Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/11/12
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House for your daily briefing. Before I take questions I just wanted to make note of the fact that earlier today the First Lady and Dr. Biden kicked off a two-day tour celebrating the first anniversary of Joining Forces, the administration's initiative to recognize, honor and serve America's military families.
Since the launch of Joining Forces on April 12, 2011, communities, businesses, schools, faith groups, nonprofit organizations and individual Americans across the country have made substantial commitments to show military families the support that they deserve. Through collaborative efforts with Joining Forces, these groups have helped thousands of veterans and military families find jobs, improved educational opportunities for military children, supported our nation's wounded warriors and their caregivers, and honored our nation's fallen.
Today in Philadelphia, the First Lady and Dr. Biden will announce that 150 nursing organizations and 500 nursing schools are preparing to help meet the unique health needs of servicemembers, veterans and their families. This effort will reach over 3 million nurses in every health care setting and community in America.
Tomorrow the First Lady will travel to Shreveport, Louisiana, to announce the 50,000th veteran to be hired through the Joining Forces initiative. She will visit Kansas City Southern Railway Company, which has aggressively hired veterans because of the unique skill set that they bring to the job.
So I just wanted to draw attention to that -- because we're obviously focused on some other things here -- but the work of Joining Forces is extremely important and supporting our military families is a high priority of this administration.
Q Stephen Colbert tonight --
MR. CARNEY: And, yes, she will be -- the First Lady will be on television tonight talking about this initiative. Thank you, Connie.
The Associated Press.
Q Jay, two subjects. Now that the GOP field is undeniably set, should we expect the President to more directly take on Mitt Romney? Is this really ringing the bell for the start of --
MR. CARNEY: Is it game on?
Q Is it game on? I wasn’t going to use that phrase, but since you did you're welcome to use it.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q And secondly, Syria says that they will stop attacks in time for a cease-fire to begin tomorrow. Do you see any evidence to back that up? How will you measure whether or not that's a believable claim?
MR. CARNEY: To your first question, as I've said all year long, the President, because of the broad support he has within his own party, did not have a primary challenge. He has been focused primarily on, therefore, his job as President and the things he can do to help the economy grow, working with Congress and through executive action, to help the economy create jobs, to ensure that our nation is secure and Americans both at home and abroad are secure, and I also said that as the year progressed, his engagement in campaign activities would increase. And I expect that to be the case.
Now that it's April, we're seven months or so away from the election. That is still quite a long time. Some of us, and probably some of you, might wish for a shorter election cycle, perhaps. But there's plenty of time, seven months, and the President will certainly engage. As I've said in the past, he looks forward to it, to making the case for why the work that we've done over these past few years, the resiliency of the American people that has been demonstrated as we have recovered from the worst recession since the Great Depression and made significant progress in that recovery, we still have more work to do. So he will be making that case in the coming months.
On Syria, we strongly support the plan put forward by Kofi Annan. We point to Kofi Annan's statement that the regime forces clearly did not begin their withdrawal by yesterday. We will see what happens in terms of Mr. Annan's statement about asking all sides to begin this -- to implement the cease-fire by tomorrow.
What is important to remember is that we judge the Assad regime by its actions and not by their promises, because their promises have proven so frequently in the past to be empty. We will wait and see what Kofi Annan says tomorrow, what the situation is tomorrow, and then we will certainly consult with our allies and partners on next steps, as necessary.
Q What would some of those next steps be?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn't want to speculate except to say that we remain committed with a broad array of international allies and partners who are participating in the "Friends of Syria" to -- working together to get the Syrian regime to stop its brutal violence against its own people, to support the Syrian people through humanitarian and other non-lethal assistance, to implement sanctions that pressure and isolate the Assad regime, and to bring about the opportunity for the Syrian people to realize a more democratic future for themselves and their country.
Q Back on the campaign question. Can we expect the President, in the process of engaging more, as you said, to call Mitt Romney out by name more frequently, as he proceeds?
MR. CARNEY: Between now and November? Probably. (Laughter.)
Q How about now?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any previews to give you of remarks the President may make in the future. I think he's focused -- if you think about what's coming up -- on Friday, on his way to the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, he'll stop in Tampa, at the port there, to talk about the impressive growth in our exports and why that is so important to our economic future; why it’s so important to communities across the nation that have businesses that can grow and therefore hire workers in America because of expanding exports.
