Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/16/12
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:31 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House. It is awesome to see you all here. Before I get started -- rather, before I take your questions, I have a readout of the President’s meeting with congressional leaders.
Today, President Obama, over sandwiches from Taylor Gourmet, a shop many of you have sampled, met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi here at the White House. The President urged the leaders to act on additional measures to create jobs and strengthen the economic recovery, including the five items on the President’s "To-Do" list for Congress -- like the tax cuts for small businesses that the President discussed with local entrepreneurs earlier today at Taylor Gourmet.
The Congress "To-Do" list also includes items like helping veterans find jobs, and assistance to responsible homeowners -- in other words, the kind of priorities that Republicans and Democrats should be able to work together on to help the economy and support the middle class.
The President emphasized the need for Congress to avoid refighting old political fights, and act to prevent interest rates on student loans from doubling on July 1. The President also made clear that he refuses to allow a replay of last summer’s self-inflicted political crisis that eroded confidence and hurt the American economy.
The President reminded the leaders that he has signed into law over $2 trillion in deficit reduction, bringing domestic spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy since the Eisenhower administration. The President reiterated that any serious bipartisan approach to tackle our deficit must be a balanced approach, and he made clear his willingness to work with Republicans and Democrats to stake out an agreement along those lines, but was just as clear that he would not accept an approach that asks middle-class families and senior citizens to make sacrifices without asking for anything more from millionaires and billionaires.
With that I will take your questions.
Jim from the Associated Press.
Q Thank you, Jay. On that point then, did the President raise the issue that Boehner raised yesterday regarding the debt ceiling? And does the President feel that he’s in a better bargaining position, given that the Bush tax cuts end December 31st, the mandatory spending cuts begin next year -- does he feel that he can, one, negotiate that kind of balanced approach that he’s talking about in a better way than he could in the summer? And can he indeed separate the debt ceiling debate from that debate?
MR. CARNEY: The topic did come up. The Speaker raised it and the President made clear, as I just said, that we’re not going to recreate the debt ceiling debacle of last August. It is simply not acceptable to hold the American and global economy hostage to one party’s political ideology. It is the responsibility of Congress to ensure that the United States of America pays its bills, that it maintains its creditworthiness, that it fulfills its obligation and maintains the full faith and credit that it has long enjoyed.
It is also important that Congress act together with the President to deal with our medium- and long-term fiscal challenges. That’s why the President has put forward a balanced approach to those challenges in his budget that cuts the deficit by over $4 trillion, that incorporates the $2 trillion in domestic spending cuts that the President has already signed into law -- non-defense discretionary cuts that bring that portion of the budget to its lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower was President, since before many -- most of the people in this room were born. Present company excluded, I guess.
Q Does that give him more leverage?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to game out how -- what the future looks like. What the President is intently focused on is, A, the need for Congress to work together on the kinds of things that are in the "To-Do" list, as well as student loans, as well as the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization, as well as the transportation bill.
These are all things that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. These are all things that should pass with bipartisan support that the President should be able to sign into law if members of Congress come together and do the right thing and basically surprise the American people by demonstrating that in an election year and despite our differences, that we can get the things done that need to be done.
It is also -- as the President made clear in the meeting, it is also the case that if Republicans in the Congress end their intransigence and adopt the balanced approach to our deficit and debt challenges that everyone else overwhelmingly believes -- and adopt what everyone else overwhelmingly believes is the right approach, which is a balanced approach, which includes not just discretionary spending cuts, not just entitlement reforms but also revenues -- then there is ample opportunity here to put into place a long-term budget that both ensures we continue to grow our economy and create jobs, and significantly reduces our deficits and debt.
Q Was there any discussion about invoking the 14th Amendment in order to avoid that kind of brinksmanship?
MR. CARNEY: I do not believe so.
Q On one other subject, if I may. Yesterday you -- when you were asked about Bain, you said, well, those are campaign ads. But today, the President --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I said a great deal more than that, but they were, in fact, a campaign ad -- it was a question based on a campaign ad.
Q Well, today, the Vice President raised -- issues that were raised in that campaign ad, so I was wondering if you could talk specifically about what is it about how Romney ran Bain that informs us how well he would govern.
MR. CARNEY: I think, again, this is the kind of question specifically about the campaign that is best directed to the campaign, to the President's campaign.
The broader point, which I made yesterday, is that the President looks forward to discussing with the American people and debating with his opponent what the right vision for America's future is when it comes to the economy, and what the President's record shows about what he believes is the right way to go, and what his opponent's record shows about the approach he might take -- both his record and what he has said. That’s what elections are all about.
And I think one area of agreement that I've noticed here is that we all think the economy is the number-one issue. And the President very strongly believes, as you've heard him say, that in order to ensure that we continue to see the economy grow, to ensure that we continue to see jobs created, and to ensure that the middle class in this country is secure and expands and continues to be the backbone of the nation, we need to invest in the right areas like education and innovation and infrastructure, research and development, clean energy. We need to deal with our deficit and debt in a way that does not ask senior citizens and the middle class to bear all the burden, but asks everyone to do their fair share.
