Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
12:08 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hello, everyone. Back by popular demand, because we're grooming him to be my successor, we have the Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, who will talk to you again about an unfortunate situation where, because of a refusal of Congress to compromise and do something it has done without any problem 20 times in the past how many years -- five years, seven years -- there are now 70,000 Americans out of work. At a time when we should be creating jobs, growing the economy, decisions by Congress are throwing people off the job.
And with that, I give you the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood.
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Well, good noontime, everybody. I think all of you in this room know that the last thing the administration wants is a Republican to be their spokesman, so I'm not auditioning for Jay's job, okay. (Laughter.)
When it comes to creating jobs, members of Congress give a lot of great speeches. We've heard a lot of great speeches from members of Congress about creating jobs. They talk the talk, but they have not walked the walk. Their speeches ring very hollow to 4,000 FAA employees who are furloughed. Their speeches about jobs ring very hollow to 70,000 construction workers who are not working, right in the middle of the construction season, on construction projects all over America.
I was at one of those construction sites a few days ago at LaGuardia Airport, and I met with these unemployed construction workers. They're ready to go to work. They're ready to complete the work taking down the tower at LaGuardia. And there are construction workers all over America that are ready to go to work. This is their season. This is the time when they make their money for their families so they can pay their house payments, they can buy food, they can make their car payments.
And for members of Congress to give speeches about jobs and then go on their vacations while construction workers have vacated their jobs rings very hollow. Members of Congress could easily have put 74,000 construction workers and FAA employees back to work. But instead, they went on vacation. Congress turned a blind eye to these workers and their families.
The shutdown of the FAA is now in its 12th day. With members of Congress on vacation, this means they are leaving these 74,000 workers without a paycheck, without an ability to pay their mortgages, to pay their rent, to make their car payments, to take their own families on vacation for at least six weeks.
Airport construction projects around the country worth $11 billion are sitting idle. And as I said, we're smack-dab in the middle of the construction season. This is no way to run the best and the safest aviation system in the world, and it's no way to get America's economy moving again.
I want to just say, parenthetically, in addition to the $11 billion worth of construction projects, $1 billion in uncollected taxes will not go to the federal treasury. Now, you’ve heard all the great speeches on debt and deficit for the last how many weeks about how everybody is concerned about debt and deficit. Well, the way to tackle part of the debt and deficit is to have this $1 billion in taxes collected, which it won’t be.
Congress needs to come back, resolve their differences, compromise, and put our friends and neighbors and colleagues back to work. They should not leave 74,000 people hanging out there, without jobs, without a paycheck, until September.
And I’m happy to take questions.
Q Mr. Secretary, you said -- you noted you were a Republican member of Congress, and Speaker Boehner’s office, one of your former colleagues, said today they’re ready for a deal, but it’s a Democrat, it’s Jay Rockefeller in the Senate who’s blocking this. So why hasn’t the President gotten on the phone to him and figured this out?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: I’ll let Jay talk about what the President does or does not do. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing. I’ve been talking to members of Congress. I’ve been talking to them for the last two weeks, since this started. And one of the things I’ve told them, which they know, is this is the thing that really makes the public mad, that Congress can’t do their job. When ordinary citizens around the country hear that their friends and neighbors ought to be working on a construction site at an airport and they’re not because Congress couldn’t do their work -- this is what infuriates the American people.
Congress should have passed a clean bill, could have passed a clean bill. I urged them to pass a clean bill. They can still do it. Congress can still do it. The adjournment resolutions that they have passed allows them to come back every four days in the House and pass legislation. They could do it. I’m asking Congress to come back and do for the American people what they’ve been talking about: Put 75,000 people back to work in good-paying jobs. That’s what Congress should do. Take a little detour from their own vacation, come back to Washington, and pass a clean bill.
Q House Republicans are very clear that they will not change anything to do with union organizing, what Senate Democrats see as union busting and basically a payoff to Delta Airlines. What do you say to that?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: What I say is, do what you’ve done on 20 other occasions, in some instances in very short period of time: Pass a clean bill. That’s what they’ve done on 20 other occasions.
Look it, when the House passes a bill and the Senate passes a bill, there are always these disputes. There are always these controversies. On 20 other occasions, Congress did not hold hostage 75,000 people. What they did is they passed a clean bill.
Congress could come back -- they could come back today or tomorrow or next Monday or next Tuesday -- pass a clean bill, as they’ve done on 20 other occasions. People go back to work. They resolve their disputes, whatever they are, whatever the disputes are. That's the way legislation gets passed. It’s gets passed by compromise. It gets passed by people sitting down at a table, working out their differences.
There’s been a long -- you heard me say this last time -- a long, rich history in this town of compromise. That's what needs to be done. Compromise. Pass a clean bill. Work out your differences.
