s the responsible thing to do.
The irresponsible thing to do is to attach a bunch of political ideological demands to this simple proposition of funding the government and not shutting it down, and say you'll shut it down if you don’t get what you want.
Q But you're not detecting any signs of any movement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I used to walk the halls of Congress as a reporter and, back then, knew a lot more about the minute-by-minute developments. In fact, I did that during the last government shutdown here in '95 and up there in '96. But I leave it to your colleagues to tell me more precisely what the thinking of the House Republican leadership is.
Q How will a shutdown affect White House staffing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the White House, like other agencies within government, is affected. There will be reductions in staff. We’ll have a skeletal staff. There’s obviously essential staff that's exempted -- or excepted, which I think is the proper term. And that's true in other areas. But it will be an extremely lean operation if this comes to pass.
Q And lastly, will he go on this trip to Asia this weekend?
MR. CARNEY: We don't have any changes to announce. We plan to make this trip. The President, as President, looks forward to and believes it is important to travel to Asia in order to promote our economic interests in Asia and our strategic interests in Asia. There are American jobs that can be created through our engagement with Asia, the fastest-growing region of the world and an enormously important region when it comes to our trading relationships and partnerships.
So we have this trip scheduled and we intend to take it. We’ll see, obviously, what happens as the week unfolds.
Let me move around a little bit if I may. April.
Q I want to follow up on what Steve said. You said there will be a skeletal staff and a lean operation indeed if the shutdown happened. Could you get into the breakdown? Could you give us numbers?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Office of Management and Budget, which handles all of these specifics and can give you more information about how it breaks down. But those of you who know if you're as old as I am and remember what it was like in the mid ‘90s, and remember also what you reported just when there was at least the potential of a shutdown, there are significant reductions in staff and furloughs that take place here, as elsewhere, if a shutdown occurs.
Q And that staff that will be not coming in or furloughed will not be paid, correct?
MR. CARNEY: Again, that's my understanding. But I hesitate to answer these kind of technical questions because there are far better sources for that specific information.
Q And understanding that today that even the White House is trying to still parse through all the technicalities of the effects on the White House from a shutdown -- is that the case? If so, could you talk to us about some of the things that you’re dealing with it?
MR. CARNEY: Look, here’s the thing. There are effects here and there are effects throughout the government. But those pale in comparison to the effects and impacts that a shutdown would have on women and children and seniors.
Shortly after a shutdown, if it were to occur, federal funding for the Women, Infants and Children program may not be sufficient to cover benefits, and agencies may have to cut off services to mothers and young children.
Senior nutrition grants, which help approximately 2.5 million seniors annually -- help them remain healthy and independent by providing meals and related services -- would not be funded.
Programs that our nation's veterans depend on would be affected. For example, veterans’ call centers and regional offices would be closed immediately, effective immediately. So those services that help veterans understand their benefits, including call centers, hotlines and regional offices, would be closed. Vocational rehabilitation and education counseling for veterans would be limited. Veterans’ business support centers would be immediately closed. And should a lapse extend through late October, compensation, pension, education and other veterans' benefits would be cut off.
Important research and consumer safety programs would be halted in the event of a shutdown, including research into life-threatening diseases. Work to protect consumers, ranging from child product safety to financial security, to the safety of hazardous waste facilities would cease.
The Sandy recovery efforts, the West, Texas investigation and other fire and emergency response grants would be halted. And on that, I just want to point out that when it comes to disaster -- emergency disaster relief, there is the fund that is operational. So should there be a disaster, there would be funding available for initial and immediate emergency relief. But what would be affected by a shutdown are the ongoing Sandy recovery efforts and the investigation into the explosion in West, Texas, and the like.
So those are the impacts and effects that matter. We, like every other agency, would be affected, but it's folks out in the country who will be affected that concerns us most.
Q Jay, thank you for that information. But, again, how will the President plan to go to Asia if there's a schedule -- skeleton crew and a lean operation here? And then, also, how is ASEAN affected --
MR. CARNEY: Again, the President said today, not long ago, that he is not resigned to the idea that the government will shut down. He remains hopeful that the House will come to the reasonable decision that it is appropriate to simply extend funding of the government further for several weeks in order to allow for the kind of negotiations that they claim they want about our budget priorities. So he remains hopeful, at least not resigned, to the fact of a shutdown.
And when it comes to the mechanics of the trip and the people and equipment that gets positioned abroad for a trip like this, I just would have to refer you to OMB or to the agencies involved -- Department of Defense, Secret Service.
