Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 10/11/13
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:03 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for being here. Thank you for your patience. It’s obviously been a long afternoon. And I just wanted to make sure that before I came out to you I could provide you with as much updated information as possible. I don't have an opening statement to make, and in the interests of moving this along I'll go straight to questions.
Q (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can anticipate some of your questions, so it was the kind of information that I hope will be responsive to your questions, at least in part, that I sought and found.
Q Thanks, Jay. Can you tell us what the President and Speaker Boehner discussed in their phone call?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I can. The President did call and speak with the Speaker of the House this afternoon, not long ago, had a good conversation, and the two of them agreed that all sides need to keep talking on the issues here that are confronting us that have led to a shutdown of the government and to the situation that has put us on the precipice of potential default, or at least reaching that line beyond which the United States government does not have borrowing authority.
So the President believes that in his meetings yesterday with House Republican leaders, and today with Senate Republicans as well as, of course, with House and Senate Democrats, that there have been constructive talks. And when it comes to the House Republicans, in particular, there is an indication, anyway, of a recognition that we need to remove default as a weapon in budget negotiations, that the threat of default should not be used, and certainly default itself is never an option.
And the President appreciates the constructive nature of the conversation and of the proposal that House Republicans put forward. He has some concerns with it, and I'll simply say that, without reading -- I'm not going to read out details of conversations or the phone calls, but that our position, the President’s position that the United States should not, and the American people cannot, pay a ransom in exchange for Congress doing its job remains as true today as it has been throughout this period.
Q When you talk about a House Republican proposal, are you talking about the proposal that they presented in the meeting yesterday, or are you talking about this new proposal from them that would increase the debt ceiling short term, also reopen the government, and then, in exchange, increasing cuts in benefit programs?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't think -- I'm not aware of multiple proposals. I think that there has been a general discussion -- and I'm not going to get into details. I will simply say that the President has long believed and has insisted that we cannot allow a situation where one party in one house uses the threat of default to try to extract concessions through budget negotiations. And it is his position that the right thing to do is to remove that gun from the table, extend the debt ceiling in a way that ensures that there is no suggestion or hint that default is an option, because our economy can't endure that kind of approach to resolving our budget differences.
And a proposal that puts a debt ceiling increase at only six weeks tied to budget negotiations would put us right back where we are today in just six weeks, on the verge of Thanksgiving and the obviously important shopping season leading up to the holidays, and that would create enormous uncertainty for our economy. The President, speaking with small business owners, heard from them that the continued threat of default into that season would be very damaging to them. And we don't think that's the right way to go.
Q You said yesterday, though, that the President would likely sign a short-term debt ceiling increase. That still stands, is that correct?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. But let's be clear about what his position has been and what I've said. It is the very least that Congress could do to pass the legislation that would raise the debt ceiling for a short term and pass legislation that would fund the government for a short term, as the Senate has already passed. And the President has believed that -- as I think I've stated many times -- we should raise the debt ceiling for longer than that, as the Senate has proposed and will vote on soon, because we should not link the threat of default to budget negotiations.
He’s very eager to engage in budget negotiations. That's been something he’s amply demonstrated all year long and is reflected in the budget proposal he made earlier this year. But we should not have a situation -- a dynamic that has led to where we are now, that led to what we saw in the summer of 2011, and that would be recreated in six weeks if we had to once again go through a process where one party was trying to extract concessions and budget negotiations in return for lifting the debt ceiling.
Q I just want to try one more time. There was a proposal that the House Republicans came to the White House with yesterday for their meeting. And then, House Republicans say there was a new proposal that they presented to White House staff last night that also included reopening the government. The White House has received that proposal, right?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not disputing that. But what I'm saying is --
Q Can you just tell us what the White House's position -- it sounds like you're not accepting that proposal. I just want to make sure we can clarify that.
MR. CARNEY: What the President and the Speaker agreed on in their phone conversation is that everybody should keep talking. And the President appreciates the constructive approach that we've been seeing, and that is certainly a change, and a welcome change, and he hopes that an agreement can be reached.
In relation to the proposal that has been discussed in the press, it's our view that we cannot have a situation where the debt ceiling is extended as part of a budget negotiation process for only six weeks, which would put us right back in the same position that we’re in now.
And I know that this is not uncomplicated, but a clean debt ceiling increase for six weeks with no conditions attached to it is distinct from one that links it to a budget negotiation, and the continued threat of default as a point of leverage in a budget negotiation, which is just, again, continually putting the American economy at risk in an effort to achieve some partisan advantage, which we can’t do.
And, furthermore, when it comes to various proposals that have been discussed, it’s certainly our view, as it has always been, that there is no reason to keep the government shut down. The President wants to engage in constructive budget negotiations. He has seen indications from Republicans in both the Senate and the House in the last 24 hours that they, too, are interested in engaging in serious budget negotiations where we can achieve some of the goals that he put forward in his budget proposal -- buying down the sequester; investing in areas of our economy that will help it grow and protect the middle class; continuing the work of reducing our deficit and addressing our long-term debt. And he very much looks forward to that. But there’s no reason to not open the government right away, in his view.
