James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to your daily briefing. As you can see over my left shoulder, today the White House launched a new effort to help let Americans’ voices be heard in this debate about our fiscal challenges, launching the #My2K online push to pass the middle-class tax cuts, a cause that you’ve heard the President speak about quite a bit.
As I’m sure you all remember, a year ago, during another big fight to protect middle-class families, tens of thousands of working Americans and tweeted and emailed their representatives asking them to do the right thing. The same thing happened earlier this year when college students across the country stood up and demanded that Congress keep rates low on student loans. When the American people speak out, they help get things done in Washington. And you heard the President ask the American people today to once again add their voices to this effort.
After the President’s event, the White House is calling on Americans across the country to share on Twitter what #My2K means to them, as well as on other social media channels and on whitehouse.gov. We’ll highlight the #My2K stories received on whitehouse.gov and through social media to elevate the impact of inaction for middle-class families.
With that, I will take your questions. Mr. Kuhnhenn.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two points. One is, you all announced this morning a meeting tomorrow, at lunch, between the President and Mitt Romney. What does the President expect to get out of that meeting? Certainly during the campaign they didn’t seem to agree on much, but is there overlap in their positions on certain things that they could discuss?
And then on the fiscal cliff, the President used the word “framework” today in describing what he thinks they could reach before Christmas. Does that suggest that there’s not a grand bargain in the making, but more or less kind of an agreement to then pursue other elements of this down the road?
MR. CARNEY: Let me take tomorrow’s lunch first. During his news conference two weeks ago, the President said that there are aspects of Governor Romney’s record and Governor Romney’s ideas that he believes could be very helpful. The President noted that Governor Romney did a terrific job running the Olympics and that that skills set lends itself to ideas that could make the federal government work better, which is a passion of the President’s. As you know, he’s requested reorganization authority from the Congress to do just that.
I don’t have an agenda for the lunch. The President, as he said then, looked forward to having this meeting with Governor Romney. It’s a private lunch; only the two men will be in the room. And I’m sure it will be a useful discussion.
On the negotiations and where we are now and where we end up at the end of the year, I’m not going to get into any specifics. You saw what the President said. His priorities continue to be that we have to take action to ensure that 98 percent of the American people do not see their taxes go up on January 1st. That is essential. It is something that Democrats and Republicans agree on, and it is something, because there is that agreement, we should be able to act on right away.
We can also work together to build a framework, put together a proposal that should have bipartisan consensus built around the principle of balance, as we tackle our long-term and medium-term deficit and debt challenges. As we’ve talked about a lot, the three legs of that stool, that balanced stool are discretionary spending cuts, health care entitlement reforms that create savings, and revenue. We’ve seen some positive developments in the last several weeks in terms of what Republicans have been saying about the need for revenue as part of a balanced package. The President will continue to make the case that that is essential. It is the only fair way to proceed, and it is the smartest way economically to proceed.
Because when you’re dealing -- austerity in and of itself is not a goal. When you are getting your deficits and debt under control, you’re doing it as part of a -- in order to move forward towards a goal that means stronger economic growth, stronger job creation, more middle-class security. And that requires investing in parts of our economy that will allow us to grow stronger, faster and better in the 21st century -- in education and infrastructure and research and development and the like.
So that’s the President’s vision. He looks forward to continuing discussions with ordinary Americans, with business leaders -- as you know, he has another meeting with business leaders today -- with members of Congress, leaders of Congress, as we continue to work out what he believes would be the right, balanced approach to deal with these challenges with Congress.
Q There seem to be competing assessments of where things stand right now. Erskine Bowles today told some reporters that he was pessimistic, that he only saw a one-in-three chance of a deal being struck before the fiscal cliff. On the other hand, you have Tom Cole apparently telling leaders in -- Republican leaders that they should take the 98 percent -- the tax extension for the 98 percent.
Where does -- obviously you’re -- the President is on the optimistic side of that. But what is it that the President is willing to give in order to get the Tom Coles’s of Congress to go along with that extension? I mean, it seems that they’re demanding something on entitlement reform. Do you -- the President has offered $340 billion in cuts, in savings, over 10 years. Is that -- does that have to be an ironclad part of the deal by the end of the year?
MR. CARNEY: The $340 billion that you cite is what is in the President’s budget proposal. And I think it’s important, because even though that budget proposal has been out there for a long time, a lot of people aren’t aware of that. And it demonstrates another piece of evidence that the President has been willing to make tough choices in order to get our fiscal house in order and in order to try to reach a compromise with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The President made clear that he is not wedded to every detail of his plan, that he understands that the nature of compromise is that neither side gets everything that it wants. And he is open to hearing realistic, concrete, mathematically sound proposals that achieve the kind of balanced approach to deficit reduction that this country needs -- deficit reduction that isn’t borne solely by the middle class or by seniors, and deficit reduction that allows the economy to continue to grow and to create jobs and allows us to continue to invest in some of the areas I talked about before.
