Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:22 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Okay. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for being here today for the daily briefing. It has been a while. Just returned from the West Coast and Colorado. Spectacular weather. I think -- Ed, you were out there, right? Wonderful.
I don’t have any announcements to make at the top, so we’ll go straight to questions.
Q Thank you, Jay. On jobs, now that Congress has put the fight over FEMA behind it, there still doesn’t seem to be a sense of urgency in the Senate, that they’d take the bill up. But the President has been demanding, take the bill up now; send it to me. Is it a bit disingenuous to suggest that Republicans are the obstacle when Democrats control the Senate and that’s where it seems to be being put on a backburner?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, we are extremely confident that the Senate will take up the American Jobs Act. The Majority Leader has said the Senate would take it up. And as you point out, there has been business that the Senate had to get done in September because of the fiscal year constraints, and that included not just FEMA funding but the CR in general, surface transportation extension, FAA extension. I mean, these were things that had to get done, in many cases, to prevent either people being thrown off the job and added to the unemployment rolls or to ensure that the government continued to be funded and disaster relief continued to be in place.
The Senate will move. Democratic support in the Senate and the House and across the country is very broad for the American Jobs Act. And the President will keep up the pressure, because what we have yet to hear from Republicans is, are they going to support all the elements of this bill? And if not, why not? If they’re against modernizing schools, for example, they should say so, and they should say why. If they’re against hiring teachers back, putting them in classrooms to educate our children, they should say why. It’s certainly not because the bill isn’t paid for. The bill, as you know, is paid for. There is no higher priority right now for the American people or for this President than to take measures to grow the economy and put people back to work.
So you’ll continue to hear from the President about the urgent need to take this up. We’re confident the Senate will do that. We hope the House will follow. And we hope that Congress will take action on America’s number-one priority.
Q In his interview with BET Television, the President said that he expected some of these elements in the package would pass through Congress. Why not focus on those that he thinks could pass and create more of a cooperative situation rather than the confrontational situation that he’s creating?
MR. CARNEY: The American Jobs Act is comprised entirely of ideas that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. The President believes very strongly that the entire bill should be passed, every element should be passed. And as we’ve said in the past, if at some stage one piece of it or several pieces of it were voted on and passed and sent to his desk, he would sign them and say, send me the rest, because they’re all extremely merited and they’re all very needed by this economy right now.
I don’t think, as a matter of approaching this, that the President is going to take items off the table, precisely because there are no controversial elements here. There is nothing here that is anything but entirely mainstream, anything but in keeping with what economists on the outside say would help grow the economy, would help create jobs, and obviously the entire thing is paid for.
So we’re going to push the whole bill. And if it comes to us in pieces, we’ll keep demanding the rest as it comes.
Q Can I ask you one question on eurozone? On Monday the President said that the European debt crisis was “scaring the world.” And he said that the European nations haven’t been as quick as they need to be to address it.
Is the President frustrated right now? In fact, even today, divisions within the European community as to how to respond -- whether to expand the bailout fund in any fashion -- the markets seem to be reacting to that even as we speak.
MR. CARNEY: The markets, as you know, fluctuate. They go up, they go down. So I’m not going to address that with relation -- in relation to anything that might be happening in Europe.
We have made clear, the President has made clear that we believe Europeans have the capacity, the financial wherewithal, to deal with this problem. And we have been urging them at the presidential level, at the ministerial level through Secretary Geithner, and at other levels to take forceful and direct action to handle it.
Action is being taken. We continue to have those conversations and make the points that I just made -- that Europe needs to address this and we believe they have the capacity to do it, and the political will to do it. So we continue to have those conversations. It’s certainly a matter of concern, as the President made clear. It’s an interconnected, global economy and this situation has clearly caused a headwind to develop for many -- several months now for the overall global economy and, in particular, the American economy.
So we take it seriously, and that’s why we’ve maintained the kind of communications we have.
Q Questions about Pakistan. What’s your response to charges that Admiral Mullen overstated when he said the Haqqani group was a virtual arm of the Pakistani intelligence service?
And also, now that the U.S. has openly demanded that the Pakistani government and intelligence sever their links with the Haqqani network, what, if any, consequence will there be if they don’t comply, and how much time are you going to give them to take some action -- give the Pakistanis to take some action?
MR. CARNEY: Well the administration’s view, as I’ve said and others have said, is that the continuing safe havens that the Haqqani network enjoys in Pakistan and the links between the Pakistani military and the Haqqani network are troubling. And we want action taken against them. And that is a conversation we have had with the Pakistani government for a long time, not just in recent days and weeks.
It is also true that our cooperation with Pakistan has been extremely important, and that Pakistan has been very helpful to the United States in our fight against al Qaeda in particular. But they do need to take action against the Haqqani network, to deprive the network of the safe havens that it has in Pakistan.
As for hypotheticals about what action we may or may not take in the future, I don’t want to get into that. As I said yesterday on Air Force One, we are reviewing aid. As a matter of course, we review our aid programs. But we are engaged in the kinds of consultations with our Pakistani counterparts that you would expect, and that have been ongoing for quite some time.
Q By when? By when? Or no timeline, or --
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t want to speculate about if something does or doesn’t happen then something else may or may not happen. That’s a level of speculation I don’t want to engage in right now. But our concerns about this have been clear for a long time, and it is part of what we characterize, I think quite candidly, as a complicated relationship, but an important one.
