The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/5/11

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:18 P.M. EST

        MR. CARNEY:  I know you guys want to get to writing your stories, so I will obviously take your questions on the issues the President just discussed, and any others.  And I will also, if I might, just note on a separate matter that tomorrow at noon the Senate will have a cloture vote on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  

        And it is disappointing that a cloture vote is even necessary for someone as clearly well-qualified as Ms. Halligan, who has bipartisan support from lawyers and law enforcement.  After almost nine months of delay, we strongly urge the Senate’s support in an up or down vote.

        Julie Pace.

        Q    Thank you.  The President didn't mention anything about the new proposal from Democrats on the Hill today that includes almost everything he wanted on the payroll tax cut except extending that also to employers.  Does he support their plan?

        MR. CARNEY:  First of all, I’m not sure, has that been formally announced?  

        Q    I don't know if it formally has but --

        MR. CARNEY:  I know it’s been reported on by the Associated Press.  So I don't want to get ahead of Senator Reid or Senator Casey.  It is certainly the case that we’re working with our colleagues in the Senate, as we did on the proposal -- the original Senator Casey proposal, which was voted on and which earned the support of more than 50 percent of the U.S. Senate last week.  

        And we will work, as the President just suggested, with Congress to find a solution to this important challenge, which is extending and expanding the payroll tax cut.  And we’ll obviously look to Senator Reid and Senator Casey to lead that effort in the Senate.

        Q    I guess I’m curious to see where you think you are in the process -- while the clock is back up.  Do you think you’re in a place right now where you have the support of many Republicans on the sheer idea of extending the payroll tax cut and you’re just working on the pay-fors?  Or are you still trying to get their buy-in on the need to extend?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that’s a great question to address to members of the Senate and the House who are Republicans, because while, as the President noted, we’ve had some indication from House and Senate Republican leaders that they now agree with the proposition that independent economists have made clear is the case that extending the payroll tax cut is very important for economic growth and job creation, and that allowing middle-class Americans to experience a tax hike in January would have a negative impact on not just them personally but on the economy and on jobs -- so that’s progress.  

        But as we saw in the Senate vote -- the rather surprising Senate vote -- on the Senate measure, there seems to be an issue not with pay-fors, but whether or not it’s even a good idea to cut taxes for 160 million Americans, for working and middle-class Americans.  To put it another way -- which this clock illustrates -- that we’re coming down to it, the clock is ticking, to the point where if Congress does not ax -- act, rather, middle-class Americans, working Americans, 160 million Americans will have their taxes go up on January 1st.  And I think what this clock dramatizes is that there isn’t a lot of time and that Congress needs to act and do the right thing.

        Q    And is the plan for the President still to have him focus more on trying to sell this idea to the American people rather than get involved in the actual negotiations on legislation?

        MR. CARNEY:  I think the President himself, as well as members of his team, will be engaged with members of Congress and key staff members to push forward the plan, to reach a conclusion, to get it passed and signed into law.  I don't want to forecast what form of participation that will take in terms of either the President or other members of his team.  But you can be sure that it will be a concerted effort at every level, both in terms of the public articulation of the President’s views, as well as the discussions with members of Congress.  

        Yes.

        Q    How concerned are you about reports of voting irregularities in Russia?  And what is the message you’re sending to Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev about that election?

        MR. CARNEY:  I believe Secretary of State Clinton expressed the administration’s position earlier today with regards to the elections in Russia.  We have serious concerns about the conduct of those December 4th parliamentary elections.  These concerns are reflected in the preliminary report issued by the OSCE's election observation mission, including a lack of fairness in the process, attempts to stuff ballot boxes, and the manipulation of voter lists, among other things.

        Equally concerning are reports that independent Russian election observation efforts, including the nationwide Golos network and independent media outlets, encountered harassment of their personnel and cyber attacks on their websites.  We applaud the initiative that these and many other Russian citizens have taken to participate constructively, a positive development that the OSCE report also highlighted.

