Press Briefing

February 20, 2013 | 56:05 | 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, 02/20/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:49 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Hello, everyone.  Welcome to the White House.  It’s very good to have you here.  I hope you are as excited to be here as I am.  I mean that.  It’s always an honor and a privilege.  We’ll give a special dispensation to Bill.

I don't have anything long at the top.  I would just note that the issue of the sequester continues to drive a lot of conversation here in Washington, understandably.  The potential implementation of the sequester is upon us.  You heard the President speak about it yesterday. 

And what is essential to understand is that the effect of the sequester would be severe and it would go right to American families -- middle-class Americans -- people who receive vital health services; there are people working today who will lose their jobs if the sequester goes into effect.  And it’s wholly unnecessary that the sequester goes into effect because the option for Congress is to do what it did just a few months ago, which is come to an agreement on a reasonable package, a balanced package of spending cuts and revenue increases to buy the sequester down for enough time to allow Congress to do the important work of writing a budget that reduces our deficit further in a responsible way for the long term.

Republicans thus far have refused to do this.  They’ve refused to go along with the American public on the simple notion that balance is the right approach to dealing with this problem. And it’s important to understand that if they hold that position and the sequester goes into effect, it will go into effect and those Americans will lose their jobs because Republicans made a choice for that to happen.

There was an interesting piece some of you may have seen -- well, first of all, the Wall Street Journal op/ed by the Speaker of the House yesterday and then a piece that I just saw not too long ago that begins:  “In a Wall Street Journal op/ed Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner describes the upcoming sequester as a policy that ‘threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs, and more’ -- continuing with the piece -- “which leads to the question, why would Republicans support a measure that threatens national security and thousands of jobs?  The effect of Boehner’s argument is to make President Obama seem reasonable.  After all, the President certainly agrees with Boehner that the sequester cuts threaten national security and jobs.  The difference is that Obama wants to avoid them.”

Couldn't have said it better.  That was Byron York.  The President believes it is essential that we avoid these cuts.  It is bad policy.  The Speaker himself says it is bad policy.  We -- the Congress, rather, must act to make sure it doesn’t happen.


Q    Thank you, Jay.  To that point, the sequester would hit the government to $85 billion in the first year.  But CBO says that actually the hit this year would be half that.  Discretionary outlays would drop by $35 billion, mandatory by $9 billion; the rest would occur in later years.  And on Sunday, a Republican senator said, we're talking about 2.5 percent of what we spend this year and this is our first year of 10-year cuts.  Families all across the country have had their budgets cut by larger than that as a result of the economic downturn. 

Is the lack of urgency to deal with this somewhat justified given those numbers?  I mean, even when we were dealing with the debt ceiling, or you were dealing with the fiscal cliff, there was a lot more activity going on out of this White House 10 days before than there is now.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there’s a great deal of activity in this White House with regards to the sequester, and there will continue to be.  You saw the President and heard the President yesterday urge Congress to take the necessary action to avoid these across-the-board, indiscriminate cuts that -- quoting Speaker Boehner -- “would do harm to our national security and cost jobs.” 

These are not jobs in the abstract.  These are men and women patrolling our borders.  These are teachers.  These are first responders.  These are real people whose futures hang in the balance, depending on a decision that Republicans in Congress will or will not make.

Secondly, if you cite the CBO, the CBO estimates that the sequester, if it takes place in 2013, will reduce growth by .6 percentage points during 2013.  That is a significant hit.  We’ve already seen impacts from the sequester, as all of you wrote and analysts made clear back in January.  The fourth quarter GDP number for 2012 came in where it was in large part because of -- in the Defense Department in particular, and anticipation of the sequester drove down defense spending.  And we will see only more of that happen if this sequester kicks in.

The CBO number on GDP growth, what would happen if the  sequester happened is mirrored by estimates by private sector firms.  Moody’s Analytics says the reduction would be .5 percent. Macroeconomics Advisers, I think you saw today, is .6 percent.  CBO estimates that job losses resulting from the sequester could reach -- would reach, rather -- 750,000 by the fourth quarter of this year.  And the Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that over two years the effect would be a million jobs.

