James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:59 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good day, everyone. Thanks for being here. Welcome to your White House briefing. I have no announcements to make, so we'll go straight to the Associated Press.
Q Thank you. The President outlined some pretty dire consequences for the economy today if the sequester takes effect. I'm wondering, though, if those consequences are so dire why has he not picked up the phone to talk to Senator McConnell about supporting the Senate Democrats plan, and why are the two staffs not in any communication about this deadline.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are in regular communication with Congress about a variety of topics that are high priorities for the President, including the need to ensure that Washington does not manufacture a crisis that puts hundreds of thousands of people’s jobs at risk, as you heard the President talk about today.
This is a simple thing. Over all, it’s a complicated subject, but it’s a simple thing: Congress needs to act to make sure we do not allow the so-called sequester to take effect. It’s wholly unnecessary and would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy.
There are ample ways to do this. The Democrats in the Senate and the House have tabled legislation that -- put forward legislation that would buy down the deficit -- buy down the sequester, postpone it to the end of the year in a balanced way. And as the President made clear, there should -- we've done this before, just a few months ago. Republicans supported it then. There’s no reason why we can't do it again in order to allow Congress to have the time to work on the regular budgetary process so that we can achieve the larger goal, which is further significant deficit reduction in a balanced way. It can't be --
Q But that doesn’t really answer the question about why he’s not, or his staff is not apparently in communication with the top Republican in the Senate on this issue.
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, we are in regular communication with Congress on a variety of issues, including this.
Q Are you in communication with McConnell on this?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any calls or communications to read out to you. But this is not a complicated piece of business. The broader issue of further deficit reduction in a balanced way will require time, and that's why it’s so important for Congress to move forward with a temporary postponement of the sequester, because the consequences of not doing that would be catastrophic, as the President made clear in his event just this morning.
Q Should the sequester take effect -- and we are only 10 days away -- I know the President and the government have outlined some severe consequences, but does the White House think the economy could handle the sequester?
MR. CARNEY: No, we believe that the economy would be negatively affected. Outside economists have made clear that the economy would be negatively affected. There is no question that this would set back the recovery and slow down job creation. If we have one fundamental goal here in Washington, it should be to work towards growing the economy and increasing job creation, not doing unnecessary, arbitrary things to halt or reverse that process.
So we, having calculated specific effects of the sequester if it were to take effect -- a lot of others outside have done that and I don't think you can find anyone that I’ve seen anyway that suggests that the effects would not be negative.
Q And quickly on immigration. Does the White House have a target timeline for when you would put forward the President’s immigration bill?
MR. CARNEY: We haven’t identified a specific date, Julie. The President has made clear that he is focused on the Senate moving forward on a bipartisan effort to enact comprehensive immigration reform. He supports that effort. He’s also made clear that if that effort stalls or fails, if progress halts, that he is prepared to submit his own legislation for the Senate to act on. But his preference overwhelmingly is for the good progress that's been made by that bipartisan group to continue; for it to move forward to a point where a bill is produced that can be voted on and can win support of Democrats and Republicans, move to the House, win support of Democrats and Republicans and get to his desk for his signature.
One of the things we’ve seen over the last weeks and months is that there’s a real convergence of positions between the President and both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate about how we should move forward. The blueprint that the President has had online since 2011 that outlined his principles for comprehensive immigration reform is reflected very much in the proposals and ideas that Senator Rubio, for example, has discussed and the so-called Gang of Eight, the bipartisan group in the Senate has been working on.
So the President remains hopeful that the Senate will move forward because is it absolutely his preference that that's what happens.
Q There had been some talk -- I think the President even raised this and some of his senior advisors have raised early March as a possible benchmark for when he might move forward -- when he wants to see the Senate at least move forward. Is that not the deadline you’re seeing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have not actually set a date because we’re looking for progress. I think that what we have seen and I think you have seen is reports that the senators themselves who are involved in this effort have talked about March. That would certainly be a good thing and a welcomed thing, because the President is very interested in progress being made and interested in this process moving forward quickly, even though it is important and significant work that needs to be done.
But we have not set a deadline. We are focused on working with the Senate, working with those members who want to put together a package that can earn broad bipartisan support. And as long as that progress continues, we will remain hopeful that it will produce a bill that the President can ultimately sign and we can get this very important piece of business done.
Q Simpson and Bowles struck again. (Laughter.) Today, they rolled out a new, updated plan for $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years and that includes spending cuts and health care reforms and tax reforms. And where does the President stand on this new package?
MR. CARNEY: Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the chairmen -- the co-chairmen of the President’s fiscal commission, today, once again, obliterated the argument put forward by Republicans that we should pursue further deficit reduction in an unbalanced way. Nobody who has addressed this issue credibly and seriously has come up with a plan that does not include the essential balance that the President supports. And that certainly includes Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, and it includes both the work they did on the commission and what they put forward again today.
