James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:46 P.M. EST  
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, good afternoon, everybody.

Q    Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Happy Friday.

Q    Happy Friday.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We made it. 
Okay.  So, joining us today are two critical members of the President’s economic team and Cabinet, CEA Chair Cecilia Rouse and OMB Director Shalanda Young.
They need no introduction and have joined us in the briefing room before.  And so, I’m going to keep it short, but a couple things I do want to say at the top about the two of them.
Chair Rouse has led the Council of Advisers for two years as of Sunday.  This is her third tour of duty at the White House, and she previously served as dean of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.  She is also the first Black Woman to be CEA Chair.
Director Young has similarly led the Office of Management and Budget for almost two years.  She previously served as the Clerk and Staff Director for the House Appropriations Committee, and knows the Hill and Appropriations as well as anyone — maybe better than most.  Shalanda is the first Black woman to be OMB Director.
You may be sensing a theme here.  (Laughter.)  Stick with me for a second. 
But I do want to take a moment to note the historic nature of the moment that you see in front of you right now.  All three of us are historic firsts in our roles: the first Black women to serve as CEA Chair, OMB Director, White House Press Secretary.  The first Black women, right in front of you, for all of those three important, important key roles in the administration.
Now, that did not happen by accident.  It takes — it’s — it — it is thanks to this President — President Biden’s leadership and commitment to building an administration full of the best and the brightest.  And I am so proud to be standing with two of the best and the brightest in this administration.

So, with that, I will turn it over Director Young and also Chair Rouse.

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Thank you.  How do you follow that?  (Laughter.)

Just to pile on just a little: I have to thank Cece Rouse.  This is probably our last time getting to do this roadshow together.  And if you’ve ever talked to Dr. Rouse, you know that she’s an economist extraordinaire.  What — what you may not know is that, to many of us, she is a colleague that will be hard to replace.  And I will miss our working relationship. 

And I’m embarrassing her, because I did not tell her I would do this.  (Laughter.)  But I think when you’ve been of service, you have — your kids don’t see you a lot, it’s worth taking a minute just to say thank you. 

And I know the President will have much more to say later.  But I, as a colleague, just want to say thank you for your friendship.

And just in case you all didn’t see, the President rolled out his budget, his third one on — (laughter) — yesterday.  And it’s built around four key values.

First, giving families more breathing room.  What does that mean?  We’re talking about lowering prescription drug costs, lowering healthcare costs, lowering housing costs, lowering college costs, and lowering childcare costs.  And if you have a child in daycare anywhere around here, you will understand why families need that breathing room.

Second, the budget protects and strengthens Medicare and Social Security, all while some congressional Republicans have threatened to cut them.

The President has been crystal clear: These are more than programs; they are promises to American seniors.  That’s why the budget extends the life of Medicare trust fund by at least 25 years and rejects any effort to cut Social Security benefits.  That is off the table, full stop.

Third, this budget invests in America: boosting American manufacturing, making our communities safer, strengthening our national security, cutting taxes for working families, and much more.  That’s the way you grow an economy from the bottom up and the middle out.

And fourth, this budget reduces the deficit.  Remember, this is not new to this President.  He cut the deficit by $1.7 trillion his first two years in office.  And the Inflation Reduction Act will reduce the deficit by hundreds of billions more.

This year’s budget will reduce the deficit by nearly $3 trillion dollars over 10 years by asking the wealthy and big corporations to begin to pay their fair share and by cutting wasteful spending on special interests.  That includes by reforming our tax code to ensure no billionaire pays a lower tax rate than a teacher and a firefighter in this country.  That’s a clear contrast with congressional Republicans.

Look, they talk a lot about cutting deficits, but let’s get a few things straight today.    Under the previous administration, they passed a $2 trillion unpaid-for tax cut that was skewed to the wealthy and big corporations that absolutely exploded the deficit.  And over the past few months, they pitched plans that would add an additional $3 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.

Now, this morning, we get another proposal from the House Freedom Caucus.  Let’s talk about what it says about what they value.

This is a plan that would have devastating consequences for our national security, cut the legs out from the middle class, endanger community safety, hurt our seniors, and cost manufacturing jobs. 
And here is the kicker: For all the talks of deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility, this would reduce the deficit by zero dollars.  Not a single penny.  Also tax cuts for the super wealthy can stay in place.

So, the contrast here is pretty simple.  The President has laid out a detailed budget that will lower costs for families, protect Medicare and Social Security, and invest in America while reducing the deficit.  And the very next day, congressional Republicans come out with a plan that would sell the middle class out in order to protect tax breaks for special interests and the super wealthy while doing absolutely nothing to reduce the deficit.

That’s a debate we’re eager to have.

Thank you.

CHAIR ROUSE:  Thank you for having me here today.

So, I want to use my opportunity to talk about the President’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget that was released yesterday.  But I’ll spend a little bit more time with the new jobs data that came in earlier this morning and the look ahead.

So, first, I’ll start with the budget.  This budget builds on the solid economic gains of the first two years of this administration. 

The challenges faced by the American economy during the last time — these last two years have been extraordinary.  The dual human tragedies of COVID-19 and Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine continue to reverberate through every facet of our country.

Nevertheless, the U.S. economy has remained resilient.  The United States ended 2022 with an economy that was 5 percent bigger in real terms than it was just before the pandemic, the strongest three-year performance of any G7 economy.

Further, this morning, we learned that the employment rose by — employment rose by 311,000 jobs in Jan- — in February and that the labor force participation rate among prime-aged Americans rose 0.4 percentage points in January.  It has not been as high since 2008.

At the same time, we know that inflation remains too high.  However, even there, we see signs of easing as annual inflation, as measured by the CPI, has fallen for seven months in a row.  We’ll receive updated data on that on Tuesday.

