7/12/11: White House Press Briefing

Uploaded by whitehouse on 12.07.2011

Mr. Carney: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
Thanks for being here on this very,
very warm day in the summer in Washington.
I have no announcements to make, so I will go right to questions.
Ben Feller of the Associated Press.
The Press: Thanks, Jay. How are you?
Mr. Carney: I'm great, thanks. How are you?
The Press: Good, thanks. Two questions.
I'd like to get your reaction to something that the Speaker said
today in which he said the debt limit increase is the
President's problem, and that President Obama has to put
forward a plan that Congress can pass.
What's your reaction to those two things?
Mr. Carney: The need for the United States to take action so
that it fulfills its obligations and pays its debts,
as it has in the entirety of its existence,
is not a Democratic problem, it's not a Republican problem.
It's an American problem.
And it's something that we have to do together.
The President feels very strongly about this.
I would also note that while Congress has to vote to raise
the debt ceiling, the President doesn't have a vote in this.
It's Congress that has to act.
The President didn't stand up here yesterday and say, hey,
show you a lot of charts and graphs about how previous
Congresses under a Republican President accumulated enormous
amounts of deficits and debt, and that this is what they
needed to vote -- to deal with, and it wasn't his problem.
He didn't say that because he doesn't believe that.
He believes it's his responsibility as the President
of the United States to lead, to work with Congress to resolve
these issues together for the American people.
So I think that's clearly where this President stands,
and it's clearly I think the way that the American
people view this.
If we were to default on our obligations, who suffers?
Democrats, Republicans or Americans?
Americans suffer.
The American economy suffers.
The global economy suffers.
The Press: What about I guess the broader issue here?
You've got the Speaker's statement that I read;
you've got the Senate Republican leader, Senator McConnell,
offering a harsh speech today on the floor in which he questioned
the President's leadership and said that the real solution to
this problem probably isn't going to happen as long as this
President is in the Oval Office.
I'm curious what -- is this whole process right now moving
forward or backwards?
Mr. Carney: What I think was said was unfortunate,
because this President has made clear his willingness
to compromise, to take heat from his own party,
to do things that would force him and Democrats to move
outside their comfort zone in order to meet Republicans
halfway to achieve a significant deficit reduction deal the likes
of which I think the American people deserve.
I mean, this is an opportunity that shouldn't be passed up.
This President is going to be in office for at least another
18 months, and I think that the American people expect Congress
to work with him.
And this President surely expects and will make every
effort to work with this Congress, as he has.
I mean, there really isn't an option.
So, in answer to your question about which direction the
process is moving in, I mean, by fits and starts,
the process continues to move forward because despite elevated
rhetoric, the fact is everyone recognizes,
everyone who has been in that room and who will be in that
room again this afternoon recognizes that there is no
alternative here to taking action and dealing with the
problems before us, that there has to be a compromise and,
in the end, together, we have to do the right thing so that we
don't default on our obligations and so that we can achieve
significant deficit reduction.
The Press: Jay, did the President hear Senator McConnell's
speech on the floor?
Mr. Carney: No. He was in meetings.
The Press: Does the White House have a more specific reaction
to what McConnell said?
Mr. Carney: Well, I think I addressed it a little bit,
but if you have a specific question about a thing that
he said --
The Press: Is it helpful to this process?
Mr. Carney: Well, look, I think that Americans expect their leaders
in Washington to talk to them,
not to talk -- not to take actions based on the demands
of the most vocal elements of their parties, okay?
That's true of Democrats and it's true of Republicans.
And the fact is, no one will get everything he or she wants
out of this process.
No one will be wholly satisfied by the result.
The President knows he won't be, but he'll be satisfied by the
achievement of an agreement that's balanced and that gets
important things done.
So he will continue to work with leaders of both parties,
beginning again this afternoon in the Roosevelt Room,
to try to find common ground and to reach a compromise so that we
can move this process forward and fulfill our obligations.
The Press: Even with elevated rhetoric, as you said, aside,
on both sides, both positions seem to be very entrenched.
How do you see a deal coming when neither side,
whether it's the White House, congressional Democrats or
congressional Republicans, are indicating any hint on moving
on those specific positions?
Mr. Carney: Well, as I've said throughout this process,
there's -- sometimes there's rhetoric that has been put out
there in public that doesn't necessarily match what has
often been very constructive and respectful conversations in the
meetings, and usually has been.
So I think that the leaders will come together,
the President and the Vice President will come together,
and they will continue to push forward towards an agreement,
because there is no alternative here.
As I've just said, the President has said,
and the leaders themselves have said,
the consequences of default would be so severe,
and they would not be esoteric.
This would not be just a Wall Street problem.
It would be a problem for Americans on Main Streets
across the country.
It would affect jobs, it would affect interest rates that
directly affects housing payments and credit card
payments, and it would be severe.
And I think everyone sees that reality and recognizes it.
The path from here to there will certainly be challenging,
but we'll get there.
The Press: Last question.