Q Jay, one of the other proposals floating around up on Capitol Hill would be a really, really short-term CR, something along the lines of a week, to keep the government running. You, from this podium in the past, have described that as sort of "tollbooth government," or even these continuing resolutions as "tollbooth government." Wouldn’t a one-week CR be sort of the ultimate tollbooth government?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to respond to ideas floating around the Hill. There are tons of them, and we could respond all day to them. Right now, the option available, as I understand it, to the House, to the Speaker, will be the opportunity to follow the Senate's lead in funding the government for a number of weeks in a clean continuing resolution. And we would support that.
This process, again, has been one where a small faction, a very extreme faction of Republicans in the House has essentially forced its leadership to go along with a proposition that it is better to shut down the government, with all of the negative effects that we've talked about, and better perhaps to default on our obligations for the first time in history than to allow a law that was passed and signed and upheld by the Supreme Court to be implemented -- a law that would provide millions of Americans who do not have insurance access to affordable insurance.
And one might surmise that the extreme agita that you see among Republicans right now over the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare is a direct result of the fact that, beginning tomorrow, there is a concrete development that means that millions of Americans will, for the first time, be able to sign up for that health insurance. And as I think I've seen Republicans say, it will be a lot harder to get rid of Obamacare once these individuals who have had a hard time getting affordable health care are able to see the benefits of the Affordable Care Act provides to them.
Q The White House might be open to a one-week CR --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I'm not going to negotiate ideas that are floated to me from any row of this briefing room, except to say that we don’t think extraneous political agenda items ought to be -- well, maybe from the front -- (laughter) -- I think I'll just make it a blanket opposition to that.
But let me just say that Congress ought to do its job. It only has a few absolute functions, and one of them is to ensure that the government and its essential operations are funded. Another is to ensure that the United States pays its bills, as it has throughout the entire history of the nation.
Q And, Jay, let me just follow up real quick. In the last couple of weeks, Democrats, including the President, have
-- and he has not used all of these words, but I'll throw out some of them that have been used -- have referred to Republicans as "arsonists," "anarchists," "extortionists, "blackmailers" --
MR. CARNEY: I think I just said extortion and -- yes.
Q -- "hostage-takers." Dan Pfeiffer talked about bombs being strapped to chests. (Laughter.) It almost sounds as if this White House is trying to taunt Republicans into shutting the government down.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s certainly not the case. I mean, as I think I just saw my colleague, Dan Pfeiffer, on CNN's air not long ago say that I think it was Mitch McConnell who, in the iteration of these negotiations -- similar ones two years ago -- who referred to the economy being a hostage that they could take in negotiations with the President. So I don’t think this is language that either side has exclusive rights to or has only used in the past.
But here are the facts. When it comes to funding the government or when it comes to paying our debts, the Democrats and the President, on one hand, are asking for nothing -- no concessions, no ideological riders, no special pet projects, no political gotcha items -- in exchange for the simple extension of government funding, in exchange for Congress ensuring that we do not default.
Republicans, on the other hand, are attaching -- in the concrete bills that they've passed and in their imaginations anyway when they talk about what they'd like to attach -- all sort of political agenda items, some of them wildly inconsistent with where the American people want the country to move. And that includes issues that are wholly unrelated to the budget and wholly unrelated to the debt and the deficits that we must manage, and the responsibility of Congress to ensure that we don't default.
Q Two questions, Jay, one following on Jim. This is no longer such a hypothetical -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has hot-lined a one-week CR in the Senate within the last few minutes, maybe hour. So it looks like there’s some movement on that on Capitol Hill. And you said that Congress has the responsibility to keep the government funded. I wonder, would the President sign a one-week CR?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you just mentioned this happened in the last couple minutes, so I'm not going to give you a statement of administration policy except to say that it has long been our position that Congress ought to make sure that the government doesn’t shut down, and they ought not to attach to their responsibility to ensure that the government doesn’t shut down any ideological poison pills or any agenda items that they can't achieve through the normal process.
But we'll have to see what Congress does. There’s a lot of movement in Congress that doesn’t result in actual action.
Q And on the Affordable Care Act, will the President be doing anything tomorrow to promote the rollout, and can you talk a little bit about what the White House is going to be doing, broadly?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't have any information at this time for you on the President’s schedule tomorrow. It is certainly the case -- and I appreciate you bringing it up -- that the Department of Health and Human Services and others are engaged in preparing for tomorrow’s opening day of enrollment and there’s a lot of activity around that. And it will be the first day of the six-month open enrollment period for individuals to basically shop for health insurance in a way that they’ve never been able to before, and for so many of them to have options available to them at affordable prices that they’ve never had before.
And we expect that when those marketplaces open and the exchanges open and you can, as a consumer, review your options either online or through the telephone call centers, there will be a lot of window-shopping, a lot of people will assess what’s available to them, and then, as time passes and we move closer to January 4th, more and more of the millions of Americans who have this option available to them will take advantage of it. And that will be a very good thing, indeed.