Taken together, these data are consistent with a robust recovery, one that has put us on a solid position to conu- — continue on a path forward towards sustainable growth that is more broadly shared.

So, the President’s 2024 budget builds on this growth in two very important ways.

First, this budget is fiscally responsible, as Director Young just outlined.

Second, the budget takes steps to further support our workforce and invest in human capital, with policies such as paid leave and childcare that both increase our economic capacity and help to make it easier for workers to actually go to work and balance their responsibilities.

So, finally, a word about our budget forecast.   So, we finalized our forecast last November.  Since then, data have become available, including today.  And some of those data from — from 2022 and even earlier have been revised for technical reasons.

So, with every new release and revision of technical data, we’ve learned something new about the economy and have also revised our view of it.  We’ve continued to learn a lot about just how convention- — unconventional this recovery has been.

So, if I — I think that if — if you had told most conventional macro economists last June that we were about to get seven straight months of annual inflation reduction, they would have told us that the unemployment rate would have to rise over that time.

Instead, we’ve seen that the unemployment rate in February was the same as it was last June and the labor force participation rate is 0.3 percentage points higher.

I mention this to underscore that we’re in unprecedented times.  And if we were producing our Troika forecast today, we’d incorporate new data and information from the past few months.

As I’ve emphasized repeatedly, we’re confident we’ll get back to steady and stable growth.  However, the road there will continue to be a bumpy one.

But let me end where I began.  The strength of our recovery has put us on solid ground to weather economic shocks, and the President’s 2024 budget presents a fiscally fair and responsible approach to continue the progress we’ve made so far to invest in America and meet our future challenges. 
Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  We’ll take a couple questions.

Go ahead, Mary.

Q    Just wondering if we can get your reaction to the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and whether you’re concerned that other banks may fail as well.

CHAIR ROUSE:  So — sure.  So, the most important thing that I will say here is that our Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary Yellen, is closely tracking the developments with S- — the Silicon Valley Bank.

What I will emphasize as well is that our banking system is in — is in a fundamentally different place than it was, you know, a decade ago, and that the reforms that were put into place back then really provide the kind of resilience that we’d like to see.

So, we have every faith in our regulators, and we can see that today.  But Secretary Yellen is closely tracking.

Q    And one more on that same topic.  You know, the government obviously insures up to $250,000.  But this bank served a lot of tech companies that obviously had a lot more money in — stored with them.  So, how concerned are you that we could see a ripple effect just throughout this specific sector?

CHAIR ROUSE:  So, two things.  One, I’ll refer you to the FDIC for how they plan — intend to handle — we know they’re insured up to 250- — and how they’ll handle those with balances above that.

And the second, I just want to re-emphasize that we are in a fundamentally different position that — you know, with the reforms of the global financial crisis of 2007, 2008, we’ve put in place stress tests and other tools that our regulators have to provide more resilience to our banking system.

So, you know, Secretary Yellen is watching this closely.  Our regulators — we have every faith that they will be as well.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    One for each of you, if you don’t mind.  (Laughter.)
CHAIR ROUSE:  (Inaudible.) 
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Which one?  Which one, Phil?
Q    Director Young, you’re not escaping me today.  We got approps to talk about.

But, first, just to follow up on Mary’s question.  I think one thing that’s different in the wake of 2008, despite everything that’s been put into place in the wake of Dodd-Frank, is interest rate risk is at a level right now that perhaps banks haven’t been dealing with for a very long time.

Do you feel comfortable that the banking industry writ large is both cognizant of the risk and prepared for it in a different way than maybe SVB was?

CHAIR ROUSE:  So, what I would say is that our banking system has — understands these kinds of heightened risks, and that I have full faith and confidence in our regulators.

