Press Briefing

February 22, 2012 | 55:39 | 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, 2/22/12

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:55 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thanks for coming to the White House for your daily briefing. 

Q    New glasses -- again? 

MR. CARNEY:  You think these are new?  (Laughter.) 

Q    Yeah.  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  Maybe. 

Q    Did you leave them on the bumper again? 

MR. CARNEY:  Not this time.  Not this time.  These could be old; they could be new.

Before I get started I wanted, on a serious note, to say something about two journalists who were killed yesterday in Syria.  As you know, last week I, aboard Air Force One, said something about Anthony Shadid, who died last week in Syria.  These tragic deaths underscore something that I think we all -- all of us in this room, since we participate in -- I did once and you do now -- in this profession -- it's a reminder of the incredible risk that journalists take -- Marie Colvin, Anthony Shadid, and the French photojournalist who was killed yesterday as well -- in order to bring the truth about what's happening in a country like Syria to those of us at home and in countries around the world.  And our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those journalists. 

And it's a reminder, too, that the victims are many, and overwhelmingly, in this case, they are innocent Syrian civilians. The brutality of the Assad regime becomes ever more apparent each day -- as each day goes by.

So I just wanted to mention that -- and go to questions.  Julie.

Q    Thank you.  Sticking with Syria, you said yesterday that international action is needed before the situation in Syria becomes too chaotic.  But given this latest incident and the continued shelling in Syria, how much more chaotic can things get?  What exactly is the international community waiting for at this point?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the international community has acted through the resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly.  Unfortunately, Russia and China vetoed a resolution that would have passed through the Security Council.  But there is overwhelming international support for the condemnation of Assad and his regime's atrocities and actions, and overwhelming support for the Syrian people. 

There's an ever-growing coalition of nations, if you will, who are part of the "Friends of Syria" that the United States is part of, and together we will continue to enhance the pressure on Assad, continue to help the opposition become more functional, continue to work to bring humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, and continue to call on the international community collectively to take greater action to pressure Assad and to force him to relinquish power so that the Syrian people can have the democratic future that they deserve.

Q    When you talk about helping the opposition, the main opposition group said today that foreign military intervention may be necessary in order for humanitarian aid to make it into Syria.  I know you said yesterday that humanitarian aid is needed.  Would the U.S. support foreign military intervention for the purpose of getting humanitarian aid into Syria?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think there's a useful comparative here to Libya.  I'm often asked this question in the -- using that comparison.  And what we had in Libya when there was outside military intervention was a unified international community, a call for intervention by the Libyan people, the prospect of an immediate assault by Qaddafi’s forces on an entire city, Benghazi, and the possibility that international military action could have -- could halt that and could limit or prevent the deaths of many, many thousands of Libyans.

Each country in the region where we have had this kind of unrest is different, and certainly Syria is different from Libya in many of those particulars that I just laid out.

We will work with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance.  We will continue to press the international community to condemn Assad and his actions, and to take action to further pressure and sanction his regime.

Right now -- and I was asked this yesterday, and I just want to make clear that we do not believe that adding to the militarization of Syria is the right approach.  We believe that the right approach is for the international community to speak with one voice to pressure Assad and get him to relinquish power and to cease the brutal assault on his own people.

Q    Does that apply also to military intervention for the purpose of --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, right now we believe that the appropriate action is a diplomatic, economic approach, the likes of which we’re taking.

Q    If I could switch briefly over to the corporate tax proposal -- when the President has rolled out other proposals from his State of the Union address, he’s been out front in doing so, but today’s proposal came from the Treasury Department and Secretary Geithner.  Why not have the President out front?  Why put this distance between he and the proposal today?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I certainly disagree that there is distance between the President and his Secretary of the Treasury. Tim Geithner has developed this proposal, working with his team and the economic team here in the White House.  The President -- you should have by now -- if not, you’ll have it momentarily -- has put out a full statement laying out why he believes this corporate tax reform that he and his administration is putting forward today is so important; why it fits into his overall blueprint for an “America Built to Last,” where everyone gets a fair shot and plays by the same rules.

So the President is very committed to corporate tax reform, as he made clear at the State of the Union address last year in 2011.  And he believes that this is an area where an opportunity exists, an opportunity to disprove the conventional wisdom that nothing can get done in an election year between a White House held by one party and a Congress largely controlled by the other. 
After all, there is a fair amount of consensus that simplifying the corporate tax code is a good idea, that broadening the base and lowering the rate is a good idea. 

