Aboard Air Force One
En Route West Palm Beach, Florida
10:20 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome aboard Air Force One for this trip to Florida today, where the President will have some campaign events. He will also speak at FAU to talk about the importance of the Buffett Rule, a basic principle of tax fairness the President very much supports. And he supports the legislation put forward by Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island, that makes the simple case that millionaires and billionaires in this country who have done exceptionally well over the last many years, and especially in the last 10 years, while middle-class incomes have stagnated or declined, should not pay less or a lower tax rate on their income than average Americans, middle-class Americans.
Of course, that case was famously made by Warren Buffett, a noted billionaire, who found it strikingly unfair when he discovered that he was paying tax on his income at a significantly lower rate than his secretary was paying on hers.
So we look very much forward to today’s event, the President’s remarks, and to the simple fact that you’re joining us. And with that, I take your questions.
Q What’s the likelihood of this Buffett Rule being actually passed this year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I talked about this yesterday, Steve, in my briefing. I think that we certainly understand that it’s a challenge to persuade Republicans in the Senate, in this case, to listen to their constituents who overwhelmingly support the idea of tax fairness, who overwhelmingly support the simple notion that millionaires and billionaires should pay taxes on their income at at least as high a rate as middle-class Americans.
It may be an uphill battle, but it’s not an impossible battle -- not because the President urges them to do so or even because Warren Buffett urges them to do, but because their own constituents are urging them to do so. And I’ve mentioned this before -- the fact is every member of the House and a third of the Senate is up for -- faces election this fall, and in this case, members of the Senate are going to have to explain to their constituents if they oppose the Buffett Rule why they oppose it
-- why they think that, after years and years of a situation where the tax code has become increasingly rigged in favor of the wealthiest Americans, we should not impose a little fairness on it.
Q -- tone of the President’s speech today? Is it going to be a little geared toward the campaign, or more of an official speech? Is he going to be a little feisty?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll let you guys judge the performance aspect of it. But he will speak very explicitly about why passing the Buffett Rule is important. I mean, this is a policy speech; this is about tax policy and tax fairness, and it's timed to a vote in the Senate on April 16th. So I think his remarks at FAU will reflect that.
Q Jay, a Republican super PAC has an online petition calling for the President to pay more in taxes on a voluntary basis, along with Warren Buffett. Has the President considered that at all, or do you know if that's something he might do?
MR. CARNEY: Gimmicks by super PACs funded by multi-millionaires who are advancing an agenda that would protect them from having to pay their fair share in taxes, protect them from having to pay a tax on their income at a rate similar to middle-class Americans, are not things that we take very seriously. And neither should the American people. We doubt that they will.
Q Why not have the President sort of set that example and lead by example?
MR. CARNEY: -- you guys are seriously buying into this gimmick. And what the President has made clear that he does not believe that people like him who've been fortunate enough to succeed financially should pay taxes at a lower rate than middle-class Americans. He believes that we should ask people like him to pay a little bit more, people like Warren Buffett and others, millionaires and billionaires who have succeeded, to pay a little bit more.
He is going around the country, as others have noted, making the case for this. And he's often making the case for this principle, in terms of campaign events, in front of people who fall into the category who would pay more under the President’s proposal and the Buffett Rule. They also believe that that’s the right thing to do. It’s a matter of simple fairness.
If you tell a middle-class American who's paying a higher rate on his or her income tax than the multi-millionaires who are funding these super PACs -- you’re asking about whether they’ll be satisfied that we’ve introduced tax fairness in this country if individual millionaires decide to write a check to the Treasury Department or the IRS, then I think they’ll say, no, that is not the measure of fairness that they’re looking for.
Here’s the general thing. We’ve seen what the Republican plans are. We’ve seen what the plans are that the super PAC you referred to support. And it’s not even an esoteric or theoretical exercise. Those plans were implemented, and look what it led to -- the worst economic and financial crisis in everyone here’s lifetime -- without exception. Okay? Look what it led to. Incomes for the wealthiest Americans in the first decade of the 21st century went up dramatically; incomes for middle-class Americans stagnated or declined dramatically.
We talked a lot about jobs numbers on Friday, the fact that 120,000 jobs created, which made for the best quarter since 2006 in jobs created, came in under expectations, and there was a lot of discussion about whether or not that was a good number or a bad number. The fact of the matter is under President George W. Bush, the average monthly job creation figure was 67,000 jobs. Even if you take out recessionary months, even if you only look at the periods of expansion underGeorge W. Bush, the average monthly job creation was under 100,000 jobs. At its best, eliminating all recessionary months and quarters, job creation was anemic and tax fairness -- the unfairness in the tax code expanded.
We have tried their proposals. They didn’t work. The last thing we need to do is to go back to the things that created the problems in the first place.
