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, 12/12/2012

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon.  Welcome to the White House.  I have no announcements to make.  I’ll go straight to the Associated Press.

Q    Thank you.  Speaker Boehner said today that he’s advised his members to not make plans for Christmas in an effort to sort of set expectations for the public here.  Are you looking at a situation where a deal is still likely before Christmas?  Or is the end of the year more realistic?

MR. CARNEY:  I can't speculate about the timeframe.  What the President is interested in is working with Congress to achieve a deal that avoids the fiscal cliff and, beyond that, addresses our long-term fiscal challenges in a balanced way.  He wants to makes sure, first and foremost, that the middle class does not have their taxes go up on January 1st.  That is something that Congress could do today.

The House of Representatives, or at least the House Republican leadership, has refused to take that action, has refused to give middle-class Americans that certainty.  Why?  Because they have refused to accept the fundamental fact that higher-income Americans, millionaires and billionaires, the top 2 percent of earners in America, are not going to have their tax cuts extended.  The President has made that clear, and he will not sign a bill that extends tax cuts for the top 2 percent.

And to tell the rest of the American people, to tell the 98 percent out there who have to plan for next year and the bill -- and figure out how they're going to pay their bills that their taxes are going to go up because of indignation over the suggestion that people making $250,000 or $500,000 or $5 million should get a tax cut, that's just not a position the President shares.

Q    The President has previously said, though, that he was hopeful, optimistic that a deal could be reached before Christmas.  Given what you said about Republicans not backing down on their position on taxes, is that still a realistic goal?

MR. CARNEY:  The President said yesterday that he remains confident that a deal is possible.  The parameters of what a deal would look like are clear.  And he has made abundantly clear, both in his policy presentations and in what he has said to you and to the American public, that he is willing to make tough choices on the spending side; to reduce our spending as part of a broad package that includes cuts in discretionary spending, savings from our entitlement programs and increased revenues that are borne by those in this country who can most afford it.  And he believes that a package like that is still possible and hopes that Republican leaders join the majority of the American people -- another poll today demonstrating this, even close to 50 percent of Republicans in the country agreeing with this position -- in acknowledging that rates have to go up on the wealthiest Americans. 

This is not new information for most people.  This was the  subject of fierce debate for an entire year.  The President’s views and intentions were made clear again and again when it came to this.  He is eager to find a compromise.  He understands that that would require tough choices by him and Democrats.  But a position that says we want tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and that is our number-one priority is not a position that the President could ever sign on to.

Q    On a separate topic, there are some reports that Syrian forces have fired Scud missiles at insurgents.  What can you confirm about those reports?  And if they prove to be true, does that cross any type of red line for the President?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I cannot confirm this story.  I have seen it.  Nor can I discuss intelligence, as you know.  But if true, this would be the latest desperate act from a regime that has shown utter disregard for innocent life, utter disregard for the lives of its own citizens.

Again, the idea that the Syrian regime would launch missiles within its borders at its own people is stunning, desperate, and a completely disproportionate military escalation.  What is clear is that the regime's efforts to defeat militarily the opposition are failing.  The opposition is becoming more unified, more organized.  In fact, there is an international conference, as you know, this week to further help the opposition as it organizes and unifies, and the sooner that Assad goes the better it will be for the Syrian people.

I know you know that the President yesterday announced our decision to recognize the Syrian Opposition Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.  And we are working with our international partners to help strengthen the opposition and to further isolate and sanction the Assad regime.

Again, if this proves to be true, it's just another indication of the depravity of Assad and his cronies.

Q    So then you think it's true?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, I wouldn’t put this kind of act -- it would not surprise me that Assad would take this kind of action, but I cannot confirm the reports at this time and I can't discuss intelligence.

Q    Jay, also on foreign policy, the existing sanctions regime against North Korea has not prevented it from doing exactly what it wanted, which is launching a long-range rocket.  What further sanctions or other options are there, either unilaterally or through the U.N. Security Council, to deal with this?

