the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Air Force One En Route Iowa City, Iowa

12:23 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS:   Fire away.

Q    Anything new about the Russians?

MR. GIBBS:  No, nothing new from yesterday.  I expect that -- well, we’re hopeful to have a call with President Medvedev in the next few days and hope that we can wrap up a new treaty on the next call.

Again, the President has been enormously involved personally in moving this process along.  The two Presidents last spoke on the 13th of March and we think we’re getting -- moving toward good progress on something that will be important for the American people.

Q    Is that call on the 13th kind of a breakthrough?

MR. GIBBS:  It certainly helped move a number of issues along, yes.

Q    On health care, what about the Caterpillar and Deere companies saying it’s going to be so costly to them?

MR. GIBBS:  Let me describe a little bit -- I got the health care guys to give me a little briefing on this.

This is a loophole that was created in the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.  Businesses get a 28 percent subsidy to help cover the cost of prescription drugs.  That subsidy they get from the government is now currently not counted as income.  When they spend that money they currently get a deduction on that.

So basically they get a subsidy and what amounts to two deductions.  Right?  It’s not -- they get the subsidy that’s not counted as income, then they get to write off the spending.

This bill, our bill simply closes the loophole and allows them to deduct that money one time by not counting it as income.  So I would say that to ensure that this is not something that’s done without any time period or planning, this doesn’t go into effect until 2013, which is two years later than the original Senate bill.  There’s $10 billion in health care reform for support for businesses with early retirees.

Again, this is -- instead of there being a subsidy in what amounts to two deductions, there’s now a subsidy and one deduction for businesses to use.

Q    Are they overreacting by taking them?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t -- I can’t tell you what their motives are in terms of how they may react to their shareholders.

Q    Anything on the Osama bin Laden tape?

MR. GIBBS:  I would simply say that the President has rightly increased our tempo and put pressure on the al Qaeda network.  We see that al Qaeda has nothing to spread but hate, and that’s why the administration will continue to keep up the pressure to destroy the al Qaeda network.

Q    Any type of reaction to the threats that are going on with the Congressmen and how they voted on health reform and now the Senate parliamentarian?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think as strongly as your beliefs are held in a country as free as America, we ought to be able to have a debate that is done in a way that’s civil without any threat of violence.  We’ve done that for a good portion of our country’s history.  And I think there’s absolutely no reason to believe that we can’t debate big issues that people are passionate about but leave any threat of violence out of those passionate discussions.

Q    Do you have any reaction to the story on Social Security running out?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think it’s important to understand that obviously the President is committed to ensuring the security of Social Security, to pay out benefits for current and future retirees.  The latest actuarial report puts the Social Security Trust Fund solvency to 2037.  And certainly we’ll get in the not too distant future updates on that solvency, but the President is committed to keeping Social Security strong and solvent for current and future retirees.

I would say this, one of the things that health care reform did was help to extend the life and the security of the Medicare Trust Fund through important reforms.  That, along with deficit reduction, helped to address the longer-term problems that we have on a path toward fiscal responsibility.

Q    Robert, does the President agree with the Vice President’s comments last night, that if it wasn’t for health care going through that the administration would have been absolutely done -- that was the Vice President’s comments -- on future issues, whether it be immigration, cap and trade?

MR. GIBBS:  I think health care was a big deal.

Q    How big?  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  Big.  (Laughter.)  Let the transcript reflect that I did not mouth anything else besides “big deal.”

I think that -- I’ll say this.  I think what people have seen is a President that laid out a vision and is persistent in seeing that vision through.  I think that’s strong leadership.  I will say I think that the President also believed that regardless of what happened with health care, there would still be many issues to tackle.  I’m certainly happier, as I know many in the administration, and I think, quite frankly, millions of Americans will be, for having passed health care reform.

I will say, look, there are many important issues left to deal with this year.  I think it’s important that we figure out a way to respond to what the American people want, and that is two parties working together to ensure financial reform, to continue to make progress on an economy that creates jobs, to deal with things like campaign finance reform and ensuring that special interest money doesn’t dominate our political system this November.  And I think quite frankly the American people understand that we can do big things, but they want to see two parties do it together.