Q Does he plan to call out Mitt Romney by name today in his speech at the university? And can you tell us, will the Buffett Rule be kind of the dominant theme in the fundraising speeches as well, or will that just be general stuff like usual?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any more of a preview for the President’s remarks at FAU today. As for his remarks at campaign events, I think they have always included this theme, or often have included this theme. They will, I assume, today -- he’ll make the same -- generally speaking, the same broad remarks that he makes at campaign events.
Q Why the decision to travel to Florida to give this speech and outline the argument? Why Florida?
MR. CARNEY: Why not Florida? (Laughter.)
Q Why Florida? I mean --
MR. CARNEY: We’ve traveled around the country -- one of my most recent domestic trips included a stop in Oklahoma. He gave a major economic speech in Nebraska. He's given speeches all over the country and will continue to travel all over the country. Today, Florida is the stop.
Q Do you have any update on trying to head off North Korea from launching this missile?
MR. CARNEY: We’re continuing to work with our international partners. The proposed missile launch, if conducted, would represent a clear and serious violation of North Korea’s obligations under two United Nations Security Council resolutions that explicitly prohibit North Korea from testing ballistic missiles. We will continue to work with -- we will work with our partners on next steps if North Korea goes through with this provocation, and we continue to urge countries that have influence on North Korea to work to persuade North Korea to consider a different path, the path that would lead to progress towards feeding its people, educating its people, and ending its severe, self-imposed isolation.
Q Are you saying explicitly that that will include the cutting off of any U.S. food aid? And can you throw down any other explicit markers of what they will lose if they go forward with this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we've said explicitly that it’s impossible to imagine that we would be able to follow through with our -- provide the nutritional assistance that we had planned on providing, given what would be a flagrant violation of its basic -- of North Korea’s basic international obligations.
Beyond that, next steps -- I don't have any information for you. We'll consult with our allies and partners.
Q Back to the Buffett Rule. Given that if it passed, it would make a small dent in the deficit, would you say that the measure is more symbolic than material?
MR. CARNEY: I think the money we’re talking about here,
$47 billion over 10 years, is nobody’s idea of a small amount, A. B, we never suggested -- the President, no one ever suggested that implementing the Buffett Rule would contribute in large measure to reducing the deficit. The President has put forward a comprehensive deficit reduction plan that takes a balanced approach, that includes as a principle of tax reform theBuffett Rule, but that does not rely on -- and we never suggested it would rely on -- the Buffett Rule to reduce the deficit by a significant measure. It is a principle of tax fairness.
And $47 billion is money that in a world of finite resources we could be using to invest in the kind of -- in education, in innovation and in infrastructure, the kind of areas where investments are needed to continue to grow the economy in the 21st century -- areas which, by the way, under the Republican budget would be slashed dramatically in order to give more tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
Q Speaking of deficit reduction, there is this new study by a conservative analyst who the President approved as a Medicare trustee that suggests that the health care law would add $340 billion to the deficit. And I know there’s a blog post out, but can you speak on the record about this? What’s your critique of his critique?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we do not agree with the faulty analysis of a Bush administration National Economic Council member. We would point to the official estimates by the CBO as well as the OMB that state clearly that the Affordable Care Act would reduce the deficit over the first 10 years and dramatically over the next 10 years.
This is obviously a partisan analysis. It does not comport with the official presentations put forward by the CBO. I would note that, since you’ve described him as not a Bush administration official but the President’s appointee, it is a matter of tradition to appoint -- for a President of either party to appoint members of both parties, and this was somebody who was appointed in consultation with Republican leaders in Congress. It does not mean that the President agrees with his economic analysis. It certainly means -- he certainly has not changed his opinion and his disagreement with this individual on the need to privatize Social Security, which this individual supports. So it’s faulty economic analysis.
Q Jay, on Syria, the foreign minister of Syria said in Moscow today that they’ve begun pulling back troops. Does the White House have any evidence that those troops are starting to be pulled back in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: Leaders of the Assad regime say a lot of things, make a lot of promises. Those promises, overwhelmingly, turned out to be empty. We judge, and the international community judges the actions of the Assad regime, not their words. We have seen no evidence thus far of any pullback. We have seen much evidence of further brutality and aggression against innocent civilians.
We are waiting for the assessment that Special EnvoyKofi Annan will put forward today at the United Nations. And we will certainly work with -- in the aftermath of that -- with our partners and others on next steps with regards to Syria. We would certainly hope that the United Nations Security Council would evaluate the situation in Syria if, in fact, Mr. Annan finds that the Assad regime has not abided by its own commitment to begin withdrawal by today.
Q Jonathan Pollard has been suffering, according to reports. Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu have requested his release. Do you know if the U.S. has formally rejected that request to release Jonathan Pollard?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not aware of that request being formally received, but I know that our position has not changed on that case.
10:34 A.M. EDT