        Let’s go to the back.  Lester.

        Q    Oh, my goodness.

        MR. CARNEY:  Can you believe it?  (Laughter.)  I’m in the holiday spirit.

        Q    In the holiday spirit.  The family research --

        MR. CARNEY:  Is everyone okay?  (Laughter.)

        Q    The Family Research Council and CNS News both reported a 93-to-7 U.S. Senate vote to approve a defense authorization bill that, quote, “includes a provision which not only repeals the military law on sodomy, but also repeals the military ban on sex with animals, or beastiality.”  Does the Commander-in-Chief approve or disapprove of beastiality in our armed forces?

        MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any comment on -- I don't have any comment on that.  

        Let me go to another question.

        Q    Does the President believe this will be approved by all animal support groups, such as --

        MR. CARNEY:  Let’s get to something more serious.  Yes, Jake.

        Q    You sure you don't want to ask Lester another question?  Give him another opportunity?  (Laughter.)   

        MR. CARNEY:  I’ve learned my lesson, Jake.  (Laughter.)

        Q    Just one --

        MR. CARNEY:  Lester, I think we’ll -- we’ll let everybody get a chance here.  

        Go ahead, Jake.

        Q    Are you sure you don't want to take any more questions on beastiality?  (Laughter.)  

        Q    You don't want to comment on that?

        Q    I’m wondering if you could explain what the U.S. ambassador to Belgium meant in his comments about anti-Semitism, tying them to Israel’s policy.

        MR. CARNEY:  The fact is, as you know, we condemn -- this administration and the United States condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms, and believe that there is never any justification for prejudice against the Jewish people or against Israel.  Ambassador Gutman has expressed his regret, noting that he, quote, “strongly condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms.”  

        And I would just point out, Jake, that this administration has consistently stood up against anti-Semitism and efforts to de-legitimize Israel, and we will continue to do so.  Our record on this speaks for itself.  Whether it was opposing one-sided efforts to single out Israel at the Human Rights Council, speaking out against incitement in the Arab world, or opposing efforts to shortcut negotiations at the United Nations.

        Specifically to your question, I think the ambassador himself has addressed this, so I would direct you to his statements, in terms of interpreting what he meant.  But our position is quite clear.  And our record is even clearer.

        Q    Did you read his --

        MR. CARNEY:  Of course, I have.  And I think that --

        Q    Does it represent the administration’s point of view, what he said?

        MR. CARNEY:  The administration’s point of view is what I just expressed, which is we condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and believe there is --

        Q    Do you think his comments justified it?

        MR. CARNEY:  I think the ambassador has spoken on this, put out a statement about it.  And our position I think is very clear.  And I would refer you to not just to our record against opposing, rather, one-sided efforts to single out Israel, speaking out against incitement in the Arab world, or opposing efforts, Palestinian efforts, to shortcut negotiations through the United Nations, but also look at this administration’s incredible commitment to Israeli security, which has been testified to by the Prime Minister and many others in Israel.

        Q    As far as you guys are concerned is that the end of this controversy?  Because a lot of Jewish groups are very upset about what Ambassador Gutman said.

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that we have to look, again, at our clear position on this, as well as our record.  And I think that --

        Q    I’m actually just talking about what he said, not your record.

        MR. CARNEY:  No, I understand.  But we’re talking here about -- you’re only asking me because he’s an ambassador and works out of the State Department for this administration.  So let me be clear about what this administration’s policies are, what its positions are, and what our record is, because that is what --

        Q    Do you think the fact that you have to delineate what your policies are indicates you have an ambassador who is off the reservation a bit?

        MR. CARNEY:  Again, but he addressed his statement.  And let me be clear about our position.  And again, I quoted him because he’s absolutely right when he says that he, as well as this administration, strongly condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms.