The President has put forward a proposal that does that; that in doing that eliminates unnecessary and expensive subsidies and carved-out special provisions for corporations like oil and gas companies that don’t need them; that eliminates the carried interest rule that allows hedge fund managers and private equity investors to -- or managers -- to pay a far lower tax rate on their income than firefighters and teachers -- and everyone probably in this room -- and thereby creates a corporate tax code that allows American businesses to be more competitive globally, that incentivizes manufacturing in the United States, that takes away the incentive for companies to relocate overseas and reverses that and creates incentives for companies to insource again in the United States -- a trend the President believes is very important to our economic future. 

So he’s very supportive of this proposal and hopes that Congress will see in this an opportunity to prove the critics wrong, to show that we can get things done this year for the American people. 


Q    Thank you, Jay.  Picking up on the discussion of gas prices from yesterday, is it fair for the American voter or the American public to blame any President -- in this case, this President and his administration -- when gas prices start going up so high?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I think this President, as I said yesterday, fully appreciates the impact of higher gas prices on average Americans trying to make ends meet.  He talked about that yesterday in the event where he discussed the extension of the payroll tax cut. 

One of the reasons in both 2011 and now this year that cutting the payroll tax for 160 million Americans is so important is because it gives the average American family an extra $40 per paycheck, close to $1,000 per year, to pay for things like gasoline, to fill up their tanks. 

So he’s very aware of the impact that it has and fully understands the anxiety it creates.  And he understood that when he was running for President back in 2008 when there was a spike in the price of oil.  There has since been, as you know, last year and again this year -- this is a recurrent problem and it’s a problem that reinforces the need that he identified back when he was a candidate for a comprehensive energy strategy, one that takes an all-of-the-above approach to the development of our energy -- sources of energy; one that insists that we can safely and responsibly expand our domestic oil and gas production, which he has. 

Every year since he's been President, we've increased our oil and gas production.  Every year since he's been President, we've decreased our reliance on foreign oil imports.  And certainly, every year since he's been President, he has made a focus of the importance of investing in alternative energy technology, because that combination is the one that will build a foundation for energy security in the future, so that we are not as vulnerable to the kinds of price shocks that we get when oil climbs, as it is now.

And as I said yesterday, we need to do the things that we can control to insulate ourselves from the things that we can't. And that includes oil prices that are going up in spite of the fact that domestic oil production is going up; oil prices that are going up globally in spite of the fact that the President has made clear -- put in place policies that will dramatically expand the amount of exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, will expand the amount of exploration in Alaska, will expand the amount of natural gas production here in the United States.

And yet, these prices are going up.  And that tells you that there are other things beyond our control, like unrest in the Middle East, or other factors like the growth of emerging countries such as China and India.  So in that kind of environment, in that kind of world, we need to do everything we can here at home to insulate ourselves from these price shocks.  And that’s what the President's been doing since he took office.

Q    Does the President accept any responsibility for the fact that the prices are going up, especially -- or has any response to things --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President accepts responsibility that he identified the next President should accept back in 2008, which is the need to develop a comprehensive energy policy that protects Americans in the long run from these kinds of situations, and that makes America more secure and energy independent.  And that’s the policy he's proposed.

I think that if you're suggesting that there's responsibility for price hikes in the global -- I mean, a rise in the global price of oil, it's certainly not because of anything he hasn't done to expand domestic oil and gas production, because he has done -- taken significant action to expand American gas and oil production.  And he will continue to do that.

He will continue to do that as he takes action to, for example, as I mentioned yesterday, allow for the first nuclear reactor to be built in this country in 30 years; to increase our investments in alternative energy like biodiesel and wind and solar.  I mean he’s an all-of-the-above -- his is an all-of-the-above approach, and you’ll hear a lot about that from him in coming days and weeks.

Q    But if a candidate like Rick Santorum says the reason these things are going -- these prices are going up is because of the President’s dedication to the radical environmentalist movement --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think it’s incumbent upon those who report on random statements by politicians seeking office to compare them to the facts, and the facts are as I’ve stated.  Oil and gas production in the United States has risen every year since the President has been in office.  Oil production is now higher than it’s been in eight years.  And this President is taking action to ensure that it continues to go up.

Not least -- and I think it’s important to mention, and I don't know where various candidates for office are on this issue, but the President last year through an agreement with major automobile manufacturers have put into effect enhanced fuel-efficiency standards that will save American families $1.7 trillion at the pump, and cut oil consumption by 12 billion -- I think yesterday I said 12 million because 12 billion sounded like so much, and it is.  And the fact is that action alone did more to enhance our long-term energy independence than almost anything any President could do.


Q    In the briefing on the tax proposal, Secretary Geithner said that they're using this proposal today to move the process along, which, as you know, can take time.  And he said it’s designed so corporate tax reform could be done alone, but it might have to be done with individual tax reform, which will come after the presidential election.  Given that, what is your timeframe for really getting this done?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply agree with Secretary Geithner that there is an opportunity here to do it alone or singularly with just corporate tax reform.  The President has put forward a very specific framework of his approach -- that explains his approach to corporate reform.  There is an opportunity, as I just said, because of apparent interest by both Democrats and Republicans to reform our corporate tax code, to take action now.  There's no reason why Congress couldn’t take this up. 

