The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/13/2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:54 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. I have a brief statement from the President on the attacks in Mumbai today.
"I strongly condemn the outrageous attacks in Mumbai. And my thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and those who have lost loved ones. The U.S. government continues to monitor the situation, including the safety and security of our citizens. India is a close friend and partner of the United States. The American people will stand with the Indian people in times of trial and we will offer support to India's efforts to bring the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice.
"During my trip to Mumbai, I saw firsthand the strength and resilience of the Indian people, and I have no doubt that India will overcome these deplorable terrorist acts."
Also, the President this morning placed a call and spoke briefly with President Karzai and expressed his condolences on the loss of his half-brother.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q Just to follow quickly on the Mumbai attacks, does the U.S. have any indication of what terrorist group may have been behind the attacks or claims of responsibility at this point?
MR. CARNEY: It's obviously quite early and so I don't have any information on that.
Q And then, to move toward the deficit talks, since the White House hasn’t outright rejected Senator McConnell's backup plan, can you give us a sense of how seriously the administration is taking it in terms of whether the counsel's office is reviewing it or if OMB is taking a look -- anything that would put it on a path where if you had to turn to that backup plan it would be ready to go?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know that the counsel's office is involved. I'm sure that OMB is looking at it. What we said yesterday and what the President said is that we appreciate the fact that Senator McConnell's proposal is effectively an acknowledgment of what we have said all along that there is no alternative to the United States honoring its obligations; that we cannot play a game of chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States government, and therefore, there has to be some mechanism, no matter what happens, to make sure that Congress takes action to do that.
This is not a preferred option. The President is firmly committed to significant cuts in spending and to dealing with our deficit and debt problems in a balanced way. He has been saying every day in these negotiations, these talks with congressional leaders, and he will say again today, this afternoon when they meet, that as they essentially assemble the building blocks for a possible compromise in terms of cutting spending, reforming entitlements, potentially, and obviously finding savings in the tax code, that bigger is better; that this is a unique opportunity to accomplish something significant on behalf of the American people, to really -- it's an opportunity for a game changer, to put the United States on much firmer ground as we really get into the 21st century and the economic competition that confronts us.
So we have said all along that we have to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States and that we will do that, and we have taken congressional leaders at their word that they intend to do that. Senator McConnell’s plan, proposal, is an acknowledgment of that, that the linkage that has existed in the past is not viable because there is no alternative. But it is not the preferred option.
Q But since it’s unclear how we get to the bigger deal that the President wants --
MR. CARNEY: Well, you get to them through negotiations.
Q Well, it’s unclear how those negotiations end up in a bigger deal at this point. Are we are a point in the process, though, where we should expect to see more backup plans come out? Do you have any indications from the Hill that there are other backup plans in the works?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll let members of Congress speak for themselves in terms of proposals they might be working on. I’m not aware of any, in terms of backup plans. But the conversations, negotiations, deliberations that are underway, both in the meetings here in the White House and obviously in other meetings and conversations, are about trying to find -- to solve a real problem here, which is the need to get our deficits under control, to reduce spending, and to deal with our long-term debt issue.
So that is the focus of the conversations. The fact that there is no alternative to raising the debt ceiling and to honoring our obligations, to paying our bills, essentially, bills that were run up in the past, is obviously one that we share.
Q And just finally, Senator McConnell’s plan looks like the type of short-term incremental plan that the President came out earlier this week and said he would not support. So if you have to go in this direction, is this a flip-flop on his position?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, we have said that we appreciate the recognition and acknowledgment that the proposal puts forward about the need to, under any circumstance, maintain the full faith and credit of the United States. We have not discussed or analyzed the components of the plan or endorsed it in its particulars, again, because this is a fall-back backup option, it’s not the preferred option. We believe the American people expect us to do something about reducing spending, getting our deficits and debts under control.
The President has made himself -- made it very clear that he is willing to compromise to do that, to take difficult steps, make difficult choices, take heat from his party as necessary to achieve something that the American people expect him to achieve and expect their leaders in Washington to achieve.
So what I think the President made clear is that we are the United States of America; we should not be engaged in raising every six weeks, eight weeks, three months, six months a question about whether or not we’re going to meet our obligations. So that still is his position.
Q We’ve been hearing all along from Secretary Geithner and from other administration officials that there was no plan B, no contingency plan if the debt ceiling was not raised by August 2nd. But now we’re hearing from Fed Chairmen Bernanke in his testimony today that, in fact, they are prioritizing that the --
MR. CARNEY: Well, Matt, let’s be clear --
Q -- payments on the government debt would be the first item.
MR. CARNEY: What we made clear is that there is no -- there is no plan B in that there’s some sort of way to fix the fact that we would be in default. The fact that you have to deal with the consequences of being in default and that you would have to make heinous choices about which bills you would pay and you have to prepare for that as a matter of due diligence doesn’t mean that that’s a plan B for solving the problem. It’s not solving the problem. It’s dealing with the consequences of a catastrophic decision not to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States government.