Q Jay, are these briefings essential? Will you continue to brief in the middle of a shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: We obviously believe it’s important that the American people be apprised of what’s happening here at the White House, and we will endeavor to provide that information as best we can with a skeletal staff.
Q Are you confident that this will be a political disaster for Republicans if there’s a shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn't make any kind of predictions. And that suggests that we're looking for an outcome -- I'm not. I don't know, and honestly, I think it’s important to know that we don't care about the politics of this. The President cares about making sure that the American people aren't hurt by it.
Because we talked about this with regards to the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that passed with a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate, and there were some question about whether secretly we didn’t hope that the Republicans in the House would block it because it would be bad
-- continued bad news for the Republicans when it came to their ever-worsening relations with Hispanic Americans across the country. And the answer is, no. We would love them to take advantage of the political opportunities available to them by passing comprehensive immigration reform and maybe improving their standing among Hispanic Americans by doing it.
And we would love for Republicans to do the right thing and maybe improve their standing among the American people, and Congress’s standing among the American people, by simply not shutting down the government and not defaulting on our obligations.
Q So just to go through very quickly some of what the Republicans are demanding and what’s negotiable and what’s not. The debt ceiling -- nothing there negotiable, right?
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q The idea of repealing the health care law -- obviously not negotiable. Delaying the health care law for a year?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Not negotiable?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, the answer is, no. And nothing is negotiable when it comes to the debt ceiling.
And as the President said recently when it comes to extending the government, he’s willing to talk about ways to improve the health care law if Republicans are interested in that. After all, a lot of the Affordable Care Act is designed -- its essential elements were designed by Republicans. And I believe that there are Republicans out there who probably earnestly have some good ideas, although they're most likely afraid to talk about them in party circles.
But the President is eager to do that. What he is not willing to do is have those negotiations under the threat of shutting down the government, and certainly not under the threat of defaulting on our obligations.
Q Is the idea of delaying this tax or of cutting this tax on medical devices also non-negotiable?
MR. CARNEY: No, I answered that with Nedra that that's not -- look, Congress has throughout its time in session the opportunity to consider and pass legislation, to try to get majorities big enough in both houses to achieve a compromise between the House and the Senate and send it to the President. That's the way it is supposed to work.
And as you know, the House Republicans in particular have done little else over the past couple of years than attempt to legislate ways that either defund or repeal or in other ways negatively effect the Affordable Care Act. So they can certainly endeavor to keep doing that. But to have that attached to the simple responsibility to fund the government, it’s just not acceptable.
Q So is the reason why we’ve seen really no negotiations going on because basically everything the Republicans have put out there is non-negotiable? Right?
MR. CARNEY: That’s not a -- here’s it is. It is not a concession to keep the government open. It is not a concession to pay America’s bills. That is a responsibility. And as I emailed with a reporter out here, it is enshrined in the Constitution that Congress has the power to pay debts; Congress has the power to authorize funding. If it were otherwise, the President would go about it and there would be no drama and no delay.
Q So, last question. What is the President doing over these next several hours to try to keep the government running?
MR. CARNEY: Again, it is not, unfortunately, within the President’s power to pass legislation on the Hill. The President said --
Q But what is he doing? Is he using the bully -- what’s he doing over the next several hours?
MR. CARNEY: The President said just moments ago that he will certainly be, he expects, having conversations with leaders in Congress. But it is pretty elemental here. There’s an option to keep the government open, and there’s an option to shut it down for ideological reasons. And he would not presume to have the power of persuasion within the House Republican caucus that perhaps John Boehner does, or perhaps other leaders in the conference, rather, might have.
Let me move around. Chuck.
Q The President said he was open to negotiating on the budget overall. So --
MR. CARNEY: Yes. He’s said it all year long.
Q Okay. And I assume that if there were a one-year proposition of funding the government, not through a two or three month-- is that what he’s saying? Is he saying that -- is that what he’s saying, though, is that it’s about funding the government for 2014? And if he’s open to --
MR. CARNEY: And beyond that, as is reflected in his budget.
Q Well, under those circumstances, under that umbrella then, are parts of the law, of the health care law part of those negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: The President said the other day that he is open to discussions with Republicans who are sincere about it -- ways to improve the Affordable Care Act.
Q So he might be open to some of these changes under that set of negotiations, but just not over CRs or debt ceilings?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to say that he’s open to delaying the individual -- because he is not. Because that is a deliberate, explicitly stated effort to basically eliminate Obamacare.
