Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/18/2011
1:36 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here. I don’t have any announcements to make at the top, so I will start with the Associated Press.
Q Thank you. So on Thursday, after the last debt talk meeting that you all announced, that happened here, the President had asked the members to report back within 24 to 36 hours on what could pass. Did that happen?
MR. CARNEY: The President, the Vice President, senior members of the President’s team have been in conversations ever since Thursday with leaders and relevant staff. And so, yes, the conversations, communications have been ongoing. And in that sense, yes, they reported back.
And there are obviously a lot of discussions about the fact that the President continues to insist that we should push for the biggest possible deficit reduction package, that a unique opportunity is presenting itself here for the United States to do something historic -- working together, Democrats and Republicans -- to significantly reduce our deficit, get our debt under control, and position ourselves for a competition -- an economic competition globally that will be quite stiff.
So he continues to push for the biggest possible deal, if you will, mindful of the fact that we are now less than two weeks away from the deadline regarding the need to raise the debt ceiling and so, also, obviously having these conversations to make sure that there was a backup measure, a failsafe measure which, as you know, Senator McConnell has been working on.
Q I mean, is there anything new that would lead you to believe that a big package still could happen? Anything in the meeting with Boehner and Cantor that makes you think that could pass the House?
MR. CARNEY: While I have no specific announcement or progress report to give you, I think that it’s always been difficult, as we’ve seen throughout this process, to convince everybody at the table that they need to put their partisan politics aside, they need to get outside of their comfort zone in order to reach for this prize, which is a bipartisan, significant deficit reduction package that does it in a balanced way so that no sector of society is unfairly asked to bear the sacrifice.
So I guess I would say that this is never -- was never going to be easy. It certainly doesn’t look easy today. But the President still believes that we should push for the biggest possible deal.
Q And then, can you tell us about the Boehner-Cantor meeting, and also why not announce this one when others have been?
MR. CARNEY: Well, actually, first of all, I would just say that there have been, as I’ve said, conversations ongoing since Thursday -- the President, the Vice President, senior members of the President’s team, with leaders of Congress in both parties. Those conversations continued yesterday and today, and will continue until this deal is done.
So I don’t have a specific readout to give you of a specific conversation or meeting. And, in fact, we haven’t given specific -- readouts to specific meetings or conversations in the past. Some of them have been reported on after the fact, and we've acknowledged them. But the fact is, that we -- there are too many conversations and meetings taking place for us to catalogue each and every one.
Q Well, why was this meeting then not on the schedule, as compared to --
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are meetings and conversations that the President and the Vice President and other senior members of their team have all the time that aren’t on the schedule. This is an ongoing, fluid process that involves the set piece meetings the President had last week with the eight leaders of Congress, both houses, as well as ongoing conversations at different levels with different participants.
Q Again, on the meeting that the President had with House Speak Boehner and Cantor as well yesterday, can you be specific about the kind of progress that was made? The President did say as he left the podium that progress was made.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think the President was referring to overall, since Thursday -- since Friday when you last saw him, since the last meeting on Thursday, that progress has been made. And I would say that there are a variety of paths we can travel down here. The President is pushing for the biggest deal possible; continues to believe that there's an opportunity here to achieve that if only all sides were willing to compromise.
There is the possibility for something short of the biggest deal possible but still something significant that would provide some deficit reduction -- some significant deficit reduction, but would also still require balance, would still require give on the part of Republicans.
Short of that, because every leader at the table, every responsible leader on Capitol Hill, agrees with the President that we cannot let the United States default on its obligations for the first time in its history, we must pursue a fallback or last-ditch option, if you will. And that is -- conversations about that have been ongoing. Obviously, Senator McConnell has taken the lead in that to a measure that would allow the debt ceiling to be raised. And that continues -- those conversations continue, too.
Q Did the President and the Republican leaders discuss -- specifically discuss McConnell’s backup plan?
MR. CARNEY: Again, without getting into readout of a specific conversation, you can be sure that in all of these encounters and conversations that the President, the Vice President, Jack Lew, Tim Geithner, Gene Sperling -- all the participants -- Bruce Reed -- have been having, that the variety of options are being discussed, because we don’t have the luxury anymore of pursuing one only; we have to make sure that we’re pursuing -- we have to make sure that there is a mechanism in place to be sure that no matter what happens, the United States does not default.
Q And will the President meet with them, those two, today, tomorrow, the next day?
MR. CARNEY: I have no scheduling announcements to make, but I can tell you that he is continuing to have those consultations with Democratic leaders, Republican leaders, and his -- the Vice President and others are as well.
