Aboard Air Force One
En Route Detroit, Michigan
11:47 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: I have no announcements to make. I’m glad that you’re joining us on our trip to Michigan today. The President looks forward to talking about ways that our economy is rebounding growth in our manufacturing sector and especially in our automobile industry.
With that I will take your questions.
Q What progress can you report from yesterday’s meeting between the President and the Speaker?
MR. CARNEY: I can confirm that there was a meeting and that lines of communication remain open, but I cannot characterize the talks or conversations beyond that.
Q Are there any other one-on-one meetings on the schedule for this week?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, I don’t preview meetings or conversations. Our interest here is to see if we can get a deal that’s good for the economy, that makes sure that the middle class is protected, that their taxes don’t go up, and it continues the growth and job creation that we’ve seen.
Q Jay, is the President any more or less confident of a deal being reached before the end of the year after yesterday’s meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I won’t characterize yesterday’s meeting or other conversations, but the President does believe that we can reach an agreement. He has put forward a very detailed plan. He has shown how he believes we need to achieve the necessary revenue targets in order to put together a large deal that would reflect the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that is so meaningful in terms of our long-term fiscal sustainability. And he’s made clear in his detailed proposal that he’s willing to enact cuts in our mandatory entitlement programs, including our health care programs.
What we haven’t seen yet is any specificity at all from Republicans on revenue; we’ve seen a sentence on revenue. And while there have been encouraging statements by individual lawmakers about the realization that rates will go up on the top 2 percent, we haven’t seen anything specific from Republicans with regard to that.
Q Jay, as you know, a lot of people are watching this -- not just the taxpayers but the stock market, other countries even -- to see signs of American stability. What is the harm in telling the public simply whether we’re better off today than yesterday? That kind of generic update on whether we’re making progress.
MR. CARNEY: Because our interest is in seeing if we can reach an agreement and not trying to negotiate an agreement through the media. And I am entirely sympathetic to the interest that you have in this, but we believe that it’s in the best interest of the prospects of getting an agreement to not read out the details of conversations that the President has with the Speaker, or other conversations that hopefully will make it possible to get an agreement.
Q The Speaker’s office said today, as you have, that the lines of communication are open, but also that they’re continuing to wait for the President to identify specific spending cuts. And you’ve talked about the need for Republicans to identify more details. Do you agree with the assessment that it’s up to the White House to make the next move?
MR. CARNEY: I can simply say that the lines of communication are open. You’ve seen that the President met with the Speaker. And we, broadly speaking, continue to engage in this process with important players and stakeholders.
The fact is we have put forward specific spending cuts. The President is the only party that has put forward a plan that has specificity on both the spending and revenue side. We have not seen in any detail from the Republicans, including from the offer that was put forward by the Speaker in his letter, the kind of detail that would allow us to assess the proposal. To say, for example, on revenue that we can achieve $800 billion, which is far, far short of the necessary revenue for a comprehensive deal that achieves $4 trillion in deficit reduction, and to achieve that only through unnamed closures of loopholes and unnamed reductions to caps and deductions -- it doesn’t really get you very far.
Q Are you considering making a counter offer to the Speaker’s offer?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to characterize the conversations that we’re having. I can only say that the President believes that a deal is possible. It requires acceptance and acknowledgement in a concrete way by Republicans that the top 2 percent will see an increase in their rates. To do that, all that Republicans in the House have to do is vote for a tax cut.
All we’re talking about here is the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2 percent, not a vote to -- a proactive vote to hike taxes on anyone. What we are asking is that Republicans in the House follow the Senate’s lead and approve tax cuts for the middle class, for 98 percent of the American people -- something they say they believe is the right thing to do, the President believes is the right thing to do, the American public overwhelmingly believes it’s the right thing to do. Economists believe that tax cuts for the middle class are the most beneficial to the economy.
Let’s get that done as a demonstration that Washington can work, even as we grapple with some of these other issues that we need to resolve in order to achieve a broader agreement.
Q Jay, will the President weigh in on the Michigan right-to-work case while he’s here?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to preview the President’s remarks. They’ll be coming soon. The President’s opposition to the so-called right-to-work laws is well known. But beyond that, I won’t preview his remarks.
Q Yesterday, the Speaker repeated what some others have said, that the President is slow-walking this, trying to build pressure on the Republicans and wants it to get up to the last minute. How do you respond to that?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that we have yet to see more than a sentence of specificity from the Republicans on the issue of revenue. There is no deal without acknowledgment and acceptance of the fact that rates are going up on top earners. That’s what I would say.
