MR. CARNEY: Before I take your questions, I just wanted to let you know about some events next week related to the President's push for common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.
As the Senate returns from the Easter recess to begin considering such measures, the President, the Vice President and the First Lady will hold events outside of Washington D.C. and at the White House to encourage Americans to make their voices heard in this important debate. As you know, the President will visit Hartford, Connecticut, where he will meet with families affected by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and to give a speech reminding members of Congress that those who have been most affected by tragic gun violence deserve a vote on the measures currently being considered.
On Tuesday, the Vice President will hold an event with law enforcement officials here at the White House, echoing the President's call on Congress to pass common-sense gun legislation.
On Wednesday, the First Lady will visit her hometown of Chicago, where she will speak from her experience as a Chicagoan and a mother about the importance of providing young people with opportunities to achieve their full potential, including by allowing them to grow up in safe, violence-free communities.
And then on Thursday, Vice President Biden will appear on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" for a roundtable discussion with the show's hosts and experts with diverse opinions on the gun safety debate.
And with that, I will take your questions. Jim, Associated Press.
Q Budget question, and one other topic. The budget the President will propose incorporates what you have put up on the screen there, which is the President's offer to Speaker Boehner back in December. That offer was rejected by House Republicans, and I'm wondering what the President thinks has changed that would actually make this a viable proposal now, four months later, or even during the year, as that budget gets debated?
Q Well, I'll say a couple of things. One, it wasn't rejected by House Republicans. The Speaker of the House walked away from those negotiations, unfortunately. I think the offer the President made to Speaker of the House Boehner was widely viewed -- appropriately -- as a good-faith offer that met the Republicans halfway on the issues of revenue on the one hand, and entitlement reforms and savings from entitlement reforms on the other.
And as we have been saying all along, that offer stands. It has been available to Republicans ever since. And it is, I can confirm, a part of the President's budget proposal next week.
It is part of it because the President believes we need a broad, balanced approach to our fiscal challenges. We need a budget that reduces the deficit but also invests in infrastructure and education and innovation; that makes the investments that help the middle class grow; that protects middle-class families; that puts in place the building blocks for future economic growth.
And what the President's budget will demonstrate is that it is not an either/or proposition; that if you make wise, balanced choices when it comes to deficit reduction, if you ask everyone to chip in, if you ask the very wealthy and the well-connected to contribute by eliminating their special tax provisions and loopholes from the tax code, you can put forward a plan that exceeds the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, that stabilizes our debt, and invests in our economy, invests in our families, invests in our businesses. And that’s what the President's budget will do.
Q Does he think that this is any more palatable today to, let’s say -- you said rejected by the Speaker -- but any more palatable to the Speaker?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s examine what we’ve seen from Republicans in terms of budget proposals. We have a wildly ideological document produced by House Republicans that’s been broadly dismissed by economists as fanciful, even in its claims to balance over 10 years; that represents an effort to drastically cut programs that help middle-class families; that voucherizes Medicare, shifts costs onto seniors who can’t afford it while giving a $5.7 trillion tax cut mostly to the wealthy. That has not been taken very seriously.
The President’s proposal, as I think people have been discussing this morning, represents a middle-of-the-road, common-sense approach to dealing with these challenges. The President has been engaged over the past weeks in a conversation with lawmakers of both parties about the need to find common ground, and he has been exploring with Republic lawmakers where that common ground can be found.
And there has been interest expressed by Republican lawmakers in the idea when it comes to our budget challenges of taking a balanced approach -- that if we achieve savings through entitlement reforms, we should also, in the name of balance and in the -- with the goal of a budget that allows our economy to grow and create jobs, ask the well-off and well-connected to contribute through tax reform -- tax reform which, by the way, was elemental to the proposal that the Speaker put forward last year; said he could achieve up to a trillion dollars in revenue from the wealthy through the process of closing loopholes. It was elemental to the proposal that the Republican nominee for President made last year. He said that he would go after deductions as a means of achieving some revenue. Obviously there were huge problems with the rest of his plan.
But the President’s proposal, as you know, includes the provision that would cap deductions for wealthier Americans at 28 percent -- a very common-sense proposition.
Q Speaking of revenue, as you know, the President has this inflation-adjustment proposal in this plan. Time and again, the President has said that he would not raise taxes on the middle class. One of the effects of that so-called chained CPI inflation adjustment is that it kicks people into higher tax brackets faster. That’s an impact on the middle class. Isn’t that an increase on the middle class, and is the President backtracking on this --
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear, this is a technical adjustment to the so-called CPI -- called chained CPI that has been advocated by Republicans, that Mitch McConnell asked for in a letter that he presented during the negotiations over these budget issues. The offer that the President made to Speaker Boehner, and which is incorporated in the President’s budget, is not the President’s ideal approach to our budget challenges, but it is a serious compromise proposition that demonstrates that he wants to get things done, that he believes that we in Washington ought to do the business of the American people by coming together and finding common ground.
And what his budget will prove is that you can do this. You can deal with our deficits without gutting programs that help the middle class, that help seniors; without slashing investments in airports and roads and highways and schools that we need to help our economy grow, not just next year but 10 years from now and 20 years from now; without eliminating investments or cutting investments in innovative research and development, whether it’s medical research or technological research that help our economy grow and help improve the health of our citizenry.