Q But the medical device tax would qualify as something he’d be open to under regular circumstances?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into specific things, but he is certainly willing to negotiate with and discuss with Congress -- not under the threat of a shutdown or default -- ways to improve the Affordable Care Act. And that has been the case and will be the case moving forward. And he is willing and eager to negotiate with lawmakers in Congress -- Republicans who are interested in finding common ground on our budget priorities. And he has demonstrated that all year long.
Now, remember, if I may, Republicans insisted as part of the last time that we had a budget negotiation with deadlines, at the end of last year, that they would move forward with a bill that raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans and locked into place a permanent tax cut for middle-class Americans. In exchange for that, they insisted that the Senate pass a budget. Because the House had and the Senate --
Q Negotiate on the debt ceiling --
MR. CARNEY: And, by the way, they raised the debt ceiling without drama and delay, no threat of default. But they insisted as part of this that the Senate pass a budget. They were hopping mad about the fact that the Senate had not passed a budget because the House had passed a budget. And so the Senate passed a budget. As John Boehner said, he wanted regular order in the Congress, and that’s how it should be. The House ought to pass a budget. The Senate ought to pass a budget. The two sides ought to come together in conference and try to work out their differences, produce a compromise budget that could then move forward.
So the Senate upheld its obligations. Senator Murray did an excellent job moving a bill forward, passing a budget through the Senate, with Leader Reid, and it has languished ever since, with the House refusing -- House leaders refusing to do what they said they would do, which is appoint conferees.
So here we are -- the President all year long has put forward a budget proposal that is filled with compromises, filled with a demonstrable effort to find common ground, and Republicans won’t even negotiate over that. Instead, they are obsessed with refighting an old battle from a couple of Congresses ago, which was the debate about the Affordable Care Act and its passage, and the fact that it was signed into law, and the fact that it was upheld by the Supreme Court, and the fact that it was a subject of heightened debate during the presidential election and the candidate who supported the Affordable Care Act was reelected.
Q Can I ask you about the NSA story? It seems like every week there’s a new discovery of NSA doing something that you guys swear NSA wasn’t doing -- and in this case, following innocent Americans and their social networks, and creating this, apparently, labyrinth graph of how they create networks. Can you look at this with a straight face and say this isn’t sort of going a step beyond what you guys have said NSA was doing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I can tell you is the NSA’s activities are directed against foreign intelligence targets in order to protect that nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. What I cannot do is comment publicly on every specific alleged intelligence activity. But as a matter of policy, we have made clear that we do what other nations do, which is gather foreign intelligence.
Q Wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait. This is about -- not against -- this is about Americans. This is about Americans that are not foreign, that it went beyond this. And that’s what --
MR. CARNEY: I think, again --
Q Are you denying that it was the case?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that I’m not going to discuss specific tools or processes. But, as you know, NSA’s activities are directed against foreign intelligence targets in order to protect the nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
NSA’s foreign intelligence activities are conducted pursuant to procedures approved by the United States Attorney General and the Secretary of Defense and, where applicable, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to protect the privacy interests of Americans.
Q I understand that that’s what you have to say and that that’s the statement you have to say. But are you at all concerned that it went beyond this, that it appears that it was supposed --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to address --
Q -- to be about foreign -- it was supposed to be about addressing people that have potential connections overseas, but this went a step beyond. It went beyond what you just said.
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, again, I’m not going to address a specific allegation. What I will say is -- note what the President said in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, which is that we have begun to review the way that we gather intelligence so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share. And that process is underway.
Q Are we going to continue to get this drip, drip, drip out of NSA, which is you tell us a certain amount, something gets leaked by Snowden, and then you guys acknowledge, okay, we were doing that -- I mean, is that how this cat-and-mouse game is going to work for a while?
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, again, I’m not going to talk about specific things.
Carol, and then Major.
Q I wanted to go back to the President’s eagerness to negotiate on a long-term budget deal. When he says that, what’s the window for that? And is that an offer to sit down and have negotiations with Republicans? Does that happen after the CR, before the debt ceiling? What are the qualifications around negotiating something long term?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s an offer that’s been on the table for the whole year, virtually, or since the end of the year last year, when the --
Q It’s just an open-ended offer? Is he going to --
MR. CARNEY: I think the President has demonstrated that he is open to and eager to negotiate with Republicans who want to find common ground and are willing to compromise when it comes to how we best fund our government in a way that invests in areas that help our economy grow and help our middle class be more secure, but also reduces our deficits and debt in a responsible way.
And that is reflected in his budget proposal. It was the central topic of the many conversations the President had and the Vice President and the Chief of Staff and many others had with Republicans over the course of the year -- especially earlier in the year when we were hopeful that there was a willingness by Republicans to find common ground, when we were hopeful that there might be sincerity behind the assertion by Republicans that all they really wanted was the Senate to pass a budget and then there could be a conference and we could reach a compromise.
