the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers Alan Krueger

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:23 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being here.  I apologize for the delay this afternoon.

I have with me the President’s Chairman -- or rather the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Alan Krueger, recently confirmed by the Senate.  He is here to discuss with you the economic importance of the payroll tax cut, extending and expanding it into next year, as well as the importance it has had to our economy and to 160 million Americans this year.

So what I would like to do is have him go at the top, for you to address whatever questions you have on the policy issues to him.  You may have some political questions, which are more appropriately directed towards me; I will remain here to take them for you -- from you, rather.  And then I will let Alan go back to his important and difficult work, and then I will remain to take questions on other subjects.

With that, I give you Alan Krueger.

MR. KRUEGER:  Thanks, Jay.  I thought I’d say a few words about how the economy is doing and the importance of extending and expanding the payroll tax cut.  This is a critical time for the economy, and I think it’s a time where the economy can use more medicine to strengthen and sustain the recovery.

As you know, a year ago the Congress passed and the President signed a 2-percentage-point reduction in the payroll tax.  That tax cut has provided important support for the economy, especially at a time when the economy was hit with some shocks such as rising gasoline prices and supply-side shocks from the earthquake in Japan, problems in Europe.

The President has proposed expanding the payroll tax cut to 3.1 percent on the employee side, as well as cutting payroll taxes for employers, focusing the payroll tax cut for employers on small businesses and businesses that are expanding.

I think the economic argument for these proposals is quite compelling.  I think across the spectrum of economists you would find support for applying this type of medicine to the economy now.  The economy has been recovering; we’ve had nine quarters of growth.  But the pace of growth has been moderate.  We still have a great many underutilized resources.  Unemployment rate is still 9 percent.  We still have underutilized factories and resources.

Fundamentally, the economy is facing weak aggregate demand.  That’s economist-speak for not enough spending in the economy.  And I think you can trace the reasons for the weak demand directly to the problems that caused the economic crisis:  Families borrowed too much in the run-up to the crisis -- they’re now paying down debt; we had a severe bubble in the housing market; and residential construction has been quite flat in the recovery -- really unprecedented to have a recovery where residential construction has not been increasing.  And then on top of that, state and local governments, which retained employees when they were getting support from the Recovery Act, have been laying off workers.

So I think those are the reasons why the recovery has not been stronger, and at the same time, I think it’s important to provide insurance for the economy against further shocks, possible shocks down the road.

If the payroll tax is not extended, then the typical family with $50,000 in earnings would face a $1,000 tax increase starting in January.  What the President has proposed is extending that tax cut and expanding it so the typical family would have about a $1,500 tax cut, and as I mentioned, other components in the jobs act, the employer side, tax cuts, as well as extending unemployment benefits.

So, with that, I’m happy to take some questions.

MR. CARNEY:  Ben Feller.

Q    Thank you very much.  Are you asserting that the extension of the cut would actually make the economy better, or are you just saying that allowing it to expire would make the economy worse?

MR. KRUEGER:  I think both are true.  The President proposed extending and expanding the tax cut, so the beneficial effect that we saw from the last round would be larger.  I also think that the tax cuts on the employer side are particularly well designed.  The CBO has concluded that the type of incremental payroll tax that the President has proposed has pretty high bang for the buck, compared to other things that could be done to strengthen the economy.  And if the tax cut expires, as I said, that will be a $1,000 increase in taxes for the typical family, which would be a drag on economic growth going forward.  And you can see economists from across the spectrum who have noted that this could pose a severe drag for growth going forward if it’s allowed to expire.

Q    But if it’s extended at the same level, which is something that the Hill has talked about, 2 percent, that wouldn’t actually do anything to increase demand, increase spending.  I mean, people are already getting that cut.

MR. KRUEGER:  Well, compared to letting it expire, it certainly would support the economy.

Q    In terms of unemployment insurance, the extension that we just -- because that’s the other part the President seems to be talking about -- failure to extend that, would that have a similar effect on aggregate demand?