MR. CARNEY:  The United Nations Security Council is meeting today on this issue, and I would point you to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for indications of next steps within the Security Council.

What we have said, both leading up to and now in the aftermath of this launch, is that it was a provocative act that threatens regional peace and security and undermines the global non-proliferation regime.  And it is regrettable that the leadership in Pyongyang chose to take this course in flagrant violation of its international obligations.

As you know, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 requires the DPRK to abandon its ballistic missile program in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner.  U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 require Pyongyang to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and to reestablish a moratorium on missile launches.  Therefore this action is, again, in flagrant violation of a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions.  It demonstrates a decision by the regime to continue a pattern of disregard for its international obligations.

And what we have seen since the President came into office is the building of an international consensus that includes Russia and China in opposition to these actions.  I think you saw the Chinese made clear their opposition to this launch prior to it, and their regret over the fact that it took place after it happened.

So we will continue to work with our international partners to ensure that the North Korean regime is further isolated, that it is further punished for its flagrant violations of international obligations, and the specifics behind those further steps will await action in New York.

Q    You mentioned China.  Does the U.S. have a strategy for encouraging China to be more receptive to further sanctions against North Korea?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we engage with the Chinese, the Russians and others on the Security Council and beyond in our effort to build a consensus about the unacceptability of North Korea's actions with regards to its ballistic missile program and obviously its nuclear program.  And we will work with those partners and others as we move forward to make clear how isolated, how in violations of norms this action by North Korea  -- how isolated the regime is and how in violation of its obligations North Korea is.

Q    Given what you're calling the flagrant violations by North Korea, does the President believe there is a way to stop them and it -- does he believe another approach should be considered?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that the President is concerned about North Korea's behavior, and has been.  He has made non-proliferation a top national security priority and will continue to do that, and he will continue to work with his international partners, our international partners, to put pressure on North Korea, to isolate North Korea, and to impose consequences on North Korea for the actions that it continues to take. 

There has, and remains, a path for North Korea to end its isolation, but that requires abiding by its international obligations, abiding by the United Nations Security Council resolutions that I mentioned before.  And it has chosen not to, and therefore, there will be consequences for that.  I don't have a preview of next steps, but we take this matter very seriously and we take it -- and we are not alone.  In fact, we are far from alone in taking this matter very seriously.

Q    On another topic, Ben Bernanke today announced continuation of the so-called stimulus policy of the Fed.  Is the President concerned that this could lead to inflation or weakening of the U.S. dollar?

MR. CARNEY:  You know that I won't comment on actions by the Fed from here.  The President is focused on, when it comes to economic policy, working with Congress to ensure that middle-class Americans don't have their taxes go up, to ensure that --

Q    Can it help with -- in the context of the fiscal cliff, can it, in the President’s view, help create an environment in which it’s easier to get to a deal?

MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question, but I won't comment on Fed action.

Yes, Jake.

Q    A White House official told me that in his counteroffer yesterday, Speaker Boehner asked for -- part of his proposal was a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top two brackets, for all the Bush tax cuts but including the top two brackets.  The House Speaker’s office disputes that.  I was hoping that you could shed some light on what exactly John Boehner, in his counterproposal, suggested should happen.

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not going to get into the details of the proposals that have gone back and forth, but I can say that -- because it has been public in the positions that the Speaker has put forward -- that we do not accept the position that was outlined in the letter that the Speaker sent previously that Bush tax cuts for the top earners can be extended.  The President has made clear he will not support legislation that hands another tax cut to the wealthiest 2 percent of American earners.  We can't afford it.  It is bad economic policy.  And the result of pursuing that policy  would mean added burdens to the middle class, added burdens to seniors, added burdens to families with children who have disabilities.  That's unacceptable to the President.

He is willing to make tough choices and he has made clear and specified the spending cuts that he is willing to make, and he has said that he is willing to go further as part of a broader deficit reduction plan.  But he will not extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

And it is not a plausible position, as Jason Furman from the National Economic Council made clear in his presentation to you last week, to say that we can somehow magically achieve significant revenue on the order that we need for the balanced deficit reduction package simply by closing loopholes that they will not name, or capping deductions that they will not specify sometime in the future.  That is -- those magic beans are just beans, and that fairy dust is just dust.  It is not serious.  And the President will not sign an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest.

