Press Briefing

December 13, 2011 | 45:23 | Public Domain

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

Download mp4 (433MB) | mp3 (42MB)

Read the Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/13/2011

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:57 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Hi, everybody.  Good afternoon.  Thanks for being here.  Welcome to your daily briefing.  I do not have an announcement at the top -- sorry to disappoint.  So I will go to Mr. Feller.

Q    Thank you, Jay.  The omnibus bill looks like it’s on its way toward passage; negotiators are having some good luck on that one.  And we now know that the President and the Senate Democratic leadership are working to hold that one up until the payroll tax gets done.  But of course that has some peril, too; if the omnibus doesn’t get done and there’s no CR, then we have a government shutdown.  Is the President willing to take that risk?

MR. CARNEY:  What the President is not willing to do is leave town, or allow Congress to leave town, without ensuring that 160 million Americans do not see their taxes go up next year on average $1,000.  There is ample time for Congress to finish its business and to finish America’s business.  They should pass a payroll tax cut extension, extension of unemployment insurance, and they can finish the spending bill -- all before leaving on their vacation.  There’s no reason that this can’t be done.

I’ll make another point, which is that there are still issues to be resolved with the spending bill.  Despite some of what you’re heard, there’s been no bill filed, there’s been no language shared.  But we do know through conversations that there are issues that concern us, including outstanding issues with the funding levels to ensure that the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act can be implemented successfully.  You know the President feels very strongly that Congress should do nothing to impede the effective implementation of that very important legislation.

So there are issues to resolve with the spending bill.  They can be resolved.  It is essential, too, that Congress act to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance.  All of this can be done and still allow Congress to go on vacation.

Q    Well, you talk about the consequences if the payroll tax isn’t extended.  But there are also enormous consequences for the country if we should get to the brink of a shutdown.  I know you say there’s time to do both, but is it responsible to even bring that into the conversation?

MR. CARNEY:  We’re not bringing that into the conversation.  There is ample time to get it done.  There has been substantial progress made, even though there are still issues to be resolved on the spending bill.  If there is the need, come the end of the week, for Congress to pass another short-term CR, as it has done seven times this year, then they should do that to avoid a shutdown.  We don’t need to get to that point, but if we do, this is certainly not a exceptional action that Congress would have to take to ensure that there is time to get the work done that it needs to get done.

What Congress can’t do is make vague promises -- Republicans in Congress make vague promises about a payroll tax cut, and then finish its business, the business that it has to get done -- the spending bill -- and then leave town and let -- leave the American middle class holding the bag.  We’re just not going to let that happen.  It’s not fair to the 160 million Americans who would see their taxes go up on average $1,000 next year, as we’re emerging, still, from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Q    One other quick one, please.  Lawmakers have taken some steps to -- apparently to amend the defense bill to address concerns the President has about terrorism suspects.  Is that an effort that’s assuaging the President’s concerns?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s true that they have made some changes.  They were released last night, and we’re looking at that language.  The statement of administration principle that, “any bill that challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the nation would prompt the President’s senior advisors to recommend a veto.”  So we’re in the process of reviewing the changes that were made to the legislation, and to see if those changes address the concerns that we have.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, Matt.

Q    So the President has spoken to Senator Reid about the prospects for getting the payroll tax cut extension passed.  But is he ready to get his hands dirty and start dealing with the Republicans directly and not -- do you see that in the cards --

MR. CARNEY:  The President has always been committed to working with Congress, members of both parties, leaders of both parties, to get the essential work that Congress needs to get done, done -- and that, in this case, includes the payroll tax cut extension. 

Now, what we have seen from Republicans in Congress is the promulgation of this idea that passing a tax cut for middle-class Americans is somehow a favor they would be doing for the President of the United States.  Most of my adult life, the Republican theology has been tax cuts for everyone are the highest priority.  But suddenly now, because the President is pushing them to extend a tax cut for middle-class Americans, they’re looking to load up their bill that would do that with extraneous issues, or they want to re-litigate old political battles through this legislation, to extract some political victory in exchange for doing the people’s business, for giving middle-class and working Americans a tax cut.  We don’t find that acceptable.