        Q    Right.  And in terms of how to pay for this middle-class tax cut, the Republicans outlined a plan -- and I know you talked about this a bit last week -- the Republicans outlined a plan in which wealthier Americans were asked to sacrifice through means testing, social programs.  Is that not -- does that not meet the requirement of the wealthy paying their fair share?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think two points about that.  One is that was a very small portion of the proposed means of paying for the payroll tax cut extension in the Republican measure that went down quite decidedly, with not even a majority of Republican votes.  And it was a window dressing aspect of a measure that was paid for largely through unbalanced cuts that would force the reopening of the Budget Control Act, the agreement that the President and members of both parties made just a few short months ago.  And the President made clear his position on reopening that agreement.  

        In fact, if I could just add, that it is just -- it is exactly what people get frustrated about with regards to Washington, when leaders in Washington say, this is my position, this is the -- I sign on the dotted line; you have my word this is the agreement -- and then a few months later that you want to -- either want to change the rules on the sequester or change -- violate or transgress in terms of the agreement on spending cuts. Which, I would point out, as I did last week, the discretionary spending cuts, non-defense spending cuts that have already been agreed to by this President and Congress would bring us to the lowest percent in terms of non-discretionary defense -- or, rather, non-defense discretionary spending as a percentage of GDP since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

        So these are quite dramatic cuts, quite serious cuts.  And the inclusion of the measure that you talked about was a very small part of the Republican pay-for.

        Q    So it meets the requirement but not enough?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, it certainly doesn't meet -- it doesn’t pay for it.  So it’s not enough to pay for a payroll tax cut.  I’m not saying that it’s not -- I don't want to negotiate the particulars of an endgame or get ahead of Senator Reid and Senator Casey in terms of their proposed compromise, or new measure to extend and expand the payroll tax cut.

        But while that measure does ask in some ways -- small ways wealthier Americans to pay their fair share or at least a little bit more, it does not, in and of itself, come anywhere close to paying for this tax cut.

        Q    Thank you.

        MR. CARNEY:  Yes.

        Q    Jay, Speaker Boehner is expected to put out his proposal later this week.  After that, do you expect to negotiate with --

        MR. CARNEY:  Time is running out.  (Laughter.)

        Q    Do you expect to negotiate with the House and the Senate?

        MR. CARNEY:  Yes, I think that we can expect that -- this administration, this White House will be working with leaders of both houses to get this done.  There is really not a lot of time to waste here.  It is essential for the health of our economy, and out of fairness to 160 million working and middle-class Americans, to get this done.

        Q    So then if the clock is really ticking, why not negotiate now?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, let’s be clear.  We are working with Congress.  Just because, as you know from the summer, we don't announce every conversation or every meeting that the President has, or his senior team members have, doesn’t mean we're not working this issue.  And in fact, we worked it hard, which is how we got the votes that we got last week.  And I will remind you that the Senate Democratic measure, which the President supported, got a majority of the U.S. Senate, including a Republican vote.  The Senate Republican measure, which was put forward by the Senate Republican leader, got, I think, 20 Republican votes -- or maybe 20 votes overall.

        So we are pushing this.  And if it weren’t for the President's leadership, we might not even be debating this.  Congress might not even -- at least the Republicans in Congress
        -- might not even be taking up the issue of payroll tax cut extension.  

        Going forward, we will continue to push it.  It is not without our participation that our friends in the Senate are moving forward with a new measure to extend and expand the payroll tax cut.  So --

        Q    But they're Democrats.  I mean, are you in substantive conversations with Republicans?

        MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don't want to, and won't, read out every meeting or conversation --

        Q    I'm not asking you to read it out.  I mean, is there discussion --

        MR. CARNEY:  We do have conversations with Republicans, yes, on this matter and others.

        Q    And then just a quick question about the FAA Administrator, Randy Babbitt, who was arrested this weekend for DUI.  What was the President's response?

        MR. CARNEY:  The President was informed of this in the last hour, as everybody in the White House as well as at the Department of Transportation were made aware of this just in the last hour or so.  He didn’t have a particular reaction.  It was just passing on this information.  

