Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 11/29/2012
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: I'm sorry, Mr. Knoller, did you have a request?
Q You bet. (Laughter.) Any chance your briefing might be interrupted by a joint appearance?
MR. CARNEY: Uhh -- no. (Laughter.)
Q Why not the historical record, seriously -- I mean, to view them together? We've seen other Presidents and those that they defeated in presidential contests together. Why not something for the historical record -- visually or --
MR. CARNEY: There's at least some chance we'll release a photograph, which will go into the historical record. It's a private lunch, and we're going to leave it at that.
Q What's for lunch?
Q Yes, lunch.
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t looked at the menu, but I bet it was -- and is -- quite tasty, because they know how to prepare very find meals.
Q Is that a definite on stills?
MR. CARNEY: Let me look into that. I don't know yet. I'm pretty sure we'll release something.
Q Any plans for him to come to the stakeout at all?
MR. CARNEY: You'd have to ask his assistants or whoever might have an answer for you on that because that's not our decision.
And since we actually never said it, we're referring to the fact that the President of the United States is having lunch as we speak with Governor Romney. And I have, and will have, no readout of that lunch, since it's ongoing, from here today.
I have no other announcements to make. So I will go straight to your questions.
Q One more on this, Jay -- did the White House send a car for Mitt Romney?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not aware that we did, but I don't know the answer to that question.
Q Speaker Boehner said today that there's been no substantive progress made between Republicans and the White House over the past two weeks on fiscal cliff negotiations. Is that an assessment that the White House agrees with, that there's been no progress?
MR. CARNEY: I'll say a couple things on that. In the summer of 2011, there was the possibility of reaching what was then called a grand bargain, and the obstacle that prevented that was, in the end, the refusal of Republicans to go along with the fundamental principle that a deficit reduction needed balance and it needed to include real, tangible revenues; that the wealthy ought to pay a little bit more. Since that time, and I think in an accelerated sense, in the last several weeks, we have seen progress. We have seen that obstacle partly overcome because Republicans have acknowledged that revenue must be part of a balanced approach to deficit reduction, and that that revenue must come from those who can afford it most.
We're not there yet because the remaining obstacle here is
-- on the revenue side, is that Republicans -- at least Republican leaders -- have yet to accept the essential fact that in order to achieve the kinds of revenue that are necessary for a balanced proposal, balanced plan, rates on the top 2 percent, the wealthiest earners in this country, are going up. They have to go up. The President will not sign any legislation that extends the Bush-era tax cuts for top earners in this country.
This should not be news to anyone on Capitol Hill. It is certainly not news to anyone in America who was not in a coma during the campaign season, because this was an explicit, repeated, and high-profile debate throughout the campaign.
And then on the spending side, the President has put forward, in September of 2011 with his proposal to the so-called super committee, in his budget in February of 2012, very specific spending cuts, including savings from health care entitlement programs.
So what we haven’t seen yet from Republicans is any movement, at least from Republican leaders, on the fundamental second stage of the obstacle that they need to clear, which is an acknowledgement that you cannot achieve the revenues unless rates go up. Rates have to go up for wage earners, even as we absolutely, essentially, must sign into law tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people.
Q So are you saying that there is progress being made in the rhetoric or in perhaps the attitude of Republicans, but not actually in the negotiations themselves?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that we have seen some important signs of recognition of what needs to be done, but we aren't there yet. Once the acknowledgement is made that rates need to be part of this, I don't think it's very difficult to -- or all that difficult to achieve the kind of balanced compromise that the President seeks and that the American people seek, because there are specific cuts already on the table that would make up
-- that would be the foundation of a discussion about the spending side of this equation.
So we remain optimistic that this can get done. But the President's principles are clear. And it's not like we didn’t have this discussion and debate for the past year; we did -- in fact, beyond that. And I understand that the position that some held that rates would never go up, that it was more important that millionaires and billionaires get a tax cut than we get a comprehensive deal for the sake and health of our economy -- that that was a position that was held. But it's not plausible anymore. And the American people have spoken and the President has been very clear.
Q One last thing on this. You say that the President has put forward specific spending cuts. Boehner said again this morning that they haven’t seen any plan. Where do they fall on this when they actually talk in person, what they did last night or what they did on Saturday? Has the President said that he's put forward spending cuts and he doesn’t plan to put forth any more?
MR. CARNEY: I'm glad you asked. This is available not just here but to everyone in the world who has an Internet connection. And I know things are done the old-fashioned way sometimes on Capitol Hill, but I believe they have electricity and Internet connections and they can get this. This is an 85-page plan that is very detailed -- sorry, maybe 65, going on 70 -- that's very detailed and it outlines -- it's the President's Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction that was submitted in September of 2011. It is of a piece with his budget that he put forward in February 2012.
