Press Briefing

December 02, 2011 | 38:00 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

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Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Let me begin, if I may, with a quick statement -- announcement, rather.  The President looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada to the White House on Wednesday, December 7th.  Canada, as you know, is a close ally and partner of the United States and the President looks forward to discussing our important bilateral relationship, including economic competitiveness and security, and key global issues.

Q    Did you say Keystone?

MR. CARNEY:  I said “key global issues.”

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Julie.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  I want to -- it’s Friday, it’s a glorious day.  Let’s -- I promise to be brief in my answers, and let’s get on with the questions.


Q    Sounds good.  President Obama was pretty measured in his response today to the jobs report, and I know that the White House doesn’t like to make too much out of any one report.  But is part of his measured response part of trying to lower expectations or not raise expectations for the public in case this trend doesn’t hold?

MR. CARNEY:  That’s an excellent question.  Let’s look at the numbers.  The key number here is another month, 21st month in a row, of private sector job growth -- 140,000 I think this month.  That is significant because it demonstrates now nearly 3 million jobs have been created in the private sector since we began to turn this economy around.

But you’re right in that we don’t make much out of one month’s numbers.  We look for trends.  And we know we have an enormous amount of work to do -- 8.6 percent unemployment is way too high.  And that’s why this President is focused on getting the payroll tax cut extension and expansion passed through Congress, because he believes that it is essential for next year that we have that extra $1,550 in the average American family’s wallet next year, and that we have the incentives for small businesses to hire and expand so that the economy can keep growing, maybe grow even faster, and further bring down a much too high unemployment rate.

Signs of progress are good, but we have a long way to go.  And it in many ways just reiterates or reinforces why we have to get this payroll tax cut passed and why Congress really should pass every element of the American Jobs Act, because unemployment remains a significant problem that we need to tackle together.

Q    You said yesterday that the President quite possibly could take a more personal role in the negotiations over the payroll tax cut.

MR. CARNEY:  I said “maybe.”

Q    You said “quite possible.”


Q    Could you give us any more insight into that, especially given the fact that today the President basically threatened to keep Congress in Washington through Christmas if they can’t reach an agreement?

MR. CARNEY:  The President and his entire team will be working with Congress to try to get this payroll tax cut passed.  It is shocking, I think, to many Americans who are paying attention that not only did Republicans vote against a payroll tax cut expansion -- extension and expansion that was paid for in a way that is entirely reasonable, but an overwhelming majority of Republicans voted against their own bill, which means, clearly, that the issue here isn’t pay-for -- the pay-fors, I mean, for those of you not in Washington -- the issue isn’t here how you pay for this, it’s whether or not Republicans even want to extend a tax cut to 160 million Americans, to working, middle-class Americans. 

I really -- you tend to think that you know what’s going to happen in Washington; I thought that vote last night was very surprising, given the unbelievable lack of support in one party for giving tax cuts to middle-class Americans.  And what’s shocking about it even more so is the fact that so many Republicans have, in the past, said they supported payroll tax cuts. 

So we’re going to work night and day to make sure that Americans get the tax relief that they need and deserve, and that this economy needs and deserves.

Q    Can you give us any details on how the President and his team will work --

MR. CARNEY:  No, I don’t have anything for you on that now.  But it will, I’m sure, involve conversations at different levels, and an effort to find a way to get this done, because it’s the right thing to do for the economy and the right thing to do for the American people.

I’m going to get a little crazy here -- Vick.

Q    All right.  (Laughter.)  You just told Julie that the issue is not how you pay for it.  Is it essential, in the administration’s view, that the payroll tax cut be paid for?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, Vick, the President put forward a proposal, comprehensive jobs proposal, of which the payroll tax cut extension and expansion was a significant component that was entirely paid for in a way that is economically sensible and asks only that --

Q    It was part of the jobs act, though --

MR. CARNEY:  It was part of the jobs act, and in the Senate --

Q    So taken alone, is it essential --

MR. CARNEY:  You know what, the bill that performed much better yesterday included a single Republican senator in support, had as its pay-for a simple request that the 300,000 or so wealthiest taxpayers in America pay a little extra on their income over a million dollars so that 160 million Americans get a tax cut next year.  Now, that didn’t succeed.