So the President believes, outside economists believe, bipartisan panels and commissions and groups and gatherings and salons agree, that we need to do this in a balanced way, that that’s the responsible way to reduce our deficit, to reach that goal of at least $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years that stabilizes our fiscal situation, puts us on a fiscally sustainable path in terms of the relationship between deficits and debt to GDP.
And that’s why the President, in every effort with the Speaker of the House and in his budgets and in his submission to the super committee, has put forward a balanced deficit reduction plan that includes more spending cuts than revenues, but insists that we do this in a way that’s fair to senior citizens and middle-class families and others so that we don’t ask those groups of Americans to bear the burden solely of deficit reduction while saying that wealthy individuals and corporations can be held harmless.
That, unfortunately, is the approach that Republicans have taken all along, and it’s the approach they’re taking right now with regards to the sequester. They would rather, if their position holds, see hundreds of thousands of Americans have their jobs threatened, have our national security endangered, than ask wealthy corporations and individuals to forsake some loopholes in the tax code. That is a very tough position to sell, we believe.
Q Does the President support the specifics of this updated Simpson-Bowles plan?
MR. CARNEY: The President has his own plan, and it has been very clear, again, going back to the submission to the super committee, the submission of the President’s budget, the proposals and counteroffers that the President made in his negotiations with the Speaker of the House late last year, the leftover portions of which remain on the table and are available for action today, including the very tough choices the President was willing to make when it came to further spending cuts and entitlement reform. But there has to be balance. It has to include the kind of tax reform that produces revenue that Speaker Boehner himself embraced just a few months ago but suddenly now has decided is bad policy or unnecessary -- that they would rather seniors foot the bill, or middle-class families trying to send their kids to college, or in the case of the impact of the sequester, see first responders lose their jobs. That's just bad policy, and the President doesn't support it.
Q I understand your not wanting to announce anything about -- any calls to announce, but I want to make sure I understand what the President is willing to do to help get a deal done. He said his door is open. What kind of direct presidential involvement does the White House think would be helpful here? Phone calls, meetings, getting the Vice President involved? I just want to see what’s in the universe of possibility.
MR. CARNEY: The President, the Vice President, the senior members of the administration both in the Cabinet and at the White House are actively engaged with Congress, with congressional offices and congressional members, on a variety of legislative priorities, including the need to avoid the sequester, including the need to achieve significant further balanced deficit reduction, including comprehensive immigration reform, including reducing gun violence, and those efforts will continue. We don't read out every phone call or every meeting, but we are working with Congress on all of these priorities.
When it comes to avoiding the sequester, there are really -- we are down to 10 days here. The options here are pretty clear: Do what Senate Democrats and House Democrats have proposed, which is postpone the sequester by a certain amount of time through reductions in the deficit that are achieved in a balanced way through both revenues and cuts; or embrace the Republican position that they have held thus far, which is to say that it’s better for all those negative effects to take place when the sequester is implemented than to ask corporate jet owners or oil and gas companies to give up their special tax breaks that average Americans don't enjoy. And that's just bad policy.
Q Well, why not say the President is going to have a meeting or going to call Speaker Boehner or Senator McConnell?
MR. CARNEY: But we will -- the President has made clear his door is open. What we’ve heard from the Republicans thus far is a categorical refusal at least at the leadership level to accept the basic principle that balance is necessary. They would rather adopt a position that says seniors have to bear the burden, middle-class families have to bear the burden, the wealthiest individuals and corporations will be held harmless; and if you don't adopt that extremist position, then the sequester goes into effect with all of the harmful impacts that the President detailed today.
The door is open, but balance is absolutely essential. Balance is what -- again, going back to Matt’s question -- is what bipartisan panels have always recommended. It’s what economists say is necessary. We should not allow our economy to be held hostage to sort of reckless partisan agendas. That's bad for the economy. It’s bad for the middle class.
Q And lastly, everyone agrees that the sequester is a bad idea, but didn't it originate -- the idea for the sequester originate here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve been through this a lot -- I know you’re filling in -- but here’s the fundamental fact. During the deficit reduction of the debt ceiling negotiations, because the Republicans refused to embrace balance, refused in the end to join hands with the President and pursue a grand bargain, there was an absolute necessity to avoid default, and both sides were looking for trigger mechanisms -- this is complicated budget-speak -- to help make this package possible.
The sequester was something that was discussed, and as has been reported, it was an idea that the White House put forward because it was put forward by Republican Senator Gramm and Rudman back in the ‘80s as part of the Gramm-Rudman deal -- there is a history here to this. But let’s be clear: Republicans embraced it. Every member of the House Republican leadership voted for it. Nearly two to one in the House Republicans voted for it over Democrats. And on the day it passed, the Speaker of the House said he got 98 percent of what he wanted and that he was pretty happy.
