Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/26/2011
1:41 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Good afternoon. Before I take your questions, let me just take note of something. As some of you probably saw last night, the Speaker of the House gave an interview on television, and in it expressed openness to eliminating unwarranted tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.
As you know, this is something the President has long supported and that he has placed in his last two budget proposals.
Following up on the Speaker’s remarks, the President sent a letter earlier today to the leaders of the House and Senate urging them to take immediate action to eliminate unwarranted tax breaks for the oil and gas industry and to use those dollars to invest in clean energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
He obviously believes very strongly, the President does, that this is of special urgency given the spike in gas prices that we’ve seen that have once again reminded us what our dependence on foreign oil can do and how it directly -- has a direct impact on the wallets and pocketbooks of everyday Americans.
And so he strongly urges the leaders of Congress to take up legislation to eliminate those subsidies. As you know, the oil and gas companies are all announcing their profits this week. They are expected to be quite large. And while we certainly are glad to see companies making a profit, we do not believe that given the size of those profits, record profits in some cases, that they need to be subsidized by the American taxpayer, especially in these times of constrained budgets and especially when we need to use some of those dollars to invest in clean energy technology so that we can build the industries of the future, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create jobs in America.
With that, I’ll take your questions. I’ll start here.
Q Jay, thanks. Two topics. First, a follow-up on that. Does the President think that cutting those subsidies to oil companies would do anything to affect gas prices in the short term?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, Ben, the President has said and been quite candid about the fact that there are no short-term silver bullet -- well, there are no silver bullets here -- to solve the problem that is created by our dependence on oil and our dependence on foreign oil in particular. He has -- and that’s why he has, in quite deliberate fashion, laid out a long-term energy strategy that includes reducing our dependence on foreign oil by a third by 2025. It includes diversifying our sources of energy and is -- including increasing domestic development as long as it’s done safely and diversifying to a variety of other sources -- biofuels, for example. It includes the investments that this President made through the Recovery Act in lithium battery technology and other means of clean energy.
So while there is no silver bullet, what a situation like we’re going through now reminds us is that we cannot simply wait for this spike in oil prices to subside, go into a state of sustained amnesia about what the problem is, and then wake up again in a few years when the prices spike again and wonder what we need to do, because we need a long-term strategy, we need to come together in a bipartisan way to create an energy policy that reduces our dependence on foreign oil, diversifies our energy sources, creates jobs in America, and positions the United States for the 21st century.
Q Okay. But so then the current context, these high gas prices, and probably going to be higher come summer, it’s a reminder of the need for this long-term plan that the President advocates and that’s where the tax subsidies come in. He’s not suggesting that even if Congress were to act on this, that the consumers would see a difference anytime soon -- is that fair?
MR. CARNEY: There are -- he is very focused on this issue of gas prices. He is obviously looking at different things that need to be done or could be done, perhaps, to have an impact in the short or medium term. But the reality is that we have a dependence on foreign oil that holds us hostage to the kind of spikes in the oil markets that we’ve seen lately that drives up gas prices.
And he’s committed to finding a long-term solution to this problem and not doing what tends to happen here, which is whenever we see these spikes -- and we’ve seen it in the past; we’ve all seen this movie before when politicians run out and promise a variety of measures that will bring the price of oil down or gas down, and when those prices subside, usually because of the way the market works, everybody forgets that we have a problem. And he’s committed to a long-term energy policy that addresses the long-term problem.
Q I wanted to shift briefly to Syria. Any update on possibilities of sanctions against Assad and his inner circle? Is anything imminent?
MR. CARNEY: What I would tell you is that, as I did yesterday, we’re pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown and make clear that this behavior by the Syrian government is unacceptable.
We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens and we continue to oppose its continued destabilizing behavior, including support for terrorism and terrorist groups. We call on President Assad to change course now and heed the calls of his own people.
I’m not going to get into specifics about what those options are that we’re reviewing. They include potentially targeted sanctions. We’re also, following up on some questions I got yesterday, consulting with our international partners about other actions that could be taken. When we do something like this -- for example, when we seek to employ targeted financial measures -- we try to multilaterize and they tend to be more effective when they’re multilateral, or certainly can have a greater impact.
So that’s the sort of scope of what we’re doing right now as we look at the options available to us.
Q In terms of timing?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything for you on timing right now.
Q Just to go back on the oil and gas subsidies question. What Speaker Boehner said last night was that this was something worth taking a look at, but since the President has sent that letter to congressional leadership, Boehner’s office is saying that the President’s proposal would actually raise taxes and increase prices at the pump. How do you overcome the differences, when you get down to the details, of how to implement such cuts? And how quickly do you think such action could take place, a deal could be reached?