Q Jay, do you feel like you’re close to an agreement? Are you getting anywhere at all in these talks?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the talks have been constructive and that there’s a recognition, at least among some Republicans and Republican leaders, that shutdown is not good for the American people and it’s not good for the American economy; that the threat of default is damaging to the economy, and default itself would be catastrophically damaging to the economy and the American people; and that that acknowledgement and those realizations have helped created an environment where it at least looks like there’s the possibility of making some progress here.
The President’s view is that we have to, again, remove these sort of demands for leverage, using essentially the American people and the economy in order to achieve what one side is seeking through negotiations, and simply engage in the negotiations. Don’t punish the American people because we here in Washington have different points of view about how we should invest moving forward and what mechanisms we can employ to further reduce our deficits.
So, again, the talks have been -- and I think this is important, because it is a marked difference from where we had been -- the talks have been constructive, and the President appreciates the approach that the Speaker and others have taken.
Q And is the biggest -- you mentioned this a couple of times. Is the biggest hang-up now that length of the debt ceiling extension?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the President has a number of concerns with the proposal, although there are other parts of the proposal that he thinks reflects areas that we can find constructive agreement in. And by “we” I mean not just the President and the Speaker, but any kind of budget deal would have to pass through both houses of Congress and that means agreement among both Democrats and Republicans in both houses.
The one issue that I mentioned just now is that tying the extension of the debt ceiling for only six weeks to budget negotiations creates a dynamic that is very similar to the one we’re experiencing now and very similar to the one that the country experienced back in 2011. And it has been the President’s position, and it is one that he holds to this day, that that’s not the appropriate way to go, and that we ought to remove -- Congress, Republicans ought to remove the threat of default as a point of leverage in budget negotiations because they’re only doing harm to the American economy, they’re only doing harm to the American people. And the President cannot, as he said so many times, pay ransom in exchange for Congress doing its fundamental -- fulfilling its fundamental responsibility, which is to ensure that the United States doesn’t default and that it pays its bills.
Q And lastly, what did he tell Senate Republicans this morning? We saw that Senator Cornyn said that it was a predictable lecture.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I saw some other senators -- Republican senators speak positively about the meeting, and the President felt that that was also a constructive meeting. I’m not sure about Senator Cornyn’s comments except to say that certainly the Senator should have expected the President to express his views on how we ought to move forward. I don’t think Republican senators held back or Republican house members have held back when expressing how they think we ought to move forward. The whole point is, we need to have constructive negotiations about our budget choices not under a cloud that threatens default or continued government shutdown.
Jim, and then Jon.
Q You’ve mentioned the administration’s concerns with the Republican proposal. What is the White House putting on the table? What do you see as the most realistic proposal in terms of getting something done here?
MR. CARNEY: It is our position that there is no acceptable reason to keep the government shutdown. All it does is harm Americans who are out there trying to make ends meet, harm the economy, and the government ought to be reopened. So our position hasn’t changed there. And our position on the debt ceiling hasn’t changed, which is that it ought to be removed by Congress as a tool or a cudgel in budget negotiations, because in the precedent created in 2011, Republicans have, now for the second time, used the threat of default in an attempt to extract concessions that they could not extract through normal legislative means or through the election process.
So that's unacceptable. And it's not personal. It's not about this President. It's unacceptable as a governing mechanism for this country moving forward, because it would create a scenario where quarter after quarter, or biannually, or yearly, we would have these manufactured crises. And the crises alone, whether there was default or not, do harm to our economy -- slow growth, reduce job creation, squeeze the middle class, squeeze small businesses. And it's just not the way to do business.
And I think you're seeing among a number of lawmakers both in the Senate and the House who are Republicans a recognition that this is not the right approach to take when we have sincerely held opinions about the kinds of decisions we need to make to move forward with our budget and our deficit reduction.
Q You said the position hasn’t changed on the shutdown, the position hasn't changed on the debt ceiling. How is that negotiating?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, look, the President has had constructive conversations with House and Senate Republicans. He’s also had very good conversations with House and Senate Democrats. His position that it's unacceptable to demand a ransom from the American people in return for not defaulting, it's not going to change. And it's not going to change now, and it's not going to change in six weeks, and it's not going to change at any point during his presidency. Nor does he expect that any of his successors will take a different position.
What has always been true is that this President is willing to sit down, roll up his sleeves and work out a common-sense budget agreement with Republicans that embodies both his objectives and Republican objectives in a compromise -- a compromise that achieves not everything he wants and achieves not everything that Republicans want, but through a compromise achieves what the American people and the American economy deserve, which is --
Q You're waiting for the white flag? You're waiting for total capitulation?
