James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:17 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome back to the White House briefing room. It’s a pleasure to be back. We haven’t done this too often of late, since we’ve all been traveling.
I want to thank all of you who traveled with us over these past several weeks and months. I know that it was sometimes grueling; I’m sure ever fascinating, and certainly part of what is a remarkable quadrennial process that was just a reminder of the greatness of the country in which we live.
Before I take your questions, let me give you this announcement. Next Thursday, the President will travel to New York to view recovery efforts, meet with affected families and local officials, and thank brave first responders who have worked tirelessly to protect communities following Hurricane Sandy. More details about the trip will be announced when they are available.
Q That’s New York City or area?
MR. CARNEY: New York area.
Early today, the President convened a --
Q New York tri-state area?
MR. CARNEY: New York.
Earlier today, the President convened a call with Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, FEMA Administrator Fugate, Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security Richard Reed, and other senior members of his team.
On the call, the President received an update on the latest response and recovery efforts in the affected area. He also heard from Homeland Security Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Fugate on the latest efforts to meet the continuing power and fuel challenges facing affected communities, as well as ongoing work and support of governors and their teams to develop long-term housing solutions for affected families.
Administrator Fugate is in New York today meeting with local officials as well as surveying damage and ongoing response and recovery efforts.
The President once again directed his team to continue to bring all available resources to bear to support our state and local partners, and to not allow red tape or bureaucracy to stand in the way of federal support that can be provided. The President will continue to receive updates on the response and recovery efforts from his team.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. Welcome to the lame duck session. (Laughter.) We just heard the President say, essentially, two things. One is that he’s not wedded to every detail of his deficit reduction plan and is willing to compromise. He also insists on raising taxes on a threshold of $250,000 or above. He ran on a vow to increase taxes on the wealthiest to Bill Clinton-era tax rates; that means 35 percent to 39.6 percent for the top rate. Is that the President’s position now? And would he veto any package that comes back from Congress that does not do that?
MR. CARNEY: The President would veto, as he has said and I and others have said for quite some time, any bill that extends the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2 percent of wage earners in this country, of earners in this country.
What the President made clear again today and has said for quite some time is that he would sign, right now, the bill that passed the Senate that extends tax cuts for 98 percent of us -- 98 percent of the American people. This is a simple and easy way to address a large chunk of the uncertainty created by the so-called fiscal cliff, by the -- for those who don’t engage in Beltway parlance -- by the series of deadlines that include expiration of these tax cuts that would cause uncertainty and damage to the economy if they’re not dealt with.
Extending those tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people would deal with more than half, in dollar terms, of the impact caused by the fiscal cliff. There are other challenges that we would need to address, including the sequester. But Congress ought to, the House ought to pass those tax cuts right away because it would send a tremendous positive signal to the American people that in the wake of this election we can, at the very least, come together and convert into law a bill that everyone agrees should become law -- Republicans and Democrats alike, the President included. And we will then continue to work on those issues where we have broader disagreement.
And that’s why the President has invited leaders of Congress here to the White House next week. That’s why he will be meeting with business leaders and labor leaders and others to get their input and ideas about how to move forward. As he said, he does have his own very specific plan that reduces the deficit by $4 trillion, that does it in a balanced way, that ensures that we can continue to invest in education and infrastructure, and research and development -- the elements that are so key to sustained economic growth, but that he’s not wedded to every detail of that plan.
He understands that the message of the election was that the American people want action, not political posturing and argument. They want action. And there really is, in the bill that passed the Senate, an opportunity to do some very good work for the American people, very good work for the American economy right away to send a signal that cooperation and compromise is possible.
Q Speaker Boehner has made it clear -- even though he has said that he would put revenue on the table -- that he would not increase rates. So does the President believe that you can achieve the revenue goals that he wants, and increase the effective rate of what wealthier Americans are paying without necessarily increasing the marginal rate that they pay?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear about two things. One, all of the Bush-era tax cuts are expiring on December 31st, as you know and the President made clear. And it’s important that the American people understand that -- that if Congress does not act, everyone’s taxes go up -- everyone’s.
To avoid that, the House needs to pass the bill that the Senate already passed so that 98 percent of the American people will not have their taxes go up.
Separate from that, the President has long endorsed and supported the idea of reforming our tax code. In fact, in his speech on Tuesday night he said, “In the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together: reducing our deficit, reforming our tax code, fixing our immigration system, and freeing ourselves from foreign oil.” Those are the four things he mentioned, and reforming our tax code was one of them.
And as you know, that has long been a principle that he supports. He’s put forward ideas that would drive tax reform, including the Buffett Rule, including specific proposals like limiting deductions for wealthier earners. So that is certainly a conversation that needs to take place.
But we need to address some of these challenges that confront us right away, and one way to do that is to pass those tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. What I haven’t heard is a plausible argument for why we shouldn’t do that. I mean, Republicans support these tax cuts. Democrats support these tax cuts. Independents support these tax cuts. And the President supports these tax cuts. So let’s get them done, extend them. It would be an excellent signal for the American people that we in Washington can come together and take action in a manner that the American people support.