And in terms of where we are missing specifics is anything specific, politically feasible, or substantial from the Republican side on revenues. And while there has been progress of sorts on that subject, more needs to be done.
But let me just say that we remain optimistic that we can get there. It's important for the American people to know that we can get there. The President has made clear from the start that he understands that he will not get every item in this proposal or in his budget proposal, that compromise requires tough choices from all sides. He's acknowledged that up front. And in this proposal and others, he has made clear in great specificity the kinds of tough choices he's willing to make. And he is willing to make more. But a fundamental principle here that was much discussed and debated during the campaign is that broad deficit reduction on the scale that is essential requires asking the wealthiest to pay more, and it requires -- the only way to get the kind of revenue that we need in order to achieve that balance is for rates to go up for the wealthiest earners in America even as we ensure that tax cuts are extended for 98 percent of the American people.
Q Jay, does the President have plans to meet or speak with Speaker Boehner? If not, at what point would that direct contact be appropriate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you saw reported that they spoke last night. So I haven't got a new engagement to announce today. They spoke last night, they spoke over the weekend, they met prior to the President's trip to Asia, and I'm sure they will speak again. But I don't have a specific timeframe for that.
As you know, Secretary Geithner and Rob Nabors from the White House are up on Capitol Hill right now having meetings on this subject, and that process will continue.
And the process that the President has been engaged in all week, in addition to the phone calls he's had, of engaging the broader American community beyond the halls of the Capitol is ongoing. He's traveling to Pennsylvania tomorrow, as you know, to visit a company that would be affected adversely if Congress
the House were to decide not to extend tax cuts for the middle class -- because that is a very important part of this debate. And it's very important -- contrary to suggestions that we heard a few days ago in this room -- that the President of the United States engage with the American people about these critical debates that affect their future. And it’s entirely appropriate that leaders on Capitol Hill do the same thing. It’s really, really important.
It’s amazing if you look at some of the data out there about what the American people know about this debate. It’s quite substantial. And they made clear -- at least a majority of them -- what path they prefer their leaders in Washington take, and that's a path of both compromise but a path of balance. And that's the path the President has proposed, and that's the path he’s traveling in these days and weeks.
Q One of the things Speaker Boehner said this morning was that any increase in the debt limit would have to be matched by
or exceeded by further spending cuts. That's the same kind of rhetoric that we heard in 2011. Are you concerned that that is being used as leverage again in a way that could be damaging to the United States?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's a good question. I was struck by that myself. I’d say two things about that. Asking that a political price be paid in order for Congress to do its job to ensure that the United States of America pays its bills and does not default for the first time in its history is deeply irresponsible. It was deeply irresponsible in the summer of 2011, and it would be deeply irresponsible if we were to see that kind of approach taken again.
The President absolutely expects Congress to do its job. And one of the jobs that Congress has is to make sure that the United States government pays its bills. As the greatest economy and greatest country on Earth, we pay our bills.
The President believes that it is entirely appropriate that Congress take action on this as part of an end-of-the-year deal, if you will, on the issues that confront us -- the fiscal cliff and broader deficit reduction. It would be a terrible mistake and I think would earn deserved approbation from the American public if Congress were to try to travel that path again. The harm done was done mostly to the American middle class. We had our economy downgraded; we had consumer confidence plunge all because of this brinksmanship that is entirely inappropriate, and we hope we won’t see that again.
Q So you're looking for an agreement to raise the debt ceiling as part of the negotiations before the end of the year?
MR. CARNEY: In whatever manner it comes, it should be done soon and without drama. But we cannot have the kind of situation where there was harm done even with the threat of default. There was significant damage done to our economy, significant damage done to consumer confidence simply when the prospect of default was in the air in 2011, and we shouldn’t allow that to happen again.
Let me move around a little bit. Yes, sir.
Q Thank you, Jay. South Korean newspapers yesterday were reporting that back in August there were senior members of the NSC that flew into Pyongyang and were meeting with the North Koreans to prevent them from doing any provocative actions before the elections in the U.S. What can you --
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen those reports, and they don't ring true to me, but I’ll have to take your question.
Q Back in October, there were similar reports out of North Korea that they met with members of the NSC and the CIA. I mean North Koreans and South Koreans --
MR. CARNEY: You’re citing reports I haven’t seen sourced to places I am not familiar with, so -- I’m not sure what the sourcing is on that. I would have to take your question. That's not a question I can answer because it is news to me.
Q The only place this meeting seems to be a secret is here in the U.S., which gives the impression that the President has some sort of domestic political consideration or fear --
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re making an editorial comment based on an article I haven’t seen, so I’m happy to take the question.
Q Would you take the question and include it in the transcript?
MR. CARNEY: I will take the question and see what we find out.