Q Secretary LaHood, is there anything that the President can do? Is there any executive action that the President can do, any emergency action?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: You’ll have to ask Jay about that. You know what, I’m working hard right now --
Q Do you know, as Secretary, of any emergency action that can be taken to remedy this situation or to help all these people who are out of work in the interim?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: I’ll let Jay answer that.
Q Mr. Secretary, can I follow on my question?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Well, let me take a question from Mike, and then I’ll come back.
Q There is specific action that analysts have told our transportation reporters, which is that the President can grant you, the Secretary, the authority to shift funds, and that would help out the FAA. Is that something that you would do or would consider doing?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: What I want done --
Q -- the President’s authority --
SECRETARY LaHOOD: What I want done is what Congress has done on 20 other occasions: Send 75,000 people back to work, pass a clean bill, and work out your differences. They’ve done it. They know how to do it. They’ve done it in a short period of time. That's what they need to do. This is not fair to these people. These are people that work hard. These are people that are right in the middle of the construction season. There’s no reason that Congress can’t do this.
Q Would the President be willing to give you that authority? Could you or Jay answer that?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: I’m not going to speak to --
MR. CARNEY: I will take that --
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Let me just get a couple other people, okay? Yes.
Q Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You've talked about the impact on the 75,000 people and their jobs. The American public trying to follow this sort of sees this as a labor dispute. I’m wondering if you could put this into terms for the American people. How does this dispute affect them in terms of flights, in terms of safety? Does this have a broad impact on the American people?
SECRTARY LaHOOD: Yes. The way it affects the American people is this: Their friends and neighbors are out of jobs.
Now, look it, I used to represent a rural district. My hometown is Peoria. I still have a home there. People on Main Street in Peoria get this. They know that when their friends and neighbors are out of work that hurts everybody. And for politicians to run around Washington, as they’ve done for the last seven months, and talk about creating jobs, putting people back to work -- this is not the way to do it.
The American people see the fallacy in these very hollow speeches. If Congress really believes in the words that they're saying about jobs, creating jobs, putting people back to work, stop your vacation, come back to Washington, pass a clean bill.
People get this, because it’s hurting their friends and neighbors. To me, people understand this. They really do. And it’s easily fixable. It’s been fixed 20 times. It’s easily fixable.
Q The President gave a lot of ground in these debt talks, backing off major, major pledges. Do you think Democrats ought to give up on this rural airport subsidy, which is small --
SECRETARY LaHOOD: I think what Congress ought to do is pass a clean bill.
MR. CARNEY: And I’ll take issue with the premise. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Yes, sir.
Q Isn’t -- I mean, with how Republicans have been, I guess from your perspective, unwilling to compromise, why not have the President give the authority to do -- to move some funds around on your own? I mean, does that make sense?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: All of my efforts are to persuade Congress to pass a clean bill, and to try and keep the morale at the FAA high. And that’s -- when I went to LaGuardia, I met with unemployed construction workers. These people are hurting. They really are. They can’t apply for unemployment yet and they’re without paychecks. They don’t know at the end of the day whether they’re going to be able to make their next mortgage payment, car payment. Their kids, in about 30 days, are going to be starting school. There obviously are costs incurred by people with their children starting school. This is why people shake their heads when they think about Congress.
Q But if Congress is willing to leave as they did, doesn’t that speak more than their words in the sense of that they’re not willing to compromise -- whichever side is right or wrong -- not willing to compromise?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Well, I mean, there is a way for Congress to pass a bill today.
Q But they left.
SECRETARY LaHOOD: I know they did. That’s why I’m here. I’m calling them back. Come back to Washington. Leave your vacations. (Laughter.) Just for a couple hours. Come back, Congress. Help your friends and neighbors get back to work.
Q But if your message here is that whatever action is necessary should be taken to bring those people back, and if Congress -- if Congress isn't going to do this, then would you accept the authority -- would you accept an order by the President -- presidential authority to take this action if executive action --
SECRETARY LaHOOD: I’m thinking 24/7 about how to get our people back to work. I’m thinking 24/7 about getting Congress back here. I’m thinking 24/7 about our 4,000 people who are without a paycheck, and without a paycheck now for two weeks. And that’s where my time and energy is.
Q Reports yesterday had you saying that you urged the Senate to pass the House bill. Is that still your position even though --
SECRETARY LaHOOD: My position today is, since both houses are in pro forma session, is Congress come back, and in pro forma, they could pass a clean bill. That’s my message today.
Yesterday it was different, Sam, because the Senate was still in and I was trying to persuade them to do something different. Today, both houses are in pro forma. Come back, pass a clean bill. That’s the easiest way to fix this.
Q So the Leader of the House is John Boehner, the Leader of the Senate is Harry Reid. Have you talked to them and asked them to come back? They’re the ones that have to call Congress back, right?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Absolutely, Bill. I talked to Senator Reid probably half a dozen times yesterday. I’ve talked to Barry Jackson, the Speaker’s chief of staff, more than a half a dozen times.