But it is important to note that when we talk about, on the one hand, desires by Republicans to see entitlement reforms be part of a balanced package, that the President has put forward $340 billion in additional savings from our health care entitlement programs, and that that figure exceeds the amount of savings from those programs that was achieved in the Simpson-Bowles plan in its first 10 years.
So this is not insignificant. This is significant. It is not the final word. The President, as he said, is not wedded to every detail. But it demonstrates the President’s fundamental commitment to making tough choices in order to get something done.
Q He’s going to press Democrats to accept something like that by the end of the year?
MR. CARNEY: I think he’s made clear, as he has in the past, that he will be in the future willing to lead members of his party in the effort to achieve a sensible, balanced compromise.
Q Thanks, Jay. Since your briefing yesterday, we’ve gotten more feedback from people on the Hill who have met with Susan Rice. What is your reaction to their comments, including this morning Susan Collins saying that she would not be able to support Ambassador Rice for Secretary of State without more information?
MR. CARNEY: Well, my view on this is the same as it was yesterday, which is that the focus on -- and in some cases, the obsessive focus on -- Ambassador Rice’s appearance on a series of Sunday shows several months ago is misplaced and misguided. Ambassador Rice was using unclassified talking points that were developed by the intelligence community and provided not just to her, not just to the executive branch, but to the legislative branch. And they represented the best assessment by our intelligence professionals about what had happened in Benghazi at that time. And that is not just me saying so; that is what the DNI and the CIA have said.
Even at that time, the intelligence community was making clear, and Ambassador Rice and I and others were making clear, that these were preliminary assessments and they might evolve, and as more facts came in, we would clarify what we knew about what had happened in Benghazi. And that’s the simple sort of end of story about what happened back when Ambassador Rice appeared on those Sunday shows.
What I think the American people care about is not the effort by some to politicize a Sunday show appearance, but what happened actually in Benghazi, who was responsible for the deaths of four Americans, what steps we need to take to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen again. That’s what the President is focused on. That’s why there is an FBI investigation. That’s why there is an Accountability Review Board established by the Secretary of State, at the President’s direction, to review the broader issues of security at our diplomatic facilities. Those are the concrete issues that need to be investigated and resolved when it comes to what happened in Benghazi.
And as I think the President has said, and I and others have said, it’s a shame to create a sideshow that seems I think very clearly to be very political out of something that really has no bearing on what happened in Benghazi.
Q Is the President concerned that this sideshow may affect his nominations both for Secretary of State and for the next Director of the CIA?
MR. CARNEY: The President has not made any personnel decisions that I can announce, and he made very clear his views on this particular issue when he answered questions about it at his press conference. I’ll leave it at that.
Q Let me ask just one more question on a different topic, following up on what Jim mentioned about Erskine Bowles. Bowles also said that the President has some flexibility about top rates or the highest earners at 39.6 percent. The President addressed that in his press conference as well, saying he’s open to ideas from both sides. How much flexibility does he have on that 39.6 percent?
MR. CARNEY: Well, setting aside rates so that you don’t take my answer to this question to mean specifically -- to reflect specifically on rates, if I told you how much flexibility the President had, it would eliminate his flexibility. So the President made clear that he is not wedded to every detail of his plan. The President has also made categorically and abundantly clear that he will not sign an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for top earners. It’s bad economic policy and we cannot afford it. He will not sign that.
He is open to serious, realistic, concrete proposals about how we can get from here to there when we talk about building a balanced package that achieves the kind of deficit reduction target that he set, and that the Simpson-Bowles commission set, and that others have set.
One fact remains true, which is -- and he talked about this during the campaign -- the most basic, simplest, most efficient way to achieve that revenue target is by returning the rates for top earners back to those that were in place in the Clinton era. When we’ve talked about different ideas that somehow achieved significant revenue out of closing loopholes and eliminating deductions, some of them look good on paper, but they’re not politically realistic. And some of them don’t even add up on paper.
The President is very interested in closing loopholes and capping deductions where sensible both economically and plausible politically, but the fact remains that the cleanest, simplest way to achieve the kind of revenue target that’s necessary here is to go back to the Clinton-era rates for top earners -- rates, by the way, that were in place during the longest period of economic growth -- peacetime economic expansion in our lifetimes; rates that were in place when the rich got a lot richer and the middle class did really well, too; the rates that were in place during a period that saw deficits disappear and to be replaced by surpluses.
Now, there were some in Washington when President Clinton passed his first economic plans in 1993 who decried them as the end of the economic world as we knew it, that they would surely lead to recession and job loss and broader economic decline. Those forecasts proved to be a little off. And they're off now.