He will then go to Cartagena, to Colombia, to participate in the Summit of the Americas. He then will anticipate, as he talked about today, the Senate taking action on the Buffett Rule. He also has upcoming before him summits of NATO and the G8. So there's quite a bit for him to focus on. The campaign, as I said earlier, will ramp up its pace. The President's participation will increase as the weeks and months go by. But we are still in a situation here where he will be focusing on his responsibilities as President and the work that needs to be done, with Congress and through the administration's initiative, to grow the economy and help it create jobs.
The Buffett Rule is an important element of that. He talked about it today, about the need to instill a little basic fairness in our tax code. He also will urge Congress to take longer-term action when it comes to funding infrastructure projects around the country, putting -- keeping construction workers on the job, helping rebuild our infrastructure and, again, further solidify the foundation for our economic future.
These are all important issues that you'll hear him talking about, a lot more than about his general election opponent.
Q The North Koreans have said they've started fueling the rocket on the launch pad. Is the President going to be making any further entreaties directly or indirectly to the Chinese, to Chinese President Hu, in particular, to use its influence to get the North Koreans to hold back? Or is it seen as an unstoppable event at this point? The launch window -- five-day launch window begins early tomorrow morning East Coast time.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have, as you know, and the President made clear in South Korea, asked other countries, including China, that have influence on North Korea to do what they can to try to persuade the North Koreans to change direction here, to reconsider the path that they're on. And we continue to make that case. We consider this a provocative action, if it takes place. It is clearly in violation of two U.N. Security Council resolutions and demonstrates a propensity by the North Korean regime to spend and waste money on military programs while their own people starve.
The fact of the matter is that the North Koreans have available to them -- the North Korean leadership -- an alternative, an alternative that would allow them to reduce their isolation, allow them to focus on the need to take care of their own people, to feed them, to educate them, to give them opportunity, if they would abide by their international obligations. And there are a great many nations focused on this problem, and we'll continue to do so.
Q A quick follow-up on North Korea, and then I'll move on. If it's a provocative action, will the U.S. shoot this missile down? And why not?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, we will see -- we will have a response, obviously, if the North Koreans take this action -- and I mean a verbal response. This action, if it takes place, is in keeping with the kind of behavior that the North Korean leadership and regime has shown in the past. It is why, as I've said before and others have said, this kind of blatant disregard for their commitments makes it impossible for the United States to provide the nutritional assistance that it had hoped to provide for the North Korean people. One of the reasons why is because we need to be able to ensure that that assistance reaches the people who need it, those who are severely nutritionally deprived in North Korea, those who need that kind of aid and assistance, and what this action, if it takes place, would indicate is a failure by the North Koreans to consider abiding by their commitments a serious matter.
So we take it seriously, but you should also understand that within the context of North Korean behavior, it is not unusual.
Q Mitt Romney has said that 92 percent of the job losses since the President took office were lost by women. PolitiFact has checked this and said you actually have to go back to 2007, at the beginning of the recession, you'll see it's only 40 percent were lost by women. President Obama has said that Democrats have a better case to make to women voters. I'm curious, under either scenario -- 92 percent losses or 40 percent losses -- is either of those a good case to make for women voters in this economy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I'm not familiar with the percentages. I'm certainly not very familiar with what charge was made here. The fact of the matter is because of the terrible recession, the worst recession in generations, the worst recession in anyone's lifetime here, the worst recession since the Great Depression, a great many jobs were lost. And jobs were lost by men and women, Americans across the country.
What is absolutely the case is that from the very first action he took as President by signing into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, this President has been focused on the essential role that women play in our economy, the essential role that women play in terms of education, and all the steps that we need to take to strengthen our own economy by focusing on the role that women play within it.
Again, I'm not sure what charge that someone is attempting to make here, but the President's record on women and the economy is very strong, and it begins with literally the first thing he did as President.
Q Can I ask you one quick one on the Buffett Rule? The President said in September that the Buffett Rule or millionaires taxed would help stabilize the debt and deficits. In a conference call, the White House said the other day that it was not intended to go toward paying down the debt and deficits; that's handled in the budget. Today the President said, it's not all we have to do to close the deficit but it will help us close the deficit. So just to be clear, the White House policy on this is what?