Q    Just to clarify, I'm telling you that a White House official told me that that was what Speaker Boehner said --

MR. CARNEY:  I understand.  I'm not disputing the characterization.  I'm just simply saying that we know what -- and you know I'm not going to talk about internal discussions that have been taking place or proposals that are changing hands. It is, I think, explicitly in the letter that the Speaker put forward and made public --

Q    Right, but that was two weeks ago.

MR. CARNEY:  And I don't believe that we’ve heard anything from the leadership that suggests they have moved off their position -- we certainly haven’t heard it publicly -- anything from the leadership that suggests they have changed their position, which is they want an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest and that they hold out some vague promise that they can achieve significant revenue through closing loopholes and capping deductions.  Again -- zero specificity on how that would happen.  And that's just not a position the President shares.  He will not accept an extension of those tax cuts.

And remember that the letter the Speaker put forward said that through that magical tax reform, they would lower rates.  So even a further additional tax cut for the wealthiest Americans is just not plausible economic policy.  And when Jason Furman stood up here and showed you why propositions suggesting that you can achieve levels of revenue that are necessary here don't hold water, he did it in a fact-based way -- not in a single sentence or two that promises action in the future that everyone knows isn’t plausible.

Q    I wasn’t here when The New York Times published this report.  I’ve been -- I was off for a couple weeks when The New York Times published this report about the Obama administration drafting policy for drones in the weeks leading up to the election just in case the Obama administration was not going to be in charge for the next four years.  Given the administration’s desire to be more -- stated desire to be more open about its foreign policy, as exemplified by John Brennan’s speech a few months ago, is there anything more you can tell us about that policy?  Is there anything more we can expect in terms of transparency and discussion about the drone policy?

MR. CARNEY:  There is nothing more that I can add to that discussion beyond that John Brennan said in his speech that you refer to.  Obviously, the broader focus of the President on taking the actions that are necessary to keep America safe will continue.  But I don't have any more details about that issue in terms of moving forward.

Q    Those actions that are done in Yemen and Pakistan and elsewhere sometimes result in civilian deaths.  And yet because this program is not discussed very often, certainly not from that podium, but also not by the Pentagon and in press releases, we don't know what is being done in the name of national security that is resulting in not just bad guys being killed, but also sometimes women and children who are either related to the bad guys or just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Is there no desire for greater transparency at all when it comes to this?  I mean, would that not live up to the President’s desire for transparency as repeatedly stated?

MR. CARNEY:  Without discussing classified matters or other intelligence matters, I would point you to the remarks that John Brennan made, which I think demonstrate our position on these issues and the broader issue that you talk about in terms of transparency.  I just don't have anything new to say or to add to that conversation today.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Kristen.

Q    Jay, thanks.  According to multiple sources, the conversation yesterday between the President and Speaker Boehner was tense.  How would you describe the phone call?  Is that accurate?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to dispute multiple unnamed descriptions.  I’d simply say that, yes, we confirm the call -- one in a series of conversations, as well as a meeting, as you know, recently that the President has had with the Speaker aimed towards the effort of trying to find some common ground on this important issue.  And the President has made clear that his desire is to do a big deal that not only addresses the fiscal cliff but achieves the kind of significant long-term deficit reduction that has been the stated goal of many people for a number of years now on the order of roughly $4 trillion. 

And he has put forward a plan to do that that includes spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and increased revenues from the wealthiest Americans.  And to achieve on the revenue side that package, it has to be done in a way that both raises rates and in an economically wise and politically feasible way, closes some loopholes and caps some deductions.  That’s the way to do it. 

And the President is open to other proposals.  He has made clear that he is not wedded to every item in his plan.  He knows that he will have to make tough choices, but there has to be a willingness on the other side to recognize some fundamental facts and one of the fundamental facts is that there is no way to do this without rates going up on top earners.