So that’s what the -- that’s the proposition the President will put forward on Wednesday. And he believes that there is an opportunity now to come together as a nation, come together as Republicans and Democrats here in Washington, and get this done for the American people, for the middle class.
Q Jay, I know my colleagues have more questions on this, but I just wanted to quickly ask about these visits that the President is going to have from leaders of Turkey, Jordan, UAE and Qatar. Is the President trying to coordinate assistance to Syrian rebels by having all of these leaders of countries that have been in the process of helping disparate elements of the opposition in Syria?
MR. CARNEY: It is true that, as you saw earlier today, we announced a number of upcoming visits by leaders from the Middle East as well as from Turkey. The President looks forward to welcoming his counterparts from the UAE, from Qatar, Jordan and Turkey to Washington over the next several weeks.
As you know, President Obama has very close relationships with these leaders, and he has a deep personal interest in the region, as you saw during his recent trip. He will use these opportunities to discuss the complex developments in the broader Middle East -- so not just Syria, but including Syria. There are obviously a number of issues for these leaders and the President to discuss, including Syria; including his recent visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories; including the broader developments in the Arab Spring.
So he looks forward to these visits. And they reflect his commitment and interest in the region and in our policies towards the region.
Q Follow up, Jay? Going back to Jim's earlier questions about the budget -- Speaker Boehner this morning said the President was ignoring Republican's pleas not to make entitlement reforms hostage to more revenues. Given his staunch refusal to contemplate further revenues, what makes the President think he can persuade him or Republicans to accept the increase in revenues that you're putting forward in your budget proposal? And is going beyond Speaker Boehner part of your strategy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's an excellent question, because you're basically asking, do we believe that Speaker Boehner could come to accept the proposals that Speaker Boehner made in December, and actually -- achieving less revenue than Speaker Boehner said he could achieve by closing loopholes and eliminating special tax provisions.
We hope that’s possible. We believe it's the right thing to do. When he talks about holding entitlement reforms hostage, his proposal -- the proposal he endorsed that the House passed that Chairman Ryan put forward -- eliminates Medicare as we know it; voucherizes the program; shifts costs, I believe -- I forget the exact figure -- $4,000 or $5,000 on average to seniors annually, unnecessarily.
It would be one thing -- it wouldn’t still be good policy -- but it would be one thing if that was the proposition alone, and it was an argument that we needed to do this in and of itself -- to voucherize Medicare, shift all these thousands of dollars of costs to each senior in America. But it is coupled with a proposal that tax -- that gives tax cuts of $5.7 trillion over 10 years disproportionately to the wealthy. And the President is very comfortable saying that that is the wrong approach. And that’s not just his opinion, it's the opinion of a majority of the American people.
This is the debate we had during the election. It was the number-one debate of the election. And that approach was I think very soundly rejected by the American people.
The President is engaged in conversations with potential members of the common-sense caucus, with Republicans who will at least entertain the idea of dealing with our budget challenges in a balanced way -- not just through spending cuts and cuts to entitlement programs, but through a package of proposals that ask the wealthy and well-to-do to give up their tax breaks, their special provisions in the tax code; that make sensible reforms to our entitlements; that protect our seniors and strengthen those programs and allow us -- the overall package allows us to make investments in key areas of our economy and in our people and the middle class so that we can grow and expand and create jobs.
That’s the sort of fundamental principle that he is putting forward, and it will be reflected in his budget. And he's -- it's more a matter of coincidence than anything else, but he's having dinner that very night that his budget is released with another group of senators, Republican senators. And he looks forward to that discussion very much.
Q Can I just ask, on North Korea -- you addressed this quickly yesterday on the way back -- but there are reports that North Korea is moving missiles to the coast. Wanted to know if you had any more information about whether that constitutes another threat, or whether there is a concern that they may be planning a missile test? I guess the birthday of Kim Il-sung is coming up soon. Is it possible to connect --
MR. CARNEY: Thank you for the question. We've obviously seen the reports that North Korea may be making preparations to launch a missile, and we're monitoring this situation closely. And we would not be surprised to see them take such an action. We have seen them launch missiles in the past, and the United Nations Security Council has repeatedly condemned them as violations of the North's obligations under numerous Security Council resolutions, and it would fit their current pattern of bellicose, unhelpful and unconstructive rhetoric and actions.
We urge them to stop with the provocations, and to focus instead on meeting their international obligations and feeding their own people. They are only making themselves more and more isolated from the rest of the world, as I've been saying all week, and undermining their stated goal of economic development.
Q Jay, some of the President's strongest supporters are -- think this is a terrible idea, of eliminating -- of limiting cost-of-living increases for Social Security. The Progressive Change Campaign said this morning, "You can't call yourself a Democrat and support Social Security benefit cuts. The President is proposing to steal thousands of dollars from grandparents and veterans." Your response?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that the budget he will put forward next Wednesday represents a balanced approach to dealing with our deficit challenges and making the necessary investments in our economy and our people.
It protects our seniors. It does not go the Republican route of eviscerating social programs and voucherizing Medicare. It is not the ideal proposal, but the President recognizes, unlike, I guess, Republicans, that we're not in the business in Washington of getting everything we want. That does not happen. Negotiation and compromise requires a willingness to accept less than 100 percent of what you want.