MR. KRUEGER:  If you look at CBO’s list -- I think they looked at 11 different policies that are currently being considered -- extending unemployment benefits, they concluded, had the biggest effect on the economy per dollar spent.  And the unemployed tend to have a very high propensity to spend their benefits, because they pay bills and little income coming in, running down savings.

So I think extending unemployment benefits as well would help to support the recovery going forward.

MR. CARNEY:  Matt.

Q    Senate Majority Leader Reid has said -- has warned that the failure to extend the tax -- the payroll tax cuts could push the U.S. economy into recession; some independent economists say the same.  Do you agree or disagree with that?

MR. KRUEGER:  I think what’s clear is that extending the payroll tax cut will strengthen the recovery.  Without it, it will be a drag on economic growth.  The forecasts, if you look at private sector forecasts, are for fairly moderate growth, perhaps not strong enough to bring down unemployment without the extension of the payroll tax cut, which is why the President proposed extending it and expanding it.

Q    Enough to cause a recession or not?

MR. KRUEGER:  What I can say, from looking at the evidence, is that this is the medicine that we can use in the near term to help strengthen the recovery and to help to provide insurance against shocks that might be coming.

Q    And you mentioned the problems in Europe, obviously the eurozone debt problems.  How much of a drag on the U.S. economy and on GDP growth do you expect for the rest of this year as well as for next year?

MR. KRUEGER:  A number of economists have pointed out that the problems in the eurozone are a potential threat to the U.S. economy and economies worldwide through both financial channels and through our exports -- about 20 percent of our exports go to Europe.  I think if one looks at the potential problems for economic growth coming from Europe, it even strengthens the argument for strengthening our own demand here at home.  The payroll tax cut is I think an extremely sensible way of doing that.  So, looking around at the developments in the world I think helps to strengthen the argument for the President’s proposal.

MR. CARNEY:  Jake.

Q    Given that the payroll tax goes to the Social Security trust fund, are you not concerned at all, A, that this will have an effect possibly on the solvency of the Social Security trust fund?  And also, B, why do this every year?  What you’re calling for -- what the President is calling for, the tax increase will just be delayed until January 2013.  Why not just do a whole structural change so that we don’t have to have this same conversation every year?

MR. KRUEGER:  Well, on your first question, I don’t think this jeopardizes the Social Security trust fund or the solvency of Social Security.  The trust fund is made whole by general revenues.  The Social Security chief actuary has stated that this does not affect the solvency of Social Security.

Moreover, the President proposed a way to pay for the extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut as well as the other components of the American Jobs Act, so over the 10-year period, the budget would be held neutral with respect to these cuts.

On the second question, looking at the pace of recovery, looking at the threats that we face today, I think it’s critical that we extend the payroll tax cut and expand it.  Down the road, we expect that the economy will be stronger and that the natural process of recovery takes over --

Q    In 2013, do you expect?

MR. KRUEGER:  Let me just say that recovery has been more sluggish than one might expect coming out of a recession because of the nature of the problems that created the crisis -- because consumers built up so much debt that they’re working their way down, because of problems in the housing market.  We’re seeing the economy heal; it’s just not healing fast enough.  So these measures would help to sustain the recovery and, down the road, such measures won’t be necessary.

Q    Can I just do a quick follow-up?  I’m sorry.  It seems the language that many in the White House and the administration are using about whether or not the payroll tax cut extension would be paid for is shifting a little bit in terms of how important it is that the pay-for is actually passed in combination with the extension.  Would the President sign legislation that extended the payroll tax cut if it weren’t paid for?

MR. KRUEGER:  The President proposed a way to do this and a way to pay for it.  The Senate Democrats came up with an alternative way to pay for it, which the President has said that he could support.  I think both of those approaches are sensible approaches.  And I think what we need to do is look for a way to extend the proposal -- extend the tax cut, which makes economic sense.

MR. CARNEY:  Norah, and then Mara.