Q    There’s a sense that after yesterday and the sort of two proposals were offered, that these negotiations are, yet again, grinding to a halt.  Is that accurate?  Where do these negotiations stand and what’s the President going to do to move the process forward?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you’ve seen the President actively engage in moving the process forward.  I think you’ve seen him make clear his willingness to make tough choices and also make clear what his principles are and what he won’t do, which is go along with a vague promise of insufficient revenue gleaned from unnamed sources in return for substantial cuts that affect programs like Medicare and Social Security and Medicaid.  That’s not a balanced plan.  And we know where the public stands on this.  And, look, we know where now dozens of Republicans -- including elected officials, including members of Congress who are Republicans -- stand on this. 

But the obstacle thus far has been the adamant refusal to accept the proposition that rates have to go up for the top 2 percent and that rates must continue to stay where they are so that there is no tax hike on 98 percent of the American people.  And I think what Republicans have to explain somehow is why -- Republican leaders, anyway -- why it is better for you, broadly speaking, the American people, 98 percent of you, to have your taxes go up if the wealthiest Americans don’t get a tax cut.

Q    But according to Speaker Boehner, the $1.4 trillion in new revenue that the President is now offering wouldn’t make it through the House, it might not make it through the Senate, so is it a realistic proposal?

MR. CARNEY:  The President has made clear his willingness to negotiate and compromise.  He has made clear his willingness to make tough choices.  He has put on the table specific cuts and savings in entitlement programs, including our health care entitlement programs.  He has put on the table specific ways that we can achieve the revenue targets that are necessary to have a balanced package.  And what we have not seen yet is any kind of specificity from Republicans on how they would do it differently. 
And, again, going back to the Speaker’s letter, it is not a realistic position to say that we can resolve this by extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and vaguely promising that we’ll glean additional revenue by closing loopholes and capping deductions in a way that everyone knows is unrealistic.

Q    But just to be clear, the President thinks it’s realistic to get $1.4 trillion in new revenues through the House?

MR. CARNEY:  The President -- look, I can -- and I’ve got page after page here.  I can read to you quotes from the press, probably some of them from NBC, Politico, Fox, elsewhere, of Republicans saying that they would accept a tax increase, or that tax increases have to be part of this for the wealthiest Americans, that rates have to go up --

Q    -- the entire House.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, they're the people who vote.  And we’ve also heard again yesterday from the Business Roundtable, and individuals like the CEO of Goldman Sachs or others who have said rates going up has to be part of this package.

And the holdouts here seem to be those who are beholden to a subset of one party in one house of Congress, as opposed to those who are holding the broader American interest in mind as they approach this challenge, the goal of which is to achieve long-term deficit reduction in a way that will help the economy grow, help it create jobs that will give an enormous boost of confidence if achieved to our economy, and could potentially allow for substantially greater growth and job creation, which could create greater economic security for the middle class -- and by the way, the way it did in the 1990s, even with higher tax rates for millionaires and billionaires, more millionaires and billionaires -- the wealthy would do well, too.  That's the goal. 
The President’s vision here is an economy that allows for broad-based prosperity and broad-based opportunity.  It is not a vision that says we’re not going to do anything unless the top 2 percent get a tax cut.  It’s not his position.

Q    One question on Syria.  The administration has recognized the opposition forces, has also called al-Nusra a terrorist organization.  Some people within Syria are saying this is too little too late.  What is your reaction to those people?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the United States is working with a broad array of international partners in its support for the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition.  And a major step is being taken today, as the President made clear yesterday in recognizing the Syrian Opposition Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

We will continue to provide support to the opposition -- nonlethal.  And we will continue to provide humanitarian support to the Syrian people who are suffering greatly under the regime of Bashar al-Assad.  And the international community has been very clear in its views that are shared by the United States and shared by this President about which direction Syria has to go.