MR. CARNEY: Look, it is a basic matter of fairness and economic good sense, first of all, that everyone do their fair share. We have seen the effect of the alternative, the weak economic growth that we saw when giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy occurred in 2001 and 2003, and the result -- I mentioned this on the plane yesterday -- is rather extraordinary. When you think about the job growth that we saw in March, the figures released on Friday, and the fact that 120,000 net jobs were created in March, and while that was a reduction from what we had seen in the three previous months it was still substantially higher than the average job creation under George W. Bush, even if you take out the recession.
So even in periods of expansion, even in periods of expansion during those eight years when President Bush was in office, the average job creation was something like 97,000 per month. And that I think -- and that is setting aside the fact that those policies helped precipitate the worst financial crisis and economic crisis that we've seen in a generation. And yet we have seen policies that have created a situation where millionaires are paying tax on their income at a lower rate than their secretaries. So --
Q But the question --
MR. CARNEY: Let me just be clear. The fact that the money saved by eliminating the tax advantages that the wealthiest have here, or reducing the tax advantages that the wealthiest have here does not by itself reduce the deficit doesn’t make it not worth doing. Obviously $47 billion --
Q That's not the --
MR. CARNEY: But the question is --
Q The question is the White House position seems to have moved, so I'm just trying to lock in --
MR. CARNEY: The position is -- what we've made clear from the beginning is that there's obviously savings here and that is an aspect of why it is important to do it. We have never made the case that this element of tax reform would by itself solve our deficit and debt challenges. Obviously we've never made that case because the President put forward a comprehensive plan to deal with our deficit and debt challenges, of which tax reform was only a part.
So it's the same case we're making today. There is an attempt, obviously, on the other side to throw up a little gorilla dust to obscure what the debate is here, and argue that, well, since asking the wealthiest Americans out there to pay at the same rate on their income that middle-class Americans do, since that won't solve our deficit problems we shouldn’t do it. Another real classy charge is the idea that, well, wealthy Americans who feel like paying their fair share, feel like paying taxes at a rate that middle-class Americans do -- if they don't, have the option of doing it themselves by writing a check.
Think what that says to middle-class American families who are trying to get by, who are paying their taxes and paying at a rate higher than Warren Buffett or numbers of millionaires and billionaires across the country -- that one side's answer to that is, well, the wealthy -- it should be an option. If they feel like they should pay their taxes and pay their fair share, then they should. But otherwise, it certainly shouldn’t be policy.
Well, we disagree.
Q Can I clarify one thing on North Korea? By saying you'd have a verbal response, you appear to be ruling out a military one. Can I ask you to be very specific on that if that's what you intended? And is the U.S. counseling Japan also not to shoot down the missile?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not suggesting certainly anything with regards to other countries. I was simply saying that -- the point I was trying to make is that obviously the North Koreans have not yet taken this action. There's an opportunity for them to, at what would be the last minute, change direction here, perhaps reconsider the approach they're taking and consider an alternative. I'm not predicting that that's going to happen, but before North Korea takes action I don't want to speculate about what our reaction is.
But I was, simply in answer to Jessica's question, I was saying that if the North Koreans do act and they do launch this ballistic missile, we will certainly have something to say about it. That's all. I wasn’t ruling out anything.
Q Thanks, Jay. The President, earlier this year, has said that he does not want -- he will insist that the Bush-era tax increase -- tax cuts expire for the wealthy. What's the difference between what he says in campaign events and formal presidential events, like today's millionaires event and yesterday's university speech? He says the same thing in both. Isn't he just as politically focused in these --
MR. CARNEY: Because he's consistent, that he doesn’t have a different message for different audiences, like some politicians do? No. In fact, he said -- (laughter) -- in fact -- this is a good question -- he's going to these campaign events where he's raising money for his campaign and sometimes he's raising money -- people are donating to his campaign or to the party are wealthy individuals, and how could he do that when he's asking that the millionaires and billionaires pay at the tax rate that's similar to and not lower than middle-class Americans? Well, that's exactly what he says. And his message is not different to different audiences. It's the same. And it's because it's about a policy that he believes is important and is a matter of both basic fairness and economic good sense.