And that’s a vision that he'll put forward and looks forward to debating in the campaign season.
Q Again, what is it about Bain that --
MR. CARNEY: Again, that is a specific question for the campaign, and while a part of me would enjoy the opportunity to engage with that, I would ask you to take a purely campaign question based on a campaign ad --
Q So it is purely --
MR. CARNEY: -- well, the Vice President -- he was speaking at a campaign event about the Republican nominee, or presumptive nominee. I think you can ask the campaign about that.
Q So he's representing the campaign but not the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, what’s your question exactly? If it’s about campaign tactics and why --
Q No, I mean, just why can't you answer the question about Bain, that’s all. What is it about Bain that makes it an important issue in this campaign?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I can interpret what the campaign has said, which is that the experience of loading up companies with debt, pulling out profits, and in many cases having companies fail and workers lose their jobs, and prior to losing their jobs lose their pensions and other benefits, is not the kind of experience that the President thinks, the campaign thinks, is the right experience that you would want to then apply to the country.
But again, I think this is a question that the campaign can answer more fully.
Q That’s the kind of risk, though, that is inherent to a private equity --
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q -- and the President has used the argument about risk when he’s talked and defended the loans to Solyndra. So is there a difference in tackling risk and --
MR. CARNEY: I would say that being President entails many other responsibilities, obligations and decisions that go beyond whether or not -- the decision to invest in a certain company or invest in a sector like clean energy. It’s an aspect of it, but it is not the complete experience that informs how you make decisions as President.
Q Jay, can you talk about the atmospherics of today’s meeting? And also, did Speaker Boehner’s comments yesterday about the debt ceiling change the tone of the meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President had lunch with the leaders alone. I was not in there. No staff was in there. I spoke with the President afterwards. My sense is the tone was congenial, the discussion was productive, the sandwiches were delicious -- and that while the topic was raised and discussed, there was no other issue associated with -- or no problem associated with Speaker Boehner’s remarks yesterday.
Q What portion of the meeting was taken up by that? And I know the President wanted to talk about --
MR. CARNEY: I think my readout of the meeting and the percentage of time spent on the various topics is a fair representation of the percentages of the meeting and how they broke down.
Q But the President did call a meeting to talk about his "To-Do" list.
MR. CARNEY: And they spent some time talking about that. They spent some time talking about the fact that -- and I think this was noted not just by the President but by others in the room, and members of both parties -- that, in fact, the President and this Congress, Republicans and Democrats, have worked together to get a number of things done despite their differences, despite the fact that this is an election year. And as I’ve noted before, that includes extending the payroll tax cut. It includes extending unemployment insurance. It includes the STOCK Act and the so-called JOBS Act. And it includes the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, among other things.
And the kinds of initiatives that are included in the President’s "To-Do" list for Congress are similar to those in that they should be able to garner bipartisan support. They are the kinds of things that, whether it’s the assistance to small businesses or assistance to veterans, have traditionally enjoyed both Democratic and Republican support, and should this time enjoy bipartisan support.
So there was a significant portion of the meeting dedicated to that -- the items on the "To-Do" list and other things like the surface transportation bill and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that are other examples of the kinds of things that should be able to get done in spite of the fact that it’s an election year.
Let me move around here. Olivier, weren’t you -- yes.
Q Yes. Not that long ago you said it was maybe time to admit defeat on the ceasefire plan in Syria. And then yesterday you came out and you sounded a lot more positive about it. You said it had tamped down the violence there. What’s changed? Why the change in tone? Do you think it’s -- it's still time to admit -- or possibly time to admit defeat? What’s the state of play?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that we support the Annan plan. We remain very skeptical about Assad’s willingness to comply with the Annan plan. We note that he has yet to comply fully with any of the six points within it. We support it, however, because while it is not being fulfilled -- compliance is not being met by Assad, it has served to reduce the violence somewhat, which obviously is a good thing, and it serves as a foundation for the future political reconciliation that will be required, and it is essential for the better future that the Syrian people so obviously deserve.
Q Are you aware of media reports that other Gulf states are providing weapons to Syria’s opposition? And are they doing that with either the tacit or explicit support from this administration?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m certainly aware of the reports and I think you know where we are on this -- we, the United States. We continue to provide non-lethal support to the opposition. And while I can only speak for the United States, we know that others are pursuing different types of support, and I’d refer you to them to characterize the nature of their actions. Our position on this hasn’t changed.
Q The Speaker’s office has put out his readout of what happened inside the meeting, and according to them, the Speaker directly asked the President whether he would propose any cuts along with raising the debt ceiling and the President said no. Is that correct?
MR. CARNEY: The Speaker said, should we -- are you saying that we should pass a clean debt ceiling, which is a little different, but the essence is the same. And the President’s point was we should not hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to one party’s political agenda. It is the absolute responsibility of Congress to ensure that the United States of America is good on its word, that it pays its bills.
It is also the case that we need to take action in a balanced way to deal with our deficit and debt. That has always been our position. It is embodied in the President’s budget. It is embodied in the efforts the President made last summer to try to reach a so-called grand bargain, and it is his position today.