Q Do they need to be 39.6 percent?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to negotiate every detail. But it is a fact -- the President is willing to look at anything that’s sensible and realistic and that is mathematically sound. But our point on rates is that they are the sensible, clean, simple way and proven way to achieve the kind of revenue target that we’ve talked about, as you’ve seen in the President’s proposal, a proposal which includes loophole closures and deduction caps, as well, but ones that are realistic.
Q Senate Majority Leader Reid said it would be “somewhat foolish” to work out a deal to prevent the economy from going over the cliff without addressing the debt ceiling as well. Will the President demand that Republicans agree to raise the nation’s debt limit as part of any fiscal deal?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think -- Congress raises the debt ceiling. We certainly expect that Congress will act appropriately because nobody in their right mind would want to go through what we went through last summer -- summer of 2011 -- where holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to an ideological agenda proved disastrous to our economy and most especially to the American people and the middle class. That political strategy resulted in a significant drop in consumer confidence. It resulted in -- it had a series of negative effects on our economy, and we certainly don't expect that right-minded leaders in Congress will want to travel that path again.
Q What was the answer to the question? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: The question is -- we expect Congress to -- without drama to raise the debt limit.
Q But as far as --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to negotiate the details of a package that is still under discussion between us and the Capitol -- and members of Congress. What I will say is that we certainly expect Congress to act responsibly and raise the debt ceiling.
Q -- the President’s preference? Can you say that?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s preference is that Congress do its job.
Q I wonder -- it sounded like, in answer to Jim’s question when he was saying, do you have to do entitlement reform by the end of the year, your answer was in the future. And I noted that when the President spoke today --
MR. CARNEY: No, I didn't say it was in the future.
Q -- would pressure -- when asked about pressuring Democrats, you said, he has vowed to do that in the future.
MR. CARNEY: No, he’s done it in the past and he will do it in the future.
Q We have a record of what you said. But --
MR. CARNEY: Right. I meant "the future" as also in the present tense. I mean, he has committed, every time he talks about this, to a balanced approach that includes both revenues, spending cuts, and savings through entitlement reform.
Q So my question is whether that is down the road or now. Because I note as well in the President’s comments, it sounded like he was splitting the negotiation into two pieces, because he said, let’s extend the middle-class tax cuts, and then he said, that would “give us more time next year to work together on a comprehensive plan to bring down our deficits.” So I’m trying to figure out whether there’s something significant here that the White House is saying -- there’s now essentially a two-step process; take care of the tax rates, and then we’ll do this broader plan next year, which is what it sounds like what the President said.
MR. CARNEY: Well, broadly speaking, this is obviously a complicated piece of business. There are two pieces to it. There are two distinct although related things that we’ve kind of lumped together when we’ve talked about what’s happening in this post-election period between now and the end of the year. The first is the fiscal cliff, which is extremely time-sensitive and has to do with December 31st deadlines that trigger, if Congress doesn't act, substantial tax increases for everyone, including the middle class, and that trigger across-the-board spending cuts, the combination of which would, by many estimates, not be very good for the economy.
So that's why the President has long since prior to today talked about the common-sense approach of the House following the Senate’s lead and passing the extension of the tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people so that doing so would provide the kind of certainty that middle-class Americans deserve and need -- especially as we go into this holiday season -- about what their personal economic situation will look like next year. It will provide a great deal of relief for retailers who depend on consumers for the success of their businesses. And we can continue to work on the other issues, but since we have a chunk of the fiscal cliff, which is the imminent issue here, that can be addressed simply by extending these middle-class tax cuts, we should do that.
But I’m not -- the broader whether it’s a two-step or -- I think these are all parts of --
Q But you understand the reality is that --
MR. CARNEY: No, I understand the question --
Q -- Republicans now feel like you’re trying to lock in tax increases, which you’re entitled to --
MR. CARNEY: No, we’re trying to lock in tax cuts.
Q Okay, tax cuts for 98 percent, as you said.
MR. CARNEY: Not extending -- voting to extend tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people is not voting for a tax increase. There are tax cuts that expire at the end of this year. We’re saying Congress, the House, should take action to extend tax cuts for virtually --
Q Right, and the Republicans are saying you’re dealing with --
MR. CARNEY: -- most of the people listening to this today.
Q Right, but -- so the Republicans are saying on the Hill today -- Boehner had a news conference and said, so you’re trying to lock in tax changes, however each side characterizes it, and then you’re not having any spending cuts now. You want to do spending cuts next year. Is that a fact?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think -- no, it’s not a fact. I think that these are all parts of aspects of conversations that are ongoing between the White House, the President’s team, and the congressional negotiators. And I’m not going to prejudge the outcome of that. As I said, this is a complicated piece of business and there are two components to it. One is a fiscal cliff; the other is a desire that the President has to achieve a significant deficit reduction. And one option, if there’s a concern about putting one thing first, is simply to take up the President’s plan and pass it because that locks in $340 billion in entitlement reform savings, it locks in spending cuts, and it locks in revenue. So the President has put forward a plan that achieves -- that has at its basis all three legs of the stool.