Because the priority here is our national security interests, the national security interests of the United States; the protection of Americans here, and the protection of Americans and our allies abroad. And in achieving that overall goal, Pakistan has been an important partner. Not without complications, but an important partner.
Q And what about the Admiral Mullen statement, saying that he did -- U.S. officials in the region are saying that he did -- he overstated.
MR. CARNEY: I think the issue here is that what the Admiral said, and others have said, is that we have concerns about the safe havens that -- and the existing links that we’re quite candid about, between the Pakistani government and the Haqqani network.
We’re in regular contact with our counterparts in Pakistan on this issue, and we have urged Pakistan to take action against the Haqqani network. We believe that that is in their self-interest as well as in our interest to do that.
Q Just to follow on that -- just to offer some clarity here. Is the Haqqani network a veritable arm of the ISI? Yes or no?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s not language I would use. I think that the fact that there are links between -- that exist between the Pakistani government and the Haqqani network, the nature of those I think can be assessed and is complicated, but there is no question that they have safe havens in Pakistan -- the network has safe havens in Pakistan -- and that Pakistan has not taken action to eliminate those safe havens.
Q So it’s not the position of the Obama administration that the Haqqani network is a veritable arm of the ISI?
MR. CARNEY: It is the position of the administration that there are links and that Pakistan needs to take action to address that --
Q But not farther --
MR. CARNEY: -- and to deal with the fact that there are safe havens for this criminal network that is dangerous for Pakistan as well as for the United States and Afghanistan.
Q Right. But Admiral Mullen went farther than that, and that’s -- as far as --
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s a matter of semantics, and I think that the -- Admiral Mullen was talking --
Q No, it’s not.
MR. CARNEY: I mean, it’s a matter -- you’re trying to -- on the language here I think I’m being quite clear about what our position is, which -- and it’s a serious one. It’s one that we raise with our Pakistani counterparts regularly, because it is of such great concern to us. We have said unequivocally that the Haqqani network was responsible for the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and on ISAF headquarters in Kabul. And the fact that they are able to operate in Afghanistan because they have a safe haven in Pakistan is a matter of great concern. And we have urged our counterparts in Pakistan to take action and raise with them the importance of doing so.
Q Respectfully, it’s not a matter of semantics. It’s quite a different thing to say that there’s a links -- there are links and one is a veritable arm. I mean, it is -- they’re different. But we can move on.
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q You said earlier that nothing in the jobs bill is controversial. I assume you’re talking about -- you’re not talking about the funding for the jobs bill, because obviously the tax increases are controversial.
MR. CARNEY: Well, they are obviously opposed by some who don’t believe that we need to make the kinds of choices that are inherent in the bill, which is -- for example, oil and gas companies that have enjoyed enormous subsidies paid for by the American taxpayer that are no longer necessary, in our view, not least because that very industry is making record profits this year.
And, again, you don’t make these choices in a vacuum. We don’t have unlimited resources. So we either -- we have to make a decision: Is that subsidy to that industry more important, a better use of American taxpayer dollars than putting teachers back to work, or giving an extended payroll tax cut to American workers, giving a payroll tax cut to small businesses? These are the kind of choices that have to be made.
Now, I think as we’ve said all along, if there are better -- if Congress comes up with alternative means in part or in whole to pay for these important provisions, we certainly want to look at them as long as they’re fair and balanced; they don’t put more onerous burdens on the middle class in order to take action to help the middle class. We think that the balance achieved in this bill reflects the priorities of the middle class, and were designed to give the maximum positive impact to the economy.
Q So the tax increases are not controversial, is what you’re asserting?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think they’re controversial in our view in terms of the choices that they represent. And I think that the data certainly suggests to me that a majority of Americans believe that this is an appropriate approach, a fair approach, and they support it.
Again, if Congress has other ideas about how to fund these important measures, we certainly want to see those, but our standard here is that it has to be fair. It shouldn’t -- as we have seen in other attempts at dealing with other issues through Congress -- that it can’t be, you know, we’re going to pay for this by eliminating Medicare as we know it; or we’re going to pay for this by slashing education funding by 30 percent. I mean, those are not the priorities that I think the middle class in this country support and certainly not this President.
Q And, lastly, I read something in the gaggle yesterday, you criticized the -- or it might have been two days ago -- you criticized the Republican presidential candidates I believe for -- there were -- there was a smattering of boos and a smattering of applause at inappropriate times during the previous Republican debates. And you were suggesting that the fact that they didn’t protest means that they couldn’t be Commander-in-Chief or --
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Could you explain what you meant?
MR. CARNEY: I certainly didn’t say that. I think I said that I was surprised, I think many people were surprised, that in an instance where a solider serving in Iraq asks a question from Iraq -- so he is over there in harm’s way, risking his life on behalf of every one of us, and he asked a legitimate question about “don’t ask, don’t tell” and what these candidates might do because it personally affects him, and there were boos in the audience.
Putting aside the audience -- it’s not about the audience, it’s about the fact that there was no response, no one on the stage said, wait a second, regardless of what you believe about this issue, we should thank this soldier; he’s over there risking his life for us. And that was my point. And I think that it’s an important thing to note when the job that they are auditioning for is the job of Commander-in-Chief.
Q So just to continue --
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t suggest it was disqualifying. I was simply making an observational point.