        My understanding is that Administrator Babbitt has requested, effective immediately, to take a leave of absence from the FAA.  Secretary LaHood has accepted that request and Deputy Administrator Michael Huerta will serve as acting administrator.

        Q    He had no reaction?

        MR. CARNEY:  It was in the run-up to this, and he reacted as you might expect.

        Q    Is that without pay, or with?

        MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the Department of Transportation.

        Q    One follow?  Will President Obama be asking for his resignation?

        MR. CARNEY:  I think that what we have at this point in terms of a matter that just came to light within the last hour or so, we have Administrator Babbitt requesting his own leave of absence.  And for further disposition of this matter I would refer you for now to the Department of Transportation.

        Q    On Iran, we have a missing military aircraft that crashed in Iran.  How badly damaged was the aircraft?

        MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you for questions like that and pretty much all questions on this matter to ISAF and the Department of Defense.

        Q    You're not going to -- nothing on that?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I mean, it depends on the question you ask.  But I'm not going to get into details about the aircraft or other issues involving the incident itself.

        Q    The Iranians say they shot it down.  Do we deny that?

        MR. CARNEY:  Again, I would refer you to ISAF.

        Q    Can I ask you about the President's speech tomorrow?  Why is he channeling Teddy Roosevelt?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, because President Teddy Roosevelt -- Theodore Roosevelt gave an historic speech in Osawatomie -- is that correct? -- Osawatomie, Kansas -- it's one of those words you've read but you're not sure you've ever pronounced -- 111 years ago, if I'm correct in my calculations.  And the point that the President is making by speaking in the same location and -- is that the ideas that President Roosevelt put forward about the need for Americans of all kinds to get a fair shot and a fair shake are very much at issue today.  

        And the President's speech will encapsulate the debates that we've been having this year over our economic policy and over our economic future.  So he thinks it's an opportune time and an opportune location to really try to put into broader perspective the kind of debates we've been having and the issues that are of vital importance to building an economic future in this country in his mind that gives middle-class Americans the kind of fair shake and fair shot that they deserve.

        Q    And who is not giving them a fair shake or a fair shot?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it's abundantly clear, and was clear even prior to this most recent economic crisis, that the middle class in this country has been squeezed for a long time, and most especially in the last decade and -- in the decade, rather, prior to this President coming into office.  

        So this has been an issue that has animated this President even before he was sworn into office.  It was really the reason why he ran for President, as he articulated many times in the 2008 campaign.  And it is the focus of his work here in office, the need to do everything he can through Congress, through his executive authorities, to help the middle class expand, and help those who aspire to the middle class gain access to it.  

        And that's the -- and, look, if you step back, the speech will encapsulate and provide context to the debates we've been having this year and that we will continue to have.  But it really -- it goes to some of the specific issues that we're talking about now, the absolute necessity and fairness of extending and expanding the payroll tax cut for middle-class and working Americans.  

        We need to have the Senate confirm Richard Cordray as the consumer watchdog -- because Republicans have made pretty clear that they don't oppose him personally, but they're going to try to block his nomination in order to prevent the Consumer Protection Bureau from having all of its authorities to take action to protect consumers.  And we passed that legislation, this President fought for that legislation, precisely because consumers deserve protections that they did not have, as became so abundantly clear in the financial crisis that led to the worst recession since the Great Depression.

        Q    You used the word -- sorry, just one more -- on this is an issue that has animated the President.  He talks a lot about it, and has recently.  Can you identify specific areas where the President has been able to act in the past three years that has helped this wage gap that you talk about that the middle class --

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that --

        Q    Where has he succeeded in addressing this issue?

        MR. CARNEY:  What we know is that when he took office we were on the precipice of an economic calamity, the likes of which could have been even worse than the Great Depression.  People were predicting -- economists -- sensible outside, independent economists were predicting global economic collapse; unemployment as high as 25 percent, complete collapse of the financial system, perhaps the need to nationalize the banks, et cetera, et cetera  -- the decimation and elimination of the domestic automobile industry and many other industries.  

