Aboard Press Pool Bus
En Route Melbourne, Florida
11:12 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for traveling with us today, as ever and in day two of this spectacular bus tour in Florida. I have no announcements from my side, so I'll turn it over to my colleague, Jen Psaki.
MS. PSAKI: All right, I'm like juggling a few things here. Two things -- one I've already flagged for all of you, but the President will today -- will highlight a new analysis from Harvard Professor David Cutler that shows that under the Romney/Ryan plan, someone who retires in 2030 can expect to pay an extra $125,000 over their lifetime for Medicare. And at the same time, while retirees will be stuck with the tab, insurance company profits are expected to increase by as much as $26 billion a year. I sent around the study. But, of course, if anyone didn't receive, let me know.
The second piece I just wanted to highlight is clearly that we're going to be traveling to the Space Coast today where the success of the space industry is a big economic issue. It's a big issue for the people of the community. The President will talk about the ambitious new direction for NASA that we have undertaken, the new era of space exploration that we are currently pursuing.
And he'll also talk about how exciting -- and I know, because he has spoken about this a lot, it was when we landed on Mars. So he'll talk about that in his remarks today as well.
And what's interesting is that a big part of our strategy -- or a big part of our work to help the economy in the Space Coast has been by partnering with the private-sector companies and really encouraging them to take a stake in the success of the industry. And just last year, Florida’s Space Coast attracted more than 2,300 jobs, $240 million in capital investment and $360 million in new construction.
In contrast, the Romney budget proposal would require huge cuts to non-defense spending, as we've mentioned a few times before. And that could force the deepest cuts to these programs in 40 years, which would obviously have a devastating impact on the people of the Space Coast.
And when asked about NASA's role in space, Mitt Romney has said he wasn't sure. So even though he has been running for five or six years now, he clearly hasn't had time to give it a lot of thought. Those are just the two pieces I wanted to preview and we'll take your questions.
Q The Romney camp says that the data that Cutler uses in that study -- coffee spillage -- that the data is dated because Romney's plan is not the same as the 2011 budget that Ryan put out. So does the analysis require a new look? Is it, in fact, dated as the Romney camp claims?
MS. PSAKI: Well, David Cutler is not the first outside analyst to take a look at the impact of the Romney/Ryan plans on Medicare. There are a couple of components here -- it's not just the budget. It's also the impact of getting rid of the Affordable Care Act, which as we know they have made no secret of their plan to do that immediately.
We also know that there is a clear motivation on their part for trying to discredit a study, as they have tried before with the Tax Policy Center Study, that they don't feel fits in their narrative. So I would say this is a study by a very credible, well respected economist. He looked at a series of data. The findings of the study are not inconsistent with other studies that have been out there about the impact that the Romney/Ryan plan would have on Medicare, in terms of raising costs and the money that would go back to insurance companies. But this is a new -- just another peg here, indicating that this is something that should be a flag for seniors across Florida.
MR. CARNEY: And to your point, Jim, it is a fact that if you repeal health care reform, there are immediate negative effects for seniors on Medicare. The doughnut hole reopens. That results in hundreds -- and in some cases more costs for an average senior annually. Preventive care services that are provided free under health care reform -- cancer screenings -- mammograms, other cancer screenings -- that many millions of seniors are taking advantage of go away.
And you can either acknowledge that the savings the President introduced into Medicare through the health care reform that reduces costs -- health care costs and subsidies and payments to insurance companies -- are valid and useful because they extend the life of Medicare, which Paul Ryan did when he first introduced his plan; or you can claim you're not going to do that. But then you have to acknowledge that you've eviscerated eight years of extended life for Medicare, and that Medicare will begin to become insolvent in 2016, which is a terrifying prospect I think for today's seniors.
Q I'd like to ask about another issue the Romney campaign is raising as the President makes his way to West Palm Beach, which is the issue of Jerusalem. What's in the platform? And the fact that although the platform apparently reflects the President's views, the President has not come out himself in the last three days and championed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. So I wanted to ask you what are the diplomatic considerations involved? Do you believe this is an issue that will be a problem for the President in Jewish parts of Florida -- and if not, why not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think this probably falls to me. The platform reflects the President's position that Jerusalem is and should be the capital of Israel. It is also a case, as a matter of policy of the United States and of this administration -- and of every previous administration dating back to 1967 -- that the status of Jerusalem has to be decided by the parties as part of a comprehensive peace agreement. That is a position that George W. Bush held, and that Bill Clinton held and their predecessors held. And that is this President's position, as a matter of policy.
Q Is there a risk, if you were to be publicly speaking as President about what's in the platform, of harming those negotiations? Is that what you're saying?
MR. CARNEY: No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that there is an administration policy -- I mean, if you were to ask him about this, this is obviously -- very clear what his policy has been and what his views are.