The President believes that the entitlement reforms he put forward to Speaker of the House John Boehner late last year, which are embodied in this budget proposal which you're referring to right now, are acceptable within the context of a broader budget that invests in the economy, that protects and assists the middle class, that protects seniors and allows us to grow and create jobs. The alternative approach is not acceptable. It's not acceptable to the President, and it is not acceptable to the American people.
We see these ideological documents put forward and it certainly makes you wonder whether there is a genuine effort underway -- at least on the House Republican side -- to try to find something that can be agreed to by everybody in Washington. Because compromise is not saying, I'm going to wait here until you come to me 100 percent. It's not going to happen. The President will not voucherize Medicare. He will not eviscerate programs that invest in infrastructure and education. He will not slash investments in research and development, and technologies that will help us grow in the future.
He does believe that if we take a balanced approach, we can achieve the kind of deficit reduction that's necessary to stabilize our debt and that will allow us to continue to grow and create jobs.
Q But when John McCain floated the idea of raising the retirement age and doing exactly this on cost-of-living increases in 2008, the President went before the AARP and he said, point blank, "Let me be clear: I will not do either." So what's changed? Why did he switch his position?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, he is not proposing to raise the retirement age, as you know.
Q But he is proposing to do this cost-of-living --
MR. CARNEY: And, secondly, as I think I've said a couple of times now, this is not the President's ideal budget proposal. It is a budget proposal that represents a good-faith compromise position that reflects the offer he made to the Speaker of the House that was widely seen as a compromise good-faith effort that met Republicans halfway, and that reflected the people's will that we address these challenges in a way that's balanced and fair -- and that we don't go down the road that has been rejected by the public of doing great harm to programs that are fundamental to the well-being of our senior citizens and do great harm to programs that assist families who have kids with disabilities or that assist middle-class Americans trying to get by. That's just not acceptable to this President. And it's not acceptable to the American people.
Q Just a technical question -- the $1.8 trillion you're claiming here, you would replace the $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts. So isn't it true that the actual deficit -- the added deficit reduction here is $600 billion?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's a complete false equivalence. The $1.2 trillion was part of the Budget Control Act that was part of the overall goal of achieving $4 trillion. Absolutely, we would replace the sequester. And in addition to replacing the sequester, we would have an additional $600 billion in deficit reduction bringing us to $4.3 trillion overall over a decade, which exceeds the goal set by bipartisan commissions. That's the fact.
Q Okay. And then, just one thing on the President's salary --
MR. CARNEY: I mean, if you're suggesting -- well, anyway.
Q Well, it's just that the current --
MR. CARNEY: I mean, let's review the sequester. The sequester is bad policy -- designed to be bad policy with negative impacts across --
Q But it is $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction.
MR. CARNEY: No question. But it's not the kind of deficit reduction Republicans said they wanted until they changed positions and called it a home run. It doesn’t achieve any of the reforms that Republicans say they want -- no tax reform, no entitlement reforms. It's not -- it doesn’t do any long, long-term benefit to our economy.
What the President is proposing is that we eliminate not just the sequester through deficit reduction that's balanced, but go beyond that. And that’s the right --
Q Six hundred billion dollars --
MR. CARNEY: -- to $4.3 trillion. I think you're changing the bar here. I think $4.3 trillion is recognized by everyone as exceeding $4 trillion, even at the level of math that I got to in college.
Q And just a quick thing on the President's salary give-back. We now heard he is going to give back 5 percent of his salary -- the Attorney General, Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, State -- et cetera. What about the Vice President?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would, first of all, refer you to the Vice President's office. Secondly, I would say that the President made clear when the sequester was about to kick in that he wanted to do this and asked his staff to work on a way for him to do it. But we've made clear that this is a decision that everybody can make for themselves, whether they're Cabinet secretaries, other members of the administration -- or members of Congress could also make that choice.
Q Would you expect the Vice President though to follow suit?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we're not setting expectations. But I think everyone, including members of Congress, can make a decision as they see fit.
Brianna, did you have anything? You're looking pensive.
Q No, I'm waiting.
MR. CARNEY: Major.
Q I'll get to the budget in a second. How discouraged is the White House today about the jobs numbers report?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you saw Alan Krueger and others discuss this. We're disappointed that they're not better. But the fact is, this is now 37 months -- more than three years straight -- of private-sector job creation, almost 6.5 million jobs created thanks to the policies that averted a depression and set the economy back on a trajectory of growth and job creation.
But as we have said consistently -- and we have said when job numbers exceed expectations and when they come in below expectations -- we have more work to do. This President is not ever going to be satisfied until everybody who is looking for a job can get a job. And that's why we have to have economic policies that encourage growth, that reduce our deficit in a fair way -- in a way that allows us to continue to invest in the economy. Because we have work to do here. We can put teachers and construction workers back to work with the proposals that the President has put forward and Republicans have rejected.
We can put -- the President has had a proposal for families to refinance their homes that would be $3,000 on average in the pockets of middle-class families. We should move on that.