Q    It appears the Joint Tax Committee has said that about a third of small businesses would be taxed additionally if you have the pay-for -- the so-called “millionaires tax.”  Wouldn’t that be hurtful to the economy, that pay-for, in terms of it hurting small businesses in that way by taxing them additionally to pay for this?

MR. KRUEGER:  The tax on incomes above a million dollars a year I think would hit very few small businesses.  The vast majority -- one figure I saw was 99 percent of individuals with small business income would not be affected by this.  So the vast majority of employers would be unaffected by what was proposed to pay for the payroll tax extension.

MR. CARNEY:  Mara.

Q    Mitch McConnell has said that you’re proposing to put a permanent tax on millionaires in exchange for this temporary tax cut.  What would be the effect of the surtax on millionaires, the economic effect?

MR. KRUEGER:  Well, the way to analyze economic effect is to say, when does the tax cut take effect?  When does the tax increase to pay for it take effect?  Those are not at the same time.  The tax cut would be immediate.  It would be for virtually all working families, focused on families with moderate incomes. 

So then look at what’s the marginal propensity to spend out of income for the different groups that are affected by the tax cut and the way that it’s paid for.  The families that would be affected by the tax cut tend to have a higher marginal propensity to spend, which would provide more support for the economy right away.  Those in upper-income groups with incomes above a million dollars a year tend to have a lower marginal propensity to consume.  So I think if you’re thinking about how is this going to affect the economy in the short run and the long run, this is the right fiscal path for strengthening the economy now and ensuring that it’s done in a fiscally responsible way.

Q    And can you just clarify something?  You said it would be a $1,000 tax increase if this isn’t passed, but it would be a $1,500 tax cut if it is.  How can that be?

MR. KRUEGER:  The question is what baselines you use.  So if you compare the status quo, if the payroll tax cut is not extended, that would mean starting in January an increase in payroll taxes for virtually all workers of 2 percent.  For a family earning $1,000 -- earning $50,000, that equates to a $1,000 tax increase.  What the President has proposed is extending and expanding the payroll tax cut, so the 3.1 percent compared to if it’s allowed to expire.

MR. CARNEY:  Let’s do Ed, then Laura.

Q    Can I just ask -- the President wants to extend unemployment benefits.  You did a study a few months ago suggesting the longer people are out of work the less time they end up spending looking for work.  So how does that square with trying to give people more benefits and stay unemployed longer?

MR. KRUEGER:  And I hope you’ve read the study.

Q    Not the entire --

MR. KRUEGER:  That’s all right.

Q    It was written about extensively.

MR. KRUEGER:  So there’s a lot of research on the effect of extended unemployment benefits, unemployment benefits more generally.  I think there’s a fair amount of consensus in the economics profession that there are tradeoffs involved, that particularly if you look at normal times when we’re close to full employment, that higher benefits or extended benefits do have some effect on search activity.

That effect is greatly reduced now when we have over four job seekers for every vacancy.  The effect of any individual perhaps taking more time to find a job that’s suitable for him or her is going to have less effect when there are other job seekers available for those positions.  That’s on the one hand.

On the other hand, another effect of unemployment benefits is that it provides critical income support for families when they’re going through a very difficult time.  I mentioned earlier that the unemployed tend to have a high marginal propensity to spend out of benefits that they receive to pay for their mortgages, and that helps to prevent foreclosures, and pay for food and so on, which supports the economy more generally.

The CBO, when it looked at this and weighed these different factors, came to the conclusion, which I think is a sensible conclusion, that extending unemployment benefits provides the biggest bang for the buck in terms of strengthening consumption in the economy and creating jobs, taking all of those factors into account.

MR. CARNEY:  Laura.

Q    Thank you.  I want to follow up on Jake’s question, which was whether the White House would accept a payroll tax cut or the UI extension without it being paid for.  You mentioned that the President had a proposal and the Senate Democrats have a proposal and that they both make sense, but I think what I’d like to know is whether it would be okay to do it without either one of those and just -- would that be one acceptable outcome, given the economics involved?