The President obviously believes that the preferable way to do this is to have it paid for, and he will work with Congress to try to get this done in a way that meets his very high priorities.  Because what he will not believe is the right path to go here is to cut education or energy or Head Start, or programs that are essential to the very people you’re trying to help through the payroll tax cut.

Q    Preferable, but essential?  Is it essential that it be paid for?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’m not going to negotiate the endgame of this process.  What I will say is that it will stun me if members of Congress, of the Republican Party, truly want to head into next year having voted to raise taxes on middle-class Americans.

Q    Many of those Republicans are concerned that you’re weakening Social Security by diminishing contributions through the payroll tax, by extending this tax.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President put forward a plan to pay for this payroll tax cut extension and expansion.  Senate Democrats put forward a way to pay for this payroll tax cut extension and expansion.  The Social Security actuary had said that -- has said, and has said this to reassure those senators who might be concerned about the trust fund, that it has no impact on the trust fund.  The trust fund is made whole through U.S. treasuries, which are the safest investment in the world, as you know. 

So the issue here is, as I said, it’s not even any more about how you pay for it, as we saw last night in these votes, it’s whether or not one party actually supports giving tax cuts to middle-class Americans.


Q    On December 16th, Congress has to act on appropriations being extended.  And there is some talk of possibly rolling it into one little holiday package -- the extenders, the UI benefits extension, as well as payroll tax cuts -- just do it all at once, Christmas tree it.  Is that something that you think is feasible --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think that’s getting ahead of the process in terms of what the sausage-making might look like in these next several weeks.  I think we’re focused on a number of things, principally the payroll tax cut extension and expansion, but also these appropriations bills and getting all of the work that needs to be done by the end of the year done in a way that ensures that we’re doing right by the American economy.

Q    And the President hasn’t had a bipartisan congressional group come down here for quite some time.  Is that possibly one thing you could --

MR. CARNEY:  I would not dare to predict the future from here today.


Q    Jay, the House Republicans said today that they will attach a bill designed to speed approval of the Keystone pipeline to Boehner’s bill about the tax cut extension.  What’s your reaction to that bill, and how would the President react to it if they were connected?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, Jeff, as you know, that this is a process that is being run out of the State Department.  The President has made clear what the criteria need to be in considering this project.  But it is a process being run out of State, and the timeline is being decided by -- on the merits and on the issues by those who are reviewing it at the State Department.  So I’ll refer you to them.

Q    The House bill would try to go around that entire process.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we think that the establishment of the State Department as the place where this review is housed has existed for years.  It exists in a national security directive, and it even predates that by many decades.  So I think the precedent here is proper and that’s why it’s being reviewed at the State Department.

Q    So if that were connected to a bill to extend the payroll tax cut, would the President reject it?

MR. CARNEY:  That was an “if” -- an “if” that I’m not going to get into.  But I think the proper place for this to be done is where it’s been done in the past, so that it’s done well and reviewed responsibly, and that the necessary criteria that need to go into a decision like this are all considered.


Q    Jay, going back to Julie’s question about jobs, you said let’s look at the numbers, and you said 8.6 percent unemployment rate is way too high.  And in understanding that the black unemployment numbers have gone up again from 15.1 to 15.5, what do you --

MR. CARNEY:  Way too high.  Way too high.  We have to do everything we can, including extending unemployment insurance, including making sure that this tax cut for 160 million working Americans gets into place.  And if we were being truly sensible -- “we” I say generously -- if Congress were being truly sensible, they would pass all the elements of the American Jobs Act, which, as you know, is paid for entirely so it doesn’t add a dime to our deficit.  But if you did it all, it would have the kind of impact that outside economists said it would have, which is adding up to 2 percent growth to our GDP, adding many, many hundreds of thousands of jobs. 

This is what our economy needs.  This is the medicine that our economy needs.  And apparently, only in one section of Capitol Hill is there disagreement about this, because the support for this kind of approach is widespread in communities across America, in every region of the country, and from people who call themselves Democrats, independents and Republicans. 