Do you have specific benchmarks that you would like to see
reached on a daily basis as these talks continue?
Mr. Carney: No, we don't.
We are very aware of and we remind others in the room of
the fact that we don't have a lot of time here.
August 2nd is a hard and fast and real deadline.
Congress needs time to do the things it would have to do to
produce legislation, so we have to back up from that deadline.
So we're in the matter-of-days phase of these negotiations.
Yes, Jake.
The Press: Mitch McConnell said, "In my view, the President has
presented us with three choices: smoke and mirrors,
tax hikes or default.
The Republicans choose none of the above.
I hoped to do good, but I refuse to do harm."
Mr. Carney: Well, I think I would simply ask you,
as you and everyone else in this room and other reporters who are
covering this, whether you think that's true,
because what -- for better or worse -- well,
that's actually not true.
For better or worse, a lot of what has been on offer,
a lot of what has been considered and talked about,
is now out in the public domain.
And I don't think there's any credible observer of these
negotiations and analysts of the general problems we have,
in terms of deficit and debt reduction,
who would not say that we have not been credible?
The Press: I think we have a general --
Mr. Carney: I mean, who would say that we have not been credible.
Because the fact is, this President is willing to do
significant things, in terms of discretionary cuts,
entitlement reform that strengthens the programs
and increases their solvency further into the future for
future generations -- tough things that will not be easy
to convince Democrats to go along with.
But he's willing to do that, because he thinks that's what
leadership requires.
I mean, it's not -- he's not standing here saying,
that's what I want to do; he's saying,
I have to do it because I'm President and it's important
and this is an opportunity that we should not pass up.
The Press: So in the spirit of rebutting this idea that it's all been
smoke and mirrors, is the President willing
to raise the retirement age for Medicare and Social Security?
Mr. Carney: There is no reason for me, from here,
or for the President, from here, when he was here several times
in recent days, to negotiate the particulars from the podium.
The Press: I'm not asking you to negotiate it;
I'm asking you to explain it.
Mr. Carney: And -- well, what we have said is -- what the President
stood here and said, not with regard to a specific
proposal, is that a lot of the reporting out about what has
been under consideration has been accurate.
And I would simply say, for those of you -- most of you who
are familiar with these issues and know what hard choices are,
to judge for yourselves whether that -- whether the kinds of
things that we've been willing to consider do not constitute
significant demonstrations of willingness to compromise.
And I think the answer is, they absolutely do.
And this President has never taken a "my way or the highway"
approach, because he understands that he's not a monarch,
that we live in a great democracy built upon a
two-party system, and by and large, nothing big gets done
in Washington unless Democrats and Republicans come together.
And they only come together if each side is willing to give,
the way Ronald Reagan did and Tip O'Neill did,
the way Bill Clinton did and Newt Gingrich did,
and many of their predecessors in American history.
That's the only way this gets done.
And in the end, because the elected officials who are here
are here representing the American people,
I think it will get done.
And we will press up until the very end for the biggest
possible deal.
The Press: Also, I'm not sure if I missed this,
but have you guys -- has the White House reacted at all to
what's been going on at the U.S. embassy in Syria,
the demonstrations and the violence?
Mr. Carney: Yes. And we have, and the Secretary of State has.
I think --
The Press: I've seen statements from State.
I'm wondering if you -- if the White House has a response.
Mr. Carney: Well, I would simply say that, echoing what Secretary Clinton
said, our position is that President Assad
is not indispensible and that we had called on him
to lead this transition.
He clearly has not and he has lost legitimacy by refusing to
lead the transition.
We want to see the Syrian people's desire for democratic
transformation carried out.
The attacks or the thugs storming the embassy is not
acceptable, and we've made that clear to the Syrian government
that it is their responsibility, as it is the responsibility of
host nations around the globe, to provide security for and to
maintain security for foreign embassies,
in this case the U.S. embassy.
The Press: Why does the White House think there has been such
tolerance of Assad's behavior among other Arab leaders who
did not -- who denounced Qaddafi?
Mr. Carney: I don't have an answer to that question for you.
I mean, what we have said has been very clear about its -- the
unacceptable things that he's done,
the killings and the arrests that have continued.
Even when he had the opportunity to have this meeting with the
opposition on July 10th, the unacceptable behavior by the
government, the attacks on its people continued.
And that proved that he was not going to lead this transition.
The Press: Thank you.
Specific to these talks, are you saying then that the rhetoric
that we're hearing in public from Republicans does not match
the tone of what's going on inside the room?
Mr. Carney: Look, I think it's fair to say that the tone inside the
room has by and large been frank and constructive and
not highly contentious at all.
That doesn't mean that there aren't disagreements.
But as was the case certainly in the Biden-led talks,
the atmosphere continues to be constructive and respectful.
And we expect that to continue.
The Press: So do you think the Republicans are then playing to their base by --
Mr. Carney: I don't want to play political analyst from here.
I just think that it's important to recognize that we will not
get from here to there, either side,
if we heed only the calls of our most ideological supporters.