Q And your request to bring back, what is their response?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Well, you can call their offices and ask them about that.
Q Just to follow up on the safety question, you said safety won't be compromised. Can you continue to guarantee that, especially given --
SECRETARY LaHOOD: I can continue to guarantee that safety will never be compromised. We have the safest aviation system in the world. We would never compromise safety. The people that are involved in safety inspections at airports that work for the FAA, many of them are using some of their own money to do their job, to pay their expenses. You know why? Because they're dedicated federal employees who believe in their mission of safety.
I can say without equivocation, safety will never be compromised. Flying is safe. And passenger schedules should not be compromised by this issue.
Yes, sir. We'll get the India question. (Laughter.)
Q This question is -- Mr. Secretary, as far as these many workers out of jobs, there are many congressmen who are -- these workers are from their own districts and they must be getting heat from these people. And second, you said safety is not the problem, you cannot compromise safety. Are you hearing anything from around the globe, aviation ministers, as far as what drama they feel is going on in Washington?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Well, look it, we're hearing from people -- primarily, we're hearing from our employees. But I've not had any calls from any other transportation ministers around the country.
Let me take a second one here, and then you, Mike.
Q On the question of compromise, we saw during the debt ceiling debate that there are quite a few members in the Republican caucus who are not willing to compromise. What makes you think that they would be willing to compromise over this?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Well, hopefully, the cloud of debt and deficit has been lifted. Hopefully, they're hearing from their constituents who are laid off, whether they're FAA employees or construction workers. Many of these members of Congress have these projects going on in their states. And we're going to keep up our drumbeat and hopefully constituents will keep up their drumbeat. And hopefully constituents will hold people's feet to the fire that love to give great speeches about creating jobs and then send people home off the job sites.
Q Do you think you can realistically ask safety inspectors to work through Labor Day without pay, just pro bono, out of --
SECRETARY LaHOOD: We have a corps of dedicated safety people at FAA. I'm very proud of them. They're working every day, doing their job, making sure that airports are safe, making sure that the safety inspections they do are done by the book. And I hope the American people are proud of these people. These are --
Q Aren't they on the payroll?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Yes, sir.
SECRETARY LaHOOD: But they're -- look, they're not -- they're doing this, spending their own money, to travel to airports and to do their safety inspections out of their own pockets.
Q Wait a minute, I don't understand, Mr. Secretary. They're still on the payroll. They're essential employees, right, like the traffic controllers? Yes, so they're still -- so then why wouldn't they be reimbursed by the federal government for their travel?
SECRETARY LaHOOD: They will be, but they aren’t right now. What they're doing is they're taking their credit card; they're taking a flight somewhere, inspecting an airport, with the hope that they're going to get reimbursed. We're going to reimburse them. Ordinarily, they'd be using a government credit card to do these things. They're using their personal credit cards. Now, how many of us could do that for very long? These are dedicated federal employees.
Q Can I ask if you see the difficulty mainly on the House side, or the Senate side? Are you focusing --
SECRETARY LaHOOD: The difficulty is with Congress. Congress.
Q But are you focusing on your energies particularly --
SECRETARY LaHOOD: I'm focusing my attention like a laser beam on Congress. We need both houses. End your vacation for a couple days. Get off the beach. Get out of your mobile homes or whatever you're traveling in -- (laughter) -- come back to Washington. Pass a bill.
Q There’s a vision. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Maybe I should have said RVs, right. (Laughter.) Come back. Pass a bill.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Is that it?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate it, as ever.
SECRETARY LaHOOD: Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Before I take additional questions, let me give you a readout of President Obama’s call with President Medvedev of Russia.
Russian President Medvedev called President Obama to wish him a happy birthday and to discuss Russia’s WTO accession negotiations. The Presidents -- plural -- noted the significant progress that had been made since they spoke last a few weeks ago. President Obama stressed the need for Russia to work with other WTO members to close out the last remaining issues and bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion by the end of this year.
And with that, I will take your questions. Ben.
Q Did you think about employing Secretary LaHood in the debt negotiations? If not, why not? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: He does have a full-time job. But, look, you can see that he feels very passionately about this issue. And I think that, going to some of these questions about other actions the President may or may not be able to take, and while I trust your transportation reporter may be highly qualified and knowledgeable, I mean, I’ll leave it to the experts to decide what other actions could be taken.
All of this would not be necessary if it weren’t for a political dispute that has been inserted into this process that has normally gone off without a hitch 20 times since 2005, I believe, and that has created this stalemate, which is -- the result of which, over an ideological political dispute, is that 74,000 Americans are out of work, at a time when we need every possible person who could be working to be working. And it’s really inexcusable.
And that, as the Secretary made clear, if you want to fight about union measures and have that kind of fight later that would be fine. But it is wholly within -- and was wholly within -- the capacity of Congress to pass a clean measure, as it has done many times in the past, to extend this authority and allow these people to continue working.