Q A couple of questions, Jay, thank you. What’s the thinking behind the President going to Southeast Asia at such a critical time for fiscal cliff negotiations? Is there a risk of missing an important timeframe to capture an agreement?
MR. CARNEY: Well the President, as he announced today, will be meeting with leaders of Congress before his trip. And I'm absolutely certain that the work that is begun there will continue while he is traveling.
The President's trip to Asia will be an opportunity to build on our successful efforts to refocus on the Asia Pacific as the most rapidly growing and dynamic region in the world. And as he did last year, the President will focus on expanding U.S. trade and economic ties in the region, supporting democracy and human rights, and working through regional institutions to ensure that nations abide by the rules of the road.
Now, you know, as part of his broader agenda, the President has focused on expanding our presence in Asia. The positive economic impact of doing that will be felt for years to come and is elemental to the kind of economic growth that this President foresees for the American economy in the 21st century. So this is important work that needs to be done. There are meetings -- the East Asia Summit and a meeting with the Association of the Southeast Nations -- that he'll participate in. And that's something that he looks forward to.
Q A question on Treasury Secretary Geithner's future. Will he -- has he agreed to stay on through the fiscal cliff negotiations until they're completed and perhaps even until a successor is confirmed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Secretary Geithner has indicated that he'll stay on through Inauguration, and he will be obviously a key participant in the negotiations around the so-called fiscal cliff issues. And so the President very much appreciates that.
Q Sorry, one last question. There have been reports that General Petraeus has come to the White House as early as today to talk about his future. Can you shed any light on that, whether he might be moving on, in fact?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any announcements to make on personnel matters. I would address that question to the CIA and the DNI.
Q Is he coming to the White House today?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Senator Schumer has proposed one solution to the fiscal cliff challenge vis-à-vis tax rates is closing the loopholes as they apply to the highest income earners without changing rates. Just to be clear, would this meet the President's test of raising tax rates on the wealthiest Americans?
MR. CARNEY: The President has made clear that the only acceptable approach to dealing with our fiscal challenges, an approach that -- the only approach that allows us to continue to invest in areas of our economy that are so key to future growth, is to take a balanced approach; is to make sure that in addition to the trillion dollars in spending cuts the President has already signed into law, in addition to doing more on the spending side, in addition to doing more to reform our entitlement programs so that they're strengthened, we have to include revenue. And that means, as the President made clear every day this year on the campaign trial, asking the wealthiest to pay a little bit more.
The President, in his own specific proposals, has put forward measures that include reforms to our tax code, like the Buffett Rule and proposals like limiting deductions for higher earners. So that would certainly be part of the conversation. But when it comes to extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent, if a bill doing that were to somehow arrive on his desk, he would not sign it.
Q It's no secret that many Democrats think that letting the Bush-era tax rates expire is a powerful forcing mechanism that the President could use to get his way if he can't negotiate a deal. How willing -- does the President share that view?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes, as he said in the East Room moments ago, that it is paramount that we not allow taxes to go up on everyone on January 1st. And that's what will happen if the House does not follow the Senate's lead and pass the extension of tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people.
There is no rational argument that I have heard, and that I think any American out there would think is rational, behind the idea that we should make everyone’s taxes go up just so that millionaires and billionaires, or those making over $250,000, get a tax cut. That’s just not rational thinking. It’s not something we can afford. We should pass that tax cut extension now.
Q If I could just follow up just quickly.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Does the President have full faith and confidence in General Petraeus and want him to stay on the job?
MR. CARNEY: The President thinks General Petraeus has done an excellent job.
Q And wanted him to stay on his current position?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have -- the President has believed that General Petraeus is doing and has done an excellent job, but I don’t have any personnel announcements to make from here today.
Q The President hasn’t given a press conference since June. Do you plan on changing that, or is this how it’s going to be in his second term? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: What, I’m not enough? Clearly not. (Laughter.) Look, the President will, I’m sure, be taking your questions in the near future. The President answered questions of many, many reporters, including from your news organization --
Q When was the last time he did an interview with a member of the White House press corps?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he gave an interview to the leader of NBC News, Brian Williams, just days ago.
Q My question is from the White House press corps.
MR. CARNEY: He will be taking questions from the White House press corps, I can assure you.
Q Do you think it conveys a certain amount of disdain for the White House press corps --
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. The President was out there campaigning for reelection and giving interviews daily to reporters from your news organization, from news organizations across the country, from regional newspapers and television stations, and answered a lot of --
Q I understand, but I’m talking about the White House press corps, not anybody who has a microphone in front of their face.
MR. CARNEY: -- a lot of tough questions, including by the head of your news division and others, the anchor of the World News Tonight. So he will continue to give interviews. He will continue -- and very soon, I’m sure, looks forward to taking questions from the White House press corps.