You know, Secretary Yellen has been in conversation with our regulators, with the Federal Reserve, with the Office of the Comptroller so that they can be monitoring the situation.  And they are very acutely aware of these risks, more than we are, and we have full faith and confidence that they — they will be tracking.  They have better tools than they had in 2008, and the banking sector has more resilience. 
Q    And then, Director Young, you mentioned the House Freedom Caucus proposal.  Look, I know you guys were able to reach a deal on approps in December.  If this is a baseline that House Republicans, which now control the chamber, are working off of, where do you see overlap here?  And I’m not talking necessarily about debt ceiling.  I’m talking about further-on fiscal negotiations that need to happen.
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  I think it’s a good question.  The first step is: This is why we do budgets.  This is why we put it in black and white, so the American people can look at what the President values, what Congress values.  And we owe it to them to lay that out clearly.  That’s why this President has been actually pretty strong about “show us your plan,” and it’s not just a talking point. 
This is why we have a budget process, because it is important that people see what you mean.  It’s easy to say “spending cuts.”  What does that mean?  Well, at least some Republicans have told us what that means.
Before today, we heard defense was off the table.  This says defense is on the table.  So I think they have to figure out if this is the plan for all of them.  Is this a few members?  We don’t know. 
That’s why the House budget process — they have to come up with a plan.  They have to show if this is a plan that the majority of their conference can stand behind. 
Because right now, the plan we have in front of us by some of them would cut critical programs when we talk about non-defense spending: education — Department of Education; Title I, IDA — bipartisan programs; transportation; housing vouchers.  Where are people supposed to live with the housing supply crunch?  Our national defense, while we are supporting Ukraine, while we’re supposed to be countering China.  Those are real key, stark differences. 
And, Phil, I think we’re in the point of the program where we both have to lay those out and make the case for the American people.  And that’s what we’re doing.  And the rubber hits the road in the appropriations process. 
And we’ll see if they can pass those bills that live by the outline that the Freedom Caucus has put out today.  It’ll be interesting to see.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Steven.
Q    Thanks.  Director, if you could explain the President’s thinking and his commitment going forward to ensuring the continued solvency of Social Security.  His budget yesterday does not advance any plan to adjust the payroll tax for wealthier individuals.  You say in the document that he’s interested in working with Congress.  Can you explain whether that means that he hopes for a deal this year or in this Congress?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  So, the deal is, this President will not accept benefit cuts.  You talk to someone like my 94-and-a-half-year-old grandmother in South Louisiana.  You call and tell her — because I’m not — that some people in D.C., after she has spent about 40, 50 years working in this country, that some people want to cut benefits that she has paid into and earned her whole life.  What this budget says is this President is not interested in that conversation.  And his budget says: not on his watch. 
So, in contrast — I would say, in contrast, we have people who want to cut it.  And we think the existential crisis for Social Security is making sure that our American seniors know this President is going to stand behind them. 
Q    But, if I can just follow up, I mean, the — the thinking is that Social Security only has about 12 more years of solvency left.  This seems like a good opportunity — isn’t it? — with a divided government, for the President to make a proposal and hope for a compromise?  He doesn’t seem to be interested in doing that.
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Well, you assume the debate is from cutting no benefits and moving forward.  We’re trying to protect the benefits that are there now.  I wish we were at the point of the debate where we could sit down and come up with proposals to extend. 
Unfortunately, it is clear that some people want to go backwards.  We’re saying: This President, which he has said over and over, will not accept benefit cu- — benefit cuts in the Social Security program. 
So you’re assuming all players are starting from the same place.  They’re not. 
So this President has been very clear.  His position is we will protect Social Security. 
Q    But the President is not making a proposal here to extend the solvency of Social Security.  He’s proposing not to accept any benefit cuts.  But the Republican leaders say they’re not proposing benefit cuts. 
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Who are you going to listen to?  You’re going to listen to the Freedom Caucus who put out something different than what other people have been saying?
What we’ve said is — one thing — Monday, one thing is said; Tuesday, another thing said.  We’ll know if that is an ironclad commitment.  We hope it is.  But until we see a plan, excuse us for wanting to see it in black and white, and see that it’s supported by the majority of the conference. 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Nancy.
Q    Thanks.  Just following up on that.  In the budget, you did spend a lot of time talking about your proposals for Medicare, expressing concern about Medicare solvency and claiming that the proposals that you’re making will extend Medicare for another 25 years or so.  So why no proposal for extending Social Security’s solvency, which is almost as dire. 
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  So — well, one, thanks for bringing up Medicare.  You’re right; we do have a proposal that would extend the life by at least 25 years.  And we hope our friends on the Hill will take us up on those proposals. 
And I’ve been very clear and the President has: We believe the greatest existential threat to Social Security today is those who want to cut it.  So, our position, his position is that is not on the table, not on his watch.  And that’s what this budget says. 
Q    So will the President have a proposal in the future for extending Social Security’s lifeline so that people like your grandmother will be able to get their full benefits come 10, 15, 20 years from now?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  I hope she’s with us — (laughter) — that long.  I really do. 
But what this President will do is make sure he is a backstop and will stop attacks on the program for people who want to cut it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Kristen.
Q    I wanted to follow up on that.  But about Medicare, the proposal to keep Medicare solvent includes increasing taxes, which is something that Republicans have called a nonstarter. 
So, given that, where are the conversations happening about keeping Medicare solvent, given that it is dire and expected to run out in a matter of years as well — the trust funds?
CHAIR ROUSE:  So, remember, the budget writ large — this is a start of a conversation.  This is a —
Q    Republicans say it’s dead on arrival, though.
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  So, budgets — this is — this is the President’s job.  His job is — and Congress told all Presidents: Send us a budget.  Show us what you would do, what you value.  This President has done that. 
Now, it was — it was his choice to put forward proposals that extended Medicare, and he’ll work with anyone who wants to work with him to do that. 
Look, the net income tax was always supposed to go to Medicare.  We’re correcting something that should have happened a long time ago. 
Are we asking those making over $400,000 to pay more?  We are — to extend.  And it has a dual benefit.  It not only extends the trust fund life, it helps us reduce the deficit. 
So, we think it’s a good proposal, and we hope people take us up on it. 
Q    I wanted to follow up with you on the debt limit.  The President has been very clear he’s not going to negotiate over increasing the debt limit.  Will there be a parallel negotiation, though, with Republicans? 
In other words, would he agree to sign something that raises the debt limit unilaterally and then simultaneously have negotiations about potential cuts, which I understand you’re still waiting to see the details of?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Yeah, I’ve really tried in 20 years not to deal in hypotheticals in this town.  That is a good way to get oneself in trouble.  And I’ve been in a lot of funding debates over the years; they end differently every year.  But guess what?  They happen every year. 
So, I know there’s a lot more rhetoric around it with a new House majority, but we just work together and beyond — and most critics thought we could not find a path in a bipartisan basis in December, and we did.
Q    But is this a possibility, though?  I understand you don’t want to lock yourself into a parallel — into a hypothetical.  But is it a possibility that you would have parallel negotiations?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  I will say we talk — Democrats and Republicans — every year.  That is the only way to get government spending bills done.  So that happens every year, and we expect it to happen this year. 
Q    Can I ask you one more on SVB?  It is the 19th-largest bank in the U.S.  It went down in about 40 hours.  What do you say to Americans who have real concerns today about their hard-earned savings and money?
CHAIR ROUSE:  Yeah, absolutely.  And this is why we have the FDIC and other safeguards in place in our banking system.   And what I would say to them is that our Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary Yellen; the bank regulators; those who will provide the guardrails and our safeguarding are closely watching and are prepared to use the tools that they need.
The FDIC stepped in very quickly here.  And that’s what they were doing is protecting the deposits of those up to $250,000.  And then they have a way to unwind the rest. 
So, I will refer you to the FDIC.  I will refer you to Treasury that is monitoring the developments in the system. 
But what I will say to it is our banking system is far more resilient than it was in 2008.  We learned a lot.  We’ve got better tools specifically so that we can protect that the important investments of (inaudible).
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’ve got to take some from the back, and then we’ll come back.
Q    Thanks, Karine.  I have one for each of you.  Picking up on that, you said you had full faith and confidence in our regulators.  Regulators are those that work for the government.  Do you have the full faith and confidence in the banking system writ large?
CHAIR ROUSE:  Our banking system is fundamentally different because of the changes that we put in place in 2008.  For example, they have to hold more capital, they undergo stress tests. 
So we know that we had to build more resilience into our banking system, which allows it to withstand these kinds of shocks.  So I do have faith that we have the tools to — for this sector and for our regulators to be able to absorb. 
But, you know, this is what we know today.  But we do know that our banking system is in a fundamentally different place.
Q    No worries about the contagion effect?
CHAIR ROUSE:  Again, we put in guardrails, which — and our regulators have much more visibility into the banking sector than they did a decade ago.
Q    And then, for Director Young: There have been a lot of talk in this room over the last — this week and then last week as well, about Mexico and how to deal with cartels, transnational trafficking, et cetera. 
There was additional money thrown into the budget — 800 million dollars’ worth — for ICE and CBP, more agents along the border, more money to take on fentanyl, et cetera.  Is it enough — is this an acknowledgement from the President that more needs to be done along the southern border and more needs to be done taking on these cartels?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Look, the President has been clear.  He has asked the Secretary of Homeland Security to let me know, let him know what is needed.  And that’s why we’re putting forth a robust request in fiscal year ‘24. 
But you’re right.  In December, the President told Congress, “I need more than I originally asked of you months before.”  And Congress gave us about half of what he asked for. 
So, we have to ask: If we’re all concerned about border security, are you going to resource the men and women at the border to do their job? 
So we did not get everything we asked for in December.  We’re going to try again with this budget.  We’re asking for about $880 million more in CBP. 