Q Will Democrats in the House vote for the McConnell-Reid measure enough to pass, just in case it comes down to the wire in here? Because it seems as though everybody is off on their different track here. The House Republicans are passing cap, cut, and balance, which probably can’t pass the Senate, and if it does, the President has said today he will veto. So McConnell is doing his thing. Are you guys trying to at least lobby Democrats to vote for this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, these conversations are ongoing about precisely that. We need to make sure that whatever we do here can pass Congress and is acceptable to the President to sign. We don't have too much time to play with.
So I can't answer your question because we don't actually know what that bill would look like yet and I think that the same question could be asked of House Republicans about whether -- because they have registered the loudest protests, I believe, to Senator McConnell's proposal.
So I think the leaders are working on that, looking at various ways that we can, even through that mechanism, get significant deficit reduction or at least some deficit reduction. But that is a fluid process and to predict what might get votes and from where is hard to do when we don't even know exactly what the measure will be.
Q On the consumer financial protection board, Senate Republicans sent a letter to the President in May saying that they would block any nominee unless changes were made to the board, replacing the director with an advisory panel, making the board -- the bureau would have to seek congressional appropriations and another change that escapes me. Do you guys have a response to them?
MR. CARNEY: The President strongly believes that the board, as it is constructed, is the right thing for the American people. I mean, it has not been that long since the financial crisis led to the deepest recession since the Great Depression, and that millions of Americans are still feeling the effects of that. And so many Americans get their credit card agreements and don't understand the fine print that's written in a way precisely so that they cannot understand it, and then find out that their rates double overnight. So many Americans -- I know when I closed a mortgage on my house, there's so much paperwork, how could you possibly understand what's in it? \
And this bureau is designed precisely to protect consumers and it is an essential thing to do. If there is anything we learned out of this crisis it was that consumers need to be protected. And the President believes very strongly that the CFPB is vital to that. And Elizabeth Warren has done an excellent job in standing up that bureau, and Richard Cordray will do an excellent job leading it into the future.
Q Public Citizen said about the fact that Warren was not nominated to the position, "Wall Street and the big banks did not want her to get the job. President Barack Obama decided to succumb to those interests rather than fight for the American people." Do you have a response?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, the President established this bureau and it was Elizabeth Warren's idea. The President asked Elizabeth Warren to stand up this agency and she did an excellent job. I need not remind you what Republicans in the Senate have said about the possibility of a confirmation for Elizabeth Warren and their absolute refusal for that.
What the -- the obstacles here are clear. And as you noted, the obstacles are blanket, at least according to Republican senators. They do not want this agency that is designed precisely to protect consumers to exist as it now stands, and they've said they would reject or oppose any nominee, which is something I think that needs to be explained to the American people because this agency is there to protect them.
So we will continue -- we believe that Richard Cordray is the right person. The President firmly believes he's the right person. His record as chief of enforcement is exemplary. His record in Ohio is very impressive. So he's the right person for the job and we believe the Senate should, and will, confirm him.
Q I think the point that Public Citizen was making was that the President should have fought for Elizabeth Warren, instead of blinking.
MR. CARNEY: I think our position is clear: Richard Cordray is the right person for the job, and we are going to fight to get him confirmed. And I think that if you look at his record he is absolutely the same kind of defender of consumers in the financial world as Elizabeth Warren has been in her service.
Q So just to bounce off of that, so did the White House conclude that there was no way that Elizabeth Warren could have been confirmed?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think -- I mean, I would let Elizabeth Warren’s words speak for themselves about the opposition to her. But that’s not the point. The White House concluded, the President concluded that Richard Cordray was the right person for the job going forward. His record at the CFPB is exemplary; his record in Ohio is well known to those in the field for its success. So he’s the right person going forward.
The President’s appreciation for Elizabeth Warren is enormous. Again, this was her idea. The agency is the right thing to do. And the President believes that this was a fundamental aspect of the Dodd-Frank bill, and he will continue to fight to make sure that it is stood up and this bureau is there protecting consumers going forward.
Q But had there not been that stiff opposition, would she have been the person nominated?
MR. CARNEY: Hypotheticals are hard to answer. What I can tell you is the President appreciates what Elizabeth Warren has done. As an observation of fact, the kind of opposition she engendered is clear. As another observation of fact, some Republican senators have a blanket opposition to the agency as it is, which I think, again, is worth noting to Americans out there that this agency, which exists principally and -- well, entirely to defend their interests against -- in helping them be better prepared in dealing with banks and financial institutions, is not supported by Republicans in the Senate. So the President’s focused on moving this forward, and he thinks Richard Cordray is the absolute right person to do the job.
Q In these debt/deficit talks, is everyone on the same page when it comes to not wanting this August 2nd deadline to come and go and not having a deal?
MR. CARNEY: Everyone in the leadership is. Obviously, there are some members of Congress who have blithely stated that this is not a serious deadline, and we could not disagree more. And there are just so many other voices of authority out there in the field who I could point you to who also make clear that the August 2nd deadline is serious, the consequences of default would be catastrophic. It would essentially be an instant tax on every American in the country. Anyone who pays a credit card bill, anyone who pays a mortgage, anyone who deals with interest rates at all would immediately feel the effects. And then, of course, the long-term or even mid-term effects on the economy would be significant on growth and on job creation.