Q But the administration is, in fact, preparing a contingency plan with specific priorities if this comes to pass?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. It’s a big government that -- and, again, the Fed is an independent organization. But the point is not that there is some alternative to -- that we can make the problem of default go away through a plan. There is no alternative. You either honor your obligations or you don’t. And if you don’t, you make terrible choices about which ones -- which bills you will pay and which you won’t.
Q Bernanke also added his voice to warnings that a default would be a huge crisis for the country. It could lead to a downgrade of credit ratings, higher interest rates. Does the administration see the potential for his voice being added to add pressure to the Republicans to give some ground in negotiations today?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think we -- that goes back to what I said before. Leaders of Congress, including the Senate Minority Leader and the Speaker of the House and others, have said on numerous occasions that we have to honor our obligations and not go into default, and that there is -- paraphrasing here -- there isn’t an alternative here.
So we don’t -- we welcome the vocal recognition of that from anyone who has a credible voice to remind people, because there are obviously -- moving from the leadership to rank-and-file members and others -- there are some who seem to believe that this is not a serious and consequential situation that could potentially make the recession that we went through in 2008 look minor by comparison, depending on the kind of consequences that could ensue after a default.
Again, let me step back. That’s all hypothetical. And we don’t believe it’s going to happen because we believe that this is the United States of America and the leaders of Congress, as well as the President, will do what’s necessary to make sure that we fulfill our obligations and that we do not default for the first time in our history.
Q Congressman Cantor, the Majority Leader, is suggesting that President Obama should make the changes he’s willing to make to entitlement spending public, that the Republicans voted for the Paul Ryan plan, which is a very public way to get -- to express what they think should be done for Medicare, and that the suggestions he made, Cantor made, were released earlier this week, and that it would help Republicans understand what a deal would look like if the President publicly came forward with an explanation of what he wanted to do, what he was willing to do.
MR. CARNEY: Is there a question? (Laughter.)
Q Well, do you disagree -- do you disagree with that idea?
MR. CARNEY: I think we have made clear in the negotiations, in the conversations, what we are willing to do and the significant compromises the President is willing to make, the cuts he’s willing to accept in discretionary spending, for example, as well as the reforms he’s willing to consider in entitlement programs as part of a balanced package.
If you’re telling me that some people would want us to say we’ll do all this and they say, great, let’s just do that, and by the way, we don’t need a balanced package, you’ve already agreed to these cuts and compromises and reforms -- that’s not how negotiations should work. We believe that in order to achieve balance, you need to sit around a table and work out a balanced package.
And going back to Senator Dole but as many have said, that the way to do this is, everybody gets in the boat together at one time so it doesn’t tip over. And the President has made clear that he’s willing to accept measures that won’t necessarily be popular with all Democrats, and certainly we believe that it is the responsibility of Republicans to be leaders and to be willing to accept measures and compromises that won’t be necessarily popular with all Republicans.
But there is a growing chorus out here of Republicans and conservatives who acknowledge that we need to do this in a balanced way. I think you interviewed Senator Simpson, who made that quite clear. I think Bill O’Reilly, on FOX News, expressed that sentiment last night. Numerous members of Congress -- Senator Lindsey Graham yesterday has said this. This is not -- it seems self-evident that the leaders in Washington should, in a situation like this, where the problems are recognized by everyone, the need for solutions and the urgent need for solutions are recognized by everyone, that then we should come together and compromise; not say, no way, no how, on every absolutist position that you might hold.
Q I’m trying to address just the entitlement component of it --
MR. CARNEY: What I’m not going to do, Jake, is publicly say what all of our positions are on these issues because that’s stuff that’s happening in a negotiating room.
Q Well, Republicans are saying that they can’t get commitments. I’m not in the room; I don’t know what the truth is. But Republicans are saying that they can’t get commitments. Mitch McConnell said that an administration official, which I believe is Budget Director Jack Lew -- he asked him how much would there be in entitlement cuts next year, and Lew said -- McConnell did not identify him, but it was Lew -- (laughter) -- and Lew said $2 billion, which is --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t -- actually that’s not talking about entitlements. And that is just a false moving of the chains here when we -- you got to compare apples to apples. The President has already committed to significant non-defense discretionary cuts that were embodied in the CR compromises that fulfill the fiscal year funding of 2011. And what the President is seeking and the commitments he’s made in terms of the spending he likes -- he would accept and seeks, in terms of non-defense discretionary spending, to lock in the savings represented from last year, represented in the CR, and to take them even further, and not just to have savings in one year.
But one of the reasons why he wants a big deal is because you can get a medium-size deal or a smaller deal, but that doesn’t deal with your long-term problem. Only a significantly sized deal in the trillions of dollars, between $3-$4 trillion is what we mostly talked about, over 10 to 12 years, that's the only way to really get at the problem of debt-to-GDP ratio -- to bring those costs in line so that we can get our fiscal house in order. That's what the President wants.
And he is willing to cut deeply in discretionary spending, carefully. He's willing to cut significantly in defense spending, if you do it carefully and maintain our national security interests. He's willing to reform entitlements and find savings there. And he's absolutely willing, of course, to make sure that it's balanced and that we find savings in our tax code.