And I would note that it is widely accepted now -- although, regrettably, not universally accepted -- that the primary stumbling block to bipartisan cooperation on this issue is the absolute intransigence, the absolute refusal of Republicans to accept what bipartisan commissions accept, what Democrats, independents and Republicans out in the country accept, which is that we need a balanced approach to this; that we need to -- in order to get control of our deficit and debts, we need not only to cut significantly -- as we have already -- domestic, non-defense discretionary spending, we need to introduce reforms in our entitlement systems that strengthen them and, in the President's vision, reduce costs, health care costs, without burdening seniors, and we need to make sure that everybody does their fair share, we need to include revenues as part of the package.
I note -- and it stuns me, Norah. If I could just point out -- because your question reminds me of something I read at some ungodly hour this morning since my son woke up early -- which is that Chairman Paul Ryan of the Budget Committee was on television last night and he chastised the President for disavowing the Bowles-Simpson Commission without mentioning that he himself was a member of the Bowles-Simpson Commission and voted no. He voted no to the balanced approach that the Bowles-Simpson Commission recommended -- a balanced approach which is mirrored by the President's own budget; a balanced approach which is universally, by those who've looked at this who aren't elected members of Congress or the Republican Party, viewed as the essential answer to the challenge.
Q Okay. Paul Ryan voted against it, but the President also didn’t endorse it or enact any of it. So I think --
MR. CARNEY: The President put forward a budget proposal that embodies the balanced approach that the Simpson-Bowles Commission -- which he appointed -- recommended. That is a fact.
That balanced approach is nowhere evident in the Ryan budget, it's nowhere evident in the rhetoric of House Republican leaders, regrettably. Because overwhelmingly, that’s where we have to go to successfully overcome the challenges that we face when it comes to our medium and long-term deficit and debt.
Q Today we have the President of the United States insisting on a clean debt increase.
MR. CARNEY: What the President --
Q Hold on, let me just -- the President is insisting on one position, and the Speaker is also insisting that he will not increase the debt limit unless there are spending cuts. So are we headed, again, to another one of these debacles?
MR. CARNEY: I think you have to ask the Speaker of the House whether or not he intends or he believes that it is the right thing to do for the American people, the American economy, to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States government. The President says we're not --
Q Where is the compromise?
MR. CARNEY: The compromise is a balanced approach that everybody who is not an elected member of Congress, of the Republican Party, has identified as the right solution.
Q Why can't you increase the debt limit on balanced cuts?
MR. CARNEY: The compromise is the President is willing to cut non-defense discretionary spending to its lowest level since the Eisenhower administration. This President has signed into law non-defense discretionary spending cuts that brings that portion of our budget to its lowest level as a percentage of GDP since Ike was President -- before you were born -- significantly.
That demonstrates against the charge that Democrats don’t want spending cuts a significant compromise. He cuts discretionary spending. He has put forward entitlement reforms that, as you know, are sometimes difficult for Democrats to accept. But he has successfully made the point that we need -- that if we take a balanced approach, we do not need to, and we should not and must not, ask middle-class Americans and senior citizens to bear all the burden of overcoming our deficit and debt challenges -- which is what the Ryan budget does.
It says, you know what, we're going to give more tax cuts to the wealthy; we're going to dramatically cut investments in education, innovation, research and development. And how are we going to pay for all this? Well, there's a magic asterisk, for one thing; he doesn’t really say. But the answer is, we're going to stick it to the middle class -- because we're not going to ask the wealthiest Americans who have, unlike the middle class, done exceptionally well over the past 10 years or so, to contribute, to do their fair share.
That’s just not an approach that the President believes is right, and doesn’t represent in any way a willingness to compromise.
Q And just a quick response to Speaker Boehner, who, this morning in his press conference before he came over here, asked, where is the President's plan to tackle our looming debt crisis? Can you answer that?
MR. CARNEY: The Speaker knows exactly where it is. You know exactly where it is. He presented a budget that does just that -- that cuts our deficits by over $4 trillion and ensures that we continue to invest in the areas of the economy and in the middle class that --
Q Is that the President's budget is --
MR. CARNEY: It is -- look, it cannot be that the way to get to an answer is compromise, A, and then you refuse to compromise, B.
The President's budget proposal reflects the priorities of bipartisan commissions; it reflects the approach of Republicans on --
Q But his own party won't even bring it up for a vote.
MR. CARNEY: But where are the Republicans? Where have they demonstrated a willingness to compromise? Where have they demonstrated a willingness to do what everyone on the outside -- including a majority of the American people, including a majority of the Republicans in this country -- believe is the right thing to do, which is to say there are three legs to this stool, and we need all three of them to make the stool stands. And that means discretionary cuts, it means entitlement reforms and it means revenues.
Q At today's meeting was the President saying, I'm not going to budge, and the Speaker saying, I'm not going to budge?
