Aboard Air Force One
En Route Raleigh, North Carolina
10:35 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for traveling to North Carolina with us today, ladies and gentlemen. Before I take your questions, I have a quick announcement.
In his remarks today, the President will announce a new memorandum directing agencies to accelerate their payments to small business contractors so they can reinvest that money in the economy and drive job growth. As critical drivers of job creation and economic growth across the country, small businesses must receive, in a timely and efficient manner, the money that the federal government owes them for the goods and services that the government has accepted. The federal government pays small businesses nearly $100 billion each year for goods and services. By taking actions that will enable these payments to be made as promptly as possible, we will improve cash flow for small businesses and provide them with a more predictable stream of resources, thereby preserving and increasing small business participation in federal contracting.
Currently payments must be made within 30 days of receipt of proper documentation by the federal agency. Under this new policy, we are cutting the goal in half, to 15 days. The Jobs Council played a critical role in spurring this initiative through its focus on small business financing. I think to most Americans, that may not sound like a big deal -- 30 days to 15 days. Cutting it in half is actually a huge deal. We’ve heard this a lot from businesses that contract with the federal government. It’s a very important announcement, which will be included in the President’s remarks today.
Q Effective immediately?
Q Yes, how soon will it take effect?
MR. CARNEY: I will have to get back to you on that.
Q What’s the upshot of that? I mean, people --
MR. CARNEY: The upshot is that we are taking every measure we can, legislatively and through the President’s executive authority, to grow the economy and create jobs. There’s no silver bullet; no single measure does it all. The hole that the recession dug in our economy is very deep. But we need to do everything we can.
Q Why didn’t you guys do this before? I mean, you guys had a big small business push last summer. Why is this --
MR. CARNEY: The whole idea that there’s only one -- like you discover all the ideas at once or you take action -- we heard this push from small businesses and from the Jobs Council, which took a leading role in pushing this idea, and we’re taking action on it now.
Q So it was the Jobs Council that came up with it? Or did you guys come up with it?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think -- I just said to you that they played a significant role. Talk to the members of the Jobs Council about that.
Q Can you comment on the Bloomberg News poll today that said -- found that 51 percent of Americans say the jobs plan will not lower unemployment? What does that say about the selling job the President has been doing, and just in general how Americans are receiving the jobs plan?
MR. CARNEY: I think that means that half of the American people, based on that poll, believe that it will create -- help create jobs and grow the economy, and I think that Americans have every reason to be concerned about the situation we find ourselves in economically. We have not enough growth and not enough employment, and we need to take action. And the American people want Washington to take action. And Americans are going to want to see a positive effect of that action. And we believe, again, as outside economists have testified, that the American Jobs Act, if Congress makes it law, will positively impact both growth and job creation.
Q So do you have more of a sales job to do, then, if it’s only half?
MR. CARNEY: We are not done with pressing Congress and reaching out to the American people about the need to take this action and to take it now. This President made clear yesterday, as he made clear last week and as he will make clear again today, Congress needs to act. There is no higher priority than the need to grow the economy and create jobs. We are confident that members of Congress have been hearing that from their constituents. And the President will continue to urge Americans everywhere he goes to let their voices be heard in Washington, with their representatives, about the urgent need to take action.
Q And Jay, what’s the reaction to the elections last night? How can they be viewed as anything other than a referendum on the President and where he stands with voters?
MR. CARNEY: I know I’m a little older than you, but you’ve been around long enough to know, as a reporter, as I was, that special elections are often unique and their outcomes do not tell you very much about future regularly scheduled elections. And I’m sure that you and everyone else here did not write, after Democrats won all, I believe, the special elections in 2009 and 2010, that that foretold a certain outcome in the 2010 midterms. Certainly, this election has no other bearing.
Q But those 2009 elections were before major administration policies were passed; it was before health care, it was before financial regulation. These seem more like a referendum on what’s going on, but if you’re --
MR. CARNEY: Hans, you can make those predictions and look foolish in 14 months or not. I’m simply saying that we do not view it that way.
Q Okay. Do you view these elections as a wakeup call, then? That you need to reach a --
MR. CARNEY: I think that the -- one election in what had been a Democratic seat is unique to that district, to the circumstances around what created -- that caused the special election to take place. And judge it as you will, I think it’s a very specific case in a specific district in, obviously, a very low turnout election.
Q So, not an indicator species at all? Won’t it all --
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ve answered the question. The answer is no. I mean, if you’re asking me -- if you’re asking me, are Americans in general anxious, not happy with Washington, the answer is yes. And I would say, as we’ve said, that every elected member of Congress -- elected official, rather, who is up for election in 14 months needs to take that mood very seriously. And the President certainly does, because he knows he works for the American people -- that’s why he’s out there pushing the jobs act. And he believes that members of Congress need to take it seriously as well.
Q Back on the jobs bill, Jay. I mean, the President is out there asking Congress to act on this right away, there’s no higher priority. Senator Reid said that there were some other things that the Senate needs to consider first before the jobs bill, like the transportation bill and FEMA funding. Is the President talking to Reid -- Senator Reid and asking him to make the jobs bill the first priority?
MR. CARNEY: Look, transportation and FEMA, these are the things that have to be taken care of right away for obvious reasons. We certainly don’t want on transportation a situation where people stop working, as we talked about when we talked about the extension before.
So we are calling on Congress to act with absolute speed and focus on the American Jobs Act. You know as well as I do that you need to keep the pressure on to keep members of Congress focused on the urgent task of the day. Obviously there are other things that Congress has to do. But we believe that, in terms of the major legislation, this should be the principal focus of the Congress in coming weeks.
Q But Jay, on Capitol --
Q Are the Democrats on board with this thing, Jay? Are Democrats on board with this jobs plan?
