Press Briefing

November 21, 2011 | 49:57 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 11/21/2011

12:41 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  How are you all today?  Thanks for coming.  It's good to be back, after a long but very successful trip to the Asia Pacific region with the President.  Those of you who were on that trip know the substantial accomplishments that came out of it, including broadly making clear that the United States will be all in when it comes to Asia, and the importance of the Asia Pacific region economically to this country's future.

I have a couple of things to announce, and then we can take your questions.  First of all, President Obama spoke earlier today with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, to congratulate him on his appointment and to thank him for taking on such a significant responsibility at a critical time.  The President expressed his full confidence in Italy's strength and vibrancy, and underscored America's support for the steps that Italy is taking to advance its economic reform program.  The President also reaffirmed the close alliance and friendship between the United States and Italy. 

I'd also like to draw your attention to the fact that tomorrow, in New Hampshire, the President will meet with a family and make remarks urging Congress to act to extend and expand the payroll tax cut that has given tax breaks to millions of families across this country.  If Congress fails to act to extend the current payroll tax cut, a typical family making $50,000 a year would see their taxes rise by $1,000 at the beginning of next year, at a time when families are struggling to make ends meet.

In the American Jobs Act, the President proposed to expand that tax cut by cutting payroll taxes in half, so a typical family would get an even larger tax cut next year.  The typical family making $50,000 a year would get a tax cut of $1,500 if Congress acts.

The President also proposed a full payroll tax holiday on any increase in payroll for firms that hire new workers, providing millions of businesses an incentive to create new jobs. With the holiday season approaching, the Congress -- the President, rather, will urge Congress to act not just to ensure that taxes don't go up on middle-class families at the beginning of the year, but also to pass tax breaks for families and small businesses in the American Jobs Act to help strengthen the recovery and create jobs now.

Those are my announcements.  Mr. Kuhnhenn.

Q    Thank you, Jay.  Welcome back to gridlock.  (Laughter.)  The supper committee -- (laughter) -- the super committee --  (laughter.)  The super committee is expected and poised to announce failure today.  And without a deal on deficits, $1.2 trillion in cuts are triggered in 2013.  You've called those from the podium "onerous" cuts.  Secretary Panetta has said that they would be devastating and would create a hollow force.  What's the White House reaction to this failure, congressional failure?  And given the dire consequences, why did the White House not become more engaged kind of to the degree that the President did with Speaker Boehner back in the summer?

MR. CARNEY:  First of all, Jim, I will wait for members of that committee to make an announcement as to their success or failure.  To the end of your question, the President of the United States, as you noted, throughout the summer was engaged directly and personally in extensive negotiations with Congress, with the Speaker of the House, on what would have been a broad and balanced and substantial proposal to reduce our deficit and debts over the long term.  The Vice President also was engaged, as you know, with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. 

And those efforts, unfortunately, despite the willingness of the President to take extraordinary steps and to bring his party along with him in their willingness to go along with the kind of balanced approach that he felt was necessary and right for the country, in the end Republicans walked away from that deal.

The President, at the beginning of the process, at the beginning of the super committee process, a committee established by an act of Congress, put forward a comprehensive proposal that went well beyond the $1.2 trillion mandated by that act and was a balanced approach to deficit reduction and getting our long-term debt under control.  That has been available to the committee since it first started meeting, and is available today, with the waning hours left to it to act, as a road map to how you achieve the kind of balanced approach that Americans demand. 

This committee was established by an act of Congress.  It was comprised of members of Congress.  Instead of pointing fingers and playing the blame game, Congress should act, fulfill its responsibility.  As for the sequester, it was designed, again, in this act of Congress, voted on by members of both parties and signed into law by this President, specifically to be onerous, to hold Congress's feet to the fire.  It was designed so that it never came to pass, because Congress, understanding the consequences of failure, understanding the consequences of inaction, the consequences of being unwilling to take a balanced approach, were so dire.

Now, let me just say that Congress still has it within its capacity to be responsible and act.  As you noted, the sequester doesn’t take effect for a year.  Congress could still act and has plenty of time to act.  And we call on Congress to fulfill its responsibility.

Q    Well, does the President agree, first, with Secretary Panetta that it would hollow out our military?