We’re asking for $4.7 billion in a contingency fund, acknowledging migration patterns change.  So, we’re going to have triggers.  If encounters hit a certain level, we’ll access more money.  We think that’s the responsible way to fund this. 

So, we’re going to ask for the resources we need.  And we continue to assess.  And we will let Congress know, like we did last year, if that situation changes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Ed.

Q    So, I’m going to ask about the other thing today, the jobs report, if I could.  (Laughter.)  So, the average hourly wages in the jobs report is up 4.6 percent.  The CPI inflation is 6.4 percent.  That — its — inflation has been outpacing wages for about a year and a half.  When can Americans expect that to reverse — relief from that?

CHAIR ROUSE:  So, we did see that on an annual basis — we saw some wage — the nominal wages went up slower than what we expect.  We don’t have the CPI report for this month, but based on what we had in January.  But I will highlight that real wages in January were higher than they were seven months ago. 

So we understand that inflation needs to come down.  It’s why it’s the President’s highest priority.  We just got the Blue Chip forecast — it was just released today from Blue Chip forecasters.  They were expecting inflation to be easing to about 3.2 percent at the end of this year. 

We know that that is why it’s so important for the Federal Reserve to have the independence.  It is why the President is focused on lowering costs in his budget through the Inflation Reduction Act for Americans when it comes to healthcare, when it comes to childcare, when it comes to higher education.

But we are expecting to see this economy con- — you know, with the — the labor market is robust.  We’re expecting to see inflation ease over the year.  There may be bumps along the way, however.  We know that we can’t focus on any one month, but that — that is what most forecasters are expecting.

Q    And on jobs, real quick.  On jobs, manufacturing lost 4,000 jobs.  With the focus on manufacturing here, what happened?

CHAIR ROUSE:  So, again, it — so, yes, but we had one month, and we don’t like to focus on any one month.  And if we look at the manufacturing growth overall, they’re higher today than they were almost two years ago.  We’ve seen more manufacturing growth in the last two years than we have in previous recovery cycles.  What — again, I want to emphasize it’s really important not to over-focus on any one month of data. 
But if we go back to the President’s policies, if we look at the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the — the CHIPS and Science Act, those are — even the Inflation Reduction Act, in terms of the investments in the green energy transition: All of those are going to bring the kind of manufacturing jobs that we know are so important to both rebuilding the infrastructure in this country, which we — which is very important for building our economic growth, building our economic capacity, and will offer those kind of manufacturing jobs, which are so important for a lot of American workers, especially those without a college degree.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Phil.

Q    Thank you.  I have two questions for Director Young.  The first is: For the Pentagon, the President is requesting $842 billion.  That’s a 3.2 increase — 3.2 percent increase from last year, but inflation is at 6 percent currently.  So, how is that not a cut in real terms?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  So, remember, it matters what we spend the resources on.  This defense budget was built on the National Defense Strategy.  As you can imagine, we tend to get from Congress a lot of things that this administration did not prioritize.

So, frankly, we had room in the base in which to prioritize to make sure we we’re taking care of the highest priority items for our national defense.  So, that is the basic answer. 

It is about: Look under the hood.  We believe we have the resources, as I mentioned, to counter China in Defense and State Department and USAID.  And it’s the right level for doing the right thing. 