Q How much does this administration believe the jobs report reflects either sequestration anxiety or actual economic impact?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point you to our experts and others. I think that it is certainly a part of the equation in our estimation. There's no question that anticipation of sequester as well as the fact of sequester -- as outside economists have said -- would have a negative impact on job growth and economic growth. The exact measurement of that with regard to this report I think economists will probably make in the future. Our focus is on making sure that we don't unduly and unnecessarily inflict harm on the economy.
Q Is this a warning --
MR. CARNEY: And the sequester is one of those instances where a decision was made by Republicans in Congress, rather than asking wealthier folks to give up --
Q Are you saying this jobs report is a warning sign in that context?
MR. CARNEY: I think that outside economists have predicted that the sequester, if it is not undone, will cost I think roughly a half a percentage point in economic growth, in GDP, and something like 750,000 jobs. That would be bad. That is unnecessary. That would be the result of an unnecessary choice made by Republicans in the House who thought that that was a better outcome -- or Republicans in both Houses -- that that was a better outcome for the American people -- reduced economic growth, reduced job creation -- than asking folks to give up special tax breaks -- corporate jet owners, wealthy individuals who get special deductions.
These are proposals, again, that the Speaker of the House said he supported in December, and now he claims are off the table in March and April.
Q A follow-up on Jim’s question -- you do not and the White House does not dispute that if the chained CPI were put in -- to be put into effect, it would raise taxes on middle-income Americans?
MR. CARNEY: The chained CPI, which is a technical adjustment to how we measure the consumer price index --
Q But its practical effect would be --
MR. CARNEY: Again --
Q -- to raise taxes on --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not disputing that, but I’m saying that it is not the President’s ideal policy. It is in a letter from the Senate Minority Leader requesting that it be part of a negotiation deal.
Q All right, I'm just saying you don’t disagree, that those things happen?
MR. CARNEY: Right, but Major, and --
Q -- a tax increase?
MR. CARNEY: -- let’s be clear, as we’ve said all along, that the offer was on the table. The President made that offer because he was hopeful that we would see commensurate willingness to compromise from Republicans. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that.
The President is engaged in conversations with Republicans in the Senate in particular but also in the House in an effort to find common ground, to see if there is a willingness to embrace the idea that we can reduce our deficits in a balanced way and continue to invest in our economy and middle-class families. And if there is, then we’ll be able to get something done.
Q And to critics who would say to this President, looking at this proposal, this is the last and possibly worst time -- from their point of view -- to raise taxes on the middle class, inflict benefit cuts on elderly on fixed incomes, even in the pursuit of deficit reduction, the President would say what?
MR. CARNEY: The President would say that as part of a balanced approach that asks the wealthy and well-to-do and well-connected to contribute their fair share through tax reform, elimination of special tax breaks that average folks don’t get, that we can also include entitlement reforms that allow us to achieve deficit reduction in a balanced way and allow us to continue to invest in our economy in ways that will help it grow and create jobs.
As I think I’ve said, this is not the President’s ideal approach, but he believes that we were sent here to get things done on behalf of the American people and the American economy. He doesn’t believe that it is the right approach to take to write and pass ideological documents that purport to balance the budget in 10 years when they’re just a bunch of top lines with a zero at the end and not a credible economist out there believes that’s achieved, or that the policies contained within make sense economically. Well, that doesn’t do anybody any good. And it certainly doesn’t bring us closer to a deal and compromise.
There are Republicans, however, in Washington, this President believes, who are open to the idea that we can do this in a balanced way; that everybody has to move off of their starting position and accept some compromise. And that means the President being willing to do some limited entitlement reforms that continue to protect our seniors and strengthen the programs. And it means Republicans being willing to accept what Speaker of the House John Boehner said was good policy three months ago -- not an outlandish request.
Q Last question. Will the President fight as hard for chained CPI as he is gun control and immigration?
MR. CARNEY: The President will fight for the principles in his budget, and the President will fight for a balanced --
Q As visibly? As repetitively?
MR. CARNEY: These are two different policy proposals. The President believes that we ought to deal with our deficit challenges in a balanced way, and he’s looking for partners on the other side of the aisle who agree with him.
Yes, sir. Okay, Ed.
Q Thank you, sir. I see in there you have your list, including nondefense discretionary spending cuts. I believe it says $100 billion?
MR. CARNEY: That’s correct.
Q Can you tell us -- so when will we see a list of those spending cuts?
MR. CARNEY: On Wednesday.
Q Is that when the budget -- so it will have -- line by line it will say --
MR. CARNEY: I can promise everyone here that this President’s budget will be so much more detailed than anything you’ve seen from the Republicans, it will blow your mind.
Q Wow. (Laughter.) That’s exciting. Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: That’s your question? (Laughter.)
Q No, I’ve got more, I’ve got more. Jim asked you at the beginning about Republican support for this and what’s changed since December. What about Democratic support? You mentioned limiting tax deductions to 28 percent. The President has proposed that before. He proposed it for health care -- rejected by Democrats as well as Republicans. He proposed it as a way to pay for the American Jobs Act, as I recall, in 2011 -- Democrats like Max Baucus said that’s going to hurt charitable contributions, et cetera. It was rejected. So how can you get Democrats to support that now when they’ve rejected it before?
MR. CARNEY: If the Republicans are willing to give up --
Q But these are Democrat --
MR. CARNEY: Hold on, and I’ll get to this.