I think it’s worth pointing out that on the Keystone issue, which they have attached as one of these extraneous, ideological issues to the payroll tax cut extension, the State Department, which is conducting the review, has made clear that it would be absolutely counterproductive to the stated goal of those who insist on having the provision in the bill because it would not allow the State Department the time it needs to properly review alternative routes.  Therefore, they would have to say no.

So if that’s their objective, it’s a strange way of going about it.  The process needs to be done responsibly.  The delay in the review was brought about because of concerns by folks in Nebraska, including the Republican governor.   The desire to search for an alternate route -- that is now happening.  But it’s a process that needs to be done in the way that it has always been done, which takes time.  And that requires careful consideration of all the criteria that the President has made clear are important to this decision.  And to insert as a political objective a provision like this that would try to speed up the process would only result in its -- in the State Department -- based on my reading of their statement -- in the State Department having to say, given no other course, having to say no.


Q    First of all, congratulations on the three Pinocchios from The Washington Post Fact Check.

MR. CARNEY:  We obviously disagree with that.  Thank you.

Q    So how is this reluctance to bring up these spending bills -- how is that any different from the brinksmanship that the President and the White House have decried in the past?  The President wants an objective and he’s holding back another piece of legislation in order to achieve his objective.

MR. CARNEY:  Jake, as I just said, what’s at stake here is potentially a $1,000, on average, tax hike for every American family -- or 160 million Americans --

Q    Republicans have done similar things for different tax cuts that were about to expire and the White House --

MR. CARNEY:  Let’s be clear, that Republicans uniformly have supported tax cuts.  Republicans now say they are for the payroll tax cut extension.  All they have to do is pass a payroll tax cut extension and unemployment insurance extension, and then move on to the spending bill.  And they could do it all -- heck, they could leave a day early, have a month and a day vacation.  There’s ample time to do this. 

But what we simply cannot allow is Republicans to take care of the spending bill and leave town because the absolute effect of that would be a tax hike for middle-class Americans.  That’s just not acceptable.  And I think if they were to do that, they would test the proposition that Congress’s job-approval rating cannot go below 9 percent, because I think that -- my expectation is that it would go lower if Congress walked out of town, refusing to extend this payroll tax cut for middle-class Americans.

Q    They’re down to immediate friends and family now.  But the question is, is it not --

MR. CARNEY:  Paid staff.

Q    -- is it not the same kind of ploy?  Republicans and Democratic staffers with whom I’ve spoken have said this was actually like a really bipartisan achievement; there was a handshake from the Senate Democratic chief of staff and the House Republican chief of staff and this was a bipartisan accomplishment.  And now the President is standing in its way because he wants something else.  And it’s the same kind of brinksmanship you guys -- I’m not sure if you were at this podium at the time or not, but there was a lot of talk of holding things hostage, Republicans were holding legislation hostage -- I guess you were here -- and I’m wondering, is that not exactly the same thing that you’re doing?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, the comparative -- I could spend a lot of time on why what you’re talking about is distinct, say, from the way that some members of one party held the country hostage and threatened to allow the full faith and credit of the United States to be cast in doubt.

Q    Right, you’re just threatening a government shutdown.

MR. CARNEY:  That’s a significant difference, okay?  And we’re not --

Q    But there was a government shutdown threat before that.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me go back to the spending bill.  It is absolutely the case that there has been good progress made and that they are getting closer to a resolution.  But it is also absolutely a fact that there’s not even been a bill filed; that the language of the so-called agreement that you reference hasn’t been shared.  So to say that work is done is not accurate.  And we know for a fact that there are very important issues that remain to be resolved.  We’re very confident they can be resolved, they will be resolved.  And we’re also confident that Congress will not leave town without extending the payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans, because the President is going to insist that they stay here until they get it done. 

Q    And just a follow-up on the question about the defense bill.  Human rights groups have looked at the language -- the new language -- and they say it still mandates the detention, the military detention, of members of al Qaeda or affiliated groups, and still allows indefinite detention.  And I’m wondering if you could be more precise with the veto threat.  If the legislation contains either of those provisions -- allowing indefinite detention, and mandating detentions of a subset of terrorist groups, or accused terrorist members -- would the President veto it, if that provision still allows that or mandates that?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m going to disappoint you by saying that we’re reviewing the language.  I don’t want to make an assessment of what made --

Q    But I’m asking if you’re sticking with the principle.  If those --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the principle that elicited --

Q    It’s either going to be changed or it’s not.