        The result of that, including, of course, the 25 percent unemployment, would have been -- you know you're enjoying this, come on.  

        Q    I'm sorry I asked that question.  I defer now to Ed.  (Laughter.)  I apologize to everyone in the room.  (Laughter.)  

        MR. CARNEY:  I'm not hurt, but I will not stop.  (Laughter.) Let me just finish my thought here, which is that everything this President has done on the economic front has been focused on giving middle-class Americans the economic security that they have lacked now for a substantial period of time and which has been even more sorely needed because of this great recession.

        Yes.

        Q    Can you recite some of the great things the President  -- no.  (Laughter.)

        MR. CARNEY:  Yes.  Yes, I can.  (Laughter.)  I was just getting started, Ed.

        Q    -- how difficult it was when he started --

        Q    Yeah, how hard was it, really?  (Laughter.)

        Q    Was he facing a challenge?

        Q    We heard it -- no.  

        MR. CARNEY:  There could be a quiz about how many jobs we lost in January of 2009 -- anybody?  

        Q    700,000-800,000.

        MR. CARNEY:  Very good -- 750,000, 730,000.  How much GDP contraction, fourth quarter 2008?  Anybody?

        Q    8.9.

        MR. CARNEY:  8.9 percent.  

        Q    Revisions, revisions.  (Laughter.)  

        MR. CARNEY:  Yes, more and more accurate as --

        Q    Come on, we can play these numbers.  We can go straight to them.  I'm confident, even though I'm bluffing and I'm smarter than you.  (Laughter.)  

        MR. CARNEY:  I think Al Hunt is getting a phone call -- (laughter) -- downplaying the recession over in the Bloomberg corner.

        Yes.

        Q    Can I ask about the payroll tax cut -- a follow-up on some of that?  Some of the answers you gave before you were basically saying, I don't want to get ahead of this emerging compromise.  And that's consistent with what the White House has said both on the payroll tax cut extension as well as going back to the super committee.  They're going to work this out; you've defended the President not calling Republican leaders over here because he doesn’t need to get in the nitty-gritty; they have to deal with all that stuff, then he'll deal with it at a later date.  So tell us how does the President coming to this podium and beating up on Republicans for five minutes, basically saying they don't want to extend unemployment benefits, they don't want to help people about to have their taxes go up -- how does that help you get a deal?

        MR. CARNEY:  What the President has made clear is what he believes is essential and what his red lines are, if you will, in terms of what kind of compromise would be acceptable and what wouldn't.

        The fact is, Ed -- and it's not necessarily a happy fact but it's a true fact -- that simply by putting forward his ideas and his name on those ideas and saying to members of Congress that he'd like to negotiate with them, they are not going to necessarily compromise and respond.  That has been, unfortunately, the fact for these nearly three years.  What has  --

        Q    Republicans are saying they had not even seen this compromise yet.  They haven’t even had a chance to react to it.  So how --  

        MR. CARNEY:  The President was reacting not to a compromise that hasn’t been proposed yet, as I understand, formally -- or a new Senate Democratic version, he's also reacting to the votes we just had on this issue, which demonstrated a profound reluctance by Republicans in the Senate to extend the tax cut for middle-class Americans.  And because of that -- and a refusal to accept the majority vote of the Senate, including a Republican senator, and let that measure move on to the House and be signed into law by the President if it passed the House.

        So the obstructionism here real.  And what he is hoping through his articulation of his views on this issue, as well as, most importantly, the articulation expressed in the voices raised of the American people on this issue, that Republicans will move, that Congress will act and get this done because it's the right thing to do.