This is real.  It is not -- it is urgent.  And it is important that Congress act.  And the choice is clear.  The American people support a balanced approach to deficit reduction. Out in the country, Democrats, independents, and Republicans support a balanced approach to deficit reduction.  And if you ask the American people if the choice is that those 70,000 kids get thrown off of Head Start, or those border security guards lose their jobs, or those teachers have their jobs threatened, on the one hand -- or we ask corporate jet owners to give up their special tax loophole, what do you think they’ll say, overwhelmingly?  This is an indefensible position. 

The choice that Republicans are making is preserve these special tax breaks for oil and gas companies, for corporate jet owners in order -- or -- I’m sorry -- throw these people out of work in order to protect these special tax break for corporate jet owners and oil and gas companies.  It makes no sense and it’s bad policy. 

And when the Speaker says the discussion about revenue is closed, again, ask Americans around the country whether they agree that it is better economic policy for middle-class Americans to lose their jobs, or oil and gas companies to have their subsidies reduced or corporate jet owners to have their loophole closed.  I think we all know that the answer would be.

Q    If a House plan can't win in the Senate and a Senate plan can’t win in the House, what is the White House doing to foster negotiations right now?  Is anybody talking?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think we always make these -- we hear these declarative statements from Capitol Hill and also from the press about what can and cannot pass.  We heard them last year about how revenue would never be allowed.  We would never go along -- this is a Republican speaking -- we would never allow tax rates to go up.  We would never allow them to go up -- again, the next line of defense was, we’ll never allow them to go up on anybody making less than a million dollars.  And we’ll never let the top rate go back to the Clinton-era top rate of 39.6.  All of those things happened.

You know why they happened?  Because the American people supported those positions that the President took and in the end, Congress responded to the will of the American people.  And we hope that's what’s going to happen again this time.

Q    But there were talks going on right up until those decisions were made.

MR. CARNEY:  I am entirely sure that we will continue to engage with Congress, including the leaders in Congress, on this issue at every level.  But the issue here isn’t, as I said yesterday, sitting around the table or sitting in some chairs here in the West Wing.  It’s Congress and congressional leaders, congressional Republicans making a choice between allowing the sequester to kick in with all of the negative effects that would come from that, or postponing the sequester in a reasonable way with a balanced package of spending cuts and revenue increases.

Q    Jay, the President has inveighed against this process of lurching from crisis to crisis, and yet he’s been in the forefront of describing the dire consequences that would result from the sequester.  Doesn't he contribute to the crisis atmosphere by being so outspoken about that?  Wouldn’t it be more productive for him to sit down with the other party and try to work this out?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, the fact is, as I think Jim just pointed out, the President has spent an enormous amount of time sitting down with congressional leaders to try to resolve these stalemates over our budget policy again and again and again.  And he will continue to engage with Congress on these matters.  But it is nonsensical, in our view, to suggest that that is the only approach to take -- because would that it were so that simply persuasion from the President or anyone else sitting in a room about the right course to take would be enough to convince Republicans that it is better to ask corporate jet owners to forego their special interest loophole in the tax code than to throw all these people out of work.  If that’s what were required, we would do just that. 

But the fact of the matter is congressional Republicans are going to listen to the American people, and that's why it’s important to engage the American people and not just speak to members of Congress.  You have to do both, and we have always done both, and will continue to do both. 

Q    Do you see the likelihood of sequester increasingly greater now?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t want to make predictions.  I would note that Congress is out this week, which says something, I suppose. But the fact of the matter is the March 1st deadline is looming, and Congress has an option -- a very simple option -- which is to take up the proposals put forward by Senate Democrats and House Democrats that would do what Congress did collectively -- Republicans and Democrats -- at the end of last year, first of this year, and that is delay the implementation of the sequester by buying it down through spending cuts and revenue increases so that Congress can then get on with regular order -- which goes to the other issue that you raised in your question, which is the need to stop this practice of engaging in manufactured crises.

We need to return to a process that has Congress, the House and the Senate, working on budget proposals, the President submitting his budget, and compromise emerging from that process. And compromise in this case means deficit reduction through entitlement reforms, spending cuts, and tax reform that produces more revenues. 

That’s how we've gotten to where we are, which is over $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction under this President, and it's how we will get to the goal of $4 trillion in further -- in total deficit reduction over 10 years if Congress does the right thing, avoids this unnecessary crisis and all of the negative effects that would come from it, passes a short-term buy-down of the sequester, and proceeds with regular order and the budgetary process.