And the designation that you mentioned was a demonstration of the fact that we believe that those elements within the Syrian opposition who do not hold the views that Syria needs to move towards greater democracy and rights for their citizens, that they should be isolated.  Because the broader section of the opposition actually supports that, and that's why we’ve recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition.


Q    Based on the conversation yesterday, how would you rate Speaker Boehner’s flexibility?

MR. CARNEY:  I won’t get into the conversations that the -- the private conversations the President has with the Speaker or others.  I would simply say that, as made clear by the letter, that the Speaker made public --

Q    And reiterated in the call yesterday.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’ll speak about the public presentation here.  There is no indication yet that the Republican leadership is willing to acknowledge the basic fact that rates need to rise on the top 2 percent in order to achieve the kind of broad-based deficit-reduction package that a significant majority of the American people support and even numerous Republicans have publicly come out in support of.

Q    Why did the White House lower its request for revenue? And how does it achieve that $200 billion?  What $200 billion did you take out of that request for extra revenue?  I’m told it’s from tax reform.  Is that true?

MR. CARNEY:  I can simply say that -- well, it is our position that rates have to go up on the top 2 percent.  So that is absolutely the case.  It is our position, as Mr. Furman demonstrated in his presentation to you last week, that you cannot achieve significant levels of revenue solely by capping deductions or closing loopholes.  So that is why you have to have a combination package of both reforms that include those kinds of actions, as well as allowing rates to rise on top earners.

As to the proposal that you -- or the offer that you reference, I mean, I think it demonstrates the fact that we are willing to try to find a compromise.  We are willing to try to work with the Republicans to find an agreement that achieves the broad-based deficit reduction that is supposedly the goal that we all share, and achieve it in a way that doesn't stick it to the middle class, that doesn't leave seniors holding the bag, and that asks, as the President made clear he thought was the right thing to do, asks those who can most afford it to pay a little bit more. 

And that's where he’s been, and it is demonstrated in the proposals he’s put forward.  And it is demonstrated in the spirit with which he has approached these negotiations.  He knows that compromise requires tough decisions by both sides, but it cannot require compromise by one side only.

Q    Why did you add yesterday corporate tax reform to the mix?  And how do you respond to the Speaker’s contention that that is a red herring, that they always assumed corporate tax reform would be part of these broader conversations on the future of the tax code, and it’s not a concession or an offer or a sweetner.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not -- what I won’t do is negotiate the particulars from here because I think that as I said yesterday and have said --

Q    That's been confirmed here and up on the Hill.

MR. CARNEY:  But again, I won’t negotiate the particulars of it.  The President supports --

Q    No, you’re not negotiating.  There’s something that’s been confirmed that was put on the table yesterday.  I’m just asking what --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not disputing --

Q    Okay.

MR. CARNEY:  -- anything.  I’m just saying I won’t -- you citing what one party said and what others said about it -- I will simply say that corporate tax reform is a goal the President shares with many members in Congress, as well as the business community, and it is one that he’s serious about and hopes to pursue. 

His goal is to try to find an agreement with Republicans that strengthens and protects the middle class, that helps our economy grow, that helps to create jobs and that achieves the deficit reduction that also will help our economy grow and create jobs in a balanced way.  So that's the President’s goal.

Q    Last question.  Based on where we are now, does the President feel it’s incumbent upon him to provide any new proposals to the Republicans?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to game out how the next days and weeks play out.  The process we hope will continue.  Again, there is a simple proposition here that --

Q    So it’s possible that if the Republicans can reiterate their position, the President could compromise some more?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think I’ve said before, we’re not going to just negotiate with ourselves.  But the President believes, as he said yesterday, that a deal is possible.  He’s confident that a deal is achievable.

Q    That was before the --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there have been more than -- obviously, he’s had more than one conversation with the Speaker and many conversations with many other stakeholders in this process and the process continues.  But let’s make clear what is absolutely his position -- and he’s been clear about this for quite a long time.  He will not sign an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent.  It is not a viable position to say that the highest priority here should be that wealthy folks get another tax cut.  That is not good economic policy.  We can’t afford it. It’s not fair. 