        Q    It was just about two or three weeks ago that Senator Durbin and other Democrats defended the President for not coming out and giving his red lines on the super committee deal by saying Republicans warned Democrats on the Hill if the President comes out here and attacks them, this thing is going to blow up. So how, then, do you justify him coming out --

        MR. CARNEY:  No, no, no.  First of all, you're misstating -- what Senator Durbin said is that the recent -- there was a strategic notion behind the approach that the administration took on the super committee because it was made clear by Republicans involved in these negotiations that anything that had the President's name on it as a potential compromise would become toxic for Republicans who refused to vote for anything that they view as a victory for the President.  

        Q    -- and the President not coming out and being more aggressive on the super committee.

        MR. CARNEY:  First of all, the super committee is a different beast from the payroll tax cut extension.  This, after all, is about tax cuts.  And you've been here a long time; a lot of folks have been covering this a long time.  If there has ever been a truism in modern American politics, it's that Republicans are always for tax cuts.  And what is striking to this President, as he made clear moments ago and to me and to others, is that Republicans seem so grudging in their support, -- to the extent there is any support -- in giving tax cuts to regular Americans, to working-class Americans, to middle-class Americans, to 160 million Americans, and their refusal, in unison, virtually, except for one Republican, to back a payroll tax cut expansion and extension for 160 million Americans because they didn’t want to ask 300,000 millionaires and billionaires to pay a little extra.  I don't think there's anything more clarifying than that vote.  

        So, having said all that, we have to get this done.  And the President came out today to make his views on that clear.  And he looks forward to working with Republicans in the House and the Senate, as well, of course, as Democrats, to get it done in a way that is economically responsible.

        Mr. Thrush.

        Q    Jay, just to follow up on Ed, there's a school of thought that goes the President does better in these negotiations when he's actually not in the room, that when he gets in the room with these guys they start changing the rules of the game, they start dealing with internal dissension in their own ranks.  I mean, is there, from a process perspective, an advantage in the President remaining outside of these direct negotiations as long as possible?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I just want to go back to what I said to Ed, because there is no global doctrine, if you will, about how you approach these things.  And each issue is different.  And what I think is quite clear is that this President, throughout his presidency, has been intimately engaged with Congress on his agenda, whether that's deficit reduction or economic growth measures, job creation measures, health care reform, or other measures.  And he will continue to be so.

        The fact is that, as you know, this summer he was very directly involved on a day-to-day and, at times, hour-to-hour, basis with Congress -- Republican leaders as well as Democratic  -- on the debt ceiling negotiations.  The point I was making to Ed is that in the super committee process, the President took an approach that was designed entirely to maximize the possibility of a positive outcome, of putting his views on paper in detail to the public and to the committee at the beginning of the process, and in stepping back and letting a congressional process take its course and --

        Q    How does this one compare, in terms of the President’s direct engagement -- how will this one compare to the debt ceiling negotiations and the super committee?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it will be different, as all these issues are different.  It is also, obviously, a different animal, if you will.  A payroll tax cut extension and expansion is a relatively modest proposal compared to a broad $3 trillion or $4 trillion deficit reduction package.  

        But the President, his team, will be engaged in these coming days and weeks in a variety of different ways, working with Congress to get this done.  Because, as the President just made clear, we can’t afford to let that clock go to zero.  The American people cannot afford to have their taxes go up on average $1,000 come January 1.

        Q    The other thing is, you are targeting -- we had a conference call yesterday -- you guys are targeting seven states, some of them pretty deep red states, on the payroll tax, with interviews with local news anchors and such.  Has the President thought of calling people like Rob Portman and Olympia Snowe directly, rather than using this indirect approach to pressure them?

        MR. CARNEY:  Again, you are presuming in your question that we read out to you every communication that the White House has with the Hill, and I can assure you that we do not.  This is a multi-pronged effort, if you will -- that there are many fronts here on which to fight for middle-class tax cuts, and we will continue to do so.  And often in answer to questions about whether conversations have occurred, I will say that I have no conversations to read out to you, which is my answer in this case.

        Alexis.  And then Laura.