But, yes, that offer remains on the table.
Q So if he’s so eager to do it, are we going to see a big, renewed push by him in the next weeks and months?
MR. CARNEY: A negotiation is not a one-way proposition. The President has put forward ideas. The Speaker, each time he addresses any budget issue, keeps moving further and further way. So when he first came forward with an idea that he would fund -- a proposition where he would have a continuing resolution that allowed for a clean continuance of funding for the government, he backed away from under pressure from the small faction or the less-than-majority faction within his conference, and instead launched off on this effort to try to appease the extreme wing of his party that wants -- is focused not on reducing the deficit, not on dealing with our long-term debt, but on going after this piece of legislation that the President passed.
Q So there won’t be any renewed push?
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn't say that. I think the President -- he just said that today.
Q Because usually when he’s eager to do something we see a big move. So should we expect something like that?
MR. CARNEY: Not under threat of shutdown. Not under threat of default. But if the Republicans are serious about negotiating the priorities that we have as a nation, to fund through congressional appropriations, yes. And he has been willing to do it all year long, and has sought partners in trying to do that, and had many good meetings with Republicans who expressed interest in doing that. Unfortunately, we haven’t see anything concrete from Republicans that represents the same spirit of and substantive reflection of compromise that the President’s budget represents.
Q I understand Senator McConnell’s idea has just been floated, but it’s not very intricate. It’s very simple -- it’s one-week, clean CR.
MR. CARNEY: I get it, Major, but here I am -- you guys have BlackBerries. I don't. I’m not going to respond to everything that you say is showing up on your BlackBerries. I don't have a specific response to an idea that's floated -- I’m not going to rule in or out anything that I don't have specific information on that I haven’t gotten myself. So what I can tell you --
Q -- don't get email up there --
MR. CARNEY: I should have a little action up here. But the --
Q It would be a one-week mechanism to keep the government open.
MR. CARNEY: Major, we can do this -- other people -- I don't have a reaction to a floated proposal from a now-empty seat on the front row -- (laughter.) CNN.
But our position is the same. We will obviously see what happens in Congress, and the President made clear just now in the Oval Office what his view is, which is that the responsible thing to do is for the House to not engage in this partisan brinksmanship, but to rather responsibly pass a bill that extends funding at current levels of our government operations so that it does not shut down and that it does not have the negative effects that I went through before.
Q You said a moment ago to Chuck that if it's a good idea, the President is open to it on the health care law. Is eliminating the medical device tax a --
MR. CARNEY: No, we don’t believe that is a good idea. It is obviously part of the affordable care -- but I'm not here -- Major, as interesting as it might be, we've already said we would not support that as part of any deal to shut down -- a threat of shutting down. So I'm not going to get into future hypothetical negotiations the Republicans have thus far all year long not shown themselves interested in holding.
We'll see what happens if the Republicans change their mind and want to have serious, substantive negotiations about how we find common ground to fund our budget priorities, reduce our deficit in a responsible way, and protect the middle class. What we have seen so far from Republicans concretely in their budget proposals are ideas that do the opposite -- that protect special interests with their tax breaks, that stick it to the middle class, and that, of course, defund or repeal the Affordable Care Act -- which, by the way, is a huge budget-buster, increases the deficit.
Q Benjamin Netanyahu said, with the President, that he would be in favor of stronger sanctions if negotiations with Iran either drag on or prove less than fruitful. Does the President support that?
MR. CARNEY: Our position, the President's position from the day he took office and made clear that he was willing to have bilateral conversations with Iran if Iran were serious about resolving this issue, is that, absent progress on that issue, absent a willingness by Iran to deal with this nuclear weapons problem, that the international community ought to isolate Iran through sanctions, and make clear through sanctions and other means that the violation of its international obligations was a serious matter. And that is what we have done.
And so another way of asking that which I can answer is, the sanctions regime has brought us to this point. The international consensus that the sanctions regime -- that was made possible by the -- sorry -- the international consensus was made possible by the President's position. We were able to change the focus of the international community from a debate about whether the United States was part of the problem to a focus on the fact that Iran was the problem. And through the last five years, we've seen the imposition and steady escalation of sanctions in a way that has had a dramatic impact on the Iranian economy. And I think we've seen reflections of that in the statements of members of the new government.
We are encouraged by what we have heard from the new Iranian leadership. But, as we've said all along, actions are what we are focused on. And there was P5-plus-1 meeting in which Secretary Kerry and his Iranian counterpart participated, they had a separate pull-aside. And there is another P5-plus-1 meeting coming up in about 16 days.
So that is the vehicle through which we will be able to measure concrete progress and test the theory here that Iran is serious, as Iran has said it is, about resolving this issue in a way that meets its international commitments.