MR. CARNEY: Look, there is a lot that the Congress and the President can work together to get done, as they discussed as well. And the President looks forward to Congress taking action on the "To-Do" list and on other items, like making sure student loans don’t double -- the interest rates on student loans don't double in the next couple of months, making sure that the Violence Against Women Act gets reauthorized in a bipartisan way, as it has consistently over the years, making sure that we keep construction workers on the job working to rebuild our infrastructure.
These are things that the American people want done. These are things that Republicans, Democrats have traditionally supported together. These are things that the President has indicated he wants to sign into law. And I think there's an opportunity here for Congress to act on them and prove that even in this environment and even in this election year they are willing to do the work that the American people sent them here to do.
Q Jay, was there an agreement in the room among the parties that there shouldn’t be this hostage-taking or chicken-playing, or whatever metaphor you want to use? Were the rest of the parties in agreement on that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you should ask the leaders themselves. I can simply characterize what the President's view was and what he expressed in the meeting about how he simply will not accept an approach that tries to recreate the self-inflicted political wounds that caused harm to the economy last summer.
Q Was that in agreement even among the Democratic leaders?
MR. CARNEY: I simply -- you're putting words into my readout, which I didn’t include.
Q I’m asking you --
MR. CARNEY: And I said that I’m not going to characterize what the other leaders think. I’m simply characterizing what the President said.
Q Just a quick point of clarification. The $4 trillion in deficit reduction, about $2 trillion of that is from winding down the war in Iraq.
MR. CARNEY: No, that’s --
Q It's separate?
MR. CARNEY: That figure is too high. As the original Ryan budget does, it includes OCO, which is the acronym, which stands for something that means what you’re talking about. (Laughter.) And it demonstrates the savings from policy decisions that this President made to end the war in Iraq and to put us on a path of ending the war in Afghanistan -- policy decisions that are hugely significant not just as foreign policy and national security matters, and not just for the men and women who are sent overseas to fight on our behalf, but for budgetary reasons -- and policy decisions, which, by the way, leaders -- at least some of the leaders in the other party reject, those who say we should still have American soldiers in Iraq, those who say that we should not have a timetable for ending the war in Afghanistan.
You can’t have it both ways. You can't say you’d rather reverse those policies, continue to have troops in Iraq, prolong our stay in Afghanistan, which, of course, requires money to pay for them, and then say but you can’t count that savings that are a result of concrete policy decisions.
Paul Ryan thought they were legitimate in his first budget proposal.
Q Well, not really.
MR. CARNEY: He did. There were in -- go look at the Ryan budget.
Q I did.
MR. CARNEY: And it’s in there.
Q There is one way of scoring in which it’s in there and then the way of scoring that they presented where it’s not -- but that’s not really what I want to talk about.
MR. CARNEY: These are concrete savings from a budget -- from policy decisions that the President of the United States put in place, that others, were they in the Oval Office, would not have put in place, with all the resulting costs.
Q In six and a half months, we’re facing this potential debacle, this $8 trillion. How much energy does the President intend to devote to trying to solve this problem before it reaches a crisis in December?
MR. CARNEY: The President has put forward a budget proposal that solves -- I mean, if you’re talking about --
Q I’m talking about negotiating with congressional leaders.
MR. CARNEY: -- dealing with the sequester, which, by the way, the Congress voted for the Budget Control Act. The Congress assigned itself the task of coming up with a balanced solution -- coming up with a solution -- the only successful one has to be balanced if it’s going to be bipartisan -- in order to avoid the sequester, which no party wants to see enacted.
Q Right. Congress failed.
MR. CARNEY: Congress continues to have that opportunity.
Q Absolutely. Congress failed. I’m with you. We have this problem six and half months from now --
MR. CARNEY: But it is a part of the American ethic that when you get knocked down, you get up and you keep trying. And that’s what Congress ought to do. They ought to come together, work out a balanced approached. The President has put forward concretely and specifically the ideas that he thinks should guide that approach. The policy choices here are pretty clear. There’s been a lot of debate and discussion and serious-minded negotiation on these subjects.
So there’s an opportunity that remains, as the President made clear in the meeting and as I made clear in my readout of the meeting -- it remains for the kind of bipartisan compromise around a balanced approach that the budget the President put forward represents.
Q So just to clarify, the answer is, no, the President --
MR. CARNEY: That’s not true at all. I mean, they talked about it today. The key stumbling block here --
Q Is that the Republicans in the House refuse to raise any taxes.
MR. CARNEY: Refuse to acknowledge that the only way to do this, the only way to come together and get this done, is to adopt the balanced approach that not just the President, but just about everyone else who’s looked at this has deemed the right way to do it.
And as I’ve said on a number of issues, the President accepts the fact that just because he says he believes it’s the right thing to do, Republicans may not then do it, but they have constituents they need to answer to. And one of the more remarkable things about the apparent desire to recreate the debacle of last summer that was precipitated by the same approach the Speaker of the House suggested we adopt again is that the American people thought it was a terrible thing. And I don’t think they would reward leaders who suggest that the right way to fulfill their responsibility as leaders is to risk tanking the American economy. That’s just terrible. That’s not leadership. That’s a failure of leadership.