Q    Did you want to add anything to the Pentagon’s announcement on “don’t ask, don’t tell”?

MR. GIBBS:  I think that obviously Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen and others I think summed it up quite well today.

Q    There are reports that when the President left the meeting with Netanyahu he went upstairs and had dinner with his family.  That was sort of interpreted as a snub.  Could you talk about that?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I’ll say this, his family wasn’t there so I don’t know that I’d read a whole lot into reports that he had dinner with his family.

Q    Can we get a readout now on Netanyahu’s meeting of yesterday with Mitchell?  I mean, have any differences on East Jerusalem been narrowed?

MR. GIBBS:  I’d say that the staffs from -- our staff and the Prime Minister’s staff again worked quite late into the evening.  I don’t have the exact time.  But again I think we’re making progress on important issues.  But nothing more on substance to report than that.

Q    Any reaction to the reconciliation bill being sent back to the House?

MR. GIBBS:  I’ll say this, I think you’ve seen over the course of the last many hours attempts to do anything possible to try to delay health care reform and the important corrections that many that are trying to delay the bill have pointed out need to be fixed -- pulling out things like the deal for Nebraska, many of the important things that the President outlined that are in the reconciliation bill.

However, we’re quite confident that this process will soon pass the Senate then the new bill will be approved rather quickly by the House and will make further progress on the issues that are in the reconciliation bill.

Q    The President is famously pretty level, but is there any extra, kind of, spring in his step since Sunday?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think he was no doubt enormously happy for what happened on Sunday.  I think he was counted out a lot of times.  And as I said, I think he was enormously persistent.

I will say this, what motivated him the entire time -- whether he was asked what this would do to Democratic poll numbers or his poll numbers or his political future -- he was always far more concerned about what this meant for the very people that we’re going to go see today and the very benefits that we’re going to talk about today on how health care helps small businesses that are doing the right thing now and providing health care for their employees.  That’s what motivated him throughout this entire time.

There’s no doubt that if we failed to act, we knew what was going to happen.  Small businesses and people that found themselves in the individual market were facing health insurance cost increases of 30, 40, 60 percent.  And now as a result of this, small businesses, families and our seniors will get some much deserved support in their health care.

Q    What about Iran?  The Wall Street Journal reported that the administration softened its stance on sanctions to get the support from Russia and China.  Any comment, anything on that at all?

MR. GIBBS:  No, we continue to work closely with our P5-plus-1 partners, making progress on the next steps if Iran is unwilling to take the steps it must take to live up to its international responsibilities and obligations.  All right?

Q    But -- just to follow up on the Iranian question -- but is the administration willing to take, like, the bite, as Secretary Clinton would say, out of some of the sanctions requirements just in order to get Russia and China onboard?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don’t want to get into the details of some of this, except to say we feel like we’re making progress with all of our partners in the P5-plus-1 and moving forward in a united fashion, and about taking some real steps if those steps are necessary.

I would say this:  We are at a point in bringing the international community along and in bringing our partners along that we’ve never been at.  And I think we’ve got strong relationships with our partners.  I think if we get a START deal done, it will demonstrate a strong partnership between the United States and Russia being able to address not just the problems of nuclear security in their two countries, but the deadly spread of nuclear weapons throughout the world.

Look, each of the countries in the P5-plus-1 have -- it’s in their own interests to act and to ensure that we don’t wake up to a Middle East that’s in the midst of an arms race that won’t just destabilize the region of the Middle East but has the danger of destabilizing security throughout the world.  All right?  Thanks -- oh, one more.

Q    Is the President prioritizing what Democrats he campaigns for in the fall, in terms of who voted yes and who voted no for health care?

MR. GIBBS:  I’ve said on several occasions that we’re going to support Democrats.  We’re going to support -- there are going to be some that agreed with us on health reform, there are going to be some that didn’t agree with us on health reform.  I think the President understands that we’re a big family that may not agree on everything, but the President will be out there helping Democrats get reelected this fall, regardless of health care votes.  All right?

Q    So there’s going to be equal treatment?

MR. GIBBS:  There’s equal treatment.

Thanks, guys.

12:37 P.M. EDT