And the President believes that the focus ought to be on the middle class here.  And if the focus were on the middle class universally up on Capitol Hill, 98 percent of the American people would already know that they were getting a tax cut next year.  But that hasn’t happened.

Q    You mean a tax --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s a tax cut compared to what current law is.  And let’s also recognize the fact here that when those who oppose that position say that we can’t hike taxes on the top 2 percent, nobody is asking them to vote for a tax hike for the top 2 percent. 

We’re asking that they vote for a tax cut -- a tax cut extension for 98 percent of the American people, and to let the rest of that law stand as is, which means that those tax cuts for the wealthiest expire.  That’s how the law was written.  That’s how it was designed, as you know because you and I both covered it back in 2001 and 2003, with a 10-year window and then an extension -- precisely because the designers, the authors of those tax cuts knew that they were explosively expensive in the out-years, knew that they were budget busters. 

And while they promised otherwise, that’s what America got. They got a series of economic policies that took record surpluses and turned them into record deficits, and now you have some of the same people who supported those policies saying we’ve got to do that again because it was so good for America.  The President disagrees.


Q    You said a short while ago the President is eager for a compromise.  How is that helped by him predicting publicly that Speaker Boehner will cave on the tax cuts for the top 2 percent?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, what the President was saying is reiterating his position, which is that he will not sign an extension of tax cuts for the top 2 percent, as I think I've made clear several times just today, and that a reasonable compromise has to include rates going up on the top 2 percent while taxes are cut for the rest of the country -- income taxes.

And that, again, is a position that supposedly is universally supported up on Capitol Hill.  Let's give extended tax cuts to the middle class.  The President supports permanent extension of those tax cuts to the middle class.  And by middle class, again, we're talking about 98 percent of Americans.  And we should be able to act on that right away.  So the fact that the President is saying that --

Q    But he's not diplomatic in his language.  He predicted the Speaker will cave. 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think the President predicted that the Speaker would not want to hold a position, and that Republicans in general would not want to maintain a position that would result in everybody's taxes going up because of their insistence that the wealthiest Americans get a tax cut.  That doesn't seem like a very popular position to take.  But I will leave it to the Speaker and others to decide if that's the position that they'll maintain.

But the President believes that there is broad acknowledgement of the fact that rates need to go up for the top earners.  We had a sustained debate about this issue; the public has made clear their views on it, broadly speaking.  And he understands that as part of a broader deficit reduction package, that everyone is going to have to make some tough choices, including him, and he has demonstrated his willingness to do that.

Q    You've often said the President is the only party in this dispute that's put a comprehensive plan on the table, but that was the September plan of last year that included stimulus spending and various other things, and was rejected.

MR. CARNEY:  Actually, you're misremembering.  The September proposal that we’re talking about was the proposal to the super committee, aimed specifically at achieving the necessary deficit reduction that was --

Q    That is I presumed what you were talking about when you were talking about a detailed plan for spending cuts and stuff.

MR. CARNEY:  I held it up here just yesterday. 

Q    Exactly.  Why is that still relevant?

MR. CARNEY:  Why wouldn't it be?

Q    Because of things it includes, like stimulus spending and various other things that have been roundly rejected.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, I think you're talking about -- there is the President's proposal that he has put forward to leaders in Congress, that includes our belief that we need to make infrastructure investments; we need to make sure that millions of Americans don’t fall off a different kind of cliff when their unemployment insurance benefits expire.  Those benefits were extended under President Bush when the unemployment rate was lower than it is now. 

The specific spending cuts that we're talking about in the proposals the President put forward to the super committee in September of 2011 are absolutely viable today.

Q    So it's only portions of that plan that you say are --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I’m happy to go over the details of the plan.  There's the President's budget, there's the President's proposal to the super committee.  The goal of the super committee, which it failed to achieve, was to enact deficit reduction on the order of $1.2 trillion to avert the sequester.  Well, they didn't do that, so now the sequester is upon us. 