MR. CARNEY: No. Jim, look, you guys want to turn this into a game of winners and losers. And the President made clear the other day that in a situation where the government is shut down and one party in Congress is threatening default, and some of their loudest voices are encouraging default, nobody wins. Nobody wins. He wants a situation where we can discuss and debate our differences, and reach an agreement that reflects a willingness by both sides to compromise on behalf of the American people and the American economy. And he believes it is possible. And he believes that, although we're not there yet and there's not an agreement, that there are indications in these last 24 hours from Republicans of a new willingness to explore that possibility.
Q First, on a totally different subject -- as a Nobel Laureate, does the President think the Nobel committee blew it by not giving the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai?
MR. CARNEY: Let me say first that we'll be putting out a statement, but I wanted to say that President Obama congratulates the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- the OPCW -- on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, which reinforces the international community's commitment to the international prohibition against the use of chemical weapons.
One of the President's highest priorities is to prevent the proliferation or use of weapons of mass destruction. And this award honors those who make it their life's work to advance this vital goal. Since its establishment 16 years ago, the OPCW has stood at the forefront of the international community's efforts to verifiably eliminate some of the world's most dangerous weapons. Today's award recognizes that commitment and reinforces the trust and confidence the world has placed in the OPCW, in its Director General, and the courageous OPCW experts and inspectors taking on the unprecedented challenge right now of eliminating Syria's chemical weapons program.
The U.S. strongly supports the OPCW, including its joint work with the United Nations to ensure that Syria's chemical weapons stockpile are placed under international control and ultimately destroyed.
Today, we again call on all nations to work to bring to an end the conflict that has cost the lives of more than 100,000 Syrians and to support the OPCW's efforts in the hope that future generations can live in a world free from the horrors of chemical weapons.
In answer to your question, that young woman's courage and efforts are remarkable, and the President absolutely honors them, as so many people around the world do.
Q So he doesn’t think the Nobel Committee blew it?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I don't think the President --
Q Some people say she is like the most --
MR. CARNEY: I think the President -- as I just noted -- congratulates the winner of the Noble Peace Prize and obviously thinks that there’s an enormous amount of good work being done around the world on behalf of peace and all of it should be recognized.
Q So the Republicans started this all off by demanding full defunding of the Affordable Care Act in exchange for funding the government for six weeks, a whole laundry list of Republican priorities in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Is it your sense, given where we are now, that Republicans have backed down?
MR. CARNEY: Jon, I would just say, as I mentioned before, that it’s not really how it should be viewed, that it's a win/lose/zero-sum competition, because there are losers regardless in a process like this where government is shut down and default is threatened. And the President wants that dynamic to change.
He has made so very clear his willingness to negotiate and reach a compromise with Republicans on a longer-term budget deal. But he doesn't think that it's appropriate to exact a price from the American people or to punish the American economy in an effort to try to tip the balance of those discussions and negotiations by Republicans. And he’s been pretty firm about that.
He’s encouraged by some of the developments that we’ve seen and he agrees with the Speaker that we need to continue talking, and hopes that we can reach a resolution here that removes the threat of default from the table for a considerable duration -- that’s certainly the President’s view -- allows the government to reopen as soon as possible, put people back to work and end this situation where there are terrible consequences occurring every day that we all hear about and you report on.
And then we can get about the business of hammering out a compromise that, if achieved, will give each side something to be proud of, something to point to and say, we got that because we thought it was so important and we were willing to work with the President and the Democrats -- this is the Republicans speaking -- on what they insisted was important and we reached a compromise.
And if we can do that, on a longer term -- how long, obviously depends on what those negotiations look like -- it would be good for the American people and good for the economy.
Q But virtually none of those original Republican demands are on the table still, are they?
MR. CARNEY: Again, when it comes to threatening the full faith and credit of the United States, no demand, no matter how small, is acceptable. You have to accept the basic premise that using that as leverage is highly damaging to the economy and to the American middle class. And I think that we’ve, again, seen over the course of the last several days and weeks a developing recognition that going down this path was not the right way to go for all the reasons and lessons that we learned back in 2011.
Q And then one last thing. With apologies to Josh, can you explain to me how it is that West Wing Week is still being produced? I mean, is that really a central government service that is not shut down as part of the shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Office of Management and Budget in terms of what --
Q They don’t mention the weekly video webcast.
MR. CARNEY: Call the OMB. But the communications office obviously is significantly slimmed down, as are so many offices here, but communications are a part of what we need to do at the White House.
Q Jay, is it fair to say that the conversation now is about not whether to avoid default, but the duration? That is what is being passed back and forth in these conversations? I’m not going to put terminology on it that everyone is very sensitive to -- negotiations, whatever it is -- there’s an agreement to avoid default and the central issue is for how long?