Q What was McConnell talking about with this $2 billion?
MR. CARNEY: It's apples to oranges here. He's measuring -- he's taking one standard and applying another to get a figure to make a political point. And that's -- the budgeters understand how this works and what you measure against. And the savings the President is willing to find and accept are significant. Everybody who's been a part of this process knows that -- people who were in the budget negotiations, in the negotiations led by the Vice President, and everybody knows for a fact because we all lived through it, the negotiations that led to the compromise that forestalled -- that prevented a government shutdown for fiscal year 2011 spending represent the largest and most significant cuts in spending that we've seen.
So this is real money and real reduction in spending the President has been committed to and he remains committed to.
Q Jay, is the White House concerned that the McConnell plan, while it might help avoid a default, that perhaps agencies could still take action?
MR. CARNEY: The question of credit agencies I'll put aside. What obviously is at issue here is that we will not have addressed the very problem in terms of our deficit and debt that will still be there in front of us. So the positive impact in terms of confidence that you would get from a significant deal we will not have achieved. I mean, it is a form of kicking the can down the road.
It is, however, an important acknowledgement of the fact that we need -- regardless of where we get in our negotiations over deficit reduction, we absolutely have to make sure that the United States continues to pay its bills and fulfill its obligations.
On the credit agencies, I just don’t have a response to that. The fact that the United States will, come August 2nd, continue to be creditworthy we think is important. And it’s a position we’ve maintained from the beginning.
Q Would the President agree to something, though, that deals with obviously preventing a default but the likely ramification could be that credit agencies may take action?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t want to speculate about credit agencies. That’s something we don’t have control over. What we think is important is that -- first, that everyone remain committed to the proposition that the United States will not for the first time in its history default on its obligations; second, that we should work diligently, daily, to reach an agreement on deficit reduction, a balanced agreement -- and a sizable one, because this is hard stuff anyway, and the principle that the President repeats in these meetings is as we look at the spending cuts that we can agree on and as we look at the measures we can take, we can agree on, and then build from there and look at some of the compromises that would need to be made in terms of entitlements and revenues and other issues and other kinds of spending cuts.
I think people quickly recognize that none of this will be easy, that all of this will be hard. Any deal of any significant size will entail hard choices. Therefore it is absolutely worth it, because it's the right thing to do and it's worth it politically to go and do something and get the biggest possible deal. Because that's what the President supports and I think that -- and I know that that's the argument he's making in these negotiations.
Q And as he continues to push for that big deal, is he concerned that at a certain point he appears ineffective pushing for the biggest deal possible when it seems obvious that it's likely not going to be the basis for an agreement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I didn’t see you in the room, but I wasn’t aware that you were as knowledgeable about how the negotiations are going as you seem to be. The fact is we remain confident that we will get an agreement that reduces spending, that cuts the deficit. What is at issue here is can we get something -- how significant an agreement. And he is absolutely confident that it is the right position to take to push this process forward to get the biggest possible deal.
Q But it's no secret that he's still pushing for a bigger deal than seems likely or that Republicans have ruled out. So is he --
MR. CARNEY: But, wait, wait, the Republicans haven't ruled out a big deal. They have ruled out -- they have made a lot of declarative statements about what's acceptable and non-acceptable, even though an increasing number of people have -- even Republican and conservatives -- have taken opposite positions. But if you're saying that they've said compromise is impossible, I just don't think that's in the end for sure --
Q No, I'm saying not pushing for the $4 trillion. And the President continues to push for the largest deal possible, an indication that he's pushing for the $4 trillion, even though it seems unlikely --
MR. CARNEY: Well, he's pushing for the largest deal possible. He thinks that $4 trillion in a balanced way would be the best possible outcome. There are obviously other potential outcomes short of $4 trillion, but the bigger, the better, if it's balanced and it's considered and it makes significant cuts in domestic spending, significant cuts in defense spending, but ones that allow us to protect our national security and allows us to invest in ways that will continue to grow the economy and create jobs. And so he's absolutely pushing for the biggest deal possible.
Q Can we have TV cameras in for the top of the meeting today?
MR. CARNEY: We are doing a photo stills spray today. I would remind you that the last time we had TV cameras in the meeting it was less than three hours after the President had given a press conference, and people shouted questions at him, including people who had just had questions in the press conference. So the purpose of the meeting is not to create a circus but to negotiate. So today we're doing stills only.
Q Questions are a circus?
Q Are you telling us we can't ask questions?
MR. CARNEY: He asked questions -- he took -- he had a 70-minute press conference last week. He had a 45-minute press conference three hours before people walked in and created --
Q -- exhausted everything that we wanted to ask?
MR. CARNEY: No, the President will certainly take questions again. But we have -- they have work to do, so this isn’t a matter of --
Q -- on the record it's absurd to say that we can't ask questions when we go in there with a camera --
MR. CARNEY: I'm not saying that, Chip. You had questions that day --
Q And we're not allowed to ask more questions?
MR. CARNEY: -- and he took 70 minutes of questions the day before. You certainly are. I'm just saying we're just going to do a photo spray today -- still photo.