MR. CARNEY: It’s a compound sentence. If the Republicans are willing to move off of their position -- or at least the ones that leaders have staked out -- that the wealthy should not pay another dime in the supposedly all-in American effort to reduce our deficit, the President is convinced that he can lead Democrats to a compromise solution. That was the case in December. It was the case in the summer of 2011. It has been the case all along.
Unfortunately, what we have seen is the opposite of that, which is an inability of leaders of the Republican Party to bring their rank-and-file lawmakers behind compromise solutions. Instead, rump groups within conferences have dictated to leaders what the no-compromise positions should be and ought to be taken, and that results obviously in nothing but bad news, generally, for the American people.
So yes, the President believes that these are not all ideal choices that he would make or Democrats would make. But as is true with Senator Murray’s budget and is true with the President’s budget, this represents a balanced approach to our deficit challenges. And the President believes that if there is a commensurate willingness by Republicans to compromise, as opposed to just pursue ideological purity, we can actually get something done for the American people.
Q One other on Democrats. To be clear, on chained CPI, most people focus on cuts to Social Security and then also, mentioned by Major, changes to taxes. But as the President and you have talked about before, it affects a whole range of federal programs, so I want to clarify: Democrats like Bernie Sanders today are saying this will mean cuts to veterans’ benefits as well. Bernie Sanders claims $2,000 or $3,000 a year for some veterans. Is that true?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would --
Q Will it affect those benefits? I know you might not have the number, but will it affect veterans?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think that the application of this particular proposal exempts certain categories of vulnerable Americans. That has been the case, was the case when the President proposed it last year, and will be the case in the President’s budget. The details I will have to ask you to wait for until Wednesday. I want to give you something to cover next week, not just today.
Q But so what -- is that a yes or no on veterans? I don’t --
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t --
Q Because veterans are out there wondering.
MR. CARNEY: -- have the specific interest -- I mean the specific, itemized breakdowns of how this works. I would wait for the budget for those, or ask you to wait for the budget for those.
What I will say is that this is not the President’s idealized budget. It is not what he would do if he were king or if only people who supported his proposals were in Congress. It is what he believes is a fair and balanced approach to our deficit challenges, one that allows us to invest, that protects seniors, that helps secure the middle class and give ladders to those who want to get into the middle class. And very importantly, it provides investments in areas of the economy that will allow us to grow, not just next year and the year after, but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.
Luke. Sorry, Mike then Luke.
Q So can I just shift you to the FDA morning-after pill decision today? Does the administration intend to appeal that decision? And regardless of the legal question, if that’s not something you’re prepared to answer, is it still the policy position of the administration that the pill should be only available to folks -- to women 16 and older?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll say a couple of things. On the legal issue, I would refer you to the Department of Justice, which is currently reviewing the ruling.
On the second part of the question, Secretary Sebelius made this decision. The President supported that decision after she made it, and I think said so in the briefing room when he was asked about it. And he supports that decision today. He believes it was the right common-sense approach to this issue. Beyond that, obviously, on the legal issue, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
Q But there's no sense in which something has changed in terms of the substance of the issue, in that the judge made some pretty sort of arguments that go beyond just legal arguments? And about the sort of fairness question, there's nothing -- are you guys at all reviewing the policy position as -- to see whether something should have changed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would -- Secretary Sebelius made this decision, so I would refer you to her and her office on the policy specifics. But when the Secretary made this decision, the President supported it. He believed it was a common-sense approach when it comes to Plan B and its availability over the counter to girls under, I believe, 17, and he believed that was a sensible approach. And I believe, again, this is under review by the Department of Justice. And I expect they will be making a decision about options --
Q But he still thinks that it's a sensible approach?
MR. CARNEY: His position has not changed.
Sorry, I think Luke and then Briana.
Q To follow up on Major's point --
MR. CARNEY: Welcome, by the way.
Q Thank you very much. Opening day here. To follow up on Major's point about the sequester -- today, Senator Reid said, "Today's employment report again shows that our economy cannot afford more self-inflicted setbacks like the sequester. We need to focus on growth, not austerity." Do you agree with Senator Reid on that?
MR. CARNEY: Word for word.
Q Is this poor jobs numbers a direct result of the sequester?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the point he made is that we cannot afford more self-inflicted -- tell me the whole quote there.
Q "Self-inflicted setbacks like the sequester."
MR. CARNEY: "Self-inflicted setbacks like the sequester." You would have to turn in your economics degree if you did not concur with the universally-held opinion that sequester would result in reduction in GDP and reduction in job growth. That is a broadly accepted fact. And it was wholly unnecessary.
I don’t think anybody believes that we should be embracing economic policies that cause our economy to grow less fast and create fewer jobs. I'm going to say 535 lawmakers up on Capitol Hill agree with the idea that we should embrace economic policies that do the opposite of that.
So the sequester is bad policy. It was an unnecessary setback. It was self-inflicted. We believe -- again, I'm just pointing to assessments, early assessments made by the Council of Economic Advisers and Dr. Krueger -- that sequester had an impact on this, but it's hard to assess exactly how much. Obviously there are other factors at play here.
Broadly, whether it was 200,000, 95,000, I think, private sector jobs, or 50,000, our answer is always going to be the same, which is that we have more work to do. And we have to embrace and implement policies that help our economy grow and help it create jobs. And that’s why the President is putting forward the budget that he'll put forward on Wednesday. And that is the spirit and objective that has guided all of his budget proposals throughout the years of his presidency.