MR. KRUEGER:  I don’t want to go into what might happen when the Senate still hasn’t voted on the bill that Senator Casey has proposed; they’re going to vote on that later this week.  I can tell you that from my perspective, and I believe from the administration’s perspective, doing this in a way that makes economic sense is the way to proceed.  And I’m sure that the President would consider whether it’s a sensible economic strategy going forward.

But I think it’s first important that the Senate consider the legislation that’s before it, which does pay for this with a way that the Senate Democrats have proposed.

Q    And some would say that it makes economic sense to -- in a recession to have some upfront spending, even if it does increase the deficit long term.  Would you agree with that?

MR. KRUEGER:  You know, I would need to look at what the proposals are and wait until that point.  But hopefully Jay can have me back.

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll definitely have you back.

Q    That was what -- so you don’t have --

MR. CARNEY:  Well we’re not going to --

Q    In a perfect world, you don’t -- I mean, does it make sense in this economy to actually find a pay-for for this?

MR. KRUEGER:  I don’t want to go into specifics about what kind of -- finding a pay-for.  Some pay-fors make sense, some don’t.  All I can tell you is, I think at this point the right fiscal path for the country is to try to support the economy in the short run, and to do it in a fiscally responsible way, which is over a period of, say, a 10-year window -- which is common -- to have it be paid for.  That’s what the President has proposed.

Q    But you’re open to not --

MR. CARNEY:  Let’s just do --

Q    You’re open to not paying for it? 

MR. CARNEY:  Let me just take it.  I think I’ve gotten this, Alan’s now gotten it three times.  We’re not going to speculate about what might happen if Senate Republicans do not hear the call of the vast majority of the American people to vote in favor of extending and expanding the payroll tax cut, and paying for it in a way that is entirely economically responsible and broadly supported by the American people, Americans of all political persuasion.

So that vote hasn’t happened yet.  We certainly hope that enough senators vote for it, that it will then move to the House, pass there, and be signed into law by the President.  It would certainly be nice if a simple majority of senators were allowed to vote on this, pass it and send it to the President -- send it to the House and the President’s desk.  We certainly know that a vast majority of the American people support it.

So we’re not going to speculate about endgames if certain things do or don’t happen in the Senate.  I got a couple more for Alan because I have a hard out for me.  (Laughter.) 

MR. KRUEGER:  Knew there was a reason you wanted me.

MR. CARNEY:  Mark.  Yes.

Q    Can I ask you about the national debt?  It topped $15 trillion a couple of weeks ago, and it’s now bearing down on 100 percent of GDP.  Does that worry you?

MR. KRUEGER:  I think it’s very important that we get on a sustainable fiscal path.  I think it’s also important we measure the debt in the right way, looking at net debt held by the public.  But hold that aside.  The President has proposed -- in September gave a proposal to the super committee or joint committee of Congress to help put us on a fiscally sustainable path.  And I think that as we strengthen the economy in the short run, we need to do two things at once:  We need to strengthen the economy in the short run, and we need to return to a fiscally sustainable path.

Q    If Congress just extends it at the 2 percent, would that lower the unemployment rate next year?

MR. KRUEGER:  I think if you look at independent estimates from across the spectrum, they would predict that extending the payroll tax cut or expanding it would lead to stronger economic growth and more employment than would otherwise be the case.

Q    But just the extension, just the 2 percent, that would lower the unemployment rate?

MR. KRUEGER:  I think that that would create more jobs compared to the situation if it’s not extended.

Q    What would that do to the actual rate?  I’m sorry.

MR. KRUEGER:  If you compare it to what the unemployment rate would be if it were not extended, I think because we would have more job growth by extending it, all else equal, it would lead to a lower unemployment rate.  But the important thing is to compare it to how does it affect economic growth, how does it affect job growth, compared to extending it versus not extending it.

MR. CARNEY:  Let me do one more. 