Q So the Congressional Budget Office issued a report looking at the fiscal cliff and the options, and they said that if all of the Bush-era tax cuts were extended it would create on average 1.8 million jobs, but if the ones for wealthier Americans were allowed to expire it would create 1.6 million jobs. So that’s 200,000 jobs that would not be created if the President gets his way, at a time when the President is talking about how jobs and the economy are the most important issue -- that’s how he opened his remarks. What are we to make of those 200,000 jobs?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President has put forward numerous proposals that would create those jobs and more, far more than 200,000. What I think the CBO report released yesterday demonstrates is a point that we’ve been making and independent economists have been making for so long, which is that the economic benefit of tax cuts to the wealthiest earners is very, very small -- minimal in comparison to the economic benefit that comes from extending tax cuts to regular, middle-class Americans, 98 percent of earners, in fact.
And I think that’s what that report reflects, and what --
Q It also reflects that 200,000 jobs would not be created as a result of the President getting his way.
MR. CARNEY: But the President’s overall proposals, including investments represented by measures within the American Jobs Act, including measures the President talked about in his convention speech that are part of his plan, would create far more jobs than that. And the way that we’re able to do that is by making -- taking a balanced approach so that the assets, the resources that we have available to us do not flow principally or exclusively to the top 2 percent of wage earners, but go to investments in infrastructure or investments in education, investments in clean energy and other --
Q You’re changing the subject.
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m not.
Q Yes, you are, because I’m not talking about whether or not the President gets his jobs bill passed. I’m talking about specifically the fiscal cliff. And you’re not disputing the Congressional Budget Office’s assertion that if the President gets his way, 200,000 fewer jobs will be created.
MR. CARNEY: What I am --
Q And that might be small to some people, but to 200,000 people and their families it’s not small.
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying is that, as the President has long said, we cannot afford to continue to extend tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. We need to take a balanced approach to dealing with our fiscal problems. You have to also take into account the benefits of reducing our deficit, which savings from not extending those tax cuts would go towards.
You also have to look at the President’s overall package, which would create far more jobs than extending tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. Because what the CBO report shows and reflects is the consensus among independent economists that tax cuts to the top 2 percent of American earners is a highly inefficient way of helping our economy. It just does not have the kind of economic impact that giving tax cuts to middle-class Americans does, and that’s been a principle that’s undergirded the President’s approach all along.
Q And lastly, Jay, at what point does the White House plan on providing a detailed tick-tock of the President’s whereabouts and actions on the night of September 11th, 2012?
MR. CARNEY: As you know, Jake, the incident in Benghazi, the attack on our diplomatic facility there, has been and is under investigation by the FBI. It is also part of a broader investigation by the Accountability Review Board set up by, at the President’s direction, by the Secretary of State. And those two investigations continue.
The President -- no one is more interested in getting to the bottom of what happened than the President is. No one is more interested in bringing to justice those who took the lives of four Americans that night than the President. And the President is very interested in having the results of those investigations provided to him and to the American public.
Q But neither of those investigations is going to talk about the President’s role or what the President was doing, and I --
MR. CARNEY: Well, do you have a question about the President’s role? The President has been very forthright about the moment he found out about it in the Oval Office, in a meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Defense Secretary, that he directed actions be taken immediately to provide support for our embassy facilities, our diplomatic facilities, not just in Benghazi, but also in Tripoli and around the world because of incidents that were happening.
Q Absolutely. Five o’clock that --
MR. CARNEY: And every action that he’s taken was driven by --
Q But what happened after that? Because we don’t know; nobody has told us. There was a five o’clock meeting, but then what about after that? The last --
MR. CARNEY: The President was made aware of developments throughout the evening and days ensuing, so I’m not sure what your question is specifically.
Q But there were military assets put into position, and there were all sorts of rescue operations that went on.
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. And I think the Defense Department, when you talk about military assets, has been answering questions and I’m sure will have more information to provide about the military’s response at the President’s direction to this. I think our intelligence community, the CIA and others, have been very responsive in terms of answering questions about -- and refuting incorrect and poorly reported allegations about -- their activities in response to that tragic event, and will continue to do that.
Nobody is more interested than the President in making sure that the facts are collected, that we find out exactly what happened, that we bring to justice those who killed four Americans, and that we take measures to ensure that what happened in Benghazi does not happen again.
Q So we’re never going to get a tick-tock?
MR. CARNEY: That’s not -- actually, that’s not at all what I said. The President is waiting --
Q So when are we going to get one?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a date certain for you for when those investigations will continue, but we will continue to provide you --
Q He’s not part of the investigations.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure -- the investigation looks at our overall response into what happened, and it looks at -- the Accountability Review Board looks at our diplomatic security issues as well as what posture we need to take with regards to our diplomatic facilities there.
Q You provide tick-tocks for when you have successes but not when you have failures?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think a lot of information has been provided by our intelligence community, by the Defense Department that have been responsive to numerous questions about this, and we’ll continue to provide information. I think one inescapable fact about this has been that we have endeavored to provide as much information as we could to you in response to your questions, and when some information has come to light as the investigations have continued that further clarifies what happened, we have provided that to you as well.