MR. CARNEY: Well, without getting into depth about conversations that I don’t want to read out, I would simply say that, based on what you’ve heard from Republican leaders in both houses, there is a recognition that default is not an acceptable outcome and not an option. And it is true that we don’t think there’s -- we have great concerns about any proposition that would tie the next extension of the debt ceiling directly to budget negotiations in six weeks, right before we have the most important retails season --
Q So the conversations were about something longer than that?
MR. CARNEY: It is absolutely our view that we should remove renewal of the debt ceiling or extension of the debt ceiling from this conversation, that the threat of default should not be part of negotiations. That’s been our position all along.
Q Right. Has in the last 24 hours, a discussion about reopening the government for a period of time, longer than had been previously discussed, which is either two months or three months -- is that also now comingled with this conversation about extending the debt limit -- meaning, for a longer period that we’re really talking about now is not whether but duration.?
MR. CARNEY: No, I mean, I think there’s more to it than duration. Our view is the government ought to be reopened right away. It should have been reopened yesterday. It should never have been shut down. It is our view that the debt ceiling, the commitment by the Congress to pay our bills, should be renewed right way.
Q Right. But all of us are trying to figure out what is the central element of these conversations and what is the goal that both sides are bringing. And so it seems to me fair to ask you -- we’re not really talking about whether to do these things, but for how long, and then what’s the framework of negotiations that attach to that --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, broadly speaking, that’s --
Q Is that a fair characterization?
MR. CARNEY: That’s fair, but obviously there’s a lot more to it than that. What we think is not the right way to go is to try again, after we’ve just been through this and after we went through it two years -- to link extension of the debt ceiling to budget negotiations, and therefore link the possibility of default to whether or not one side gets what it wants in those budget negotiations, because --
Q So there has to be a clear delineation of that, or whatever you --
MR. CARNEY: We believe, the President supports a position that’s reflected --
Q And Republicans are moving in that direction, would you say?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to speak for the Republicans except to say that we think the talks have been constructive and we think that Republican leaders are looking for a way to extend the debt ceiling and to fund the government. We just need to -- they need to continue talking. There needs to be continued discussions on Capitol Hill, and we’ll see where we get.
Our view is that -- the President’s view is that we ought to -- there is no reason, there is no actual reason I have even seen logically articulated by Republicans for why they insist on, or would insist on continuing to shut the government down -- because there’s only -- I mean, average folks out there are paying the price and the economy is paying the price. And that ought to be --
Q And so these talks are now about resolving both?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to characterize conversations that are taking place on Capitol Hill or here in any great detail, except to reiterate what our firm position has been.
Q Tomorrow could be a very interesting and possibly important day, because House Republicans have said they’re going to have a vote on the debt limit extension one way or the other. It would either be the original thing they brought here yesterday, which is November 22nd, or something that would reflect what is now, I believe, being jointly discussed, something that’s longer and more comprehensive and possibly that could be described as a deal. Does that comport with your understanding that the timeline would be something by tomorrow, and that --
MR. CARNEY: I really can honestly say that I don’t know if and when the House is going to act on any proposed legislation. What I can tell you --
Q Is there a sense of urgency about getting things done tonight?
MR. CARNEY: The President just spoke with the Speaker. The President obviously met with Senate Republicans and has now met with members of both parties of both houses, and will continue -- broadly, will continue to have conversations. And what’s important here is that everyone recognize that default is not an option and that --
Q How about --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re obviously in a better place than we were a few days ago in terms of the constructive approach that we’ve seen of late, but there’s not an agreement. And it’s our view, the President’s view, that we ought to just -- that the Congress ought to and the House ought to allow the government to reopen, and to pass a bill that raises the debt ceiling, so that it’s clear to everyone that we can’t use that -- that no party should use the threat of default as leverage to try to achieve something through budget negotiations.
I mean, look, we’re a country where the two dominant parties -- and each is substantially represented here in Washington, and budget negotiations and a compromise will, by definition, if one is reached, reflect some of what each side wants. So that is highly achievable. And it’s not necessary to pursue and engage in budget negotiations under threat of default or continued shutdown.
Q Before I let you go, obviously everyone is going to be in town this weekend. The international markets will be weighing and monitoring what happens this weekend very carefully. It will be the last time before we start really getting closer to this October 17th deadline. Do you not agree that there is something very important about what does or does not happen, either here or on the floor of the House and Senate, this weekend on this question?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly agree that we’re long past --
Q That’s not that much of a sense of urgency to these conversations.
MR. CARNEY: -- the time when people ought to be able to go back to -- should have been able to go back to work and the government should have been reopened. And we’re obviously coming very close to a deadline that would put us beyond where we’ve ever been before, where the United States of America would not have the capacity to borrow and would only be able to use cash on hand to pay its bills. And that would be, by any serious economist’s reckoning, a very dangerous place for the United States. And we should not get there. And the President certainly hopes that Congress acts to remove that threat as soon as possible.
Q Is the source of disagreement right now with the House GOP proposal that there’s a -- putting entitlement reforms on the table, Medicare means-testing, but not revenue, a promise of looking at revenue as well in budget negotiations -- is that one issue that the White House has with this?