Q Well, it's an absurd reason to say that because we asked questions you're not going to allow cameras in there.
Q He's perfectly capable of ignoring the questions. He does it all the time.
Q Right. Anyway, I think that's --
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate your opinion, Chip. Continue.
Q Can you tell us how the meeting went yesterday generally? And is the President surprised or concerned that John Boehner seems to be pulling back and leaving the lead -- giving the lead position to Eric Cantor, who seems far less inclined to compromise?
MR. CARNEY: The meeting yesterday was constructive. It allowed participants to exchange different views about how we can build on the cuts that we can agree on and how we can get from small to medium to large. And that process continues today.
In terms of the -- the President is working with every member of Congress who is in that room. The President’s team is working with every member of Congress in that room, and that includes obviously the Speaker and the Majority Leader. The issue here is not about personalities. It’s about doing something for the American people that needs to be done but isn’t necessarily easy and requires compromise.
Q But Cantor has made very clear he is less inclined to compromise. So does that change the tone in the room away from compromise?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that -- what we’ve said all along, that this is not a time for maximalist positions or we won’t do this, no way, no how -- that’s really not an option if your goal, the stated goal, the primary objective since the midterm elections that we’ve heard from Republican leaders and rank-and-file members is we need to get our spending under control, we need to reduce the deficit, we need to deal with the long-term debt.
There is a vast collection of comments and analysis that says the best way to do that -- and this is vast, I mean, from a broad political spectrum -- the best way to do that is to take a balanced approach, significant cuts in defense -- I mean, in non-defense discretionary spending, significant cuts in defense spending, significant savings in entitlements, and significant savings from the tax code, plus interest. And that’s how you get something big that is done in a way that does not upset the apple cart and does not shift the burden entirely on one sector of society -- seniors, for example, or disabled children or their parents.
So everybody ought to share in the sacrifice here. But by definition, when you’re reducing our deficits and debt by, let’s say, $4 trillion over 10 to 12 years, it requires sacrifice. And the President’s position has always been that the sacrifice ought to be shared; that if you’re asking for sacrifice from middle-class families, then you ought to be asking for sacrifice from people who have been extremely fortunate like himself, people who, say, are able to buy private jets or who pay taxes at a rate significantly lower on the billion dollars in income -- at a significantly lower rate than a fireman or a teacher. So these are not unreasonable positions to take when everybody should be sacrificing.
Q In today’s meeting, does the President plan to just open it up to people to talk, or will he lead the meeting? And does he have specific things that he wants to accomplish and a specific direction he wants it to take?
MR. CARNEY: I think we will -- I’m sure everyone will have a chance to speak. The President tends to open these meetings. And I think that different positions will be presented as we look at the areas where there is agreement, the areas where agreement is relatively close to being within reach, and areas where there is significant disagreement that there needs to be negotiation about. And that’s how this process hopefully will move forward.
Q Last question. He has ruled out a 30 or a 60 or a 90-day extension. But if they’re close --
MR. CARNEY: He said 180 days, too.
Q Okay. If they’re close, is he ruling out a one-week stopgap so they can complete the negotiation?
MR. CARNEY: Look, what the President thinks we ought to do is get down to work and do our jobs. And in this case, the elected leaders who are here in Washington ought to do their jobs.
Q But you know how it works -- you get to the end, you don’t quite have enough time.
MR. CARNEY: Well, there is enough time to get this done. And so we’re going to focus on the present right now and try to achieve something significant. We believe it’s possible. We believe there is momentum in the direction -- contrary to some of what you hear in the public sphere, there is momentum towards achieving significant deficit reduction in a balanced way, and not to grab hold of that and try to reach something significant would be a failure of leadership. So the President believes very strongly that we need to -- that leaders need to lead; that in that room people need to say this is not about politics, this is not about comparative advantages in next year’s election; it’s about doing what’s right, and we ought to do that.
Q Jay, any regrets here at the White House about expanding the group that’s in these meetings every day? I mean, by expanding the group, you obviously have more -- strong personalities --
MR. CARNEY: Greater diversity of opinion, you might say?
Q Strong personalities in the room that go on camera and say some tough things sometimes that -- I’m just wondering at this point, after these daily meetings, whether you kind of wish maybe it was a smaller group.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s important to recognize that anything that’s going to be passed by Congress needs to have been worked through with and hopefully sanctioned by the leaders of Congress of both parties. That’s the optimum situation that you hope for.
So, no, we don’t have any regrets about bringing in the leaders of Congress from both parties into these negotiations.
It was true and will continue to be true that there are obviously -- in terms of getting into the nitty-gritty and moving this process forward, there are regular and constant discussions at a high-level staff level, as well as sidebar conversations between different members and between the administration and lawmakers. I mean, that’s how this thing -- how Washington negotiation moves forward. But we believe these meetings have been worthwhile, and that’s why we’re having another one today.
Q Is the idea of having Leader Pelosi or Senator McConnell in the room because you’re also thinking you’re going to need votes from their constituents in order to get a deal through?
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s fair to say that there is no significant achievement that can emerge out of this that will not require votes from Democrats and Republicans in both houses.