Q Last one on this. So on that very point about how the President has a plan on entitlements, so Congress can pass it, yesterday you were asked about Senator Dick Durbin saying entitlement changes like that, like the President has put on the table should not be part of the fiscal cliff talks. And you said yesterday, "I haven’t seen those comments yet." So 24 hours have passed -- do you agree with Senator Durbin, or disagree?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think this is what we’re talking about here, and I think what was reflected in those comments has to do with the reality -- which is forgotten sometimes as we discuss -- that there are two issues here that, while linked, are fairly distinct. There are absolute deadlines associated with the fiscal cliff. There is the broader desire by the President and by leaders on Capitol Hill to achieve and lock in significant, long-term deficit reduction in a way that continues to help the economy grow and create jobs. The President is committed to both, and he’s committed and engaging right now through his team and in direct conversations in negotiations on both issues.
I don’t want to prejudge how they come out because I wouldn’t pretend to know at this point, because this is obviously a matter of intense negotiation.
Q A couple of quick follows on previously asked questions. The meeting with Romney -- can you give us a little bit on how that came about? Did the President call and invite him? When? And the President I think said he respects his ability to create efficiencies in the Olympics -- that’s a rough memory. Does he have a specific ask of Governor Romney in the meeting?
MR. CARNEY: He does not have a specific ask. I’m sure that the topics will be many in their lunch. The President noted during the press conference that Governor Romney was very successful in running the Olympics. He was obviously a successful businessman and I’m sure has some ideas that the President will find helpful. But I don’t want to -- I don’t have an agenda for you and I don’t have outcomes before the meeting itself.
The way it came about was that the President expressed interest in the immediate aftermath of the election in meeting with Governor Romney, and so the staffs of the two men got together and worked out a time for that to happen, and that time is tomorrow.
Q On Susan Rice, Ambassador Rice, should her meetings on the Hill be read as a trial run for possible nomination, or did she ask to go up to the Hill to have a chance to clear her name before these members?
MR. CARNEY: There has been a lot of discussion about her appearances on those Sunday shows and the source of the information that she provided on those Sunday shows. And I think she believed that it was entirely appropriate to meet with members who had been particularly interested in, and sometimes critical of, her appearances and what she said -- to meet with them and discuss exactly what happened, where the information came from. And because, as we all know and it's been publicly acknowledged, what she said was based on intelligence community assessments that were provided, the Acting Director of the CIA went with her.
Q So she initiated it?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to her office. The issue is -- the interest has been -- the intense and, I would say, misplaced focus on her appearances has occurred not in New York but up on Capitol Hill, in particular, with a handful of senators.
Q Okay. And finally, on the fiscal cliff. To date, the administration has said that there are fiscal restraints, budget cuts that you guys have outlined in your current budget. But given that -- you're asking now the GOP to go further than they've gone before by raising the top rate on top earners. Would the administration, if they were willing to do that, be willing to go further on Medicare and Medicaid than you've gone in your current budget?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I won't get into specifics, but I will quote my boss, the President, in saying that he is not wedded to every detail and that he understands that reaching a compromise requires tough choices. Now, he's made tough choices in the past in negotiations like these. He's demonstrated his willingness to make tough choices in his budget, and I know that he is willing to make tough choices in the negotiations going forward. His principles --
Q That sounds like a yes.
MR. CARNEY: I'm just --
Q A possible yes.
MR. CARNEY: I think it's yes in the sense that he's willing to entertain serious, realistic proposals that reflect his principles, which are that anything that we do in this area has to be balanced. It cannot -- it absolutely cannot put the burden solely on the middle class, solely on seniors, so that the wealthiest Americans get off light and -- because that’s just not fair and it's not economically sound.
And the fact is, in the decade prior to him coming to office, that was an approach that was taken and it resulted in an intense squeeze on the middle class while those top 2 percent generally did very, very well. And it's time to, given our fiscal situation, to readdress that and build a package that is more fair and more balanced and that achieves the kind of deficit reduction that’s necessary, but achieves it in a way that allows the economy to grow and allows it to create jobs. Because, as I said earlier, deficit reduction is not a goal unto itself. It has to serve the broader purpose of helping the economy grow and helping it create jobs.