Q    Jay, can I pick up on what Kristen asked you about earlier on Syria?  You talked about how designating a group like al-Nusra is a way of isolating an extremist force that doesn't share the U.S.'s vision for the future in Syria.  But based on our paper's reporting from the ground, that designation appears to have actually, far from isolating the group, unified people in Syria from secular liberals to conservative Islamists in rejecting the American action.  Many of these people view al- Nusra as, for whatever flaws it may have, one of the most effective fighting forces against the Assad regime.  So I'm wondering, in light of that, what evidence you can point to that there isn't a rising tide of anti-American sentiment in Syria, and that indeed, to use Kristen's words, that whatever the President did yesterday in terms of recognition is too little, too late.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I would dispute that characterization.  What the United States has done is recognize the main opposition group, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, and in doing so we've also -- in designating al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, we've recognized that there are elements of -- that the Assad regime is creating an environment essentially in Syria that fuels the growth of extremism, and the al-Nusra front is al Qaeda in Iraq's attempt to rebrand itself in order to hijack the struggles of the legitimate Syrian opposition to further its own extremist ideology. 

We firmly believe that the vast majority of the Syrian opposition do not share those extremist goals, and that we will work with the opposition -- we, and broadly speaking with our international partners -- in their efforts to isolate those with extremist views.  Because we believe that the Syrian people and the Syrian Opposition Coalition -- reflected by the Syrian Opposition Coalition, are interested in a future for Syria that includes a transition towards greater democracy, greater rights for its citizens, more economic prosperity, and does not include enacting a vision propounded by extremists.

Q    Would you reject the contention that anti-American sentiments are on the rise in Syria?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I haven't made that assessment.  I would simply say that we encourage all responsible actors to speak out against and distance themselves from extremists like the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.  And we will continue to work with the Syrian Opposition Coalition and our international partners to achieve the kind of future in Syria that we firmly believe the vast majority of the Syrian people seek.

Q    Jay, you said “firmly believe,” but you guys got it firmly wrong in Libya and in Egypt, where you firmly believed that you were working with -- I forget the phrase -- moderates.  We now are heading towards a theocracy in Egypt.  We have the war in Libya spread out into Mali.  What's the evidence that your firm belief in the moderation of the Syrian group is correct?

MR. CARNEY:  We make assessments all the time.  We have spent a lot of time evaluating the Syrian opposition.  We've spoken about that from here.  The Secretary of State and others from the State Department have spoken about that.  And one of the reasons why we've taken the actions that we've just discussed is because we believe it is in the interests of all parties to speak out against the kind of extremist views that are represented and espoused by the al-Nusra Front, even as we support the democratic aspirations of the broader Syrian opposition and the Syrian people. 

Q    But what's the evidence that the moderates -- forgive the phrase -- are moderates?

MR. CARNEY:  I understand that you have an editorial opinion here, but the --

Q    Of course.

MR. CARNEY:  Of course.  (Laughter.)  But the fact is we believe, and we think there is ample evidence to support the idea that the Syrian people want a future free from Bashar al Assad and a future that is more democratic, a future that allows -- that includes a government that recognizes the rights of the Syrian people and that allows for greater economic prosperity in a more peaceful country.

So it is in the United States' interests to work with the opposition and with our international partners to pursue that, and we will continue to do so.

Q    You need to explain that down the road.

Q    You do have a Friday deadline approaching for states to let the administration know if they're going to be part of this health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act.  What is the President's message to the majority of governors who are either sitting on the fence or flatly opposed to this thing?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would say that there have been a number of states who have -- whose applications have been approved.  We've had over 20 states to date that have agreed to operate an exchange, either on their own or in partnership with the federal government.  And we will continue to work with states in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act because, as you know, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay.  And the President's team will work to continue to implement that law.

We have, as an administration, consistently worked to give states the flexibility, time and resources they need to move toward -- forward, rather, in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  And for details on that process, HHS is the best place to go.

But we believe there has been considerable progress towards implementation and more and more states that have either had their applications approved to run their own health insurance exchanges, or have agreed to operate an exchange either on their own or in conjunction with the federal government. 

