The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/6/2011

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Kansas City, Missouri

10:58 A.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  I want to thank you all for coming on this trip today to Osawatomie, Kansas.  As I’m sure you’re aware, this is the location where Teddy Roosevelt gave his New Nationalism speech, a speech that really set the course for the 20th century in terms of ensuring that the free market system operated under rules of the road that gave everyone a fair share and a fair shot and ensured that everyone also paid their fair share.

The President today will give a speech that will really make clear that the middle class is facing a make-or-break moment, and that we need to get back to those values that ensure that the middle class and those who would join the middle class have the opportunity to share in the prosperity that we need to continue to build this 21st century.

He will argue that -- sorry, can’t read my own writing here -- we’re facing a choice between a country where too few do well and too many struggle to get by, or one where we’re all in it together, and everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shake and a fair shot.

And as I said yesterday, the importance of this speech is broader than the debates that we’re having at this very moment, although it encompasses them.  Certainly the debate we’ve been having about the payroll tax cut extension and expansion fits into the frame that the President will set forward today, where just last week we had a vote in the United States Senate where 51 senators voted in favor of giving middle-class Americans a tax break for next year but Republicans blocked that vote rather than ask just 300,000 millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit extra, to pay their fair share.  And that was very unfortunate.

We’re going to continue to press with our friends in the Senate, as well as the House, to get this payroll tax cut done, because it’s essential for the economy, it’s essential for the American people, especially the middle class and those who are struggling to get by.

And with that I will take your questions.

Q    Jay, has the President been doing anything special to prepare for this speech?  Is there a book he’s been reading or a historian that he’s been speaking with?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, nothing besides working on the speech, which he has done quite a bit of and he’s continuing right now to put the finishing touches on the speech.

He has, of course, read Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism speech, and I recommend it to all of you.  What is astounding about it when you read it is how much of it could be delivered today. 

And as you know, Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican, son of a wealthy family who celebrated the remarkable progress that industry had made in America and that the free market had contributed to economic growth and job creation, but said that we had to ensure that we set up rules of the road that ensure that everyone played by the same rules and everybody had a fair shot.  And that thinking is what propelled the United States to the kind of remarkable economic growth and explosive growth of the middle class that we saw in the 20th century.

Q    Teddy Roosevelt was called a socialist and a communist after he gave this speech.  Is the President mindful of that, and keeping that in part of his target?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I think -- I think that is an irony, because I don’t think -- I would assume that this President’s critics share in his admiration for Teddy Roosevelt as a titan in American history and a hugely important and progressive leader in this country, and a Republican.  The fact of the matter is that Teddy Roosevelt was advocating for the same sectors of American society that this President is advocating for, that so many leaders, between the two of them have -- in the years between the two were on the scene, have advocated for.  And, again, bringing it back to the specific debate that we’re talking about today and the payroll tax cut, I mean, that’s hardworking Americans -- middle-class Americans who just need a more level playing field to ensure that they can have the kind of economic security that they deserve and that results in a more prosperous, dynamic and successful country.

You all know about the CBO report -- the nonpartisan CBO report that so dramatically elucidates the problem that we face in this country, and the explosive growth and the share of the country’s wealth that the top 1 percent of America has seen, while the rest of the country -- most of the rest of the country has struggled to stay above water.

So the speech today will really try to put the economic debates that we’ve had this year, and the policy debates that we’ll have going forward, into perspective.  And it will be a very clear elucidation of this President’s position on these issues and his vision for the country.

Q    Jay, does the President believe that candidates like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and Republicans in Congress are not fighting for the middle class?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to address questions about candidates in the Republican primary specifically.  I mean, if you want to ask me about the President’s policies, I’m happy to address those. 

The President believes that, unfortunately, Republican members of Congress have been too often of late on the wrong side of this debate, as demonstrated by the vote we had last week on the payroll tax cut extension; as demonstrated by the votes we’ve seen in the Senate on whether or not to put 400,000 teachers back to work, or construction workers back on the job -- and I would say, as demonstrated in part by, again, as it relates to a specific policy discussion and a very heated policy debate that we had this summer, by that debate that we saw where Republican contenders for the office of the President all said they would refuse a deal on deficit reduction that asked for simply one dollar in new revenue for every $10 in spending cuts.  And that, again, suggests in the President’s view and our view that they’re on the wrong side of this debate. 

Q    Here’s one on the President’s policies and stuff.  It’s on the payroll tax cut -- and that is, Romney said yesterday that he would support a one-year extension.  Does the White House welcome that in any fashion?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we welcome specifically support in the Congress for extension of the payroll tax cut, paid for in a way that’s economically responsible, as opposed to economically irresponsible or unfair. 

So we’re looking for movement among Republicans who have a vote, in this case, on this specific policy debate.

Q    Including candidates?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, sure, to the extent that they have an impact on their fellow travelers in Congress, I think that would be welcome.  I mean, no matter where you’ve been on the issue in the last days or weeks, if you land right now, that’s okay by us. 

Q    Jay, on the payroll tax cut, if Congress were to adjourn without passing the tax cut and also the unemployment benefits, would the President call Congress back into session before the end of the year?  And then secondly, is he willing to skip his vacation if need be to get this done?

MR. CARNEY:  The President said himself quite explicitly that he, if necessary, will -- I think the phrasing was, be here through Christmas. 

Now, you guys are better analysts of Congress now than I am, probably, but I’d be awfully surprised if Republicans decide to turn off the lights in Congress and head off on a one-month vacation without -- while having decided that 160 million Americans ought to have a tax hike next year.  Maybe that will come to pass, but I’d be surprised.

Q    A question about Iran, the drone shot down over Iran.  I know you keep referring us to the Pentagon.  Is the United States preparing for military action against Iran?