Q Jay, thanks. Politico has characterized the conversation between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner last night as “curt.” How would you characterize the conversation? Is that accurate?
MR. CARNEY: Twenty-eight minutes long is my understanding. It was -- I would actually echo what Speaker Boehner said in his remarks earlier today, which is that it was frank and direct and a good conversation. I think the President would agree with that characterization -- and it was also 28 minutes long.
Q During the debt ceiling fight, President Obama was criticized for not reaching out directly enough to congressional leaders. Is his strategy --
MR. CARNEY: During which fight?
Q During the debt ceiling debate.
MR. CARNEY: My God, they practically lived together down the hall here. I don't think that's the case, not during the debt ceiling crisis.
Q People said that there were not enough meetings between the President and --
MR. CARNEY: As I recall, there was -- that doesn't ring true from the debt ceiling fight. I think there were a lot of meetings, a lot of conversations, a lot of later reported on meetings that weren't even public at the time.
Q But I'm talking about one-on-one conversations. Is his strategy any different?
MR. CARNEY: So am I. And they were numerous during the debt ceiling. What I often get asked about and have been asked about subsequent to that was during the payroll tax cut discussion debate at the end of last year, and during the debate over whether or not we should allow rates for student loans to rise dramatically -- there were calls mostly from colleagues of yours here in this room for more and more meetings between the President and the Speaker to resolve these issues. And of course, there were conversations between the White House and the Capitol in resolving these issues.
But the President also, very appropriately, went out into the country to make sure that the American people were engaged in this and that their voices were heard in this kind of debate. And that's what he's doing again -- because that's how it should be.
Q In addition to going out -- going to Pennsylvania tomorrow, is part of his strategy to be in regular contact with Speaker Boehner, as he was last night?
MR. CARNEY: It has been less than 24 hours since they spoke. Prior to that it was five days, four days, since Saturday I think they spoke. In between that conversation and the meeting they had, the President traveled to three countries in Asia and there was a major American holiday. So I'd say that's pretty regular contact.
Q So that is my question -- is that a part of his strategy?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a -- it's not a strategy. The President's strategy is to reach a deal with Congress that embodies the principles that he has long espoused, which is to reduce our deficit in a responsible way that allows the economy to continue to grow and create jobs; that achieves that deficit reduction through broad balance that includes spending cuts, entitlement reform savings and revenues that come from those who can afford it most, the top 2 percent of earners in this country.
And he has put forward this proposal. He has put forward his budget. And so what his specific ideas are on these issues are well known and documented. But he has also said, as he did in the aftermath of the election to you, that he understands that tough choices need to be made and he's, as he has demonstrated, willing to make them. But there are principles here that he will not alter, and one of them is that revenues from top earners have to be part of this deal.
That's what the American people believe. It is what he believes. It is what we have seen increasingly Republicans acknowledge, including -- increasingly, we've seen Republicans acknowledge that. We've seen business leaders acknowledge that, because it's mathematically self-evident. So we know where we need to go. And the President looks forward to continuing the discussion and reaching a deal, a deal that's good for the American people and good for the economy.
Q And one more on the lunch that President Obama is having with Mitt Romney. One of Romney's former chief strategists, Stuart Stevens, wrote an op-ed in which he essentially suggests that Romney lost because minorities overwhelmingly voted for President Obama. Does that op-ed -- do the comments that Romney made in any way cloud or set a certain backdrop to this lunch?
MR. CARNEY: No, first of all. I think campaigns are a tough business. Debates are sharp, and in this case they were very substantive and important. There is I think an event up in "Haavad," in Cambridge, tonight where a lot of these issues will be discussed by the two campaigns --
Q Where is that? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I was just trying it out.
Q Try "park" and "quarter" and "water."
MR. CARNEY: Paak the car, Haavad Yard. But seriously, I think you know about this -- the top campaign officials from both sides have traditionally gotten together and had a discussion about what transpired at the campaign strategy level, so that -- I'm sure we'll all take an interest in seeing that. I think there's been a lot of people who have effectively refuted the assertion you made about this race. I mean, I think I don’t need to do that from here.
Q Jay, you mentioned the budget. Republicans point out it was voted down unanimously and hasn't moved forward, but you quite correctly note there are spending cuts in there. I guess my question would be, can you also hold up that budget, look in the camera and say, dear fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill, vote for, include some of these spending cuts in this deal to avoid the fiscal cliff? Because that’s not what they're doing right now. Should they include those?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. And I think that -- and I know that Democrats accept that there have -- that this has to be a balanced package that includes revenues and cuts -- and spending cuts, and --
Q But Senator Durbin said entitlement cuts should not be part of this. So I just want to --
MR. CARNEY: No, "this" is a loose, even though short, word, which is --
Q He said even as the fiscal cliff --
MR. CARNEY: And I think everybody understands that there are two parts, two pieces of this. We have the deadlines bearing down on us related to automatic tax hikes that would occur and automatic across-the-board spending cuts that would occur if some sort of agreement isn't reached on that issue. There is the broader issue, which reflects the President's longstanding interest and oft-expressed interest in a big deal that achieves broadly $4 trillion in cuts and reduction that he believes ought to be part of this.