MR. CARNEY:  We made no -- we made clear that the cuts in the sequester are not the best approach to achieving the kind of deficit reduction that we need, and that the defense cuts are much deeper than we think are wise, as Secretary Panetta and the President and others have made clear -- which is why Congress needs to fulfill its responsibility.  It needs to hold itself to account, and also, should not then try to undo the consequences of their own failure, the consequences that they themselves passed into law.  They should do the right thing and come together.

It's important to remember, however, that because of the Budget Control Act, the $1.2 trillion that the super committee was supposed to achieve in deficit reduction will happen regardless.  That was the purpose of the law.  It's Congress's responsibility to achieve that in the right way and a better way and a balanced way.  And again, the President has weighed in in great detail with what he thinks is the right approach -- an approach that's supported overwhelmingly by the American people; overwhelmingly, not just by Democrats and independents, but by Republicans. 

And unfortunately, we've come to a point where -- and it really is -- there's a lot of complexity that is loaded on to this process unnecessarily.  In the end, it comes down to a decision by Republicans that they are unwilling to do what the American people say they believe should be done, which is ask the very wealthiest Americans, millionaires and billionaires, to pay a little bit extra so that we can achieve the kind of deficit reduction and long-term debt control that we need.  Short of that willingness, it’s hard to see how we get to an answer.

Q    So you’re saying the responsibility ultimately lies with Republicans who you don’t think are able to --

MR. CARNEY:  I think that, as everyone can see, from where we’ve been through this process, the bipartisan proposals put forward by the Rivlin-Domenici Commission, by the Simpson-Bowles Commission, by the President -- the proposals he worked on with the Speaker of the House and the proposal he put forward for everyone to see in September -- requires -- everyone who looks at this responsibly says you have to do in a balanced way.  You have to have revenue, as well as discretionary cuts, as well as defense cuts, as well as entitlement reforms.  The President has always approached this in that balanced way.  Bipartisan commissions have approached it in the balanced way that the President has. 

So far, Republicans in the Congress have not approached it in a balanced way that is really the only way to get this done that’s fair.  Otherwise, as we saw from the Ryan budget, if you don’t do it in a balanced way, if you protect the wealthiest Americans from having to pay their fair share -- not just protect them from having to pay more, but actually, in many cases, give them more tax cuts -- then the burden falls on senior citizens, who see their Medicare bills skyrocket, and then families with children who are disabled and others who are vulnerable in our society.  That’s the approach -- that’s the alternative if you don’t do it in a balanced way.

Q    On another subject -- Egypt.  Bloody, deadly rioting there.  Does the President have a message for the Supreme Council there?  They’ve been fairly vague as to when they might hold presidential elections, which is part of the cause behind the rioting in the streets.

MR. CARNEY:  We are deeply concerned about the violence that has led to a tragic loss of life over the weekend in Egypt.  And we call for restraint on all sides, so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.

We don’t -- as this process moves forward and as the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the tragic events -- that these tragic events, rather, should not stand in the way of elections and a continued transition to democracy that is timely, peaceful, just and inclusive. 

It’s important to step back and remember how far Egypt has traveled this year.  And it’s important that Egypt continues to move to make that transition to the democracy that the people of Egypt demanded, and as a result of their demands, they ended a multi-decade dictatorship.  So we urge, again, restraint on all sides and for the process towards the transition to continue.

Q    Should the generals specify when those presidential elections --

MR. CARNEY:  I don't want to dictate specifics to Egypt, but we do believe that the process needs to move forward.


Q    You mentioned that the President had spoken to the new Italian Prime Minister.  Europe’s debt crisis plus expectations of a failure by the super committee are driving the markets down very sharply today.  What if anything can the President do to reassure the markets that the U.S. -- that he’s putting the U.S. on a path to fiscal soundness?  And is the President satisfied with the speed at which the European leaders are now tackling their debt crisis?

MR. CARNEY:  On the first point, I’ll briefly reiterate what I said to Jim, which is that the President put forward a comprehensive plan.  He believes Congress could take up that -- the committee could take up that plan and pass it out with its remaining hours if that kind of compromise were something that all sides would want.

It is important to remember in terms of the deficit reduction that is embedded within the Budget Control Act that that will go forward, that the $1.2 trillion as a minimum will happen as prescribed by law.  Again, not in the way that we want; not in the way that Congress should want -- which is why Congress should take the opportunity to act and deal with this in a balanced way, in a fair way, in a responsible way.  But the deficit reduction will happen regardless.