Q    To follow on that then, would the White House consider, regardless of the pay-for, simply extending the payroll tax cut without an expansion?  I haven’t heard that.

MR. KRUEGER:  I’m going to rewind what Jay said.


MR. KRUEGER:  The Senate is considering a bill later this week, which has a way to pay for it.  The President proposed a way to pay for it.  And we’re open to economically sensible ways of trying to strengthen the economy and do it in a fiscally responsible way.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you, Alan.  Appreciate it.  Thank you all.  I will now let Alan get back to his economic work, and will take your questions on other issues.  I, regrettably, have to leave here in about 15 minutes.  Before I take questions, I just wanted to note, as I’m sure all of you saw, that the Vice President landed in Baghdad earlier today on a visit, I think his eighth as Vice President, and an even higher number since he was a senator or in the last eight or 10 years.

I just want to note that President Obama, when he was running for this office, made clear that if elected he would end the war in Iraq responsibly.  What we’re seeing happen in these final six weeks of the year is the fulfillment of that promise, where we’re withdrawing the remaining U.S. forces from Iraq and we are ending that war responsibly and giving the Iraqi people the chance for a better future that they deserve and also maintaining an important strategic relationship with Iraq.

I would note that having, as you know, worked for the Vice President during his first two years here, that it was a measure of the President’s seriousness about Iraq and seriousness about fulfilling his commitment that he asked the Vice President to take on day-to-day management of this policy, which is why he has traveled, as you know, so often to Iraq over the last nearly three years.

And with that, I will take your questions.  Jake.

Q    I’ve heard from a lot of Democrats in the last few weeks who are concerned about President Obama possibly granting an exemption to Catholic churches, hospitals and universities from the requirement that all insurance plans cover contraception.  I’m wondering if you could shed any light on this decision.  I know the President has not yet made a decision, but I think these Democrats, a lot of them in the abortion rights community, are concerned that this is even being discussed.  Could you explain why the President is considering an exemption, and what’s going into his decision-making?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, part of the process, Jake, as you know, was seeking and receiving public input before the guidelines that were announced by the Secretary of Health and Human Services would go into effect.  That process did result in public input, as well as resulted in numerous comments from various folks who have concerns about this issue. 

The President has -- this decision has not yet been made.  You can be sure that we want to strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs.  And that’s the balance that will be sought as this decision is made.


Q    Believe it or not, I had a quick follow-up on the payroll tax. 

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    I know you don’t want to comment about a Senate vote that hasn’t happened yet, and I’m not asking about that.  I understand your point on that.  What I’m asking is about the President’s point when he unveiled the payroll tax at the end-of-September speech.  He said then that every idea in his plan will be paid for, and he has said it dozens of times since then.  I’m just wondering if he stands by that, that he has proposals, including this payroll tax extension, he wants Congress to pass them and he wants them to be paid for.

MR. CARNEY:  I will repeat what Alan said and add a little bit to it.  As you noted, in September the President put forward a comprehensive proposal, the American Jobs Act, that included within it the extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans -- a tax cut that goes right to hardworking middle-class Americans, a tax cut that has given this year an average of $1,000 extra in the average family’s wallet, and would, if expanded next year, result in a $1,500 tax cut. 

That’s very important for those families, to help them make ends meet as we continue to emerge from the worst recession in our lifetime, since the Great Depression.  And it’s important for the economy, because as Alan noted earlier, the payroll tax cut is widely viewed by economists -- independent economists and forecasters to have a very positive impact on economic growth and job creation.

The President believes that the best way to do this is the way that he put forward, with the pay-for that he put forward.  He also believes that the pay-for the Senate Democrats have put forward meets the principles that he laid out.  And he looks forward to the Senate voting on the proposal that Senator Casey has put forward later this week.  It’s the responsible thing to do.