We don’t say — I know people like to compare percentages from non-defense and defense.  It’s about what the right level is to achieve what we’re trying to achieve.  So we worked in lockstep with the Department of Defense to make sure we were funding the top priorities around the globe.
Q    And then, you have said today and the President has also said on numerous occasions, that cuts to Social Security are off the table.  I’m wondering, though, for folks who are planning on retirement after 2035, when the Congressional Research Service estimates that that program could be approaching insolvency — you know, for folks who are expecting to retire, you know, in the next decades ahead, is — what is the President’s message to them?  Can they rely on this program?  Will it be around for them after they pay into it?

DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Remember, it takes — it’s going to take bipartisanship in order to deal with the longer-term issues here.  And right now, unfortunately, the debate is centered around the current benefits in the program. 

We have some — maybe it’s not the case, but we’ll see when their budget comes out.  But we have some who have said they want to cut Social Security.  That is why this President, in his budget, made very clear that he is not going to allow that to happen on his watch.  And that’s full stop. 

But absolutely, if people want to accept that as a reality and talk about further proposals, we’re happy to engage in that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Just a couple more.

Q    Can I go back to Silicon Valley Bank for a second?  There’s the CEO — I believe Y Combinator — that has hundreds of its portfolio companies tied to the bank.  And the CEO said that this is a, quote, “extinct-” — “extinction-level event” for startups if regulators and lawmakers don’t act quickly to give it some liquidity.  So, I’m wondering if the administration believes right now whether that kind of intervention is needed.

I don’t know if I’m supposed to say the word “bailout,” but — (laughs) — but what is the — what is the White House thinking on that?
CHAIR ROUSE:  What I would say is that Secretary Yellen is closely tracking, she’s closely in touch with the Chair Powell, with the FDIC, with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. 

And so, they are assessing the situation.  They understand the importance of the stability within our financial sector.  That is what their job is.  And they have the tools that they need to ensure that we maintain stability in the financial sector.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Francesca.  Just two more.

Q    The President proposed 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave as part of his budget.  What percentage of wages does he intend to replace?  And how does he plan to pay for the proposed program?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  So, thank you for that.  When we talk about the President reducing the deficit by over $3 trillion, it assumes the investments in paid leave, it assumes the investment in childcare. 

We believe that when we reform the tax code and ask the wealthiest in this country and large corporations to pay what nurses and firefighters pay in this country, that we can do things like paid leave.  So, those programs are already baked in. 
So, our deficit projections — when we say $3 trillion, it assumes that we have paid for a 12-week paid leave policy.  So, we think we can do those investments fiscally responsible by ensuring that we have fairness in the tax code.

Q    But given that, in the past, lawmakers have discussed this for a very long time, they all — many Republicans and Democrats have said that they believe in a paid leave program but what they can’t figure out is how to pay for it.  Why not put forward a specific measure in this plan?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Look, we are happy to talk about how to mix and match tax proposals and spending proposals.  I think the important thing to know is, in the budget, we’ve laid out several revenue sources, several tax policies.  And, you know, absolutely, if — if some of the proposals get mixed and matched with certain things, we’re open to that. 

I think the key thing to leave here with is: We’ve put a suite of proposals forward that have enough revenue — more than enough — to do paid leave and the other proposals that the President has put forward.  Because this President, rather than talk about fiscal responsibility, has actually put forward budgets that say we should pay for what we spend — and, as matter of fact, we should pay for what we spend and reduce the deficit at the same time.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Jeff.

Q    Great, thanks.  First, for Dr. Rouse, with regard to the jobs numbers today.  Are you concerned that rising interest rates is going to torpedo the progress in the labor market and that there’s a disconnect between how the Fed looks at this and how the White House looks at this?
CHAIR ROUSE:  So, what I would say is this —

Q    Please speak in the microphone.

CHAIR ROUSE:  Oh, sorry.  This jobs report — yeah, that does sound different — (laughter) — this jobs report reflects that we have an economy that remains resilient. 
And the President respects the independence of the Fed and understands they have a dual mandate.  So, their dual mandate is both price stability and maximum employment.  So, I have full faith that they are focused on those two goals. 

What I will say is that the resilience that we see in this labor market is — defies expectations of traditional macro economists.  And so, we are — you know, it’s not foregone that we have to see, you know, a big spike in unemployment in order to bring down inflation. 

As I mentioned before, I don’t think any macro economist would have expected we would have seen the easing over the past seven months that we’ve seen without seeing some give in the unemployment — in the labor market.

So, you know, we fully expect that — we know there will be bumps along the way.  But we fully expect that we will see a transition to an economy that is more stable and where there’s more sustainable growth. 

And, you know, our forecast, the forecasts of private invest- — for- — private forecasters suggest that inflation should come down meaningfully over the course of this year and we’ll eventually get back to a more stable situation.

Q    Do you think rates are too high?

CHAIR ROUSE:  So, what I would say is that we see an economy that is quite resilient —

Q    That’s not answering the question.  (Laughter.)