As for Europe, we remain in a position where we are urging Europe to rapidly implement the proposals that they put forward, the plan that they put forward.  They need to -- they have the capacity to act, as you know.  They have the resources to act, and we continue to urge them to do that.

Q    In the past, the President has said that the Europeans are not acting as quickly and as aggressively as they need to to deal with the situation and prevent the headwinds from hitting the U.S.  And are they acting fast enough and aggressively enough now?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think by making it clear that we believe they need to move forward on rapid, decisive implementation, that we believe that rapidity and decisiveness is needed here.  Obviously, we have new governments in place in Italy, Greece, and now Spain, and that makes it even more critical that Europe move forward with that implementation.

To their credit, the Europeans laid a foundation for acting and they have all the elements they need for success here to create an enhanced rescue facility, to strengthen European banks, to chart a sustainable path for Greece, and to confront the structural issues that are at the heart of the current crisis. 

As you know, Matt, with the President and Tim Geithner -- Secretary of Treasury -- and others have been very engaged with their European counterparts on this issue, offering advice because we have a certain amount of experience in dealing with this kind of crisis.  And we urge them to move forward rapidly.

Q    I just want to get some reaction from the White House about the information networks in Lebanon and Iran that have been discovered.  I'm wondering if there will be a demand for accountability, a review of CIA procedures, and how much the White House is concerned that this will affect the attempts to monitor Iran’s efforts to get a nuclear weapon?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to comment on intelligence matters from here, Jake, so maybe if you have a more specific question on this issue.

Q    Well, this is something that is making news all over the world.  It’s not a secret anymore.  There has been a -- I assume you know what I’m talking about.  Is there no reaction from the White House at all?  Is there no concern that this information network has been discovered and there’s people who are serving from the United States -- may have even been executed?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I’m not going to get into a matter of information networks regarding intelligence.  If you’re talking about Iranian behavior in general, I’m happy to comment on that, but not on that specific.

Q    Would you care to comment on Iranian behavior in general?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Look, Iranians are -- the Iranian regime is isolated for a reason; because of its constant flouting of its international obligations.  And the interests that we have undertaken to further isolate Iran with our international partners we believe will continue to pressure the regime and drive it to the conclusion that it needs to get right with the world. 

So Iranian misbehavior is certainly not a new thing or a new problem.  We continue to work with our partners to deal with it.

Q    I just want to follow up on some of those super committee questions.  When asked about the fact that the White House took a hands-off approach, you said that the White House did not take a hands-off approach throughout the summer.  So the decision to take a hands-off approach this time, was that because the previous attempts failed and the President wanted to see how it would work without him playing a role?  Could you explain the decision-making process?

MR. CARNEY:  I disagree --

Q    A direct role in negotiating.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, a couple of things.  First of all, in the summer, the President, as President, had to deal with a potential disaster that would have befallen this country and the global economy had those who seemed determined to push this process over the edge by allowing us to default on our obligations succeeded. So there was an urgency at the time that required his direct involvement. 

But let me now argue with the premise, which is that he's been disengaged.  That is simply false.

Q    I didn't say that.

MR. CARNEY:  Okay, but the premise is that he has been less engaged.  What happened --

Q    He was in Hawaii.  I mean, one assumes he was --

MR. CARNEY:  The super committee has been in existence now for a long time.  And at the beginning of the process -- now, remember, during the summer there were lots of calls for, where is the President's plan?  Where is his ideas on paper?  Where are they?  And as you know, now, we were involved in intensive negotiations -- the President was -- with the Speaker of the House.  And by design, and by request by the parties to those negotiations, the process was kept relatively quiet and paper was not made public. 

There was a hope that that process would lead to the grand bargain; that the Speaker would reach an agreement in which balance was achieved, that revenues were included, and some tough decisions on entitlement reforms were also included.

At the beginning of this process, the committee created by Congress, the President, preemptively if you will, put forward his ideas, his plans, in detail.  And those have been available. It's never been a mystery for the members of the committee what the President thinks or what his preferences are in this process. What we have seen, unfortunately, is that very early on in the process, I believe it was the Speaker who announced that revenue was off the table, basically declaring that the vast majority of the American people, their ideas for how this should be done were irrelevant.