Q Just to continue our conversation from a few weeks ago when you said that the President, who had not heard remarks by Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., was not responsible for them, you are saying that the Republican presidential candidates are responsible for boos --
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, I didn’t say that at all. I was surprised that they did not -- not one of them reacted. I’m not saying they’re responsible for it. I’m just making -- as an observer, that --
Q Just an impartial juror.
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t say I was impartial. I’m simply making the point that there was an opportunity there to separate an issue that may be controversial -- although we firmly believe that it shouldn’t be and isn’t, and that’s why we eliminated “don’t ask, don’t tell” -- from the fact that this soldier is serving his country and putting his life in danger for all of us. And that was all. It was an observation; it wasn’t a -- I wasn’t criticizing the audience members. I was making a point about the absence of a reaction from the candidates.
Q Right after Osama bin Laden was killed, current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said obviously at some point he believes a photograph will be released. But now this administration is asking a court to block the release of any photographs, saying that it would jeopardize citizens in the United States and troops. Why is that the position that this administration would take, given that you vow to be the most transparent in history?
MR. CARNEY: We are the most transparent administration in history, without question.
The fact is, there are also legitimate limits to transparency when it comes to risking the lives of American troops overseas, and I think a very sensible decision has been made that the release of those photos would unnecessarily increase the danger that our troops face overseas, and potentially not just overseas.
Q Clearly your own Defense Secretary doesn’t believe that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think that this is the administration’s position, and that’s something the Secretary of Defense said in the immediate aftermath. This has obviously been evaluated quite closely by the administration, by lawyers, by the national security team, and that is our position. And I think it’s an eminently sensible one, given the potential for causing greater risk to our soldiers overseas.
Q Following up on the jobs question, yesterday the President said about Congress, “It’s been two weeks, and what on Earth are they waiting for?” But you responded to the first question saying, well, we understand the delay because they had so much else to do. So it would seem that the President is being a little bit cute with his audiences if the administration does understand the delay. So I’m wondering, will he match his rhetoric with any action? Will he threaten or say this has to be done by a certain deadline?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he may. I don’t want to predict what he might say before he says it. The point is -- needs to be separated here. This has to be acted on. It is legislation that has to move through Congress, and there is a process by which legislation moves through Congress. Jessica, you know, because you’re a veteran at covering these things, that part of the effort here that the President is undertaking is to continue to put pressure on lawmakers to focus on this priority, because the American people are focused on it, and to address it.
The timing I addressed with Jim about the fact that, understandably, the Senate had to deal with some issues that could not wait and that had to do specifically most of them with jobs and the economy, and we know that the Senate will take up the American Jobs Act.
I mean, if you’re asking me -- if you’re --
Q In pieces, though -- we all know it will be in pieces.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, no -- there’s a lot of --
Q It will get a vote, it will go down.
MR. CARNEY: There’s a lot of I think questions like --
Q Isn’t he being cute with his audiences?
MR. CARNEY: -- you know, since there’s not 100 percent guarantee that this will pass, why did you bother? Right? That’s not how it works here.
Q That’s not what the question is. The question is, don’t we expect that if it passes, individual pieces of it will pass? And so what he’s telling his audiences is, we have to pass this entire bill --
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q -- but nobody who really covers Congress expects that will happen. So --
MR. CARNEY: You’re talking about expectations grounded in cynicism that has to do with the fact that --
Q Or is it reality of Washington?
MR. CARNEY: -- of the dysfunction in Washington. But that doesn’t make it acceptable.
Q But the reality.
MR. CARNEY: And we have been candid about the fact that we believe the whole bill should be acted on and passed, in its entirety, unchanged, and sent back to the President. We are also understanding of the fact that this is a process that moves through Congress and that it is unlikely to arrive back wholly unchanged and intact. It may come back in pieces. It may come back as a whole with some different elements to it going to funding and that sort of thing. But we’re not going to preemptively accept that we’re only going to get half, because 100 percent of the bill is merited.
So half would be half good enough for the American people. There is not a single thing in here that isn’t beneficial to the economy, beneficial to employment.
So we’re pushing for the whole thing. We’re pushing Congress to act. And as I’ve said, if Congress separates out elements of it, passes them, sends them to the President -- again, if they are elements of the bill that he -- that is his bill, and they are paid for in a way that is balanced and acceptable, he will sign them and then say, where’s the rest? If it’s the tax cuts, he’ll say, where’s the funding for infrastructure? Where’s the help to rehire teachers or to give the incentive to small businesses to -- or to businesses to hire veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan? And he will make that point all the way through.
Obviously the quickest and best way to do this is to act on the whole thing. But we’re clearly understanding of the way that Congress works and aren’t going to rule out signing pieces of it if that’s how it comes.
Q One last unrelated question. You had an event at a largely Latino school yesterday. You have a Latino event today. Is the administration worried about eroding Latino support in the face of stalled immigration reform?
MR. CARNEY: The administration had an event -- the President had an event yesterday at a school because it was representative of the kinds of schools across the country that need renovation, rehabilitation, science labs that aren’t older than you and I. And the -- and then that’s true for all Americans.
Look, the President has gone out and --
Q Overwhelmingly Latino.
MR. CARNEY: Maybe yesterday. But the President has gone out in different parts of the country, and will continue to go out all over the country and speak to different audiences about the absolute need to take action on the jobs act.