Because, again, these are choices. We don't live in a world where we have infinite resources. There are finite resources here. And so if you decide, as the authors of the Ryan/Republican budget and the supporters of it have decided, that we need to cut taxes by $4.6 trillion again, with those benefits disproportionately going to the wealthiest Americans, how are you going to pay for it? Well, you could say with a magic asterisk that Dave Camp over at Ways and Means is going to figure that out; we're going to eliminate some loopholes and deductions, but we're not going to tell you which ones.
And the fact is there aren’t loopholes and deductions to pay for a $4.6 trillion tax cut. There just aren’t. And that means that the middle class is going to get stuck with the bill, or seniors are going to get stuck with the bill, or families with disabled children are going to get stuck with the bill. Paying more, taking on more burden, middle-class families, so that the wealthiest Americans can get more tax cuts that they honestly don't need because, as you know, Ann, and everybody here knows, we're in a situation where the proportion of wealth that the top 1 percent of our country has accumulated is at levels that we haven't seen since the 1920s.
So it's not as if we haven't tried this. It's not as if what we've seen over the last 10 years hasn’t tested the notion that if you give additional tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans in this country, somehow everybody is going to benefit. We tried that and look what we got.
The President agrees with one of his predecessors who thinks and said -- and I'm sure some of you have seen the video -- in 1985 said, you know, at the time a CEO had contacted him and said that he got a six-figure salary -- which is today's millionaires, right -- and he felt it was unfair, even though he was doing everything legal, taking advantage of the tax code, that he was paying taxes at a lower rate than his secretary. Well, doesn’t that sound familiar? Because that was President Ronald Reagan. As the President said today, President Obama, Ronald Reagan is not anyone's idea of a wealth redistributor, a socialist or anything like that. But he understood the basic principle that is the Buffett Rule. And as the President said today, let's call it the Reagan Rule. Maybe then folks in Congress, Republicans will rally behind it, because it is broadly supported by the American people, it's broadly supported by not just Democrats but independents and Republicans as well.
Q The President is still determined not to allow the Bush-era tax cuts on those wealthier -- to be extended?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely.
Q Jay, he was kidding about calling it the Reagan Rule, though, right?
MR. CARNEY: You know what, if Congress would pass it, we would rename it the Reagan Rule tomorrow. If Republicans would vote for it because of a name change, I'm sure Warren Buffett would understand. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks, Jay. Have you spoken to President Obama about the fact that Rick Santorum dropped out yesterday and he now has a clear Republican challenger? And if so, what was his reaction?
MR. CARNEY: He did become aware during the course of the day yesterday of that development. (Laughter.) Why is that funny? He was focused on other stuff. Honestly, to answer your question truthfully, yes. He didn’t have a specific reaction or particularly notable reaction. He was focused on talking about the need for Congress to act, the Senate to act on the Buffett Rule. But his position is the one that I've been expressing here that the process in the other party will take care of itself. I mean, there's -- we are essentially observers of that process from here, and when the time comes for him to engage with an opponent, then he will.
And he looks forward to the debate, to talking about his vision for the future, talking about where we've been, how far we've come, and all the work we need to keep doing to ensure that we build a foundation economically for this country in the 21st century that's not constructed out of the kind of unstable stuff that we've seen in the past -- whether it's .com booms, or housing booms, or suspect financial transactions -- but the solid stuff that a secure economic foundation is built of, that creates an America built to last. And that's the kind of debate he looks forward to having -- because there is no question that we have more work to do and more of the road to travel because of where we were and where we started. What President Obama is convinced of and what he firmly believes the American people are convinced of is that the policies that significantly contributed to the worst recession since the Great Depression, the ideas that were tried and failed are not the ideas and the policies that we need to adopt now as we are recovering from that terrible recession.
Q And also, Jay, Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell say that they sent a letter to the President today essentially urging him to agree to withhold from issuing any so-called "midnight regulations" after the fiscal year ends on September 30, 2012. Can you confirm that --
MR. CARNEY: It sounds like you got the letter before we did.
Q Did the President receive this letter?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not saying that -- I'm sure we have it. But -- (laughter.) I just note that they sent it today and here we are talking about it. (Laughter.) No, look, our regulatory record speaks for itself. We've launched an historic reform effort, as you know, to review past rules for those that no longer make sense. The net benefits -- and this is something that -- because there's all this conventional wisdom about regulations and anti-regulations -- who's for them, who's against them. But let's look at the facts, okay?