MR. CARNEY:  -- that elicited the language I quoted from our statement of policy, that, as written -- as it was written, that the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto; that stands.  But I don’t want to make an assessment, without having seen it myself or without others having reviewed it, about whether or not the changes in the language are adequate and resolve those issues that we have with the bill at this point.  I’m sure we will be doing that, but at this point I don’t want to get ahead of that process.

Q    All right.  Thank you. 

MR. CARNEY:  Cheryl.

Q    Going back to the omnibus.  You’ve mentioned you had specific concerns, and you mentioned Dodd-Frank spending levels.  Can you give me a couple more examples of particular issues with the omnibus?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there is -- there are attempts to attach riders that have an impact on our foreign policy goals, that have an impact on environmental issues and others.  So I don’t have a list of particulars.

Again, there has not been formal language submitted, a bill submitted.  So it’s a little difficult to make a judgment on a product that, as of yet, doesn’t even exist.  But based on our conversations -- and we’re having plenty of them up on the Hill -- these are some of the issues that still need to be resolved.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  Two quick issues, following up on what Jake was asking about earlier on the linkage with the payroll tax and the budget.  The President said that he would reject any effort to link the payroll tax to extraneous issues, but doesn’t this contradict that by essentially linking the payroll tax cut to everything in the budget?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me just make clear.  The premise of that question is to suggest that somehow Republicans are being forced to support what they claim they support.  If they support tax cuts for middle-class Americans with anything like the fervor that they support tax breaks for wealthy Americans, this should be done.  Should not be an issue.  The President supports it, Democrats support it, Republicans say they support it.  Done, right? 

So that’s the very large difference here.  The President makes clear that there’s no reason the Congress can’t get its business done with its annual spending bills and getting this payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extended.  And there’s simply no excuse for Congress to leave on vacation until the American people know that they’ve been taken care of in this process; that they don’t have to contend with a spike in their taxes on January 1st. 

So the President is going to insist that that work gets done.  He’s confident it will get done.  There is ample time to get it done.  And this isn’t about a shutdown; we’ve had seven CRs already this year.  If that were to become necessary, that would certainly be the right thing to do, just to finish up the process on the spending bill.

Q    And the second issue, also on payroll tax.  The administration has contended that the Republican pay-fors would cut education.  Republicans say there’s nothing in their proposal that would cut education --

MR. CARNEY:  No, it’s very cleverly written to prevent that from being obvious.

Q    Well, The Washington Post Fact Check has agreed with them.  Does the administration stand by that, or do you retract it?

MR. CARNEY:  No, we stand by it, because the simple fact is, the spending levels were set by the Budget Control Act.  If you lower those spending levels, and, as they’ve said, we’ll institute a freeze, the only way to reach the already significantly reduced level set into law by the Budget Control Act would be to do things like put the pay freeze in place, to do things that were very tough. 

Because after all, as I know you’ve reported many times, that Budget Control Act would bring us down, or it will bring us down to the lowest non-defense discretionary spending since Eisenhower was President.  I’m sure you’ve reported that.  And what the result would be is, if you use the pay freeze that they write into this proposed legislation, or this legislation, is that then the cuts would have to come from somewhere else.  And there is nowhere else to go but programs like education, programs like energy -- those kinds of programs that serve the very middle-class and working Americans you’re supposed to be helping with the payroll tax cut.

And again, I don’t understand why there is so much resistance within the Republican Party to tax cuts for the middle class. 


Q    Simple question:  When the President called Senator Reid, what did he ask him to do?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a word-for-word readout for you.  They discussed, obviously, the business at hand here in December before Congress goes on its vacation, the President goes away with his family.  And there are a lot of issues to be dealt with, including the ones we’ve talked about here -- the end-of-the-year spending bill, the so-called omnibus, the payroll tax cut extension, the extension of unemployment insurance.

Q    What did the President suggest Senator Reid do?