So the President remains confident that action will be taken, that the debt ceiling will be raised, that the United States will not default on its obligations. He takes the leaders of Congress of both parties at their word when they say that we will not default, Congress will raise the debt ceiling, will take measures so that the debt ceiling is raised. And so we’re proceeding accordingly.
Q So the leadership in these meetings, they’re on the same page when it comes to --
MR. CARNEY: Unanimous.
Q They will get something done --
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q -- it’s just a matter of whether it will be this big deal, some middle-range deal, or a smaller deal?
MR. CARNEY: Correct. And I think that what we’ve talked about is that the Senator -- the provision that was put forward by Senator McConnell was essentially an acknowledgment of the fact that the coupling of the two ideas -- that a package for significant deficit reduction that was linked originally by Republicans to a vote to raise the debt ceiling had to be delinked.
Because no matter what happens -- we continue to push for the biggest possible deficit-reduction package. We continue to think that’s the best outcome of this. And we continue to think there is time to achieve that -- because everyone knows what’s on the table. Contrary to what some people say for public consumption, it is clear to every leader in that room who has participated in these negotiations -- clear to every Republican in that room what the President is willing to do if there is a partner to do it with, in terms of compromise and achieving significant deficit reduction.
That remains possible. However, we have to ensure that there is a fallback provision, that there is a measure through which Congress will act and we can ensure that the United States will not default. And the leaders in that room are unanimously in support of doing that.
Q So Americans shouldn’t be concerned?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think Americans should not be concerned. We believe the debt ceiling will be raised; the United States will not default. We obviously are in a relatively short period of time here, so the fact that we remain confident that that will happen is, I think, important, but it does not mean we can let up. We have to continue and press forward with our work to ensure that it does happen.
Q Thank you. Was Sunday the first time that the President has met privately with Boehner and Cantor?
Mr. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to give readouts of meetings or conversations individually. I can say that the President, Vice President, senior members of their team have been in ongoing conversations with congressional leaders, senior relevant staff members on the Hill, trying to move this process forward, to make sure that we, at the very least, do what’s necessary to ensure the United States does not default, and hopefully do much more than that, which is to achieve significant deficit reduction. The President has had numerous meetings with all the leaders of Congress over these past many weeks.
Q So do you expect that there will be more of these smaller type meetings with the leadership that are not on the President’s schedule?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t anticipate what kinds of meetings or their makeup might be, or conversations, except that the conversations will continue. I don’t have any scheduling announcements to make, but it’s obviously a pretty fluid situation.
Q The President had said over a week ago that they were going to meet every day until a deal is done. So does that still hold true?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, describing these as conversations -- whether they’re meetings or phone calls or -- and depending on who’s involved in them, yes, there are meetings and conversations every day. And there will be every day until this is done.
And that, again, when I say there will be meetings, I’m not describing who will be participants in them, because there are many kinds of conversations happening, because there’s a lot of work to get done between now and when Congress takes action and presents something for the President to sign.
And like I said, we remain hopeful that we can achieve something significant here, something the American people clearly support, which is a balanced package to reduce the deficit significantly. We also believe it’s very important that Congress prepare to take action short of that, if you will, that ensures that we will not default on our obligations.
Q Jay, any concern that the veto threat of cap -- cut, cap, and balance --
MR. CARNEY: Let me help you with that. I think it’s more like dunk, dodge, and dismantle -- (laughter).
Q Any concern of the veto threat?
Q You were ready with that.
MR. CARNEY: Just came to me.
Q Any concerns that a veto threat on that could jeopardize the delicate job of finding the right number of votes in the House?
MR. CARNEY: No. Look, what we are witnessing here with this measure is classic Washington posturing, kabuki theater. This is a measure that is designed to duck, dodge, and dismantle -- duck responsibility, dodge obligations, and dismantle, eventually, if enshrined into law -- which it will not be -- but it would essentially require the dismantlement of our social safety net: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
It would, at the very least, require the kinds of cuts that are required under the Ryan budget that emerged from the House Republicans. And it could essentially be worse, because it institutes the kind of across-the-board cuts by calling -- it’s very cleverly designed so that they can claim this isn’t the case because it’s very vague, but it requires the passage of a balanced budget amendment, all of which -- under consideration in Congress right now -- would require even more draconian cuts, cuts that are even more draconian than the ones that were in the Ryan budget.
That includes 70 percent cut in clean energy, drastic cuts in education, for example, and then significant reductions or dismantling of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, in terms of the balanced budget amendment. Obviously, Congressman Ryan’s plan did not deal with Social Security. But to find the savings, the draconian savings that are called for in these measures, you would have to do that to these programs.