The net benefits of regulations issued through the third fiscal year of the Obama administration have exceeded $91 billion. That's the net benefits. That's the cost over benefits -- $91 billion positive, which is over 25 times the net benefits through the third fiscal year of the previous administration -- 25 times.
So we're proud of our record on this issue and we'll continue to ensure, as the President has directed, that we, through this unprecedented look-back initiative, that we comb through the books, simplify rules that need simplifying, remove rules that are no longer relevant or worth enforcing or make sense, and all the while ensure that we're taking the actions necessary to protect the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and our children drink, and ensure that we're doing everything we can to take care of the health and safety of the American people.
Q So looking forward, will the President consider this request seriously?
MR. CARNEY: Again, apparently this is a fresh letter. I haven't seen it, I haven't gotten a specific reaction. What I can tell you is we will continue to work to ensure that our regulatory system is transparent, cost-effective, evidence-based, and modern, and that it continues to provide the net benefits that so surpassed the benefits achieved by previous administrations.
Q Do you anticipate the President will have anything more to say about the Trayvon Martin case? It appears that there may be a decision announced by the prosecutor today.
MR. CARNEY: I certainly don't expect you'll hear from him about an ongoing investigation or -- both at the state and federal level. The comments he made I think are all that you'll hear from him on that specific case. So it's an ongoing investigation, so I think he and I and others will refrain from commenting on it.
Q Follow-up on that?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, April. You want to follow up on my answer to that I can't comment on an ongoing investigation?
Q Yes, but my job is to try to make you answer.
MR. CARNEY: Okay. (Laughter.) And, April, you know, I’m kind of afraid of you so -- (Laughter.)
Q Wow. I like that. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: See, it worked, right? Now she doesn’t know what she wants to ask. (Laughter.)
Q Okay, okay, let’s get serious now. The Attorney General has said there's going to be a federal investigation. Yesterday so much drama unfolded in reference to George Zimmerman, his contact with the prosecutors, letting go of his attorneys, and the main question is, where is George Zimmerman? And the question is, as the Justice Department is investigating, do they know where George Zimmerman is -- the possibilities of where he is? And this is a legitimate question.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly -- there are a variety of legitimate questions that neither I nor I suspect my colleagues over at the Justice Department would be able to answer because it’s an ongoing investigation.
Q But since you are investigating it thoroughly, you at least have some kind of -- the Justice Department and this White House would have some information of where he could possibly be.
MR. CARNEY: I simply don’t know the answer to that question. And let’s be clear, the investigation is being done at the federal level by the Justice Department, not here.
Q What is the expectation, because this has become such an international story and it has become a major story in this country and a major issue involving so many different aspects of life in America, what is the expectation of this President for the Justice Department in carrying out the investigation?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that just -- I appreciate the effort, but ventures into territory that I won’t venture into because it’s an ongoing investigation. But, thanks. And I’m not really afraid of you. (Laughter.)
Q Elizabeth Warren, a former member of the administration who is now a candidate for the Senate, weighed in on the Supreme Court’s comments during the Affordable Care Act arguments today -- this week. She said the Supreme Court seems to want to wade into making their own political judgments, and she went on to say, we’re all going to have see the direction the Court goes and figure out the right response. Does this White House agree with that? Do you have a reaction to those comments?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen those comments. I would simply say that we believe firmly that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. The precedent exists and goes way back in terms of Congress’s responsibility to, and authority to take action on matters of interstate commerce and under the Commerce Clause are of national economic importance -- like health care, which accounts for something like 15 percent of our GDP.
The President expressed his belief and confidence that the Supreme Court will in its ruling recognize the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Beyond that I really don’t have more to say.
Q Does the President think, however, that some of the comments by the justices suggest they want to make their own political judgments?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t -- I haven’t seen those. The President has spoken about this and spoken about his understanding and everyone’s understanding of the many decades-long precedent that is the subject of the discussion here in terms of the constitutionality of a piece of legislation like the Affordable Care Act. And because of that, and the rulings that came from lower courts, including rulings from very prominent conservative judges like Lawrence Silverman and others, that the Supreme Court will also come to the conclusion that it’s constitutional.