MR. CARNEY: What we’re talking about here are tax breaks for the oil companies, a variety of tax breaks for oil companies that are simply, at a time of multibillion-dollar profits due to the high price of gas, are unnecessary. It’s hard to argue that, given where the price of oil is now, that there’s a need for subsidies of the oil and gas industry. I mean, I think that, as I’m sure some of you know, oil company CEOs themselves have said in the past that they do not need these kind of incentives to continue to explore, for example.
Former Shell CEO, John Hofmeister, just earlier this year said, “In the face of sustained high oil prices, it was not an issue for large companies of needing the subsidies to entice us into looking for and producing more oil.”
And I just think that in a time when Americans are suffering every time they go to the gas station and pull out their credit card or their cash to pay a very high price for a tank of gas, to then tell them that actually we need to spend $4 billion a year of their money to subsidize oil companies who this week are reporting massive profits is just not a credible argument.
And so the President, as you know, has supported eliminating these subsidies for quite some time. He certainly believes that now more than ever the argument resonates. And I think that’s why we heard the Speaker say he was open to that, and why we’ve even seen CEOs of oil and gas companies acknowledge that the subsidies are unnecessary.
Q The President says he wants immediate action. He sees room for compromise with the Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he wants immediate action, and he hopes that the openness that we’ve seen on the Hill to taking action will lead to a concrete result that will eliminate these subsidies and free that money up for the kind of investments in energy that can alleviate this problem in the long term, or help to.
Q Jay, my colleague, Gary Tuchman, just went to Hawaii and established again that there’s evidence suggesting that the President, in fact, was born in the United States. But as you know, Donald Trump persists, other critics, and last night Trump was on CNN saying that he’s been told the birth certificate is missing, that it’s either not there or has been taking out -- taken out somehow, and this is a problem for the President. When the White House hears this continued claim, what does it say?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, I would say that we have a lot of problems confronting us. I think CNN recently did a highly credible piece on an established fact, which is that the President was born in the United States of America, and this was a settled issue. It is unfortunate that for whatever reason that instead of focusing on our economy, on our continued joblessness in this country, on the need to reduce our deficits and get our fiscal house in order, on the need for a clean energy -- for an energy policy and for investments in clean energy technology, on the need for an education reform strategy that positions our children for the 21st century, on the challenges that face us internationally, that this is the subject of -- that gets any kind of serious attention. I’ll leave it at that.
Q Last question on that, though. As part of that CNN story you mentioned we noted that there is a certificate of live birth, which is considered in the state of Hawaii settled that he was born in the United States, period. However, Trump and others keep saying that that’s not the actual birth certificate, and as you know, Hawaii Department of Health says that you can request a birth certificate; you put in a Freedom of Information request, and within a few weeks you’ll get a copy out of the vault. Why doesn’t the President do that? Is it because you believe it’s a distraction from these other issues? Is it because he just thinks they’ll keep moving the goal post? Why?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what do you think, Ed?
Q You’re the President’s press secretary.
MR. CARNEY: Do you think they might keep moving the goal post?
Q You’re the President’s press secretary. I’m asking you what you think.
MR. CARNEY: It is a distraction, obviously. This is a settled issue. The birth certificate that the campaign put up online has been available for everyone to see around the globe. It’s the same birth certificate you get to get a driver’s license. Anybody who was born in Hawaii who asks for their birth certificate gets the same thing that the campaign and the White House has provided to the press.
So I just think this is -- it’s a distraction, and it’s an unfortunate distraction from the issues that I think most Americans care about. I think anybody who is watching this exchange in the West Wing of the White House would be appalled -- or most Americans would be appalled that this is what concerns us here when, in fact, there are so many major issues that are facing this country that need to be addressed by the President and by the Congress. And he’s -- that’s what he’s focused on. I’ll leave it at that.
Q Going back to the letter that President Obama sent to the leaders on the Hill on the need to eliminate oil subsidies, he said immediate action, and you’ve repeated that from the podium. Can you define that in any more clear terms as far as the deadline? You mentioned legislation, but does this have a role in the conversations going forward on deficit and debts? How is that going to move that ball down the field?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it certainly -- look, immediate action means what it says, which is when Congress comes back let’s take action legislatively to eliminate those subsidies. It is also part of the larger discussion. It is part of the President’s budget proposals. It is part of any, we think, balanced approach towards reducing our deficits and getting our spending and revenues in line in a way that puts our fiscal house in order, reduces our long-term debt, allows for the investments that we need in education, research and development, energy technology, to be economically competitive and dominant in the 21st century. And that is part of the bigger discussion.