MR. CARNEY:  The President made clear -- and the Senator agreed -- that Congress needs to make sure that the payroll tax cut is extended for middle-class and working Americans; that unemployment insurance is extended, because that is of great benefit to the economy and of great need to the Americans who need it.

Q    Did the President suggest to the Senator that he instruct Democrats not to sign the conference report?

MR. CARNEY:  The President made clear that we should not take as a promise that Republicans are going to not leave town without ensuring that Americans, 160 million Americans, have this payroll tax cut extended.  So, I mean, we’re being very --

Q    My question is whether the President -- it was the President’s directive -- I just --

MR. CARNEY:  The President and Senator Reid --

Q    Did the President instruct President Reid to tell Democrats not to sign the conference report?

MR. CARNEY:  Senator Reid is the Majority Leader of the Senate.  The Senator and the President agreed that they need to, this week, ensure that the payroll tax cut is extended, unemployment insurance is extended, the remaining issues in the spending bill are worked out, and that that final piece of business is taken care of.  There is time to do it, but it has to all be done.

And unfortunately, we’ve learned from experience that a promise of action --

Q    Why won’t you say what the President asked Senator Reid to do?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m telling you, very clearly, that they agreed to a course of action here that would ensure, on behalf of the American people, on behalf of 160 million Americans who get a paycheck, that their taxes don’t go up on January 1st.  We’re not hiding from that at all.  That is the President’s absolute priority.  And there is no reason that Congress can’t do that and get its work done on the spending bill.

I think, Dan, I said I’d call on you.

Q    Thanks.  Speaking to supporters this morning at the National Finance Committee meeting, the President repeated a theme that we’ve heard quite often, and that is that he understands the frustration of Americans who can’t find jobs and can’t stay in their homes.  At what point does “feeling your pain” get a little old?  I mean, what else does the President have to offer to Americans to convince them that he deserves another term?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s a very broad question.  But I would say, as you heard him discuss in his interview on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, that this President, working with Congress, has taken action for the first three years of his time in office to reverse the catastrophic decline in our economy, the likes of which we had not seen since the Great Depression; a shrinkage of our GDP that we now know was 9 percent, or close to 9 percent, at the end of 2008; the next quarter was close to 7 percent, or 6.5 percent; the loss of 8 million jobs because of that recession.

That’s a deep hole.  And because of the action that he took, the decisions he took -- not always popular decisions, but the right decisions -- we have reversed the trajectory of this economy.  It has been growing now for nine quarters, as you know.  It has been creating, for 21 straight months, private sector jobs -- close to 3 million private sector jobs now.  But there remains much work to be done.

And he is so focused on exactly those Americans who are struggling in this economy.  That’s why he insists that Congress not leave until they pass a bill that ensures working Americans, everybody who gets a paycheck, will get a tax cut again in 2012.  He thinks it’s unacceptable, in this economy, with so many Americans still struggling, with unemployment still too high, that Congress would leave town and thereby condemn 160 million Americans to a tax hike of up to, on average, $1,000 -- unacceptable to him.

And he is working in a variety of ways, through both the legislative process and the use of his executive authority, to help regular Americans deal with this still challenging economic environment.  And he will continue that work every day that he’s President of the United States.

Q    But the “deep hole” narrative, though, is getting old for a lot of people who still have not been able to get work and still can’t hang on to their homes.  So --

MR. CARNEY:  It’s not about a narrative, Dan.  It’s about facts and it’s about getting up every day and ensuring that he’s doing everything he can, and that he’s asking his team to do everything they can, to put the American people first, to take measures that we can do without Congress, and to work with Congress on those measures that require congressional approval to grow the economy and create jobs.  That’s essential medicine to the economic challenges that face us right now.

He is also committed, more broadly, to not just our short-term problems, but to resolving our long-term challenges, which is why he has insisted from the day he took office that we make the kinds of investments in education and innovation and infrastructure that will build the economy that we need as we go forward in the 21st century.  We can’t win the future, we can’t compete with other countries around the world if we don’t have kids who are getting the best education possible, if we don’t have the kind of investment in innovation that will ensure that we win the battles over new products and new areas of industry in the 21st century.