Because you don’t get August back in the construction season. You never get those paychecks back, and you don’t get that month back in the construction season. It’s very important that Congress take action and do what it has done in the past, and what Americans expect them to do, which is -- my goodness, they want Washington to be figuring out ways to help the economy create jobs, not figuring out ways to fire people or lay them off, which is what they’ve done in this case.
Q So understanding that, clearly, that you think it’s Congress’s job, if the House and Senate do stay away for August, as it’s looking like right now, is there anything the President can do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we will address that. The simplest thing is -- because they’ve decided to do these pro forma recesses that allow them to come back on a moment’s notice -- and the mechanics of this I'm not all that familiar with -- but it is quite easy for members to come back, vote on this, and leave again. So we would anticipate that, if they did have interest in ensuring that these 74,000 Americans had work, they would come back and do it.
Q If you have the power to move the funds you could do it today.
MR. CARNEY: Again, we can talk about that issue, or maybe you can talk about it with the Secretary of Transportation further. I don’t know about that. It is not acceptable for Congress to simply say, it’s not my business to take care of my business. This is a process that Congress has done in the past, should do, and because of decisions they made there’s 74,000 people out of work.
Q Is there anything you can tell us about the bus tour the President plans to take -- where he’s going and why?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that it will be from August 15th through the 17th, and that it will be through the Midwest. Further details will be forthcoming later. That’s all I have for you now.
Q But in terms of the --
MR. CARNEY: I mean, he will get out -- very happily getting out in the country again, after a sustained period here in Washington. And he will -- he looks forward to talking to folks about growing the economy, creating jobs. And we’ll have more details, again, as I said, about the specifics of the trip later.
Q Did you say out of the country or out of --
MR. CARNEY: Out in the country.
Q Oh, in the country. I’m sorry.
MR. CARNEY: The Midwest.
Q I’m sorry.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Is that a campaign event or --
MR. CARNEY: Negative. It is an official event.
Q Okay, so it will be funded by taxpayers?
MR. CARNEY: He’s the President of the United States.
Q The bus tour -- it’s certainly a visual, but what are the tangibles?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we’ll have more specifics about this trip itself. The air of cynicism is quite thick. The idea that the President of the United States should not venture forth into the country is ridiculous.
Q I didn't suggest that.
MR. CARNEY: No, but you implied it in your question. And it is absolutely important for the President, whoever that person is, in the past and in the future, to get out and hear from people in different communities. And the President -- this is a trip that we’ve had on our books for quite a long time, and he very much looks forward to taking it.
Q So is it more of a listening tour, then?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't want to -- I know that people want specifics about what he may be announcing or what proposals he might have. It will be very focused on the economy and jobs. Beyond that, you’ll have to wait for when we’re ready to provide more specifics. But he will be listening and addressing these very important issues.
Q And I know -- you’ve spoken to this a little bit, but obviously there’s some people who just wonder really what kind of options he has, really -- what kind of realistic options? Because some of the things he’s laid out have seemed a little like maybe foregone conclusions that they might have --
MR. CARNEY: Would that anything were a foregone conclusion in Washington today. For example, the previously known foregone conclusion that this authorization would be extended and 74,000 people would maintain their jobs -- that used to be a foregone conclusion.
So you are right to assume that everything -- or most things are now difficult. It is obviously collectively, Congress and the President, that can take different actions to enhance growth and create jobs. And the President has already identified a number of things that have bipartisan support that are already in Congress’s lap that Congress can act on quite quickly. And there are other measures that he has identified that he feels strongly about that we should support, like extension of the payroll tax credit -- essentially, a tax cut, rather -- a tax cut for working Americans. Everyone who works pays a payroll tax. And this is a substantial amount of money in the pocket of every American family that has helped them this year and needs to be extended so that they have that help next year.
And that money is important because, unlike a lot of things you can do, this is money that will likely be spent, and therefore help the families spending it, and then have add-on positive effects on the economy because that money is then introduced into the economy. It helps create and sustain jobs; it helps businesses. So this is a very important measure that he supports.
Yes. Sorry, I get confused. Yes.
Q It’s okay, thanks. I wanted to ask you about the very large series of cyber attacks that were uncovered by the security company, MacAfee, affecting governments around the world, including the United States. Could you tell us which U.S. agencies were affected and how seriously the White House sees these incidents?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me start at the top. We are aware of this report and its contents. While we do not comment on outside reports, detecting and blocking cyber intrusion is a key cyber security goal for this administration, working across government and with the private sector. Cyber threats to information and communications infrastructure pose an economic and national security challenge for the United States and our partners, which is why the President has made cyber security one of his top priorities.
As with all intrusions, we employ a “all of government approach," with the appropriate agency in the lead. We refer you to DHS and FBI for more information.