He’ll speak to teachers, he’ll speak to construction workers, first responders, small business men and women, all of whom have a stake in this bill. He’ll speak to working men and women who get a paycheck, who desperately need the extra $1,500 on average that they’ll get from the payroll tax cut that’s included in this bill.
I think that given the broad support for it, given the many sectors of society it assists, there are many available audiences who want to hear this message and the President will bring it to them.
Q If I may --
MR. CARNEY: Norah, how are you?
Q I’m well, thanks. On Pakistan, if I may, does the President disagree with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen?
MR. CARNEY: The President -- I’m going to repeat what I said before. The President believes, and it is this administration’s policy, that -- and this is reflected in what Admiral Mullen said -- that there are safe havens in Pakistan for the Haqqani network, and that is a problem and a concern. And we have brought our concerns about that fact to the Pakistani government on numerous occasions and will continue to do so -- because we believe it’s not only in the interest of the security of Americans in Afghanistan, it’s in the interest of Pakistan and their citizens that action be taken.
We also think it’s important to look at this more broadly in terms of the overall relationship that we have with Pakistan and the importance of the cooperation that we do receive from Pakistan in our fight against al Qaeda, and in taking measures to increase stability in the entire region. So --
Q When the Chairman delivers remarks before Congress, does the national security team review those remarks and improve them? Yes or no?
MR. CARNEY: I would have to check on that in this case.
Q Do you know if Admiral Mullen’s remarks were cleared by the White House before he gave them?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. The point is, is that what Admiral Mullen said is consistent with our position about the network’s -- the Haqqani network in Pakistan, about the fact that the Haqqani --
Q But you’re using a very different language today. You’re saying there are links and there are safe havens. What Admiral Mullen was saying was that the Haqqani network is a veritable arm of the ISI, that they’re collaborating a terrorist network that is attacking Americans. So either there are links or they’re collaborating. Which one is it?
MR. CARNEY: What we have said and what is our policy is that there are links -- I think that is irrefutable. The fact that Pakistan has not taken action against those safe havens allows the Haqqani network more freedom to operate, and that results in increasing their capacity to take action against Americans in Afghanistan. And that’s a matter of great concern, and we bring those issues to the Pakistanis and express our concern about them.
Q Why did you say earlier that those were words that you would not use? Why would you say that you would not use the same words as --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I just --
Q -- Admiral Mullen who has been to Pakistan 27 times since 2008; has probably the closest relationship of any administration official with General Kayani; knows more about Pakistan than just about anybody in this administration and spent time with him. Why would you say that you would not use the same words as Admiral Mullen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Admiral Mullen testified, and his words are there and they reflect the fact that we have this issue with Pakistan over the safe havens provided to the Haqqani network within Pakistan. I certainly am not here trying to take issue with what he said. I’m simply saying what the position of the United States government is and this administration is about those networks. And this is a matter of concern for us, and it’s why we are quite candid about the fact that it’s a concern, but also put it within the context of our broader interests.
And I think it’s important for everyone to remember that the cooperation that we have had, even within the context of this complicated relationship, has produced very positive results that have improved security for the United States of America and its citizens abroad, soldiers abroad.
Q Thanks, Jay. I just wanted to follow on Jake real quick about -- to use your words, then, why was there an absence of a reaction from the President to Jimmy Hoffa’s comments on Labor Day, if you’re now saying the Republican presidential candidates basically have a duty --
MR. CARNEY: The President wasn’t on stage, he wasn’t -- he didn’t hear them. It’s a different thing when the guy is on stage and they were addressing a question to the candidates on stage.
Q But the comments were broadcast all around the world, and it was pretty clear that one of the President’s top supporters --
MR. CARNEY: I’m talking about a real-time thing. Again, it’s just an observation.
Q On Solyndra. I understand the White House has pushed back hard on Republicans launching attacks and --after the fact, 20/20 hindsight -- saying we shouldn’t have done it. But the L.A. Times had a story --
MR. CARNEY: You mean Republicans who solicited on behalf of companies in their states and districts loan guarantees through the program, and in those solicitations talked about the wonderful merits of the program and its job-creating potentials and the importance of the clean energy industry to the future of America and our energy independence? (Laughter.) You mean those letters?
Q Is there a question in there? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: And those same Republicans have now come out against the program.
Q And as FOX reported last week, Darrell Issa, one of those Republicans, did push for clean energy money, even though he’s attacked the administration. There.
The L.A. Times, though, yesterday, reported not after the fact, but in real time, in October of 2010, people inside the White House, Democrats -- Larry Summers, Secretary Geithner -- said that this loan program has problems, it doesn’t have enough oversight. And they wrote him -- at one point, I think it was Larry Summers wrote a memo to the President saying, this could undermine your clean energy agenda.
So my question is -- I understand the back-and-forth with the Republicans, but why would people inside this White House who are saying there may be real problems here, why was that ignored?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think -- just to make clear -- I think the memo you’re talking about was authored by a number of people. It was a memo that represented the discussion internally within the administration about this program. And I think it’s entirely to be expected that the President’s advisors would scrutinize a program like this, and might have differing opinions about it and about how best to achieve the President’s goal here, which was to help this vital industry, broadly speaking -- the clean energy, clean technology industry -- take hold and grow in this country so that we can compete effectively with the Chinese, the Indians and the Europeans, the Brazilians, in the 21st century.