Q That’s not --
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Jay, it’s a tradition dating back decades that a President, when he’s reelected, comes out within a day or two, or three days of reelection, and does a press conference with the White House press corps. Why did he decide to break with that tradition today, give a speech, and not take questions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, as I have told Jake, the President will be taking your questions, I’m sure, in the near future. He looks forward to it. He gave a statement today, which addresses some very important issues that we in Washington have to take action on in the very near future. That’s why he’s invited the leaders of Congress here to the White House and that’s why he’ll be meeting with leaders of business and labor and other institutions -- civic leaders -- to talk about the actions that we need to take to ensure that we continue to grow our economy and put people back to work.
Jobs and economic growth have long been the President’s number-one priority. They are clearly, as we saw in the election earlier this week, the American people’s number-one priority, and that’s why we have to take action right away. And he will -- he is doing that, as he made clear in his remarks today. But in terms of engaging with the press, I can assure you he’ll be doing that in short order.
Q When it comes to the fiscal cliff, is he really willing to let all the Bush tax cuts expire if he can’t get a deal with Republicans about the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? That’s something he wasn’t willing to do in 2010; how can you be so sure that if that happens Americans will blame Republicans and not the White House?
MR. CARNEY: The issue isn’t about blame; the American people want and expect action. And the question you’re asking has to be addressed to Congress because it is -- the President can’t pass a law through the House. A law has passed the Senate that extends tax cuts for 98 percent -- I mean, think about that number -- 98 percent of the American people; everyone who makes under $250,000; 97 percent of small businesses. The President made clear today that he would sign that law tomorrow if the House were to pass it. And it would be -- it makes all the sense in the world for the House to do that, because the only --
Q But do you think he’s willing to let them all expire?
MR. CARNEY: But, Nancy, what is the argument for not passing it? That we’re going to force everyone to have a higher tax bill next year just because millionaires and billionaires didn’t get a tax cut? That’s a nonsensical argument, and it is certainly not what the American people believe should be done in Washington, as I think has been amply demonstrated.
And we obviously need to take on a number of issues, including tax reform. But one thing we can do right away is send a signal to the American people that Washington is working, that the two sides can come together to take action on tax cuts that everyone supports -- tax cuts that have already passed the Senate and that members of the House of both parties say they support. So let’s get that done and continue to do the work that the President talked about today.
Q The other half of the fiscal cliff are these spending cuts. Where does the White House stand on the spending cuts? What do you think should happen there? Because Vice President Biden said yesterday, point blank, “We are not going over the cliff.” So what’s the alternative?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we -- that is part of what the President talked about today in terms of engaging with leaders of Congress. We have a number of issues, two baskets -- the tax and revenue issues and then the sequester issues. And we need to get to work to resolve them. We know --
Q What are the options?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President has put forward a very clear plan, and he talked about it today -- that he’s not wedded to every detail of it. But his proposal to cut spending by $4 trillion addresses the spending cuts called for in the Budget Control Act that led to the sequester. And there are ways to do this, as we’ve all discussed and that you’ve covered for months and months and months now as we’ve had these negotiations and debates about how we address our fiscal challenges.
Again, the President’s principle is that we have to take a balanced approach. We have to build on the trillion dollars in spending cuts that have already been signed into law. We have to do more when it comes to reducing spending, including reforming our entitlements in a way that strengthens Medicare. We have to ask the wealthiest to pay more. Revenues have to be part of this equation.
And that’s a position that isn’t just the President’s position and it’s not just the position of Democrats on Capitol Hill; it’s a position shared by some elected Republicans, and it’s a position supported by majorities of the American people -- not just Democrats, but independents and Republicans. It’s a position endorsed by independent, bipartisan commissions. It’s a position that independent economists endorse. And it’s a position -- look, that I think when Speaker Boehner and others have talked about, saying that revenue can be on the table, I think that is a sign that the President appreciates that recognizes that we need to compromise here, that we need to come together and we need to take a balanced approach.
Q And then, finally, what can you tell us about Secretary Clinton’s future? She has talked about wanting to move on after a first term. Any word on who her replacement might be or when she might leave?
MR. CARNEY: I should just say at the top that I have no personnel announcements to make of any kind. And, yes, Secretary Clinton has spoken to this, and I would point you to her statements. The President is greatly appreciative of her service as Secretary of State and thinks she has been a remarkable Secretary of State. But I will leave it to her to address her future.
Q I want to thank you for mentioning Brian Williams and all the people who interviewed the President. And FOX would like to be added to that list in the second term.
On Benghazi -- (laughter) --
MR. CARNEY: FOX got a couple of interviews in the first term.
Q A long time ago. A long time ago.