And the right way to get something done is to agree that you’re not going to get everything you want, and look at what so many people have put forward as the necessary path for bipartisan compromise.
Q The $1.2 -- I think it’s $1.2 trillion in cuts that are the sequester cuts that automatically kick in. If the Bush tax cuts -- $4 trillion worth -- expire, would that eliminate the need to sequester $1.2 trillion in cuts?
MR. CARNEY: Well, mathematically it might be so. I haven’t done the analysis myself. But the President, as you know, believes we should extend tax cuts for the middle class and we absolutely should end unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Q Right, I know, but you also feel that not everybody is going to get everything they want. So I was just wondering, is it possible --
MR. CARNEY: Well, that wouldn't represent everything we want.
Q Is there a mechanism in there -- it’s a technical question -- if the $4 trillion in tax cuts expire, does that negate the need for $1.2 trillion in --
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re talking about apples and oranges here. And I think there are a lot of things that people have talked about that rise to --
Q Not really.
MR. CARNEY: -- that will be dealt with, if they haven’t been by then, by the end of the year.
Q It’s $4 trillion in revenue.
MR. CARNEY: Right. But there are a number of issues that -- there’s the Bush tax cuts, there’s the sequester. I’m not going to negotiate how that plays out now --
Q I'm not asking you to negotiate. But take the question --
MR. CARNEY: As a technical thing, if you’re asking me does $4 trillion account for $1.2 trillion --
Q Would it then negate it?
MR. CARNEY: It doesn’t negate it. These are policy decisions that policymakers have to make about where they think this country ought to go in terms of the policies we ought to adopt that will help grow the economy and deal with our fiscal challenges. And there are a lot of decisions to be made.
What is helpful in this case is that the universe of options has been pretty thoroughly explored over the last several years as we’ve had commissions and negotiations and budget proposals put forward. And the consensus, the broad consensus that has emerged from this prolonged debate is that we need to take a balanced approach to this. We need to deal with these challenges by cutting non-defense discretionary spending significantly, which the President has already agreed to do and signed into law. We need to introduce reforms into our entitlement system that strengthen those programs and produce savings in health care. And we need to increase revenues so that we don’t have to deal with our deficit and debt in a way that puts all the burden on the middle class and senior citizens, because that’s just not the right thing to do and it would be bad for our economy. It would be bad to adopt a proposal that, lacking any other detail provided in it, would potentially cut investments in education and border security and all sorts of other programs -- innovation -- by something on the order of 19 percent.
Q These commission recommendations you keep talking about there’s a consensus about -- President Obama has not endorsed any of them, right?
MR. CARNEY: The President has through his actions and his proposals endorsed the balanced approach that is represented by the Simpson-Bowles Commission, by the Domenici-Rivlin Commission.
Q But he didn’t support --
MR. CARNEY: The numbers are not exactly the same. And in fact, what is off --
Q But he doesn’t support their recommendations?
MR. CARNEY: Not all of them in their specifics, but -- they have far greater defense cuts. Does Paul Ryan support that? They have far greater tax revenues. These are just two areas where it -- you guys should be calling out folks who say, well, we should be supporting this commission, when, in fact, it includes proposals that they wouldn’t come near to with a 10-foot pole.
The President’s proposal actually proposed in his budget fewer defense cuts and fewer -- and less revenues than Simpson-Bowles. Another example of his willingness to compromise.
So the outline of what needs to be done is clear. It has been clear for a long time. It is supported broadly by the American people. It is supported by Democrats, independents and Republicans, bipartisan commissions, graybeards, young academics, all sorts of experts.
Q A Senate Democrat today agreed to vote to reject the President’s budget. I wondered what the administration’s response is to that. And what does it say that Democrats haven’t proposed a budget in more than three years?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we prefer that the Senate and Congress overall function efficiently. As you know, the vote that you referred to is yet another gimmick, and that’s why it will get the -- that the tally will come out the way it does. It represents a decision by Republicans to, instead of acknowledging that the only solution here is a bipartisan solution, to sort of waste time with gimmicks.
There is an avenue here, as I’ve been discussing and I’ll stop waxing on about it, but the approach that we need to take is clear to everyone except apparently a significant portion of the Republicans in Congress.
Alexis, and then Ed.
Q Jay, Secretary Geithner said this week, as you know, that Treasury possesses the tools on the debt ceiling to extend that probably into the new year to try to separate it from the lame duck session and another cliff. So I just want to clarify -- is it the President’s preference to try to extend it as far away from the December lame duck session as possible to keep those --
MR. CARNEY: I think I would refer you to the Treasury Department. I don’t know enough -- I don’t recall that specific statement by Treasury and I won’t venture into the measures that Treasury takes in dealing with those kinds of situations as it did last year and as it has in the past.
The President’s preference is that Congress adopt a balanced approach to our deficit and debt challenges. I think he’s been pretty transparent about that. He’s been pretty transparent about his willingness to accept cuts in programs that in a different situation he would rather not cut, but that represents a compromise. He recognizes the need to introduce some reforms in Medicare and Medicaid so that we can strengthen those programs and ensure that those guarantees remain for our citizens.