That’s why the President designed the American Jobs Act in a way that it was filled with the kinds of provisions that both parties have supported in the past because he thought it was important to do that so that it has a real chance of getting the kind of support necessary to pass out of Congress and be signed into law by him.

Q    You keep saying on these numbers they’re way too high.  What is the comfortable number that this administration has set for a normal, healthy unemployment rate in this country?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would let economists evaluate that and give you a number.  I know that this President has said and is committed to not resting until he knows that every American who’s looking for a job can get a job.

Q    But the reason why I say that -- because you said “way too high.”  So that’s why I’m trying to quantify what would be --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t have a -- I think that we’re not in any danger of reaching a point where the unemployment rate is satisfactorily low, which is why we need to do everything we can through Congress, through the use of the President’s executive authority, and working with our partners in the private sector, as the President highlighted today with former President Clinton, to put people back to work and to build the foundation of an economy that can grow into the future, which is what the Better Buildings Initiative does.

So this is a multifaceted attack on the number-one problem facing this country, which is the need to grow the economy and create jobs.

Julianna, and then Bill.

Q    Thanks.  There are some reports out of the Canadian press that next week when Prime Minister Harper is here he and the President will announce a new cross-border security agreement.  Is that anything that you can confirm?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything beyond what I mentioned that they will discuss, security issues.  I haven’t read the Canadian press yet today, so I wasn’t aware of those reports.

Q    Also, the Treasury Secretary is going to Europe next week to meet with European finance officials.  Can you talk about what he hopes to get out of that trip and what influence he has -- he’ll have there?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, this is part of an ongoing engagement that Secretary Geithner has had -- well, really since he took office, but this year as we have offered our advice and counsel to the Europeans as they deal with their debt crisis.  Secretary Geithner, as you know, as Treasury Secretary and in his previous life, has a great deal of experience dealing with this kind of situation.  So I’m sure he will consult with his counterparts as they try to grapple with this very serious matter and take continued steps, as they’ve taken some already, to try to get it under control in a conclusive and decisive way.

So that’s what the trip will be about.  And it’s part of an ongoing effort that he’s made.

Q    Is he going over there with any additional technical advice?

MR. CARNEY:  None that I’m aware of, but our position on what we think Europe needs to do is very clear, and it’s not -- it’s shared by I think a lot of our European counterparts, which is that they need to establish a firewall that is sufficient to the task at hand.  And there are a variety of ways you can do that, and we encourage the Europeans to work towards getting that done in a conclusive and decisive way.


Q    Jay --

Q    Going back to what the President said earlier today --

MR. CARNEY:  Sorry, there are two Bills.  This one.  There might be a third out there, but we’ll see.

Q    -- that he expects Congress will get the payroll tax done, otherwise we’ll all be here at Christmas.  Was that an offhand remark, or was that the first mention of a hammer, if you will, something that he would do?

MR. CARNEY:  It’s a measure of the seriousness of the issue at hand -- the impact that raising the average American family’s taxes by $1,000 next year would have -- the negative impact -- and the President’s commitment to ensuring that the payroll tax cut is passed and that it’s handled in a responsible and reasonable way.

Q    Has he suggested to the leadership that he would do that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I suppose they’ve heard about what he said today.  I don’t know that it’s been --

Q    So that was meant as a warning?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ll just leave -- I won’t add any more context to what the President said; you heard what he said.  And I think that what it represents is his determination to continue to put pressure on Congress to do the right thing here, which is to support the kind of tax cuts that Republicans used to support, and Democrats support. 

So we hope that they will hear the call, if not from him then from their constituents, because I can’t imagine they want to go back home and explain why they voted to raise taxes on working Americans in order to protect the tax breaks of 300,000 of the wealthiest Americans in the country.  I mean, I’m trying to see how that might break down per district, but it can’t be favorable, right?  Unless you maybe represent Beverly Hills or something.  The vast majority of the constituents and every member of the House’s and the Senate’s constituency or state are going to be represented by the 160 million people who would get a tax cut if they passed this bill.