Q    But we know that that's not what happened, that Senator Toomey did make an offer and --

MR. CARNEY:  Right -- well, there was an offer, as we've seen reported, that involved some revenues while it then provided even additional tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.  And it wasn't the kind of balanced plan that the public supports, the President called for, the bipartisan commissions both demanded, and that, ultimately, is the only way that we can get to the kind of sweeping deficit reduction and debt control that we need.

So we made clear from the beginning what the President's position was.  The committee was established by an act of Congress, with members on the committee who are all legislators in Congress.  And what their mandate was was quite clear, and the path to a compromise was always quite clear.  But there had to be willingness on both sides -- there has to be willingness on both sides to want the kind of balance that the American people demand.

Q    But the President did make a decision to not be as involved in this as you had been in the summer.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, they're entirely different circumstances.

But I don't disagree that he wasn’t having one-on-one conversations with the Speaker of the House here in the White House on this.  But we were in a different place.  That was working out an approach with the Speaker that then became very well known to the public, the willingness of this President to make tough decisions, do hard things for Democrats, his commitment to bringing Democrats along in that process.  And what his position then became I think has been clear to everyone since then.

Q    Now that we agree on the premise, was that a mistake?

MR. CARNEY:  Was it a mistake that the President put forward a detailed comprehensive proposal?  No.

Q    Was it a mistake for him not to have been as involved?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely not.

Q    For him to have been as involved?

MR. CARNEY:  Of course not.

Q    Okay.

MR. CARNEY:  No.  He has been, from the beginning of this process, directly engaged in it, providing ideas, proposals, specifics.  And what the Congress needs to do to get this done is apparent to everyone who writes about this, who reports on it for television, who pays attention at all.  And there is just a remarkable unwillingness among Republicans, unfortunately, to accept the fact that the only way to get from here to there is to do it in a balanced way.  That's the only fair way to do it.  And we hope that Congress will eventually act accordingly.

Jessica, and then I’m going to move in the back.  Yes.

Q    Two quick questions.  First on Iran.  The U.K. today has announced they're sanctioning the Central Bank, but the U.S. is not following suit or sanctioning -- this is in the wake of the IAEA report.  We’re sanctioning -- the U.S. is sanctioning some companies, but not the Central Bank.  Why has the U.S. made this decision?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, we are, as we said we would do, increasing sanctions, ratcheting up pressure on Iran, and we continue to look at all options going forward.  So we are in this place with Iran, the isolation that it feels and the pressure that it feels, because of leadership from here, by this President and this administration, working unilaterally and together with our partners and allies around the globe, including the UK.

So -- and specifically with regards to the Central Bank, we continue to look at all options and will consult with Congress on that.  But you should be clear about the actions that we are taking and that we have taken.

Q    So sanctioning the Central Bank remains an option?

MR. CARNEY:  Everything is always on the table.

Q    On the super committee, the President in the past has said that he has -- does not regret not taking Simpson-Bowles to the American people.  But given what we’re looking at today, is it not clear that that was not his best shot at getting some sort of debt reduction plan through Congress?

MR. CARNEY:  I know that’s a question and not a statement of what you believe -- because here we are in a position where I believe the last proposal put forward by a leader in the House was the $3 billion in revenue.  And a suggestion that revenue twice the size of what the President put forward would somehow be agreeable to Republicans, I find pretty interesting.  And twice the defense cuts, too.  That’s what Simpson-Bowles called for.

So let’s be clear.  And the approach that Simpson-Bowles took is one that the President adopted.  Many provisions of Simpson-Bowles are reflected in the positions he took over the summer and in the plan that he put forward in September.  But the idea that somehow, if we just put a different name on it, Republicans in Congress will be willing to --

Q    Prior to --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there are some who are saying they should vote on it now.  I mean, but let’s be realistic about what Simpson-Bowles calls for in terms of the extent of revenue and the extent of defense cuts, as well as many other provisions.  The overall approach that Simpson-Bowles took in the commission the President set up is one that he has adopted and his proposals mirror quite closely.

Q    Wasn’t there less acrimony in Washington at that time, and it was --

MR. CARNEY:  Do you really think so?  (Laughter.)  I’m not sure.