It is also the case that if Congress were to feel itself particularly bullish about the possibility of bipartisan cooperation that they could take up individual tax reform.  And the President’s principles on individual tax reform are pretty clear as well.  So there is -- it’s absolutely the case that you could do this by itself or you could do it with individual tax reform.  We would welcome action by Congress, in accordance with the President’s principles, in either case.

Q    So what is the President himself doing to encourage the Congress to feel bullish about bipartisan progress? 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think Secretary Geithner himself, who is obviously the President’s Treasury Secretary, has already spoken with leaders in Congress about this.

Q    But the President hasn’t?  Or has he?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have any calls or conversations of the President to report, but I’m sure the President will be having these discussions.  And, look, if there is interest in pursuing this corporate tax reform plan by Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the President is very interested in doing that.  And that goes along -- that also applies to individual tax reform.

So I think as Secretary Geithner made clear, he’s already begun this conversation with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill with regards to corporate tax reform.  And we hope that conversation continues and that we can produce a result for the American people and for American businesses that will have -- that will create the result of a lower tax rate for American businesses that will -- and that will make them more competitive; a broader base to ensure that this reform doesn’t add a dime to the deficit; and a situation where the American manufacturing sector, and in particular, the advanced manufacturing sector, is further incentivized to grow, and where small businesses are -- where the environment is made easier for small businesses to deal with the tax code by simplifying the tax code for them, allowing them to, for example, expense up to $1 million.

And there are a variety of other measures that are part of this corporate tax reform that would make American businesses much more competitive.

Q    Have you gotten any feedback from the CEOs that the administration talks to about the plan already today that you can share with us?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have anything to share with you.  I think that we believe that the reception so far has been positive and will be positive because it does what so many people say is important to do, which is -- and this is Democrats and Republicans -- which is lower the rate, broaden the base, eliminate the underbrush of unnecessary subsidies and loopholes and special provisions that complicate the tax code and basically have the taxpayer subsidizing oil and gas companies, for example, which enjoyed record profits last year and certainly seem to be on track to enjoy significant profits this year and don’t need those kinds of subsidies.  That money can then be used to pay for an action that would lower the rates for everybody. 

Yes, Jake.

Q    The White House keeps praising these journalists who are -- who have been killed

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know about "keeps."  I think --

Q    You’ve commented, Vice President Biden did it in a statement.  How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistleblowers to court?  You’re currently -- I think that you’ve evoked it the sixth time -- and before the Obama administration it had only been used three times in history.  This is the sixth time you’re suing a CIA officer for allegedly providing information in 2009 about CIA torture.  Certainly that’s something that’s in the public interest of the United States; his administration is taking this person to court.  There just seems to be a disconnect here.  You want aggressive journalism abroad -- you just don’t want it in the United States.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would hesitate to speak to any particular case for obvious reasons and I would refer you to the Department of Justice for more on that.  I think that we absolutely honor and praise the bravery of reporters who are placing themselves in extremely dangerous situations in order to bring the story of oppression and brutality to the world.  I think that is commendable and it’s certainly worth noting by us. And as somebody who knew both Anthony and Marie, I particularly appreciate what they did to bring that story to the American people. 

As for other cases, again, without addressing any specific case, I think that there are issues here that involve highly-sensitive, classified information, and I think that those are -- divulging that kind of information is a serious issue and always has been. 

Q    So the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s not at all what I’m saying, Jake, and you know it’s not.  Again I can’t specific--

Q    Well, that’s what the Justice Department is doing.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you’re making a judgment about a broad array of cases and I can’t address those specifically.

Q    It’s a judgment that a lot of whistleblowers organizations and good government groups are making as well.

MR. CARNEY:  It’s not one that I’m going to make. 

Yes, Ed.

Q    Can we go back to gas prices because I wanted to ask about what -- the President’s case seems to be to deal with this issue now is we’ve really increased oil production.  When you go back to 2008, the President repeatedly mocked Senator McCain and this whole "drill here, drill now," "drill, baby, drill" -- all of that was mocked, that it was a dumb idea.  Now, you’re holding it up as a really great idea.  How do you square those two?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Ed, there’s a distinction here that you’re missing.  The President’s approach has been to responsibly increase domestic oil and gas production.  What he has never said, and what I attempted, I thought, to appropriately mock yesterday, was the idea that there are magic solutions, that you can put forward a proposal to cut the price at the pump in half on a piece of paper with a couple of magic beans.  It’s just not realistic.