But with the current environment and the fact that the Speaker of the House, leader of the Republicans in the Congress, expressed an openness to addressing this issue last night, the President wrote a letter to say, okay, let’s do it, let’s do it immediately.
Q Is that something that the White House had heard from the Speaker or anyone on his staff before? Because they seem to be walking a little bit back on what he said to ABC yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: Well, not that I’m aware of. But he obviously said it on television last night. He also expressed a sentiment that we think is very important, where he said that we have a revenue shortage, the federal government has a revenue shortage, which is a -- a revenue problem, rather, which is I think a recognition of what the President has been saying and others, Democrats and some Republicans, that when we approach this long-term deficit and debt problem and we look at fiscal reform, everything has to be on the table. That’s entitlement spending, spending through the tax code, defense spending, and obviously interest on the debt.
Q One more on gas prices. The President has acknowledged this himself last week at a fundraiser in Los Angeles -- we’re wondering if you can respond to the new ABC News/Washington Post poll that said that 53 percent of those who are feeling serious hardship from the resulting gas prices say they definitely will not vote for President Obama in 2012.
MR. CARNEY: We’re not -- we don’t look at this as an issue of electoral politics in 18 months. We look at this as an issue of hardship for average Americans today. I don’t think when somebody sticks the credit card in the pump or pays the cashier the cash for the tank of gas, that they’re thinking about an election in 2012. They’re thinking about the hardship it causes them, the pinch it places on their family budgets. And so we’re very concerned about that now. We’re very concerned about it within the context of the need for a long-term energy policy, and we’re concerned about it in the context of the need to continue to lift up Americans as we recover from -- working Americans and middle-class Americans -- as we recover from this historic recession.
So this is a -- you don’t have to introduce electoral politics into it to make it a matter of great concern, because we are concerned about it here today.
Q On the matter of electoral politics, you say you’re concerned about hardship for the average American today. You might as well go ahead and concede that this action would have absolutely no effect on --
MR. CARNEY: I never suggested and the President has always made clear that there are -- that our options are limited in terms of having a direct effect, an immediate effect, on bringing down gas prices. And certainly --
Q -- not by 2012.
MR. CARNEY: -- certainly having a long -- having -- removing oil and gas subsidies, removing subsidies from corporations that are reporting record profits and using that money to invest in a long-term energy strategy -- I’m not saying that that’s going to lower the gas price at the pump tomorrow, but what it will do, what the President believes is essential to do, is create a situation where we have the right policies in place and the right diversity of energy sources so that we are insulated from these kinds of price shocks in the future. And that’s very farsighted. That’s the focus of his -- that’s his objective with this proposal.
Q On Syria, are we giving or are we thinking about giving any kind of support to the people who are protesting there, whether it’s communications equipment, money, Internet-breaking software?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, right now we are, as I said, looking at a range of options, including targeted sanctions. I’m not going to specify the other options in addition to targeted sanctions.
Q Which would be beyond sanctions.
MR. CARNEY: No, I understand. I said a range of options, including targeted sanctions, but not limited to targeted sanctions. But at this point I’m not prepared to enumerate the other options that are on the table.
Q Can you say whether we’re giving them any kind of help yet?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of or that I can announce.
Q On the President’s proposal for rolling back the oil subsidies, Boehner’s spokesman says it would be actually counterproductive. He says it would raise taxes and increase the price at the pump. Is he wrong?
MR. CARNEY: Well, if in order to -- yes, he’s wrong in the sense that if you’re telling me that eliminating a loophole in the tax code is somehow burdensome on the tax responsibilities of a major corporation that’s announcing billions of dollars of profits -- apparently $100 million per day in profits -- I think that that’s one way to look at it.
I think the fact is that the oil companies have substantial capacity to get along without the American taxpayer subsidizing them to the tune of more than $4 billion a year; more than $43 billion over 10 years. We just don’t have that kind of money to throw around when we have other urgent priorities. We need to get our fiscal house in order. And it is made doubly apparent by the fact that these companies are reporting such substantial profits this week, and those profits are driven in large part by the serious spike in oil prices and gasoline prices that we’ve seen in recent weeks and months.
Q On another matter, Senator Manchin has signed on to a couple of bipartisan proposals, one that would cap spending, another that would implement a balanced budget amendment. I presume you’re familiar with these proposals. What’s the President’s take?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we -- the starting point is that we share with a number of members of Congress a great concern about the need to reduce spending, with the goal of reducing our deficit.