Q    Prior to the debt commission -- prior to the debt deal, the debt talks?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I suppose everybody’s memories are a little gauzy about golden eras that existed in the past, but not that I’m aware of.  And, again, it’s --

Q    -- starting the conversation earlier than --

MR. CARNEY:  If you’re telling me that Republicans in Congress are suddenly now willing to embrace the kind of broad, balanced approach, and would vote for a broad, balanced approach -- which, again, is what the President has put forward -- I think that would be great and welcome news.  There has not been evidence of that all year long, unfortunately.

Q    Is there any way in which the White House takes any responsibility for the failure of these debt negotiations to go anywhere?

MR. CARNEY:  Congress assigned itself a task, wrote a law, voted for it; the President signed it.  They have to hold themselves accountable.  They have to do the things that American families do every day, which is live within their means and take responsibility for their own actions.

There's a committee that they established that was assigned a task that, again, isn't all that complicated and isn't all that difficult if there's a willingness to compromise.  So we continue to urge Congress to act.  There is an opportunity here for Congress to act going forward, and to deal with these problems.

Let me go in the back.  Yes, German press.  Yes.

Q    Thank you.  Thank you, Jay.  I was also traveling, just the other direction.  I was a week in Germany, and from there, the default and the financial state of the international health looking different.  So people are really amazed how this country -- I know it's not the government; you have a democracy, but first and foremost, it's the parliamentary responsibility, not government responsibility -- how this country deals with the debt crisis. 

The U.S., as far as I know, has a worse debt-to-GDP ratio than the whole eurozone, and we are talking about the eurozone, not about the United States and that Congress can't get its act together.  So from the European perspective, it seems that this country is in a bigger mess than Europe.  We are not proud where we are.  We know that it's slow and not bold, and so on, but at least they are doing something; they are deciding something, they're trying to pull that through.  And here, nothing is happening -- third time this year. 

MR. CARNEY:  I don't think it's helpful to get into which side of the Atlantic handles its problems better or worse.  I think each side needs to -- we need to act and the Congress needs to act, this country needs to act.  And obviously, as I just discussed in answer to a question earlier, the Europeans need to move forward with rapid implementation of their plans. 

And there is an urgent need in Europe to establish an enhanced firewall and to control this crisis.  And there is the capacity in Europe to do it.  There is certainly the capacity here and the road map here for what Congress needs to do.  And as I've been discussing now in answer to these earlier questions, we hope that Congress will move forward. 

What remains true, because of the Budget Control Act that both parties voted for and the President signed into law, is that an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction remains the law and will happen.  It should not happen the way that -- through the sequester.  That's not the optimum outcome, by any means.  That was the design, purposefully.  But it's still the law, and that deficit reduction can and should happen.

We urge Congress to do it in a balanced way, and to do it in the way the President did, which was to do it -- to go much further than the $1.2 trillion.  The President's proposal, if you combine it with the savings and discretionary spending through the Budget Control Act, is $4 trillion.  And that's the kind of approach that, again, if the committee and Congress took his proposals, passed them now, and the President signed them into law, would have enormously positive effects on the American economy and the global economy.

Q    I have just one question.  Do you have understanding -- the feeling in the eurozone, I said, it’s not really a time where the U.S. is in a position to give advice to Europe --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don't --there's no benefit in -- I think we've been clear about our view on Europe's capacity and what it needs to do.  We worked very closely with Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy and others in Europe on this.  The President, as you know, as I just said, spoke with the new Prime Minister of Italy, and we continue to work on those issues and to offer our counsel and advice.  And we obviously are very focused on the issues we have here at home.

Q    It's obvious, from the question, we live now in a borderless global economy.  Has the President made any attempt to reach some of the leaders in the eurozone, or have any of them made an attempt to reach the President, over this latest issue of the super committee?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I just read out to you a call the President made to the new Prime Minister.  I'm not aware of any discussions he's having about the super committee with European leaders.


Q    You've said three times that the $1.2 trillion in cuts will happen.  What makes you so sure that there aren't enough people in Congress even to override a veto?  They're already talking about changing the balance of the cuts so that they don't so deeply affect defense.