CHAIR ROUSE:  — and we still see — but we also understand that inflation is too high. 
So the Federal Reserve has to take the actions it needs to take.  And so, we have the confidence that they will do that while also trying to achieve that soft or soft-ish landing, which suggests that they will try to maintain momentum in the labor market, in particular, but in the economy while bringing inflation under control. 
Q    Just very briefly for Director Young.  You’ve been asked multiple times about the future of Social Security, and most of your answers have focused on Republicans wanting to cut benefits now. 
Keeping that context in mind, will the President make a proposal at some time during his administration to help ensure that Social Security will exist for people who are retiring, as was already asked, in 10 years?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  So, the President has supported proposals that would extend Social Security.  He has not walked away from those proposals. 
I’ll remind everyone this is the fiscal year ‘24 budget.  It is one year.  That does not mean that every policy that the President and then candidate supports will be reflected in one budget year.  And he absolutely has supported policies that would extend Social Security. 
Right now, unfortunately, we believe the — the thing he has to protect against most is those who want to cut it. 
So, you’re right.  This is about a contrast.  And we’re starting from a place of having to protect Social Security.  So that is what is reflected here.
Q    Director Young, do you think there is any wasteful government spending?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Peter, this is why we have $1.6 billion to go after fraud, mostly in the unemployment insurance area.  You’ve probably heard the White House talk about this proposal.  It ensures — you’ve heard the President talk about making sure IGs stay on the beat; that is a difference from the last administration, who fired some of our IGs.  They go after wasteful spending and are very helpful pointing out to us and Congress what wasteful spending is. 
That is why you see that proposal to make sure that we go after fraud and waste in government programs and after crime syndicates who are abusing programs that should be there for those Americans who need it.
Q    So no — the criticism from Republicans in Congress is that this budget just makes the government too big.  You don’t think so?
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  We would not have a $1.6 billion proposal to go after fraud and waste and crime syndicates if we didn’t think that there was some reform and cops on the beat, like the IGs, needed. 
So, I did not say that.  I said we have a proposal in which to go after it. 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Thank you.  Thanks, guys.  Thank you so much. 
DIRECTOR YOUNG:  Thank you. 
CHAIR ROUSE:  Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  I have a couple things at the top, and then we can go into questions. 
So, as you all know — and, I guess, you guys all saw — President Biden is meeting with President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission, which is happening currently as we’re standing here — as I’m standing here and you all are standing — sitting there. 
Transatlantic economic issues — (laughter) — I tried to be a little bit more smooth about that.  It was not smooth. 
Okay.  Transatlantic economies — economic issues will be the central focus of the meeting, including our Inflation Reduction Act and the EU’s Green Deal Industrial Plan.  We also expect them to discuss our continued partnership to support Ukraine and the Windsor Framework.
Coming out of the meeting this afternoon, we hope to be able to begin negotiations on a targeted critical minerals agreement and a dialogue on subsidy transparency. 
We also hope to be able to jointly commit to a deadline for finalizing negotiations on the Global Arrangement on Sustainable Steel and Aluminum.