What we don’t think is necessary is to amend the Constitution or to pass a across-the-board spending reduction measure that will, for example, in both cases, seriously under-fund Medicare and Social Security, and does the exact opposite in many ways of what the President has said is necessary, which is take a balanced approach to our long-term deficit and debt problems.
So we don’t support that. I will remind you that the President’s deficit-reduction plan that he put forward in his speech last week contains within it a debt failsafe proposal. And what it does is -- we don’t believe it will be necessary if Congress takes the right actions, based on his plan -- but if, for example, the economic picture does not turn out to be as we predict, it’s a failsafe but it -- the trigger is the ratio of debt to GDP. It’s very wonky, I know, but it’s a ratio of debt to GDP.
Because the issue here is not spending for -- cutting spending for the sake of cutting spending. The issue here is driving our deficit and debt down. And the President’s plan does just that and has that debt failsafe, that protection measure, that if we haven’t gotten the ratio of debt to GDP down to where it should be by a date certain, that trigger will take effect and it will obligate Congress to reduce the deficit through both spending in the tax code and direct spending, as opposed to the kind of measures that you are asking about.
Q If I could, on a third measure. It turns out a guy named bin Qumu who was held at Gitmo for a number of years is now leading the Libyan rebels, or a group of Libyan rebels, and very supportive, apparently, of the NATO-led effort in that country now. But this is a person who apparently trained with al Qaeda prior to 9/11. How much do we know about the Libyan opposition?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve said all along, Wendell, that we are confident of two things. One, we’ve been dealing with -- directly with members of the Libyan opposition and especially members of the council who we believe are credible and have made assertions about their goals that we can support, in terms of reforms that would lead to democratic elections and a representative government that would be responsive to the aspirations of the Libyan people and respect the rights of the Libyan people.
We have also said that we obviously do not have -- I mean, we don’t have any doubt that -- again, I’m not making this -- let me make clear, I’m not saying this in regard to this particular individual. I don’t have any comment or knowledge about this specific individual -- but we don’t know -- we can’t -- we don’t know the motives or politics of every member of the opposition in that country.
Q Given that there is no silver bullet and the President already asked for these oil and gas subsidies to be eradicated in next year’s budget and last year’s budget, is there any element of what the President is doing with regard to gas prices that’s just for the sole purpose to demonstrate that the government is trying to do something, the appearance of action, because he knows Americans are frustrated?
MR. CARNEY: No. I think that everything he’s doing, including writing this letter in response to an openness by the Speaker of the House to look at doing something that in the past has been opposed --
Q But his position was already well known.
MR. CARNEY: No, his position is well known, but why he’s -- he continues to press for taking this action. And I think looking at what the Speaker said last night, seems to me, taking his words -- taking his words at face value, that there’s an openness expressed there to address this issue. And that is why he wrote the letter. There’s nothing symbolic about it. He’s asking for immediate action.
And everything that we’ve been doing on this issue has been designed to push forward on an energy policy, to ensure through the actions -- in terms of the administration, the Attorney General has announced actions towards ensuring that fraud and manipulation is not occurring in the oil markets and that consumers are not being affected by that. These are concrete measures. It doesn’t defeat the fact that there are -- this is a situation where it is very hard, that there is no single silver bullet that’s going to suddenly bring us back to $2.50 gas. And that’s a reality. And that’s why we need a serious long-term energy policy.
Q But while you say these measures are not done with politics as the motive or people aren’t going to the gas station thinking about who they’re going to vote for, I mean, the President doesn’t think this has nothing to do with how Americans view him and his handling of the economy, right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t say that. I mean, I think when I’ve had questions about -- and tried to answer them candidly about why polls have been moving in whatever direction they’re moving, in terms of people’s optimism or right track/wrong track, that kind of stuff, I mean, we do attribute a lot of that to the economic anxiety caused by high gas prices. But that’s not -- the question earlier was about impact on an election that’s 18 months away. That’s an eternity in our minds, and it’s not what’s driving our actions today by any means.
And as others have pointed out, I mean, taking measures that support a long-term energy policy that can ensure that we don’t go through this in the same in the future is a far-sighted, not a short-sighted approach to this problem. So that’s my answer.
Q So just picking up from there, so given that the gas prices are largely out of your control -- certainly in the short run -- how worried is the White House that this is going to remain a problem through the next year and a half?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again -- you keep -- you guys -- we have big -- this is not a -- like a time of sort of slow news, right, with small issues on the table. It just seems a little unnecessary to me to start writing stories about these major challenges facing us in terms of an election that’s 18 months off. That’s not how we’re looking at it. I can assure you that’s not how we’re looking at it.