        Q    Thanks, Jay.  The President met with Secretary Geithner today, and Secretary Geithner is going to Europe.  The first question is, is there any new message the President wants him to carry to Europe to try to work with them?  And, second question, can you tell us what Jennifer Palmieri will be doing and what she’ll be adding to the staff that the President doesn't have currently?

        MR. CARNEY:  As you know, the President asked Secretary Geithner to travel to Europe this week for meetings with his counterparts on their efforts to reinforce the institutions of the euro area.  This isn’t -- this is, rather, part of our continued engagement with Europe at an important moment for them. And as you know, Europe’s success is of great importance to us, and we have shared ideas and observations where it may be useful, based on our own experience.  And we will continue to do so.

        So this is a continuation of a process that we’ve been engaged in for many weeks and months now -- in particular Secretary Geithner, but also the President and other members of his team.  

        I would say, with regard to Jen Palmieri, that she’s going to be a welcome addition to this White House staff and communications staff.  She has big shoes to fill, or, rather, small shoes to fill, with Jen Psaki’s.  But we’re going to -- that position has been vacant and it’s a valuable and important position that needs to be filled.  So we’re looking forward to her arrival.

        Yes.

        Q    Thanks.  Jay, in the interim, I think, since you were first asked this question, Senator Reid has in fact announced his proposal.  So I’m wondering if you could give us your take.

        MR. CARNEY:  We were trying to get this briefing done before that but --

        Q    You were trying -- you pushed it back by quite a bit, but not quite far enough.

        MR. CARNEY:  Look, I mean, broadly we support -- you would not be surprised -- the efforts of Senators Reid and Casey to get this done, to get this payroll tax cut expansion and extension done and to have it paid for in a way that is responsible and fair.

        The President pointed out -- and I think it’s always worth remembering -- that the sudden, heartfelt concern that you hear among some Republicans who are reluctant to give tax breaks to middle-class Americans that it needs to be paid for is a little out of sync with the position that they’ve taken on tax cuts for these many years now.  And in particular with regard to this House Republican leadership, they’ve institutionalized the idea that tax cuts don't have to be paid for.

        So, that having been said, the President believes that we need to be mindful of our fiscal issues.  That’s why he proposed a measure in the American Jobs Act to pay for all of it including the payroll tax cut expansion and extension, why he supported the Senate Democratic version, the original one, which paid for it in a economically sensible and fair way, and why we support this latest proposal.

        Q    Given what you just said, of course the President also said, that he made the point that Republicans suddenly --

        MR. CARNEY:  That’s not a coincidence.

        Q    Yes, not a coincidence -- that Republicans suddenly are feeling the need to pay for this when they don't -- haven’t paid for other past tax cuts, he also said that he’s willing to find a responsible way to do -- to offset the cost.  But is it -- given the differences over the offset right now, and given the history that you both recounted, is it your preference at this point to just go ahead and not pay for it?

        MR. CARNEY:  No.  Our preference, the President’s preference has been very clear about wanting to pay for it, and pay for it in the way that he thinks is responsible.  And I would just ask you to think about your question.  When you said the differences in the pay-fors -- Republicans got almost no support for their proposals in terms of how to pay for it from their own members.  So now, I don't know what that tells us in full, but I know it indicates that the issue here isn’t so much about pay-fors; it’s about whether or not we’re going to let this clock go to zero; whether or not there is any real, profound support among Republicans in the Senate and the House for extending tax cuts for middle-class and working Americans.  The vote that we saw last week on the Senate Republican proposals suggests that that feeling is not there, which is a shame.

        Q    But given that there isn't sufficient support to pass the Democrats' preferred pay-for, would a good second choice be just allow it to pass without it being offset?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, the fact is Senators Reid and Casey have put forward a new proposal with different pay-fors -- or a modified pay-for.  And we remain hopeful that Republicans in the Senate, and then eventually in the House, will hear the voices of the American people who are making quite clear that they need this tax relief, and that the economy needs this tax relief.  Independent economists have made clear that not extending the payroll tax cut would have a negative impact on economic growth, would have a negative impact on job creation, and that extending and expanding it would have a positive impact; that we would be able to continue the growth and job creation that we've seen and expand it, which is exactly what this economy needs.  It's the medicine this economy needs.