So that’s -- he’s got a short-term vision for helping those who need it most now, for helping this economy when it needs help now, and he’s got a medium- and long-term vision.  That medium- and long-term vision also includes the substantial proposal he put forward in September to get control of our deficits and debt, which takes a very balanced approach, the kind of approach that Americans broadly say they support.

So he’s going to work every day, but he has said on numerous occasions that he completely understands why Americans are frustrated.  Of course they’re frustrated.  This economy is not good enough.  Unemployment is not low enough; far from it.  That’s why the challenges we face need to be dealt with and that we shouldn’t be messing around with extraneous ideological fights that only prevent us in Washington from doing the people’s business.

Q    One quick question on Iraq.  Yesterday there was talk from the President and the Prime Minister that Iraq was ready to handle its own security, and yet over the last 24 hours we’ve seen continued violence.  Is the White House, is the administration being overly optimistic that in fact Iraq will be prepared to handle its security once U.S. troops pull out by the end of the year?

MR. CARNEY:  No, because we have worked on this very closely -- and I would remind you of the history here, that when U.S. forces were withdrawn from the cities, there was concern that violence would go up.  We did not expect it to go up.  We expected that Iraqi forces were ready to deal with the security situation in the cities.  That turned out to be the case; violence went down.  When we drew down to 50,000 troops and ended our combat mission, there were some concerns expressed that that might result in a spike in violence, that the Iraqis weren’t ready, their security forces weren’t ready.  We believed, and our military men and women as well as our civilians in Iraq believed, that that would not be the case, that the Iraqi forces at that point were ready for that period of transition.  That turned out to be the case; violence continued to go down.

We believe that the Iraqis are ready to deal with their own security.  We have expended a great deal of resources, the hard work of our men and women in uniform, the hard work of our civilians; the sacrifice, including nearly 4,500 who died in Iraq, to get to this point.

There will be violence.  It is not a violence-free society.  And I am sure that the violence that you referred to will not be the last.  What we have seen, however, is a trajectory that has resulted in lower and lower levels of violence, and more and more willingness by all the major players in Iraq to resolve their differences through the political process. 

As the Vice President says, the big change in Iraq was the decision by the relevant players and parties and sects to engage in politics, to work out their differences peacefully.  And that’s a major development.  So we continue to believe that Iraq will move towards -- if not always in a direct, straight line -- move towards greater stability and greater security.

Yes, Ed, and then I’ll go to Jared.  Yes.

Q    I just want to follow on the budget, because you told Jake before that the budget bill has not even been filed yet -- so Republicans are wrong because the budget bill has not been filed yet.  But then when Norah asked you about the President’s conversation with Senator Reid, you’re basically saying they didn’t want to move forward on this because they wanted to wait and get the payroll thing done first.  So, in fact, how can you tell Jake that the bill hasn’t been filed yet, when it’s the President and Senator Reid who didn’t want the bill filed?  It’s not the Republicans who stopped it, they stopped it.

MR. CARNEY:  No, no, no, no.  There hasn’t been -- the appropriators, the participants in this process, while there have been reports of a general agreement and a handshake, there is not formal language, there is not a bill.  What I said to Jake is absolutely true --

Q    Hal Rogers, the Appropriations Chairman, says there is and that you’re holding it hostage.

MR. CARNEY:  Is the bill filed?

Q    He said he was ready to file it but it was stopped --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, look --

Q    He was ready to file it but the Democrats wouldn’t sign the conference report --

MR. CARNEY:  There are still issues to resolve.  Despite what you’ve heard, there are still issues to resolve, including the one that I highlighted, which is very important, that we can’t have a provision in there that makes it harder or restricts the ability to implement the Wall Street reform and consumer protection reforms that are so vital to Americans around the country and very important to this President.  So it’s not --

Q    But you said -- it’s not -- the American people don’t want you to play games here in Washington, right?  Basically the President and Senator Reid decided that they’ll lose leverage if you pass this omnibus budget bill and you don’t do the payroll thing.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me be clear -- you seem to be trying to catch me in plain sight here.  I have made clear that the President and Senator Reid agreed that we cannot take the word -- unfortunately, through past experience, we cannot take promises by Republicans that they’ll get that payroll tax cut extended for 160 million Americans at some point at face value, because we know from past experience that we can’t --

Q    But that’s another way of saying they stopped the budget bill so that you can pass the payroll tax cut extension first.