Q And if it's not, stronger sanctions --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that we're certainly not going to give sanctions relief absent action by --
Q But would you strengthen them, intensify them?
MR. CARNEY: It's hard for me to -- we have steadily, over the past five years, strengthened and intensified, with our partners around the world, the sanctions regime against Iran. I think right now we're exploring the possibility that Iran is serious about resolving this challenge, and we want to do that.
Q Jay, you're saying that you don’t know, obviously, whether or not Iran will follow through on their promises. But the President did call the new President on Friday, of Iran, and sort of opened up diplomatic negotiations. So why not do the same with the House Republicans? You're at loggerheads. Call them. Bring them over here. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I love the reassertion of GOP talking points.
Q I'm sorry. Why don’t you at least talk to them? Even if they're wrong --
MR. CARNEY: Can I remind you that it was the Speaker of the House in several venues who said at the beginning of this year that he would never negotiate with the President again; that he felt doing so burned him and --
Q So call him out. Call him out and bring him over here and force him --
MR. CARNEY: Ed, maybe you didn’t catch up to what the President just said, but he said he would be talking to leaders of Congress.
Q So why is there not a meeting today?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I have nothing new to report on the President's schedule.
But the House of Representatives could have in the past, a few days ago, and could today, very easily avoid shutting down the government by passing a clean continuing resolution that extends funding of the government for several weeks into the future, allowing for further negotiation about our budget priorities.
You know, even FOX has reported this, that the Speaker had one approach he wanted to take and then the tea party yanked him in the other direction. And we’ve seen a number of Republicans, including in the House, say that they believe if the Speaker would just put on the floor the Senate bill, a clean CR, that it would get a majority in the House, including the votes from the Republican Party necessary. So what we have here, if these Republican lawmakers -- Raúl Labrador, Charlie Dent, Tom Cole and others -- are accurate, what we have is a proposition here where majorities of both houses are absolutely willing to pass clean continuing resolutions -- and for nongovernmental folks out there, that just means legislation that keeps the government open, without an ideological riders attached or imperatives attached -- majorities in both houses.
So the issue then is will the Speaker of the House do that, or will he shut down the government? Because there’s a majority in both houses to do it. We saw it in the Senate. We know it exists in the House. So this should not be about the internal politics of the House Republican conference because it’s too serious.
Q Right, but that's their problem. For you, you’re saying the President’s position is he’s in favor of a long-term budget deal. How do you get a long-term budget deal without actually sitting down with anyone to hammer that out?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the President has met with and spoken with countless Republicans this year, including the Speaker of the House, and has made clear in concrete ways through his budget proposals and through his offer to Speaker Boehner at the end of last year, his seriousness about compromise, his willingness to make tough choices when it comes to resolving our differences and funding our priorities, protecting the middle class and dealing with our deficits -- continuing to bring down our deficits, which, by the way, have been falling at the most precipitous rate since the end of World War II -- again, not a talking point you often hear from the Republican Party, just as you don't often hear in the midst of all this debate claims by the Republicans that this is about deficits or debt anymore. It can't be because doing most of what they insist we do with their demands would actually increase the deficit and debt, rather than decrease it.
So I guess that's not their main priority anymore. Their objective now is focused entirely on trying to prevent the implementation of a law that passed Congress, was signed into law by the President, was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States and validated across the nation in a presidential election.
Q Seventeen years ago, we had another government shutdown, and we had people like Gene Sperling and Sylvia Burwell and Jack Lew were around at that time. Have they offered --
MR. CARNEY: So was I.
Q But in a different capacity.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, indeed.
Q They were in government. Have they offered any sort of lessons learned from that and applied them to today’s situation at all?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. But we’ve been through this already several times in terms of the prospect of shutdown or default. And most of the people you named, with the exception of Sylvia, were here -- including Bruce Reed and others -- for parts of that. So I think a lot of people here remember -- the Vice President and others -- what happened in ’95 and ’96. But obviously this is a new and different time. And we’re focused on 2013. We’re focused on the middle class today -- the seniors and women and children who would be affected if there’s a shutdown; the veterans whose call centers would close effective 12:01 a.m. October 1st if there’s a shutdown. So that's the President’s priority.
Q So you’re saying it’s quite a bit different today than it was then?
MR. CARNEY: Well, yes. Not to say that past experience for all of us isn’t a useful thing to have when contemplating the future.
Q There’s a lot of Democrats who think that the President has made a concession in just extending current spending which is at sequestration rates. And the fear is that this will -- whatever comes out of this, if there is a long-term agreement, would lock in sequestration for another year. Can you rule for the President that he would ever agree to another year’s extension of sequestration?