Q I have a couple on the fiscal cliff -- but with your indulgence, on Benghazi, setting aside Susan Rice's fate, setting aside the Sunday show appearance, I just want to talk to you about what is asserted to have happened yesterday. Senators Graham, McCain and Ayotte put out a release that said in their meetings -- as you said, the Acting CIA Director accompanied her -- and they asked the Acting CIA Director who changed the unclassified talking points to remove a reference to al Qaeda. He said, at 10:00 a.m., the FBI did. At 4:00 p.m., according to this release, the CIA called back and said, no, that’s incorrect, and that it wasn't correct; that the FBI removed it to prevent compromising an ongoing criminal investigation, but it was done elsewhere.
Does this, to the President's mind, at this late stage, raise core questions of basic competency about what happened and why with these underlying talking points -- why is there --
MR. CARNEY: What the President is worried about, Major, is what happened and why in Benghazi. He is not particularly concerned about whether the Ambassador or I went out and talked about the fact that we believed extremists might have been responsible, and whether we named them as al Qaeda or not does not have any --
MR. CARNEY: -- no, it certainly doesn’t have any bearing on what happened and who is responsible as that investigation was continuing in Benghazi. The fact is, as we have made clear, the White House and --
Q And do you have any reason to doubt the sequence of events?
MR. CARNEY: No, I don’t. The White House and the State Department have made clear that the single adjustment that was made to those talking points by either of those two -- of these two institutions were changing the word "consulate" to "diplomatic facility," because "consulate" was inaccurate. Those talking points originated from the intelligence community. They reflect the IC's best assessments of what they thought had happened.
And I would refer you to numerous reporting -- numerous pieces of reporting by serious journalists and serious publications that demonstrate that people who participated in the assault on Benghazi were aware of what was happening in Cairo and were partly motivated by what was happening in Cairo.
So that obsession here on what Ambassador Rice said on a Sunday show is simply non-material to the key question of why four Americans died in Benghazi.
Q I understand you want to characterize it as obsession. I’m just talking about what happened yesterday. These are two serious agencies of the federal government -- the CIA and the FBI. The CIA told three senators the FBI did this --
MR. CARNEY: I don't speak for the CIA and the FBI. What I can tell you is the suggestion --
Q But the President is not concerned about --
MR. CARNEY: -- as some of the senators who put out that press release consistently said -- falsely and erroneously and knowingly -- consistently said that we provided those talking points, we at the White House -- that was false and erroneous. And they said it again and again, and they said it on your air.
Your substitute yesterday claimed that the President made the case that Chris Stevens -- made the case that the video was responsible and led to the violence in Benghazi at a speech at UNGA, which is false and erroneous. That's not the case. I encourage you to go read the speech.
We have to get our facts straight when we’re talking about this story, okay? There was basic information developed by the intelligence community that was provided to Ambassador Rice, to Capitol Hill, to me and others. We used that to describe what we understood to be known at the time in the immediate aftermath of Benghazi. As we learned more information, we made it available. That's the long and short of it.
What the President cares about, what he believes his responsibility is as Commander-in-Chief is to find out who was responsible and bring them to justice, and to make sure that we take action to ensure that what happened in Benghazi does not happen again.
Q On the fiscal cliff, you said a moment ago that there are some ideas on revenue that look good on paper but are not politically realistic. What are those?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to get into specifics, but there have been --
Q But you know what they are.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think that --
Q You wouldn’t have said if you didn't have an idea.
MR. CARNEY: Sure, broadly speaking, when we -- you look at proposals that suggest you can achieve -- and you can on paper -- very large revenue targets purely through eliminating deductions and caps, there are only -- really basically there are two ways to do that. The middle class gets hit hard because you raise taxes on the middle class.
Q Through what?
MR. CARNEY: Through various closures of loopholes and deductions.
Q -- mortgage deduction and charitable deductions?
MR. CARNEY: Those are two that come to mind. Those two -- so to achieve significant -- you can either go after the middle class, which the President has made clear is a nonstarter, and again, going after the middle class to protect the wealthiest 2 percent, or you suggest changes to our tax code when it comes to deductions and loopholes that are unrealistic politically, that Democrats and Republicans will not vote for; that you can achieve it on paper but --
Q -- in those --
MR. CARNEY: -- again in those areas, but depending on how you slice and dice --
Q You're referring to the mortgage deduction and charitable deductions?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are other -- yes, those are two of them, but there are other loopholes and closures that are under discussion. The point that I’m trying to make is that the President is very pragmatic about this. He believes that it is entirely appropriate, as the American people do, that the wealthiest should be asked to pay a little bit more as we develop a balanced package for long-term deficit reduction. And he believes that the right way to do it, because it is mathematically sound and it is the simplest way, is to extend tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people, but not extend tax cuts for the top 2 percent because -- and also to write into law some of the other changes that he’s proposed that include caps on deductions at 28 percent, and include other loophole closures.