On Benghazi -- Jake asked you about the President and what he will say in terms of a timeline. Next week there are three different congressional committees that are investigating Benghazi, reviewing the matter. And you have said, obviously, just a minute ago, that the White House wants to cooperate. So my question is, there is very little precedent, obviously, for Presidents to go up and testify on Capitol Hill. But sending up your top aides or Secretary of State -- is the President willing to send up Secretary Clinton, General Petraeus and others --
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that we are cooperating with Congress in these hearings, and we’ll continue to cooperate with Congress. We’ve been obviously very cooperative with the investigations into what happened -- into Benghazi, and we’ll continue to be. I don’t have specifics about who’s going up to talk to the congressional committees looking at this, but I may be able to get more details for you. But we have been and we’ll continue to cooperate with Congress on this issue.
Q On the questions of transparency and news conferences, we’ve had many private conversations, and I want to make note that you've been very helpful in trying to work through differences we've had on access. But I woke up this morning and saw this video that the President -- that was filmed with the President in Chicago on Wednesday talking to his campaign aides, and he got emotional.
And I went back, and on Wednesday that was a closed press event where our TV networks, radio networks and newspapers were told it was a closed media event. But obviously, his campaign videotaped it and then decided to release it. So what's the thinking if it's a closed event for his campaign to film it and then release it, but why wouldn't you let our cameras in?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, it was a meeting with his campaign team that had obviously worked very hard over many weeks and months. And the campaign released that video, which I think was perfectly appropriate and fine. It wasn't a media event. It wasn't a press event. It was a meeting with his campaign team.
And he talked not about the fiscal cliff or Benghazi, but he spoke very -- from his heart, very much from his heart about how much he appreciated the young people, especially in that office, who had worked so hard on that campaign and how in his eyes those young people represented a promise about America's future that is very inspiring. And I don't think that this was --
Q But given the great interest in the election and millions of people participating, wouldn't the national media and the White House press corps that covers him also want to be in for those remarks?
MR. CARNEY: I'm happy to take questions a lot about the White House press corps. We can do that as much as you like. But I think that what the President was doing was having a meeting with the very young members of his campaign team who worked their hearts out over these last weeks and months. And he was just thanking them, and the campaign released a video in which he thanked them.
Q Jay, you were talking about the President said he wants to sign the extension of the Bush tax rates for the middle class for those making under $250,000, but also do tax reform. How can you do both? I mean, you're sort of messing with the tax code if you split them off, a perfectly understandable position, but you can't have both positions. You can't do tax reform and make permanent something that's for 98 percent. So are you saying you only want tax reform for the top 2 percent?
MR. CARNEY: No. I'm saying -- I don’t think they're separate issues at all. I think that we have --
Q How can you do both?
MR. CARNEY: We have a deadline, and that deadline is that all of these tax cuts will expire on December 1st. Everyone's taxes go up on January 1st, unless Congress takes action. We can ensure that taxes on 98 percent of the American people do not go up on January 1st if the House simply passes a bill that's passed the Senate. And the President made clear that he would sign that bill immediately.
And what's significant about that, that is not --
Q But that's a permanent extension.
MR. CARNEY: I believe the bill in the Senate is a temporary extension. But the President is for a permanent extension, but the bill --
Q Then how do you do tax reform?
MR. CARNEY: By sitting down with members of both parties in Congress and working out --
Q Which would undo this.
MR. CARNEY: -- a kind of tax -- look, the need for reforming our tax code is something the President has talked about frequently and it’s part of his plan.
Q Why not extend all of them temporarily and then do the reform?
MR. CARNEY: Because we can't afford it. The President opposes it and he will not do it.
Q Even if it was six months, and then let’s do tax reform?
MR. CARNEY: He has said this. If a bill were to reach his desk that extends tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent --
Q For any amount of time?
MR. CARNEY: He will not sign.
Q Any amount of time?
MR. CARNEY: He will not sign.
Q Even three months, six months -- whatever?
MR. CARNEY: He will not sign. We can't afford it. The President hasn't been hiding the ball on this. He spoke about this every day. It was part of his speech. It was part of interviews he gave. And it's a principle that he believes is very important.
We need to give tax cuts to 98 percent of the American people because it's right for the families and it's right for the economy. It's something that -- and this is the point I wanted to make -- because I don't want -- to the extent that there are a handful of people and maybe more out there who are watching this who aren't familiar with the fiscal cliff and the tax cut deadlines -- we're talking here about a measure that would give tax cuts to 98 percent of the American people, tax cuts that everyone supports. I can't find a Democrat or Republican who doesn't support giving tax cuts to the middle class. So let's pass it and sign it into law, get it done, and then continue to work on the other challenges that face us.
Q The CBO report also said that if everything goes over the so-called fiscal cliff, while it will be potentially recessionary for 2013, that actually the economy starts humming along by 2018. So is there a real penalty for going over the cliff other than politics, other than concern that it might be unpopular for about a year?
MR. CARNEY: We need to take action to avoid that. And that's why it's so important that -- the American people and the American economy --
Q CBO is saying long term this would be potentially good for the American economy -- 5.5 percent unemployment, the debt to GDP ratio -- by 2018, long-term solvency.
MR. CARNEY: But that's not the approach we should take or we need to take to bring about the fiscal discipline that will bring about economic growth and job creation. That's why balance is so important. That's why the President has been fighting for a balanced plan for so long.