Q So it's fair to say that the White House agrees that today we are, as a country, are feeling the effects of sequester in this jobs report?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, again, to a degree that is hard to measure early on, the answer is yes. And I think that we are feeling the negative effects of the sequester in other ways -- the kids who aren't in Head Start this week are feeling it. Their parents are feeling it. Folks who have been furloughed or who worked in air traffic control towers that have been closed. I mean, we see -- there has been a lot of focus in Washington on White House tours, which was an unfortunate result of implementation of the sequester, but if you look at the regional coverage of the impacts of sequester, it focuses on real people and how they have been hurt by this unnecessary policy and the decision -- the unfortunate decision by Republicans to not just allow it to happen, but to embrace it as a political victory and a homerun.
Q Lastly, on the chained CPI idea, I spoke to some folks on the Hill on the Democratic side that were uneasy about this because it says you’re giving Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans too much leverage; that by putting chained CPI out on the table right now, the Republicans will ask for that in any type of deal moving forward saying that it was in the President’s own budget, that he believed in it so much to put it in his own budget. Why give this away right now in April --
MR. CARNEY: We’re not giving anything away.
Q -- ahead of the debt limit fight coming up in the summer and a lot of other important things?
MR. CARNEY: What the President is putting forward is a budget -- not a single policy proposal, not -- it is not line items that he is giving away or taking. It is a budget proposal that is broad and comprehensive that represents a balanced approach to helping the economy grow, reducing our deficit, making the middle class more secure and providing opportunity to those who aspire to the middle class. And that’s the approach we should take.
If the charge is that he should not be serious about trying to find common ground, then he disagrees with that. He believes that we should. But make no mistake -- he is not going to embrace Republican proposals that suggest we should just ask seniors -- just make entitlements reform changes, and not take a balanced approach to deficit reduction -- basically tell seniors, it’s all on you now, it’s all on middle-class families, families with kids who have disabilities, it’s all on those who benefit from education-assistance programs or others, and folks who benefit hugely from the tax code, wealthy individuals who pay a far lower effective tax rate than I’m sure most people in this room and certainly school teachers and police officers and bus drivers, factory workers, that they should be asked to do nothing. That’s never going to be the President’s position.
MR. CARNEY: Briana, you’re --
Q Jay, I have a non-budget question. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Come on, you enjoyed that. (Laughter.)
Q Let's see if you enjoy this one. President Obama yesterday called California Attorney General Kamala Harris, “by far the best-looking attorney general.” It created quite a buzz and an uproar. Some say it highlights what they see as a troubling pattern of a woman’s success being linked to her appearance, and that it’s unseemly for the President of the United States to say that. How has he reflected on his comments since making them? And has he called Harris?
MR. CARNEY: The President did speak with Attorney General Harris last night after he came back from his trip. And he called her to apologize for the distraction created by his comments. And they are old friends and good friends, and he did not want in any way to diminish the Attorney General’s professional accomplishments and her capabilities. And I would note that he called her, in those same comments, “brilliant,” “dedicated” and “tough,” and she is all those things.
She has been a remarkably effective leader as Attorney General. She is a key player in the mortgage settlement which will help many, many middle-class families who are struggling to deal with the mortgage situation in this country. And he believes and fully recognizes that the challenges women -- or he fully recognizes the challenge women continue to face in the workplace and that they should not be judged based on appearance.
Q He felt like he messed up is what he said?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think I made clear he apologized for creating this distraction and believes very strongly that Attorney General Harris is an excellent Attorney General and that she’s done great work and she’s dedicated and tough and brilliant.
Q And on the FDA -- the judge, Edward Korman, said that the decisions of the Secretary were arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable. And, I mean, that was his opinion, and the President obviously supported Secretary Sebelius’s decision on this. What’s your reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would -- as a legal matter and a response to the decision by the court I would refer you to the Department of Justice, which will review this and make decisions about appeal. I think it’s important to remember, however, that the Secretary’s decision in this matter was not about whether Plan B would be available to women, but rather whether it should be available over the counter to girls of all ages without consenting -- without consulting with a health care professional. And Secretary Sebelius made the decision she made, which the President viewed as a very common-sense decision, one that he as a parent and other parents, he believed, would agree was a common-sense solution.
But beyond that, I think that I’ll leave it to the Justice Department to make --
Q Would he disagree that it was arbitrary?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q This judgment?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. He supported the Secretary’s decision.
Q Jay, just to follow up on Harris -- twice you said that the President apologized for the distraction. Does he not think that the remark was sexist?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he apologized for the remark. And they’re old friends. And, look, I mean, the President --
Q So he acknowledges it was inappropriate?
MR. CARNEY: -- has known her for a long time and he apologized for it. And he certainly regretted that it caused the distraction that Briana referred to, and --
Q You seem to make a distinction.
MR. CARNEY: No. I’m making clear, I think, that he apologized for it and believes that she is a superb Attorney General for the state of California, has done an excellent job in all areas, and especially on this mortgage settlement issue.
MR. CARNEY: Scott.