But that’s what he believed when the legislation was written and when it was passed and when he signed it into law, and when, as inevitably would be the case with bills like this, legislation like this -- when there were legal challenges to it and when it rose through the courts. None of that has changed in terms of his both faith in its constitutionality and his faith that it will ultimately be upheld as such by our courts.
Q Can I follow? You’re saying the arguments didn’t change his view at all? In other words, he believed this before the arguments before the Court and he believes it afterwards? Nothing about what was said there changed --
MR. CARNEY: Correct. And I think everyone who -- and I don’t pretend I was when I was a reporter but I certainly -- we all read about this and there’s a lot that goes into any Supreme Court case, and anybody who makes determinations or projections about what they think the decision is going to be based on the oral arguments I think can often be surprised -- which is -- again, I’m not an expert on this either, but I certainly read a lot of opinion that noted that. And what’s at stake here is a very -- is a decision about the constitutionality of a piece of legislation that deals with something that accounts for more than 15 percent of our economy.
As a matter of precedent, and also -- longstanding precedent as well as rulings made by judges in a variety of different courts that led to this case, the President believes -- believed and believes -- that the Affordable Care Act is both constitutional and will be upheld.
Roger and then Jackie.
Q Back to the millionaires for a moment. The four people that were on the stage -- are they in the same category as Warren Buffett -- that is, they pay a lower tax rate than their assistants, do you know?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. I know that they support the principle. We haven’t done an assessment or asked them to do an assessment as far as I know of their own tax returns. But it is certainly the case -- I think the facts are something -- one out of four -- you’ve seen our fact sheets, the paper that we put out on the Buffett Rule -- the number of millionaires in this country who pay taxes at a significantly lower rate than the middle-class Americans. But I don’t know, I don’t have the breakouts on the incomes of the participants today.
Q Do you know how they were selected?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take the question. They’re obviously -- they select themselves in the sense that they’re supportive of the Buffett Rule and the President’s policy position here.
Q Since the reason for the Buffett Rule is to address this sense of tax unfairness between, say, a multimillionaire and his or her assistant, why not -- why did the White House not just push harder to raise the capital gains or dividends tax, or, more specifically, raise -- do away with the carried interest provision that allows hedge fund managers and private equity partners to pay 15 percent on almost all of their income, which would accomplish -- get at the very people you --
MR. CARNEY: Well, the carried interest provision that you talk about -- which is one of the ways that, as you mention, allows hedge fund managers to pay taxes on what is indisputably income -- it’s not even capital gains -- it’s indisputably income, they pay at a cap gains rate. Doesn’t seem fair when the hedge fund manager’s executive assistant is paying at the going income tax rate. So --
Q -- because it's 15 percent for the reason --
MR. CARNEY: Well, exactly. But you know that we very aggressively sought to eliminate that carried interest provision, and Congress -- as part of our overall package -- and Congress hasn’t taken action on this. The Buffett Rule is a principle that has been put into legislation by Senator Whitehouse, and we support that, the President supports that.
And it’s not the only aspect of the kind of tax reform the President believes is necessary, but it’s an important one. And we’re hoping that because of its simplicity and clarity, perhaps that Republicans this time will heed the call of their constituents, read the polls at least, as I hear they sometimes do, and act accordingly because it’s a matter of basic fairness and it makes economic sense.
It is not economically sensible, based on empirical evidence, to expect that giving significant tax breaks and tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires will trickle down -- the benefits will trickle down to the middle class and working Americans around the country. It hasn’t worked.
So when something doesn’t work, when your resources are finite, when you have a choice between investing in education and innovation and infrastructure, building an economic foundation for the future, or providing tax benefits to folks who haven’t even asked for them and many don’t want them, certainly don’t need them -- and when those people -- this is not about redistributing wealth. It’s about basic fairness. And we’re talking about a system where millionaires and billionaires, a portion of them are paying taxes at a lower rate than hardworking middle-class Americans. It’s kind of a no brainer.
Q What has the President’s response been to the Republican critique that he’s just -- he’s the first President to run for reelection espousing a tax hike?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he is not the first President, as President Obama noted today, to make publicly clear his belief that some basic fairness is essential when it comes to our tax code; that as Ronald Reagan said in 1985, a CEO -- and he cited a specific CEO -- should not pay income tax or taxes on his income or her income at a lower rate than his or her secretary. And again, this is a specific example that Ronald Reagan himself cited. It sounds remarkably similar to the discussion that we’re having today.