And I just think these issues are important in and of -- by themselves. Americans are not thinking about this in terms of elections. They’re not thinking about the impact on their family budgets in terms -- through a lens of politics. They’re wondering how they’re going to meet their budgets, how they’re going to pay the bills, and what -- to the extent they’re thinking about Washington, they’re wondering what Washington is going to do to help them deal with this. And one of the things Washington did do, as I’ve pointed out, is we worked with Republicans and passed a tax cut that includes a payroll tax holiday, that has put more money in Americans’ pockets every week, which has cushioned the blow that these high energy prices have delivered. And then all the measure that we’re talking about now, that’s the response we’re talking about. It’s not about how does this affect an election that’s an eternity away.
Q Given that you have said that there’s no real short-term impact from these -- closing these loopholes, is this primarily a proposal to address gas prices, or primarily a deficit-control proposal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what the President called for in his letter was that this money be used to invest in -- let me get the exact language.
Q But putting aside how the money is used -- I understand you want to use the money for this -- but those are really two separate proposals that you’re putting together. You’re proposing to raise taxes on gas companies, which you support in it of itself.
MR. CARNEY: No, we’re proposing to eliminate subsidies that --
Q Well, it’s the same thing at the bottom line.
MR. CARNEY: -- basically give -- for you and me and everybody in this room who pays taxes --and I’m counting on the fact that most of you do -- that you’re paying these major oil companies, you’re paying them, and yet this week they’re going to report billions and billions of dollars in profits -- $100 million a day by one measure. Okay? That’s great. We are for companies making a profit.
Q But -- I get it.
MR. CARNEY: We do not think that you need to subsidize that profit.
Q Right. So is the reason to do that, the reason to close these unwarranted loopholes, as you say, is the reason to control gas prices or is the reason to address the deficit, primarily?
MR. CARNEY: The reason is to -- we live in a time of limited resources, where we have to tighten our belts, and we need that -- here’s a way to look at it, okay? In the House Republican budget proposal, those $4 billion a year in subsidies are maintained. In order to pay for and maintain those subsidies, and in order to provide the other tax cuts for wealthy Americans that are contained in that proposal, and still somehow reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, you have to slash and eliminate Medicare as we know it, you have to basically eliminate Medicare -- Medicaid as we know it, and you have to cut investment in clean energy by 70 percent. I mean, that is so shortsighted, in our view, at a time when we see the consequences of not having a long-term energy policy.
Had previous Presidents and Congresses addressed this issue five, 10, 15 years ago, in a farsighted way, we would not be suffering in the way that we are now from high gas prices.
And so this is action that the President wants to take and Congress should take that will have benefits not tomorrow necessarily but for future -- for America in the future, for future generations. And that’s the right thing to do.
Q So it sounds like it’s a deficit proposal. (Laughter.) I mean, just based on what you just said.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think it’s part of -- I think I addressed this question earlier when I was asked, is it an immediate action or is it within the context? And the answer is both. I mean, we have obviously proposed it, the President has proposed it, within the context of one-year budget proposals and also in his long-term deficit reduction plan -- because your budget proposals are about your priorities, right? And they are -- he takes a balanced approach. He thinks that, on balance, especially at a time when oil prices are what they are and oil companies are making the kind of profits they are, that we cannot as a nation afford to subsidize those companies to the tune of $4 billion a year. Because that money needs -- the needs for that money in terms of deficit reduction and investments in clean energy are far higher priorities.
Mr. Knoller, do you have a question for me?
Q I do. How can you ask us not to look at the President’s policies through a political prism when he himself is doing six fundraisers last week, three more tomorrow, going to be on --
MR. CARNEY: Wait, wait, wait --
Q -- on Oprah?
MR. CARNEY: Mark, are you saying --
Q I mean, isn’t everything viewed through a political prism? And isn’t that the nature of our system?
MR. CARNEY: We may view -- you can view it through a political prism. I mean, you can -- the President is obviously running for reelection. We are 18 months from that election. The fact that he, as every candidate does, has political events does not mean -- those are the political events -- does not mean that every action he takes here has to do with the election. It’s just not the case. And I dare say it’s never been the case for any incumbent President 18 months out of -- out from an election. And the fact is, is that being here in the White House requires you to make a lot of decisions and a lot of choices that are a good policy that are often not necessarily good politics. But that’s what you buy into when you run for office and you get elected.
And I don’t think -- by that line of thinking, that the moment you win election you’re running for reelection -- and I know that’s how some folks here look at it and, heck, I probably did and plead guilty to it when I was a reporter. But then when the President --
Q What changed you? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I was -- I saw the light. (Laughter.) But here’s the thing. So when the President decided against every poll, against every political pundit, virtually, that it was the right thing to do to save the American auto industry, was he -- Laura, was he thinking about his election prospects? I doubt it.