Q Jay, are you saying that the Plan B decision was common sense because it’s a contraceptive? Because the judge points out that you can get Tylenol at any age, and that’s more dangerous.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think the President spoke at length about this from this very podium. His views are best expressed by him. And I could read them to you but they’re available online, and those are his views. And he believed it was a common-sense decision. I think it’s important to remember that what Secretary Sebelius said and decided is that we do not have enough evidence to show that all those who could use this medicine, Plan B, can understand the label and use the product appropriately.
So I would refer you to Secretary Sebelius about the policy deliberations that went into her decision. I can tell you that the President, as he said from this podium at the time, supported that decision and believes it was the right decision.
Q But is that because it’s a contraceptive, not because it’s a dangerous product?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that as the statement I just said makes clear, it could be dangerous if misused. And the President felt that it was the right thing -- the right decision to make.
Q In the budget statement this morning, there was a reference to one of the Presidents investments, about kindergarten and the plan that he’s advancing. And it said it would be paid for by increased taxes on tobacco. How much of a tax is required to offset that cost?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have specifics for you that will be available on Wednesday. As I said, if I gave all the specifics now, you wouldn’t have anything to write about or ask me about on Wednesday. So we’ll wait for the specifics there. The President believes that universal pre-K is an excellent investment to make in our future. And I think it is widely recognized by experts to be a very sensible policy approach that will pay dividends and benefits well in excess of the costs if we can get it done. And that’s correct that his proposal, his budget will -- all of the investments that are in his budget will be paid for entirely within his budget.
And this particular investment will be paid for by a cigarette tax, which he believes is the right way to go in this case. Getting all of our kids into pre-K would have enormous positive impacts for those kids, for their families, and for those kids’ futures in the education system and beyond that in the workforce in the years to come.
Q Okay. And also, on corporate rate tax cuts -- there was talk in the campaign about lowering them at some point. Should we expect that in the budget next Wednesday? Some master plan or proposal?
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve shown --
Q Or are you going to wait until afterward?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve shown a lot on what’s in the budget thus far. And I think that we’ll wait until Wednesday to provide more details about what’s in it.
Q Okay. And if there are details on this subject --
MR. CARNEY: There will be. Well --
Q -- will they show a specific --
MR. CARNEY: Let me finish the sentence: There will be more details in the budget, yes.
Q Okay. And will it show how it’s paid for?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would ask you to wait, but I can say that everything in the budget that the President proposes in terms of investments and changes will be paid for.
Q Thanks, Jay. Just going back again on the budget. I think some of the criticism from the left, from Democrats, is by his including the CPI and some of these other things that this becomes a starting point; that he’s essentially already given it away. Why did he choose to do that now versus -- you’ve said before that the President’s budget reflects his priorities, and now you’re saying it’s not ideal. Why are you guys taking this strategy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the budget reflects his priorities within a budget world that’s not ideal, within a budget decision-making process that’s not ideal, obviously, as he sees it. It requires compromise and negotiation and a willingness to accept that you won't get 100 percent of what you want.
I can tell you this is not -- as I said before, he is not negotiating away items of his budget. He is presenting a comprehensive proposal that's balanced in nature, that asks the wealthiest Americans and those who get special deals through our tax code to give up those tax breaks in the name of further deficit reduction. And he also includes entitlement reforms that he believes can be achieved as part of a balanced package that will protect our seniors and allow us to reduce our deficit in a way that also allows the economy to grow and create jobs, to continue to do that, and put us on a foundation economically that will allow us to grow well into the future.
There's no question that it's not what we would do if he could just pass a budget himself or that Democrats could do if they got to dictate everything that would come out of it. But we have made clear since the President made this offer to Speaker Boehner -- you have asked me, others have asked me in this room many times about that offer -- and I've been clear that the offer remains on the table. And I think it stands in stark contrast to the intransigence and the embrace of ideological purity that the House Republican budget represents.
Look at the difference. We've been having this discussion now for several years about how do we get our deficits under control and how do we do it in a way as we emerge from the Great Recession that keeps the economy growing -- and hopefully growing faster -- and keeps it creating jobs? And the President has always taken an approach that says we have to do this in a balanced way. The well-off and well-connected have to contribute as well.
His proposals represent that spirit of compromise -- a spirit of compromise that does not forsake his principles, but that recognizes he cannot get everything he wants. And what he asks, and what I think the American people are asking is that Republicans accept that they don't get everything they want, that they embrace proposals that they said were the right policy in December because they're the right thing to do.
Whether you're a corporate jet owner or a company -- an oil and gas company that benefits from century-old tax provisions, tax breaks that we need to do away with or you get to use the tax code and the exemptions available in it to reduce your tax burden if you're a millionaire or billionaire -- we can’t afford that anymore. Because the alternative -- I mean, it's a great exercise. The alternative to doing it in a balanced way is the way that we've seen from Republicans, which is middle-class Americans taking a massive hit, senior citizens taking a huge hit -- investments that help our economy grow in the future eviscerated. And then, those same people who should be asked to give a little bit more instead getting showered with tax cuts.
I don't know what debate some people missed last year. But this was debated and discussed, and I think the American people were pretty clear about the direction they didn't want to take.
Q North Korea follow-up?
MR. CARNEY: North Korea follow-up, sure.