In that broader context, absolutely, savings from health care entitlements need to be and will be part of it; other savings need to and will be part of it. The President has already signed into law over a trillion dollars in non-defense discretionary spending cuts.
Q But when he said yesterday, "next year," you're saying clearly that this year --
MR. CARNEY: I heard Speaker Boehner talk today about the framework that they -- I'm just using his words, I'm not reading out paper that they give us or meetings that we had with them, but just citing him -- he talked about a framework and a two-stage process. And that may be how it works out. I'm not going to prejudge that because that’s why they're negotiating.
But the broader point is there are two elements to this that are linked: One is the fiscal cliff and one is the broader deficit reduction package that the President seeks.
Q Okay. Finally, I would note there are colleagues in the back of the room who have been complaining about not getting enough questions. I appreciate you moving around. Some of them asked me, as president of the association, to set rules on how many questions everyone gets. We don’t police people, but in the spirit of sharing the ball, I yield back the balance of my time and encourage my colleagues to do the same. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I want to commend Ed for that. And I'll -- with that, I'll go to the back of the room.
Q Thank you. Thanks, Ed. I was going to ask about some Northeast lawmakers in particular are very anxious about getting a spending supplemental for the Hurricane Sandy disaster. And when is the White House going to send that up, and do you know how much that’s going to be?
MR. CARNEY: I do not have any detail for you. We're obviously looking at the requests that have come in, studying them very closely. The President's been enormously focused, as you know -- I was in a meeting with him earlier today where the discussion -- we spent some time talking about Hurricane Sandy and the lasting impact that that terrible storm has had on the residents of New Jersey and New York and some parts of Connecticut. And so he remains focused on this. He remains focused on ensuring that the federal team is doing everything it can to help with this effort in the Cabinet meeting.
As you know -- or maybe as you don’t know, but this was discussed -- also Shaun Donovan is leading a task force, at the President's request, for the continued efforts at the federal level to assist states and localities in response to this storm. So this is very much on the President's mind. But I don’t have a specific number for you or anything about a supplemental at this time.
Q I would love to see quotes from the meeting -- or the phone call with Speaker Boehner. If not, can you characterize -- did the President say what you just said to the American people to the Speaker, that there will be tax rate increases on --
MR. CARNEY: I think you'll find that I won't read out the contents of conversations that the President has. But I will say what the President's positions are, and I think it's fair to say that the President's positions are consistent in public and in private. So in terms of the nature of and character of the phone call, I would echo what Speaker Boehner said, and he said that it was frank and direct and good.
Q With Mr. Romney here, one of his proposals that some Democrats seem to think makes a little bit of sense is capping deductions. Where does the President stand on that specific issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, if you look at his plan and go to the revenue section in it, you'll notice that we talk a lot about rates. And one of the points that I've been making and others have been making is that you cannot get the kind of revenue that you need simply from capping deductions or closing loopholes without taxing the heck out of the middle class -- and that’s unacceptable for the President -- or without basically ending the charitable deduction or doing other things that would never fly on Capitol Hill, for good economic as well as political reasons.
So there's that. But the President has put forward as part of his revenue proposals caps on some deductions for top earners and closing of some loopholes.
Our point has always been that you need to do both, that rates need to go up for the wealthiest Americans -- and when we say go up, like this is not -- let’s remember what we’re talking about here. The top rates for earners that will happen when the Bush-era tax cuts expire for them are the rates that were in place in the 1990s when President Clinton was in office, rates that were decried by some of the leaders in the Republican Party on Capitol Hill at the time -- I mean, today’s leaders who were members back then -- and yet, the result of the economic policies that were adopted in that period was the longest sustained economic expansion, peacetime, in our history; the creation of over 23 million jobs; the transformation of budget deficits into budget surpluses -- basically a record that I think most Americans would want to see happen again.
So these are not -- there’s nothing extreme about asking millionaires and billionaires, wealthy Americans to pay at rates that were in place during the strongest economy of our lifetime.
Q But if you got the rate hikes you're looking for, would the President agree to an overall cap of deductions for all Americans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't think that we’d have to do an -- I think I would point to -- there are ways to address caps on deductions and I think we proposed 28 percent for top earners, closing loopholes, some of them, like corporate jets and things like that, but closing loopholes. One of the problems with the suggestion that you can achieve substantial revenues out of -- without touching rates is that you have to do Draconian things when it comes to deductions and loopholes that aren’t economically wise or politically feasible.