It would be a remarkable day when on major policy issues there were no debates or disagreements or differences of opinion about how best to approach it. And the result of that process was some actions to improve the program. It’s important to remember that Solyndra, for example, was the first loan out of this program and that the program has continued and evolved as it’s gone on.
So, again, going back to the memo, I think it’s -- memos are written all the time that reflect assessments by advisors to the President and others in the administration with their views.
Q Also important to note that people are not perfect and mistakes are made. Has this administration learned anything from the episode that makes you say, we’ve got to be more careful next time we spend a half a billion dollars?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, we are constantly reassessing not just this program but others, and making adjustments to make them better, more accountable, more efficient, lower the risk of -- increase their chances of success, lower the risk of failure.
As regards this particular loan, as we’ve made clear, we’re not -- we’re disappointed that this particular company did not succeed. The nature of this program is to fund companies that might not otherwise get funding. To help that industry grow, there is risk involved. Overall, we believe that the investments are vital because we are not content with the idea that we should cede vital industries of the 21st century to our competitors overseas. It’s just -- we don’t want be buying all this important technology from the Indians, the Chinese, the Europeans, the Brazilians. And I don’t think most Americans want -- they don’t view America as that kind of country.
And it’s vital to this country’s economic growth that we, in effect, take these risks, as previous generations and previous administrations have, to make sure that the United States of America continues to be leading the world in cutting-edge technologies.
Q Jay, can you talk about or detail the meetings that people in the White House have had with Ways and Means, with the head of appropriations -- Hal Rogers, Dave Camp -- about the jobs program? What is the legislative strategy, the calendar? I understand the Senate is delayed but is there some sort of strategy, or is it simply --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a list of meetings to give you, or conversations except that you can be assured --
Q Is it real? I mean --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, it’s --
Q I mean, that’s what sort of seems to be missing, is that there -- is there actual work going on between the legislative staff and House Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. Yes, definitely.
Q What is it? Can you tell us some of it?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I can get -- if you want, I can get back to you with more details. I’m pretty sure they’ll be rather dull, but the communications that we have with members and staff members on the Hill are consistent and --
Q Are they being receptive or not receptive?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. Look, the -- not least because -- and perhaps almost overwhelmingly entirely because the American Jobs Act is made up of things that are widely viewed as mainstream and effective, that economists view as the right kinds of measures to take if you want to grow the economy and create jobs, that the bill itself is paid for -- there’s broad support for it, certainly among Democrats and, we believe, among Republicans, based on recent history, for large pieces of it and hopefully all of it.
Q Do you feel like there’s been progress made? I mean, we know that the Senate at least has said they’re going to do it sometime in October. Is there progress made on when House Republicans are going to pick this up?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly hope. I mean, that’s obviously a more complicated task. When the President first put forward the proposal, we heard some relatively positive, conciliatory reaction from Republicans in the House. There’s been a little less of that, although what I haven’t heard yet, what I don’t think we’ve heard -- correct me if I’m wrong -- is anyone in leadership, or even in the rank and file, coming out and saying, well, I actually oppose building more roads and repairing bridges. Can’t do that. I oppose hiring teachers. We shouldn’t do that; we should do something else instead.
Obviously some have taken issue with the way that we pay for this, and we certainly want to hear if there are alternative ways to pay for it. But we believe it has to happen. And those alternative means have to be reasonable and balanced, and they can’t shift the burden -- help the middle class and then harm the middle class in the same action.
So you know better than I that there’s no higher priority right now. There’s nothing on average Americans’ minds more than the economy, their concerns about the fact that it’s not growing fast enough, their concerns that employment isn’t increasing fast enough. And this addresses that urgent concern.
The President’s fiscal plan addresses the medium- and long-term economy. And taken together, they are a comprehensive -- they represent a comprehensive vision about where we need to move this country economically.
Q Are you guys concerned about the report that says health care premiums surged this year 9 percent? Are you concerned that this is health insurance companies trying to handle the amount of younger folks coming on, dealing with preexisting conditions, and that they’re just trying to raise their premiums now to handle the influx of folks? Or is there some way you guys are looking at this to see if this is a result that gets fixed in the rest of your health care reform? And what is the administration’s reaction?
MR. CARNEY: Nancy-Ann DeParle, the Deputy Chief of Staff here, wrote a blog post on this I think yesterday which is worth reading. It goes into more detail than I will here about it. One thing I will point out that’s important to note about his survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation is that it’s essentially backward-looking. And Drew Altman, the president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, says, “Critics of the national health reform law passed in 2010 like to blame everything but the weather on Obamacare. But regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act, its effect on premiums this year is modest.” So that’s the assessment of the people who did the survey.
I would also make clear that --
Q So “modest” implies it had an impact.
MR. CARNEY: Within the context of -- again, you have to look at the fact that a lot of the Affordable Care Act has yet to be implemented. 2014 is more of a target --
Q But this doesn’t have to do with trying to bring more people into the insurance umbrella here with the --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would just point you to the statement. The increase was large. The effect of the Affordable Care Act was “modest” -- his words, not mine. I also think the author said clearly that this was a look backwards. And there are other -- Mercer, a well-known independent benefits consulting firm, released a surveyed of employers showing that their health insurance cost increases will average 5.4 percent for 2012, which is the smallest increase -- or would be the smallest since 1997. So there are other -- there’s certainly a lot of other evidence that the impact of the Affordable Care Act will actually slow the growth in health care costs, which is obviously one of the goals.
