Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney aboard Air Force One en route San Diego, California
12:55 P.M. PDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon. We’re delighted to have you on board Air Force One today as we make our way from northern -- southern northern California -- rather sunny northern California to sunny southern California. I have no announcements to make, so I will take your questions.
Q Jay, should Americans be prepared for a government shutdown October 1st?
MR. CARNEY: It is a basic function of Congress to take care of this basic piece of business. We believe they should, and it is inconceivable that they will not, take care of this. It is, once again, a situation where, much to the dismay of the vast majority of the American people, 30-odd tea party members are holding hostage not just the Congress but 300 million Americans who expect the basic services of government to be funded.
But again, we believe it’s inconceivable that they won't work it out.
Q The Senate is having a vote at 5:30 p.m. this afternoon. Has the President been making any calls either concerning that vote or pressure on House leaders?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is a basic function of Congress. They ought to be able to handle this basic responsibility. A funding level was set in an agreement reached during the debt ceiling crisis -- a crisis, which, by the way, was completely manufactured by the same faction of House Republicans -- but that funding level was set. It should not be so difficult. Nor should the essential assistance to victims of terrible natural disasters be held up for political reasons or ideological reasons.
It’s just -- there was a terrible story in the newspaper today about flood victims who are just absolutely fed up with Washington, making them very much like the rest of the American people who are absolutely fed up with the dysfunction in Washington.
Q Understanding your argument that this is Congress’s responsibility, is the White House doing anything to try to get the result that you want here?
MR. CARNEY: We obviously have communications with members of Congress regularly and constantly. I don’t have any communications for the President -- any communications to announce involving the President. But again, this is -- it is extraordinary that, again, that the Congress could not manage its way out of this particular paper bag, which is wide open.
Q There's a report on the Hill that there’s actually additional funding for FEMA that’s currently available. Do you know anything about this letter that the White House administration might be sending over to the Hill?
MR. CARNEY: I do have information on that. The DiRF, the Disaster Relief Fund, will be fully exhausted by the end of the fiscal year. It is already at an historic low, and we are managing these scarce resources as the fund approaches zero. Over the weekend, as a result of the normal recovery of dollars for projects that have been completed, FEMA recouped about $40 million. Despite that recovery, available disaster funding remains dangerously low, with roughly $114 million available.
Q -- about this shooting in the U.S. embassy in Kabul? Was the President briefed on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he is briefed daily on national security matters so, of course, he is aware of it. I would point you to the embassy in Kabul for more details. I mean, we know that an American citizen was killed and another one wounded, and that the gunman was an Afghan employee. But beyond that, I don’t have any details.
Q Can I ask you to go back to the President’s remarks about Europe? He said the Europeans are scaring the world, and he urged them to do more. Precisely what would he like them to do? And has he been in touch with any of these partners in Europe to talk to them about this in the last 24, 48 hours?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any updates on conversations the President may have had with European counterparts. As I think we discussed the other day, the President is in regular contact with his European counterparts. He, as you know, had bilateral meetings -- extensive bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy at the United Nations, and as well as a phone bilateral with Chancellor Merkel. Secretary Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, is also in regular communication with his counterparts. And we believe that the Europeans have both the capacity -- well, they have the capacity to handle this challenge, and we urge them to take forceful action to do just that.
Q Jay, can you talk about the President -- when did the President decide last night to engage Rick Perry and to talk about the debates, which he had said a couple weeks ago that he wasn’t paying any attention to?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President didn’t watch debates, but there have obviously been a number of reports about them, and sections of them are replayed -- if you walk by a television that happens to be tuned to a cable channel, it's hard to escape.
I think the President was particularly struck by the reports of the question asked by a soldier, a U.S. soldier stationed in Iraq, about "don't ask, don't tell" and the fact that when he was booed by audience members, not a single of the candidates for president -- people who believe they have what it takes to be the commander-in-chief -- said a thing about that, when he is there defending our country, putting his life on the line for our country.
I think the President was also struck by the -- in an earlier debate, reports that when a hypothetical question was asked about someone who didn't have health insurance was going to die and there were cheers at that prospect, no candidates had anything to say about that.
So he thinks it's a matter of values. He thinks it’s a matter or who we are as Americans. So, yes, I think he felt that it was worth talking about.