        Q    Last real-quick thing.  In the past you haven't been all that excited about these countdown clocks, in fact, even discouraged them in the past.  I'm just wondering why this one is different.

        MR. CARNEY:  The issue we had -- let's be clear.  The issue we had with the debt ceiling countdown clock is that it was sending a -- it could have a negative impact in raising the specter, which we hoped would never be raised, of the United States defaulting on its obligations, which would have the impact, if it were to come to pass, of causing global economic chaos.  

        This is quite different.  This is about whether or not 160 million Americans -- working-class, middle-class Americans are going to have their taxes go up on January 1st because Congress refuses to act, or rather, in this case, the Senate and the House Republicans refuse to act.

        Roger, and then --

        Q    Thank you.  I know you said you weren't in the habit of reading out conversations, but could you at least say whether the President talked to congressional leaders over the weekend?

        MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any conversations to read out to you, Roger.

        Q    All right.  How soon does this tax cut need to be paid for?

        MR. CARNEY:  What this President has made clear in his proposed methods of paying for it is that we need to do this over time so it's economically responsible.  That was embodied in his proposal for the American Jobs Act.  It was also embodied in the Senate Democratic proposal, and I believe it was -- in the original -- and it was embodied -- or is embodied in the current one.

        Going to the point the President made from here just moments ago, we should not pay for it in a way that does harm to the economy, does harm to our recovery.  So that's very important, and that's one of the principles that he brings to this discussion.

        Q    Does that mean, like, over five years?

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I don't --

        Q    Can you put a little --

        MR. CARNEY:  What is important is that we don't do it in a way that actually does harm to the economy or does harm to the very people that will be helped by a middle-class tax cut.  So we also -- and I think the President made clear that we're not going to reopen the Budget Control Act and reopen the deal that had already brought us down to spending levels that are lower when it comes to non-defense discretionary spending than we've seen since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

        Yes.

        Q    Jay, can you read out a meeting with the colleges --

        MR. CARNEY:  Let me go -- I promised -- yes.

        Q    Thank you, Jay.  So the Canadian Prime Minister Harper will be in town, in the White House, Wednesday afternoon.  Is that right that -- is it correct that there will be the signing of a new border security agreement?

        MR. CARNEY:  I think I was asked this the other day, and I don't have anything new on it for you in terms of what, specifically, the two leaders will talk about or what acts they might perform in terms of --

        Q    But there might be a little more than just, it's a good partnership and we want to --

        MR. CARNEY:  Well, we'll see.  I don't have anything new for you on it today.

        Mr. Jackson.

        Q    Jay, can you read out the meeting with the college presidents this morning and what that was all about?

        MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a detailed readout.  I wasn't able to make it.  The general idea is that, among other issues, this President is profoundly concerned with education.  He's also very concerned with the cost of education, especially higher education.  So I'm sure that was a topic.  But I happened to miss that meeting and I don't have a readout for that.  But we'll have one, I'm sure, by Mr. Earnest.  We will have one for you later today.

        Q    Thanks, Jay.

        MR. CARNEY:  Chris -- last one.

        Q    Jay, I wanted to follow up with you on what I asked you about earlier about the lack of federal non-discrimination efforts for LGBT people in the workplace.  The President supports legislation known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that would address this issue but not the administrative action, issuing an executive order saying federal dollars won't go to contracts that don't have their own non-discrimination -- based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  If the President supports legislation to address this issue, what's stopping him from issuing an executive order that would move toward the same goal?

        MR. CARNEY:  Chris, I don't have anything new for you on that, so I don't have probably an answer that will move that story along for you.  But if you want to ask me, I can look into it for you.

        Thanks.

END 2:57 P.M. EST

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