The issue here is the sequester was designed never to take effect because it was supposed to force Congress to do responsible, difficult things, make choices about how we reduce our deficit in a way that would allow us to avoid the sequester, the indiscriminate, across-the-board, devastating cuts that the sequester represents.
Unfortunately, Republicans have thus far all along the way refused to go along with the fundamental principle of balance, that we need to do this with spending cuts -- tough spending cuts, with entitlement reforms and with revenues.
I want to jump around. Lynn Sweet in the back -- how are you?
Q Fine, thank you. There was another tragic shooting in Chicago just a few days ago. It was a young girl whose sister was at the Obama speech last week. I'm wondering if there’s any reaching out from the White House to her family. The funeral hasn’t happened yet. Any particular message in the wake of another horrific shooting with this close connection to the Obama speech with her sister being there?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any communications to report to you, Lynn. This is another example, tragic example of a young life being taken away by the scourge of gun violence in this country, and is a reminder of why we need to act together here in Washington to do everything we can to reduce gun violence, to do it in a way that, as the President has insisted, respects our Second Amendment rights, but to take necessary action to reduce this scourge, because it is taking too many young lives in America.
Q Is there some communication since there was --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything on that right now.
Q Back to the sequester. When you say, and the President says his door is open, that’s a rather passive construction. Is there anything -- why doesn’t he go to their door, knock on their door? And also --
MR. CARNEY: We've been clear, Jackie, about what our position is. We have supported the bills that have been put forward by Senate Democrats and House Democrats. And when we talk here about leadership and doing the responsible thing, let’s be clear, as the President said if you accept the basic premise that Democrats are more resistant than Republicans to savings from entitlements or spending cuts, and Republicans are more resistant to savings through revenues, what have the Democrats done? What has the President done? Consistently put forward proposals that include not just revenues; they haven't put forward proposals that reduce our deficits solely through raising taxes or increasing revenues or tax reform. No. The President has put forward proposals that have cut spending, including through entitlement reforms, by more than two to one.
Thus far, the President -- and Senator Simpson and Erskine Bowles noted this I think today in their presentation -- the President has overseen more than $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the fact is this President has signed into law more than $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction. And thus far, more than two-thirds of that has come through spending cuts.
We need balance. And the President’s door is open. What we haven't seen from Republicans thus far is a proposal that reflects the essential ingredient of balance. We know that they want to voucherize Medicare. We know that they want to ask seniors to bear the burden, or middle-class families to foot the bill. But that is bad policy. And it’s bad for the middle class. And it’s not acceptable to this President.
What they should do is take their cue from Senator Simpson and Mr. Bowles and from others who have said balance is the way we have to move forward. And we would welcome that in the short-term buy-down of the sequester and in the overall tackling of the problem.
Q You also said, we're working with Congress on all these priorities. That just means congressional Democrats, right?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Like last week’s meeting with Senate Democrats? Where have you worked with Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: We have been -- going to the question I had earlier about immigration reform -- we've been working with every member’s office that's involved in the Gang of Eight process. The President, as you know, met with the Democrats associated with the Gang of Eight on immigration reform. Our communications with every interested party in that group will continue. And we are engaged with Congress, members of both parties, offices from both parties, on a variety of issues and all of the priorities that the President has put forward.
But let’s be clear. The problem here isn't a lack of meetings around the table in the Roosevelt Room or the Cabinet Room. We saw that in the summer of 2011, when the Speaker of the House decided not to pursue the grand bargain. We saw it again in December in the exhaustively reported fact that the Speaker walked away from what was, by any measure, a fair compromise that the President put forward that represented a willingness to come more than halfway towards the Republicans on both revenue and spending, and unfortunately, the Speaker walked away from that effort.
So we have put forward a number of proposals. We will continue to work with members of Congress. The Senate needs to act. The House needs to act. We need to avoid this sequester because those who are affected most are middle-class families across the country.
Jon, then Major.
Q You said that you’ve talked to the members of -- the Republicans on immigration. Senator Rubio’s office just put something out saying, “Senator Rubio’s office has never discussed immigration policy with anyone in the White House.” Who’s telling the truth?
MR. CARNEY: We have been in contact with everybody involved in this effort on Capitol Hill.
Q So they’re not telling the truth?
MR. CARNEY: You’re reading to me from a BlackBerry. I can tell you what I know about the White House’s efforts. Actually it’s an iPhone.
Q It’s an iPhone.
MR. CARNEY: Is that a 5? (Laughter.)