Q    So when you highlight 21 months of private sector job growth and adding 120,000 jobs in the last month, the unemployment rate actually went down largely because over 300,000 people just left the workforce.  So doesn’t that suggest maybe the President’s policies have not worked for three years, so why would Congress pass more of his policies?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let’s review.  First of all, the point -- let me -- at the top, let me make the point that one of the reasons why we do not get too up over one month of positive news, or too down over one month of less-than-positive news is because we’re looking for trends here.  And one of the underlying factors that you just mentioned about the sizeable drop in the unemployment rate is that there is a long long-term unemployment issue here that’s a serious problem, which is why the President is insisting that Congress extend unemployment benefits; that helps those people who are looking for work and need the assistance, and it helps the economy as, again, outside economists will tell you. 

Outside economists will tell you -- not adjuncts of one party or the other, or people from partisan think tanks -- but economists on Wall Street, economists out in the country, and academic economists who are not affiliated with a party or a position, will tell you that a payroll tax cut has a measurable, direct, positive impact on the economy.  And unemployment insurance extension has a measurable, direct, positive impact on the economy.  That is just not really disputed by responsible economists. 

Q    In the short term, right?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    You just said that the problem is long-term unemployment -- people leaving the workforce.  And you’re talking about short-term measures.

MR. CARNEY:  And by long term -- long term, I think the term is defined by those who have been unemployed for more than six months.  So I’m not talking years here, I’m talking more than six months.  I mean, again, now, let’s step back and review the facts.  Twenty-one months now straight of private sector job growth.  This comes after 8 million jobs lost in a recession that was in full bloom when this President was sworn into office, a recession that we now know was contracting the economy, shrinking the economy by almost 9 percent when he was taking office, when he was getting sworn in. 

The record since then has been one of stopping the bleeding, arresting the freefall of our economy, preventing the second Great Depression in American history, and putting us back on a course towards economic growth and job creation.

The problem, as you know, is that the hole is so deep that this recession caused, and the job loss so significant that even though we’re now at nearly 3 million jobs created -- private sector jobs created -- since positive job growth began, that’s not nearly enough when you lost 8 million jobs in a terrible recession. 

So that’s why the President believes we have to pass the payroll tax cut extension and expansion.  That’s why the President believes we need to do things through his executive authority, like the Better Buildings Initiative.  That’s why he believes we should have -- that Congress should have voted to put 400,000 teachers back to work, put construction workers back to work.  And he’s not going to let up in pressuring Congress to do that.

Q    The President was sitting with Tom Donohue, a business leader, who has said repeatedly that what you need are long-term policies to reduce government regulations; long-term exchanges so that people -- that businesses know.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I didn’t bring it out, but you saw that the President put forward a substantial, long-term deficit and debt reduction deal.  The President does believe that we need tax reform, as he said.  And as I think I said the other day, and as, again, outside analysts, not partisans, but outside analysts have said as they’ve reviewed the facts, this President’s commitment to regulatory reform, through his look-back provision, has meant that the number and cost of regulations instituted by this administration in its first several years is actually fewer and less costly than in the previous administration.  And the very people who are complaining about regulation in Congress, I don’t remember them complaining about it in the previous administration when the costs were higher and the number was higher.

Q    Just on the defense bill, the Senate acted last night; you’ve had a veto threat over the detainee language before.  ACLU and others still want the President to veto that bill.  Is that veto threat still out there?  Where are you on the defense bill?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there is a number of issues in that bill, as you know -- which is why my book is so big today -- on the detainee issue, counterterrorism professionals from Republican and Democratic administrations, as you know, Ed, we have said that the language in this bill would jeopardize our national security by restricting flexibility in our fight against al Qaeda. 

By ignoring these nonpartisan recommendations, including the recommendations of the Secretary of Defense, the Director of the FBI, the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General, the Senate has unfortunately engaged in a little political micromanagement at the expense of sensible national security policy.  So our position has not changed.  Any bill that challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the nation would prompt his senior advisors to recommend a veto.

So we’ll see how this progresses, but that’s my answer on that.