We have to be -- we have to acknowledge that maximalist
positions will not prevail.
It's just -- logic dictates otherwise.
And this is not an esoteric exercise because we have the
absolute accepted need to deal with fulfilling our obligations
and paying our debts.
So in the end, the President remains optimistic that we
will reach an agreement.
He will continue to fight for the most substantial deficit
reduction package possible, and he will continue to -- in the
meeting this afternoon and his discussions from this day
forward with leaders -- remind them that none of this is easy,
so if you're going to do something hard,
you might as well go big.
You might as well do something historic and reach a significant
deficit reduction package, a package that deals with our
long-term debt issues for many years to come and allows us to
put the American economy back on solid footing as we enter into
sort of full-bore competition in the 21st century.
That's the best outcome here, and that's the outcome he's
trying to find.
The Press: So while the President pushes for that big deal,
will he also be reviewing the math on the more mid-range
package that was discussed in the Biden talks?
Mr. Carney: Well, as he's said for a while now, smaller deals are possible
-- I mean, not the short-term ones that he's made clear he
will not sign because we are the United States of America;
we do not come to the brink of defaulting on our obligations
every several weeks or months -- that's not acceptable to him.
But deals short of the so-called grand bargain,
the deals that put us in the $4 trillion range over 10 to
12 years are certainly possible, and he has
asked on two occasions now, when meetings ended,
for the leaders who have come to come to the Roosevelt Room,
to bring with them their proposal for what can get
us to the biggest deal possible.
And each member's definition of the biggest deal possible might
-- will obviously differ in size.
So they're doing serious work, both in the room and at the
staff level.
But the President will continue to push and argue for the most
significant package and balanced -- that will, in a balanced way,
achieve a big number that does something substantial in what he
said yesterday, the out-years.
I mean, one of the reasons to do the bigger deficit reduction
package, that we've talked about -- this has been the primary
objective, based on their own words,
that the Republicans have put forward since the midterm
elections last fall.
I mean, this was a moral imperative,
this is an economic imperative, we have to get our deficits and
debt under control, and the President is saying, okay,
let's do it.
And since we have to do it together,
then we have to compromise, because obviously the purist
position on the Republican side will not pass,
will not become law, and the purist position on the
Democratic side will not pass and become law.
So the alternative is compromise.
The Press: Jay, John Boehner also says that during their
weeks -- in fact, he said two months -- of discussions,
a couple months of discussions, the idea of raising taxes was
never even on the table.
Mr. Carney: Well, the President from the beginning,
since his speech at George Washington University,
has made clear that the approach he brought to the table,
that the Vice President brought to the table,
was a balanced approach that included dealing with spending
in our tax code.
The Press: What about in the private conversations with John Boehner --
Mr. Carney: Look, I'm not going to characterize those
conversations, except that a grand bargain,
a significant deficit reduction deal,
is not possible if it's not balanced,
and certainly not possible in a divided government with this
President and this Congress.
So the -- but I'm not going to get into the specifics of the
negotiations or the private, one-on-one conversations between
the Speaker and the President.
The Press: And shifting gears, Bernie Sanders was on the floor of
the Senate today and he noted that President Obama in 2008,
in a taped addressed to AARP, said "John McCain's campaign
has suggested that the best answer for the growing pressures
on Social Security might be to cut cost-of-living adjustments
or raise the retirement age.
Let me be clear: I will not do either."
Is that a promise that has gone by the bye,
at least regarding cost-of-living adjustments?
Mr. Carney: Again, I will not get into the specifics of ideas that
have been considered.
What I will say is that the President has been willing to
get outside of his comfort zone to discuss different measures,
to do what he has said -- will go to the general program there
in terms of Social Security -- that he firmly believes -- and
economists back him up on this -- that Social Security is not
an issue when you talk about our near- and medium-term deficits.
But he is interested in taking steps to increase its solvency
and strengthen the program.
But what I won't get into is which specific measures might
be taken to do that.
But, again, when we talk about making hard choices,
he has demonstrated his willingness to do that
because he thinks the American people want something big.
And the reason, when we talk about Social Security,
even though it is not a driver, it is not the problem when we
talk about our deficits, it does have long-term solvency issues
that can be -- that can be addressed and we can
strengthen the program.
And he has said that if we're going to make some tough
decisions now in the interest of getting something big,
that he's willing to have those conversations about all
entitlements, including Social Security.
So, again, this is not -- this is something that we've always,
from the State of the Union address on,
talked about on a separate track,
separate from the need to deal with our deficits.
But he is willing to do, in the name of doing something big and
comprehensive, talk about what he talked about in the State of
the Union, which is take measures that would strengthen
it and increase its solvency.
The Press: More generally, then, without asking about what
they specifically talked about on Social Security,
is the situation now so severe that when the President talks
about making tough choices and getting out of your comfort
zone, that that means being willing to break firm promises
that he made previously?