Secondly, the President has made clear he’s eager to get a deal and he believes that a deal is possible. He’s also made clear that when it comes to a large deal on the order of magnitude of $4 trillion, that tough choices would have to be made by both sides, and he knows that he would not get everything that he wants. He knows that not every detail of his proposal would make it through such an agreement. And he’s willing to make tough choices, as he has in the past.
But Republicans have to recognize that we cannot afford, the public does not support, and it is economically a bad idea to extend tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and those making over $250,000.
Q Jay, does the President think there’s any real risk to either the economy or to consumer confidence if this debate runs right up against -- right up to New Year’s Eve? Or as long as you get it done before January 1, is that okay?
MR. CARNEY: You’re trying to create a situation where I’m naming a deadline, and I’m not going to do that. The tax cuts --
Q -- as long as it gets done on time, is that sufficient?
MR. CARNEY: That’s market analysis that I can't do. The sooner we get a deal the better. The reason why we're in this situation is we have very specific deadlines. Taxes go up on everybody on January 1st. Automatic, across-the-board spending cuts begin to take effect on January 1st if Congress doesn’t act in either of these cases.
So those are the deadlines we face, and the sooner we reach an agreement the better.
Q New topic. There is a very important “Friends of Syria” meeting this week, as you know, in Morocco. The U.S. has been moving in the direction of helping to build up the Syrian opposition, and there has been a lot of talk that maybe this is the moment for the United States to formally recognize the opposition. What's the White House's view on that? And do you believe that the time has come to recognize the opposition, and would that be an important step to resolving the terrible situation in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you're absolutely right that we've done a lot of work with our international partners in assisting the opposition in Syria. We've provided substantial humanitarian and non-lethal aid to the Syrian people and to the opposition. We applauded and continue to work with -- we applauded the creation of and continue to work with the Syrian Opposition Council and consider it an important representative of the Syrian opposition.
I don’t have any previews for you of the meeting that you mention, which is important, except to say that we continue to be committed to the proposition that Syria's future needs to be decided by the Syrian people; that that future cannot include Bashar al Assad, who is a tyrant with an enormous amount of blood on his hands -- the blood of his own people. And we have noted -- I did last week -- that some of the progress that the opposition has been making, but this conflict needs to end for the sake of the Syrian people.
Q Has the President talked to the family of the SEAL team member that had been killed in the raid?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a readout of any conversations of the President. I think you saw the statement from the President, but I have no more information for you on the death of a Special Forces operative.
Q Quick one on the trip today. How would you describe the connection between where we're headed, the President's comments today, and the need to get a deal done on the fiscal cliff?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President -- again, without previewing his comments, remains focused on his number-one priority, which is helping this economy grow, making the kind of decisions that enable it to grow and enable it to create jobs.
And the automobile industry is an important piece of that policy approach, and he took steps, as you know, early on in his administration to ensure that the American automobile industry survived. And it has been the rebound of the big American automakers that has helped fuel real progress in the manufacturing sector in this economy. And he wants to make sure that we’re continuing that progress, and I think that's what this trip will highlight.
Broadly, though, this is all of a piece. When we talk about the need to reach a big deal that achieves $4 trillion in deficit reduction, that's not because deficit reduction is an inherent good; it’s because done right, done well, coupled with measures that ensure that we continue to grow, inclusive of measures that protect the middle class, large-scale deficit reduction serves the broader purpose, which is economic growth and job creation. That's why the President seeks it. That's why he’s negotiating. That's why he’s willing to make tough choices. It’s all of a piece for him. It’s why he ran for office. It’s why he ran for reelection.
Q Can I ask one question about the facility we’re going to? The Daimler company, as you know, in addition to owning Detroit Diesel, used to own Chrysler, and they sold it in 2007 to effectively a hedge fund, and that led to a very dark period in Chrysler’s history that was really only redeemed after the federal bailout under the Obama administration. I’m just wondering about the symbolism of going to a Daimler-owned facility given Daimler’s rather checkered history in Detroit. It’s not a particularly happy story.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say that what the President is interested in, the growth -- the revival and growth of the American automobile industry, the manufacture of automobiles here in the United States, which means good jobs for American workers. And I think that's the focus that you’ll hear him talk about today.
In terms of one company’s past, I don't really have a comment on that. I think he’s focused on the present and the future.
Q Is the President getting any closer to deciding who he wants at the State Department and Defense Department?
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for the opportunity to say that I have no personnel announcements to make today.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: You bet. Good to see all of you.
12:01 P.M. EST