Q    Thank you, Jay.  Two things.  One, I heard what you just said to Ed about the relationship between the payroll tax cut and the economy, but I just wonder if you guys think that the initiatives that the American people see the President involved in are reassuring to them that he’s working on creating jobs.  I mean, do people see the connection, is what I’m asking.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would think you would have to go out and ask folks that.  The data I’ve seen suggests that there is broad support for the initiatives the President has put forward, and that, certainly, most Americans feel like we should be doing something to help the economy grow and create jobs.  And one of the ironies of this debate about the payroll tax cut extension, and the broader debate about the American Jobs Act, is that it’s not clear at all whether or not we’d be having a discussion about measures to grow the economy and create the jobs -- create jobs if the President hadn’t put it forward.  I mean, it could be that Republicans seem so uninterested in extending this tax cut for middle-class Americans that, had this President not been pushing it, it might not have come up at all.  So --

Q    But that seems to be what animates this “We Can’t Wait” campaign, which is --

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely.

Q    -- the President displaying things that he can do, but they do seem sort of small-bore a lot of times.  And is that reassuring to people, or does it --

MR. CARNEY:  I think what my sense is, is that the American people expect their President, as well as their members of Congress, to be doing everything they can -- big things and smaller things -- to address the biggest problems that face the country -- in this case, unemployment, growth that’s not substantial enough.  Those are major challenges that we face, and that we should be tackling here in Washington, working together, the administration and Congress, the administration using its executive authority; working with the private sector is vital as well.

So it’s not a -- there’s no silver-bullet answer to a challenge this big, right?  Especially as I was discussing earlier with Ed, given the size of the economic calamity that befell this country in the last -- prior to him taking office, in the months before he took office.

So we’re going to try everything -- small things, medium things and big things -- to address this problem.

Q    And just one cleanup from the week.  When European leaders were here this week, or in other communications with leaders from the eurozone, are they still asking for money, for bailout money? 

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure I would characterize conversations in that way in the past, let alone in the present.  So I think that the discussions that the President has had, at least at his level with his counterparts, have been about what the best approaches are to ensuring that action is taken that resolves conclusively the debt crisis that Europe has.  And that goes to figuring out a firewall that is substantial enough to meet the challenge.

We made clear that this is a problem that -- is a European problem that the Europeans have the capacity to deal with.  And our role in this has been to offer our advice and counsel because of our experience in this matter, and because we live in a global economy and there are impacts that the situation in Europe has already caused for the global economy and clearly could cause if it gets worse.  So it’s in our interests, not just as friends and allies of our European counterparts, but as regards to the global economy and its effect on this economy.

Q    So I know you say they have capacity, because you guys have mentioned that several times this week.  But did anything happen this week that reassures you about their willingness -- or were there any encouraging signs in those conversations?

MR. CARNEY:  I would suggest that you might ask Treasury about that.  I’m a little wary of making comments that can drive markets, as you might expect.  But what we have seen is I think an acknowledgment -- and this goes back to G20 and prior -- that steps need to be taken, and the Europeans have taken some steps towards resolving this issue, and we -- working with them and consulting with them and advising them on the kinds of steps they need to take to get the job conclusively finished.

Q    Can I follow on that?


Q    Thanks, Jay.  Beyond the fact that the economic hole was much deeper, as you described it, once the President took office than he initially expected, who else or what else does the President blame for this continued high unemployment rate?

MR. CARNEY:  He’s not really into blaming.  I mean, the statement that the hole was deep is a fact, right?  Eight million jobs lost is a serious situation, the kind of job loss we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.  It’s just a fact.  The kind of economic contraction that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression.  Those are the facts that we as a country have been dealing with as we’ve emerged out of the recession. 

And he’s not really interested in blaming people for why we got into it, the problems that we got into.  We didn’t get into it overnight, and it won’t -- we can’t get out of this hole overnight, but we can continue to work in doing smaller measures as well as big things, like the American Jobs Act, to make sure the economy grows and creates jobs.  And we need to do that also because -- going to the questions about Europe -- we need to take action on the things we can control to provide the sort of insurance and buffer for our economy so that we can withstand the kinds of shocks to the global economy that tend to happen, whether they come from Europe or Asia or the Middle East.