So that's why, when I talk about we need something that's realistic and mathematically sound, not just something that adds up on paper -- that's why the President is taking the approach he has had, which includes allowing the rates to rise for top earners, but also includes changes to our tax code -- deductions and loopholes -- that are plausible as well as revenue-producing.
Q I’ve been told that on that phone call, the President did say to Speaker Boehner, there will be no deal without an increase on the tax rates for the wealthiest. So you’re not going to read out the call. My question is, is the President sticking to the Clinton rates? You said it worked in that time. Does it have to be the Clinton rates?
MR. CARNEY: Again, without reading out the phone call, quoting any member of that -- participant in that phone call, I would say that there can be no deal without rates on top earners going up. The President has been very clear about his proposal and the revenues that would be part of that proposal that would result from and flow from extending tax cuts to the middle class and allowing rates to go back up to the Clinton levels for top earners, and then going to my earlier point, and that would then be coupled with other changes that would produce additional revenue -- changes to the tax code on capping deductions and closing loopholes for top earners.
Going back to my first point with Julie, we haven’t seen any kind of proposal from the Republicans on rates -- there has not even been an acknowledgement from Republican leaders of the fundamental fact that rates have to go up.
Q But just to figure out where you guys are coming from, the offer here is Clinton rates for the top 2 percent, for the top two marginal rates?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to negotiate the deal. I don't have an offer to make from the podium. What is in the President’s proposal, in this proposal and his budget, what he talked about repeatedly throughout the year, is that he will sign tomorrow a bill that would extend tax cuts for the middle class, and that he will not sign under any circumstances legislation that would keep rates where they are for the wealthiest Americans.
MR. CARNEY: Well, but my point is -- you can speak hypothetically about 39.5 versus 39.6. Let’s be realistic. The realistic proposals that are on the table involve -- that create the kind of revenues absolutely essential for real balance in this proposal involve raising the rates -- letting the rates return to where they were.
Because remember this whole thing about -- that we sort of got into the other day, maybe it was yesterday -- about whether we’re asking people to vote for a tax hike -- no, we’re just asking people not to vote for a tax cut for rich people. We’re saying that we can't afford it economically, that the American people overwhelmingly don't support and that many -- increasing numbers of business leaders don't think it’s the right thing to do.
Q Can you just clarify one thing on a different topic so we can --
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q For people who are still curious about whether the President has an offer for Mitt Romney when they're meeting today, has something changed overnight? Is the President offering Governor Romney a job?
MR. CARNEY: I really just don't have a readout on that. I think this is -- but without giving any specifics, this was a conversation the President wanted to have with Governor Romney, as he mentioned I think the night of the election. And there was not an agenda that involves that kind of proposal that I'm aware of. I think that he's very interested in some of Governor Romney's ideas. And I'm sure they will or have already compared experiences on the campaign trail.
I mean, it is -- there have only been 28 press secretaries, so it's a pretty -- but think about it, there aren't that many people who have been nominees for their party, right, there aren't that many people you can talk to who know what it's like to do what these two gentlemen did for the past year. And I think that they'll probably talk a lot about that, which is I think will be very interesting for them.
Q But to follow, Jay, you said yesterday specifically there was no --
MR. CARNEY: You're not going to follow on the fact that there have only been 29 press secretaries?
Q No, no, no. You said yesterday --
Q You said 28.
MR. CARNEY: Twenty-eight prior to me.
Q You said yesterday there would be no ask. You're not saying that as clearly today.
MR. CARNEY: I'll say it clearly.
Q Okay, there is no ask?
MR. CARNEY: That I'm aware of. Now, I don't -- I can't dictate what the President says, let alone what Governor Romney says, but I don't think that's what this conversation is about. The President is very interested in his ideas and very appreciative that Governor Romney is here to have lunch with him. But beyond that, I think it's --
Q What ideas does he like?
MR. CARNEY: I think we talked -- the President mentioned that Governor Romney very successfully resuscitated and ran the Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Q That's not an idea --
MR. CARNEY: No, but I think Governor Romney certainly knows how to manage an operation like that. And the President is -- as I know, because I've sat in the room and heard him go into detail on this and get very passionate about it -- is very interested in creating greater efficiencies in this government, making it run better, making it more effective in the 21st century, because we have a lot of agencies and institutions that were created long ago and they can be improved upon. And that's reflected in the proposal for government reorganization that the President put forward.
And he can be pretty wonky about this stuff. And somebody with Governor Romney's experience clearly would have insight into how to maximize efficiency in an operation like the federal government. Again, I just know that's what interests the President. I can't guarantee you at this stage that that's what they're talking about, but I know that is a subject that interests the President.