Additionally, the Kaiser survey -- since we’re talking about it -- points out that more than 2 million young people have insurance now with -- on their parents’ insurance, directly because of the Affordable Care Act -- a piece of the Affordable Care Act that has taken effect already, it’s already had this tremendous impact on young people in America, which we obviously think is very positive.
Q Following up on the first part of Chuck’s question -- so just to be clear, are you saying that there are ongoing conversations between the White House and House Republicans over the legislation and how to get it passed?
MR. CARNEY: Not specifically that I’m aware of with House Republicans. We have regular conversations, the legislative team, with Congress -- both houses, both parties. I don’t know that we’ve had conversations -- I don’t know that we haven’t, but I don’t -- I’m not aware of any conversations specifically about the timing of the Affordable Care Act. Although, we’ve made -- I mean, not the Affordable Care Act, the American Jobs Act. In the House, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we want Congress, both houses, to take it up.
We don’t set the legislative calendar. We, by focusing attention on this need and proposing the legislation, we try to have an effect on the actions that Congress takes and the schedule that it lays out. We’re confident that the Senate is going to take it up. We hope that because of that, the House will act accordingly.
Q So what were you referring to when you said that there were ongoing conversations? I thought that -- his question mentioned the House. I could be wrong about that. What were you referring to?
MR. CARNEY: I was referring broadly to Congress --Senate, House. I don’t know specifically about conversations that may or may not have taken place with House Republicans or House Republican staffers. They may have; I can check. But I’m not going to get into this thing where we -- because -- we’re going to give a readout of every conversation between somebody in the Legislative Affairs Office and a staff member on House Appropriations about this. But I can tell you that we have conversations with the relevant committees, the relevant leadership, the relevant staff on this very important legislative priority.
Q So you’re certain that you’ve had conversations with Democrats, but you’re not sure whether those conversations are also with Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: I know that there have been conversations with the Republicans as well.
Q I think what we’re just trying to figure out is if there’s actually work going --
MR. CARNEY: Which specific conversation --
Q No, no, not --
MR. CARNEY: Look, I don’t know what -- look, let’s step back.
Q Whether there’s actual work going on behind the scenes.
MR. CARNEY: The President and his team drew up legislation, specific legislation. It is going to be introduced in the Senate. It has very specific component parts that others on the outside have judged to have a very positive impact on the economy. We believe the Congress needs to take action on it. It’s not that complicated. This is not an elaborate piece of legislation that needs to be picked apart and renegotiated. It’s there; Congress should act on it.
Q And on another issue, does the White House have a position on legislation the Senate does plan on taking up next week on China currency manipulation?
MR. CARNEY: We’re reviewing the bill. (Laughter.) No, seriously, we are reviewing the bill and we share the goal of achieving further appreciation of China’s currency. As you know, and those who -- in the financially oriented press know, the -- China has moved some in terms of appreciating its currency. I believe it’s appreciated about 10 percent, adjusted for inflation, since June of 2010. But it’s substantially undervalued, and we need to see continued progress, and we’ve made that clear publicly and privately.
Q But you’re not sure whether you’re going to support this?
MR. CARNEY: We’re reviewing the bill.
Q And do you have any idea when you might have a conclusion to that review?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I could offer today.
Q Jay, in speech after speech, when the President speaks about upper-income earners paying a “fair share,” are you able to define that phrase for us? What does it mean?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think one place to look for it is the so-called Buffett Rule we’ve spoken about, which reflects a basic principle that some very affluent Americans who have benefited enormously -- which is great, but they have benefited enormously from what this country has provided them and the opportunities provided them, and have seen their incomes expand dramatically over the past dozen or so years, even as middle-class incomes have stagnated or declined -- some portion of them are paying, actually, a lower effective tax rate than folks in this room or plumbers, teachers and others, including Warren Buffett’s now famous secretary.
So the principle is simply that we should not have a tax code that allows for that kind of imbalance. There has been a lot of I think misleading pushback on this notion -- people who throw out facts and figures about the proportionate share of taxes paid by wealthy Americans. Well, naturally, people who make $100 million a year, even if they’re paying a lower percentage than you or I, are going to be paying a larger dollar figure to the Treasury than you and I are. The fact is that the burden should be proportionate and fair and balanced. But also, some of these studies take into account -- conveniently ignore the fact that everybody who earns a paycheck pays payroll taxes, and that’s a substantial tax burden on working Americans; substantial, proportionally, much greater than -- or proportionately greater for working Americans than very affluent Americans.
So it’s a principle about making sure that everyone is paying their fair share to create a situation where everyone can share in the prosperity that we are sure will continue to be the providence of this country.
Q But if you’re going to put that into law, you can’t say, oh, if this man is paying more than his secretary he’s all right, but if he’s not -- you’ve got to -- the tax code needs a number or a percentage. And have you worked on that yet?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the answer is, in the proposals the President has put forward, he’s stated some principles about the tax code, as well as specifics in terms of some loopholes that should be closed or changed -- the carried interest law, for example, or the deductions, 28 percent. There’s a broader need for tax reform, and within that, it should -- the principle that the Buffett Rule explains should be contained within it.