The fact is oil and gas production in this country has been increasing, and even as it has been increasing the price of oil has been going up globally.  That tells you that there are factors that are not entirely within our control.  And putting forward to the American people that simply by drilling more you’re going to resolve this problem for the long term is not being honest with the American people. 

That's why you need a comprehensive energy strategy.  That's why you need an all-of-the-above approach.  That's why you need to invest in clean energy technologies, as well as open up millions of acres -- of new acres in the Gulf of Mexico to exploration; as well as allow for the building and permitting of the first nuclear reactor in this country in 30 years.  You need to do it all.  And that's the only approach that is responsible.

And to suggest to Americans that there is some other way, that you can wave a magic wand and cut oil prices and cut gas prices, is simply not treating the American people with the kind of respect they deserve -- because they know better.

Q    He didn’t mock John McCain in 2008 on this issue?  He didn’t repeatedly say --

MR. CARNEY:  I didn’t say that.  I said that, then and now, the President believed that there is not -- that drilling alone was the way to resolve our energy security problems.  It's not, as evidenced by the fact that domestic oil and gas production has increased every year that he's been in office, and yet oil prices -- we experience these spikes in oil prices.  And I think that tells you that the way to insulate ourselves, the way to insulate the American people from these kind of price shocks, is to increase our energy independence, to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, to increase our capacity for alternative energy production as well as traditional fossil fuel production.

And that’s the approach the President's taking.  But it's not -- drilling alone will not solve this problem.  That was true in 2008; it's true in 2012. 

Q    Last thing.  In '08 and then throughout his presidency, he's talked about a comprehensive plan, as you mentioned.  But at the end of last year, when White House officials were talking about the 2012 agenda, it was suggested that the only must-pass legislation -- you were talking about this earlier -- by a Democratic White House working with a Republican House -- the only real must-pass was the payroll tax cut extension.  So how can you now say that dealing with an energy plan now is something the President really wants to do, when in December you weren't talking about it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s -- he has been talking about this consistently since he was sworn into office.  And the point about extending the payroll tax cut was the fact that Congress, which had not shown a great deal of interest -- Republicans -- in bipartisan cooperation on difficult issues, that the one issue that we felt confident was a must-do piece for them, as well as us, because of the political price they would pay for raising taxes on 160 million Americans, was extending the payroll tax cut. 

But we fully hope and expect that Congress will do more than that.  And we look forward to Congress taking action on the President’s refinance proposal which could put up to $3,000 in the pockets of average, responsible American homeowners; taking action on an infrastructure investment bill that could put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work and allow for the building of -- rebuilding of our infrastructure in this country -- roads, bridges, schools, highways, ports; and taking action to, if they felt really emboldened by this bipartisan potential, putting teachers back to work, taking action on some of the other provisions in the American Jobs Act, as well as corporate tax reform, as well as measures that would enhance our energy security.

The point is, is that the sky is the limit here if Congress is willing to work with this administration, if Democrats and Republicans are willing to work together on the Hill.

All the way in the back, yes, ma’am.  Nice to see you.  Welcome.

Q    Thank you.  I would like to know if you know of any educational initiatives the President has in place to better prepare students for success at college or university level?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President has pursued since he took office comprehensive education reform.  Race to the Top has been one of the unheralded -- by the media largely -- bipartisan successes that this President has pushed forward, working with the Secretary of Education.

He has also expanded access to Pell grants to allow for more Americans to attend college, and he will push forward with broad education initiatives.  Because if you may remember -- I know folks in this room do -- his State of the Union address last year, in 2011, he talked about the need for the United States to out-educate and out-innovate the competition globally.  We can't -- we cannot win economically in the 21st century if we don't have the best-educated workforce.  That's our competitive advantage.

Even though -- one of the reasons why we’ve seen a trend towards insourcing, American companies bringing jobs back to the United States, is when they look at all of the factors that go into deciding where to locate a factory or where to locate a business, other countries may have lower labor prices, but we have a skilled, educated workforce that can bring great value to American businesses, as well as international businesses.  We have to keep that up.  So he’s very committed to education.

Yes, Norah.

Q    Can I return to Syria?  You were talking about the "Friends of Syria" meeting that will happen later this week, and part of the goal is making the opposition more "functional" is the word you used.  What do you mean, and how would we help make the opposition more functional?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we would work with the "Friends of Syria" to help stand them up, to cement its organizational capacity, its unity, so that there is an entity in place as this inevitable transition occurs -- because, as we’ve said in the past, it’s not a question of if, but when Assad gives up the reins of power in the Syria. 

So we will do that, working with the “Friends of Syria,” working with this broad coalition of members of the international community who are committed to the Syrian people, to their right to a democratic transition, and strongly condemn and oppose the brutality of the Assad regime.