MR. CARNEY:  Look, Ed, it is absolutely a fact that there are issues that still need to be resolved in the spending bill.  Absolutely a fact -- A.  B, it is absolutely a fact that this President does not believe Congress should leave on vacation until it has extended the tax cut to working and middle-class Americans that they received this year.  And --

Q    And House Republicans say they have a version they’re going to pass this week.

MR. CARNEY:  What’s that?

Q    House Republicans say they’ve introduced a bill.

MR. CARNEY:  Right.  And Senator Collins, among others, has said that that is a complete non-starter in the Senate because it contains -- here’s the irony, which you haven’t addressed in your question, so I will -- is that it contains a provision, a highly ideological political provision, extraneous, on -- that would mandate a fast-track of the review process for the Keystone pipeline --

Q    That the President could sanction after 30 days.

MR. CARNEY:  -- that the agency charged, through historic precedent -- historical precedent, to review this says it is not enough time and therefore would result in the project not happening.  So the very people who support this idea want to include a provision in the payroll tax cut that would result in the State Department not approving -- or not recommending the approval of the Keystone project.  So that just seems counterproductive to their goals.

Everyone has to be clear here.  If Republicans support giving middle-class and working Americans a tax cut next year, they should move a payroll tax cut bill that does that.  They should not move a bill that won’t get anywhere in the Senate, that has a provision within it which is counterproductive to its own -- or counter entirely to its own ends, and is filled with other things that are simply not acceptable.  If they want it done, they should get it done. 

There is ample time to do this.  There is ample time to get the spending bill finished.  And the President expects that, as he discussed with Senator Reid, Congress will pass the payroll tax cut extension, they’ll pass unemployment insurance extension, and will finish its business with its spending bill.

Jared, and then Mara.

Q    Jay, former Vice President Cheney was on television saying, “I was told the President had three options” -- this is regarding the drone in Iran -- “three options on his desk and he rejected all of them.”  Is the former Vice President getting inside information from the White House about this or any other foreign affairs?

MR. CARNEY:  Any steps that the United States has taken on this issue reflect the unanimous views of our national security team.  These are the senior military and intelligence officials in the U.S. government who are privy to all the relevant facts. 

I’m not sure what information Mr. Cheney was basing his recommendation off of, but this was the course of action that was recommended unanimously by the entire national security team.

Q    And with that answer, the President has no concerns about information gleaned from the drone, either internal data or data based on analysis of the physical drone?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, I won’t get into intelligence matters.  But I can tell you that we’re highly confident in our own unique capabilities. 

What Iran is engaging in is essentially a diversion here by trying to get people to focus on this issue to divert their attention from the fact that their economy has ground to a halt, and as we’ve discussed many times in this room, that they’ve become more isolated than ever within the international community. 

So, just to reiterate, we’re very confident in our own unique capabilities, and we’ll leave it at that.

Q    What does that mean?  “Unique capabilities” to do what?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it was in response to the question --

Q    To do what?

MR. CARNEY:  -- related to what Iran may or may not do.  And I’m just -- without commenting on intelligence matters, we have confidence in our unique capabilities.


Q    Is that unique capabilities related to what we can do with the drone, or our unique capabilities to deal with Iran in a state-to-state situation?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would go back and see what it was in answer to in terms of concerns we might have about what Iran may or may not be able to do with regard to this matter.


Q    Is it fair to say that the President will not sign the omnibus spending bill unless the payroll tax cut and UI are extended?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it is fair to say that the President intends to stay in Washington and he will insist that Congress stay in Washington until the payroll tax cut is extended and unemployment insurance is extended.

Q    So it’s not fair to say that he won’t sign the spending bill unless he gets the payroll tax cut --

MR. CARNEY:  We believe that Congress will move on the payroll tax cut, will move on the --

Q    Right, I know --

MR. CARNEY:  So I don’t want to speculate about sequencing or thinks like that.  But I believe --

Q    I’m not asking about sequencing.  I’m just asking, will he sign an omnibus spending bill if he doesn’t have the payroll tax and UI extension in hand?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s pretty clear, as I’ve said now on a number of occasions, that we simply cannot take a promise of -- to deal with the payroll tax cut extension based on the actions that we’ve seen taken by some members of Congress thus far on the payroll tax cut extension.  Therefore, we believe that that thing ought to be passed and signed into law. 