Q It’s a 4S. On the question of the sequester, has the President had a single face-to-face meeting with Republican leaders since January 1st about averting these spending cuts?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any meetings to read out to you. Again, we don’t report every meeting, every conversation. I would note that in the summer of 2011 and again at the end of last year, the negotiations and consultations that took place with Republican leaders, in particular the Speaker of the House, some of which were secret, were secret not because we called for them to be secret, okay? Let’s just be clear about our history here and about how --
Q You're suggesting there have been meetings.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not suggesting anything about what’s happening now. I’m just saying that we don’t always read out every conversation or meeting we have with members of Congress. And in taking that approach, we’re mindful of the requests of others as well as our own interests.
Our interests here, the President’s interest here is making sure that Congress acts to avoid the wholly unnecessary, indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts that are represented by the sequester; that Congress do the responsible thing, adopt a balanced package that postpones the sequester so that Congress can then work on a broader deficit reduction plan that is part of the budget process.
And there is no reason to do this in a different manner. There is no reason to inflict this wound on our economy unnecessarily. This deadline is manufactured. It can be postponed as it was in December, and by doing that, we would allow ourselves more time to pursue the ultimate goal, which is achieving -- finishing the job of at least the $4 trillion goal outlined for many years by many economists as what we need to do over 10 years in terms of deficit reduction. We can do that.
The President has put forward a plan that does that. The President has put forward a plan that includes revenues and also spending cuts and entitlement reforms. What we have not seen from Republicans is a plan that includes revenues, as well as spending cuts and entitlement reforms. I mean, you guys have to understand the basic nature here. If you're talking about compromise and leadership, and you accept the premise that it’s harder for Democrats to go along with entitlement reforms and harder for Democrats to go with cuts to spending programs -- let’s just accept that premise -- what has the President done? What have the Democrats done? They have put forward and embraced proposals that have more spending cuts -- more savings from cuts than they have increases in revenue. What we haven’t seen from the Republicans in anything like a commensurate action by them. And the American people insist that we compromise here in Washington.
Q But when we hear about these draconian cuts in Border Patrol agents being furloughed, FBI agents, and kids getting thrown off Head Start, is there really no way to find $85 billion in cuts in a $3.8 trillion budget without those kind of draconian cuts?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear, as Danny Werfel was when he briefed you guys last week. There is no way to do this -- $85 billion over that short window of time -- there is no way if you follow the law written by Congress, that implementation of these cuts would not have the draconian, drastic effects that the President talked about today, and that everybody who has written about this has talked about, or everybody who has spoken about this has made clear will happen.
The fact is that the sequester was written, as I’ve noted, precisely because the cuts would be onerous and unacceptable to both sides -- to all sides. And they were supposed to -- the looming nature of the sequester was supposed to compel Congress to act responsibly and to compromise, and to achieve the kind of deficit reduction through compromise that is necessary to help put us on a fiscally sustainable path.
The obstacle thus far to compromise has been the adamant refusal by Republicans to agree to a balanced approach to deficit reduction, a balanced approach that the American people support, that Democrats, independents and even Republicans outside of Washington support.
Q Reaction to the Speaker. He released a statement right after the President spoke: “The American people understand,” quoting him directly, “that the revenue debate is now closed.” That's from the Speaker. “We should close loopholes and carve-outs in the tax code, but that revenue should be used to lower rates across the board. Tax reform is a once-in-a-generation operation to boost job creation in America. It should not be squandered,” the Speaker’s words, “to enable more Washington spending. Spending is the problem. Spending must the focus.”
MR. CARNEY: Well, the Speaker is I guess misunderstanding the proposition here, which is to use tax reform and revenue gleaned from it to help reduce the deficit, which, as I understand it, at least in the aftermath of a Republican President holding power, is the number-one goal of Republicans in Congress.
What the Speaker put forward or said he was willing to put forward at the end of last year was up to $800 billion in revenue that would go towards deficit reduction, achieved from the wealthiest Americans and businesses by tax reform, closing loopholes, capping deductions.
The President agrees with him that we ought to close those loopholes and cap those deductions and reform our tax code in a way that makes it more balanced and more fair, that ends some of these taxpayer subsidies to companies and individuals that have, because of their armies of accountants, have a different relationship with the tax code than average Americans and small businesses.
The goal here is deficit reduction. The goal here is achieving it in a balanced way. The President has signed into law over $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction. The ratio of spending cuts to revenues, more than two to one. If you take the President’s proposal that's still on the table to Speaker Boehner, if he were to take that, if Speaker Boehner were suddenly to embrace the consensus that has built around the idea of balance and say, I’ll take that deal, that would, again, be more spending cuts than revenues.
We need to get this done. And we need to do it in a way that the American people support, that bipartisan commissions support, that everybody -- even Republicans who aren’t elected and sent to Washington -- seems to agree is the right way to go.