Q Even if it delays solvency? I mean, even if it --
MR. CARNEY: No. His plan actually cuts spending by $4 trillion, and it does it in a way that allows us to continue to invest in aspects of the economy that are essential to our competitiveness and our long-term growth, and that make sure that the middle class is not bearing the burden of getting our fiscal house in order.
And that's the problem with an approach that gives massive tax cuts to the wealthy, and it's also the problem with an approach that arbitrarily cuts spending for in the way that the sequester does, because it causes great harm to people who should not be bearing the burden of this on their own. This is something that can be addressed in a smart way, and that's the balanced approach the President has put forward.
Q And, finally, I know he said he's not wedded to every part of his plan. Does that mean he would be open to structural changes to Social Security and Medicare, which is what McConnell and Boehner have both said have to be on the table? So potentially raising the age, depending on -- is all of that on the table?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President has always said that we can and should address Social Security to make it stronger. But it is also the case that it is not -- has not been and continues not to be an immediate threat to -- it's not the creation or the problem behind our deficits and debt at the time.
Q I understand. But is he willing to have it included in the talks?
MR. CARNEY: The President's plan -- first of all, I'm not going to negotiate -- and I'm pretty amazed I've gotten this far without having to say this -- but I won't negotiate the details of a compromise the President hopes to reach with --
Q But it's not a non-starter.
MR. CARNEY: I'm not going to negotiate the details. But the President's position here has been very clear, that this is something we can and should address in a way that strengthens the program. But when we talk about the need to get our fiscal house in order, we need to address non-defense discretionary spending, defense spending, revenue as well as health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Q But if it's included in the talks --
MR. CARNEY: You're asking a hypothetical that --
Q It's not a hypothetical. Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell both said they have to be on the table.
MR. CARNEY: The President and the leaders of Congress are going to be meeting next week.
Q Jay, a global question.
MR. CARNEY: Let me move around a little bit.
Q Jay, some human rights groups have objected to the President's upcoming trips to Burma and Cambodia, saying that the democratic reforms and human rights reforms taking place in Burma haven't gone far enough yet or that –- and that the ones in Cambodia may be backsliding. How do you avoid the perception that the President has put his stamp of approval on these governments prematurely?
MR. CARNEY: Well, in Burma, the President will use his historic visit -- the first by a U.S. President -- precisely to continue to press for democratic reform, national reconciliation, economic growth, and improvements in the bilateral relationship between the United States and Burma.
There has been extraordinary progress made since President Obama announced our opening to Burma last year, but much more work remains to be done to advance and consolidate democratic change. Supporting democracy and human rights is a fundamental principle behind the President's policy in the region and the world, and he will carry that message on this trip.
Q Will there be some contentious meetings there possibly?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn't want to anticipate that. I think that this is a historic visit and an important visit. But the President's message will be clear, which is to recognize the extraordinary progress that's been made, but recognize also and speak clearly about the fact that more work needs to be done.
Q You said that Treasury Secretary Geithner is going to be a key participant in this group of discussions. So is he committed to staying on until the end of those negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think what I said is that he's committed to staying on through the Inauguration. I don't have a specific day that he will depart. And I don't want to speak hypothetically about how long negotiations about our budget issues will take. I mean, I think that there's an opportunity for them to move quickly.
Q But if they go past January 20th, he would leave in the middle?
MR. CARNEY: That's a hypothetical that I can't really address.
Q Hey, Jay, Petraeus has resigned. Do you have a statement?
MR. CARNEY: I think I'll let General Petraeus address this. And I'm sure that we'll have something from the President later.
Q In terms of what the President considers a balanced approach, if the rates stay the same but the revenue loss between the Bush-era rates and the Clinton-era rates is made up by closing loopholes for top earners, doesn’t that still mean the wealthy end up paying more? So isn’t that balanced?
MR. CARNEY: You and Chuck now get the same answer, which is I’m not going to negotiate details of meetings that haven’t taken place. But I can tell you that the President is very clear that he will not assign a bill into law that extends the upper income tax cuts from the Bush era, one. Two, as he said very clearly in his convention -- rather in his speech on Tuesday night in Chicago and has been clear all along, as part of his plan, he is committed to reforming the tax code. He has put forward principles behind tax reform that include the Buffett principle and reducing deductions that the wealthiest Americans can take.
So I don’t want to get into the details of how that works. What he will not do is sign an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Q So he won’t sign an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts even if it’s paired with closing deductions and loopholes for the top earners?
MR. CARNEY: The President is committed to working with --
Q You’re not saying no to that.
MR. CARNEY: I’m telling you what -- I’m not going to negotiate the details of --
Q The door is open to that?
MR. CARNEY: What I will say is that he will not sign an extension of the tax cuts -- the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2 percent, and that he has put forward principles to tax reform -- reforming our tax code. That’s something he’s committed to doing. And he certainly recognizes that there are ways to address the issue of the need for the wealthiest to pay a little bit more that include cutting deductions, and we’ve put that in our own plans. But I don’t want to get into what the details will look like or draw lines around proposals that work and others that don’t, because this is fairly complex in nature.