Mr. Carney: Again -- well, I don't know what exactly you're
referring to except for the one you just --
The Press: Well, you won't answer the specific question,
so maybe the general.
Mr. Carney: What I will say is that it requires making tough choices,
and compromise requires not necessarily being exactly where
you were in your ideal world.
When you put a proposal forward in Congress that passed the
House, even though it had no chance in the Senate and no
chance to be signed into law, you could stick with that as
your absolutist position, or you can recognize that you're
not going to get that and that we are absolutely under an
obligation to reach a compromise.
You can put forward a framework, as the President did in April at
George Washington University, for his vision of $4 trillion
in deficit reduction over 10 to 12 years,
that deals with spending in entitlements and discretionary
spending, defense spending and the tax code.
But you can also recognize that you're not going to get that
exactly the way you wrote it.
That's the President's approach.
The Press: Jay, my understanding is the President,
in the interview with CBS, has suggested that there's
some concern that Social Security checks may not go
out August 3rd.
Can you provide us a little context on that,
and did he indeed say that?
Mr. Carney: Well, I think it's up to CBS to -- I don't want to
scoop their interview, but the -- and I think that will air
tonight -- I mean, the fact of the matter is,
and Secretary Geithner has talked about this -- I mean,
we no longer have authority to borrow money if we do not raise
the debt ceiling, which we remain confident will happen,
so this is speculative.
But the fact is one of the reasons why we absolutely have
to take action is because we stop -- we lose our authority
to borrow money.
And as you know, we have obligations that exceed
the money we take in -- significantly exceeds the
money we take in.
And that would then entail a kind of Sophie's choice
situation where you have to decide what bills you can pay.
And the fact is that whether it's Social Security checks
or veterans' benefits or disability benefits -- I mean,
there is -- there are -- the number of decisions that would
have to be made -- and this is beyond my expertise,
so I encourage you to go to Treasury -- I mean,
it's pretty clear that the effect will be significant.
And so, no, we can't guarantee, if there were a default,
any specific bill will be paid.
Because the choices that some have said -- oh,
we can just pay interest, so we can pay the bond holders,
in some cases and in many cases Chinese -- the Chinese
government, but not pay Social Security recipients or veterans
or benefits recipients.
So that's the kind of choice that nobody wants the United
States of America to have to make,
that's why the leaders have been clear that we will vote to have
the United States fulfill its obligations,
and the President feels strongly that that will happen.
The Press: Does the change in tone, where you hear some Republican leaders
saying today that they feel like we may be heading for a
missed opportunity in terms of a big deal,
suggest that we're heading for an August 2nd nail-biter
on this issue?
Mr. Carney: Well, look, I think it is an unfortunate reality that,
as we've seen with the CR, as we've seen so many times,
that we tend to -- that Congress tends to push these things up to
the very last minute.
While that's inconvenient, in many cases,
it is the way things happen.
In this case, it's more than inconvenient because of the
-- even before August 2nd, the possibility -- if it's perceived
to be a possibility -- that Congress will not act in time
could have an effect on markets, could have an effect that would
be damaging to the economy.
So we think it's very important and the President's made it
clear: Let's not -- let's get this done sooner rather than
later, and the clock is ticking.
The Press: One quick one on another topic.
We understand an executive order is coming related to
a gun-related issue.
We've already heard from some groups,
lawmakers expressing concern that this could be trampling
on Second Amendment rights.
Do you have a response to that?
Mr. Carney: Well, first of all, I would refer all -- you're
talking about the long gun issue on the Southwest border?
The Press: My understanding was changes to the database used for
background checks.
Mr. Carney: I don't have anything.
I don't even -- I'm not even aware of that.
There is obviously an issue that's about -- which is this is
a law enforcement issue about illegal gun trafficking to the
Mexicans on the border states is the long gun one,
which I refer you to the Justice Department for.
But I don't even -- I don't have anything for you on that.
The Press: Jay, can I follow up on that just very quickly?
Mr. Carney: Yes. I'll get to yours.
The Press: Does the President believe that a new regulation is going
to have a real impact on stopping the illegal flow
of arms to Mexico?
Mr. Carney: Well, as the Deputy Attorney General said yesterday,
this targeted measure will improve the ability of ATF to
detect and disrupt the illegal weapons-trafficking networks
responsible for diverting firearms from lawful commerce
to criminals and criminal organizations.
So, yes, we believe it will improve the ATF's ability
to do that. Yes.
The Press: I want to go back to something you just said.
You described the tone of the meetings
as frank and constructive.
Given the fact that some people with knowledge of the meetings
have described them as essentially being stalled,
can you explain specifically --
Mr. Carney: Well, I didn't say they had come to agreement on the issues.
The Press: But what's been constructive about them?
Mr. Carney: But, I mean, it was the contrast to some of the
heated, fairly partisan rhetoric that has been heard elsewhere.
And we're not getting that in the room,
which is not to say sometimes there aren't starkly absolutist
positions expressed in the room.
That happens sometimes, but they're done in very calm and
constructive tones.