MR. CARNEY: What I’ll say, Carrie, is, A, that I’m not going to get into specifics about conversations and proposals that are being discussed. I will say broadly that the President believes that tough choices have to be made and can be made as part of a compromise budget agreement that moves our country forward and reduces the deficit.
He has a proposal on the table that would deal with this over a 10-year period and would reduce our deficit beyond -- would buy back the sequester and then reduce the deficit beyond what is achieved through sequester. And that would include, in a balanced way, some of the kinds of reforms that we’re seeing discussed today.
But remember, that was part of a broad package and a balanced package. The fact that there’s interest by both parties, in both houses, in buying back the sequester is a good thing in our view. And we’re certainly interested in budget negotiations that try to tackle that challenge and that shared goal and in budget negotiations that would look at a variety of means of achieving that.
So, having said that, I’ll restate that we need to continue to have conversations, and the House and the Senate and Democrats and Republicans need to continue to have conversations. It is our view that it’s very important to remove the threat of default from this process and to open the government as soon as possible.
Q But if the entitlements are put on the table specifically, which they seem to -- the GOP seems to have done, does the President need revenues to be specified as well, that that is also going to be --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to -- we’re talking about a very fluid situation. The President’s position is reflected in his budget, when you talk about comprehensive, broad, long-term budget negotiations that try to achieve a comprehensive, long-term deal. And the President’s position has always been that we need to, when it comes to deficit reduction, tackle that in a balanced way. And that’s reflected in his budget through both savings from entitlement reforms and savings through tax reform.
We’re not at the point of negotiations like that. The President has been eager to have those negotiations all year long, and has met repeatedly with Republicans over the course of the year in an effort to try to find that common ground on these very issues. And he looks forward to doing so again. But we need to continue to explore the possibility of resolving this imminent -- this real and current conflict that has led them to shut down the government and threaten default, and then we can move on to broader negotiations over how we achieve our budget priorities. Is that satisfactory?
Q On the issue of -- can you just sort of clarify, are you negotiating something, or not? Because the stance has been no negotiation. But there’s clearly --
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely true.
Q It seems clear that if the Republicans open up the government that you guys have agreed to give them something in return. Is that -- or else you wouldn’t be in the midst of trading proposals. Not to get pedantic here, but it does seem as if you have moved off the position of, we’re not negotiating.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you need to remember what our position is specifically -- and I understand the question. The President is absolutely committed to the proposition that the American people should not and cannot pay ransom in exchange for Congress doing its job when it comes to its fundamental responsibilities of ensuring that the government stays open, or, even more importantly, ensuring that the United States pays its bills.
When it comes to the debt ceiling, which will be breached for the first time in our history in just a few days if Congress doesn’t take the necessary action, it is absolutely his view that demands for ransom of any kind, any kind of extraction of a concession from him or from the American people through him are unacceptable in exchange for ensuring that we do not default. When it comes to --
Q So what is he offering then? He must be offering something or -- put it this way -- there are a lot of people on Capitol Hill, there are a lot of House Republicans and a lot of Senate Republicans who have come away from this meeting believing, okay, the President is now going to at least give us something.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that the conversations, at the very least, when it comes to what Republicans have heard from the President, have reinforced what the President has tried to convey through his proposals and through what he said publicly and privately, that he is serious about finding compromise when it comes to our budget challenges and that he wants to get to work resolving them, and believes that there are in both houses potential partners with both Democrats and Republicans to achieve that compromise. But he won’t --
Q So it’s fair to say that if there is something they come up with from what would be future budget talks to open up the government right now and John Boehner needs it to get the votes, you guys are, like, fine. Is that what we’re looking at there? Basically you’re saying, fine, it’s something we would have given you in the budget negotiations; if you need it earlier to get the votes to reopen the government, we’re not going to draw a line in the sand?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think it’s possible to achieve a comprehensive budget agreement of the kind that’s reflected in the President’s 10-year proposal in a matter of days -- unless there’s a sudden willingness by Republicans to --
Q But there’s one piece of it they’d take that they like?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think therein lies the rub, right? So we believe that precisely because budget negotiations are a complicated business and each side has principled views, that they should not be conducted under the cloud of continued shutdown and certainly not conducted under the threat of default. That’s been our position all along.
I mean, it’s probably made for less interesting copy, but there’s been enormous consistency in our statement of that position from the beginning here. And it’s fair to say that that position reflects some lessons learned from what happened in 2011. And what we can’t do is recreate the 2011 experience for the American people, because they paid a significant price just for the flirtation with default that Republicans engaged in two years ago.
Q Can you give the President’s or the White House version of events of the Ted Cruz back-and-forth?
MR. CARNEY: No. (Laughter.)
Q You're not going to say?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to read out beyond what I’ve said of the meeting itself.