Q I’m also going to read you something from Alan Simpson. He said many things this morning, but this is a direct quote, regarding entitlement reform: “It will happen in four years, or he” -- meaning the President -- “will have no legacy at all. If he” -- the President -- “can't cut the mustard in the solvency of Social Security under honest appraisals of the trustees and he can't get a handle on automatic pilot rate of health care spending, he will have a failed presidency.”
MR. CARNEY: What’s your question?
Q Do you agree or disagree?
MR. CARNEY: The President has put forward entitlement reforms. He has passed an Affordable Care Act that --
Q This is Alan Simpson talking about what’s already been proposed by the President. Sounds to me like he doesn't think it’s enough.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what he has said -- you’re quoting to me from something that I will take at your word for it is accurate. But the President agrees we need to pass further entitlement reform. We need to do it in a way that reduce, when it comes to our health care entitlements -- which, by the way, everybody agrees is the main drive of our long-term deficit and debt challenge -- that does it in a way that reduces our health care costs, doesn't just shift costs to seniors. I mean, that has been the approach through voucherization or other proposals by Republicans that is wholly unfair to seniors and doesn't make sense economically.
We need to take actions that reduce health care costs. That's what the Affordable Care Act does. In the second 10 years after its implementation, as you know, or after its passage, there are enormous savings, as scored by CBO, from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. And one of the purposes of that priority that the President successfully signed into law in his first term was addressing the need to reduce our overall health care costs going forward. More work needs to be done.
The President again -- let’s go back to the simple principle, when it comes to further deficit reduction, the President hasn’t just proposed revenues. In fact, he’s signed into law two-to-one more spending cuts than revenue increases. He has proposed in his various submissions to Congress and his negotiations with the Speaker of the House entitlement reforms, including decisions that represent very tough calls for Democrats. But he is leading on this issue because he understands that it’s important.
But he also understands that we need to do it in a way, as he said today, that ensures that our economy can continue to grow, that ensures that our economy is receiving the necessary investments in education and research and development and innovation and infrastructure that make sure that five, 10, 20 and 40 years from now, we still have that powerful economic engine in this country that has been the envy of the world for so many years and so many decades.
As you know, because you and I both covered it in the ‘90s, when we achieved as a nation budget surpluses for the first time in decades, it was a result of tough choices, leadership by President Clinton, tough choices by Congress, and significant economic growth. And that's why we cannot lose sight of the overall goal here, which is a growing economy and an economy that's creating good, middle-class jobs.
Q On immigration, Senator Rubio said if what was released or leaked this weekend were sent to Congress, it would be DOA, and that its very release politicized the process and damaged the possibilities of achieving reform. Would you react to both of those?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say a couple of things which I think most of you should be aware of, which is that this was not an intentional release. That was clear by the fact that the White House reached out to the offices of those who are leading the effort on immigration reform in the Senate to make clear that our focus continues to be and our hopes continue to lie with the bipartisan effort underway in the Senate to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. It is by far the President’s preference that the Senate process move forward, that the bipartisan Group of Eight have success and that they produce a bill that wins the support of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, then in the House, and that it arrives at his desk for his signature.
What I would note is that in the blueprint the President has had on WhiteHouse.gov for a couple of years, there is a remarkable convergence of policy specifics between what the President supports and has supported since there was legislation in the Senate and what the Group of Eight has been working on, including the Republican senators who are part of that group.
So we’re very hopeful that, as Denis McDonough said this weekend, the Senate will move forward. We believe that's the best way for this to happen. We’ve also said -- made clear that we will prepare legislation and submit it if that process in the Senate fails. But we want the process in the Senate to succeed.
Q Will you release and propose legislation that includes what was not visible this weekend which was any mention of a future legal immigration system also dealing with guest workers and a lot of the complex areas of immigration reform that are unrelated to dealing with legalization or border security?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, our goal is, as Denis McDonough said on one of the shows this Sunday, to not propose -- to our own Jon Karl -- to not propose or submit legislation --
Q Are you committed to future flow reform?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve said that we will work with Congress, and with the Senate in particular, as they undertake this effort on those issues.
If you look at the blueprint, the President’s ideas on this are pretty detailed and specific in terms of broader comprehensive immigration reform. But further to my point, in answer to your first question, our interest is in seeing the Senate process, the bipartisan process succeed.
Q Did you have a nice weekend? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I had a great weekend sledding with my children.
MR. CARNEY: Up where there’s snow.
Q A couple questions, one on cybersecurity. There’s an independent report out today suggesting that there are billions of trade secrets that we’re losing to China. The President addressed this in the State of the Union, put out an executive order last Tuesday as I recall. Can the White House assure the American people that this executive order is going to actually put a dent in that so that we’re not losing billions of trade secrets a year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, we’re aware of the Mandiant report that you are referring to and we’re aware of its contents, but I am not going to talk about assessments -- intelligence assessments that we make or may be making. But you’re correct in noting the President’s keen focus on this issue. It is a major challenge for us in the national security arena.