On the issue of which agencies were affected, we are working with all federal departments and agencies to deploy defensive tools, such as the Einstein Intrusion Detection and Prevention systems. Again, I refer you to DHS for more specifics.
Q Could you tell us when you became aware of this series of incidents?
MR. CARNEY: I can only tell you that we are aware of it. I don’t have a date for you.
Q The President has repeatedly pivoted back to jobs, as he did again yesterday. Why is this time any different? Why should the Americans have any confidence this time?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear. The President has been focusing on jobs and the economy since the day he was sworn into office, during a month that saw the loss of 800,000 -- nearly 800,000 American jobs in just one month. And that was the situation that he encountered when he took the oath. And that has been his focus since he became President.
There is no question that as President you have to deal with other problems. And in this case, the debt ceiling crisis, if you will, was a manufactured crisis. It was a self-inflicted wound. It was the linkage between something that Congress absolutely has to do -- which is extend the borrowing authority of the United States government -- to specific legislation that one-half of one body of Congress wanted passed.
We worked through that. We reached a compromise. We avoided and averted catastrophe. And that is a good thing. Again, it was not a crisis that needed ever to present itself. But we did, through compromise, achieve some important things for the economy, for jobs -- which is a package that lifts the cloud of uncertainty of whether or not we were going to extend our borrowing authority for a significant period of time, and significantly -- has some significant initial deficit reduction attached to it, and creates a process for more significant deficit reduction.
Deficit reduction is an element of an economic strategy that we think is broadly agreed upon by Democrats and Republicans. There are other things that we need to do -- and I just addressed this earlier in answer to Brianna’s questions -- and there are measures that can be taken right away. If Congress is very interested in creating jobs and growing the economy, there are things that it can do right away. In addition to reinstating the 74,000 people they’ve thrown out of work, they can move quickly to pass the free trade agreements -- the three of them that are up there -- that will create or support 70,000 additional jobs. They can get patent reform done and they can move forward on a number of other issues.
The President will continue to promote and put forward ideas for things we can do to create jobs and grow the economy. But there are certainly a number of things that we can do, working together, already.
Q At the risk of appearing cynical --
MR. CARNEY: Bill, I -- not you. Surely not after all these years.
Q If the President is really so interested in getting those 74,000 people back to work, then why don’t you stop bashing Congress and switch the funds over so they can go to work?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, this is a fascinating process where the party with the responsibility -- the party that created this problem is out of town, and the reporters here are blaming the party that wants the problem fixed. The fact of the matter is --
look, we are obviously looking at the different options that we have, that the President has. The simple reality is that because of a political dispute -- this is exactly what Americans loathe about the process here, justifiably and understandably -- because of an ideologically driven decision made, there is a stalemate over a measure that has never been a problem in the past.
They can resolve -- we need to, and we can, have fights over these issues that divide us. But we should not have these fights in a way that throws 74,000 people out of -- in ways that throw 74,000 people out of work who -- innocently. This is not their fight.
And so, as Secretary LaHood made clear, it is wholly inappropriate for members of Congress to go on recess, go on vacation, and leave this issue hanging, and take away from these hardworking Americans their paychecks for at least another four, five, six weeks, when they could resolve this issue right away.
Q Sure, but if your goal is to get them back --
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ve answered -- I think I’ve answered the question, Bill.
Q If the goal is to get them back to work, then get them back to work.
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ve answered the --
Q It’s within the President’s power, apparently.
MR. CARNEY: Apparently based on your hearing from some other reporter --
Q That’s right.
MR. CARNEY: -- who is hearing it from another. I think maybe a little --
Q Is that not correct?
MR. CARNEY: -- a little reporting on everybody’s part would be efficacious and --
Q Do you dispute that?
MR. CARNEY: -- what I can say is that we are looking at things that the President might be able to do. This is a matter that Congress -- a crisis, yet again, that Congress created unnecessarily that can be resolved instantly by Congress.
Yes, Mr. Henry. Are we going to ask this question again, because I think I’ve answered it.
Q Jay, can the President do -- no. (Laughter.) I wanted to ask you why the President can’t call the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, who he gets along with quite well. And Democrats yesterday, I’m told, blocked a unanimous-consent agreement in the Senate to push the bill forward.
MR. CARNEY: Correct. I know that’s what the Speaker of the House --
Q It’s run by a Democratic --
MR. CARNEY: -- and his office is saying, Ed. And here’s the thing. The House measure has a provision that is designed -- that is politically motivated. And we can have that fight. The way to resolve -- the way to not -- in the name of achieving that
-- getting that scalp, we are preventing these 74,000 Americans from working. So the way to do it is --
Q But Democrats blocked it, though. Democrats blocked the request.
MR. CARNEY: And the House refused to pass a clean bill, which the Democrats would -- which the Senate would pass.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, that is the issue, Ed.
Q But if you want to put the people back to work, pass the bill that's on the table --
MR. CARNEY: Then you pass a clean bill.