And it’s a dodge because -- look, we don’t need these kinds of measures. What we need is Congress to get to work, to agree to compromise, to agree to do the work of the American people, instead of satisfying some narrow slice of the political spectrum, so that we can reduce our deficit in a responsible way that does not heap the burden on single -- small segments of society.
That approach is broadly supported by the American people. And the President -- this is not something -- the President didn’t announce he was for apple pie. This is not easy. The stuff that he has made clear he is willing to do requires him to get outside of his comfort zone, requires Democrats to make tough choices that they would not otherwise want to have to make. But in the name of the bigger prize here, which is significant, game-changing deficit reduction and game-changing legislation in terms of getting our debt under control, it is worth doing.
The President continues to believe that that’s the right course -- not sort of going through the motions of pretending you’re for something that’s never going to pass, and that, if you were honest with the American people, would do things that the people would absolutely never support.
Q Is it the White House position that some of the votes that are going to take place in the early part of this week are showboats, if you will, and that, ultimately, perhaps the final plan will emerge later in the week?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think “showboat” is a short way of saying what I just said. I think that, yes, that because the President has made clear he would veto this measure -- it’s not at all clear whatever would emerge from Congress -- that this is a distraction assembly. But work continues on the actual measures that have a chance for getting through both houses of Congress and have a chance for becoming law.
And certainly on the measure that -- the bottom line measure, which is one that would allow for the debt ceiling to be raised, the one created by Senator McConnell to raise the debt ceiling, at the very least, some variation of that needs to be in place so that the United States does not default on its obligations.
Q Several weeks ago, senior officials here were suggesting that the 15th to the 22nd was kind of crunch time where something really needed to emerge as -- or gel legislatively. Is it still the White House belief that Friday is pretty critical?
MR. CARNEY: Nothing has changed to suggest otherwise. And that’s simply, again, walking back from the firm August 2nd deadline, taking into account what the time allowed -- the time necessary that Congress -- the time required that Congress tends to need to push legislation through and the process to move forward. So the 22nd is not a hard deadline; nothing happens on the 22nd. But we need to -- this is an essential week. We need to continue to work collectively towards a resolution here. So this is very important this week.
Q The President has said he wouldn’t sign a short-term deal, and yet given that the McConnell plan only allows him to increase the debt ceiling in increments, isn’t that in essence a short-term deal? And is he revising his --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think you understand the distinction between the toll booth kind of short-term deal that was put forward that had to do with the linkage between the essentially linking two things that are unrelated, which is the raising the debt ceiling and the dollar-for-dollar linkage in terms of deficit reduction that was put forward by Speaker Boehner. He wasn’t going to -- he’s not going to sign that kind of short-term deal.
The measure, as you know, that Senator McConnell has proposed would essentially turn authority for raising the debt ceiling -- for being the responsible party and not allowing the United States to default on its obligation -- over to the United States -- the President of the United States rather than the United States Congress, which has traditionally held that responsibility.
If necessary -- it’s not the preferred outcome, it’s not the desired outcome, because it doesn’t, at least by itself, do the things that are possible here in terms of significant deficit reduction -- we would -- that’s better than allowing the United States to default on its obligations.
Q Does he consider the McConnell plan, though, to be a short-term deal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’re looking for semantics here that -- again, you need to understand the distinction here. It is a short-term deal as written. It requires two or three different votes, but it’s a wholly different kind of measure than the ones we were talking about when it’s an up or down vote that requires congressional passage and deficit in their eyes -- concurrent deficit reduction measures that go along with raising the debt ceiling in short tranches into next year. This is different because, again, it turns the authority over to the President and requires Congress to override a veto.
So they’re different -- not the best outcome. I mean, what has happened in this town in the last few weeks is the perfect example, at one level, of what Americans hate about Washington, which is when the opportunity for bipartisan cooperation is clear, where both sides agree on what the problem is, both sides agree on what the size of the solution should be, and there is vast agreement pretty much everywhere except for in some quarters on Capitol Hill on what a balanced package should look like -- that has support overwhelmingly from a majority of Americans -- if there were ever an opportunity here to do something big it is now. And instead, there is the real possibility that this opportunity will be missed.
Q Moody’s has said that they don’t think the debt ceiling is necessary. What the administration’s stance on that?
MR. CARNEY: You know, I saw that story. We don’t have a stance right now. We don’t have the time to litigate or hypothesize about something like that. The system as it exists is what we’re dealing with now. We have a limited time frame within which to work and to get this done, and that’s what we’re focused on.