But he’s open to ideas. I’m not saying that there’s only -- that there's one way to skin this cat, but there’s one way to skin it that’s clean and simple and there are other ways to skin it -- and I’m going to take this metaphor to dangerous places -- (laughter) -- that are full of fur balls. So the point is that the President is open to ideas, but he’s not open to pie-in-the-sky proposals that aren’t realistic when it comes to asking Democrats and Republicans to pass them on Capitol Hill.
Q Last one, Jay. You're more than comfortable telling us what the President won’t sign in the context of something that extends the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. The President will not sign that. You’re very comfortable saying that.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Asserting that as an absolute --
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q -- understood position of the President. Are you similarly prepared to say that about anything that comes to the desk to resolve the fiscal cliff that does not include an increase in the debt ceiling?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think I addressed this.
Q Not precisely.
MR. CARNEY: Well, how this -- I’m not going to negotiate the particulars of either the deficit reduction package or how we address the fiscal cliff. What is a fact is that it is Congress’s responsibility to ensure that the United States of America pays its bills. It is Congress’s responsibility to raise the debt ceiling so that the United States of America does not default for the first time in its history.
And through hard experience, it is the President’s expectation that Congress will find it in its interests, as well as in America’s interest, to ensure that the full faith and credit of the United States is fully met, without drama and without trying to play the kind of political games and ideological games that led to a downgrade, that led to a drop in consumer confidence, and that, of course, hit the middle class hardest of all.
And that's just not -- the President doesn't expect that leaders in Congress want to go there, so he expects Congress to do its job. In what form Congress does its job --
Q -- clear as the other issue you’re not going to.
MR. CARNEY: I’m going to say that the President absolutely expects Congress to do its job when it comes to ensuring that the United States maintains its full faith and credit. How it does that, I’m not going to dictate to Congress.
Q Or when it does that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it has to do it --
Q By February.
MR. CARNEY: It has to do it so that it does not create a scenario that we went through last summer, which was so bad for everyone.
Q During the campaign, the President told the Des Moines Register the ratio -- I think it was $1 in taxes for every $2.50 in cuts, if I’m correct. So you’ve outlined that the President has already put forward $340 billion in proposed spending cuts in his budget I guess it was last winter. By my math, that leaves another $2 trillion in cuts. Does the President think there’s $2 trillion to be --
MR. CARNEY: It’s funny because I mentioned that so few people -- even though it’s been out there for so long -- actually know it’s in the President’s budget, so few people, even though they talk about it all the time, actually know what’s in the Simpson-Bowles, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson proposal.
The President’s budget proposal included $4 trillion in deficit reduction -- $1.6 trillion from revenues; $340 billion from health care savings, entitlement program savings and savings from reduction in interest payments; and the $1 trillion-plus in non-defense discretionary savings that the President has already signed into law, as well as additional savings. So that I think -- without the calculator in front of me -- adds up to the ratio that you’re talking about.
Q The President -- you’ve announced your Twitter campaign. The President is going to some sort of classic swing counties around Philadelphia.
MR. CARNEY: The election is over, man.
Q Evidently, it isn’t --
MR. CARNEY: He’s going to a great company that makes great products that is very interested in middle-class Americans having --
Q In an area that’s represented by
MR. CARNEY: -- having that $2,000 --
Q -- three Republicans in the House who are sort of in swing districts.
MR. CARNEY: It’s also pretty close to here. So the point is -- we’re making a point that I tried to make yesterday, and the President will make far better than I, that this is a debate that absolutely should involve the American people because the American people have the most at stake. And it’s entirely appropriate for the President to go out and present to American businesses and ordinary Americans his views on this, and to ask them to let their voices be heard here in Washington, because that’s how we get things done here in Washington. And we’ve learned this, as I talked about at the top.
Q If this isn’t about moving votes, what is it about?
MR. CARNEY: It’s about compelling action in Washington, and if that means moving votes, then that’s what it means. But that’s always been the case, and that’s what I described at the top. When the American people demand Congress to act, demand that Washington acts, and they do so by making their voices heard, Washington tends to act. I mean, that’s a fact and it’s one that’s as old as the Republic.
Q Is there no concern about hardening political lines by going so public with all of this?
MR. CARNEY: No. I mean, again, let’s look at the history here. Members of Congress are elected by their constituents -- ordinary Americans in districts and states across the country. They are answerable to their constituents. When their constituents get involved and they say, this is what we believe you should do, members of Congress tend to listen. That’s a good thing. That’s how the system should work. And the President also believes that he has a responsibility to go out into the country, to meet with ordinary Americans -- workers and business leaders and the like -- to talk about his vision and his plans when it comes to this debate, to hear their ideas, and to ask them to ensure that their voices are heard here in Washington. That’s, I think, a terrific description of how the system works and how it should work.