The Press: At this point heading into the fourth meeting --
The Press: How is that constructive?
The Press: -- what do you think the meetings have accomplished
so far?
Mr. Carney: I think the meetings have made clear the absolute
imperative to take action, to have the United States make sure
that it fulfills its obligations.
They've been very -- remember that most people in that room
were not participants in the negotiations led by
the Vice President.
Some were, but not all.
So there's a level of detail and specificity that essentially
others are being brought into.
And, obviously, not everybody was involved in conversations
that the President and the Speaker of
the House were having.
So there's a sort of broadening of the knowledge base about what
has been discussed, where are the possible areas of
compromise, and where are the challenges,
the disagreements that still exist,
and various ways to get from small to big.
The Press: Some people have described the meetings as not having
accomplished anything, though.
How would you describe, going into meeting number four,
where are we now?
Mr. Carney: Well, I would say that this only gets done if
we act together, and that means the President and the leaders of
Congress of both parties.
Doesn't make the meetings easy.
It doesn't mean that every minute of every meeting is
highly productive.
But it does mean that it's essential that we have these
meetings to get our work done.
I mean, really, there's no -- it doesn't have to be pleasant
for it to be essential.
The Press: Is there any --
Mr. Carney: And also I don't want to suggest that it's unpleasant.
I'm just saying that it's -- that there's really not
a choice here.
And so it's not like if we just break up and go do something
else that the problem goes away.
The Press: Is there any concern, given the heated rhetoric that we've
heard today, that the talks could break down
at the end of today?
Mr. Carney: Well, no, because I think that there are no alternatives to
continuing to talk and to find compromise,
and I think that it's important to remember that the Biden-led
negotiations, as asserted by participants in both parties,
made significant progress, and that,
as the President made clear here yesterday,
he and the Speaker of the House had very constructive talks.
Out of that, there should be -- and certainly the American
expect -- people demand that there be potential
for compromise.
So that's what we're working towards. Yes.
The Press: Until just recently, most -- there have been a lot of
conversations about changing the cost-of-living adjustment for
Social Security, but it was always in the context of --
Mr. Carney: There you go again.
The Press: -- always in the context of a Social Security plan,
trying to make Social Security solvent for the long term.
How would you respond to people who would say that that's
the appropriate way to do this, not as part of a debt
negotiation -- deficit -- overall deficit --
Mr. Carney: I think I just answered this, in that the President does believe
that this is a separate issue but it is also an important
issue, and that the fact that it's a separate track doesn't
mean that it's not -- that if there's the political will to
do it as part of this overall package, then we should do it.
And by "it" I mean not addressing the specific
measures that you raise -- or measure that you raise,
but to take measures that will strengthen the program and
enhance its long-term solvency without slashing benefits.
So the -- I mean, I'm not sure -- because they can happen
within the same framework without -- but it doesn't change
the fact that taking measures to increase and strengthen the
program -- I mean, increase its solvency and strengthen the
program is a way of dealing with our short-term deficit issues
because they're not related.
The Press: But correct me if I'm wrong, there's been no suggestion that
the changes in Social Security would actually solve the 75-year
Social Security problem, so essentially you would just be
maybe taking a bite out of it without really --
Mr. Carney: I don't think anybody is under any illusion
that even a significant deficit reduction package or one that
includes some of these other things would solve all problems
for all times.
But it is our obligation to take measures to strengthen
and increase and lengthen the solvency of these programs that
have been the foundation of economic security for America's
senior citizens -- Medicare and Social Security.
I mean, any measure we took -- look,
the significant reforms that Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill
put into -- made law in the 1980s extended Social Security's
solvency and strengthened it for a very long time -- when
that Reagan-O'Neill compromise, by the way,
was a balanced compromise that included dealing with
revenues and --
The Press: But that was all within Social Security,
and this wouldn't be that way.
Mr. Carney: Right -- I don't understand the point you're making.
The fact that that was all within Social Security is true
and we can do Social Security entirely separate or we can do
it as part of this, but it is still solving
a separate problem.
The Press: Does the President have any plans of traveling
outside of Washington while this issue is still unresolved?
Is he sort of committed to staying here?
Mr. Carney: I have -- I think he's made clear that we're going to meet
every day until this is done.
The Press: So we shouldn't expect him to be going and taking his
case out to the public across the country?
Mr. Carney: I'm not going to -- I don't have any announcements to
make about his travel schedule,
but he is committed to meeting every day with these leaders
until this is done.
The Press: Thank you.
The Press: On weekends as well?
Mr. Carney: Yes, sir.
The Press: Can you say whether President Obama and Secretary Geithner
have had discussions about what you have termed as the Sophie's
choice type of decisions that they will face on
funding come August 2nd?
Mr. Carney: I don't know.
They have regular meetings; I don't know that they've had
those conversations.
I'm sure that Secretary Geithner has briefed the President on the
details of the circumstance that would present itself
on August 3rd.
But I don't know if they've talked about that.