Q But you don’t have a number yet?
MR. CARNEY: I do not have a number.
Q A Bloomberg survey of economists shows that the President’s jobs plan would lower the unemployment rate by 0.2 percentage points. Is that enough, do you think, to stimulate long-term growth?
MR. CARNEY: I think what the Bloomberg story shows, first of all, is that a survey of economists shows that the -- I think it would -- said it would prevent -- potentially prevent against another recession, would increase growth and increase employment. The specifics are lower than other estimates, and I think if you -- and I’m sure you guys have at Bloomberg, if you tease this apart, if you look at some of the economists and what they’ve said, some of them, in their calculations, are assuming that portions of the American Jobs Act will pass and built them into their assumptions, like the extension of the payroll tax cut, for example, or the extension of unemployment benefits. And I think one economist on that said that, were those not to pass, you could shave off 1.7 or 1.8 percent of GDP. And then he said, if the whole thing passes you add another 0.2 or 0.3. So taken together, that’s 2 percent of GDP at least, which is what I think Moody’s and others have estimated might be the impact if the entire bill was passed.
So, generally, we think it reflects a broad consensus among economic analysts about the impact of the American Jobs Act.
Q But it’s still less than 300,000 jobs, though.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, but you need to look at the survey. In fact, it’s not if you tease out what their assumptions are. They’re starting from different baselines, and there are built-in assumptions. And I wish we could make assumptions about what Congress would do if it were entirely sensible all the time, but unfortunately we can’t. A lot of that has built-in assumptions about what will happen that’s already part of the American Jobs Act.
Q And on Chris Christie’s speech last night, what’s your reaction to what he said, calling the President a “bystander in the Oval Office”? And did the President see any of his speech?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that he didn’t. We were watching the Red Sox as we were flying home -- a nail-biter. Fortunately they won. Sam Stein is not here to celebrate with me. So we did not see it.
I actually don’t -- I haven’t even read it yet, so I don’t really know about that. I would just say in general that in the two and a half years that Barack Obama has been President, it simply -- I mean, it has been one of the most substantial periods in our history, in terms of the seriousness of the challenges we faced, the enormity of the crises and the potential even worse crises that this President faced and took head on.
When he came into office there were -- I mean, remember the headlines that you wrote and others wrote: “Imminent Great Depression.” “Global Financial Collapse.” “Bank Holidays.” “Nationalization of the Banks.” “Predictions of Unemployment as High as 25 Percent.”
That’s the economic environment that we faced when we came in, and that this President addressed head on with a series of incredibly challenging decisions that he took, that by any measure arrested the extreme downward slide that this economy was taking when we were hemorrhaging jobs at more than 750,000 a month, when the economy we now know in the fourth quarter of 2008 contracted by close to 9 percent, the kind of contraction we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.
I mean, this is a -- there were no bystanders in this White House.
Q Just really quickly, why isn’t the President going to the New York fundraiser on Friday that Warren Buffett is hosting? Is it a scheduling conflict, or was the --
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take the -- what’s that?
Q Surrogate event.
MR. CARNEY: It’s a surrogate event.
Q This afternoon in the online Q&A, the President said, as he has before, when he was asked about deporting people who would otherwise be covered by the DREAM Act, he said he can’t choose which laws on the books to enforce. But a couple of years ago with marijuana he did exactly that. This administration said in states that have medical marijuana laws, federal laws prohibiting marijuana use should not be enforced. So why does the President say he doesn’t have that authority?
MR. CARNEY: I really don’t even understand your question. I mean, the --
Q The question is about prosecuting --
MR. CARNEY: Obviously -- well, maybe you should --
Q You’ve got limited resources.
MR. CARNEY: I would address you to the Department of Justice for questions of prosecutorial discretion. I can’t even say it, let alone explain it. So the -- I mean, the fact -- what the President said is absolutely true about the particular issue that you’re talking about. So -- but, again, if it’s -- in terms of the discretion of prosecutors I would encourage you to --
Q This administration has demonstrated that it’s not -- I mean, you have a fixed amount of resources that you can put to enforcing this law or that law. And the administration can say, we’re going to put it towards this law and not that law. So why does he say he can’t do that?
MR. CARNEY: Ari, again, I think with a comparative here, I just -- I’m not sure how to answer your question. The fact is you can’t choose which laws to enforce and which not. And the President is quite right in that.
Q Jay, just one --
MR. CARNEY: Mark.
Q Just one question. It was my turn, Jay.
Q Can I ask about the Supreme Court?
Q Jay, just one question once a week. That’s all.
MR. CARNEY: I think it was The Washington Post’s turn or The New York Times. I can’t remember which one, but yes.
Q Briefly, the Supreme Court --
Q Come back.
Q -- I know that the Justice Department has got briefs coming out later today -- but in general terms, in layman’s terms, please, what does the administration want the Supreme Court to do as regards the health care law?
MR. CARNEY: We firmly believe that, as has been upheld by a number of different decisions, that ultimately this -- the Affordable Care Act will be found constitutional, because it is. Does that answer your question?
Q Well -- all right. Does it worry you about the timeframe that’s likely to take place here with the case coming up this fall and then being ruled on in the middle of a presidential reelection bid?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not -- we’re not worried about what we believe the ultimate decision will be here, which is that the individual mandate provision is absolutely constitutional, as a number of courts have already decided. Obviously some have decided otherwise, but we believe ultimately that this will be resolved in the favor of the constitutionality of the act.