Q So you’re telling us that just like that he was not thinking about election prospects with this letter today?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. I’m thinking that he -- look, you all have said that this is not an instant remedy to gas prices. He thinks it’s the right thing to do, and he saw an opening here, expressed by the Speaker of the House, to get something done that’s the right thing to do.
Q The Speaker knows the President’s position. This isn’t breaking news. I mean --
MR. CARNEY: Well, what’s breaking news is his openness.
Q -- he put it in the budget.
Q And the Speaker closed the opening.
Q Well, but the Speaker knows that. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: You guys judge that for yourselves.
Q Is that political? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Look, do I -- look at the -- look, we can debate this. This is not a chat show or talk show. But the point is --
Q It might make it more interesting.
MR. CARNEY: -- the President heard what the Speaker said and believes that -- he agrees that we should look at this, we needed to do this. And I think that in the face of the circumstances we’re in, and the fact that the companies that are getting these subsidies -- $4 billion of our limited taxpayers’ dollars every year -- are this week reporting enormous profits, and good for them, certainly means -- and his -- I think, reinforces the argument he’s been making that we do not need to, as American taxpayers, to subsidize this industry.
Q Could he have called Boehner and been less showy about it, and then people wouldn’t think it was politically motivated?
MR. CARNEY: Savannah, he wrote a letter -- look, he wants immediate action. He wrote a letter saying that we should get this done now.
Q I don’t hear a whole lot of confidence from you guys that the oil companies either -- your predecessor will necessarily do the right thing. What makes you think they won’t just pass -- if you take away this tax cut -- won’t just pass it on short term to consumers with higher tax prices? Are you at all concerned about that?
MR. CARNEY: Look, what I know is that gas prices are very, very high, no question. So the idea that with these subsidies oil companies are artificially depressing gas prices, tell that -- go out to a gas station in Virginia or Maryland and tell that to somebody who’s paying the price. It’s just not credible, because they’re also --
Q No concerns from you guys that the oil companies are going to pass this through? I’m not saying whether or not it’s credible --
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying is that on balance overwhelmingly the right thing to do is eliminate these subsidies and -- because the American taxpayer should not be subsidizing companies that don’t need subsidies by any stretch of the imagination.
Q But you don’t know that they won’t pass it on, do you? Is there any --
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ve addressed this. I’ve addressed this. What I’ve said is on balance, knowing what we know and looking -- and analyzing what we know, that this is overwhelmingly the right thing to do.
Q Even though prices may go up in the short term.
MR. CARNEY: I’ve just addressed it. Based on what we know --
Q They’re passing the higher price of oil onto consumers now. Why wouldn’t they pass a higher tax burden onto consumers?
MR. CARNEY: Well, based on what we know -- you have companies making billions of dollars in profit, $100 million a day in profit -- that’s great, okay? That’s good. That’s fine. We should not be taxed. We -- the American taxpayers should not be subsidizing that profit, okay? I mean, that’s just in and of itself, we believe, the right policy.
The Speaker of the House expressed an interest in that as well last night. That’s what we’re saying. The President wrote a letter following up on the expressed interest by the Speaker of the House to openness to a policy position that the President has held for a number of years now.
Q If I could just shift back to something on tomorrow, just the Fed, transparency. The White House has talked a lot about transparency; we’re seeing some at the Fed. What’s the posture or the plan for tomorrow when Bernanke has his first press conference? Are you guys going to be monitoring, watching? Will the President be watching? Is it must-see TV?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t asked what people’s plans are in terms of tuning in. I don’t really have anything to say about a plan in reaction to that.
Q But, I mean, Bernanke could weigh in on the debt ceiling, the deficit. Are you at all concerned that he may alter the trajectory of the debate at all?
MR. CARNEY: We’re not -- I don’t have a comment on that. We’ll all obviously tune in, I guess, or I will if I’m in my office.
Q Jay, the Panama president is going to be here later this week. How confident is the President that the Panama, Colombia, and Korean trade deals are going to get done --
MR. CARNEY: We feel very good about the progress that has been made on the Colombian trade agreement, the Panamanian trade agreement. As you know, we’ve reached an agreement on an action plan outlining steps that the Colombian government needs to take on labor issues, and that’s moving. We have an agreement with Panama. We have long had an agreement with Korea. We believe that we need to -- the Congress needs to move on these because they are job creators here in America. And they -- and what the President demonstrated in the way he negotiated the deal with Korea was that he does not believe trade deals are inherently the right thing to do. They have to have provisions in them that protect American workers. He was willing to walk away from a deal and, by doing so, made sure that Americans got a better deal out of the process.