So this is the responsible thing to do in an economy that is growing, but not fast enough, and that is creating jobs, but not at a big enough clip.  So that’s what he’s focused on.

Q    And a question on Syria:  How does the administration view the situation on the ground there?  Is it a civil war?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the -- what we have seen is the level of violence increase.  But change there does not mean, necessarily, civil war.  The crackdown has come because of violence that the Syrian government has perpetrated against its own people.  We’ve seen when the government recedes, when it stops violent actions, violence recedes.

So we -- rather than characterize it, we simply are working with our international partners to increase pressure on the Assad regime to isolate Assad, and to make it clear that the behavior is unacceptable.  So, as you know, the Turkish government has taken action this week, the European Union has taken action this week on economic sanctions and other measures against the Syrian regime.  We commend those actions, especially because they come after additional actions announced by the Treasury Department.

Combined, that sends a strong message of international unity, and it will have the effect of increasing pressure on Assad and his circle.


Q    Jay, I have two questions, the first is repeating my partner Lesley’s question yesterday.  Alan Gross in Cuba -- is the President going to make any request to Cuba to release him by tomorrow on the two-year anniversary of his captivity?

MR. CARNEY:  As you know, Steve, tomorrow will mark the two-year anniversary of the unjustified detention of Alan Gross by Cuban authorities.  Our deepest sympathies are with Mr. Gross and his family and friends, who have suffered tremendously during this ordeal.  It is past time for Mr. Gross to return home to his family where he belongs. 

Cuban authorities have failed in their effort to use Mr. Gross as a pawn for their own ends.  They must heed the call of Mr. Gross’s family and friends, the international community and the United States to immediately release Mr. Gross.

Mr. Gross is a dedicated international development worker who has devoted his life to helping people in more than 50 countries.  His work in Cuba was to support the free flow of information to, from and among the Cuban people, in support of Cuban civil society.  And we remain steadfast in our support for Cuban society and the desire of the Cuban people to determine their own future.

Q    Will the President make a personal appeal, or is that it?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t want to announce -- make any announcements about what he may or may not be saying, or statements he might issue.

Q    Second question.  Did he get involved at all in the rail strike talks?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the administration was engaged, obviously because of the potential impact of that strike, had it happened, on the economy.  The President is responsible for everything that happens in his administration so I think he was certainly kept apprised of developments.

Q    Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes.  Then Bill.

Q    Thank you.  The President said Wednesday night -- this is following up on Christi’s question -- at a fundraiser that he was “cautiously hopeful” that the eurozone or Europeans would do what was necessary.  Is that a change at all from the outlook -- for the confidence you will have in Europe’s, I guess, political --

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know that I would characterize it as a change.  I would simply say that -- what he said, that we’re “cautiously hopeful,” for all the reasons that I’ve been saying for a long time.  They have the resources.  They know what needs to be done.  It’s obviously a difficult challenge, which we understand, having been through something similar.  And that’s why we’re working so closely with them and providing the kind of counsel and advice that might be helpful and useful in this situation.  But I wouldn’t note that as -- necessarily as a change.

Yes.  Bill.

Q    Jay, back to the payroll tax.  Boehner said yesterday, the Speaker, “I don’t think there’s any question that the payroll tax relief in fact helps the economy.”  So you’ve got a meeting of minds on the fact that payroll tax should be increased.  The difference is on the pay-for. 

Is going forward with no pay-for an option you would consider?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I got that question earlier, and what we learned last night -- at least with regards to the Senate -- is that the debate really isn’t about the pay-for.  Because even with their pay-fors, which were unbalanced and filled with window dressing and gorilla dust -- (laughter) -- Republicans voted overwhelmingly against their own bill, the bill that Senator McConnell had put forward suggesting that there was majority support from Republicans for it.

So the question isn’t do they -- maybe some think that it -- and they’re right -- that a payroll tax cut helps the economy.  It certainly does.  Economists believe that.  But what we haven’t seen is that result in support in votes for absolutely necessary measures to extend and expand the payroll tax cut.