Q And finally, one of the participants in the President’s education roundtable with business leaders was Fred Humphries, who’s Microsoft’s top lobbyist. Why isn’t that a violation of the President’s pledge to eliminate access and influence --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you know that -- first of all, there were numerous participants in this meeting, including Secretary Spellings, the education secretary from the George W. Bush administration, who also now does some lobbying. The President’s promise was not to eliminate or prohibit lobbyists from entering the property, but to not give them special access. And, again, this was a widely attended meeting from people of a variety of backgrounds who are very much engaged in this particular issue. So the answer is no, it’s not.
Q You said Friday isn’t a hard deadline, but do you think a deal will be in place by then? And if not, what do you think -- how do you think markets will react to that?
MR. CARNEY: You're asking me to predict how markets will react in the -- if I were, I would advise you not to buy and sell accordingly. But without -- again, it's not a hard deadline, but Congress, the administration, all of us working together need to move this ball down the field this week to make sure that by next week we know that there will be an outcome that at the very least ensures that the United States does not default on its obligations.
Q And then, another ratings agency, a much smaller one, called Egan-Jones, in Pennsylvania, over the weekend downgraded the U.S. debt. Now, obviously they're not Moody's or S&P, but what does the administration say to that?
MR. CARNEY: I wasn’t aware of it. The overall news about ratings agencies would generate the same response, which is that we have to, obviously, do what the leaders of Congress have said they would do, which is work together with us to make sure we do not default.
Q And on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau nominee, would the administration make any changes to the bureau to secure confirmation, such as possibly giving Congress the power over the bureau's budget?
MR. CARNEY: The bureau as it exists is the way it should exist. And I'm not -- the President believes that Richard Cordray is the right person for this job, that the committee and the Senate needs to act accordingly and confirm him so that this important bureau continues the work it's already started, to ensuring that American consumers get the kind of protection they so desperately need in dealing with financial matters, and the kind of protection they lacked in the collapse that caused the greatest recession since the Great Depression.
Q Jay, would July 22nd be the day on which President Obama would say, look, I'm not going to get a bigger deal, let's go with the McConnell format?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know that I can give you a day or an hour when a decision is made about what horse we're riding, if you will. We are pursuing several avenues right now, several options. As I think many of you have reported, the legislation being crafted by Senator McConnell, in his own words, is a last-ditch option. It's a -- in our words, it's not the preferred outcome here. But obviously work is continuing on that to ensure that it is there and in place in a way that is acceptable to majorities of the House and the Senate, and acceptable to the White House, so the we can be sure that action is taken in a timely fashion so that we do not, for the first time, default on our obligations.
Q And when the President says, as he did in the Rose Garden a few minutes ago, that he doesn’t want politics to stand in the way of an agreement, does he not draw a distinction between politics and principle on these matters?
MR. CARNEY: He does. And he believes that, rightfully so, every party to these negotiations brings their principles to the table. But what is clear is that there is a way to reach a compromise where everyone is able to maintain their principles. And I would simply say that Ronald Reagan was able to do it; Bill Clinton was able to do it; Newt Gingrich, Tip O'Neill were able to do it. I certainly think that this President -- I know this President is willing to do it and can do it and still maintain the principles that he thinks are vital. And I'm sure that the leaders in Congress can do the same. That's what the American people expect us to do.
Q Just to follow up on Mark's question, is it fair to say that around July 22nd, give or take --
MR. CARNEY: You guys are awfully obsessed with deadlines. (Laughter.)
Q We didn’t set the July 22nd --
MR. CARNEY: We didn’t set -- I have said so many times now that this was -- I mean, I don't know how many times I can explain to you -- nobody set -- there's an August 2nd deadline. The July 22nd idea emanated from a walking back in time from August 2nd as a rough estimate of the time you would need in Congress to allow for legislation to move through and become law. So --
Q If there is not a deal by around that time, then is the assumption that it will be the fallback option?
MR. CARNEY: Again, why don’t we wait and see how things look in a few days or maybe even on Friday before I make any announcements about --
Q -- be enough time to do something significant?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think the folks in Congress ultimately have to decide what they can do in what amount of time. What is clear is that this week we have to crystallize what the options are and what we are going to pursue. And there is action ongoing -- as those of you who report off the Hill, or your colleagues who do -- that there is obviously a lot of conversations going on and different things being drafted and ideas being discussed to see what the different measures might look like, and in particular, the one that Senator McConnell has put forward -- the Senator McConnell debt ceiling bill -- how that would look, working with Senator Reid and others. And obviously we’re part of those conversations.
Q And also, were these negotiations discussed between the President and Warren Buffett earlier today? Did they -- did Warren Buffett talk about the debt debate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think -- I believe they did. I confess I did not speak to either man after that. But I think Mr. Buffett went out and spoke -- did a television interview in which he discussed the need for Washington to act, the need to ensure that the United States doesn’t default, and also, the need to deal with our deficits in a balanced way. So I think it’s safe to assume that that was included in their conversation, but I didn’t -- I don’t know that for a fact because I didn’t ask.