MR. CARNEY:  Our position on -- generally, setting aside the issue of reports about this plane, our position on Iran is well known, which is we take nothing off the table, but we have been aggressively pursuing a strategy that has effectively isolated and pressured Iran through sanctions and other measures, including diplomatic pressure.  And we continue to pursue that strategy.

Q    It’s very possible that we’re spying on Iran from the air to keep all those options --

MR. CARNEY:  -- you asked me whether we were considering military action --

Q    But if you’re keeping that --

MR. CARNEY:  My response to that is what it always was -- has been, which is we don’t take any options off the table, broadly speaking, and that’s not really in any specific way a response to the incident at hand.

Q    Is the White House concerned that S&P may downgrade the credit facility?  And what’s the status on the talks in the eurozone?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, Secretary Geithner is in Europe -- I think he’s in Germany today -- and very involved and engaged in discussions over there with his European counterparts on the steps they’re taking to decisively and conclusively deal with this crisis.  They have taken some important steps and they need to take more to get the job done.  But I don’t have a status update.  I would refer you to the Treasury Department.

Q    Are you worried, though, specifically about the S&P downgrade threat on Europe, that that might affect the U.S. economy and the world economy more?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as we’ve said often, the reality of the global economy that we live in and participate in means that problems in Europe create headwinds for our own economy.  That’s been the case this year and is always a concern.  So it obviously matters significantly to us and we have engaged with our European counterparts for that reason and also because they’re our friends and allies, and where we can offer advice and counsel based on our own experience we are happy and ready to do so.

But it reminds us, of course, that we need to do -- take actions on the things that we can control, and in this case, that brings me back to the American Jobs Act and to the tax cut provisions that the President supports and wants to see the Senate and the House pass, to make sure that Congress doesn’t raise taxes on middle-class Americans on January 1st.

Q    How did the President react to Merkel and Sarkozy’s latest proposals yesterday?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a presidential reaction to them.  We’re obviously monitoring events in Europe and will continue to do so.  And obviously Secretary Geithner himself is there in person to evaluate them and have discussions with European counterparts.

Q    Jay, have you looked at the Collins-McCaskill proposal to have a millionaires’ tax but somehow carve out small business owners?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t -- I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t had a chance to study it and I haven’t had a discussion with our economic team about it.  Broadly speaking, as I’ve said before, there are possible pay-fors, alternative pay-fors that we would support, and there are alternative pay-fors that we would not.  And I don’t know -- I haven’t had a chance to assess this new proposal, so I can’t tell you where that fits. 

Q    It seems like it could take away a GOP talking point about any kind of tax increase on high earners if you took job creators out of the equation.

MR. CARNEY:  The GOP talking point is based on a fallacy, as you all well know and has been abundantly documented.  The percentage of small businesses -- even as they define small businesses, which means partners in law firms and other things that file their business earnings under the personal income tax and earn more than a million dollars is less than 1 percent of all small businesses in America, based on a Treasury report that was done to evaluate the extension of the high-income Bush tax cuts. 

So we’re really not talking about small business here.  Small businesses are just simply not broadly affected by the proposed surtax on millionaires and billionaires.  And it’s a perfect example of window dressing or rather a fig leaf and maybe a little gorilla dust to suggest that that’s the case.

Q    Just on the Cordray nomination -- do you have any sense of whether you’re making any breakthroughs with any of the Republican senators you’ve been targeting?  And what exactly is the President doing to try to get those senators’ support?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President has made clear that this is a high priority and he is -- he and his team have been conveying that to members of the Senate.  And, unfortunately, those who say they will vote against Richard Cordray by and large concede that he is highly qualified for the job, that he has won high praise from Republicans as well as Democrats in his role as attorney general in Ohio, but that they want to prevent the confirmation of any consumer watchdog because they don’t want that agency to be able to fully function and operate and protect consumers. 

That’s unacceptable.  And it’s not acceptable to the President and it’s unacceptable to the American people who deserve to have rules of the road in place that protect them in their dealings with financial institutions.  It’s as simple as that.  And so the President will continue to press for the confirmation of Richard Cordray and hopes that those senators who control his fate, if you will, in terms of this confirmation process will change their mind.

Q    Will he talk about Cordray today?

MR. CARNEY:  Why don’t we wait and see what he says in the speech.  Anything else?  Oh, speaking of nominees, I just wanted to reiterate what I mentioned yesterday but was -- for good reason did not get a lot of attention because the President spoke at the briefing.  But we have a judicial nominee for the D.C. Circuit today who is enormously qualified, and if the Senate were not so dysfunctional, would easily be confirmed with bipartisan support

The vote out of committee is today.  We continue to hope that the kind of obstructionism that we’ve seen from Senator McConnell and others on this issue of judicial nominees will stop and that she will be confirmed, because it’s really -- it is a terribly damaging thing to do to suggest that someone of her caliber cannot be confirmed to this important seat on the court, D.C. Circuit, for political reasons.  It’s a perfect example of the kind of stuff that drives Americans crazy about how Congress operates. 

Q    Anything on the string in bombings and attacks in Afghanistan overnight?  There apparently were three throughout the country.

MR. CARNEY:  We strongly condemn the bombings in -- I think it was in Mazar-i-Sharif and in Kabul.  And I think I have some language on that if you want it:

The United States strongly condemns the two suicide bombings that killed dozens of worshippers today, many of them women and children in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif.  Many of the killed and wounded were marking a Shia holy day, Ashura, when the suicide bombs detonated nearly simultaneously.  The United States continues to stand with the Afghan people against terrorism.  Our thoughts and condolences are with those affected by these heinous acts.
 
Anything else?  All right, thanks.

END
11:19 A.M. EST

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