Q -- ideas he advanced during the campaign the President has come around to think maybe that was not such a bad idea after all -- economic idea, social ideas, policy ideas?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, there were certainly things that the two men agreed on. I mean, if you watch the debates there were certain like "I agree with the President" on this or "I agree with Governor Romney on this." I wouldn't say it was the majority of things. It wasn't. And they clearly had very starkly different ideas about how to move the economy forward and the like. I haven't heard the President reference specific things put forward during the campaign, but I'm confident that there are ideas that the two men agree on.
Q -- that he could play a role in solving this fiscal cliff impact --
MR. CARNEY: I'm just not going to speculate. Again, I think that the fiscal cliff is upon us at the moment. We're dealing with that with Congress. This is I think an initial conversation in the wake of the election that the President and Governor are having.
Q Jay, a couple of questions to follow up on the Sandy supplemental. Will the administration put that proposal forward before year-end? And does he want it wrapped up as part of whatever needs to be done to avoid the fiscal cliff? And does he believe as a matter of policy it should not be offset with any spending cuts, it should be added to the deficit?
MR. CARNEY: Major, I just confess that I haven't -- I've been so focused on these other issues, the fiscal cliff and others, that I haven’t had a real discussion with folks here about that. So I just don't know the framework within which we want to proceed on that. We're definitely looking at the proposals put forward by the states and the requests put forward by the states. But I just don't have more detail on it. I wouldn't want to guess.
Q How close is the administration --
MR. CARNEY: I haven't had it described in my presence as something that would be part of the fiscal cliff deal.
Q It would not?
MR. CARNEY: I haven't heard that discussed. But, again, I just haven't --
Q But you don't rule it out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no.
Q Okay. How close is the administration to recognizing and arming the Syrian opposition? And what has changed to lead those discussions to what appears to be a culmination in the affirmative?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, we've had discussions in the past. I mean, I've been asked about this in the past when stories have been written that this is an issue. Our position on assistance to the Syrian opposition has not changed. And the United States remains committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and providing non-lethal equipment and training to unarmed, civilian-led opposition groups. We have not provided any support to the armed opposition.
It is also the case, as I've said periodically when asked that we're always reviewing the kinds of assistance that we're providing to the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition. And we'll continue to do that. But we have not changed our position on the --
Q You categorically deny the reports today that suggest the administration is on the cusp of recognizing and beginning to arm the Syrian opposition?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I just said that we're always look at and reviewing our assistance programs to the Syrian opposition, the Syrian people. I can categorically state that today our position is what it has been, which is we are not providing lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition.
Q Jay, can I come back to the budget talks, and specifically the spending side? Because I think that’s what Speaker Boehner's main complaint is -- that there are these talks going on, they wanted to be flexible on the revenue side, but they want to see a specific proposal for additional cuts on the spending entitlement side. And you were just holding up the President's budget. Are you saying that’s it, that’s all you get, what's in here is our proposal and nothing more?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t say that. I said, in fact, that the President made clear and continues to make clear that he knows he will not -- he is not wedded to every detail in his proposals, and will not get every detail in his proposals. But we have, in answer to the question of where are your spending cut proposals, it must be a rhetorical question because those who ask it know that we have put forward very specific spending cut proposals.
As I noted the other day, in this proposal are $340 billion of savings from our health care entitlement programs over 10 years -- $340 billion. That number exceeds what was contained in the Simpson-Bowles proposals -- exceeds -- in the first 10 years. So this is real. The President has always engaged in this with real numbers.
When you talk about flexibility on revenue, all we've heard so far -- and it's welcome, don’t get me wrong -- but we've heard that, yes, revenue is on the table, but we need more than that. We need concrete proposals and acknowledgement that the only way we can achieve the kind of target that’s necessary for balance in revenues and be realistic about it in terms of what can pass Congress, and hold true to the President's absolute insistence that the middle class doesn’t get stuck with the bill, is to have rates go up on top earners.
And this is not -- remember when the President talked about he's familiar with the literature of second-term Presidents who overreach, you know what he's talking about? Absolutely what he talked about during the campaign. None of this is news to anybody who has followed this debate.
Q I understand. My question, though, was on the spending cut side. Are you saying to them, look, if you guys want more than what was in this budget that the President has been very specific about, you need to ask for it? Is that your position?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, we want to have a discussion about what the overall compromise would look like. But what is non-negotiable, if you will, is that revenues from the wealthiest Americans have to be a part of this, and the only way to get to that revenue target, as I said, is -- so that has to happen.
Q But revenue has to come first?
MR. CARNEY: It's not a first -- it all goes together. But the President has already put forward substantial savings in health care entitlements, as well as non-defense discretionary savings.