Q Jay, you said a minute ago that --
MR. CARNEY: I’ve called on Mara. I’ll get to you in a second.
Q Oh, wonderful. Thank you.
Q My question about Elizabeth Warren -- you said that some Republican senators have made it clear they will have blanket opposition to this. It’s 44, actually, so it certainly is a filibuster-proof majority. If they’re going to reject any nominee, what makes you think that Cordray has a better chance of being confirmed? Is there anything you can point to? And you’ve categorically ruled out making the structural changes that the Republicans are demanding, right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re just going to continue to fight against efforts to weaken the agency, and we believe that Mr. Cordray is the right person for the job and we will push that forward. I mean, I know you want to fast-forward to a situation where we --
Q No, actually, I want to go fast-backward, which is if you’re not going to get anybody through unless you’re willing to make the reforms that they are demanding --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, we think they’re wrong and we’re going to argue, and we’re taking the case right now -- making the case right now that the American people deserve the protections that this agency, this bureau provides, and the leadership that Mr. Cordray will provide, and that their absolute rejection of that is contrary to the best interests of the American people. So we are going to make that case.
Q You’re not going to budge on the reforms they’re demanding, and if you don’t, they’re not going to confirm anybody. My question is: If you’re not going to get someone confirmed and you’re just going to have a big teaching moment here on these issues, why not do it with Elizabeth Warren?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I’ve answered questions about why we’ve chosen Mr. Cordray. He’s the best person for the job. There is no mystery that Elizabeth Warren was opposed by Republican senators -- who opposed basically the whole idea. And I think it’s worth noting and worth exploring the millions and millions -- tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars spent by lobbyist groups in opposition to this Consumer Protection Bureau.
So my point is that, yes, we are going to continue to make the case that the CFPB is essential to defend average Americans’ interests and that opposition to it is contrary to the best interest of the American people.
Q And do you deny that she wanted the job?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you have to ask Elizabeth Warren. She did an excellent job. She supports -- she handpicked Richard Cordray for the bureau, for the chief enforcement job, and strongly supports his nomination today. So they’re both superb public servants.
Q Okay. On the debt talks, you talk about how even a smaller deal has to have -- be balanced, has to have some kind of revenue in it. Can you be --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I said that when we talk about options --
Q A medium sized --
MR. CARNEY: Mid-sized deal.
Q Medium size, medium size. Can you be specific about what that means? Does it have to be a certain percentage or proportion of the final deal that comes --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a certain percentage or proportion for you --
Q Or just some symbolic loophole closings?
MR. CARNEY: No, it’s got to be -- this is not -- it’s not symbolic when we’re talking about millions or billions of dollars that, in the name of deficit reduction, would otherwise be charged to a senior citizen, to the tune of, say, $6,400 a year in the Ryan budget plan, for example. So this is not symbolic; this is real money. And the only -- the reason -- you do not have to dismantle some of the most sacred protections that we have for our citizens -- Social Security and Medicare -- in order to do this, as long as you’re willing to do it in a balanced way.
So what I would say is that it is -- I can be very specific about certainly what would be included in a medium-size deal. I mean, again, because there is a lot of talk about tax hikes on the American people, job-killing tax cuts. I mean, I don’t know what -- if their argument is that the unfair advantage that the owners of corporate jets is somehow desirable to create jobs, they ought to go out and make that argument.
Do they think that an oil and gas industry that is raking in record profits because of high energy prices, that they deserve these special subsidies that other businesses and industries don’t get? They ought to make that argument, because that’s what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about -- we’re talking about this within the context of continuing to lower taxes for the middle class, which this President has done since he came into office.
Q Right. But you just described -- you said you can’t be very specific, and then you just gave some examples that add up to small --
MR. CARNEY: Billions. Billions of dollars.
Q Yes, but not -- but corporate jets and oil and gas subsidies don’t add up to a tremendous amount of money. Is that all the President is --
MR. CARNEY: Are you telling me that the Republicans are willing to give on that? Because that would be welcome news. So far, we haven’t seen that.
Q No, I’m asking you what’s your bottom line on revenues in a medium-size deal.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have -- I’m not going to issue or negotiate a bottom line to a package from here. What I’m saying is that if there is a willingness to compromise, that a mid-sized deal does not require -- would allow for significant deficit reduction and does not require major concessions from either side. And which is why it is so puzzling, or would be -- I imagine is -- for most Americans when they’re presented with what’s happening in Washington and they’re scratching their heads and thinking, why can’t they just get it done? And the President has made clear he is ready and willing to get it done, and he is waiting for partners.