Q -- and come back in a month --
MR. CARNEY: Oh, that's how it works. (Laughter.)
Q No, no, no. You say the top priority is to put people back to work.
MR. CARNEY: That's how it works. We get what we want on our unrelated political agenda item, and then we come back and fight it. That's not how it works. If you have a dispute that's creating a logjam that will not allow this extension to pass because of an ideological dispute, preventing 74,000 people from working, you remove the problem. You take the splinter out, or whatever is causing the problem, and you pass the clean bill. And then you have the fight -- if you want to have the fight on the other issue. That's what we believe.
Q Quick follow on the jobs issue. If the President going -- saying yesterday in the Rose Garden, I’m going to focus on jobs -- you were just asked about that. He has said that over and over again. There’s a number of quotes. One, January 2010: Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010. A year and a half later, unemployment still over 9 percent. So why should the American people have confidence that this pivot to jobs is actually going to create jobs?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, it is -- I believe I just answered this question, but the --
Q You’ve talked about patent reform and the trade deal. Trade deals have been sitting there for a couple years, and nobody thinks that the trade deals are going to magically lower it to 7 percent --
MR. CARNEY: Good point. They’ve been before Congress and they -- well, I never suggested that. I said 70,000 jobs that could be created or supported. The fact that there is no magic bullet that lowers our unemployment rate to where it would be ideally if -- and it’s certainly not dismantling Medicare. Is that going to put people back to work? Is slashing clean energy investments -- will that put people back to work? Because I don't hear a lot of jobs plans coming from other quarters.
What I do know is that this President from the day he was sworn into office has focused aggressively on the need to, first, prevent a Great Depression, the second in our history; second, stabilize our economy, begin to see it grow again, as it has been; begin to see it create private sector jobs again, as it has been -- 2.1 million jobs -- more private sector jobs created in that period than were created in the -- net in the eight years of the previous presidency -- and then keep pressing forward to do that. Everything that we do that’s related to the economy is related to economic growth and job creation.
What the President is saying now, and what you will be hearing him saying, is that you, the American citizen, have heard a lot of talk in Washington about debt ceilings and deficits; and while those are important issues -- very important -- and they have -- they are important in relation to our economy, and they are important in relation to jobs if they are addressed appropriately -- there are other things we can do directly that affect jobs and economic growth.
And that’s what he’s saying. This is not a -- I think “pivot” is not an appropriate word. It’s refocusing. It’s continuing the focus that we’ve had and allowing us to focus even more intently now that we have reached the compromise that was reached with Congress a couple of days ago.
Q The S&P announced that it was giving the United States a negative outlook while keeping its AAA credit rating. What’s the White House’s reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we focus on the things we can control, which is why we worked so hard with Congress to reach this compromise to avert a crisis that would have unquestionably resulted in bad news from the ratings agencies. So we believe that the measures we have taken to lift that cloud, to avert that crisis, to ensure that we have borrowing authority through 2012, should send a reassuring message around the world. And we believe that the deficit reduction that is embedded upfront within the compromise reached with Congress should send a positive message that Washington is beginning to get serious about this issue. And the way that we approach further deficit reduction should do the same as well.
We have to focus on the things we can control, and assume that, if we do our work and we do it well that the rest, if you will, will take care of yourself.
Q And yet, Wall Street doesn’t seem to be reassured. We’ve actually seen stocks dip this week. What’s the level of concern that maybe this compromise bill didn’t go far enough or isn’t having the impact that you want it to have on the markets?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly believe that we could have done more. And the President worked very hard to try to get a grand bargain, a significant $3 trillion to $4 trillion package over 10 years that would have dealt with the real things that drive our debt, which are entitlements and revenues. And he will continue to work for a balanced package that raises that number higher -- at least the additional $1.5 trillion that has been the target for the committee, the special committee when it’s set up, and then beyond that.
Again, we focus on the things we can control. We believe that if we make the right decisions about dealing with our debt and dealing with our deficits, taking measures that are responsible and effective to help create jobs and grow the economy, that other things like markets will take care of themselves.
Q There’s been a lot of discussion that these indicators might be signs that the economy is continuing to stagnate or potentially dipping back into a recession. Do you see it that way?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we do not believe that there is a threat there of a double-dip recession. We believe that the economy will continue to grow. There is no question that growth has slowed over the past two quarters. There’s no question that job creation has slowed. But there are reasons for that --again, some of them beyond our control -- but that are beginning to -- the headwinds created by them like the earthquake in Japan, have subsided somewhat. But there are other challenges that we have to contend with, including high energy prices, the situation in Europe, et cetera.
We, again, have to focus on what we can do to ensure that our economy is strong, that it continues to grow and create jobs. And we don’t have any projections to make from here, but I would note that the outside consensus among forecasters is that the U.S. economy will continue to grow in the third and fourth quarter.