And I'm not even sure -- again, I would refer you
to the Treasury Department about how those decisions
would be made. Yes.
The Press: The President yesterday, he said that he'd like to see more from
the business community in terms of lobbying to get a deal done
and to sound some of the alarms for if the debt ceiling is not
raised August 2nd.
Can you specify some of the actions he'd like to see and
whether or not the letter that was sent today from some 470
CEOs -- was that enough?
Mr. Carney: Well, look, I don't think -- I think it's welcome.
You cited this -- I was going to mention this to you as obviously
not something we organized -- I believe the Chamber did -- but a
letter from hundreds of business leaders that says,
"We believe it is vitally important for the U.S.
government to make good on its financial obligations and to put
its fiscal house in order.
First, it is critical that the United States government not
default in any way on its fiscal obligations.
A great nation, like a great company,
has to be relied upon to pay its debts when they become due.
This is a Main Street, not a Wall Street, issue."
"The debt ceiling trigger" -- I'm just skipping around here
to relevant points -- "The debt ceiling trigger does offer a
needed catalyst for serious negotiations on budget
discipline, but avoiding even a technical default is essential.
This is a risk our country must not take.
"Second, our political leaders must agree to a plan to
substantially reduce our long-term budget deficits
with a goal of at least stabilizing our nation's
debt as a percentage of GDP, which will entail
difficult choices."
We couldn't have said it better.
And we agree.
The Press: So is there more, though, beyond --
Mr. Carney: Well, look, I think -- we think everyone has a stake in this.
It can seem arcane, understandably,
when I and others stand up and talk about debt-to-GDP ratios
and the need to not default on our obligations and to raise the
debt ceiling.
I mean, I honestly -- what is the debt ceiling?
I think for most Americans, it sounds like gobbledygook.
What they want is for the economy to be strong,
for jobs to be created, and for Washington to work.
And with that as our goal -- with those three objectives
as our goal, it's pretty obvious what we have to do.
The Press: The President is having lunch with two of the
CEOs who signed that letter.
Is he going to be asking them to do more?
Mr. Carney: Well, I don't -- I think that lunch is happening now.
I'm not sure -- I'm sure they will discuss this issue --
The Press: Was the debt limit on the agenda today?
Mr. Carney: Well, there wasn't a printed or written agenda.
I'm sure that because this is an issue that so many businesses
are worried about, understandably,
I'm sure it will come up.
The Press: Who is he having lunch with?
Mr. Carney: I think we put this out to or we gave it to the pool here,
but he is having, as he has done throughout his administration,
he will have lunch, or is having lunch now with four
business leaders to discuss ideas to grow the economy
and create jobs.
They will specifically discuss the importance of working with
the private sector to promote job training efforts,
including ways that companies have been partnering with high
educational institutions to develop curriculum and programs
that ensure graduates will have the appropriate background and
skills to succeed and get hired within the companies.
The business leaders in attendance are Clarence Otis of
Darden Restaurants, Scott Davis of UPS, Sam Palmisano of IBM,
and Matt Rose of BNSF.
The Press: There is no agenda?
Mr. Carney: What's that?
The Press: No agenda?
Mr. Carney: Well, this is a broad outline of one topic they
will likely talk about.
But I don't want -- just because they're going to talk about this
doesn't mean they won't talk about those other issues because
those other issues are quite clearly of concern and in the
news right now.
The Press: Jay, the Treasury Secretary did say this morning that in
its push not only for the debt ceiling but for the big
deficit-cutting package the administration could
use some support.
Is the White House doing anything to rally those less
vocal, less ideological elements of the public to get involved?
Mr. Carney: Meaning which groups?
I mean, I think we're making our case;
the President has come before you --
The Press: You've said you feel like lawmakers are responding to
sort of the fringes in their party and that Americans --
Mr. Carney: Well, again, we welcome the letter that was --
I think Julianna said 470 business leaders --
The Press: But the Chamber you said organized that.
Is the White House doing anything to gin up some --
Mr. Carney: As the President said, we have conversations
with business leaders all the time.
He does; others do.
I'm sure this has been an issue.
We're not in some sort of organized effort that I know of.
I mean, this is pushing on an open door, if you will.
These are issues that they are very concerned about
for obvious reasons.
And as the letter makes clear, while they are concerned about
it for obvious reasons, it is not a concern limited just to
business and it shouldn't be.
It obviously affects every American who has to worry
about interest rates, mortgage payments, credit card payments,
worries about his or her job.
The impact of a default would be catastrophic for so many people
around the country and the globe that we simply cannot even
entertain the possibility that it might happen.
The Press: The CBS interview is on their website,
so I'm going to read a little bit from it just
to clarify this.
Mr. Carney: Are you going to ask me to confirm?
The Press: Something like that.
"This is not just a matter of Social Security checks.
These are veterans' checks.
These are folks on disability and their checks.
There are about 70 million checks that go out."