Q And just one last question. He mentioned again today the payroll tax cut. Is that now a requirement to be part of the deal?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not negotiating particulars in the deal. The President has made very clear, we’ve made very clear, that we are for an extension of the payroll tax cut, which has put, for this year, $1,000 in the average American family’s pocket, and if we extend it another year we’ll do the same next year. That’s money that American families need. It’s money that will go right into the economy, right into the bloodstream, will help grow the economy and create jobs. We think that’s very worth doing for a variety of reasons.
And it continues a practice that this President began when he took office, which is reducing taxes for middle-class families, and we believe that’s the right thing to do.
Q Thanks, Jay. Bachmann and Associates, the Minnesota-based clinic owned by Michele Bachmann, has been receiving attention recently because it’s been revealed that it’s engaging in widely discredited reparative therapy aimed at turning gay people into being straight. Furthermore, the clinic has been shown to be a recipient of federal money. It’s received $137,000 in Medicaid funding since 2005. What does the President think of ex-gay reparative therapy, and should federal funds be used to support this practice?
MR. CARNEY: Chris, I haven’t had that conversation with him, and I think that I would steer you to HHS since it involves Medicaid funding. I don’t really have a comment.
Q But it seems strange to me that you can’t say anything about it, because our President has described himself as a fierce advocate for LGBT Americans. Why can’t you say anything about a practice that is --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t want to -- I haven’t spoken to him about it, so I don’t want to characterize his thoughts on this. The fact is, on an issue of Medicaid funding, it is best asked of HHS.
Q Just a follow-up question. To spell out that these practices shouldn’t be subsidized by the federal government, would the President be open to issuing an executive order mandating that federal funds cannot be used to discriminate or harm LGBT Americans?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to negotiate on behalf of the President or venture a guess what he may or may not be open to. Again, on the specific issues of Medicaid funding, I send you to HHS.
Q Jay, with the House action on the debt/deficit this week, is there any potential that the posturing or the kabuki could actually be constructive? Is it possible that if they cast a vote --
MR. CARNEY: Let it be so.
Q Is it possible? Does the President think it’s possible that if they get a chance to cast a vote, then they’re more amenable to discussions as a group, as a conference?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know if the President believes that, but I think if that is, in fact, the case, that would be welcome. I think that obviously we don’t have a lot of time. We need to focus on reaching a compromise that achieves the most significant deficit reduction possible. We have issued our statement of administration policy and the fact that the President would veto this measure. But if that’s the case, then that would be great.
Q Can I ask you, just to clarify, there is no executive authority that the President can use or will use on his own without being granted that power from Congress, right?
MR. CARNEY: For what?
Q To lift the debt ceiling.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but I don’t believe so. As I understand it --
Q So that's settled?
MR. CARNEY: If you’re talking about the 14th Amendment, we’ve been very clear about that --
Q Well, not in the beginning.
MR. CARNEY: We have been very clear --
Q He said he hoped we wouldn't get to the point.
MR. CARNEY: But we have been very clear for a long time -- I mean, I have, and I can go back and find you the language we’ve used, pretty categorical -- we’re not exploring this; that’s not an option. There is no mechanism that allows us to get around the fact that on August 2nd, if the measures haven’t been taken, we go into default.
Q So any fallback has to involve Congress --
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q -- there’s no question? Okay. And can I get back to Mara’s question? With the time going and the discussions where they are, what leverage does the President have to get that balanced package now? What does he think his leverage is?
MR. CARNEY: I think the American people -- pretty good leverage -- the fact that they overwhelmingly support a balanced approach; that even majorities of Republicans support a balanced approach; that voices from all over the Republican Party, even a handful who are actually elected members of the Republican Party, have now said that they support a balanced approach.
It’s the right thing to do. It’s a deal that’s right on the table to be had. The particulars are well known to the participants in the room. What the President is willing to do is well known to the leaders of Congress of both parties. And what is required of them is well known as well. If you want significant deficit reduction, the kind that was supposed to be the goal, it’s right there for the taking, if you’re willing to compromise in a way that the American people overwhelmingly want their elected officials to compromise. So that would be the leverage. Usually popular opinion has some effect in Washington. Let it be so again in the coming days.
However, what is absolutely uncontested and uncontestable is that we have to take measures to ensure we don’t default. So we are pursuing that track. And understand that, as the President said, if Congress, as is its wont, does not act, at least let’s take measures to avoid Armageddon. So we are making sure that that those avenues are being explored.
Q Why did the President meet with the Warren Buffett group? Is he signing the pledge to devote much of his wealth to charitable concerns?
MR. CARNEY: I think we have some information on that. Why did he meet with them? Because he thinks that what they’re doing is extraordinarily noble and good. But let me see what I have here on that.
Q He’s met with them before. Is he offering to sign the pledge --
MR. CARNEY: He received an update on the Giving Pledge, which invites the wealthiest individuals and families to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy, and discussed the ways in which private philanthropy can help address our nation’s greatest challenges.
And as you noted, Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates and others who have taken the pledge were participants in that meeting.