But the President’s principles are very clear. We have to have balance. As he did today, he will continue to insist that the House pass tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people who make less than $250,000 a year; tax cuts that everyone in Washington supports and that the President wants to sign into law -- that that will address a chunk, more than half of the so-called fiscal cliff, and that’s why it’s so important to get done right away. And then he will work with members of Congress to address these other issues, including the sequester and including tax reform.
Q The President said that he was inviting business leaders here as well. Is that scheduled for next week?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any specific scheduling updates for you, but when we have more information we’ll let you know.
Q A global question. What comfort does the President give his European allies that his administration and Congress will be able to reach some sort of a deal to prevent both the U.S. and Europe from going into another recession?
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously, Europe is dealing with its own fiscal challenges, but it is an interconnected economy, a point that we make all the time. And Europe is a very important -- in fact, our largest trading partner.
I would point you simply to what the President said today, which is that he appreciates what the Speaker of the House has said this week that suggests a willingness to compromise. The President has made clear that he is willing to compromise. He thinks one of the clearest messages that the American people sent on Tuesday was that they want action and they don’t want compromise to be a dirty word in Washington; that we need to come together to deal with the challenges that confront us that can only be resolved in a bipartisan manner when we have a government that continues to be divided.
So the President is confident that we can do this. He’s confident that we can do it if there is a willingness to approach this in a balanced way, if there’s a willingness to compromise. And thus far, he is hopeful that others in Washington are taking that approach.
Q Will he be reaching out to any of the European leaders --
MR. CARNEY: I mean, he is in regular communication with leaders in Europe. He had conversations with several European leaders in the wake of his reelection. But I don’t have any conversations to preview for you.
Q What’s the first step on immigration --
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, Laura. Let me go -- after Ari, then Laura.
Q What’s the first step on immigration reform, which the President has said it is a top priority? Who does he work with?
MR. CARNEY: It is a top priority. It was one of the four things the President mentioned on Tuesday night. I don’t have any meetings or steps to preview for you, but it is something that we have to get done and --
Q Is there any individual in the other party who he sees as a good partner to work with?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there have been in the past, and the President believes that there should be in the future, because the way to address this issue is in a comprehensive -- to take a comprehensive approach. There has been bipartisan support for that kind of approach in the past, and the President is hopeful that there will be bipartisan support for a comprehensive approach in the very near future.
Q Should we expect action before New Year’s?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to give you a date on it.
Q But does he view -- just following up on that, does he view it as incumbent upon him to do something proactive on this issue, or is he going to wait for Congress?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is and will be very engaged on this issue. And what I think is obvious for students of Washington, like those of us here, is that this is something that can only be done in a bipartisan way. The President, through administrative action -- the DHS, in terms of its enforcement priorities -- was able to address a component of this. But whether it’s the DREAM Act or comprehensive immigration reform, these are matters that have to be dealt with by Congress in a bipartisan way. So you can be sure the President will be pushing Congress and working with Congress to get that done.
Q You mentioned on health -- I have a couple of other questions.
Q Jay, I’m sorry, the CIA Director has resigned. Can you --
MR. CARNEY: And can I just --
Q You just asked about that.
Q I know, but he’s not acknowledging --
Q Do you know anything about this?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, and I --
Q Can you confirm it? Can you explain to us why?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that you’ll be -- we’ll have something from the President on it today.
Q MSNBC is reporting that General Petraeus, the CIA Director, resigned over an extramarital affair. Can you please tell us more about this?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any information to give to you on this. I would ask you to wait for something from General -- I would refer you to the DNI and the CIA. I can tell you that the President will address this with a statement later.
Q On camera?
MR. CARNEY: No, no.
Q On paper?
Q Did he ask for Petraeus’s resignation?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any details to give to you, Jake. I think that if --
Q That doesn’t mean you don’t have any details.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any details to give to you.
Q A couple other questions. The President mentioned that he was open to health savings, and you also repeated that here today. He has just finished a campaign where he has -- the only thing he said about Medicare is protecting it from cuts. Has he done anything to prepare the American people for cuts to health care programs? And is he ruling out cuts that affect beneficiaries directly as opposed to cuts to providers?
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what we’ve learned about the budget debates that we’ve had over these past several months and years, and that is that you can get savings out of our health care programs that strengthen those programs, and that’s what the President did in the Affordable Care Act. And you can continue to take measures that strengthen those programs that do not harm beneficiaries. And you certainly do not need to voucherize Medicare --
Q I didn’t ask you that.
MR. CARNEY: No, I know you didn’t, but that was what was on the table and has been on the table for a long time now from some proponents of that approach. And the point the President was making is we should not be asking our seniors to pony up while we’re giving tax cuts to corporations and wealthy Americans.
Q Are you ruling out cuts that directly affect beneficiaries?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into the details. The President’s position on this has been very clear. And the fact is, despite a lot of mischaracterizations on it --
Q It has?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, and the President -- despite some mischaracterizations on it, the President has already brought about significant savings in our health care programs that have extended the life of Medicare in a way that assures benefits for Medicare recipients. And he believes that there are more measures we can take that continue to do that.