Q Governor Perry has said -- has criticized him for using what he said is the Texas fires as a political line.
MR. CARNEY: -- fascinating scene in the movies -- but I am listening.
Q I just want to make sure -- I mean, was the President, and does the President have any regret about using a fire --
MR. CARNEY: His point was simply that we need to at least be reality-based and fact-based when we have our debates about what the right course of action is as we decide in this critical time for America what policies to put in place. And his point was simply that you have severe weather in that state and the leader of that state questioned whether something that's been well established as a scientific fact is in fact a fact.
Q He suggested that that fire was caused by climate change. Is that fact-based or reality-based?
MR. CARNEY: There is -- his point is that the link between climate and the severe weather that we’ve been experiencing is something that's studied by scientists all the time, and to simply dismiss it is, he believes, not responsible leadership. When it comes to the fires themselves and the victims of those fires, this administration has been incredibly aggressive in providing numerous fire management assistance grants to the state of Texas. Whenever Texas has requested federal assistance, federal taxpayer dollars assistance, this administration has provided them, because it believes -- we believe -- that when there are disasters, they should not be politicized, that the victims of disasters should be assisted.
Q Jay, a financial one. Moody’s Investor Services warns that the proposals to control the deficit laid out by the President, although they would help lower the debt and deficit over time, have no chance of passing into law. And as a --
MR. CARNEY: Who said that?
Q Moody’s Investor Services. Is the President concerned that the U.S. credit rating is at risk of further downgrade?
MR. CARNEY: If they're saying that the right policies face an uphill battle in getting passed in Congress, we don’t dispute that, because obviously this has been a challenge throughout the year. But we believe that it was imperative that the President lay forth his proposals for addressing the midterm and -- mid- and long-term deficit and debt problems that we face, challenges we face, and present them to the Congress and to the special committee as a road map to how we fix this problem.
And nobody who’s credible on this issue believes that you can do it in anything but a balanced way. Because it’s simply unjust to say -- to ask nothing of the wealthiest, most fortunate Americans who have benefited enormously in the past 15 or 20 years, even as the middle class has seen its income stagnate -- and that is even prior to the recession, which, of course, has hit the middle class and struggling Americans the hardest -- ask nothing of them, but instead say, well, we still need to pay for this and reduce the deficit, so let’s just eliminate the Medicare program as we know it -- which, of course, people with limited means depend on, elderly people -- and ask them to pay up to $6,000 or more a year. We just don’t think that’s the right approach.
So again, because there is a preponderance of -- there are a preponderance of experts on the outside and wise Democrats and Republicans even in Congress who believe that the only way to approach this is in a balanced way, we continue to hope that the committee will view it that way and that Congress will eventually view it that way.
Q Did the President have any reaction to the leadership changes in Russia?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t spoken with the President about it specifically -- obviously we’ve discussed it generally. The fact is that the President has pursued a reset in our relations with Russia with not a particular leader but the government of Russia. And the progress that we've made, which has been well recognized, has come with the entire Russian leadership. That includes President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin.
So we will continue to pursue our relations with Russia in a way that advance American interests and we believe improve our ties and are beneficial in ways -- beneficial for the American people and the Russian people. We’ve expanded our economic cooperation. We’ve made great progress with regards to Afghanistan and Iran and other issues, and we continue to work with the Russians -- and will continue to work with the Russians going forward.
Q Just one more on the shut down. At this point when we were at this similar situation in the spring, the administration was doing all sorts of preparations for if a shutdown were to happen. Can you talk about anything that's going on now?
MR. CARNEY: I’ve seen leaders say that a shutdown won’t happen. And again, I think this is a basic function. What is significantly different is the level of funding here has already been established in an agreement between congressional leaders and the President, and passed into law by Congress. So we’re confident -- well, we certainly hope that Congress will take action to resolve this and move on, because we have so many bigger challenges to tackle.
Q So there's no --
MR. CARNEY: You would have to check with the usual suspects in Washington -- OMB and others -- about that. But we find it inconceivable that Congress will not handle its responsibilities here, and not let itself be held hostage again by a sliver of the Congress that represents a sliver of the country, if that, and get in the way of the interests and needs of the broader American people.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: All right.
END 1:09 P.M.