Q    Process aside, though, Jay, is the President -- this was his signature measure, as we all know.  Is he disappointed that most states still have not signed on to this thing?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the President is pleased with the progress that's been made, and he's -- his administration is working to continue to implement the Affordable Care Act.  And that process continues.

Q    Why do you think most states have not signed on?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to HHS for details.  I think it is a fact that there was consideration of the Affordable Care Act by the Supreme Court and that decision was only earlier this year.  We continue to implement the law.  The Court upheld the law.  And the President looks forward to full implementation.

Q    Thanks.

MR. CARNEY:  Mara.

Q    Just a question about the fiscal cliff.  Clearly you've shown some flexibility on the amount of the revenues that you need.  I’m wondering how flexible the President is on entitlements, which is the other thing that Boehner needs in order to get his troops to do something that’s clearly outside of their comfort zone.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I won’t negotiate from here, but the President has made clear that spending reductions, including savings from our entitlement programs must be part of this broad package that also must include a balance, which means the revenues that we’ve talked about.  And he understands that he’ll have to make tough choices and that others will as well. 

But I won’t negotiate the specifics of what those choices will be.  I would point you to the fact that this President has already put on paper savings from entitlement programs and he has already implemented a law that the CBO acknowledges, or has shown in their documentation, is a long-term deficit reducer.  And it achieves savings in our health care costs rather than burden shifting of those costs over to seniors, which was the goal of the Republican proposal in the Republican budget.  That’s not an approach that the President supports, as I think he made amply clear over the past year that asking seniors to take on thousands and thousands of dollars in extra costs in order to give tax cuts to billionaires and millionaires -- not the approach this President supports.

Q    Right, but the things you just listed that he’s proposed -- is that what you mean by getting outside of your comfort zone generally?

MR. CARNEY:  If you’re asking me is he willing to do more, I think the President has made clear that he has made tough choices and he’s willing to make more tough choices.  But he is not going to accept a deal that extends tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that offers no specificity on how to achieve revenue targets, only vague promises that they can be achieved through some process of reform that in the Speaker’s letter suggests that we would lower rates again, give another tax cut to millionaires and billionaires.  That’s just not serious math and it’s not policy this President could accept.

Q    Does the President believe that the Republicans have to wave the white flag first on rates?  I’ve asked this before, but it seems like we still haven’t gotten beyond that.  Do they have to do that first before you can even discuss entitlements?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’m not going to get into the back-and- forth that has taken place and is taking place between Capitol Hill and the White House on the specifics of a hoped-for deal.  But I think the President has demonstrated in his proposals and in these negotiations his willingness to make tough choices.  But he is -- has been and is very clear that there is not an avenue here to a deal that includes tax cuts for the top 2 percent.  I mean, those who continue to insist that that’s their bottom line seem not to understand that that’s not acceptable.  That cannot happen as part of this deal because it is simply not good policy.

And I've just been around long enough -- and you have too, Mara -- to know that we have recent examples of how these two policy positions play out and what results economically from the implementation of those policies.  And some of the very leaders on Capitol Hill who insist we can't raise rates on the wealthiest Americans -- on millionaires and billionaires -- because it would be bad for the economy insisted the very same thing in 1993, when those rates were first implemented under President Clinton.  And, boy, were they wrong. 

They don't really explain it well how they took that position and predicted with great confidence that it would lead to economic decline.  They don't explain how it led to the longest economic expansion in peacetime in the United States and the creation of vast amount of wealth not just for millionaires and billionaires, but for the middle class and 23 million new jobs.  Now, we have that to go by.

And then we have what happened after the implementation of a series, two, massive tax cuts, the benefits of which went disproportionately to top earners, surpluses turned to deficits and a cascading economic crisis and financial crisis and recession the likes of which none of us in our lifetimes have ever seen. 

It would seem that going out and saying we want to do that again would not be a great plan for -- in an effort to get popular support.


2:08 P.M. EST