But the issue of Jerusalem's status has been reserved for final status negotiations and recognized as such by administrations both Republican and Democratic in the past. And it has to be that, because that's -- a comprehensive peace has to be achieved between the two parties, and Jerusalem and its status is obviously one of those issues that needs to be resolved.
Q Explain how that works in terms of it's the policy of the administration and of the President to say it is the capital, and yet also it's something that still has to be worked out.
MR. CARNEY: It's in the platform, which is where it's been in previous years, in previous presidential election years. The President's personal view that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is also something he has said in the past. But it is up to the parties to decide through final status negotiations what the complex or final disposition of Jerusalem will be.
And that has been the position of this administration, of President Bush's administration, of President Clinton's administration and of the administrations prior to those. It is -- again, the way to a comprehensive peace is by bringing the parties together to resolve these issues. And, obviously, Jerusalem is one of those.
Q But, Jay, doesn't it prejudge these negotiations then, for the President to come out and say, I actually believe that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel? Why not say, I think Jerusalem should also be the capital of the Palestinian territory? And does he believe that too?
MR. CARNEY: No more than it prejudged the outcome of negotiations that took place under President Clinton or President Bush. It has been the position of the United States government, administrations both Republican and Democratic, that Jerusalem is a final status issue that needs to be resolved by the parties.
And both President Clinton and President Bush made aggressive efforts to help bring the parties together to resolve their differences and reach a comprehensive peace. It remains elusive, but it is a goal that this President remains committed to. But it is absolutely his belief and position that the basket of issues that fall into the final status category have to be negotiated and resolved by the parties. That's the only way to achieve a comprehensive peace.
Q And does he also believe that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to negotiate the finer points of our policy towards the Middle East peace process, which I know you're familiar with. Our position, the President's positions have been stated and clear since he took office.
And this is a very challenging problem for the region and the world, as well as obviously the two parties. And this President remains committed to pursuing peace in the Middle East, and believes firmly that the only way to achieve that is through negotiations between the two parties.
He made that clear when he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly last year and has made that clear every time he's focused on or been asked about this topic.
Q When the platform was being drafted, there was obviously a platform drafting committee that went through several steps that Governor Strickland was leading. How did it get through all those different steps, given that as you said this is something the President believes without this language, without anyone noticing that this language was not in the platform?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I can only speak to the President's role in this, which is that as soon as he learned of the language and the fact that it wasn't consistent with the 2008 platform, he directed his staff to change it. And it shouldn't come -- if he had gone through with a fine-toothed comb every aspect and every page of the Democratic Platform Committee document, he would have been the first President probably in history to do that.
So what's important here is what steps he took when he knew the language was different from what he would like it to be. And, obviously, the final result was what he wanted it to be.
Q And he didn't know of this until he saw it on television, until he was told of it? How did he come to --
MS. PSAKI: Until -- and we've gone through this a couple of times before, but until he saw news reports the morning of the platform committee vote, which was that Wednesday, the day before he gave his speech. And as soon as he learned, he directed his staff to make the changes.
Q Along those lines, also yesterday Governor Romney in Virginia said that he would never take God out of the platform or off the U.S. currency. Does President Obama have any plans to change the "In God We Trust" on the currency? Or if not, what would --
MS. PSAKI: Well, with all due respect, it's hard to take the premise of your question seriously. But, look, this is nothing more than a desperate attack based on a false premise by the Romney team. And it's sad that the debate has been driven to this level of discourse.
The President believes as much that God should be taken out of -- off a coin as he does that aliens are going to come attack Florida. It's just an absurd issue that was raised, an absurd question to be posed. And, really, our hope is to get back to the debate about what the American people are focused on.
Q Well, what's it say about the race that Governor Romney is -- appears to be making a play to more conservative voters? Does it suggest that he at least is reaching for voters on the right as opposed to the middle?
MS. PSAKI: It was clear as soon as Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, the most important decision he's made since he started running for office, that their goal was to go after the conservative base. The field is narrowing. We know there's still a long time to go. The race is going to be very competitive and we're not taking a single vote for granted.
But it's clear from some of the steps they've taken -- including selecting Paul Ryan as the big starring one -- that their goal is to go after the conservative base. And that's how they're hoping to energize and excite voters.
I'll also mention, because I forgot to mention at the top, I don’t know if you all had an opportunity to watch the Sunday shows this morning. I know I'm sure you all TiVo them every week and watch breathlessly. But Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were both on Sunday shows.
One of the fascinating things that came out of it was that clearly they need to negotiate with each other about sequestration and about what they think should happen for the Grand Bargain, because not only did they conflict each other on what they said about it, but Mitt Romney essentially attacked Paul Ryan's support for the trigger to begin with. So if that's not alarming, I'm not sure what is.
Beyond that, there isn't enough paper on this bus to do a fact check of the two of their interviews together -- everything from sequestration, to the auto bailout, to jobs and the economy. And that should be alarming to the American people when they're looking for answers about how we're going to address the tough problems we're facing.