Q Larry Summers today in an op-ed both in The Washington Post and the Financial Times said there’s a one in three chance that the U.S. would slip back into a recession if some more things aren’t done to stimulate the economy.
MR. CARNEY: Is that a question?
Q Yes, what is your response to that? Do you agree with --
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s the same response that I just gave to Kristin.
Q Okay. And he also wrote about kind of this debate over baselines in terms of what this committee of 12 or super committee is going to use as its baseline. I know the White House has made clear that the committee has flexibility to choose whichever baseline it wants. Does the White House have a preference in terms of which baseline the committee should use?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know the answer to that question. I think that what’s important is that that committee address seriously the need to achieve further significant deficit reduction in a balanced way. And that’s the only -- because this will be an important and clarifying process, because to achieve -- we have now, if you will, identified and removed from the table the roughly $1 trillion in discretionary cuts that we agree on.
And to get bigger, we now have to deal with these difficult issues, entitlements, for example, and tax reform. Because, otherwise, to get bigger you have to make very specific choices about on whose backs these issues will be resolved. Will it be only the middle class and seniors that have to ensure that our deficits and debt come down? Because that’s the choice you’d have to make if you say no to revenues and you say no to cuts in our Pentagon spending.
So you really have to focus -- I mean, this will be a very clarifying process, because, in some ways as we led up to this compromise, there was some understandable confusion about what deficit reduction could be achieved and where was there agreement and disagreement. And the fact is that this President wanted to reduce deficits to cut spending. He identified, through his negotiations with the Speaker of the House, through the Vice President’s negotiations in the group he led with the House Majority Leader -- roughly that trillion dollars that we see in the agreement represent cuts that we all agree on.
Beyond that, you have to make some really hard choices. And this will be a clarifying and, we think, edifying debate in the fall.
Q Jay, I just want to make sure I understand you, getting back on this FAA thing. Did you mean to leave the impression that the President is not considering taking any action --
MR. CARNEY: No. In fact, I think I said three or four or five times that we will look at the measures the President may be able to take. I’m simply not saying one way or the other whether I agree with Dorning's colleague in terms of what actions may be available to him.
We are intently interested on ensuring that these 74,000 Americans who had jobs get them back, and the simplest path to that, since they were thrown out of work by a failure of Congress to act, is to bring Congress back, pass a clean extension -- which they have done 20 times in the past, in the recent past -- and put them back to work. And then, we can have the political fight later, not at the expense of 74,000 Americans.
Q So to sum it up, you’re looking at the measures --
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q -- but you'd rather this to be -- you want Congress to take care of this.
MR. CARNEY: We’re looking at the measures. And Congress has absolutely within its capacity to very quickly fix the problem it created.
Harry, you’ve had a lot. I’ll come back to you.
Q Not on the FAA.
MR. CARNEY: All right.
Q It sorts of relates to Kristin’s questions. The stock market has been going down for eight days, which is the longest downswing in quite some time, while the bond market is rising --
MR. CARNEY: Just since you’re a business reporter, where was it when he took office -- or where was it in March of ’09?
Q I think I’ve written -- the last time I wrote about it, a lot more than 50 percent.
MR. CARNEY: Close to 100 percent. Just saying.
Q So you obviously have a Bloomberg, too. But it’s been down for eight days now. What message does the administration take from this? A lot of the market commentators take it to be that there’s less optimism about economic growth. There’s some debate on whether or not we’ll be going into double-dip recession. You’ve said, you guys don’t see that. What message do you take from eight days going down in the stock market?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we’re not -- we don’t spend a lot of time focusing on things that we can’t control. We spend a lot of time focusing on things we can do that will have a positive effect on people’s lives and specifically on their economic lives.
So markets go up, markets go down. It’s not for me to judge why. The fact, broadly speaking, is that there have been a number of headwinds this year that have affected, we believe, and economists everywhere believe, have affected growth in America and job creation. And they include the Arab Spring, the uprisings in that part of the world that have affected the energy markets; certainly, the earthquake and tsunami and the terrible devastation that caused, and it affected global supply chains; and other issues including the situation in Europe.
So we are taking -- and then, obviously, most recently the uncertainty created by this debate in Washington over whether the United States would, for the first time in its history, default on its obligations. Having resolved that, fortunately, we move on to other issues and we deal with what we can deal with. And we think if we get our part of it right, working with Congress, the economy will grow and we will create jobs and the markets will appreciate it.
Q Why did the President decide against a public signing of the bill yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: I think he came out -- he wanted to speak immediately after the passage. That was the moment, if you will. There was no reason except that it just a matter of signing a piece of paper, and it needed to be signed very quickly to ensure that we didn't inadvertently default on our obligations. So he took care of that piece of business right away once it came down to him.
Q Who gets the pens?
MR. CARNEY: I think they’ll -- I think there’s a number of people, including the leaders of both houses, who will get pens.