Q Some on Capitol Hill have suggested talking about Social Security checks yesterday was a scare tactic. You guys have a response to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think best to look at the interview or read the transcript rather than react to what some people might be saying about the interview. The President was asked a question and he answered it honestly.
As I was saying earlier, I think in response to questions that Julie had, or Matt, that our position, the President’s position, has always been that we will not get to that point because Congress will do the right thing, and the United States will not, for the first time in its history, default on its obligations.
But it is simply a matter of fact that when you have one dollar in obligations and you only have 60 cents in your pocket, you've got to borrow 40 cents in order to meet those obligations, but your authority to borrow that 40 cents has been eliminated, that you are then in a bind, and you have to make choices about how and where to apply the 60 cents that you have in your pocket.
But we do not believe that that will happen, that that outcome is what awaits us, because we believe that leaders will take the right actions.
Q Hi, Jay. You mentioned that there’s momentum in the talks. Can you give us a fuller idea what you’re talking about?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I don’t want to suggest that we’re like a boulder rolling down a hill here, but it’s momentum.
Q Well, how is this different -- is this meeting going to be different than Sunday’s meeting, Monday’s meeting and Tuesday’s meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Well, every meeting is different, and they move -- one of the things that I think is worth repeating, that I mentioned I believe yesterday or the other day, is that, remember that a lot of the members here were not participants in the regular meetings that the Vice President presided over and have not been engaged at the level of detail that they are now engaged in.
So some of this was involving the leaders at the level of detail that’s necessary to make decisions. So I’m not saying it’s all been sweetness and light, but it has been productive and it has moved forward and it has been clarifying. Information has been shared that has been new information for some members and positions have been explored that help I think everyone in the room understand what’s possible and what’s desirable in terms of going for something big rather than something small.
So I think that will be the case today. Progress -- maybe not shout-from-the-rooftops success in one meeting, but progress.
Q But the immovable object in all of this is the question of revenues, is the House Republicans, fiscal conservatives among them, what you might call their intransigence, what they might call their resolve, in saying, we will not be raising taxes -- period. Is any -- when you talk about momentum or progress, has there been any momentum or progress getting them to change their minds?
MR. CARNEY: There is, we think, an increasing recognition within the broader community here that a balanced approach is the right approach, that we can’t achieve significant deficit reduction and long-term debt reduction if we don’t do it in a balanced way. And you are hearing voices on all sides express this opinion now, and hopefully that sentiment will be infectious and spread, because we think that it is the right approach.
And we think that it’s really important for everybody in that room -- and, broadly, within Congress and Washington -- to sort of say -- to address themselves not to the most vocal activists in the Republican Party or the Democratic Party -- those are important, no question -- but to remember what the broader purpose is here, which is to move the country forward, to grow the economy and create jobs, to take some of the massive burden that deficits and debt place on our children and grandchildren and lift them. And that requires addressing not narrow audiences but broad audiences.
And broadly, the American people expect their leaders in Washington from both parties to come together, compromise, accept that they will not get everything they want -- because that’s the system that the Founding Fathers created for us -- and do the right thing. It’s not easy. It involves some political pain -- the President has made that clear -- for everybody. But we have to do it.
Q And finally, can I ask you to clarify, there’s no reporters allowed in today’s meeting because reporters misbehaved?
MR. CARNEY: No, look, as you know, we have had -- different meetings have different levels of access, and we do it on a case-by-case basis. We have had -- the President has taken questions quite a lot lately, as you know. So we’re not -- he’s not taking questions today. He may tomorrow. Or he may later. But today we’re just doing a still spray -- which is not unprecedented. We’ve done still sprays in a lot of meetings.
Q It sounds like -- in your earlier comments, it sounds like you were punishing the press.
MR. CARNEY: I was making the point that if this were an issue of we just need B-roll, right, that that wasn’t the case hours after he had just had his second press conference in less than a week, when we’re asking people to leave the room so the leaders can get to work, and people are shouting questions. That’s fine. Look, I used to be where you are; it’s fine to shout questions. I’m just saying that not every occasion are we going to have a full pool in a meeting.
Q Today Senator McConnell said he doesn’t think any Republicans will vote to raise the debt ceiling. So what’s the point of negotiating?
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t see him say that no Republicans will vote to raise the debt ceiling.
Q He said, he doesn’t think any Republicans will vote to raise the debt ceiling -- to Laura Ingraham
MR. CARNEY: Laura Ingraham. I didn’t see that. I mean, I saw some comments he made that I think are unfortunate, but I didn’t see that one. And it doesn’t really make any sense to me, because he has made clear that we absolutely cannot default on our obligations. So by hook or by crook, that’s going to happen, because that’s the right thing to do for the country.
Q And then, on McConnell’s plan, one thing I’m still confused about, if the President has said he won’t support a 30, 60, 90 or 180-day proposal -- or excuse me -- yes, a proposal, then why not outright reject the McConnell plan?