Q    So some NGOs are calling for recognizing the opposition as a transitional government.  Is that something that the U.S. supports?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the process here.  I think that helping to organize and unify the opposition is something that we are doing in cooperation with our international partners.  This is an entity that is emerging as the brutality of the Assad regime continues, and so I don’t have a timeframe on if or when something like that would happen.  But right now we’re just working with the “Friends of Syria” to help them organize, help them unify.

Q    Can I get you to clarify remarks out of both the White House and the State Department yesterday -- if pressure on Assad does not work, are we considering arming the opposition?

MR. CARNEY:  I want to be clear that our position is that it is not appropriate now to contribute to the militarization, the further militarization of Syria.  What I said and I think what was said in the State Department was simply to make clear that we don’t rule out additional measures if the international community waits too long and doesn’t act decisively.  But that is not -- I’m not hinting at imminent action or change.  Our position is that it is not appropriate to contribute to the militarization of Syria, that there is opportunity still now for this process to result in the departure from power of Assad and a democratic transition to begin to take place.

Q    There are estimated 100 civilians that were killed in the city of Homs yesterday.  Why would we intervene on behalf of the rebels in Libya and not help those in Syria?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s an excellent question and I attempted to answer that a little bit earlier, but you ask it more directly, so I’ll try to address it.  The comparative is useful in that it demonstrates why it is important to not have a one-size-fits-all approach, because the situations can be different even though the broader unrest in the region obviously is similar or reflects an overall trend in the region.

In Libya, as you recall, there was support at the international level, broad support of the United Nations Security Council resolution.  There was a request from the Libyan opposition and the Libyan people for direct military intervention, outside military intervention.  And, most importantly, there was the opportunity identified by the President and other leaders, and military leaders of NATO, to have the dramatic impact of preventing a massacre in Benghazi.  There was a city coming under assault by Qaddafi forces.  And the situation in Syria is different in all of those particulars that I just laid out. 

Again, we're not ruling stuff out in the future, ruling actions out in the future.  But right now, we believe that the right approach is not to contribute to the militarization, and to pursue a path of pressuring Assad, isolating Assad, and furthering along the process that will ultimately lead to him stepping down or no longer being in power.

Q    And then finally, would we support and help establish a safe haven?


Q    Within Syria?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, we don’t believe that military action is the right course -- contributing to the militarization of Syria is the right path right now.  We are, through humanitarian assistance and pursuing the provision of humanitarian assistance, pursuing the international effort to assist the opposition in organizing itself and unifying itself.  But in terms of a military action to secure a part of the country, that is not currently a policy we're pursuing.


Q    Jay, thanks.  On Iran, as you know, the IAEA inspectors returned, basically saying that they felt their trip was unsuccessful.  What's the White House's reaction?  And to what extent does this compound or add to the tensions that are already there with Iran?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we regret the failure of Iran to reach an agreement this week with the IAEA that would permit the agency to fully investigate the serious allegation raised -- allegations, rather, raised in its November report.

It’s important to note that the IAEA maintains regular access to both of Iran’s enrichment facilities at Qom and Natanz. The IAEA was seeking additional access -- that's what this visit was about -- in line with Iran’s safeguards obligations, to sites and facilities where Iran is suspected of conducting work related to weaponization activity.  So, unfortunately, this is another demonstration of Iran’s refusal to abide by its international obligations.

We will continue to evaluate, working with our P5-plus-1 partners, the letter in response -- that we received from the Iranians in response to Lady Ashton’s letter about the possibility of engaging in talks.  But this particular action by Iran suggests that they have not changed their behavior when it comes to abiding by their international obligations.

Q    On the tax reform plan, as you know, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is giving his own economic speech today in which he’s going to talk about his tax reform plan.  He was initially going to give that speech on Friday and he moved it up.  But was the timing of today’s announcement in any way meant to preempt the unveiling of that speech?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, no.  In fact, I think we’ve been saying for quite some time now that our corporate tax reform proposal would be put forward at the end of the month, roughly within the timeframe of the submission of the budget.  So we’ve kept to that schedule.  Perhaps others are timing their announcements around ours.  But this is something that Secretary Geithner has been working on with the White House economic team and the Treasury team for quite some time, and we identified this time period as a time to release it a number of weeks ago.

Q    And also, tonight is the 20th Republican presidential debate, potentially the last presidential debate.  Given that, will the President watch tonight?  I know you’ve said he hasn’t in the past.  Does he have any plans to watch this final --

MR. CARNEY:  So the question is why is this night so different from any other?  (Laughter.)

Q    Exactly.