Q    Right, I get that.  But that’s different than saying --

MR. CARNEY:  But I don’t want to -- there are a lot of hypotheticals that could get you there, to that point, so I’m not going to rule out --

Q    Well, if the President is laying down a line in the sand or something, we need to know what it is.

MR. CARNEY:  He’s making clear that he is not going to accept Congress leaving Washington and the middle class holding the bag here by seeing its taxes go up.  So he will do what he needs to do, working with likeminded members of Congress, to ensure that Congress extends the payroll tax cut, extends unemployment insurance, and gets the rest of its work done.

Q    Can you give us a preview of tomorrow at Fort Bragg?  Isn’t that tomorrow?

MR. CARNEY:  It is tomorrow, yes.   

Q    Well, just taking a standard visit with the troops, or is there something --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that you may have noticed this week that there’s been a certain amount of discussion of the end of the Iraq war; the tremendous sacrifice made by our men and women in uniform; the more than 1 million Americans, both military and civilian, who have served in Iraq.  And the President looks forward tomorrow to thanking the troops, thanking those who served, and discussing what that sacrifice that Americans have made means now, as the Iraq war comes to an end -- which is, as you know, what the President promised he would do when he was running for President, which was to end this war responsibly.  That is happening now.  The remaining U.S. forces still in Iraq will be leaving Iraq before the end of the year.  And it’s a significant moment.

We live in a world where sometimes we travel at warp speed, in terms of our attention to events.  But it wasn’t that long ago that Iraq was the most dominant issue in America, the most pressing issue in our political discourse.  And it is worth taking a moment to remember that, and to thank those who served, and to mark the fact that we’re going to have a very important and continuing relationship with Iraq going forward.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  Going back to Iran for a moment -- Iran’s President Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying, “Those who have been in control of the spy plane surely will analyze the plane’s system.”  I know you can’t discuss intelligence matters, but what’s the administration’s reaction to that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I gave it, which is that I won’t comment on intelligence matters.  But we are highly confident in our unique capabilities.

Q    Do those words not instill some sort of concern, some level of concern?

MR. CARNEY:  I think what you’re seeing from Iran is an attempt to distract attention from a lot of internal strife, an economy that has ground to a halt, and a level of isolation that they have never experienced -- because of the work of this administration, this President, and our partners and allies around the world, who have come together to insist that Iran live up to its international obligations; that it change its behavior with regards to its nuclear programs; and through the actions that we’ve taken, via sanctions and other measures, to continue to put pressure on Iran and the regime to begin to behave in accordance with international norms.

Q    And going back to the payroll tax cut debate -- as you’ve been discussing, the President’s tactic seems to be a little bit different than what we saw this summer, in terms of when we were discussing the debt ceiling debate.  Is he intentionally trying to sort of distance himself from this gridlock by not having sort of daily meetings with congressional leaders, highly publicized meetings?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, or secret meetings as the case may be, which was the case this summer.  I’m not going to get into reading out phone calls, meetings.  Suffice it to say that there is a great deal of interaction between the White House, the administration and members of Congress, relevant members, as we enter this end-phase and as we grapple with the remaining issues:  payroll tax cut extension, unemployment insurance extension and the omnibus spending bill.  And that intense level of communication and contact will continue, but I don’t have any specific conversations to read out to you that have taken place or any conversations or meetings that may take place in the future to preview for you.

But we will work with Congress.  We’re very committed to getting this business done, the business that Congress needs to get done:  its annual responsibility in terms of funding bills and also the absolutely essential work that needs to get done to ensure that Americans don’t see their taxes go up on January 1st.

April and then Dave.

Q    Jay, you just said that the President will continue to talk with likeminded people.  Some of the problem is that he keeps talking to people likeminded and not reaching into that group that’s not thinking like him.  Will he be --

MR. CARNEY:  I think I just took this question.  Will
he -- he may be --

Q    Okay, you did, but you didn’t --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I said is that I’m not going to preview meetings or conversations that may take place in the future.  The President has worked with members of Congress of both parties his entire time in office.  He will continue to do that.  He pursues a strategy, in terms of getting things done in Congress, that he believes increases the chances of doing the things that need to get done and decreases the chance that there will be a conflict that prevents that from happening.