We announced yesterday, as you all saw, that the President and the First Lady are going to — are looking forward to and going to be headed to Ottawa, Canada, on March 23rd to the 24th.
And so, President Biden will reaffirm the United States’ commitment to the U- — to the U.S.-Canada partnership and promote our shared security, shared prosperity, and shared values.
While there, President Biden will meet with Prime Minister Trudeau.  They’ll discuss a wide range of topics, including defense cooperation, strengthening our supply chain resilience, our efforts to combat climate changes, as well as regional and global challenges like supporting Ukraine, addressing irregular migration, and combatting the synthetic opioid crisis.
While there, President Biden will also address the Canadian parliament.
And as you all know, we will have more to share as we get closer to the travel dates.
One thing that I wanted to share or speak to this afternoon is basically what we have seen this past — this past couple of weeks.  So I just want to take a step back a moment and really call out the shameful, hateful, and dangerous attacks that we have been seeing on the LGBTQI community as we’ve seen this week, as I said, and also last week.
Look, it started with a speaker at a conservative conference calling for the eradication of transgender people, language that not a single national Republican leader has condemned. 
In Iowa and Tennessee, Republicans are now calling for legislation to attack gay marriage and protections for same-sex couples.
In Florida — just Florida alone — Republicans introduced 20 bills — 20 bills — on a single day to roll back the rights of LGBTQ community. 
One of those bills would give the state the right to remove kids from their parents just because that kid is transgender.  And just think about that.  Just think about a kid who is sitting at home in this community who is listening and hearing elected officials talking about how they want to take away their rights or how they want to even threaten their parents with felony charges for seeking healthcare for their children. 
These kids are sitting at home having to listen to people, who are supposed to protect them and their freedom, saying these horrific, ugly, despicable things. 
So, so far this year, we have seen more than 450 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced at the state level — you’ve heard me say that before — amounting to a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills in our country’s history.
Guys, today is day 70.  It is day 70 of 2023.
The same leaders that tout freedom apparently don’t extend their love for freedom if they disagree with who you are, who you love, or how you parent.  It’s government overreach at its worst, taking away rights from the vulnerable, all to distract from a deeply unpopular agenda that caters to the ultra-rich.
As the President has made clear time and — time and time again — you have heard him say this not just as President, but also as Vice President, also as — as a senator throughout his career — he believes that everyone in this country should live with the safety and dignity — with the safety and dignity.
There is no asterisk over the word “freedom” in this country.  We will not hesitate to call out this behavior.  If I have to do this or we have to do this or the President has to do this every week, we will. 
And I’ll just re- — I’ll just say what the President has said over and over again when it comes to LGBTQ community, when it comes to vulnerable comminutes across the country that are constantly being attacked: We have their back.  The President has their back.  And that will continue.
So, now the week ahead. 
This evening, the President will travel to Wilmington, Delaware.
On Sunday, the President will return to the White House.
On Monday, the President will travel to San Diego, California, to meet with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of Australia and Prime Minister Sunak of the United Kingdom and discuss the Australia, United Kingdom, United States Partnership, also known as AUKUS.  The President will also participate in bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Sunak and also with Prime Minister Albanese.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Monterey Park, California.  The President will discuss his efforts to reduce gun violence.  Then the President will travel to Las Veg- — Las Vegas.
On Wednesday, the President will discuss his plan to lower prescription drug costs.  In the evening, the President will return to the White House from Las Vegas.
We will have more to share on St. Patrick’s Day, one of the President’s favorite holidays, in the days ahead.  (Laughter.)  As you all know, it will be a lot to celebrate on March 17th.
With that, Seung Min, do you want to kick us off?
Q    I have two quick questions. 
Q    Will the President sign the legislation that would declassify information about the origins of COVID?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I know that it was just passed — if I remember — if I’m remembering correctly, it was just passed out of the House today.  Right?
Q    Correct.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So we’re taking a look at the bill.  We have continued to share information, as I’ve mentioned many times before, with members of Congress. 
And as you know, the first few months of the President’s administration, he — he — when he came into office, he directed the intelligence community to dec- — declassify information assessing COVID origins and to make that report public to — to Americans people — to the American people, because we know and he understands how important it is to get to the bottom of COVID ornges [sic] — we will — origins.
We will continue to use every tool to figure out what happened here, while also protecting classified information. 
Again, we’re going to take a look at the bill.  I just don’t have anything to share on how we’re going to move forward at this time.
Q    But the Senate also passed it unanimously.  So why would President Biden not — something that literally —
Q    — got no opposition in Congress?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I totally understand.  It is the right of the President of the United States to look at the legislation that are — that is going to be coming before him.  And we’ll have more to share.
Q    And one quick question — clarification request on what he said earlier today.  He was asked about Saudi Arabia and Iran reestablishing diplomatic relations.  And he said, “The better the relations between Israel and their Arab neighbors, the better for everybody.”  Can you just clarify what he meant?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, as it relates to Iran and Saudi Arabia, we are — we are aware of the reports and would certainly refer you to the Saudis as they are — clearly, came together with this plan.  And they will give — provide more details. 
But generally speaking, to your question: Look, we welcome any efforts to help end the war in Yemen and de-escalate tensions in the Middle East region.  That is one of the reasons why the President — you saw him travel in — over the summer to have those conversations.
De-escalation and diplomacy, together with deterrence, are key pillars of the policy that the President — that President Biden put out — outlined during his — his visit in July in the region. 
So, again, de-escalation of tension in the Middle East clearly is a priority, and he welcomes that.
Go ahead.
Q    Thank you, Karine.  Still on the Saudi-Iran deal.  You and other officials have often said that the JCPOA is just not a focus right now for the administration.  Is this still the case in light of the Chinese-brokered deal that renews ties between Saudi and Iran? 
And should China be able to expand the Saudi-Iran deal to bring Iran to return to JCPOA, would the administration support that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So our opposition, as we have stated the last couple of months, as it relates to JCPOA, has not changed.  It is not our focus right now.  It is not on the agenda. 
And I’ll just leave it there. 
We’ve been pretty consistent on that.  And so that hasn’t changed.
Q    Okay.  And a follow-up on Seung Min’s question.  Did the President just misheard the question?  I — I’m still confused with your explanation.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, there’s no confusion.  I just laid out how we feel about — how we feel about the de-escalating tensions in the Middle East.  We’ve been very clear about that.  The President laid out his plan, as it — during his trip — the pillars of the policy during his trip in July.  It’s just — that hasn’t changed.  And that still stands. 
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q    Karine, thanks.  I just want to emphasize: There’s high interest in knowing if he will find a bill to declassify the origins.  So do you think you’ll get an answer by the end of the day?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — we’re —
Q    Is that something —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We’re going to look at the bill.  I can’t give a timeline.  That’s something that — our team here has to take a look at the bill that has been pres- — that has, as you know, has been — gone through Congress, and just take a look at it and we’ll get back to you all. 
I don’t have a timeline on that.
Q    Okay.  I want to follow up on the comments you made at the top.  And you highlighted Florida as one of the places in which LGBTQI rights are under attack.
Today, Ron DeSantis — Governor Ron DeSantis said that “Florida is where woke goes to die.”  He also said of the COVID response, “We were right, and they were wrong,” in reference to this administration in the past.
One, can you respond to any of that? 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, can — say — can you say the first one again?  The first question. 
Q    So, can you respond to Governor Ron DeSantis, in Iowa today, who said, “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, here’s what I have to say.  When Republicans — extreme Republicans, these MAGA Republicans — don’t agree with an issue or with policy, they don’t bring forth something that’s going to either have a — a good-faith conversation.  They go to this conversation of “woke.”  But that is not actually policy.

That — what they — what that turns into is hate.  What it turns into is despi- — despicable policy.  And it’s just not the way we’re going to move forward. 
This is not protecting freedoms.  This is not having a good-faith conversation on how we can move the country forward.  This is about attacking — talking about attacking young kids and their parents because of how they view themselves, because of how they see themselves, because of how they want to live.  Kids and their parents.

What does that have to do with anything about being woke?  That is just hate.  And it is aw- — it is shameful.  It is shameful.  And we’re going to call it out.

And like I said, the President is going to continue to say we have the back of the — of that community or any vulnerable community.

Q    And do you have any response to him in saying, “We were right, and they were wrong”?  Obviously, Florida, one of the states that lifted COVID restrictions on the earlier side.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, let me just remind you all — and you guys wrote about this very early on in the administration: When this President walked in to this administration, thousands of people were dying of COVID.  The last administration did not put forward a comprehensive plan on how we were going to deal with COVID, on how we were going to have shots in arms.

This President, along with Democrats in Congress, passed the American Rescue Plan, which actually helped turn the — the economy back on, because the economy was tanking; grow the economy so that we didn’t leave anybody behind; got people shots in arms; made sure that vaccines were available for free to the American people, making sure that more than 200 million people got vaccines — became fully vaccinated.

That’s what this President did.  This is how he moved forward to make sure that we’re — we’re sitting — all of you guys are sitting here or standing here, and we’re able to sit next to each other.  Most of us — majority of us don’t have masks on.  Many of us are — we are able to — who have kids, our kids are back at school.