Q My understanding is the Senator gave a pretty impassioned question about the health care law and that the President gave a pretty somewhat dismissive answer to Senator Cruz’s question.
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have any further readout on what the President thought was a constructive meeting.
Q Thanks. Just to clarify, did the President convey in his conversation with the Speaker that he wants a longer-term debt limit increase and that -- can you just clarify that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have anything more specific to read out from the conversation itself. I can say our position is -- and our position in public is the same as it is in private -- that it is the right thing to do to remove that gun from the table, the negotiating table, ensure that the debt ceiling is raised for as long a duration as possible so that it is not -- no one is tempted -- in this case, only Republicans have been tempted -- but no one is tempted to use the threat of default as a means of extracting political concessions.
Q Some of the Senate Republicans came away from their meeting with the President with the impression that he’s backing away from his support for something short term. Is that from your guys' perspective an accurate picture of what happened?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I would say is that it has never been our desired outcome that Congress only reopen the government for a short term, or Congress only lift the debt ceiling for a short term. That is -- and I think I've said this verbatim in the past -- the least they could do.
So is it still acceptable as the bare minimum? Sure. I mean, it's absolutely -- if the Congress were to pass a clean debt ceiling of short duration to avoid default, the President would sign that. But as I've said in the past, whether the Congress extends the debt ceiling for a short term or a medium term or long term, the President's position on refusing to pay ransom in exchange for Congress fulfilling their responsibility to pay the bills of the United States will not change.
Q And then, lastly, does the White House see promise in Senator Collins’s proposal, given your desire for something longer? Is that an avenue that you think might be more fruitful?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that a number of lawmakers in the Senate as well as the House have expressed views that are constructive, in our estimation. Senator Collins is one of them. But I'm not going to evaluate from here a specific proposal beyond what I've said thus far.
Q Jay, did you answer Chuck by saying that, yes, these talks and meetings and phone calls and conversations amount to negotiating? Or are you still avoiding that word?
MR. CARNEY: What I would say is that our position hasn’t changed, our position that there's no ransom that can be paid. And when you say "negotiation," if you mean it in the terms of like you extract from one side what you want in return for something else -- when it comes to raising the debt ceiling, the President firmly believes it is not good for the American people or the American economy or the global economy for any President of either party, or any party in the future, to pay the opposition party a political price in exchange for it fulfilling that fundamental responsibility, because you get into a situation -- which we're now experiencing and which we experienced in 2011 -- whereby one faction of one party manufactures a crisis that does harm to the economy and harm to the American people. And we ought not do that.
Because it's a complicated piece of business with an unfortunate term attached to it, the debt ceiling, but it is really simply about authorizing the United States government to pay the bills that Congress has incurred. So not paying those bills would make us a deadbeat nation. And that is something that I don't think any American reasonably would find acceptable.
Q I understand that. But you said earlier the President has a number of concerns with the proposal from the House Republicans. That sounds like negotiating. Can we use that word, or you would object to it?
MR. CARNEY: You can use any word you want to describe it. That's the beauty of the free press.
Q But does it come with a Jay Carney phone call after? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, maybe an email or a Tweet.
But saying that we believe that conversations have been constructive and that the proposal that Republicans from the House have put forward represents in part progress, I think reflects where we are in this.
Q You don't want to use that word.
MR. CARNEY: Again, we're not -- when it comes to raising the debt ceiling --
Q I understand all of that. I'm just saying, this back- and-forth, that's negotiating, right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we're listening and we're talking.
Q All right, one last question. Last evening, the President signed the mini funding bill to restore funding to military death benefits. A day earlier you had said it wasn't necessary, you didn't need it; he wasn't going to sign it. What changed his mind?
MR. CARNEY: Well, at the time, the legislation had not reached his desk. And he had asked his Chief of Staff to find a creative solution to this problem as soon as possible. And thanks to the generosity of the Fisher House and its willingness to help us deliver these benefits to families, an agreement was reached between the Department of Defense and the Fisher House that was a temporary solution to this problem. Now, the legislation obviously, once passed and signed into law, obviates the need for that.
So my point all along was that the way to resolve that problem and all these problems instantly is to reopen the government and to restore funding at levels that Republicans themselves felt were appropriate for the previous fiscal year, so that when the legislation was passed and the President was able to sign it, he did because he felt it was very important that these benefits be guaranteed.
He is enormously appreciative of the generosity of the Fisher House and of the work done by folks at OMB and DOD to come up with a solution that appeared to be needed, because it is essential that these benefits be provided.
Q Then is it no longer a matter of principle that President Obama will not sign any other of these many funding bills?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Mark, as you know, he signed the Pay Our Military Act because of the enormous and unique sacrifice that our military families provide. It is absolutely our position that attempts to solve a political problem by their decision to shut down the government through piecemeal legislation are not -- are gimmicks, broadly speaking, and that the way to resolve this political problem for the Republicans and the way to resolve this real problem and this real pain that their decision to shut down the government has caused the American people is to reopen the government.