And he also believes strongly that we need to make changes in our tax system so that it’s more balanced, so that a middle class that was squeezed in the decade prior to the recession does not get further squeezed and burdened with the responsibility alone of resolving our deficit and debt challenges, but that the wealthiest Americans who -- as you know, you guys have all reported on this -- who, in that same period when the middle class saw its income stagnate or decline, saw its incomes increase dramatically.
I think that balanced approach is entirely sensible. And that’s why it has earned the support of so many outside observers, including former Republican office holders. And the President believes that’s the way we have to go.
Q Let me follow up on the "To-Do" list. Can you remind us -- the President was not supportive of a House Republican version of tax cuts for small business earlier, and obviously that’s something he’s pushing today. Can you just remind us, what is the gap between the Republican approach and the President’s preferred approach?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ve forgotten the specifics of some of the Republican proposals that you mention, but I think one of the concerns was that the need here is to boost job creation, and the President’s proposals that he talked about today would reward small businesses for hiring -- for an increase in hiring, a specific benefit tied to job creation. I think some of the proposals you’re talking about were judged by outside independent economists as having not necessarily a positive near-term impact on job creation or economic growth.
And also this is a fundamental difference here about -- Republicans tend to identify law firm partners and hedge fund managers as small businesses. We disagree. So I think those small businessmen and women disagree. So I think that’s probably where some of the differences lie.
Q Thanks, Jay. You said a moment ago it's up to Congress to adopt a balanced approach. Doesn’t it also take presidential leadership for him at some point to say, we've been kicking around all these plans since last summer -- Bowles-Simpson, et cetera, the Ryan budget -- you criticize one, they criticize the other -- doesn’t it take presidential leadership to say, here's the plan, let's rally the Congress and the nation behind it?
MR. CARNEY: The President has done that. He's put forward a plan that represents --
Q But it's just -- eight or nine plans are out there, but he hasn't rallied the country and said --
MR. CARNEY: Ed, the premise of your question is that -- is that presumably the President needs to compromise just like Congress needs to compromise, Republicans in the House need to compromise. Is it not evidence of a willingness to compromise that this President, this Democratic President, has signed into law cuts in domestic, non-defense discretionary spending that bring that portion of the budget to its lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower? Is that not evidence of a willingness to take seriously --
Q I've heard you say that, and every expert that has looked at that has said that’s a drop in the bucket. It's nice, it's a good start, but it's a drop in the bucket.
MR. CARNEY: Ironically, it's a drop in the -- it's especially a drop in the bucket if, as the House Republicans insist, you want to get all of your savings out of non-defense discretionary spending, you want to increase defense spending, you want to give more tax cuts to the wealthy and then you want to squeeze all the programs that include investments in education, border security, innovation, research and development. That is not a balanced approach. That is not a -- not only is it not fair to middle-class Americans and seniors and others who would bear the burden of that approach, it's bad for the economy.
Where do they think education fits into our economic future? There was that moment of great clarity when the President was out on the road talking about the need to ensure that we didn’t -- that Congress acted so that interest rates on student loans didn’t double, and I think a spokesman for one of the House leaders said that the President was out there talking about education because he didn’t want to talk about the economy. And it was a great moment of clarity because, as the President made clear, education is elemental to economic growth.
Education, especially in the 21st century, will be decisive in the competition to win the race for the strongest, most prosperous economy in the 21st century.
Q The President has given those speeches, but, as Jake was asking, what is the President going to do between now and the next six-and-a-half months to prevent this? Because he can keep reading those talking points, Republicans can read their talking points --
MR. CARNEY: He's not reading the talking points.
Q But you're saying it's elemental and all of that, but that doesn’t stop --
MR. CARNEY: Ed, he's put forward a plan that represents and includes things that have already taken place in terms of signing into law significant spending cuts, significant entitlement reforms, and a plan that includes revenues -- an approach that has been endorsed by bipartisan commissions, by Democrats, independents and Republicans.
The question that you ask I think should be posed to leaders in Congress: What are you going to do to demonstrate your willingness to compromise? What steps will you take to prove that you're not simply pursuing an ideological agenda when the path here is so clear, the need for a balanced approach is so obvious, and yet the refusal to acknowledge that and adopt it is the obvious stumbling block here?
Q There was this debt summit yesterday, and Alan Simpson, who's been talked about here, said that he knows for a fact that former President Clinton went to President Obama at some point in recent months and said, "for god sakes, you did this by executive order, you got 11 out of 18 votes; that’s 60 percent." And Alan Simpson said Clinton would have said, "I would wrap my arms around that thing and take it." He would have. And he claims Bill Clinton told that to President Obama. Are you aware of that? And what do you say when -- this is somebody that President Obama appointed, Alan Simpson -- even though he's a Republican -- to this commission, and he's saying, look, you're never going to get 100 percent; you got 60 percent. As you said, Paul Ryan didn’t even vote for it, but you got 60 percent. Why not --
MR. CARNEY: No House Republicans voted for it.