MR. CARNEY:  I didn't ask him today, this morning if he planned to watch it.  I suspect, knowing him, knowing his viewing habits, that he will not watch it.  He has a family at home.  He tends to, when he watches TV at all, it’s either sports or a movie.  So I don't expect he will.  But the President obviously keeps up with what’s in the news and will, I’m sure, be aware of the general back-and-forth in the debate come tomorrow morning.

Q    Given that the President is going to face off with one of these candidates, isn’t it important for him to see the debate and not just -- I know you said he’s read about the debates.  But I mean, isn’t that a part of understanding the strategy --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think there is ample time between now and early November for him to prepare for what will be debates with his opponent once that opponent emerges from this process.  I think -- we’re not pushing up against a deadline here.  I think he’ll be prepared when that time comes.  He might look at a little tape when that time comes.  But for now, I think he’ll continue his practice of finding something better to do.

Yes.  How are you, Mara?

Q    Just to clarify what you said to Norah, you said Syria is different, and then you listed all the criteria that made Libyan opposition the correct choice.  So if there was an imminent massacre in Syria, then you’d be considering --

MR. CARNEY:  There are ways to speculate about individual things, conditions that might be in place.  What was the case in Libya is that all those conditions were in place that created an opportunity where international, outside military action to prevent the slaughter of civilians, to enforce a no-fly zone, was an option that the international community could take.

So my point in making that comparison is that it was those
-- that set of circumstances that made that option achievable, and that is the one the President pursued with many, many international partners, very importantly, including countries from the region.  So I’m just making the distinction because it’s easy to say, well, you did this in that country why don’t you do it in this?  And it’s important to recognize the different circumstances.

Q    You’re saying right now none of those things are --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there was not a United Nations Security Council resolution passed.  There’s a different military situation on the ground, if you will, and just different circumstances in general. 

Q    And also to follow up on Jessica’s question about tax reform -- you said that the President’s principles on individual tax reform are as clear as well.  Does that mean he also wants to lower rates and broaden the base there, too?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, his principles are clear.  They are the Buffett Rule, as you know and you’ve heard him and I and others talk about.  You haven’t heard “I” talk about it, you’ve heard "me" talk about it -- that’s just correct grammar.

Q    That’s not really tax reform, though.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, certainly it is.  It’s --

Q    -- raising taxes on one individual --

MR. CARNEY:  No, no, no.  It’s ensuring that millionaires and billionaires don’t pay a lower effective tax rate than average, working Americans. 

He has made clear that his approach to tax reform would ensure that those making under $250,000 a year will not see their taxes go up.  That is a principle.  He is committed to the expiration of the high-end Bush tax cuts. 

So the set of principles that he has put in place in terms of the individual tax code could very well be translated into individual tax reform.  So he’s spoken at length about the individual tax code and he has put forward a framework for corporate tax reform.  Obviously, this is the kind of thing when people ask me about why executive actions and "We Can’t Wait," this is the kind of thing that a President can’t do on his own.  He needs congressional cooperation, and he looks forward to having it.

Q    Well, what I’m confused about -- you just listed the President’s views on certain tax policies.  When people say tax reform, they generally mean broadening the base and lowering rates.  That’s not what you’re talking about when you talk about individual tax reform the way you are with corporate tax reform.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not sure I agree with your premise that tax reform follows that formula. 

Q    -- the President is less progressive --

MR. CARNEY:  That is the formula that applies to the President’s approach, which is an approach shared by many others to corporate tax reform.  The approach that the President has taken on individual tax rates is that we should not have a tax code that’s skewed to benefit -- through the carried interest rule or other itemized deductions, other means that allow for millionaires and billionaires to pay a lower effective tax rate than average Americans.  He does not believe that folks earning up $250,000 -- families earning up to $250,000 should see their taxes go up.  He does believe that those making more than $250,000 should see their taxes go up because the unaffordable Bush tax cuts for high-income Americans need to expire at the end of the year.

Q    Right.  But even those principles, does he believe in broadening the base and lowering rates in general?  Keeping all the progressivity you just mentioned, does he believe that that is what we should do --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that progressivity is an important principle here, and that’s one that is reflected in his embrace of the Buffett Rule and his embrace of expiring -- making sure that the higher-end Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year.

Q    What about broadening the base and getting rid of deductions?  Because the President has --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President has put --

Q    -- take another question.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, let me get some others here.  I think, Mara, you know we have put forward proposals in the past -- last summer and fall -- that included limiting itemized deductions for high-income Americans.  That’s a way of a broadening the base.  Eliminating the carried interest rule is a way of broadening the base so that hedge fund managers who are simply earning income don’t pay a capital gains rate, they pay at an income tax rate. 

So I think this President has put forward both on paper and through speeches quite a bit of information about his approach to individual taxes.