The United States has substantial and growing concerns about the threats to U.S. economic and national security posed by cyber intrusions, including the theft of commercial information. As the President said in the State of the Union, “We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets.” The President also said, “We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.
That’s why the United States government is taking an active approach to addressing the issue of cyber theft. We have urged Congress to pass legislation, and the President is taking all steps he can through the executive branch to make sure that we’re safeguarding government networks and providing helpful and useful and relevant information to the private sector to help them safeguard their networks.
Q On the sequester, we went back and checked the record. On November 21, 2011, the President, after the super committee failed, came into this room -- and Republicans on the Hill were talking about coming up with other cuts to deal with, as the President calls it, draconian cuts from the sequester -- they were trying to come up with other ways to deal with this. The President came in this room and immediately said he would veto such a bill to come up with other cuts. So how does he now have the credibility to say the sequester would be so awful if the Republicans were saying over a year ago let’s find another way to deal with it, and he said I’ll veto that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Ed, I know, because you were here, that you know that’s not an actual account of what he was talking about. There were efforts underway by Republicans in Congress to replace the sequester, which was half defense, half nondefense, with cuts only in nondefense. And that was basically saying Republicans were crossing their fingers when they all voted overwhelmingly for the sequester, when every Republican leader in the House voted for the sequester, including Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and others -- Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy. The fact is that that is an unfair and unbalanced approach. So, yes, we do not support undoing the sequester in a way that says, you know what, we’ll throw double the number of kids out of Head Start; we’ll make double the amount of cuts to education, to investments in research and development; we’ll cut double the number of security guards on our border. That is completely inappropriate to the task and the need here.
The President believes that Congress needs to act in a balanced, responsible way, first to buy down the sequester so that it can then move forward with broader, balanced deficit reduction. But it’s a canard, and we’ve been through this -- that Republicans use this quote as though it represents something that everybody in this room knows it does not represent.
Q So if you do want a balanced approach, the last time the President had a chance on deficit reduction was the fiscal cliff talks just a few weeks back, and he signed into law $600 billion in tax increases and something like $10 or $15 billion in spending cuts. So does the White House really -- can you tell the American people that’s balanced?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, you were here. The President put forward a proposal that represented significant compromise that was judged by outsiders as coming and meeting the Republicans more than halfway on revenues, more than halfway on spending cuts and entitlement reforms, and the Speaker of the House walked away from that deal -- walked away from it. But guess what, that deal is still on the table, and it includes, as you know, very tough choices by this President for Democrats when it comes to entitlements and spending cuts.
So, again, we have -- the President has always sought a bigger deal, has always sought a bill or legislation that’s balanced, that would achieve that goal of $400 [sic] trillion-plus over 10 years. He continues to have hope that Congress, that Republicans will take him up on the remainder of that proposal that he offered to the Speaker that the Speaker walked away from.
In the meantime, we need to make sure that we don’t let this sequester take effect with all of its devastating effects on first responders and kids in Head Start and our national security. It’s just mindless and reckless -- it’s a mindless and reckless approach to policy in Washington for Congress not to do the responsible thing.
Q Okay, last thing I do want to ask you about is access around here to the President. There’s obviously been a lot of commentary about the golf situation. This Friday, though, the President has -- I think it’s Friday that he has the Japanese Prime Minister coming in for a meeting. There’s a lot going on with the Japanese economy that obviously has international implications. There are island disputes between China and Japan that have a lot of people nervous. When the President meets with the Japanese Prime Minister, will the White House Press Corps come in and get a chance to actually ask questions of the President? Is that your plan on Friday?
MR. CARNEY: Look, Ed, I am completely sympathetic, having covered two White Houses, to the difficulties of the job covering any White House, and the desire for more and more access. And I am -- we work every day with you and others to provide that. And we will continue to do that. I don’t have a scheduling announcement for an event on Friday.
Q But you’re sympathetic to us as a former correspondent, do you think the President should take questions --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would note that -- and this is important to note, given some of the coverage of this issue -- that when it comes to solo news conferences where the President of the United States stands up and for 40 minutes, 50 minutes or an hour takes your questions, allowing reporters to go deep on issues -- President Obama has given 35 of those. President Bush, his immediate predecessor, gave 19. So also, when it comes to interviews, the President has given 591 interviews since he took office. So I think that it is clear that we are making an effort to provide access to make sure that the President is being questioned by reporters, and anchors, and others, and we’ll continue to do that.
Q And what reporters? That’s the question. You’re saying interviews -- there’s 500 interviews.
MR. CARNEY: A hundred and four of those interviews were with major networks -- television networks.