But we do not have to do something radical along the lines that had been proposed as long we we’re willing to take a balanced approach. And so let’s be clear -- the President supports a balanced approach; he does not support an unbalanced approach which would demand voucherizing Medicare or other measures that would do significant harm to our seniors.
Q The White House made clear after the debt ceiling negotiations that he was willing to raise the Medicare eligibility age. So that is something that does directly affect beneficiaries.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I’m not going to get into a review of the past that we’ve all chewed over a lot. What the President is committed to is working in a bipartisan way. He has made clear that he has a balanced plan that’s very specific, that saves $4 trillion and allows us to invest in elements of our economy that help us grow, and that it has to include asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more.
But he is not wedded to every detail of his plan. That’s why he is meeting with members of Congress next week. That’s why he’s meeting with others in the business and labor and civic communities on these issues. And I’m not going to preview and draw red lines from here today.
Q My last question -- has the President done anything to reach out to Governor Romney? He said on election night that he wanted to meet with him. Has he asked for a meeting?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any update on that for you. The President is interested in having a meeting, as he mentioned on Tuesday night, but I have no update on that for you.
Q Thanks, Jay. Does the White House have a plan yet for how to approach the referenda passed legalizing marijuana in a couple of states out West that conflicts with federal law?
MR. CARNEY: I think what I can tell you on that is that the Department of Justice has said that they are reviewing those ballot initiatives, and I would direct you to them for updates on that.
Q A question about Governor Patrick; he’s coming to dinner with the President tonight. There’s also discussion about whether the President would be interested in having him serve in the Cabinet or whether he could advise the President on the Massachusetts delegation should there be another person that he’s thinking about for the Cabinet. Can you talk about the dinner and what’s happening? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I have no statements to make about personnel matters. I can simply say that, as you know, the President and the Governor are good friends. They’ve had meals frequently over the past several years, one that I was fortunate enough to participate in. So I’m sure they’re just looking forward to catching up.
Q Can I follow up and ask, are we going to find out this afternoon who is in charge of the CIA this afternoon?
MR. CARNEY: I just don’t have any more information for you on that.
Q The Speaker said today he thinks the debt limit should be part of those talks. What do you guys think about that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into specifics about what the congressional leaders and the President will be discussing next week and what the negotiations going forward will look like. What I can tell you is that we have some deadlines that
we have to contend with -- deadlines of December 31st on taxes and spending, and that we need to deal with those issues.
If Congress doesn’t act, if the House does not pass the Senate bill that gives tax cuts to 98 percent of the American people, everybody’s taxes go up on January 1st. That will be a rude awakening for the American people if it were to come to pass. And it should not and must not, because everyone in Washington supports keeping those tax cuts in place for 98 percent of the American people.
In terms of other elements of what a bigger conversation and negotiation will look like, I’m just not going to negotiate that from here.
Q But that’s pretty soon thereafter, and that’s the whole --
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s not something that I have a specific date on, and perhaps Treasury does. But what I do know is that the deadline precedes that and it is December 31st for tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people that will be very -- it will be very hard to explain for Congress, and the House in particular, that they didn’t extend tax cuts for middle-class Americans because they insisted on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.
I don’t think that’s what they’re going to do because I think Republicans and Democrats alike support extending these tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. The President certainly does, as he made clear today. So we believe that that’s a quick and relatively easy step that the House can take and Congress can take to help address some of these challenges right away.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, Jim.
Q Do you have anything on a week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, yes, I knew I would forget. Your week ahead: On Sunday, President Obama and Mrs. Obama will participate in Veterans Day activities at Arlington National Cemetery.
On Monday, the President has no public events scheduled in observance of Veterans Day.
On Tuesday, the President will attend meetings at the White House.
On Wednesday, the President will hold a news conference in the East Room. How about that? (Laughter.) You’re all invited. (Laughter.) Hey, Tapper, vacation is canceled. (Laughter.)
Q Day or night?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a time for you. I think it will be daytime, but I don’t have a time of day.
Q But not a primetime?
MR. CARNEY: Not a primetime.
On Thursday, the President will travel to the New York City area -- New York City area, as I mentioned before, to view the storm damage, talk with citizens who are recovering from the storm, and thank first responders who put their lives at risk to protect their communities.
And on Friday, the President will meet with congressional leaders of both parties, as previously mentioned, at the White House to discuss the action --
Q That’s the first meeting?
MR. CARNEY: On Friday, with congressional leaders.
Q He’s not meeting with anybody before the --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any other meetings to announce at this time, but I can tell you that the congressional leaders meeting will take place on Friday here at the White House. And that meeting will be to discuss the action we need to take to keep our economy growing and to reduce our deficit.
Thank you all very much.
Q When does he leave for Asia? Friday evening?
MR. CARNEY: I believe it’s Saturday.
3:07 P.M. EST