MR. CARNEY: I think there’s a difference here with what we’re talking about. What the President was saying is that he would not simply say in exchange for these spending cuts we’ll extend the debt ceiling for a few weeks or for a few months, and then we’ll go through that -- not dissimilar from the approach we took during the CR negotiations, which was we’re not going to have a tollbooth here; this is the United States; we’re a more sophisticated and better country than that. We ought to get to work and do our work and get it done. And that’s the President’s approach.
The proposal that Senator McConnell outlined is different in its particulars from that scenario that we were talking about both during the CR and the President was referring to in terms of we’re not going to do this every few months. It is not -- let me be clear, while we think it’s important that Senator McConnell has acknowledged that under no circumstances should we default on our obligations, that would not be a satisfying outcome to us just to have that, because we think this is a unique opportunity to do something significant on deficit reduction.
And that was, after all, the whole point. The linkage that was created that tied significant deficit reduction to this deadline was so that we could work together, roll up our sleeves, and do this. Well, the President is ready and willing to do that. He is willing to make compromises. He is willing to go big here. And he thinks that’s what the American people want. He is willing to take heat to do it. And he hopes that’s what will happen.
Q And just one other question. Senator McConnell also said that this issue and how it turns out is a referendum on the President. Do you guys agree with that?
MR. CARNEY: I just think it’s unfortunate to view this through a purely political lens. I made the point yesterday that the President in his press conferences and interviews hasn’t gotten up there and said, you know, the debt we’re talking about here was accumulated over eight years of a former President and former Congresses, often led by Republicans, who put two wars on a credit card and didn’t pay for them; who put substantial, massive -- self-described massive tax cuts on a credit card and didn’t pay for them, and it’s not my problem. I won’t do it; it’s their problem.
The President recognizes that it is his responsibility to do this. It is his responsibility to compromise. And he certainly believes that the Republicans ought to do the same and that we’re in this together. This is the American economy. It’s not the Democratic economy or the Republican economy. And solving -- fulfilling our obligations is not -- it’s not a calculus over we’ll do this because it will help one side or the other in the reelection or the election campaign in 2012. So I think it’s important to focus on what we’re doing here and not make it about politics or electoral politics.
Q But it is politics.
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s why I said electoral politics. Obviously, these are politicians.
Q Does President Obama expect members of Congress who ran for office and were elected on pledges to stop spending and not raise taxes to tell their constituents, well, I got to go back on it because the President --
MR. CARNEY: I think the President expects members of Congress, political leaders of both parties, to abide by their principles, significantly reduce the deficit, do the things that a lot of people have talked about who came into office recently but also for a long time before that, about the need to get our deficits and debt under control, and also to make compromises necessary to make that happen. Because, you know what, we don’t live in a one-party system. We don’t live in a monarchy. Neither party and no leader gets to say this is how it’s going to be because I say so.
You’ve covered the White House and Washington for a long time. I don’t think significant things have happened here in your tenure that didn’t require bipartisan cooperation. Ronald Reagan, who is honored by conservative and Republicans for his service as President, in particular because he was committed to reducing spending -- the fact is he made multiple -- he accomplished a lot working with the Republican speaker -- I mean, the Democratic speaker of the house. And in those compromises that he achieved, he didn’t get everything he wanted and he actually significantly raised revenue on a number of occasions as part of an overall package to reform Social Security or tax reform. That’s the kind of compromise we’re talking about here.
Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, nobody got everything that he wanted in those budget deals that they eventually achieved. But what they did do was put the American economy on a path towards budget surpluses that at the time when Bill Clinton left office looked like they would last for a very long time, as far as the eye could see. And, again, I don’t think either of those leaders would say that he got everything he wanted out of that, but they compromised and they did it. And they did something significant that was good for the economy -- that during that period I think more than 20 million jobs were created. This was good for everybody, regardless of political party.
Q Your closed-door talks aren’t bringing you a breakthrough you want. Maybe open-door talks might be the way to go. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Perhaps.
Q Just to see what’s going on in there.
MR. CARNEY: Perhaps. I think that you know as well as I do that these are -- this is difficult. And one of the reasons why when we talk about -- and leaders of both parties have put it in these terms -- that you have to get in the boat together is because that it’s hard to get this done because of the differing opinions, and that it requires approaching it this way so that we can get in the boat together and it doesn’t tip over. But I’m open to ideas and suggestions for how we get from here to there.
Q Jay, the last few sessions of the talks have been devoted at least in part to taking stock, going over the Biden talks and finding out where there is agreement on both sides. Can you tell us how much does that add up to in terms of the agreements on both sides?
MR. CARNEY: More than a little and less than a lot.
Q Can you try again?
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m not going to get into specific details because these are --
Q Is it a trillion dollars --
MR. CARNEY: First of all, they’re not there in terms of sorting out the numbers, the specifics. They’re going back and forth.
Q They have taken stock of the agreements where they have agreed, right?
MR. CARNEY: Right. But I think it’s important to remember that --
Q There are dollar numbers attached to those.
MR. CARNEY: There are dollar numbers attached to those, but these break down into component parts. And one thing the Vice President said at the beginning of every meeting that he had in those negotiations as well as in the middle and at the end, nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. So it’s not like you can simply say, oh, well, we agreed on all that. And since we don’t agree on the rest, we’ll just take that.