Q Finally, tomorrow’s lunch -- is there a symbolic element to this, to show the country and the world that there is this -- we’ve had this fight; now we’re going to break bread together?
MR. CARNEY: I think there is. I think there is a tradition here, and I think that it is one of the often-overlooked but remarkable things about this democracy, this oldest democracy, is that we have -- we consistently have elections and either pass power on to a new leader of a new power -- party, or because the voters chose, continue to invest power and authority in the office in the same party or the same individual, without violence and without the kind of anguish and disruptions that you see in so many other countries around the world, and you’ve seen throughout history.
And I think that it is entirely appropriate -- and I know the President feels this way -- to continue that tradition, because fundamentally, whenever we have these elections, the two standard bearers are putting forward their visions for what they believe is best for America and the people decide which vision they prefer. But I know the President believes that Governor Romney is -- was doing -- was arguing a case that he thought was right, and he did it forcefully, and the President did the same.
Q Last week, the President gave Speaker Boehner a gift. Will there be gifts exchanged? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any more details about tomorrow’s lunch to provide.
Q Thank you. Jay, I’d like to revisit a question you had the other day about the low water levels in the Mississippi River. Since you were asked that question, the shippers and barge industry has gotten together along -- joining Mr. Harkin in asking the President for a federal declaration ordering the Corps to take certain steps to ease the water levels. I know that you said, talk to the Corps of Engineers, but does this issue --
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Corps handles these issues. When it comes to declarations, there’s a process that takes place and my understanding is that’s not how it works. So I would refer you to the Corps. The President has been committed to ensuring that his administration takes every step possible to help farmers and ranchers affected by the drought. And as you know, the administration has already taken a variety of actions to that end. But again, my answer hasn’t changed since yesterday.
Q There’s no directive that the President must take ordering --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of any specific request to the President taking action. When it comes to, as we’ve seen in recent -- more recent natural disasters, there’s a process by which declarations are made and requested. I am not aware of this one in particular.
Q Jay, when you’re talking -- the language that you’ve had the last couple of days has been pretty harsh about people in the Senate, about Susan Rice and about -- you’ve certainly taken a tone that -- is it appropriate for the White House to list the criteria by which the Senate should use its advise and consent power?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. That’s not what this is about. I have been speaking specifically about the misplaced obsession and focus on an administration official's appearance on Sunday shows -- an administration official who had no line responsibility for security at our diplomatic facilities and no responsibility for the collection and dissemination of intelligence product.
And I am not alone in judging that that obsession and focus is largely driven by political considerations. The Senate has its constitutionally-mandated prerogative to advise and consent, and that is not what I am talking about.
Q One more about the meeting, the lunch tomorrow. The language that you're using today about the meeting and about Governor Romney's strengths and what we heard the President say in the press conference, it reminds me a little bit of what was being said last January when we were talking about the reorganization of the Commerce Department. Is Governor Romney here tomorrow in some kind of Cabinet-level position? (Laughter.) In some kind of audition for that position?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Beyond that, is there some kind of reorganization in the Commerce Department where Governor Romney could play a role?
MR. CARNEY: Again, there is -- the President does not have a specific assignment in mind for the Governor. He looks forward to discussing with Governor Romney a variety of issues, including the President's interest in making the federal government more efficient -- an interest that was demonstrated by that very broad proposal that he put forward asking Congress for reorganization authority, the same authority that Presidents up through Reagan had had for a long time -- and adding what he felt was a helpful enticement, which is that he would only use that authority with the promise that any action he took to reorganize government would result in savings to the federal government. And that’s what his proposal with regards to all the entities in government that deal with exports and commerce would do.
Q Jay, the strengths that Governor Romney brings do comport with the kind of vision that the President has for that reorganization --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think Governor Romney has many strengths, but I know that the President will look forward to having a discussion about broadly the issues of government efficiency.
Q Sort of follow-up on a question of my colleague.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q I'll put a new light on it. Obviously, the President is painstakingly taking time to choose the best and the brightest for these senior Cabinet positions. With one term behind him and his legacy ahead of him, what is the most important characteristic that the President looks for in choosing a Cabinet minister -- a Cabinet member, such as the Commerce or Interior or whatever we're talking about?
Q State, DOD --
MR. CARNEY: I haven't had the discussion in a way that boils it down to one characteristic. He looks for all the appointments he makes for individuals of skill, intelligence and character.
April, and then Bill.
Q Jay, both then-candidates for the Oval Office seemed to have such disdain for one another, particularly when they were debating. What is the President's stand on his emotions and his feelings with Mitt Romney now? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I would say that elections are serious business, and they tend to represent a clash of ideas and they're hard fought. And it's certainly no different this time than it has been in every election that I've been around for and covered in the past.