Q Why not wrap your arms around it -- he appointed them -- and say, here's the plan? This is Alan Simpson talking.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no, Ed. First of all, I was not present for a conversation between former President Clinton and President Obama. I'm not sure that former Senator Simpson was present for the conversation he recounts either. I don’t know. What I can tell you is that the President appointed that commission, including its chairman, because when the President endorsed the idea legislatively, Republicans who had supported it in the past suddenly fled. They decided not to support it, so it had to be an executive action -- because, once again, when the President endorsed it, the Republicans who had previously supported it decided they couldn’t. It's the President's commission demonstrating his commitment to dealing with our fiscal challenges.
The proposal that the Bowles-Simpson Commission put forward represents the balanced approach that the President took. It is his proposal -- his budget is so much closer to the Bowles-Simpson proposal that you are celebrating in your question than the Ryan budget that the question that you need to ask is, why won’t House Republicans in particular move closer to the Bowles-Simpson approach?
Q He's the President. Why didn’t he bring Bowles-Simpson up here to this podium and say, this is my plan, wrap his arms around him and say, let’s go, Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: Find me a House Republican plurality that will vote for the Bowles-Simpson that includes dramatically more significant --
Q Force it for a vote. Have Harry Reid bring it up.
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, I didn’t realize -- you should ask the Speaker of the House to bring it up. In fact, there was a Bowles-Simpson -- a version of Bowles-Simpson that came up, and I think 10 people in the Republican Party voted for it.
Q It was the President’s commission. Ask the Democrats to bring it up for a vote.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure -- I’m looking for the water there. (Laughter.) But the fact of the matter is, Ed, and we can debate this, but the fiscal commission the President created put forward a proposal that called for defense cuts, that called for nondefense discretionary cuts, that called for revenues, it called for entitlement reforms. The levels are different in different areas, but the President’s budget reflects that entirely.
The Republican budget, the budget that has been put forward by Paul Ryan and embraced by Republicans across Capitol Hill and Republicans who want to be President does not represent that balanced approach. The questions about why you don’t support a balanced approach should be asked of Republicans.
Q Thank you. Shift topics here toward G8 this weekend. There’s a report out that the U.S. is going to ask G8 for support for release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Is that true?
MR. CARNEY: I have no comment on the SPR. I have no information to impart on that subject.
Q Okay, a quick follow-up then. Oil prices have been drifting down over the past two months -- I’m sure you’re aware of that. Is it still critical to release oil at some point in the next month?
MR. CARNEY: That’s another way of asking a question about the SPR that I have no information on for you.
Q One last try. Is the SPR on the agenda for G8?
MR. CARNEY: I think the global economy is on the agenda for the G8. The global oil market is part of the global economy, but I don’t know that specifically that issue is on the agenda.
Q Jay --
MR. CARNEY: I’ll get to you. I’m mixing it up. You’re after NBC here.
Q Thanks, Jay. Going back to the meeting --
MR. CARNEY: Dan, I’m sorry. I get in this peripheral thing where -- NBC, CNN -- go.
Q Going back to the meeting -- some of the other topics that were discussed, did the President or congressional leaders find any common ground on the "To-Do" list on the bill to keep student loan rates low?
MR. CARNEY: I would hesitate to characterize what the leaders themselves said and I think you should ask them, but I think that, broadly speaking, based on my discussion with the President, that there was a constructive discussion about the initiatives that Congress could act on in the near future, and that included the President’s "To-Do" list that he raised. It included things like the VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. It included the surface transportation bill and the need to take action on student loans.
So I wouldn’t want to say there was an agreement to get a specific thing done on a specific day, but I think there was a healthy and positive discussion about the fact that there are many items on the agenda right now in the pipeline that represent opportunities to achieve some bipartisan successes.
Q So just to be clear, there was no tangible agreement on any of these topics --
MR. CARNEY: Well, in the end I think it’s -- Congress has to vote on legislation so it wouldn’t -- votes have to be taken, processes have to move forward. So we’ll leave it up to Congress to act, but there are a number of opportunities here for bipartisan cooperation. The leaders discussed that. The President discussed that with them. And I think that it was noted in the room -- in the private dining room here off the Oval Office -- that there have been some bipartisan successes already between this Congress and the President. And I think that is evidence against the otherwise prevailing consensus that nothing can get done, that actually things can get done if we put our minds to it.
Q And, Jay, going back to Syria quickly, we started off -- the United States started off sort of engaging beyond the political realm when it comes to Syria. Now, as you’ve just stated, the United States is increasing its non-lethal assistance. How would you specifically define where we stand right now?
MR. CARNEY: Where we stand on Syria?
MR. CARNEY: We continue to be very concerned about the violence in Syria by the failure of the Assad regime to fulfill any of its obligations under the Kofi Annan plan. We are concerned but not surprised that U.N. observers -- I think you’re aware of this -- in Syria have faced incidents of violence while on the ground.