This is -- the art of compromise here, the art of negotiation requires rebuilding a structure at this level now where everybody can say, okay, I can live with that, that’s what I want, if you give me that I can take that and this is acceptable. And that’s what they’re doing now.
Q Well, have they made any progress since the $1 trillion mark that the President -- Vice President referred to several weeks ago?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to go into more detail about specific numbers because I don’t want to hem them in as they negotiate, because there are a lot of different moving parts here.
Q One other question. He met with Lavrov this morning.
MR. CARNEY: I think we’re going to have a readout of that later. But, yes -- a paper readout.
Q Is he going to Russia this year at all?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any scheduling announcements for you.
Q Would you rule it out?
MR. CARNEY: Why would I rule it out? Looking forward to returning to Russia as much as I do, I would never rule that out.
Q Jay, you said that you’re starting to hear voices on all sides in support of a balanced approach. Do you mean --
MR. CARNEY: Many sides, anyway.
Q Are you talking about voices outside the room or inside the room?
MR. CARNEY: I was thinking mostly of outside the room, but there is -- there are times during this process when even participants in the room have made the comment that we can deal with closing some exceptions and loopholes, we could look at subsidies and that sort of thing. And remember that when we’re talking about, on the revenue side of this equation as we seek balance here, to go along with significant cuts in spending and entitlement reform, there are a variety of options here.
As the President has made clear, if we’re going to ask sacrifice of the middle class, we’re going to ask sacrifice of the most vulnerable, or of seniors or disabled kids, and that’s what -- I mean, these numbers are real. When you cut programs or you cut -- there are consequences to that and those consequences are felt mostly by the middle class.
You also -- it is a responsible thing to do to ask for sacrifice from the wealthy, from the well-off, not for its own sake but because it’s the right thing to do, and it helps us get to something big and significant, which has significant long-term benefits for the and economy and, therefore, every participant in the economy, including the middle class.
And so, I mean, that’s the principle at work here. It’s not we insist revenues ought to be part of this package just because we do, but because we want to make it fair and balanced and we want to make it significant. And there are a lot of voices, from the participants in the Bowles-Simpson commission, to the participants in the Domenici-Rivlin study, to a variety of current members of Congress, Republicans, who acknowledge that that’s the approach we should take.
I think Senator Graham, as I was just saying, closing loopholes -- a deal that curbs entitlement spending and increases tax revenues by closing loopholes "makes sense. That way you don’t raise tax rates but you do generate new revenue by closing loopholes. Otherwise you’re giving money away to a few people at the expense of many.”
That’s an entirely reasonable point of view. And we think that that point of view is the right one to take as we approach this effort to find balance in a significant package.
Q Some of these fallback outlines of packages like Senator Reid’s and others that people talk about only have spending cuts in them. And given the prospect that a fallback might very well be spending cuts only because of the difficulty getting agreement on revenue, you said the President insists that revenues be part of this, and shared sacrifice. Would you -- does the President rule out supporting or signing anything that doesn’t have some revenue-raising component?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to hem him in. I’ll let him answer that question when I’m sure he might get it at some point. The point I think is important to make is that there is no significant deal here that doesn’t require balance, and that as an overarching principle, the sacrifice required to reduce our deficit should be shared and not just placed on the middle class or seniors or others. But I’m not going to sort of, will he do this, will they do that, rule one thing out or the other beyond the things that he’s said about not participating in a tollbooth here.
Q Jay, yesterday, McConnell -- one of the things he said in the course of the day was that he does not think it is possible to get a significant or meaningful agreement, as he put it, with this President in the Oval Office. Did President Obama say anything to him about that yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t -- I won’t read out the conversations in the meeting, but I think that the President addressed this yesterday in his interview with CBS. And I think that it’s important to point out here when I talk about the audiences that we’re talking to here. He is the President of the United States. He is in office for at least 18 months. I don’t think there is anything close to a majority, and probably just a tiny minority, of the American people who think that we ought to just cease trying to get things done in this town until one party controls everything entirely. You know what, because that’s never going to happen. This is just -- this President has demonstrated that he is committed to significant spending cuts. He’s the one out there saying let’s get the biggest possible deal. And that big possible deal includes significant reductions in discretionary spending, significant reductions in our defense budget, significant savings out of the entitlement programs, and significant savings out of our tax code.
And it involves making tough choices that are not politically comfortable. But that’s what he expects -- that’s what he knows the American people expect of him, and he thinks that they expect it of leaders of both parties in Washington.
Q Any concern here that the main motivation for McConnell’s proposal was to shift the political blame for raising the debt ceiling purely onto the President’s shoulders?
MR. CARNEY: We look at it simply in terms of the factual acknowledgment here that there is no alternative to the United States maintaining its creditworthiness and fulfilling its obligations. That’s an important acknowledgment. The analysis of the political component of this we’ll leave to you guys.
The point I want to make is that that is not the preferred option because we don’t think that’s what this has been about. This has been about trying to do something significant and real on reducing spending and propelling our economy forward.