When we came into this administration, schools were closed, small businesses were shutting down. 

So, you know, we just talked about the budget — the President’s budget plan, about his values — what he sees the value for the American people.  This is what we’re talking about.  We’re talking about how we’re going to deliver for the American people.

Q    And very quickly, Karine, on one more topic.  Democrats now are joining the calls for President Biden to go to East Palestine.  He has said he plans to go.  What are the plans for him to go?  Why hasn’t he gone yet?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’ve been asked this question multiple times, as you know, Kristen. 
Look, the President, when — when the chemical spill happened on February 3rd, you saw the federal government act right away.  Within hours, you saw the EPA on the ground, DOT was on the ground, and the President made sure that we responded on the federal level so that the people of East Palestine were made whole again.

I don’t have a — I don’t have a trip to announce at this time.  Again, this has been a priority for the President.  He’s been updated very regularly.  He’s spoken to the governors of Pennsylvania, the governor of Ohio.  His team has been on the ground multiple times.  You’ve seen the EPA dir- — director — Administrator go down to — go down to the — to see the community, to see it for himself what has occurred.  That — he’s been there about three times. 
And you’ve seen multiple agencies on the ground also making sure that we make the community whole again, and also holding to account Norfolk Suffolk [sic].

Q    Understood.  But now —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Southern, pardon me.

Q    — all of th- — now that all of that is in place, Democrats are saying it’s time for him to get down there.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  And he said, when he was asked the question, that he will be there.

Q    Will it happen (inaudible)?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have a timeline for you.  The President answered this question directly when he was asked a couple of days, and he said he’s looking forward to go down — going down.  Just don’t have a timeline to share. 

Go ahead, Tam.

Q    Yeah, thank you.  Do you have any update on when a decision will be announced on the Willow project?  And can you confirm that the President was participating in conversations on the project this week?  How actively involved has he been?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Well, I think I confirmed — I don’t know, earlier this week, that he had discussions with the delegations of Ala- — in Alaska.  So, I did confirm that he has had those conversation. 

Look, as I said also on — on that day, that this process is led by the Department of Interior.  They’re the ones who make the decision — the Secretary of Interior — so I would point you, for any specifics or timeline or details on that, to Interior.

Go ahead, Tyler.

Q    Hi.  I know that Chair Rouse said that Secretary Yellen is actively engaged in the Silicon Valley Bank issue.  I’m wondering: Has the President been briefed on this?  Has he talked to Secretary Yellen?  What is his involvement today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  That’s a good question.  I haven’t had a chance to — to speak to the President.  Just — as you know, this has been reoccur- — occurring over the last couple of hours.

What I can say for sure — and certainly, I’m going to let the economist who was in front of you all speak to this — let her words sit — but I’ll just follow up and say Treasury is certainly tracking this rec- — recent developments and remains in touch with regulators.

And so, for any specifics or details on that, certainly, I would refer you to Department of Treasury.  Just — this has been developing over the last couple of hours.  I just haven’t had a chance to speak to him about it.

Q    And then one quick follow-up.  I know two of my colleagues asked about this.  I think the reason that there’s confusion about the President’s comments earlier today is because he was asked about a relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and he brought up Israel.  Obviously, Israel is a neighboring country, but it’s not a party to this new arrangement.  Did the President just mishear the question?  Did you have a chance to ask him?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I have to be very honest: I didn’t hear the question that was posed to him, and I didn’t hear how he answered it.  So I would need to hear it for myself before I can give you an answer.

What I can say to you is what — more broadly, how we see the relationship and how important it is to de- — deescalate in the — in the region at this time and in the Middle East. 
And so that’s why the President — one of the reasons that — one of the things that was on the President’s agenda was just that when he went in July — he went to Israel, as you know; he went to Saudi Arabia, as you know.  And it was important — it was an important trip to have.

I just have to go back and see exactly what he said.  I just want to make sure I say it the ri- — I respond to you in the right way.

But what I can speak to is, more broadly, how he sees this relationship.
Q    And just one last quick one.  Obviously, on Monday, he’s going, as you said to California, in connection with the AUKUS deal.  This was something that particularly upset the French when it was announced months ago.  I’m wondering if the President plans any outreach.  I know he recently spoke with Macron —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yeah, I was going to say he rec- — rec- — yeah.

Q    — but ahead of this or after this event, if there’s anything he might do there?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, it’s a good question.  As you know, he spoke to President Macron just last week.  I don’t have any — any future or upcoming conversations to be had around this trip.

Q    Do you know if AUKUS was brought up on that call?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I know we had a readout.  I just don’t — outside of that, I don’t know if — I don’t have anything else to share.
Okay.  Go ahead, Phil.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  One of my colleagues had a pretty extraordinary interview with an Iranian — or a U.S. citizen that’s been held in Iran now for several years, appealing to the President for his help in securing his release. 
I’m wondering if the President is aware of that interview happening from inside the Evin prison, and also if he’s willing to meet with the Namazi family in the wake of the plea from Siamak Namazi.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I can say that we — look, we don’t have any meetings to preview at this time or today, but I can confirm that senior officials from both the White House and also the State Department meet and consult regularly with the Namazi family, and we will continue to do so until this unacceptable detention ends and Siamak is reunited with his family.

That is certainly the President’s commitment and our commitment here.

Q    All right.  Thanks, Karine.  I think you got a —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Great.  Thanks, everybody.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Hopefully, I’ll see you guys on the trip.  If not, next week.
Q    Do you have an update on McConnell?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have an update (inaudible).
Q    Have a great weekend.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  You too.

3:42 P.M. EST

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