And as I think I noted the other day, if only Senate Republicans who say they will vote against this express as much passion about the need to cut taxes for the middle class as they express to protect tax cuts and protect the incomes of millionaires and billionaires, we might be able to get this done without much hullabaloo.  I mean, this after all -- is anyone here surprised that we’re in a debate with Republicans about whether or not to cut taxes is the right thing to do for the middle class?  I thought they were for tax cuts.

The President has put forward this tax cut and expanding it for the middle class, for 160 million working Americans, and we’ll have a vote on that later this week.  And what you all are telling me is that Republicans are going to vote against it.  They have to explain that. 

And the reason they’re going to vote against it they say so far is because they don’t want it to be paid for in a way that the vast majority of Americans support that asks millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit extra -- millionaires and billionaires who, as you know, based on the CBO study and many others, have done exceptionally well, have seen their slice of the American pie grow as the middle class has been squeezed.  So we certainly hope that Senate Republicans will hear the call of their constituents, reconsider their vote later this week, and pass this with more than 60 votes and send it to the House.

Q    Nothing you just said responds to Ben’s question, which was does he still stand by his statement?

MR. CARNEY:  That is the President’s preferred choice.  You’re asking me -- if only it were the case that what this President wanted he got in whole and in full.  And certainly that’s what we would ask of the Senate, that they would pass the American Jobs Act in its entirety as written by the President, proposed by the President.  Unfortunately, thus far, this has not happened.
We have had one modest but important success working with the Congress on one element of the Jobs Act, and that was the assistance to veterans, to hiring veterans.  We hope that Congress will act on the payroll tax cut and expansion.  I’m not going to speculate about what Congress might do, and as Alan said, what pay-fors they might come up with if they vote this down, this very responsible provision or proposal that will come forward in the Senate later this week.


Q    You can’t say whether the President would sign a bill that is paid for or not?

MR. CARNEY:  We don’t know what the end game is yet.  And there is no value in this process or ultimately for the American people who want and deserve this tax cut to negotiate an end game here before we’ve even had a vote.  So I’m not going to go any further on that. 


Q    You do it all the time.  You put out veto threats.

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a bill -- the bill that Ben is talking about and others have now asked in a variety of occasions, a hypothetical bill that puts forward either an extension or an expansion of the payroll --

Q    Without a pay-for?

MR. CARNEY:  -- does not yet exist.  We put out SAPs when there are bills to put out SAPs on.

Q    That’s the idea of rolling back the sequester --

MR. CARNEY:  There is a bill on -- in the Senate that will be voted on later this week and we fully support that bill.


Q    I want to make sure before we lose you, we get you reacting to Iran.  The U.N. Security Council condemned the fact that the government there did not help secure the British diplomatic offices.  I wonder if you could react to that.  But also, has the President instructed any U.S. personnel to do anything with U.S. embassies around the world in other hot spots?  Is there any concern about U.S. embassies around the world?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any announcement to make with regard to the second part of your question.  You might want to check with the State Department.  But I’m not aware of anything related to the events in Tehran. 

I put out a statement earlier today, as you know, saying that the United States condemns in the strongest terms the storming of the British embassy in Tehran.  

Iran, as every other country does, has a responsibility to protect the diplomatic missions present in its country, and the personnel stationed in them.  I would also note that Iran has a responsibility to protect diplomatic personnel -- not just to protect them, but not to try to assassinate them, which was another issue that we dealt with not too long ago.

So Iran’s behavior outside of international norms is well established, and this is another item in the catalogue of particulars -- particular transgressions that the Iranian regime has perpetrated over the months and years.  And we strongly condemn it.

Q    Very quick follow-up.  You note the storming of the diplomatic offices, the embassy, but also the attempted assassination of the Saudi ambassador.  Does that not suggest that sanctions, while they’ve hurt the Iranian economy, they have done nothing to stop Iran from operating outside international norms?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what we know, Ed, is that we have built an unprecedented international coalition behind the effort to isolate and pressure Iran; to get it to change its behavior; to prevent it from pursuing nuclear weapons.  We have made, through that effort, the choice ever more starkly clear to the Iranian regime that faces them, which is further isolation, further pressure, further scorn in the eyes of the international community, or a decision to get right with the world, to live up to its international obligations and fulfill its responsibilities.