The onus remains on the regime to implement the elements of the Annan plan, all of them. We have to give the Annan effort and the U.N. supervising mission in Syria a chance to succeed, because those efforts coupled with our ongoing -- and international efforts -- to increase pressure on the regime and support the opposition remain the best option for the political transition that Syrians so desperately want and deserve.
Q And how long do you give them a chance to succeed? I mean, the violence is still continuing there. At what point do you say this plan has failed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s no question -- and I think we’ve been extremely blunt about the fact that we remain very skeptical of Assad’s intentions. We are working with our international partners through the "Friends of Syria" as well as at the United Nations and on the Security Council. And we will, when appropriate and as necessary, discuss next steps.
But we are now supporting the Annan plan, supporting that mission because it has brought about some positive developments, at the very least, a reduction, not an elimination, of violence. And as I said, it embodies the best option here for the political transition that Syrians so desperately want.
Q Just to follow on Kristen’s question on the "To-Do" list. You keep striking an optimistic tone and saying that this is something that Congress should act on. But will they? I mean, what are the chances that anything on that list will get done?
MR. CARNEY: Let me consult my magic eight ball here.
Q Well, I mean --
MR. CARNEY: No, I think I am -- look, I can't guarantee, and no one should, that Congress will do one thing or the other. What I do think has already been proven is that even in this environment, with this Congress, the capacity remains to pass legislation with bipartisan majorities. We’ve seen that with the extension of the payroll tax cut. We’ve seen that with the passage of the STOCK Act and the JOBS Act, with the recent passage of the reauthorization of the Ex-Im Bank -- which is not a huge thing, but an important piece of business that will help our exports to continue to grow and be a vibrant part of our economy.
These are steps that we can take with Congress to do the people’s business. And the list that the President put together contains a series of other initiatives that fall into that vein that represent the kinds of things that have traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support. And the other things I’ve talked about -- VAWA reauthorization, resolving the student loan issue to ensure that millions of students across the country don’t have their interest rates doubled on their student loans -- these are things that can be done. And I’m optimistic and the President is optimistic because they are so self-evidently necessary and achievable.
Q Yet when you listen to folks up on the Hill or some of the pundits, there seems to be so much skepticism around this that anything will actually happen, and that this is --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know that there is skepticism --
Q -- that won’t get you anything.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know that there is skepticism about the ability to get some things done -- that remains I suppose skepticism about the ability of this Congress to tackle some of the big issues because they failed to do as recently as last fall when they had the super committee to deal with, the task assigned to them by the Budget Control Act.
But it is a fact that this Congress, notwithstanding all the due skepticism and cynicism, extended the payroll tax cut, extended unemployment insurance, passed the STOCK Act and the JOBS Act. And these are things the President supported and was able to sign into law. And the other items that he put forward are similar in that they can enjoy bipartisan support.
And I think what your question elucidates is that while there are things that we obviously disagree on, even though that is the case, there are things that we can agree on. And it is good for the American people, good for the American economy, good politics, I would suggest, for members of Congress to get some things done that will help the economy and help the middle class.
Q And another question on China and North Korea. Just wondering if the White House has seen any evidence at all of China putting more pressure on North Korea to essentially change its ways, abandon any future nuclear tests.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have nothing new to report to you on that. We obviously have ongoing consultations with the Chinese as well as others in the region and around the world about North Korea. We have, as you know, because I've discussed it in the past, as have others, encouraged the Chinese to use their influence with the North Koreans to affect their behavior, and that continues to be our position. But I don't have anything new to report to you on that.
Q You said me.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Victoria, I said you. I knew there was somebody -- I was trying to -- you are my last question. Thank you.
Q At the G8 summit, is the President going to encourage the Europeans to move away from austerity towards more of a growth strategy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that the President's message to the Europeans and the position that he will bring to the G8 that he is hosting at Camp David is the same message that -- and position that he brought to Cannes for the G20, which is that -- we have been saying for some time now that growth has to be a factor in Europe, as I think the Secretary of State said, and a balanced approach that includes austerity, dealing with fiscal challenges as well as the need to grow the economy is the approach that we recommend, that we have adopted here. And it has, in the United States, produced, as I've been saying in answer to other questions, more than two years straight of economic growth and more than two years straight of private sector job creation.
But that message is the same as it was in Cannes, and the President is in regular consultation with his European counterparts. Secretary Geithner as well, as you know, has been working very closely with the Europeans. We continue to believe that the -- we know that the Europeans have it within their capacity to deal with this challenge and that they have taken some important steps. They need to take further steps to --
Q What steps?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we're not prescribing actions here, but I think that it's -- there are two areas here that need to be -- that they have been addressing and will continue to address, which is the need to build the firewall that's necessary to meet the challenges posed there and to, in various countries, adopt the reforms that are necessary.
Now, the balanced approach that we've talked about, that Secretary Clinton talked about today and Secretary Geithner and others have talked about in the past -- the President -- is one that we believe has worked here for us, is the right approach that you need to address the need for growth in Europe and the need to put people to work, including and especially young people in Europe. And that I'm sure will be, broadly speaking, the message the President will have when he meets with leaders at Camp David on Friday.
Thanks very much.
2:27 P.M. EDT