MR. CARNEY: Jackie, it’s a fair question, but I’m not going to get ahead of where we are now, which is focusing on Congress’s responsibility to ensure that the government doesn't shut down -- the ease with which the House could do it by simply extending funding at current levels, as you mentioned, for a short period of time to allow for further negotiation and to not make this about a partisan wish list, attaching things to Congress’s essential responsibility that the tea party Republicans can't get otherwise, and that the American people rejected in an election.
So the President has put forward a budget. I know you and others have looked at it and you know what his priorities are, you know where he’s been willing to compromise. And he is willing to have those conversations. He did not put that budget forward and say, I get this or there’s no negotiation. That's not the approach he takes. It’s often at times the approach Republicans take.
He understands that this requires compromise and finding common ground. But what he won’t do and what he has never suggested he would do is reduce our deficit in a way that puts all the burden on the middle class, or all the burden on our seniors, or all the burden on children through underfunding their educational opportunities.
So there’s a way to do this responsibly. The President has demonstrated over the course of the last five years almost that you can inherit the largest deficits in our history, the worst financial crisis in our history -- or close to it, certainly in our lifetimes -- manage those challenges; steady our economy; save the automobile industry; see the economy begin to grow and create jobs; see it create 7.5 million private sector jobs -- do all that, pass the Affordable Care Act, which was a goal of members of both parties for a century, including Republican Presidents, and see our deficits come down by half, at a rate we haven’t seen since the 1940s.
So his record is pretty good on this. And through a willingness to compromise, we can move forward and do more in a way that allows our economy to grow and allows it to invest in the middle class.
Q On a day when you have three big things on the agenda
-- this shutdown watch, the health care -- eve of the health care open enrollment starting, and a visit by the Israeli Prime Minister, can you give a sense of what sort of the atmosphere is like in the -- does it feel like a busier-than-usual day? Is it tense? What's it like back there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's busy. But it's always busy here. It's busy for most of you in covering this White House and any White House. And we're very much focused on making sure that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues -- and it will; making sure that the enrollment period that opens tomorrow opens and continues for six months -- and it will; and making, as much as we can, information about that available to the public, to those millions of Americans and their families who will now have the opportunity to shop for affordable health insurance for the first time.
And then, on the foreign policy side, as the President noted -- I think we may have done this count, I can't remember, but I think it's accurate to say that President Obama has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu more than he has any other foreign leader, and that reflects the closeness of the relationship between our two nations, the United States' commitment to Israel's security, and the importance of the issues that the two leaders discussed today, including Syria and Iran, where we've had major developments.
So busy times, to be sure.
Q Jay, looking ahead to tomorrow, what is your level of confidence that this rollout is going to be ready and that it's going to rise to the expectations that the President and others have set for it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you would have to evaluate the expectations. It will be ready and it will happen. And regardless of what the Republicans do in terms of pursuing their ideological agenda, implementation continues. As those of you know how this works, the funding for the Affordable Care Act will not be significantly affected by any effort that the Republicans decide to take to shut down the government. And millions of Americans are going to have available to them the opportunity to enroll in these marketplaces and to purchase affordable health care for the first time in years.
I mean, their option -- we talked about the options available to them in the past. And for most of these Americans, they didn’t have networks, they didn’t have doctors, they had the emergency room. And their kids, when they had an asthma problem, they had the emergency room. And now they'll have something far better and more reliable available to them, which is health insurance.
Q Are you saying the President has nothing on his schedule regarding this tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn’t say that at all. I just said I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make.
Q Is he going to do something?
MR. CARNEY: I said I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make.
Q What's it going to say to the public if he doesn’t do something?
MR. CARNEY: Peter, again, I'm not going to get into a back- and-forth about what is or is not on his schedule because I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make.
Q I have a question about the government shutdown. Roger talked about 17 years ago. A lot has changed, including some of the provisions that have been put in place to make -- to cushion the shutdown, to make it less traumatic. I'm wondering if you have a prediction or if you've come to a consensus among yourselves about how long it might take for people to really feel it. I mean, when the sequester happened, there were a lot of predictions from the White House that it would be awful and people would rise up and demand that it ended, and it didn’t. I'm wondering if a shutdown this time is going to be less catastrophic than 17 years ago.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple of things. There is no question that essential functions, some of them continue. Different parts of the federal operations are affected in different ways. But the impacts are considerable and I listed some of them.
But the sort of underpinning of your question sort of supposes that we're approaching this in terms of how much political pressure will it take for Republicans to do the right thing. And we're hoping maybe zero and maybe they'll just do the right thing, and take up the President's year-long, essentially, offer to have substantive negotiations about how we fund the government in a way that helps it grow and create jobs and invest, and reduce our deficit in the medium and long term, rather than playing this game that has as its victims primarily regular Americans out there.