Is 70 million a number you all believe of checks that would
stop being given out -- this is a very high number,
so let me make sure --
Mr. Carney: I think it's at least that high that the Treasury Department
issues or the government issues.
But I would check with Treasury.
The Press: Was his answer in -- was it an answer to a question
or did he volunteer this fact?
Mr. Carney: It was an answer to a question.
The Press: Is this a point he'll continue to make on his own?
Mr. Carney: Look, we're not -- if asked -- and he's spent a lot of
time taking questions lately, so if asked I think he'll make
the point, as he did today, we're not spending a lot of
time warning about what would happen if we defaulted,
because we do not believe we will default.
We accept what leaders of Congress have said about
the impermissibility of allowing the United States to default on
its obligations.
So we believe we will get there by hook or by crook through this
process, and we will -- Congress will vote as necessary,
Democrats and Republicans, because this is not a Democratic
or a Republican problem, it's an American problem,
and we will take action necessary to deal with it,
and take advantage, hopefully, in the biggest possible way,
of the opportunity presented here to achieve
something significant.
And remember that way back when, when this process began,
the linkage between raising the debt ceiling and significant
deficit reduction was one that was put forward by Republicans
because they believed it was the primary objective.
The number one item on their agenda list when it came to
domestic policy, economic policy,
probably all policy was to deal with cutting spending,
reducing our deficit, reducing our long-term debt problem.
And the President has made clear that we accept the challenge and
we are willing to compromise to get there.
And he still believes, even at this late date,
that the biggest possible deal is the best way to go.
The Press: Can you tell us what his reaction was when the Majority
Whip Cantor -- Majority Leader Cantor said that he
considered it in terms of who's making concessions,
that their concession in return for you giving spending cuts is
to allow a vote on the debt limit?
Mr. Carney: Well, I think that's one version of the question that
somebody in the front row asked, which is that that's -- this is
not the President's problem --
The Press: I want to know what his reaction was, though.
Mr. Carney: Well, I think he was asked about this in the
interview, and it's very much what I just said, which is,
wait a second, this is an American problem.
It's not a Democratic problem, it's not a Republican problem,
it's not this President's problem.
In fact, as I said, this is not a vote on new spending.
This is a vote to fulfill the obligations made by previous
Congresses under a previous President by and large, okay?
When President Clinton left office, there were surpluses.
Everyone agrees, right?
I know that there -- people like to argue over absolutely settled
facts, but I think we can all agree that there were budget
surpluses when Bill Clinton left office -- "as far as the eye
could see" was the phrase commonly used.
By the time President Obama was sworn into office eight
years later, there was the largest debt and largest
deficits in history.
Okay? And these are -- as the President has said,
these are cars that have already been purchased and vacations
that have already been taken, and now it's time
to pay the bills.
He did not say, however, when asked about this, oh, well,
it's not my responsibility; it's Congress's responsibility
because they ran up the bills.
They voted and didn't pay for two wars;
they voted and didn't pay for substantial tax cuts,
including tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and didn't
pay for them; a Medicare prescription drug program that
they voted for, including every leader in that room from the
Republican Party -- didn't pay for it.
These are the obligations that we have to now pay.
So -- but you know what the President said?
He goes, "It's my responsibility, too.
It's my responsibility, too.
I will work with Congress because we have to do this
as a nation; it's an American challenge,
and we do it together."
The Press: But did he say something to them yesterday,
in the meeting they had in the afternoon in response --
Mr. Carney: About this issue?
The Press: Yes.
Mr. Carney: I'm not aware.
I know the -- well, on different -- I'm not going to -- we're not
going to read out the dialogue from the meetings.
I'm not aware of anything of that nature that he said.
Because what I -- when I was just channeling him,
with a little filigree of my own,
the -- that was in response to some of the
statements made this morning.
The Press: Since the President has reconvened these talks under
his own auspices, has any progress been made?
Mr. Carney: Yes, there has, in the sense that,
as I was saying I think in answer to Laura's question or
somebody else's questions, the participants in these meetings
haven't been engaged, all of them,
in the detailed discussions that were led by the Vice President
or, obviously with the exception of the Speaker and the
President, the conversations that the Speaker and the
President had.
So there had been progress in that the -- more people now are
aware of what the playing field looks like,
where the compromises can be found,
and what it takes to build upon a smaller package to the biggest
possible package, and the hard choices that getting from small
to big require.
The Press: That doesn't sound like anything further agreed to.
Mr. Carney: That's progress.
The Press: That's progress?
Mr. Carney: If this were easy, we'd be done and having happy hour
at 4:00 p.m. today, but it's not going to happen.
The Press: Really quickly, let me ask you from the other
direction -- the clear impression from this end
of the looking glass is that the positions have hardened.
Is that wrong?
Mr. Carney: Well, I think there has been some hardening of
positions, restating of absolutist positions.
We have encountered that along the way.
But our only counsel at this point in response to that is
that time is running out, ladies and gentlemen.
We need to put that absolutism aside, leave it at the door,
and get to the hard work of reaching an agreement.