MR. CARNEY:  I think that the American people expect Congress to be accountable and to abide by the law that they passed.  And we -- I think that it's pretty clear that we don't support rewriting that provision or making changes to it.  It was designed with a specific purpose in mind, which was to hold Congress's feet to the fire, which is what everybody said at the time would be the effect of the provision.  And that remains the case going forward.


Q    Senator Murray was here earlier today for the bill signing.  Did the President pull her aside and try and take the temperature of the super committee?

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, the President spoke with Senator Murray as well as Congressman Hensarling at the beginning of his trip to the Asia Pacific region, and urged them to work diligently to reach a compromise.  I'm not aware --

Q    That was before they had reached an impasse.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I'm not aware of any conversation that the President had with Senator Murray along those lines today.  I'm not ruling it out.  I'm just not aware that he did.

Q    Why not? 

MR. CARNEY:  Wendell, I think I’ve made clear what our position is.  I think, again, the problem here isn’t a lack of presidential proposals.  That proposal -- I meant to bring out my prop again, which is the President’s comprehensive, detailed and lengthy proposal for getting our deficit and debt under control.

Senator Murray knows that proposal well, as does every member of Congress, certainly every member of the super committee -- although some members of the media occasionally forget that it’s out there.

What Congress needs to do here has been and remains very clear.  They need to do their job.  They need to fulfill the responsibilities that they set for themselves.  And there’s one way out of this, which is a willingness to take a balanced approach, the approach that Americans of every political persuasion support.  If they do that, we can get something done significantly -- something significant done for this country.

Q    And on Iran, Senator Mark Kirk has an amendment that he says would effectively collapse Iran’s Central Bank, basically blacklisting dealings with countries that do business with Iran. Why is that a bad idea?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think I got this question or a variation of it from Jessica.  When it comes to Iran, we have leveled already unprecedented levels of sanctions.  We have, both unilaterally and working with our partners around the world.  We continue to look for ways to add to the pressure that Iran feels. And with regards to the specific question of the Central Bank, we’re not -- we’re continuing to look at all options. 

And this is an ongoing effort that, again, has isolated Iran to a degree that has never before been the case, that is having a direct effect on the Iranian economy, as Iranian leaders have conceded, and that we will continue in order to pressure the Iranian regime to get right with the world, to live up to its international obligations and to deal with the fact that the international community is united in its assessment of Iranian behavior.

I mean, let’s look at what’s happened since the IAEA report came out.  We’ve had a vote by the Board of Governors that was overwhelmingly in favor of pressuring Iran and criticizing Iran for its behavior.  Then we had a vote in the United Nations General Assembly about the Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States -- again, overwhelming support, including from Arab nations condemning that behavior.  Iran has never been this isolated.  And we will continue to put the pressure on it.

Q    Are you saying its not yet time to put the kind of pressure on Iran that Senator Kirk is talking about?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m just saying that I’m not -- that we did not take options off the table.  And with regard to the specific one that you mentioned, we continue to look at options and consult with Congress, including those who have a particular interest in the subject.

All right, fellow traveler. 

Q    How concerned is the White House that this super committee standoff could lead to another credit rating downgrade, and has the White House been in touch with the credit rating agencies to try to avert that from happening?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not aware of any contact.  I just know one way or the other the -- I'll just go back to something I said earlier about the Budget Control Act made law a level of deficit -- further deficit reduction that either the committee would achieve or would happen through the sequester.  That has not changed. 

It is unfortunate if predictions of the super committee’s failure prove true, but the law has not changed.  And the Congress still has within its power the ability to act, to do the right thing, to take up a balanced approach to have Democrats and Republicans vote for it, and to get it to the White House so he can sign it into law.

Q    But the way the downgrade happened before was so messy with this last-minute back-and-forth with the Treasury.  Is there some interest in starting a dialogue early so that that doesn't happen again?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, you might want to ask Treasury if they’ve had any of those conversations.  I’m not aware of any.


Q    There are some that are pointing out that if Congress and the President don't do another thing through 2013, that they, by default, landed in the big deal, in the sense that they’ve already done a trillion -- they’ve got $1.2 trillion of sequestration that kicks in, and if the Bush tax cuts expire, as they’re supposed to at the end of 2012, you’ve got revenues going up maybe $5 trillion.  So if the President and Congress don't do another thing, the Bush tax cuts expire, the sequestration kicks in -- is that a level of balance?  Because you’re up to about $7 trillion in deficit reduction right there.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me just make this point on the sequester -- that is not the preferred option here.  The sequester was designed to be onerous and undesirable, and it remains our view that that is not the way to go, because Congress needs to do this in a responsible way -- not abdicate its responsibility, not refuse to -- and alternatively, not refuse to accept the consequences of its inability to compromise, but refocus their efforts on finding a solution here.