And I think it's important to note, obviously, the immediate deadline we face here is the lapse in funding that would occur come midnight. But there have been all sorts of suggestions from Republicans on Capitol Hill that they look forward to engaging in this again in just a few short weeks when the consequences would be even more serious -- far, far more serious, and unknowable in many ways, but bad in every case.
Q Well, I have a question about that, which is -- you were asked this two years ago about if the President had any constitutional recourse if the debt ceiling is breached and at that time you said no. But there have been suggestions that he's going to be violating the Constitution if he lets the debt ceiling breach go into effect; he'll be violating it if it doesn’t. I mean, have you taken a new look at this -- it's only 17 days away -- at the legalities of this and what he could do to prevent --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure what this is when it comes --
Q Breaching the debt ceiling.
MR. CARNEY: Congress has to vote to raise the debt ceiling. The President can't raise it by himself. People have talked about the 14th Amendment, and this administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the power to ignore the debt ceiling. And even if the President could ignore the debt ceiling, the fact that there is significant controversy around the President's authority to act unilaterally means that it would not be a credible alternative to Congress raising the debt ceiling, and would not be taken seriously by the global economy and markets.
As the President said today, the reason why this is so serious is because the world looks to the United States as the world economic leader, and relies on the stability and good faith and credit of the United States enormously. And that is why it is so important to maintain that, and never even to flirt with the possibility that it would not be maintained in order to -- for any reason -- and in this case, in order to achieve this narrow political piece of business that tea party Republicans couldn’t achieve through other means.
Q So his hands are completely tied on that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we don’t -- it is up to the Congress to pay the debts of the United States. Congress has the power to do that, according to the Constitution. It is up to the Congress to appropriate funds and ensure that the government remains open and functioning. And the President hopes that Congress takes those responsibilities seriously.
Q May I follow on the debt ceiling?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q -- 17 years ago, for a while the interns and volunteers were actually running the shop, and there was a danger to U.S. security. If interns and volunteers were to --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t believe that has been the case and is not the case now that volunteers or interns would be working. They will not.
All the way in the back. Oh, sorry, L.A. Times, and then Alexis.
Q I wanted to ask -- the President, when he campaigned last year, talked a lot about how his reelection would break the fever in Washington. I was wondering what you think his analysis is now -- why hasn’t that happened? Did he misjudge Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a pretty stubborn fever, clearly.
Q And that’s it? That’s what he thinks?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, that’s what I -- that’s my observation, not his. I think we all can assess without anyone’s assistance that Republican intransigence remains quite real.
I mean, here we have an opportunity to ensure that the government shuts down -- does not shut down. Democrats, the President aren’t asking for anything. They’re not attaching anything to this proposal; not attaching anything to the proposal that Congress fulfill its responsibility to pay the bills of the United States. And yet, the prospect of shutdown and the prospect of default are on the table because Republicans want to attach to those fundamental responsibilities highly partisan political agenda items that they have not been able to achieve through the normal legislative process or through the electoral process.
Q So does the President concede that that was not a realistic campaign promise?
MR. CARNEY: No, he hopes and believes that common sense will prevail and that we can get about the business of reaching reasonable compromise when it comes to our budget priorities.
There’s no agreement to reach when it comes to the debt ceiling. That should never be flirted with, reaching it, and it should never be used as a negotiating ploy. And that’s the President’s very firm position.
Alexis, last one.
Q Jay, two quick mop-up questions. Just to clarify -- by the time that you came out here today -- I just want to make sure I understand -- the President and the Vice President have not had any discussions about the shutdown with leaders as of today?
MR. CARNEY: I have no conversations involving the President or the Vice President to report to you today.
Q But it’s --
MR. CARNEY: Again, we don’t read out every conversation, so I’m not going to -- I’m not asking you to parse my words. I’m just saying the President spoke to this on camera just moments ago. I don’t have anything more beyond that to report.
Q But he also has on his schedule today a meeting with the Cabinet. Can you elaborate on whether he wants to talk to them about the plans for a responsible shutdown, which is an enormous operation government-wise? Is that the purpose of the meeting?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that I expect that that would be a topic, the potential for a lapse in funding. But I wouldn’t rule out other topics.
Q And also, just to add -- everyone in the federal government who would be expected to either be furloughed or be considered excepted, they know that as of now, correct?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to OMB in terms of the notification process. I’m not sure.
Q But here in the --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I can’t speak for every person in the --
Q How about in your office?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, in my office, people know.
Q Everybody knows?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Thanks very much.
2:38 P.M. EDT
January 19, 2015
January 19, 2015
January 17, 2015
January 17, 2015
January 16, 2015
January 16, 2015
January 15, 2015
January 15, 2015