Again, the proposition that we’ve always put forward that Leader Reid and Leader Pelosi agreed with was that we should -- that Congress should pass a bill that would extend government funding levels at -- extend government funding at the levels that were set for the previous fiscal year for a relatively short duration to allow for substantive budget negotiations.
From the light of -- the very little light of today, I think it’s pretty clear that that’s an entirely reasonable position and hardly represents a demand or a concession to the President or the Democrats to go along with that. So that’s why we’ve taken that position. And all of this hardship that the American people have experienced thus far and the confusion, and the real suffering as well as the inconvenience could have been avoided and can be avoided in the future if the Congress, the House would simply reopen the government.
Q Thank you, Jay. Some senators left here today thinking the President is open to some tweaks to the Affordable Care Act -- that don’t gut it, but just tweak it. Is that accurate?
MR. CARNEY: The President has said I think publicly many times that he is open to suggestions from any quarter about how to improve the Affordable Care Act, make the benefits that it provides the American people better and more efficiently delivered. And he understands that with any kind of program like this and legislation like this, as was the case with Social Security and Medicare and Medicare Part D, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, there are ways to improve it -- he doesn’t doubt it.
What he of course won’t accept is improvements -- or actually efforts to do away with the Affordable Care Act that come in the guise of improvements or delays or modest defunding. I mean, I think we’ve talked about it here that some of the ideas that have obviously been pretty firmly rejected by a majority of the American people that have been put forward by Republicans as part of this debate and gussied up as mere adjustments or delays of the Affordable Care Act were sincere efforts to try to eliminate it indirectly.
And the President firmly believes that it’s important to provide access to affordable health insurance to millions of Americans, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act does and will do. And as is the case now, since the marketplaces have been opening, individuals across the country are finding out that they have a variety of options available to them at affordable prices to get quality health insurance that they never could have gotten before.
Q So the delay of the medical device tax is one that is coming up again and again now, but does that fall under the category of delays that he would find damaging to the rule itself?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that -- again, the President is open, without threats of continued shutdown or threats of default, to having serious conversations about budget priorities, budget proposals, as well as any ideas that any lawmaker might have about ways to improve the Affordable Care Act. He’s willing to look at any proposal.
When it comes to the one you mention, I think it’s important to note that eliminating that provision would substantially increase the deficit. So that is something that would greatly concern him. Any proposal that anyone put forward would have to take into account the much unremarked-upon fact by Republicans that the Affordable Care Act reduces the deficit. Again, as scored by the CBO and independent economists, the Affordable Care Act is a deficit reducer. It’s paid for, and then some, in the medium and long term. So it would be very important to the President to ensure that that principle is maintained regardless of the proposals that are put forward.
Q A couple days ago the White House was very unhappy about Boehner’s decision to show up at the White House with just 18 or 20 Republicans instead of the entire conference, but it seems like it was actually one of the most productive meetings that have happened since the shutdown. Do you regret the position the White House took?
MR. CARNEY: We certainly don’t regret inviting every member of Congress to the White House. So I don’t --
Q The position in saying that it would be less productive for Boehner to show up with the smaller group that he brought.
MR. CARNEY: No, our position was that we regretted that all members of the House weren’t able to come -- all members of the Republican conference, simply because it is a -- as the Speaker of the House himself has often noted -- a diverse bunch with sometimes conflicting opinions about policy and the President, and that it would have been useful I think for everyone to have a face-to-face conversation.
Having said that, we still have that view, Ari, but it is the case that yesterday’s conversation with that subset, that leadership subset of the House Republican conference was constructive, and we believe it is the right thing to do to continue to have talks.
Q The other thing I wanted to ask was you said Republicans suddenly seem to have come around to the view that the threat of default is not good.
MR. CARNEY: Some of them have.
Q Some of them have. Do you think the timing of that view coinciding with the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showing terrible numbers for Republicans was coincidental?
MR. CARNEY: Were I still a reporter covering Congress and Republicans in Congress as I once did, it’s possible I could reach that conclusion. I would encourage my former colleagues and those who are doing what I used to do to dig a little deeper into the bigger issues, which I think reflects what I was saying earlier. It’s not -- whatever the motivation is, it’s always been our position that if you’re taking action in Washington that hurts the American people and hurts the American economy, it’s probably not going to be very popular -- at least broadly across the nation. So I think that may be what is reflected in some of this data.
But the fact of the matter is, nobody wins when Washington is dysfunctional and one party holds the whole process hostage to demands that are unreasonable. So hopefully there’s a recognition that we need to move away from that dynamic and instead open the government, remove the threat of default, and engage in a serious-minded negotiation where I can promise -- (laughter) -- we’ve always said that -- open the government, remove the threat of default, and let’s negotiate about our budget priorities.