Q And you have nothing on the President’s --
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing else.
Q Jay, do you know if the President sought spiritual advice from the Dalai Lama when they met over the weekend?
MR. CARNEY: I think we gave a readout of that meeting. I think there was -- it was a meeting, the likes of which he and other Presidents have had with the Dalai Lama, who is an important religious and cultural leader. But not that I’m aware of.
Q Did they meet in the Oval Office, by the way?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure. No. Let me see, I have something on this. It was not in the Oval Office. But he is a Nobel Prize Laureate, as you know, and an internationally recognized religious and cultural leader. And the President meets with him, as other Presidents have, in that capacity.
The President’s meeting with the Dalai Lama was an expression of his support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique traditions and the rights of the Tibetan people. The President encourages the resumption of dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese government to resolve longstanding differences.
The U.S. position on the status of Tibet has not changed. We consider Tibet to be part of the People’s Republic of China and do not support independence for Tibet.
Q Jay, two questions. Since the President didn’t necessarily support Elizabeth Warren for this post, would he consider supporting her for the Senate seat in Massachusetts?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s a question you ought to pose to Elizabeth Warren --
Q I can’t ask her what the President thinks.
MR. CARNEY: -- in terms of what her -- well, let’s see what she decides to do. I don’t have any comment on that.
Q Has he ever spoken about that topic to you?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of.
Q And the second question is, we have figures I guess ranging between $1.4 and $1.7 trillion in terms of mutually agreed-upon potential deficit reductions. Can you give us -- without getting really granular, can you give us some sense, the American people some sense as to what you are actually considering cutting? What is the composition of those cuts, broadly speaking?
MR. CARNEY: The composition includes discretionary spending and what are called non-health care mandatories -- programs -- subsidies, agricultural subsidies and other programs that -- and that’s the package that leads you up to $1.7 trillion that we discussed last week. And that was on the table in the final meeting -- or rather some of the final meetings last week -- as a general starting point upon which we should and could build if everyone were willing to compromise.
Let me just say, I want to make sure that -- we have a 2:30 p.m. here with Secretary Powell and Mrs. Powell -- they want to go to the stakeout. So I want to make sure to give you guys the opportunity to do that. So let me just take one or two more.
Q Jay, question -- the President and the First Family watched the World Cup match. What’s the reaction of the First Family and the President?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t speak with them specifically about this. But obviously it was an amazing match and disappointing for fans of the U.S. team, but a really, I’m sure, gratifying victory for the Japanese team. And we congratulate the Japanese women on their victory.
Let me do April. One more.
Q Yes, Jay, did the President call Nelson Mandela -- who he's affectionately termed as Madiba, the Father of the Nation – or do a statement about Mandela’s 93rd birthday?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know if we -- I believe he did not. As you know, the First Lady recently visited with Nelson Mandela, just last month I believe. And we obviously wish him best regards on his birthday, and he is quite an extraordinary man.
Q And also, going back to that -- the President was here Friday and throughout the last couple of days, talking about the fact that Democrats are upset with him. What is he planning to do to calm the waters after this is all done -- let’s say it’s done by the August 2nd deadline, what is he planning to do to calm the waters with his fellow Democrats?
MR. CARNEY: Well, April, the fact that he is willing to support measures that require Democrats to get outside of their comfort zones is a fact. And he made the case compellingly, I think, from this podium on Friday, over why progressives should support deficit reduction, precisely because we need to get our fiscal house in order so that we can continue to invest in the key programs, in the key initiatives that will allow our country to grow, create jobs, and protect those in our society who need protection.
So I think he -- all he has to do is make the case, and he will continue to make that case, that a balanced approach to deficit reduction is in the interest of progressives, as well as every other American -- because we need to grow the economy and create jobs, and we need to get our fiscal house in order. And he thinks that that is vital for everyone.
Q But is it necessarily just deficit reduction or the programs that he is trying to cut?
MR. CARNEY: It requires tough choices. There are no easy choices here. We are not at a point where you can find a lot of low-hanging fruit in term of reducing spending. So they were -- reducing spending requires making tough choices.
And what he has said is that you have to have a balanced approach so that you don’t need to do anything draconian, the way that the House Republican budget did in order to ensure substantial tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- in fact, additional tax cuts for the wealthy Americans. The House Republican required, in order to reach the $4 trillion mark, required significant reductions in discretionary spending, including clean energy and education; significant restructuring or elimination of Medicare as we know it in order to pay for, if you will, both the deficit reduction and the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans; required senior citizens to get stuck with an extra $6,000 bill because of the need to eliminate Medicare as we know it in order to fund these other priorities.
So those are not the President’s priorities. If you do it in a balanced way you don’t have to do it that way.
END 2:26 P.M. EDT
White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.
October 26, 2016
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