We have recently, as you know, put forward even tighter sanctions on the Iranians -- so have other of our partners internationally -- and we will continue in that effort in a variety of means, not just through sanctions, to isolate and pressure Iran.

Q    Jay, the President is now in a TV ad, speaking to camera, saying the 2012 campaign has begun.  And I know yesterday you guys were pushing back very hard on this concept of it just being a coincidence how many swing states the President has been.  But tomorrow you’re going to Scranton, Pennsylvania, a swing state.  How is this not just a straight-up political trip?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you are an expert, there is no question, Chuck, on how this works.  But we did win Pennsylvania by double digits.  I suppose that it might be a swing state next year.  You know more about this than I do.

The point I made yesterday, which I think bears repeating, is that Virginia is 10 minutes away from the Oval Office.  Every President, including this one, makes a lot of visits to Virginia to get out of Washington.  This President has.  Because he also happened to have won Virginia in 2008, it is now viewed as a battleground state.

Every President ought to be able to travel everywhere in the country.  It’s part of his responsibility, serving the American people, to get out and be among them and to speak with them about his agenda or her agenda.  This President will continue to do that.

It is also true that we are moving forward in what will be a Presidential election year.  And this President is running for reelection and fully intends to carry out his role as a candidate and to win reelection.  And so that process is also underway.  But it is a separate process.  And at this point, because the President faces no primary challenger, and the President has enormous responsibilities as President to fulfill -- principally to do everything he can, both legislatively and using his executive authority to grow the economy and create jobs -- he is overwhelmingly focused on that task and not on campaigning.

Q    How much time is he focused on the campaign on a given day?

MR. CARNEY:  On a given day?  I can’t do it on a given day.  I would say on a given week about 5 percent of his time.

Q    Question about Pakistan?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me get to Stephen, who’s patiently --

Q    What does the administration think about Russia’s statement that it’s time for an end to ultimatums to Syria?  And it certainly seems like Russia is acting directly against the U.S. and Arab League bid to further isolate Damascus.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say a couple of things.  One, as I noted yesterday, the chronology here, with regards to Syria, I think tells a very significant story about growing international consensus that the Assad regime has behaved reprehensively -- reprehensibly, rather.  It has perpetrated gross violations of human rights against its own citizens.  It has used excessive violence and force against its own citizens.

There is broad international consensus around that idea, and that is why you see so much pressure being brought to bear, not just by the United States, not just by Western nations, but also by nations in the region.  So I think that’s an important point.

We have an important relationship with Russia that encompasses a lot of issues.  We don’t agree with Russia on every issue, but we certainly have agreed on many and have made significant progress as a result of the agreement that we do have.

Q    Is there any concern that in recent weeks Russia has become -- perhaps since the transfer of power was kind of muted, seems to have become a little bit more hawkish on the international stage?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply stand back and take note of the fact, with regard to Iran -- subject we were just discussing -- that in the bilateral meetings the President had with President Medvedev, there was no debate about Iran’s behavior.  There was no disagreement, rather, about Iran’s behavior.  And you noticed that in the wake of that, when there was a vote at the IAEA Board of Governors, that there was a great sweeping consensus in support of that vote.

I think that, again, we have an important relationship with Russia.  We have a number of issues that we agree on, and obviously we don’t agree on everything.

Jon-Christopher.  The last one. 

Q    Does the decision from Pakistan to skip the Afghan conference in Bonn, Germany, on December 5th trigger any concerns from this White House that Pakistan is withdrawing from all international efforts to stabilize the region in Afghanistan before and after the troop withdrawal on 2014?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I appreciate the question.  We certainly urge Pakistan to participate in this conference.  It’s very important for the future of Afghanistan.  Pakistan, obviously, will play an important role in the future of Afghanistan, and we urge them to participate in the conference.

Thank you.

3:01 P.M. EST