MR. CARNEY: I think you saw overwhelming support among Democrats when the President announced it and delivered his speech. And we absolutely believe that Democrats are overwhelmingly in support of measures that would put Americans back to work and grow the economy.
Q Can we go back to the poll for one second? There is still an obvious selling job to do. How does the deficit plan on Monday being released impact the President’s plan to sell his job proposals? And how do you avoid having those two things conflict?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s economic vision has two parts: We need to take action in the short term to grow the economy and create jobs, and we need to take action in the medium and long term to get our deficits and debt under control. That has been his approach all along and it continues to be, and that will be reflected in the proposals he puts forward next week.
I would point you to the fact that the head of the CBO said exactly that when he was asked what policies -- yesterday in testimony -- would be best for the economy right now in that holistic way? And he said short-term measures to get the economy growing and creating jobs, and midterm and long-term term measures to get your deficits and debt under control. Well, lo and behold, that is the President’s proposal, and it is exactly why the American Jobs Act is so necessary right now, and it’s why we need to take the need to address our deficits and debt so seriously.
Q Well, but if you look at CNN’s poll today, it shows that the vast majority of Americans want to focus on jobs, not deficits. So how do you keep the President from getting -- because the super committee could eventually become the vehicle for some of the things that he wants to get done. How do you keep him out of the deficit conversation, or how do you elevate the jobs conversation above that, once he puts out his plan, which is going to have things that Democrats are not going to like and other people are going to be criticizing?
MR. CARNEY: The President firmly believes that we have to take action to address deficits and debt. He believes our urgent need is to deal with growth and jobs. That is why he separately introduced the American Jobs Act with separate pay-fors, so that this would not be held up by any committee or any timetable that prevented it from being acted on as quickly as possible.
He will keep up the campaign to convince Congress of the need to act quickly on the American Jobs Act. That will not stop just because he has other business, including presentations of his ideas on deficits and debt; including, obviously, his visit to New York for the United Nations General Assembly; and including, obviously, the other responsibilities that the President has.
But this will be the principal focus of the President and his communications going forward, after the fiscal proposals are put forward, before it, and continuing for the next weeks and months.
Q Jay, on Capitol Hill today there’s a hearing on Solyndra and the administration’s handling of that loan guarantee. Given the emails that have come out today, was it -- did the administration act appropriately in terms of what appears to be a rush to approve that loan when there was questions about whether it was a financially stable company?
MR. CARNEY: I think the last part was an editorial observation. What the emails, I believe, made clear is that there was urgency to make a decision about a scheduling matter. As you know, and you are familiar with it in a way that most Americans aren’t, it is a big proposition to move the President or to put on an event and that sort of thing. So people were simply looking for answers about whether or not we could move forward -- they could move forward with that. I would simply say that on the broader question here, the program through which those loan guarantees passed was created not by this administration, but by the previous Republican administration. Why? Because even that administration understood the absolute need for America to compete in these cutting-edge technological industries.
If we don’t, if the choice is, you know what, let’s just lay back and see what happens, Americans will spend the 21st century buying these essential technologies from the Chinese and other countries. That is unacceptable to this President.
That’s why he’s committed to the loan guarantee program, committed to the investments that need to be made in clean energy technology, and, as the Department of Energy and others have made clear, the portfolio of investments that this administration has made, we stand by and we believe that they will prove to be essential investments in the cutting-edge technologies of the future, so that we can meet our commitment to double our renewable energy production by 2012, meet our commitment to take our stake in the advanced battery field from 2 percent to 40 percent by 2015 -- an incredibly vital field. Without the investments we’ve made, that would not happen.
Q But those investments -- the investment at Solyndra, at least, was under the 1705 program at the DOE, which was specifically set up by the stimulus so they would cover the $2.4 billion program. That wasn’t part of the Bush administration, this loan guarantee program.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, the programs within programs may be one thing. The overall --
Q This got stimulus funding. That was the point.
MR. CARNEY: It did. We expanded the program because we believed that it was vital to make these investments. But the overall understanding of the need to make, to -- in these potentially high-risk but high-reward industries, that require -- get the seed money from the federal government, like, say, the Internet, you have to take these measures. The President and the administration remain committed to that.
Q Do you see any need --
Q So the White House sees nothing wrong with accelerating the process for a scheduling -- for scheduling reasons?
MR. CARNEY: We did not -- it had nothing to do with - -and there is no evidence to the contrary -- nothing to do with anything besides the need to get an answer to make a scheduling decision.
Q But you did try to influence it. You tried to accelerate the approval.
MR. CARNEY: No. We were trying to get -- I mean, as far as I -- not we, but there was an effort to get answers. Look, I can refer you to others who have --
Q The President was happy with that effort? The way that it went?
MR. CARNEY: I have not spoken to him about it.
Q He hasn’t discussed this at all?
MR. CARNEY: Not with me.
Q Is there any internal review on how this happened?
MR. CARNEY: We have been enormously cooperative with the committee looking at this, as I think they will attest in more documents going up -- very cooperative. And we will continue to be so.
Q And on federal health -- there was a story today in Bloomberg about the bill including -- raised some money off federal -- I’m sorry, health benefits for -- of taxing health benefits for high-end individuals. And that wasn’t outlined in any way in terms of, from the administration --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t even know the story you’re referring to. If you want to send it to me I’ll look at it.
Q Jay, is there any reaction to the latest twist with the Iranian hikers, the hikers in Iran? The government there --
MR. CARNEY: Today or yesterday?
Q Well, obviously, the -- granting them bail is now under review whereas yesterday Ahmadinejad said they’d be released in a couple of days.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any new reaction to that. Obviously we want to see that issue resolved and the hikers brought home.
10:50 A.M. EDT