Q Because the only thing -- the reason I'm asking is the political ownership of this. They're saying, well, you guys want us to take the political heat for cutting granny's Medicare, and that sort of thing.
MR. CARNEY: The President -- look, as I noted during the last two election cycles, Republicans pummeled Democrats, including my boss, because he had the temerity to include in the Affordable Care Act $716 billion in savings from our health care entitlements. Just pummeled them, right? He did that because it was the right thing to do; it was important to achieve the Affordable Care Act. These savings were achievable without harming beneficiaries. And now he has put forward additional savings from those health care entitlement programs -- again, savings that are reasonable and don’t ask, as Republicans did earlier this year with their budget proposals, seniors to accept a plan that ends Medicare as we know it, turns Medicare into a voucher -- all so that we didn’t have to ask the wealthiest to pay more.
So a lot -- this debate has been engaged. The President's seriousness has been demonstrated, and he is going to continue to be very serious about it. And he owns his proposals, and he will -- he looks forward to working on a package proposal that includes the elements that we've talked about and includes tough choices for everyone.
April and then Roger and then Peter.
Q Jay, we understand that Governor Romney has left the building. (Laughter.) Like Elvis. Is there any way, any chance that we can get a readout at least, something later on today from you? Could you do that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ll see -- yes, we’ll provide something. I just haven’t spoken to the President yet about the lunch, but I’m sure we’ll provide something on paper for you.
Q And also speaking about this Romney luncheon and just the phone call with the Speaker, I remember at the onset of this administration about four years ago when they were conversations about transparency. What do you think about transparency today?
MR. CARNEY: I think transparency is very important. I think that this is the most -- indisputably the most transparent White House that has --
Q As you shut us down all throughout this briefing pretty much?
MR. CARNEY: What are you talking about?
Q What am I talking about? Governor Romney. Oh, I’m not going to let you in, can't talk about it.
MR. CARNEY: The President had a private lunch with his opponent from the campaign, as is entirely appropriate. Nothing is preventing you from speaking with Governor Romney about it --
Q We’re just trying to get --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, that's obviously up to former Governor Romney to decide whether he wants to have a conversation with you. But the -- and you are welcome when the President next appears before you to ask him about it. We will provide a readout. But we didn't -- I think they wanted to have -- each man wanted to have a private conversation. They didn't want to turn it into a press event.
Q But you’re bringing in -- on the Speaker’s conversation -- you're bringing all these people in, the stakeholders and bringing them into the conversation, but shutting them off and not letting people know exactly what’s going on in conversations or parts of that with the Speaker. I mean transparency is not --
MR. CARNEY: I think participants in the conversations that have taken place in this building have volubly discussed those conversations with the press, many members right out here at the stakeout and others elsewhere. So we’re hardly -- I just don't agree. I think the President is very interested in having business leaders who have met with him, regular -- ordinary Americans who have met with him, labor leaders and others, civic leaders, talk about what they're hearing from the President and his team and what their ideas are about how we move forward.
Roger and then Peter.
Q Thanks. Okay, two questions. First some old business I had asked yesterday about Mississippi River closing and Senator Harkin -- I understand you might have some --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I did look into this a little bit more, and I can tell you that the President remains very concerned about the devastating impact of the drought. He actually raised this with Secretary Vilsack yesterday in the Cabinet meeting.
Q I’m sorry, who?
MR. CARNEY: The President raised it with Secretary Vilsack yesterday in the Cabinet meeting. He asked about the drought and for an update from Secretary Vilsack in this. And going back to the summer, he directed -- he, the President, directed his administration to take every step within our authority to mitigate the damage caused by the drought, and the Army Corps has taken proactive action over the time to ensure navigability of the river system.
However, we also share the specific concerns from lawmakers and others about the decreasing water level of the Mississippi. And while there is a complex set of legal technical and policy questions around these issues, we are exploring all possible options.
Q We, meaning the White House?
MR. CARNEY: We the White House.
Q Okay, fine.
MR. CARNEY: And the administration writ large.
Q Second question, different topic. Ambassador Susan Rice and her husband hold stock in TransCanada Corporation valued at between $300,000 and $600,000 -- TransCanada being the outfit that wants to build the pipeline under review at the State Department. If she were nominated as Secretary of State, would that pose any sort of conflict?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll give two answers here. First of all, the President has not made a decision about that or other personnel moves that he has to make because Secretary Clinton is leaving, Secretary Geithner is leaving. So that’s one point. So I have no -- I’m not going to speculate about a personnel decision the President has not made, a nomination he has not put forward.
Secondly, I would commend Republican opposition researchers for the intellectual bandwidth that is required to read a financial disclosure form, because this was all documented in a financial disclosure form, entirely, appropriately, legally and by the books. So what this represents I think in vivid fashion is what I’ve been talking about for a while now, which is that none of this has anything to do with the tragedy that occurred in Benghazi. This is about politics. And that’s a shame.