Q Are there any plans to evacuate the American embassy or evacuate Americans from South Korea?
MR. CARNEY: No. I would refer you to the State Department, but no.
Q Would you let us know if there are changes?
MR. CARNEY: I think what I said about North Korea and its provocative actions and its bellicose rhetoric reflects our concern about this path that the North Koreans are on, and the fact that this is a familiar path and a familiar pattern that we're seeing out of the North Korean regime. And we're taking all necessary precautions, and they have been reported on, and we will continue to do that. We're consulting closely with our allies in Tokyo and Seoul.
We're working constructively with the Russians and the Chinese to try to get them -- in particular, the Chinese -- to use their influence with the North Koreans to persuade them to change their behavior and to instead travel the path that will allow them to rejoin the community of nations, allow them to assist their own citizens, feed their own people and allow their economy to grow instead of atrophy. That's our position.
Q -- warn Americans and foreigners to get their people out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think the leadership in North Korea says a lot of things, and it tends to be bellicose and provocative of late. And none of those statements or actions are helpful to the cause of peace and stability in the region.
Q On Syria, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Syria.
Q Thank you. Just follow up the previous question. Is the leaders -- neighbor's leaders are coming -- Turkey and Jordan and Qatar. And as the latest numbers by the U.N., close to 4 million displaced people inside and 1.2 million outside. So a quarter of Syria, if you put the U.S. numbers, about 80 million people right now displaced. Are you going to be able to use this opportunity to talk to these leaders, bring a new way, a new step? Or do you have any kind of new plan? Because apparently diplomacy is not working and whatever has been done for the last two years is also not working. Do you have anything new we are going to be able to see?
MR. CARNEY: The President will, in these meetings, discuss the tragic situation in Syria, there is no question, as well as other topics.
The United States, as you know, is the single-largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, who have been tragically affected by President Assad’s brutal repression and murder of his own people, refugees, displaced Syrians. And we will continue to work with our partners in the effort to provide assistance to the Syrian people. We also will continue the effort to -- in support of the Syrian opposition. We have provided substantial nonlethal aid to the opposition. We are working with our partners in helping the opposition organize itself, and we’ll continue to do that.
So I don’t want to preview these discussions, I think I should make clear that, as I did earlier, these meetings the President will be having with leaders from the region will focus on a number of issues, including, of course, Syria, which is very important and which has -- on which the President is greatly focused.
This is a problem and a situation that we are constantly working with our partners on, and our policies are constantly being reviewed to find -- to see if we can find ways to provide more humanitarian assistance and more assistant to the opposition, and we will continue to do that.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll do one more.
Q Thank you, Jay. There’s a big judiciary hearing coming up, obviously, on Wednesday. You talked from the lectern before about the importance to the courts in having those holes filled. But from the President’s perspective, how important is it to get those holes filled to get his agenda moved forward, particularly on that D.C. court?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s not a question about getting his agenda moved forward. It’s a question of a fair process where, as I said the other day I think in a prolonged and brilliant topper to the briefing, I made clear our unhappiness with the pace of consideration of nominees to the Judiciary. The delays are something like triple or quadruple the rate that were in effect under President George W. Bush. And while we have seen some progress and some nominees confirmed of late, we still have far too many vacancies and on a number of courts, I mean, across the country.
And so the President hopes and urges the Senate -- hopes that and urges the Senate to move forward with consideration of nominees. I mean, the problem that we’ve seen is you’ve had a number of nominees who have been confirmed unanimously out of committee, and then who are held up, month after month after month, and then once the block has been lifted are voted out overwhelmingly, confirmed overwhelmingly.
So normal Americans who are out there wondering how Washington works and why it seems dysfunctional in their view could look at that process and scratch their heads, and say, wait, if there wasn’t a problem, if the votes were there from both sides, from both parties, why did it take 134 days? And, unfortunately, the answer is politics. It’s using this process, the confirmation process, to attempt to achieve other aims, which is doing harm to our Judiciary.
Q I talked to Senator Grassley the other day, and he said the problem, at least from his perspective, is that the nominations have been slow getting to them.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that would be the case if there -- how does that explain the -- I think it’s -- I don’t have the paper with me now -- I think it’s 134-day average wait for nominees compared to something like 30-odd days under President George W. Bush. These are existent, not hypothetical nominees that have been waiting far too long for proper consideration by the Senate.
Q Week ahead?
MR. CARNEY: One day I’ll remember.
Week ahead. On Monday, the President will travel to the University of Hartford where he will continue asking the American people to join him in calling on Congress to pass common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.
On Tuesday, as part of their “In Performance at the White House” series, the President and First Lady will invite music legends and contemporary major artists to the White House for a celebration of Memphis soul music.
On Wednesday, the President will deliver a statement on his budget at the White House. In the evening, the President will meet with 12 Republican senators for dinner.
On Thursday, the President will award Chaplain (Captain) Emil J. Kapaun, U.S. Army, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry at the White House. Chaplain (Captain) Kapaun will receive the Medal of Honor posthumously for his extraordinary heroism while serving with the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, during combat operations against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea, and as a prisoner of war from November 1st through 2nd, 1950. The First Lady will also attend this event.
On Friday, the President will welcome the United States Naval Academy football team to the White House to present them with the 2012 Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. And that is your week ahead.