So we feel very strongly that we should be able to move on these trade agreements.
Q Is the White House still considering the proposal from last week about requiring federal contractors to disclose their political contributions? And can you talk about where that is in the process?
MR. CARNEY: It’s nowhere different than it was last week, which was a draft of an executive order that -- and drafts change. I don’t have any update on it.
Q Just a logistical question about the rest of this week. When the President goes to Chicago on Wednesday, he’s going to tape an episode with Oprah -- a show you may not have seen but heard of. (Laughter.) Is that --
MR. CARNEY: I’ve seen it.
Q You’ve seen it. Now, is any of that going to be seen by the pool or open to us publicly?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know what our plan is for that. Similarly, if you were doing an interview with the President -- I mean, I’m just saying here -- what if you were doing an exclusive interview with the President and the First Lady, would we open it to the rest -- to the pool?
MR. CARNEY: Others say yes.
Q Sure, I wouldn’t mind that, in the interest of --
MR. CARNEY: We’ll get back to you on what the logistics for that are.
Q I just want to know. I mean, at the moment, you don’t see anything --
MR. CARNEY: At the moment I don’t believe we are opening somebody else’s interview to the press.
Q And we won’t see or hear from the President at all --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not quite sure about that. Stay tuned on that.
Q And also on -- what about the trip to Cape Canaveral? Are we going to see the President or hear from him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I expect you’ll see him. I don’t know -- I don’t have any announcements to make in terms of press availabilities, but I’m sure you’ll see him, yes.
Q He won’t make remarks or anything like that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an announcement on that yet.
MR. CARNEY: Hi.
Q In another interview that Speaker Boehner did on Monday, he indicated that there actually might not be a vote on the debt ceiling if, he says, the President doesn’t get more serious about deficit reduction. In the past you guys have said that everyone is on the same page on this, that congressional leaders agree that the debt ceiling vote needs to happen. If Speaker Boehner is serious, as it seems like he is, what is the President’s reaction to that and where does that leave the conversation that you guys are having on this issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I will say that our reaction to that is sort of our reaction in general to suggestions emanating from Congress that we should somehow hold hostage a vote on raising the debt ceiling to some other action. Our reaction is that’s a terrible, terrible idea, because it would so imperil the American economy, it would drive up interest rates, could in fact tank the global economy. I just think that’s a bad approach, and the President does, too.
And other statements that the Speaker has made and other statements that other Republican and Democratic leaders have made lead us to believe that broadly speaking we all -- we, the White House and the leaders of Congress, understand the truth here, which is that it is -- would be foolhardy to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States of America. It is simply too risky, too risky to do. So we -- that’s our approach, and we certainly hope that any leader who expressed otherwise would reevaluate that.
Q As far as the debt ceiling is concerned, but also just the budget generally, this week the President is doing a lot of events but none of them seem to be geared at talking to the American people about this issue in the same way that he did last week and the week before that. Why is that, and how -- what’s he going to do going forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think -- the President -- obviously, there are a lot of issues on his plate, Laura, and the -- that he has to deal with. I mean, you have to contend with a number of issues at one time. But he will continue to speak about the need for long-term deficit reduction, the need to get our fiscal house in order, the need to take a balanced approach that allows our economy to continue to grow and our economy to continue to create jobs. And he’ll do that -- I mean, last week was a somewhat unique week in that we had three almost consecutive town hall meetings where he could address those issues, as well as others that were brought up by questioners. But we’ll continue to look for opportunities for him to speak to that issue because it’s very important, and obviously we’re in a process where, beginning next week, this will begin to be taken up by negotiators on Capitol Hill, or rather negotiators from Capitol Hill, and led by the Vice President in what we hope is a serious and substantive and productive way.
Q Hi, Jay. A large part of this briefing has been about protecting consumers’ pocketbooks, American consumers’ pocketbooks. But Tavis Smiley is asking, if the President is looking at now -- not just looking at a targeted approach but a universal approach now -- excuse me, not a universal approach but a targeted approach on helping those who are the least of these, those who have higher unemployment rates than the national average, and maybe not just the black community, but also more so looking at the poverty agenda, looking at those universally in a targeted way -- whites, blacks, Hispanics -- are you looking more at targeting in on those who are having a harder time economically now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, April, I would say that one point that the President has made clear as he’s addressed the issues that Abby just raised -- in terms of our debt, our deficits, how we spend our money, what our budget priorities are -- is that we should not -- reducing the deficit is a significant and high priority. Getting our fiscal house in order is a significant and high priority. How we get there is important, because it’s got to be a balanced approach. And one reason why it has to be a balanced approach is that it can’t be, as some have suggested, that we reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over 10 to 12 years solely by burdening seniors, middle-class Americans and impoverished or disabled Americans. That’s just what he -- he does not believe that’s a sensible, balanced approach.