Q Obviously there’s been -- and this is on a totally unrelated subject for you -- there’s been continuing revelations about the Murdochs and News Corp. Yesterday Commerce Committee chairman, Senator Rockefeller, called on appropriate agencies to look into it. And today Senate Lautenberg, his counterpart, called on DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission to look at it under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Is this situation on the White House’s radar, and is DOJ, to your knowledge, in contact with their counterparts in Britain to find out whether any U.S. laws have been implicated?
MR. CARNEY: It’s not on our radar in the sense that we’re having discussions about it. Everyone reads newspapers and catches the news reports, so we’re aware of it. But it’s not -- we have some other issues we’re dealing with.
In terms of the Department of Justice and the SEC, I would just refer you to them.
Q And on just a completely unrelated subject, it’s been reported that Brian Bond, who was in charge of constituency relations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, is leaving the White House for the DNC. Currently, there’s no senior LGBT advisor to the President on this issue, arguably one of the biggest civil rights questions of his presidency. Does he -- does the President plan to appoint someone to advise him on these issues going forward?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any personnel announcements for you. I think that his record on these issues is something he is proud of and he gets advice from a lot of quarters. I don’t have an announcement for you on that.
Q On July 7th, DOJ announced it would no longer oppose married, same-sex couples who are seeking to file joint bankruptcy petitions. And that was a move that DOJ had opposed in the past, basing it on DOMA. You in the briefing room, however, in the past have said that the President doesn’t have the ability to waive a magic wand and change policy.
MR. CARNEY: I wish he did.
Q And that was with regards to immigration situation and same-sex couples seeking equal treatment. Can you explain what the difference between those situations is, and also, whether or not the President supports DOJ’s decision to allow same-sex couples to file join bankruptcy petitions?
MR. CARNEY: Chris, I honestly haven’t talked about this with him in terms of that specific decision by DOJ, so I’d have to refer you to that. I think the overall principle that he doesn’t have a magic wand -- although some of us wish he did sometimes, maybe this week in particular -- to make things happen is just a statement of fact. And there are processes that involve legal analysis and decisions that obviously are handled over at the Department of Justice. So I just don’t have any more information for you on that.
Q But the President has said that until there are final court rulings that he expects DOMA to be enforced. Is this situation -- does the President feel that this is enforcing DOMA by allowing same-sex couples to file joint bankruptcy petitions?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that conversation with him. I mean, I can take that question for you.
Q Jay, is the President open to discussion of a balanced budget amendment as part of a debt deal?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that we do not need to amend the Constitution to cut the deficit. We need to get beyond politics as usual, and find bipartisan common ground.
A balanced budget amendment has, today and has always been, about ducking responsibility rather than taking our challenges head on. This is not -- we don’t need -- I mean, the Constitution should not be used to simply abdicate responsibility. What we need to do here is not complicated. It does not require a constitutional amendment and the ratification by preponderance of states here. It requires people rolling up their sleeves -- the leaders, the representatives of the people in the Congress and the President, the Vice President and others here -- and working out a compromise to achieve a goal that we all share, which is significant deficit reduction, a plan that gets our fiscal house in order that deals with our long-term debt.
It is something we can do. And in some ways, while these are hard issues, it is something we can do easily if people accept the principle that we have to compromise to do it. So, no, we do not support the balanced budget amendments.
Q Also, can you just say is -- are Medicare cuts on or off the table at this point? And do you -- is that something the President intends to turn attention to today, at today’s meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Entitlement savings are something that we will absolutely continue to look at. Again, if you talk about the building blocks towards a significant package of deficit reduction, entitlements savings are -- represent one of those big building blocks, but it requires compromise.
Q And is the President intent on taking that up today, that particular --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t --
Q -- or do you think it’s in the mix?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think it’s always possible that that will come up. I don’t have an itemized agenda for today.
Last one. Jon-Christopher.
Q Jay, you’ve made a very strong case every day here to tell us that the President has tried to work with the leadership, in a sense making compromises and making some concessions as much as he can. The fact is that the Gallup poll has come out today saying that most of the American people do not want their representative to raise the debt ceiling. In spite of the fact that the President was on TV last night and talked about certain things that would be at stake, do you feel at all that this administration has not really laid out in very strong terms what exactly is at stake for the American people if this debt limit is not raised?
MR. CARNEY: Jon-Christopher, we have focused not on laying out the consequences of default, because we believe and take leaders in Congress at their word that action will be taken to prevent that from happening. We have focused our energies, rather, on trying to achieve a deficit reduction compromise that gets our fiscal house in order.
So I think it’s easy to understand why most Americans don’t have a lot of time to focus on what is a debt ceiling. I mean, honestly, did anybody in this room, before they had to cover issues like this, have any idea what a debt ceiling was? Any understanding of the fact that a vote by Congress to increase our ability to borrow was simply a vote to allow the United States of America to pay the bills that it incurred in the past?
I think every American, or certainly a vast majority of Americans, would accept the principle, if asked, that the United States should pay its bills, just like they’re asked to pay their bills.
So, again -- but we have not focused on the consequences of default because we don’t believe there will be a default.
END 1:51 P.M. EDT