So I actually, in part of my old-school presentation here that included a hard copy of the President’s proposal, I brought an interesting news article here that begins with the fact that a member of Congress requested those original talking points from the intelligence community that have been so much discussed. And I liked this couple of sentences. “More than 10 weeks later, the four pallid sentences that intelligence analysts cautiously delivered are the unlikely center of a quintessential Washington drama in which a genuine tragedy has been fed into the meat grinder of election-year politics. In the process, the most important questions about Benghazi, where Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed…have largely gotten lost.” I agree with that.
Q Jay, the question wasn’t about Benghazi at all. The question is about why the conflict. If you don’t think it’s a conflict, explain to us why it isn’t.
MR. CARNEY: It’s a hypothetical.
Q What has that got to do with Benghazi at all?
MR. CARNEY: Well, because, Major, I know you’re not so naïve to believe that we’re not seeing these articles because of the continued assault that’s been taking place on Ambassador Rice that has all started with the non-event of her appearances on Sunday shows, one. Two --
Q No, I’m just trying to help my colleague. He asked you a specific question --
MR. CARNEY: And I answered that question. I’m not going to speculate about a nomination process that hasn’t even occurred.
Q Do you believe it’s a conflict, and if not, why not?
MR. CARNEY: That’s based on speculation.
Q Well, if --
MR. CARNEY: If somebody were nominated, would there be a conflict? Let's address this once we have a nomination.
Q It's not a disqualifier, in other words?
MR. CARNEY: As the President has said and others have said, I have said to the extent that my opinion matters, that Susan Rice is eminently qualified for any number of high-level foreign policy positions, including the one she has where she has performed with great distinction.
I owe Peter.
Q I want to go back to -- I think what the Republican point would be is that they have come off the position that they had a year and a half ago where you all put that forward.
MR. CARNEY: Have you seen a proposal that demonstrates that?
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q I haven't seen one from you, either. I'm questioning whether --
MR. CARNEY: You have.
Q No, that’s the same proposal from last year. They're saying they're willing to go beyond --
MR. CARNEY: But, Peter --
Q Can I finish the question?
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q They're saying they're willing to come beyond the proposal that they agreed to last year in terms of non-tax revenues. They have not given a specific proposal. You are going to that as a proposal you had last year, which is reasonable. Are you willing to come beyond that proposal of last year?
MR. CARNEY: I have said, as the -- echoing the President, that he is not wedded to every detail in his plan and he understands that tough choices are required and compromise means moving off of your position. So I'm not going to get into specifics or numbers about what cuts will look like in this area or that. But he is committed to spending cuts.
But to go back to your question here, the issue is "we haven't seen any spending cuts from the White House," and that’s just fundamentally not the case. They have not been adopted. They are still serious, substantive, viable proposals that have not been adopted.
What we've never seen, going back even to the passing of paper in 2011, are anything like -- when it comes to revenue, anything like the kind of specificity we've provided on cuts from the Republicans on revenue. And to this day we haven't seen that. And to this day, I believe on the floor of one of the chambers, one of the Republican leaders said -- as if we didn’t have this debate, and as if the American people haven't spoken -- that there is no way we're going to raise rates on high-income Americans.
I mean, another way to look at that is that they insist on voting for a tax cut, again, for the top 2 percent. And if they don’t get that, you, 98 percent of the American people, get a tax hike. That’s just not a position that plausible.
Q Can I just ask a question --
MR. CARNEY: No, let me give Peter some time. Yes.
Q I'm sorry, you said he is not wedded to the details, but he is saying he is willing to go with spending cuts that are broader, larger, deeper, more in total amount than that would encompass?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that, without getting into a negotiating posture here, that when the President says that he is willing to move off of his proposals, acknowledge that he doesn’t get everything he wants, that he's acknowledging that this is a negotiation and that you don’t get everything you want in a negotiation. And clearly, Republicans are interested in spending cuts, and he looks forward to having that discussion.
But a fundamental proposition here, which at least rhetorically has been addressed but not in any substantive way, is that revenues have to be a part of this. And the only way to get to the revenues that are necessary to achieve the balance that the American people want is to not give another tax cut to millionaires and billionaires. That’s pretty simple.
And as I talked about before, it's sort of a -- it's like a two-step hurdle here. They've cleared one hurdle by saying that revenues need to be part of this. Now we get to the next stage, which is what those revenues look like and what they have to look like. Because there has not been any credible proposal that anyone has seen that could pass Congress or makes economic sense that creates the kind of revenue necessary without raising rates.
Good? Thanks very much.
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March 21, 2016
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