So right now he is focused on making sure that Congress does the right thing and extends the payroll tax cut, does the right thing and extends unemployment insurance, and does the right thing by finishing its spending bills.

Q    Okay, well, what are the conversations within this building about how a conversation should take place with the other side to make this happen before the end of the year?

MR. CARNEY:  Through all available modes of communication, including face-to-face conversations, telephone conversations, email -- probably not Twitter or Facebook, so maybe not all available conversations.  But, I mean, seriously, there’s a lot going on now.  We have folks on the Hill.  We have people here on the phone.  And I’m sure there will be meetings and conversations as the hours and days go by.

The goal here is not to create the theater of a meeting that can be covered.  The goal here is to get to a result that works for the American people -- in this case, ensuring that their taxes don’t go up and ensuring that the government spending bills, its funding bills are passed.

Q    I understand what you’re saying, but I’m going to go back to the past and use it as an example.  When he was trying to get health care reform through, many people on the Hill were saying he needed to put his shoulder in, he needed to put skin in the game -- he needed to come, because this was what he wanted.  There’s a difference between Leg Affairs and the President of the United States. 

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    So if he were to actually -- and beyond media theatrics, or whatever you’re trying to say -- for the President to actually talk to the political opposition on middle-class taxes, that’s a big deal.  And do you think that that could --

MR. CARNEY:  You can be sure that this White House has had conversations with members of both parties about the need to pass a middle-class tax cut, and that the President has had conversations with members of Congress about this. 

Q    Both sides?

MR. CARNEY:  But again, we’re interested in a result here.  And an interest in a result, as a goal, does not -- and often, not only does it not require us to spell out every conversation that’s had by the President or other members of his team, but it requires us to limit how much we talk about those conversations, because we’re trying to get something done here.  I’m not trying to be -- send signals about anything surprising that might be happening.  I’m just saying that we’re interested in delivering on the tax cut bill, delivering on extension of unemployment insurance, and delivering on Congress getting its work done so that it can go home.  We’re working on all those tracks to get it all done.

Q    And lastly, on issues of pay-fors:  With the savings from the troops in Iraq, can you quantify how that money, those savings, will go into -- help defray any of the costs from all this end-of-the-year haggling? 

MR. CARNEY:  No, I can’t.  I mean, this is a broader question on a broader process.  What is the case, as you know from the Budget Control Act, is that there are already savings in both non-defense and defense discretionary spending.  And it is also the case, broadly speaking, that our ability to end the war in -- to draw down and now end the war in Iraq responsibly has allowed us to focus the way we have on the AfPak region, on the fight against al Qaeda.  So that has to do with alignment of resources and policy priorities.  But I don’t have anything more to specify in terms of what the reduction of spending in Iraq means specifically in terms of other spending priorities.

Q    Thank you, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  I did promise Kate.  So you’re up.

Q    Speaking of the middle class, oil rose the most in about four weeks because of concerns that Iran may disrupt supply.  Is the administration aware of this?  What are you going to do about it?  Going to be higher gas prices going into the holidays?

And then also, any reaction to this billionaire who is going to be challenging Putin?  Is this is a positive sign, much like the peaceful protests happening in Russia?

MR. CARNEY:  On Russia I would simply say we are not in the business of picking candidates in any country.  We support the democratic process.  And to the extent that this is a sign of the democratic process functioning, that would be a good thing.

I haven’t had a discussion internally about oil prices today.  Some days I do, some days I don’t.  Today I did not have them.  We always monitor them, obviously.  But again, we focus on the things that we can control when it comes to our economy, and one of the things we can control is ensuring that Americans get a tax cut next year, 160 million Americans, and we will continue to press for the kinds of measures that were included in the American Jobs Act but Congress unfortunately did not pass that Republicans blocked because those are essential to our economic growth as well.

Thanks, all.

Q    Thank you.

1:42 P.M. EST

Close Transcript