Q    But given that the numbers -- you probably could have gotten to 60 for an extension of the payroll tax cut without a pay-for.  What I’m asking is --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to -- what the President has put forward is -- through the American Jobs Act -- is a very responsible and economically sensible way to pay for it, one that is supported by a vast majority of the American people.  What Senate Democrats put forward, in the specific case of legislation just on the payroll tax cut extension and expansion, is another way that is responsible and supported by a majority of the American people to pay for it.

So we obviously think that’s the preferable way to go.  That’s the President’s position.  What I won’t do is say what -- I’m not going to rule in or out from here what he may or may not support when this thing gets to the finish line, as we hope it does.  What I have said in terms of pay-fors, is that there are pay-fors that he might -- that he would support, and there are clearly pay-fors that he would not, because he wants to make sure that however we proceed here, we do it in a way that is responsible, that keeps our commitments, including the commitments we made in August through the Budget Control Act, and that doesn’t do any harm to the economy or harm to sectors of the American public who need our help.

Q    Thanks, Jay.

Q    I guess in Washington we often get to the lesser of two evils.  The lesser of two evils may be a payroll extension without a pay-for, but then a tax --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, two more things on that.  First of all, the President obviously prefers to pay for it in the manner that he put forward in the American Jobs Act and in the manner that the Senate Democrats put forward -- and we’ll see how this proceeds from here.

The second part, on just the general principle of paying for tax cuts, is while it is interesting to behold the sudden focus on this among Republicans.  I think there is a long multi-decade history of Republicans not believing and actually aggressively stating that tax cuts do not need to be paid for.  But that’s their position.

Mike, last question.

Q    Actually, two quick ones, again.  The joint appearance today of the 42nd and 44th Presidents has reawakened the speculation of a possible Obama-Clinton ticket.  I was wondering if there’s any --

MR. CARNEY:  Only among people who know absolutely nothing about which they speak.  But -- (laughter) -- not you, not you.  But, no, I mean, we’ve been very clear about this for so long.  So -- do you mean Bill Clinton or Secretary Clinton?  (Laughter.)

Q    Hillary -- Secretary Clinton, yes.  That would be Secretary Clinton.  So just wild speculation.

MR. CARNEY:  I think Secretary Clinton has spoken to this, I think the President has spoken to it, I think the Vice President has -- that Barack Obama and Joe Biden will be on the ticket next year and will be taking the oath of office in January of 2013.

Q    And the second one, in her news conference that just ended, Representative Pelosi apparently had suggested a possible pay-for for the payroll tax holiday coming out of the Overseas Contingency Operation Fund.  Is that something that’s been discussed with the White House?  Is that something that the White House would possibly support?

MR. CARNEY:  Going back to some of my other answers, I don’t want to speculate about what a package might look like, especially if it hasn’t even been put in legislative form yet.  And I was here probably when the Democratic leader gave this press conference, so I’m not even aware of that yet.

So thanks very much.

Q    Week ahead?

MR. CARNEY:  We will be providing a week ahead a little later today.  We haven’t got it ready for you yet.

Q    Hey, Jay, what kind of dust did you say it was covered with?  You said --

Q    Gorilla dust.

Q    What is gorilla dust?

Q    Gorillas before they fight --

MR. CARNEY:  Hey, Nakamura -- first of all, you’ve insulted your friend and colleague from The Washington Post who wrote at length -- (laughter) -- in quality prose, about gorilla dust.

Q    The only people who read me are you and my mom.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, well --

Q    What is gorilla dust?

MR. CARNEY:  Gorilla dust is, as I understand it, a diversionary tactic that gorillas use when they’re doing combat, and they throw up dust.  It’s a defensive measure to get people to be distracted or to get their potential opponent to be distracted --

Q    You’re well versed on this.  (Laughter.) 

Q    Do you feel this is better than saying “blowing smoke,” for example?

MR. CARNEY:  I just like “gorilla dust.”  It rolls off the tongue. 

Thanks a lot, everybody.

1:48 P.M. EST

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