So when he talks about the need to protect Medicare and maintain the commitment that Medicare provides, to protect the commitment that Medicaid provides, to protect those who are disabled or in nursing homes, or do not have means to get by without the security that Medicare, for example, provides, that’s what he’s talking about, because we -- it would not be -- while we have priorities, there is a way to do this in a balanced way that shares the responsibility so that we all can share in the prosperity.
Q But Jay, it’s not that cut and dry, because once you do reduce the deficit and you make these budget cuts, you will be cutting jobs and programs that affect people’s pocketbooks. So again, the question is, will there be more sort of a targeted approach to help those who are at the bottom rung?
MR. CARNEY: Well, if you’re asking me -- what I would say is, again, go back to the CR debate, the budget fiscal year 2011 debate, where the President took a very targeted approach in the tough choices he was willing to make, sometimes in programs that he supported but did not consider absolute priorities in these times of fiscal constraints, and then, at the same time, insisted that we protect investments in other areas -- Head Start, for example -- and protect other programs that are vital, he thinks, to making sure that we continue to grow and we protect Americans who need protecting.
Q And the last thing from -- just these quotes from Mr. Smiley. He said that when Wall Street asked for bailout, the government gave them bailout. When the auto industry asked for a bailout, they were given a bailout. But when black people are crying because of unemployment, where are you?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President has been focused, as you know -- there is no -- there has been no greater focus that this President has had since he took office than on the cascading unemployment that greeted him when he was sworn in and the 8 million jobs that were lost -- lost by this recession that he inherited. That’s what the Recovery Act was about. That’s what the -- don’t forget, April, the auto company bailout that I mentioned earlier and that you mentioned that was unpopular at the time, one of -- the primary reasons to save the auto industry in this country was the 1 million jobs attached to it, working American men and women who have their jobs today because this President and this Congress took action, and not out of charity, but -- that compelled the auto companies involved to reorient themselves. And they are now making profits. They are now -- the American auto industry is now in a very preeminent position globally. We had great news from Ford today, in terms of its numbers. And we’ve had them for GM and Chrysler. So this is -- everything he’s done in response to this great recession has been with jobs in mind.
Q Thanks, Jay. I have a couple on Syria. The President spoke with the Turkish leader yesterday, and I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit more about what you see Mr. Erdogan’s ongoing role as being? Is he going to be -- has he agreed to -- it sounded from the readout like he kind of essentially agreed with the U.S. position. Is that -- am I overreaching? Is his role going to be to advocate the U.S. position to the Syrian leader on an ongoing basis?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to get beyond the readout. You can certainly address some questions about that to the State Department. Turkey is an important ally. The U.S.-Turkish relationship is an important relationship. The President has a very strong relationship with President [***Prime Minister] Erdogan. But beyond the details provided in the readout, I don’t want to elaborate.
Q In his meeting with the UAE leader today, is Syria specifically -- Syria is part of those conversations or is it mostly Libya? And is Iran part of those conversations?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think the region is the focus of those conversations. Regional security in general would probably be the principal focus. So that wouldn’t be limited to one country.
Q And finally, you were talking earlier about -- and it was in the context of the economy -- about how not everything the President does is political, and sometimes he has to advocate a position that will probably hurt him politically. With the unfolding of the Arab Spring over the last couple of months, do you think that the President’s engagement in that is something that is either neutral or even negative for him domestically because people want to think about the economy and gas prices? I mean, obviously he has to weigh in. He has to get involved. He has to make decisions. Is that an example of the sort of thing that may be a drag domestically, but something that’s important in --
MR. CARNEY: I’ll leave the political analysis to others. I think it’s what I said earlier. This is what you get when you run for and win this office is a host of difficult problems. And they can be domestic problems or international challenges, and your job is to handle them and take policy positions and take actions based on what you think is best for the United States of America.
In international affairs, that means what’s -- what actions can you take that ensures the safety of Americans, ensures that American national security interests are protected internationally, and that in the case of the Arab Spring, that ensures -- gives the best possible chance that the outcome of this upheaval will be positive for the peoples of the region and for the United States of America.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: All right. Thank you all very much.
2:34 P.M. EDT
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