Q    On corporate tax reform, are you comfortable with the idea that while you are closing certain corporate loopholes, this -- your proposal does in its own way pick winners and losers in the sense that there are new advantages for manufacturers and clean energy makers?

MR. CARNEY:  We are comfortable with an approach that eliminates a huge amount of the complications, loopholes, special provisions, subsidies from the tax code, and focuses the tax code on growing the American manufacturing sector, growing the advanced manufacturing sector, and assisting small businesses, which are, after all, an important engine of economic growth and a hugely important engine of job growth in this country.

So, yes, we believe that we need to eliminate a lot of the existing complexities from the tax code, and then identify very clearly what our priorities are when it comes to manufacturing, advanced manufacturing and small businesses.

Q    So you kept saying, in response to the questions about gas prices, that we need to insulate ourselves against these higher prices and world events, et cetera.  Yet you’ve explained how domestic production is at a high level and it’s doing apparently very little to insulate us on the world oil market.  So my question is, are you -- if we do continue to pursue Obama’s sort of all-of-the-above policies and accomplish the things that the President is seeking, will that be enough to counter what’s happening in the world oil markets?  Will what he’s suggesting lead to lower gas prices?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what this President is pursuing -- the policies that he's already put in place and the policies that he is pursuing will do is reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.  And by definition, that will create a situation where we have greater energy security in the future than we have had in the past.

I can't predict what oil prices will be in a year or two years or even six months.  I would be careful of anyone who says they can.  But what we can do through policy is increase our domestic production of oil and gas, increase our overall domestic sources of energy, including alternative energy, and thereby insulate ourselves from some of the shocks that come in the future.  But that doesn’t mean --

Q    That doesn’t take care --

MR. CARNEY:  -- that doesn’t -- what we know, for example, if through the car rule, the enhanced fuel efficiency standards that the President put into place, is that we will save $12 billion of oil because of that.

Q    Barrels.

MR. CARNEY:  Barrels, sorry -- 12 billion barrels of -- this is the second time I've blown it.  Thank you, Mr. Henry -- 12 billion barrels of oil.  That is a heck of a lot of oil.  And absent those fuel efficiency standards, we know that we would be paying for that oil, and we would be paying for a certain portion of that we would be paying foreign providers of that oil.

So these are important steps that we can take to insulate ourselves from energy shocks in the future.  You're shaking your head, but it's absolutely logical here.  The more -- the less we rely on foreign oil, the less dependence we have, the more energy security we have.

Q    But is that true?  Do you -- if we increase domestic oil production, doesn’t it just go onto the world market with all the rest of the oil?  It does very little to --

MR. CARNEY:  I think that we increase domestic oil and gas production, understanding that increasing domestic oil and gas production alone won't solve our energy challenges, it will mean that we can continue to reduce, hopefully, our imports of foreign oil, reduce our reliance on foreign oil.  And thereby, when you have problems in a region of the world that produces oil, you are -- the effect on your own production -- your own dependence on that -- the reduction in your dependence on that insulates you from some of that shock.

Q    Will that lead to lower gas prices?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to predict gas prices.  What I know is that it increases our energy security.


Q    Jay, you took a question yesterday about Secretary Vilsack’s comment about getting the oil companies, in his words, “to help ensure that the recovery that we’re now seeing is not jeopardized by energy costs that get out of control.”  What did you find out about that?

MR. CARNEY:  You know what, I would refer you to the Department of Agriculture.  I think what our approach has been is to, through the policies that I’ve been describing several times now, to work with domestic oil and gas companies to ensure that more -- millions and millions of more acres are available -- millions of acres are available for exploration in the Gulf and in Alaska and other places.

We work with manufacturers in a variety of ways to ensure the smooth operation of a system here that provides oil and gas products to American consumers, but I don't think it was anything more specific than that.

Q    Do you know of any specific concern --

MR. CARNEY:  No --

Q    -- a new effort to get them to try to put a lid on prices?

MR. CARNEY:  No, no, no, no.  And I think that should not be interpreted that way.  I think this was more about the fact that we have a lot of consultation and dialogue to ensure that the overall system that produces and supplies American consumers is operating smoothly.

Q    In the Florida speech tomorrow, is he going to specifically address the current price situation?  Is there going to be any kind of reassurance for people in this speech, which apparently is going to focus on energy?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he will talk about the need to take an all-of-the-above approach.  He will certainly talk about it broadly in terms of our energy security in the 21st century and our economic security in the 21st century as a long-term project. He’ll, I expect, make reference to the rise in oil prices that we’re experiencing right now and the anxiety that that creates and the impact that has on American families trying to make ends meet.

He has been very clear about his concern about higher gas prices and higher oil prices, and what that means for American families.  And he’s been explicit about that in arguing for the payroll tax cut and the extra money that that provides to Americans both in 2011 and this year.  So, yes, I expect you can hear him -- you’ll hear him talk about that tomorrow.