The position of the President is well known on the kind of approach that we need to take.  It happens to reflect the position that most Americans believe is the right way to go.  And what happens next year, there are too many variables for me to get into predicting.  But what we know now is that Congress has all the incentive, as well as the desire of the American people behind moving towards compromise.  So we would hope that Congress would do that.

Q    So I just want to get at the idea of balance.  You’re talking about balance in another way.  You’re talking about the approach to the middle class.  Is that what you mean?

MR. CARNEY:  When we talk about balance -- I mean, one of the things that -- what we’re talking about here -- because what’s lacking in terms of balance in some of the other proposals we’ve seen or some of the proposals we’ve seen from the Republicans is any effort to ask the wealthiest Americans -- Americans, who, by reports we’ve now seen, have done extraordinarily well over the last decade, the last three decades, as middle-class families have seen their income stagnate or decline -- asking them to just pay a little bit more, so that all of the pressure, all of the burden is not borne by the middle class, by seniors, by parents of disabled children.

So revenue is an essential part of balance.  Entitlement reform is a part of balance.  Discretionary cuts are a part of balance.  And defense cuts are a part of balance. 

Now, you need to do this is in a responsible way so that you make -- when you’re making your cuts, you’re making choices that allow -- that are the least painful and that allow the economy to grow.  And one of the reasons why the President is so committed to investments in education and innovation is because those are so essential for our future economic growth. 

So the kinds of blind across-the-board cuts that might occur through the sequester can be harmful, in the case that we’ve been discussing, to our national security budget.  The preferred approach is one that’s done eyes wide open, where decisions are made, tough choices are made, and they’re done -- and they’re made in the spirit of compromise and in the spirit of taking a balanced approach, so that everybody shares in the prosperity and everybody bears some of the burden.

Q    One other quick question.  The President is going to pursue the extension of unemployment at the end of this year.  Is that right?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s certainly a key element of the American Jobs Act, yes.

Q    And would he support having it paid for?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President’s proposal, as you know, is very clear.  It’s paid for in the way that I’ve been discussing, as are all the provisions of the American Jobs Act.  We certainly expect the Senate to put forward a proposal on the payroll tax cut and the extension of UI that reflects those principles.  And beyond that, I’m not going to speculate.

Yes, Kristen.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  Turning to Syria, Secretary Clinton said last week that there could be a civil war with a very determined and well-armed and eventually well-financed opposition.  And in reaction to that, the Syrian foreign minister said that those comments were really wishful thinking.  Does the administration stand by those comments by Secretary Clinton?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, certainly Secretary Clinton’s comments are accurate in terms of what we’re seeing happen in Syria.  What is clear is that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to lead. He has taken brutal action against his own people.  And we call on that regime to cease the kinds of violent acts that we continue to see against innocent Syrians.  Again, we’re seeing broad isolation of Syria because of that behavior of the regime, and our position has not changed on that.

Q    Would the administration consider reaching out to the opposition if you thought that it had crossed into civil war, as we did in Libya, for example?

MR. CARNEY:  I think that's getting ahead of the matter.  Our position is that the violence has to stop and Assad has lost his legitimacy to lead. 

Q    President Obama heads to New Hampshire tomorrow.  Given the political importance of this state, is this a sign that the President is sort of officially wading into the 2012 waters?

MR. CARNEY:  I confidently -- I can predict with all confidence that the President will win the New Hampshire primary in the Democratic Party.  (Laughter.)  And beyond that -- no.  He travels all over the country, to different parts of the country, to speak about his ideas for getting this economy growing again. I mean, I think it’s very significant that tomorrow he is going to New Hampshire to talk specifically about the need to extend and expand the payroll tax cut, a tax cut that would go to every working American family, and -- in answer to an earlier question -- that he believes should be paid for by asking millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit extra. 