Q For the interpretation that when optimum big bills pass, big important bills pass, there’s a public --
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President believes that this was an important compromise. But make not mistake, the bigness of it in terms of the attention that was paid to it was because of a crisis that was wholly manufactured. So he does not believe that we should be popping champagne bottles or celebrating the fact that we averted a crisis that was never necessary in the first place.
He does think it’s important that Congress came together and compromised to avert the crisis, and compromised to achieve some measure of deficit reduction. But he does not believe it is enough. He is not, to say the least, impressed with the process, Just like every American who watched it who was appalled by the three-ring circus that was created down here that caused some of the uncertainty out there and the doubt about whether or not the greatest nation of the world could get its act together. But he believes it was significant and that we have a lot more work to do.
Q Obviously -- well, not obviously, but my guess is the White House is not going to be making recommendations about the lawmakers who serve on this committee of 12. But what would the President like to see in terms of those selections? Obviously, Mitch McConnell has come out and said he’s not going to appoint anyone who wants tax cuts on that committee. Nancy Pelosi said something similar about protecting entitlement reforms. What would the President’s guidance to the people who are actually choosing the members be?
MR. CARNEY: That they take it seriously, and that they understand that serious choices have to be made as we figure out ways to accomplish further deficit reduction.
I would note, in terms of the comments you attributed to the Senate Minority Leader that that creates a problem within his caucus since such a substantial number of the Republicans in the Senate have supported and endorsed the ideas behind the Gang of Six proposal, which takes a very balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes $2 trillion in revenues.
So it is simply -- as we saw after the passage of the House Republican budget, there is explaining that has to be done by the leaders in Washington. If they want those members who believe that we should achieve deficit reduction only on the backs of senior citizens and vulnerable Americans and the middle class, they need to explain that. And that will be ever more stark if that’s the approach they believe is the right approach as the super committee gets started, because, as I said earlier, the initial discretionary cuts have now been accomplished and moved off the table. Now we’re dealing with the tougher issues.
And is the choice they they’re going to make dramatic cuts, further cuts in the discretionary budget? Is it going to be ending Medicare as we know it? Or is it going to be a balanced approach that includes modest reforms to strengthen entitlement programs and changes in our tax code -- tax reform that simplifies it, and ends preferences for the oil and gas industries, for example, or corporate jet makers, or hedge fund managers who -- billionaires who pay lower rates of taxes than their secretaries?
So I think that that is a debate that we look forward to having. We believe that the preponderance of the American public supports us in that. And we believe that for this super committee to accomplish something, there needs to be membership that represents an appreciation of that.
Q What will the White House’s involvement be in the selection process and in the legislative process --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we obviously -- none of us here, starting with the President, is an elected member of Congress and therefore will not be on the committee. We are not shy about making our opinion known about the kind of seriousness that we think the members of this committee should approach the task. And I’m sure we’ll continue to express that opinion.
Steve. It’s been a long time.
Q I was waiting for the debt cloud to raise --
MR. CARNEY: God bless.
Q Did the President and President Medvedev discuss Syria in their conversation?
MR. CARNEY: I believe they discussed the WTO session process.
Q No Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of.
Q The administration has had increasing pressure on the Hill and from Syrian dissidents to do more to punish Syria in the latest escalation of the crackdown. Is the White House considering further sanctions, perhaps measures to punish foreign firms that deal in Syria, that kind of thing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that we are looking at ways to increase the pressure. The images coming out of Syria of the Syrian government’s brutality against its own people have been grotesque and appalling, and they demonstrate the true character of the regime. Once again, President Assad has shown that he is completely incapable and unwilling to respond to the legitimate grievances of the Syrian people. His use of torture, corruption, and terror puts him on the wrong side of history and his people.
As we have stated, President Assad is not indispensable, and the U.S. has nothing invested in Assad remaining in power. We do not want to see him remain in Syria for stability’s sake, and rather, we view him as the cause of instability in Syria. Through his actions, Bashar al Assad is ensuring that he and his regime will be left in the past, and that the courageous Syrian people who have demonstrated in the streets will determine Syria’s future.
We want to see the Syrian people’s desire for democratic transformation carried out. We will continue to call on the regime to immediately halt its campaign of violence and arrests, pull its security forces back, release the many thousand of detainees, and to respect and act upon the clear demands of the Syrian people for a peaceful and democratic transition to democracy.
Q Jay, why has this President delivered this message personally, like he did with Mubarak before?
MR. CARNEY: Well, all I can say is that we take this matter very seriously. I think you just heard what I said about our attitude towards what’s happening in Syria and to the regime’s actions. We will certainly continue to look at ways to take further steps to put pressure on the regime to end its violence. And we think, frankly, that it’s safe to say that Syria would be a better place without President Assad.
Q Has he seen pictures of Mubarak today in court?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of.
END 1:00 P.M. EDT
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