Q    Jay, the President is going viral again by singing.  (Laughter.)  Is this by design?  Is it a reaction to polls?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s just -- it’s a hidden talent that we’re just getting to hear.  It’s not at all -- the circumstances both at the Apollo Theater and last night at the event here I think were pretty unique.  So I can't predict -- the next time maybe at the inauguration next year.  (Laughter.)  But what I can tell you is that among his --

Q    It’s only a matter of when.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  It will be a celebration.  No matter -- among his many talents is the ability to carry a tune.

Yes, sir.

Q    Jay, on corporate taxes, you could find any number of polls suggesting average Americans believe that corporations don’t pay their fair share, that there are too many loopholes, too many breaks, et cetera.  So why doesn’t the President make more of a show of this?  Why doesn’t he bang the drum a little bit about this issue when it could be politically positive for him?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President has been pretty explicit about his firm belief that there are provisions within the tax code that allow some corporations to be subsidized in ways that are just not affordable and are unnecessary.  And I think oil and gas companies are a primary example and one that he’s been beating the drum on for quite some time -- and that is included within this corporate tax reform proposal.

He hasn’t often been criticized for not speaking out on this issue because he’s spoken out on it so clearly, and he will continue to do so.  And that’s how -- we’ve been clear about the carried interest rule and why that is simply bad policy and why it needs to be eliminated.  It’s simply not equitable if a hedge fund manager or a private equity executive pays tax on his or her income at a rate of 15 percent when average folks are paying much more.  That’s just not -- it doesn’t make sense and it’s not affordable.  We need to be fiscally responsible in our approach to the tax code.  That’s the approach the President has taken in this corporate tax reform, and it’s the approach that guides his vision on taxes in general.

Yes, Kate.

Q    House Democrats sent the President a letter today asking him to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.  Is that something that’s on the table?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t seen this letter that you mention, but I’ll answer that as I have in the past, which is I have no specific comments to make on that possibility.  We obviously examine every issue when it comes to higher oil and gas prices.  That was the case last year and continues to be the case.  And we take no possible response off the table, but I have no specific comment to make on that.

Q    Is there a price that you’re looking at, though?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I have no comment on that.

Q    On the Buffett Rule -- back to the Buffett Rule, Governor Christie -- any response to his remarks that Warren Buffett should just “shut up and write a check” in a TV interview last night?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  I think Mr. Buffett, who is widely regarded for his success in business as well as in philanthropy, has been quite outspoken, as is his right, on what he believes is an issue of tax fairness.  He simply believes, as one of the wealthiest men in the world, that he should not be paying an effective tax rate lower than his secretary.  I don’t know why the governor mentioned or others think that’s a bad idea, but this President believes it’s the right approach.

Q    Do you think he should go ahead and write the check until that -- it becomes law?

MR. CARNEY:  I mean, that’s a quip that tries to draw attention away from what is a very serious issue, which is the need to have a tax code that’s fair and that helps the American people as they recover from this recession, and helps us achieve the kind of balanced approach to deficit and debt reduction that this President has pursued for some time now.  So, quips aside, we think the Buffett Rule is absolutely an important principle to apply to individual tax reform.

Jared.  Last one.  Yes.

Q    Rhetorically, when you’re talking about the energy policy, the President has had this ground-up, comprehensive energy policy.  But when we’re talking about tax reform, it seems like what’s coming from the podium is that there are these piecemeal things, we can do this on corporate tax reform, there could be more -- you said earlier -- on individual reform, if the Congress is there for it.  Why is it not the same comprehensive, ground-up strategy?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think first of all, the corporate tax reform framework that was laid out today is fairly detailed, A. 
B, if we could achieve some of these important policy objectives through executive action as the President did with close to a dozen automobile manufacturers in putting in place fuel efficiency standards that will save 12 billion barrels of oil, we would. 

But the fact is that in order to achieve corporate tax reform or individual tax reform or balance deficit and debt reduction, we need to work with Congress.  And the way to do that is to put forward the kind of detailed framework that makes clear what this President’s principles are, makes clear the path that he believes we need to take in reforming our tax code, and invite, as the Secretary of the Treasury has already done, Democrats and Republicans to work together to achieve that goal of lowering the rate, expanding the base, eliminating subsidies and loopholes, and creating incentives for American manufacturing and advanced manufacturing and small businesses to grow.

Q    Earlier the President -- there was a statement from the President’s office about observation of Ash Wednesday.  Is the President doing anything in particular during Lenten season?  Is he giving anything up or is he doing anything special for it?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any information on that.  I believe we did put out a statement for Ash Wednesday today. 

Thanks very much. 

1:51 P.M. EST

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