Q Has the administration decided it’s a good thing to get this resolved as quickly as it can because of the uncertainty?
MR. CARNEY: No. I think we’ve been following -- we’ve been moving -- it’s been moving through the process, and we continue to argue the merits of it. And the process will continue. Again, we’re very confident that it will be found to be constitutional.
Q Can I follow up on Mark’s question? Then why didn’t -- I mean, isn’t it clear you do want to speed up the process, or you guys would have asked for another appeal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that you’re asking that question backwards. I mean, we’re not trying to slow down the process, if that’s what you’re asking. We’re letting the process --
Q It sounds like you’re trying to actually speed it up.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no. We’re just simply --
Q You could have gone to the full appeals court.
MR. CARNEY: We could have, I guess, but we didn’t -- I don’t think we thought it was necessary. The -- find if I have anything specific on that here. I think I’d remind you that two appellate courts have previously ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act, and we’re confident, as I said, that when all these cases are resolved that we will prevail.
Not taking action is not -- doesn’t mean we’re trying to speed anything up, but we’re also not trying to slow anything down. We’re confident that when it comes up, it will be seen as constitutional because we’re quite convinced that it meets that bar, clears that bar.
Q On Libya and Iran, please. We’re in the seats, they’re not here.
MR. CARNEY: I know, but the seats represent organizations. I get it.
Connie, and then Lester. But those seats are -- you know how it works, Connie.
Q For the record, we’ve been here since the ‘60s and the ‘70s --
MR. CARNEY: These people travel --
Q Yes. I mean, we’re seniors. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Yes. You had a question about --
Q On Libya and Iran. Do you have any update on the threats by the Iranians to bring some of their naval ships off the U.S. coast?
And also, any update on the missing Libyan missiles?
MR. CARNEY: Okay, let me -- I’ll take them in that order. On the Iranian navy, I think we don’t take these statements seriously, and -- given that they do not reflect at all Iran’s naval capabilities.
As for the erroneous report about MANPADS, it is simply not accurate that 20,000 shoulder-fired weapons are missing, when 20,000 is the number of weapons that we have assessed the Qaddafi regime may have acquired over the last 40 years. So that’s an erroneous report.
However, it is certainly true, as we have been talking about quite openly for weeks, if not months, and as Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor, briefed on extensively in New York at the United Nations, the issue of conventional weapons, including MANPADS, in Libya. And that is why we have a State Department official on the ground there. We have five other contract officials dealing with this. It’s why we have been discussing the issue with the TNC regularly, and working with NATO and our allies and partners on this issue.
So I think that’s the answer to that.
Q Thank you. Just one question.
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure.
Q The PLO’s U.N. ambassador, Areikat, has been quoted by The Washington Times and other media as saying -- and this is a quote -- “It would be in the best interests of the two peoples that the proposed future Palestinian state be free of Jews.”
And my question: Does the White House believe that this statement is or is not Judenrein?
MR. CARNEY: Is not what?
Q Free of Jews.
MR. CARNEY: Sorry --
Q No Jews.
Q Free of Jews -- a Nazi term.
MR. CARNEY: Yes. We obviously don’t believe that -- we believe that any action taken by either side that makes it harder to come together and -- in direct negotiations to resolve the issues between the two parties so that we can have a two-state solution that both sides support, is not helpful, not conducive. And that would include actions as well as statements. That would apply to that.
I have not seen that statement, so I don’t even know if it’s accurate. But it would not be -- it’s not helpful.
Q Listen, thank you. Thank you very much.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Thank you, Jay. On the issue of the Israeli settlements, has the U.S. been in contact with any of the countries in the region following the announcement?
MR. CARNEY: You might want to address that to the State Department. I made clear yesterday that we’re deeply disappointed by that announcement. Going back to the point I just made to Lester, we support actions and words by each side that move the parties closer to direct negotiations, because that is the only way that the Palestinians will achieve their goal of a sovereign state, and, as part of that, the Israelis will achieve the kind of security that they greatly deserve in a Jewish state.
So direct negotiations are the only way to go. Actions that make it harder to achieve that are not helpful and not conducive to the goal here.
Q Well, the question was asked to the State Department, and they basically said what you said. So -- but is there --
MR. CARNEY: They said ask the State Department?
Q No, no, they --
MR. CARNEY: I mean, in terms of, have we had -- I just don’t know if we have had -- I mean, I imagine --
Q I’m asking if the --
MR. CARNEY: Rarely a day goes by that we don’t have consultations with our partners in the region. So I’m sure that --
Q But on this issue? Specifically on this --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Last one. Yes.
Q Just to follow up on this, in the light of Israel’s decision to build the settlements, what is the administration doing to prepare the ground to bring the two parties together?
MR. CARNEY: We are working assiduously towards that goal with the Quartet, with others, with the two parties, the Palestinians and the Israelis. I think we were quite clear about our opinion of this announcement yesterday, just as we were quite clear about the inefficacy of pursuing unilateral action at the United Nations. We encourage both sides to take actions to achieve the goal here that they both seek.
Q Jay, how many MANPADS are missing? If it’s not 20,000, how many are missing?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I was just taking issue with an erroneous report. I don’t have a number.
1:26 P.M. EDT
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