But the President, as he said in the aftermath of the election, believes that Governor Romney has ideas that he's interested in that were developed through some of the experiences that Governor Romney has had in his life, and he looks forward to discussing them with Governor Romney.
I think the President feels pretty good about how the election turned out, if that’s what you mean. (Laughter.)
Q How long is the lunch for? Is it an hour, hour and a half, two?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have an end time for you. I think it will be a substantial lunch, if not on the plate than in the discussion.
Q I guess in the interest of anything goes -- (laughter) -- on November 6th, the state of Colorado and the state of Washington voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. That’s against federal law. Does the Obama administration intend --
MR. CARNEY: I can't believe you're the one that asked the question, Bill. (Laughter.)
Q -- to respect those two state measures?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, I appreciate the question. The Department of Justice has said that they are reviewing these ballot initiatives to which you refer, and I would direct you to them for updates.
Q But the direction will come from the White House as to whether this is worth the Justice Department's time and resources, correct?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Justice Department is the lead law enforcement agency. And as the Justice Department has made clear, its enforcement of the Controlled-Substance Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled-Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule One controlled substance. The President, in at least a couple of interviews over the course of this year, was asked about this, and you can find his views in those interviews.
Q A quick follow. In the last 11 months, according to NORML, the Obama administration -- or the Justice Department has moved to shut down 400 medical marijuana clinics in this country, which is more than happened during the entire eight years of George W. Bush's administration. So that seems to be a priority for the administration. Will that also move towards recreational --
MR. CARNEY: Well, no. What the President has said is that we're not going to prioritize prosecutions of people with cancer or other serious illnesses. And the President never made a commitment to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and sellers of marijuana. And while the President has asked the Department of Justice to use prosecutorial discretion to best prioritize law enforcement resources, he cannot nullify congressional law.
Q Jay, you talk about setting up a framework for long-range deficit reduction. I shudder at the thought of another super committee being created over income tax or tax reform.
MR. CARNEY: I feel you.
Q Is the President, though, ready to make some kind of ironclad commitment toward tax reform, even if it’s a small amount, to Speaker Boehner, which he may very well need to take to his caucus for even a short-term deal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President is very committed to tax reform. He’s put forward a specific proposal for corporate tax reform and he has made clear his interest in individual tax reform. Some of the changes while -- in his budget proposal he believes that the best approach is to allow the rates to revert back for top earners to the Clinton-era levels that he introduces elements of tax reform even in his own budget proposal.
And he remains interested in concrete, mathematically sound, politically realistic proposals that can help get this job done as long as they reflect his principles, which are shared by a significant majority of the American people, which is that we tackle this problem in a balanced way so that the middle class doesn’t get stuck holding the bag as it pretty significantly was in the prior decade.
Q And for Speaker Boehner?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t want -- I’m just not going to negotiate from the podium the particulars of what a potential compromise would look like. The President has made clear he’s open to good ideas. He understands that Republicans are not likely to pass his proposal in its entirety, and he’s not wedded to every item in his proposal. So he wants to continue to have discussions.
Ann, last one.
Q Thank you. The President indicated in his remarks today that maybe -- that he would like to have a deal by Christmas. What happens now? Does the President wait -- is it all in Congress's court? Do they have to call and say, okay, we’re ready with some more concrete, realistic, mathematically-sound proposals?
MR. CARNEY: I like the sound of that.
Q Would the President remain here on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, not travel with his family, if there is still no deal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to speculate and be so pessimistic that we couldn’t achieve a reasonable compromise prior to then. The President is committed to working with Congress. He has assembled a team that will work with Congress -- is and will continue to work with Congress. I don’t have any specific scheduling announcements to make for you, but the President’s week has been very full meeting with various stakeholders in this debate. It will continue to be so tomorrow and Friday, and I’m sure that he will have conversations with congressional leaders when appropriate. And Secretary Geithner and others will be having those conversations with their congressional counterparts in the --
Q And so there’s not a single concrete proposal that’s come to the President?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to read proposals from draft pieces of paper to you. Obviously two things are true. One is we’ve had this debate for so long and in so much detail that we know the parameters of it. We know what the numbers look like, especially when everybody is being honest about them. And two, I don’t think it’s helpful to negotiate every detail of an unfinished and, at this point, definitely unfinished compromise.
Q I asked you when, not what.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, the President -- I think the President answered that question: by the end of the year, that’s what he hopes and believes is possible. Before Christmas.
Q Just one -- would you please reconsider opening the President’s meeting with Mitt Romney to press coverage since it’s -- (laughter) -- no, just so -- to cameras, because it’s closed coverage and this was an historic election. This is the first time they’re meeting, and I would just respectfully request --
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the request, but we’re going to let the two men, who spent a great deal of time in the public eye over the course of the past year, both of them, have a private lunch together.
Thanks very much.
1:34 P.M. EST