MR. CARNEY: Can I just note -- and, Jim, you’re a veteran, you would recognize this, that, again, as I’ve said in the past, having covered a lot of presidential campaigns, there’s always a stage, there’s a spot, a period when the argument is not going your way -- even sometimes on the subjects you wanted the arguments to be about -- and you begin to see random issues thrown up like spaghetti against the wall to see if anything can stick. I wouldn’t say based on my experience covering presidential campaigns that that has ever really worked as a strategy.
Q On the interview, two points that Romney made, one was on tax cuts, he stated that at no point would he, in fact, lower the tax burden on wealthy taxpayers because he would eliminate enough loopholes to keep their tax burden the same, even though he lowered rates.
He also said that he wanted to keep some elements of the Obama health care plan, including retaining the protection for preexisting conditions and young people being able to stay on their parents’. I wondered if you had any reaction to that?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, I mean -- so, let me take the first. I mean they were both asked, if I remember correctly, I know Mitt Romney was, about their tax plans and how they could pay for it -- to your point -- what they didn't provide was any details or facts about how the arithmetic exactly added up. And at this point, I think there’s a credibility issue when it comes to Mitt Romney saying something about his proposals and expecting people to just take his word for it.
So there was another period during that interview, which we’ve seen time and time again, where there was just a lack of specificity provided. And while he said what you just said, he wasn’t able to explain the arithmetic of how is tax plan exactly added up. And as we know, countless outside independent economists have argued that, in fact, the arithmetic doesn't add up. So that's what I’ll say on that.
On the health care piece, it’s -- one, we all know that the health care plan has a number of incredible benefits, of course, keeping young people on their parent’s insurance, people with preexisting conditions, but there are components of it that make the math and, frankly, the cost work, which is why you’d need to keep -- why we’ve been fighting and the President has been fighting to keep the full thrust of the plan in place.
And while Mitt Romney has said he would veto the plan on the first day, it’s not as easy as keeping some of the pieces that he seems to like and doing away with the other pieces that allow us to -- the federal government, states -- to pay for the plan, which is requiring people to have insurance, requiring -- reducing the benefits to insurance companies, so it seems like it’s just another failing math grade for Mitt Romney on the health care plan, as well.
MR. CARNEY: Can I just quickly? Jim, the Tax Policy Center examined this specifically. They said in their analysis that they were bending over backwards to be generous to the assumptions about the kinds of savings that the Romney plan would achieve by closing loopholes or other vague promises about how they would keep the tax reform portion of his plan revenue-neutral. And as Bill Clinton would say, and the Tax Policy Center’s analysis affirmed, the arithmetic just doesn't work. You can't just make up numbers.
Short of finding a pot of gold with several trillion dollars in it, there is no way to -- mathematically to find the money you need to pay for those massive tax cuts within the loopholes and tax breaks that currently exist for wealthy Americans, especially if you’re going to do what Governor Romney has promised on capital gains and in other areas where he refuses to accept the notion that we need to ask wealthier Americans to pay their fair share and to be part of a balanced approach to solving our fiscal challenges.
Q On space, Jen, you talked about the Mars aspect, but a lot of people in Florida are upset with how the end of the shuttle program was handled and don't see a really robust future for the space industry that will make up for the jobs that are being lost in it now. How do you make up for those concerns?
MS. PSAKI: Do you want to take the beginning of this, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things, Jeff, which I know you know, it was the prior administration of President George W. Bush that announced the end of the space shuttle program. President Obama extended the life of that program by two launches. An independent commission analyzed the Bush administration’s proposals for continued human space flight and found them not feasible under any plausible budget scenario. And what the President has done is refocused NASA’s mission on far-reaching goals of eventually sending men and women to Mars, and leveraging private-sector money to continue our participation in the space station program. And I think while there is no question that the end of the shuttle program cost jobs on the Space Coast, what we’ve seen is a lot of private-sector investment coming in. There was a story I think just today or yesterday on CNBC that went into a lot of detail about some very encouraging robustness in the investments in the area, where companies are coming in and taking advantage of the highly trained workforce that exists. And that's part of the President’s plan.
MS. PSAKI: And just to build on that, Boeing, SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, these are some of the companies that have come in and invested and really taken a stake in the success of the program. And economically, it’s good for them as well.
There’s some irony here because Mitt Romney has repeatedly said that the private sector should have a role, should have a stake in the economy. This is exactly what we’re doing here in Florida. We know it’s going to take some time, but we’ve already seen some progress made, and we’re encouraged by it.
And on the Mars front, I know I touched on this briefly but science and investing in innovation is clearly a priority of the President, as illustrated in his budget, but even on a personal level, one of the times he’s been most excited on the plane was when he was doing a call about the update on the Mars landing. So this is something he has a personal commitment to and he wants to see it work. And the interest and engagement of the private sector has been encouraging.
Q Thank you.
11:35 A.M. EDT