Kristen, did you have anything?
Q Yes, Jay, does the President have a reaction to the criticism that his administration has not been transparent?
MR. CARNEY: He deputizes me to have that reaction. And I would say, again, having been where you are, I understand -- and I doubt that there’s ever been a White House press corps that’s ever been wholly satisfied with the level of access that they’ve been afforded -- but we work very closely with all of you to try to provide access to the President. I would note that when I was covering President Bush -- George W. Bush, I was on his first trip on Air Force One. It was a short trip down to Norfolk, I believe, and he came back and spoke to the pool. That was his first trip. For the next three years that I covered the President, he never came back again.
Q What did you ask? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Very hard questions, tough questions. But the point is -- my only point is that I’ve been there. When I covered President Clinton, there were periods of immense frustration. When I came to this room in the spring of 1993, the White House Press Corps, as those of you who were here remember, was in a state of rebellion over the situation here in terms of press relations. This is not uncommon. I certainly don’t think we have that here, and we are working every day to provide the kind of access that we believe is an essential part of the work you do.
Q Well, and I guess more broadly, did the events of this weekend make you rethink the level of transparency within this administration? And can we expect to see --
MR. CARNEY: You mean the events of this weekend -- the fact that the President wanted to play golf with a golf pro?
Q Well, and some of the criticism that you got in the wake of not just what happened this weekend, but also some of the meetings that haven’t been read out to the press as of later that we haven’t been made aware of in advance.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you would have to be more specific about the question on the issue of this weekend. I mean, the President had some downtime; he was playing golf. I understand that there was a desire to have access or a photograph of that, but the President was having --
Q Well, a confirmation of what was happening --
MR. CARNEY: We did provide you the first official confirmation of that --
Q It took several hours.
MR. CARNEY: The first official confirmation that anybody in this room received of that event and the people that the President was playing golf with was from the White House press office. We don’t control everybody who’s around and purporting to be reporting on the event. But nobody -- no reporter had any access that was different from the White House Press Corps on that matter.
Q Just shifting to Simpson and Bowles --
MR. CARNEY: Go ahead, Kristen.
Q One more on Simpson-Bowles. Specifically to look at the issue of entitlements, they’re calling for $600 billion in entitlement reform, which I believe is about $200 billion more than what you have said you’re willing to offer. So will the President move on that issue of entitlements? Will he give more?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, the President has put forward -- unlike any Republicans -- a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes entitlement reforms, tax reform, and spending cuts. He has signed into law over $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction thus far with a ratio of more than 2 to 1 -- spending cuts to revenue increases.
The President agrees with outside economists that have been saying this for a number of years now that we need to achieve in deficit reduction the target of $4 trillion over 10 years that will help put us on a fiscally sustainable path that will reduce the size of our deficits and debt as a ratio to GDP that will give us that fiscal sustainability.
Obviously, this is an issue that, as a country, we will continue to have to deal with. But the President believes that the proposals he’s made -- he knows that the proposals he’s made, if Congress were to adopt them, would achieve that goal and would do it in a way that allows our economy to continue to grow, that doesn’t punish seniors or ask seniors or middle-class families to bear the burden of deficit reduction alone, and that makes our tax code fairer and simpler for everyone in the country.
Q I’ve spoken to some economists who say it appears likely at this point that the sequester is going to kick in. Does the administration share that view that it’s likely it will kick in, at least for a week or two?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a prediction to make. What the President made clear today is that it should not happen. There is no reason for it to happen. Congress has within its power, Republicans have it within their power to agree to the basic principle that we should buy down the sequester for a certain amount of time to allow Congress to then move forward with broader deficit reduction through the budget process.
If they do not do that, they will be making a choice -- Republicans will be making a choice to allow the sequester to take effect with all of the negative impacts that we’ve talked about, rather than accept the principle that corporate jet owners should give up their tax break; that oil and gas companies should no longer be subsidized through the massive amount that they’re subsidized by the taxpayer anymore, that that doesn’t make good policy; that we ought to do things in a way that are balanced -- in ways that are balanced so that we don’t ask seniors and others to bear the burden of deficit reduction alone.
Stephen, and then Roger.
Q The President says often when he meets with Chinese leaders that China should submit to the rules of the road of the international economy. If the government is sponsoring a PLA unit to steal U.S. company secrets, does that suggest that approach is not working? And does the White House countenance having any firmer measures?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I don’t have any comment on that report and the specific allegations. I can tell you that we have repeatedly raised our concerns at the highest levels about cyber theft with senior Chinese officials, including in the military, and we will continue to do so. This is a very important challenge. It is one the President has been working on and urging Congress to take action on for quite some time, and he’ll continue to do that.