It also -- his proposal also includes a payroll tax cut for businesses.  And these are the kinds of measures that -- I think it’s important just to -- the existing payroll tax cut, the one that was put into law last December, almost a year ago, and that has been in place this whole year, by independent economists' analysis added at least a half a percent and maybe as much as 1 percent to gross domestic product this year, to GDP, to the growth of this economy. 

We need to ensure that that is in place for next year because Americans are struggling and they deserve this tax break. And we certainly would be shocked if Congress did not go along, if Republicans, as some have said, did not support a tax cut for working Americans.  To not support that, but then to demand protecting tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, and even extending them, is, to me, I would think an untenable position politically, even if it doesn't weigh on your conscience.


Q    I just want to clarify two things.  One, why does the White House think the super committee failed?  And the second is you said that he’s -- the President wants to pay for the payroll tax cut extension through raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires.  Is that specifically what he supports?  Or do you mean that --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would refer --

Q    -- that Senator Reid had put forward before?  And if so, what makes you guys think that that's going to pass Congress?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the whole American Jobs Act, including the payroll tax cut extension and expansion, is paid for that way, through revenues drawn from asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little extra.

Now, in terms of what -- now that we’re in a situation where we’re not voting on the entire American Jobs Act but elements of it, and the Senate has -- Senate Democrats have put forward these provisions and paid for them so far by asking for a little extra from millionaires and billionaires, and if they -- that would be an approach that this President supports because it meets the principles that guided him when he designed the American Jobs Act.

As for the super committee, if, in fact, predictions of its demise prove true, I think there was a -- there has been in the end an unwillingness to -- by Republicans to go along with the kind of balanced approach that not just this President, not just Democrats, but independents and Republicans out in the country believe is the right way to go.

I certainly hope that Republicans in the future or going forward now would entertain the idea of taking that balanced approach, again the approach that was embodied in the Simpson-Bowles Commission report, embodied in the Rivlin-Domenici proposal and embodies in the negotiations that the Speaker of the House and the President engaged in this summer, embodied again in the President’s proposal in September. 

There aren’t that many ways to skin this cat.  And the best way is evident and clear to everyone who looks at it, and we hope the Congress would act on that.


Q    Jay, when was the President first briefed on the lone wolf in New York City?  What’s his level of involvement been since then?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s a law enforcement matter at the local level, so I refer you to local officials on that.  The President I’m sure was -- I don't know this because I haven’t asked, but I’m sure he was made aware of it this morning, if not yesterday.

Q    And earlier you referred to the President’s proposal that you kind of held up I think three times in the last briefing, which was 12 days ago, as a prop.  Since the President issued that proposal, in the intervening months since then, what -- can you describe his day-to-day involvement in the actions of the super committee, including during the Pacific trip?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, the President called at the beginning of his trip Senator Murray and Congressman Hensarling, discussed the progress of the super committee, urged the two co-chairmen to move forward and try to reach a deal. 

I can describe very clearly to you that the President put forward in that proposal -- and I called it a prop because I know you all had reported on it and read it in detail prior to me bringing it out almost two months after it had come forward -- what his ideas were for the committee to adopt.

Q    -- a proposal and two phone calls?

MR. CARNEY:  We’ve been through this a number of times.  The membership of the committee is made up by -- is comprised entirely of members of Congress with a mandate passed into law by Congress, majorities of both parties -- or members of both parties.  And there wasn’t a seat at that table that I’m aware of for a member of the administration. 

Now, we were, all fall, in contact with members of Congress through various liaisons here at the White House, in contact with members of the committee.  But let’s be clear about it.  Congress assigned itself a job, assigned 12 of its own members a task, a task that wasn’t really that difficult to achieve if there was a willingness to compromise, if there was a willingness to take a balanced approach, an approach that is supported by a majority of the American people.

Congress needs to meet its responsibilities.  Congress needs to take action.  This committee had the opportunity to adopt a proposal that was very balanced.  And unfortunately, because of an unwillingness of one side to do what the American people say is the right thing to do in this case, it looks like they may not achieve that goal.

Q    Back on the proposal --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I feel like I’ve answered this question probably a dozen times over the past couple months.

Last one, Roger.

Q    The super committee is supposed to announce its results later today.  Are we going to hear from the President after that?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any scheduling announcements to make at this time.  Thanks.

Q    Thank you.

1:36 P.M. EST

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