And it is another, I guess, example of the distance that, unfortunately, you would expect me to say, but I think a lot of Americans believe -- unfortunately, the distance that the Republican Party has traveled here on so many issues. The individual mandate. Is it because President Obama included that in the Affordable Care Act, that including this market-oriented solution to dealing with our health care challenges, a solution that had been born in the best known conservative think tank in Washington, that had been supported by some of the most prominent names in the Republican Party, is somehow an apostasy if you’re a Republican because President Obama included it in the Affordable Care Act?
It’s like what Ronald Reagan said about -- is Ronald Reagan wrong? You should ask the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, do they believe President Reagan was wrong when he said that back in 1985, saying essentially word for word what the President said today? I'd love the question.
Q But Reagan was in his second term at the time.
MR. CARNEY: And in his first term, President Reagan, working with Democrats in Congress including the Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, repeatedly took actions not just to lower taxes, as this President has done -- every year he's been in office he has lowered taxes for the middle class, and not once but twice but 17 times has lowered taxes for small businesses -- but he also -- he, President Reagan, raised revenues when necessary for the financial health of the country, when necessary to stabilize an entitlement program.
In other words, he worked with the other party on sensible solutions to the economic challenges of the day -- a balanced approach, you might say -- an approach that Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan somehow managed to agree on. An approach that President Obama has been taking repeatedly when he has been engaged in these negotiations with members of the other party on Capitol Hill.
Q Has he always been such a fan of Ronald Reagan’s?
Q Oh, yeah. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think President Obama is an admirer of sensible leadership. And that doesn’t mean he agrees with every of one of his predecessors on every issue, but he does not look at this through an ideological lens.
I’ll end with my Russian friend. Yes, sir.
Q Two subjects if I may. Number one, the G8 foreign ministers are in town. I understand the President is not meeting with them but I assume he is briefed on what’s discussed. So what’s his primary focus there? What’s the first thing he asks when he is briefed about this meeting? What he wants to see coming out of the G8, the coming meetings at the summit? And my second question is about Iran.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me -- on the G8 I don’t -- he is, obviously, regularly on these sorts of things and he and his team are preparing for the G8 summit. He very much looks forward to that and to hosting it at Camp David. He looks forward to what will be his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, who will then be -- have been sworn in as President. But I don’t have any specific agenda items to discuss today with you with regards to the G8.
And the other question, Iran?
Q The other question was on Iran. In three days there will be a new round of talks -- Istanbul 2, sort of. And my understanding is everyone wants it to be more successful than the infamous Istanbul 1 situation. So my question is, what are the Americans bringing -- what, if anything, are they bringing to Istanbul to make sure that it’s more successful than the previous attempt that the Iranians stick to it basically to this discussion?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Andrei, I think as I’ve said on numerous occasions, what the last three-plus years has abundantly clarified because of the approach President Obama has taken to this problem is that the world now sees clearly that the obstacle has been Iranian behavior -- behavior by the regime in Tehran. That is why, working with the Russians and the Chinese and other nations on the Security Council, and broadly at the United Nations, why there is such international consensus about the absolute need for the Iranians to abide by their obligations, to forsake their nuclear weapons ambitions, to demonstrate verifiably that they can reassure the world that they do not seek to acquire nuclear weapons.
And our bottom line, our position is that Iran must live up to its international obligations including the full suspension of uranium enrichment, as required by multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions. So we’re not setting in advance of this meeting any condition except for what our bottom line is, and that’s a bottom line shared internationally and it is also -- as the President made clear when Prime Minister Cameron was here, I believe -- that the window is closing here. The Iranians need to demonstrate that they are serious, that they will engage in these talks seriously and focus on the issues that need to be resolved. Beyond that, we’ll have to see how they go.
But we think it’s an important development that the meetings are taking place, that the talks are happening. And, as I think has been said, if there is progress in these discussions, there will be another round. But again, we approach this eyes wide open, focused on actions rather than words.
Q -- some people say --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to negotiate from here on behalf of the P5-plus-1. But I think it’s important to note what has been clarified over the last three years, which is that the international community is united, Iran is isolated. The way to change that dynamic is for Iran to live up to its international obligations and to forsake its nuclear weapons ambitions.
1:37 P.M. EDT
February 8, 2016
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