The Press: Did you say this had been moved today to the
Roosevelt Room?
Mr. Carney: Oh, where was it --
The Press: You've said that a couple times.
Mr. Carney: Were we not in the Roosevelt Room today?
Mr. Earnest: I think they're in the Cabinet Room.
Mr. Carney: I'm sorry.
It's been in the Cabinet Room; it will be in the Cabinet Room.
I get my fancy rooms with fancy pictures mixed up.
The Press: The statements, the public statements,
that everybody -- people have been making before you go into
the session today, do those hurt?
Do those make it more difficult to negotiate
once you get in the room?
Mr. Carney: Well, look, everybody here -- or everybody
there, rather, in those rooms is an elected official who's been
around politics for a long time.
And I think most participants have pretty thick skin,
which is not to say it helps, but I think everybody can get
over it pretty quickly.
The Press: And one other thing.
Does the White House have any problem with federal dollars
being sent to a counseling clinic that engages in the
controversial therapy of trying to cure people of being gay?
Mr. Carney: Ann, I confess I do not have an answer to that question.
Sorry. Let me move around a little bit.
Yes, go ahead.
The Press: Jay, if you could talk a little bit about the
assassination of the Prime Minister's brother in
Afghanistan, and who you guys believe might have been
responsible for it -- the Taliban has claimed
responsibility -- and whether or not you think there's an
increased threat to security in the south as troops withdraw?
Mr. Carney: Well, I would say obviously that this is -- at a personal
level we -- our prayers and sympathies are with the
Karzai family during this difficult time.
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the
murder of President Karzai's half-brother in Kandahar.
We obviously -- we don't know who is responsible.
There have been some claims and we will certainly work with the
Afghan authorities on that, but right now I think the moment
here is one -- is a personal one,
and we express our condolences and condemn the murder.
The Press: Some questions on "don't ask, don't tell."
Last week the Ninth Circuit issued an order barring the
government from enforcing this law.
I'm sure the President heard the news last week.
Is he supportive of the decision?
Mr. Carney: Is he aware of it?
The Press: I'm sure he heard the news last week.
Is he supportive of the decision?
Mr. Carney: The Justice Department is reviewing the order,
and I think I would point you to them for further information.
The President's position, obviously,
on the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" is quite clear.
And he fought hard to make it happen and it was a significant
accomplishment late last year.
The Press: But as the head of the administration,
was the President in support of this court order ending that
enforcement of "don't ask, don't tell"?
Mr. Carney: Again, I'm going to refer you to the Justice Department as
they review that decision.
The Press: Do you anticipate that the administration will
challenge or appeal this decision?
Mr. Carney: I think that's the same answer.
The Press: So what impact is this going to have on repeal certification?
I mean, the President said before that it's going to happen
within a matter of weeks, not months.
Is it going to have any impact on that?
Mr. Carney: I think that the process moves forward.
I'll refer you to the Defense Department.
I know Secretary Gates, shortly before he left,
said that it was moving along very well and that we do expect
it to happen in the near future.
But so I don't think there's an impact.
The Press: Is there any definite date or time set --
Mr. Carney: I'd refer you to the Defense Department,
but I don't believe so. Yes.
The Press: Thanks, Jay.
On Syria, if as you say President Assad is not
indispensible and if, as you say,
he has failed to lead the transition,
then why hasn't the President called for him to step down?
Mr. Carney: Well, I think you'll note that we've said today that
-- and the Secretary of State has said this -- that President
Assad has lost his legitimacy.
And the issue here is a matter of factual analysis,
and that is that President Assad had an opportunity to
lead this transition.
And we have always said he should lead or leave.
He had that opportunity and he passed it up.
And for that reason, not because he's lost -- it doesn't matter
nearly as much that he's lost legitimacy in our eyes.
This is a matter of analysis that he's lost legitimacy in
the eyes of the Syrian people who are increasingly
demanding change.
There's really a growing consensus among the Syrian
people that this transition needs to take place and that
President Assad is not going to lead it.
The Syrian people should be able to decide their own future.
The Press: And given the 1,400-plus deaths in Syria that have
occurred against civilians, how is this different from Libya?
Mr. Carney: Well, I could review the facts for you.
But as you know, there was an imminent threat of a massacre.
There was a broad-based, multinational coalition that
was not just the United Nations -- or NATO rather,
but through the United Nations Security Council Resolution,
included NATO action as well as coalition participation by
nations in the region and, again,
the opportunity to work in a multinational way to forestall
a massacre against the Libyan people.
And as we have said throughout the unrest that has affected the
region -- North Africa and the Middle East -- every country and
every circumstance is different.
Okay, one more.
I always do one more.
Lester, for you.
The Press: Thank you very much.
Will the President speak out in support of Maryland's giving
illegal aliens in-state tuition at colleges and universities?
Mr. Carney: I'm not aware of that issue, Lester,
so I don't have an answer for you.
The Press: You're not aware of that issue?
Mr. Carney: I'm not. Thanks, guys.