And I promise you that that negotiation will result -- that if there is a conclusion to that negotiation that is a compromise, that would mean that each side got some of what it wanted but neither side got all of what it wanted. And that is how it should be. And that is the spirit in which the President has always approached this process -- recognizing that we have a system of government with two strong parties that are represented in different proportions in each House in Congress as well as here at the White House, and that no one gets everything he or she wants when it comes to these kinds of negotiations.
These things are hard enough that it’s not the right approach to take, then, to somehow achieve what you want by threatening default or threatening to shut down the government and keep people out of work for a sustained period of time. That’s always been our position. It hasn’t been a position that then don’t do these things and therefore we get everything we want; the President knows full well that he’s not going to get everything he wants. His budget proposal recognizes that from the outset.
Steve Dennis, and then Cheryl.
Q So it seems like you’ve moved and Democrats have moved --
MR. CARNEY: I probably shouldn’t have called on him, right? (Laughter.) A little too plugged-in. Never mind, he can’t think of what to say.
Q I want to be careful with this, because you've been dancing around the negotiation question. For weeks now, you guys have wanted a clean CR. And now it seems you're willing to negotiate a mini-deal that would get attached to a clean CR -- things with give-and-take, things that you want, things that the Republicans want attached to a clean CR. So you'd have a policy sidecar, not just a process sidecar. That's new.
MR. CARNEY: No. I understand the question and it's a smart one. But here's -- let me be clear. Our position has always been that at the very least Congress ought not to allow the government to shut down, that Republicans should not shut down the government and that the House of Representatives should do what the Senate did, which is pass a clean CR funding the government at levels set in the previous fiscal year by largely Republicans.
So it has also been our position that we envision a bigger and broader and more substantive budget compromise that achieved some of the goals that the President has been talking about for a long time. And those goals include continued deficit reduction, they include dealing with the problem with the sequester, and they include key investments in areas of our economy and our middle class that will help us grow stronger in the future and create more jobs. So, both are true.
At the very least, our position has been that the Republicans should not have shut down the government, that when it became clear they weren't going to get what they wanted in return for when the fiscal year ended, that they should have done the very least, which is what the Senate did, and that is pass an extension of spending at current levels short term, to allow for further budget negotiations. Instead, they chose to shut the government down to try to use pain and suffering of the American people and the harm to the American economy as leverage to get what they wanted. I think it's fair to say that hasn't worked for them.
We are encouraged by the constructive approach that Republicans have taken in conversations with the President and others in recent hours and days. But we don't have an agreement yet.
Q So is it fair to say that you're willing to negotiate and are trying to negotiate a mini deal that gives both sides something that they want that would not be considered a ransom, which is still -- there won't be a ransom?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think -- I mean, no, I don't think I can characterize the conversations that way. What we are looking for is a way to see if the Congress -- and in particular, Republicans in the Congress, in agreement with Democrats -- can reopen the government, which is something we've asked them to do from day one, and then remove the threat of default from this whole process. That's our position and our view, and it's one that we've expressed.
We have seen constructive signs and appreciate them, coming from the Republican side, and believe, as the Speaker said or his spokesman said in their readout of the phone call with the President, that it's important to continue to talk, that all sides continue to talk.
Cheryl, last one.
Q Really concretely --
MR. CARNEY: No. (Laughter.)
Q -- what is the next step?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know.
Q Are you waiting for Boehner to come back with a new proposal tonight? Does he need to talk with McConnell?
MR. CARNEY: I think it's fair to say that when it comes to specifics about talks and conversations that I'm not going to have a lot to offer you today, it's pretty evident, right? (Laughter.)
Q The President talked to Speaker Boehner. Is he waiting for now a new proposal --
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Speaker. What I can say is what the Speaker's spokesman said, which is that the President and he agreed to continue talking and that all sides should continue talking, and that we think what we've seen thus far represents a constructive approach. And hopefully, Congress will reach an agreement of some kind that will allow them to open the government -- reopen the government and remove the threat of default from this whole process, because it's enormously damaging to the economy and to the American people.
Q Over the weekend, Jay -- updates over the weekend on this?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any scheduling updates. I mean, obviously, we'll keep you updated as we have more information about things happening here. But I have nothing on tomorrow's schedule or Sunday or Monday’s at this --
Q Week ahead? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Don't have one. It's a fairly fluid situation.
Q Right, I understand -- just not anticipate seeing the President.
MR. CARNEY: I certainly have no scheduling announcements of that kind to make. I don't expect to make them. I don't expect that, but I would never -- the normal process we follow of giving a lid and things like that will be followed in this case.
Q Jay, if President Obama had done the Asia trip, would he have gone to Afghanistan today? (Laughter.) Secretary Kerry was in Afghanistan or went to Afghanistan today, filling in for the President on the rest of the trip. That's why I'm asking.
MR. CARNEY: There was not a plan to do that.
Q Oh, okay. Thanks.
END 5:01 P.M. EDT
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December 19, 2014
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