The United States and China are among the world’s largest cyber actors, and it is vital that we continue a sustained, meaningful dialogue and work together to develop an understanding of acceptable behavior in cyberspace.
Q Same topic. The President did his executive order on cybersecurity on February 12th. The New York Times reported today that the administration is going to be taking a more aggressive defense beginning today. Is there more that you --
MR. CARNEY: I have no initiatives to announce today. This is an issue that has the attention of the President and senior levels of the national security team. It’s something that we are working on constantly, and we will of course take necessary measures to enhance our cybersecurity and to assist the private sector in enhancing their cybersecurity. But I have no new measures to give you.
Q Will there be any reaction at all to the report from the --
MR. CARNEY: Again, it’s a private report. I’ve given you an assessment of our view of the problem and the fact that we, when it comes to China, regularly raise this issue with Chinese officials, including officials in the military.
Q Jay, Senator McConnell put out a statement after the President’s event this morning suggesting that he could move money around to hold first responders harmless by maybe hitting green energy programs or something like that. That seemed to be at odds with what Danny Werfel said about the government’s flexibility. Is he mischaracterizing how much flexibility the government has to --
Q I haven’t seen the statement. There is not the flexibility that some would suggest exists because the law is written the way it is, and it’s a lot of money in a short period of time not dealing with our entire $3.4 trillion, as Jon said, but with just defense and nondefense discretionary spending.
The fact of the matter is you cannot do this in a way that would not have tremendously harmful effects. Again, I haven’t seen the quote that you’ve mentioned. But let’s say you were to do that, does that mean you add another 50,000 people -- kids that you’re going to throw off of Head Start? Does it mean another 100 border security -- Border agents that you furlough? The fact is the impacts are highly harmful to the economy. They would result in hundreds of thousands of people having their jobs put at risk and would, by outside economists’ assessments, do severe harm to the recovery that's been underway now for quite some time from the Great Recession.
Q Just aside from the merits of whatever you might substitute, it sounded like from what Werfel said, the money is by account, and you can't even move it among accounts.
MR. CARNEY: Well, Scott, I think I would rely on the experts here, and Danny Werfel is an expert.
Q Jay, the whole point of the sequester, if I’m not mistaken, was to come up with a plan that was so painful that no way would anybody want it to go into effect. Does it now look as though it’s not painful enough?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to numerous statements by numerous Republicans, including leading Republicans last year, about the devastating effect of sequester and how it would have -- we should avoid it at all costs.
And then I would point you to an article in The Wall Street Journal in which recently the Speaker of the House boasted that he had the support of Republicans in the House to allow sequester to take effect with all of its harmful impacts, and that he “has it in his pocket,” as a play, a political play in his negotiations with Democrats and the White House.
The leverage that he’s discussing in that article sounds abstract and esoteric. It’s about the political battle here in Washington. But the leverage really has to do with people in the country who will lose their jobs, people -- families in the country who will be affected if our economy stops growing. That's the leverage. Those are the -- that's the collateral damage to the kind of reckless partisanship that allowing the sequester to take effect represents; and partisanship in the service of trying to achieve an ideological goal, a goal that is not supported by the country, that was much debated during the election campaign last year, and an issue on which the American people spoke very clearly.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Sam Stein, last one.
Q Yes, can you give a little bit more specific on how the White House defines a balanced replacement to the sequester? If it’s not 50/50 revenues, taxes, what percentage would you qualify as balanced? And on the spending cuts side, if some of those cuts didn't include defense, would the White House consider that balanced?
MR. CARNEY: Balanced means revenues as well as cuts, spending cuts, first of all. And then I would note that we support the proposals put forward by Senate Democrats and House Democrats, and you can evaluate them in terms of ratios.
But balance here means adopting the basic principle that was reiterated again by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson today, that is embraced by bipartisan groups, by outside economists and by average Americans across the country regardless of their political affiliation, and that is that we should not ask seniors alone to bear the burden of deficit reduction. We should not ask middle-class families alone to bear the burden of deficit reduction; that everybody ought to do their fair share. And the way to achieve that is through balance. Balance that, in every one of the President’s proposals, has included more in spending cuts than in revenues.
Again, going back to the fundamental disconnect here between what Republicans have demonstrated themselves willing to do and what the President has shown himself willing to do and the leadership that he has shown in putting forward plans that represent significant spending cuts, represent significant savings through entitlement reforms.
Q But there’s no specific ratio of spending cuts to tax revenues that you would consider is balanced versus not balanced? Same with cuts as defense and nondefense?
MR. CARNEY: There is an overall approach here to the broader package of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that the President has talked about. When you're talking about the buy-down, we support the legislation put forward by Senate and House Democrats.
Q What’s the quantitative number of job cuts possibly lost through the sequestration?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ll have to get that for you.
12:50 P.M. EST