Q    And lastly, the Japanese Prime Minister is due in town at the end of the week.  Japan is eager for U.S. natural gas exports, but U.S. manufacturers are worried that they could be adversely impacted.  Is the administration open to allowing more exports of natural gas to Japan?  What are some of the other topics the President hopes to raise with the Japanese Prime Minister?

MR. CARNEY:  You know, Mark, I appreciate the questions.  I'm sure we will have a preview for you of the meeting with the Prime Minister.  I don’t want to negotiate from here with our very important allies, so why don’t -- I'm sure we'll have more to say about this tomorrow and certainly Friday.

Q    Jay, what is the President's plan to prevent the  sequestration from happening? 

MR. CARNEY:  The President has put forward a plan --

Q    Yesterday he talked about budget cuts.  What are those cuts that he is proposing?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you can go to and look at the President's budget, look at his submission to the sequester and look at all the reporting -- ample reporting done and information that we provided on the offer that the President made to the Speaker of the House in December that in great detail put forward the spending cuts that the President supported and put forward, as well as the savings from entitlement reforms -- significant savings from entitlement reforms.

Here’s to me a fundamental aspect of this -- like if we all agree that in Washington, Republicans, if they lived in a perfect world and there were nothing but Republicans in Washington and in the country, they would only cut spending and never raise revenue to reduce our deficit.  And Democrats -- let’s just say this were true-- Democrats would only raise revenue and never cut spending, especially not entitlement spending.  So what’s the test of leadership?  What’s the test of making tough choices? 

You might say it’s Republicans agreeing to go along with some revenue and Democrats agreeing to go along with some spending cuts and entitlement savings.  Well, what has happened? The President has led and put forward repeatedly proposals that are balanced, that include spending cuts -- tough spending cuts for Democrats to agree to -- that include savings from entitlement reforms -- very tough decisions for Democrats -- including we’ve talked about a technical change in our CPI that is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of Democrats, but in the context of a bigger deal that includes revenue, reasonable revenue that asks the wealthiest and large corporations to pay their fair share, the President is willing to go along with it. 

What have seen from Republicans?  Not a single, similar kind of tough choice.  All we’ve seen is no revenue, no revenue, no revenue.  We’d rather see those jobs lost.  We’d rather see the border less secure.  We’d rather see our national security undermined than corporate jet owners, God forbid, give up their tax break.  That is not a position that represents courage, leadership or common sense.

Q    So why not have the President come out and say, here’s my plan -- prevent this from happening?

MR. CARNEY:  He has. 

Q    It seems that what you’re driving at is more revenue in the form of closing these loopholes and deductions.  You just went through the fiscal cliff process where you extracted these concessions from the Republicans in raising the rate.  Isn’t it a bit much to expect that kind of concession again just a couple of months later?

MR. CARNEY:  Let’s be clear.  Thus far, there’s been $2.5 trillion at least achieved in deficit reduction.  It hasn’t always been pretty, but under this President’s leadership, working with Congress, that has happened.  By a margin of more than 2 to 1, that deficit reduction has been achieved through spending cuts over revenues. 

The idea that we’re done with revenue suggests that the proposals that the Speaker of the House said he was willing to embrace last year that included up to $800 billion in revenue from tax reform are no longer worthwhile; that those loopholes that should be closed, well, that's not good policy anymore. 

Why?  Why was it good policy back in December to eliminate special interest tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and large corporations, tax breaks, advantages in the tax code that regular folks don't get and small businesses don't get -- why was it good policy then in the name of deficit reduction but not now? Why is it better to preserve those tax breaks now than to preserve the jobs of average Americans around the country who would lose those jobs if the sequester goes into effect?

And when you ask, where’s the President’s plan -- it’s been there.  It’s on  It is in the proposal that he submitted to the Speaker of the House, that the Speaker walked away from, that everyone here represented as -- or most people here understood to be --

Q    That's a budget plan for the long term.  Where --

MR. CARNEY:  That's the big deal.  And the President --

Q    Where is the plan to prevent sequestration from happening next week?

MR. CARNEY:  The President supports --

Q    Shouldn’t the President take the lead and present that plan?

MR. CARNEY:  The President -- well, first of all, Congress has to act.  If it were otherwise and the President could do this himself, I’m sure he would.  Congress has to pass the law to avoid sequestration. 

Senate Democrats have put a proposal on the table, House Democrats have put a proposal on the table that achieves the balance that we support.  And that's all we’re talking about here is a small package to buy down the sequester to the end of the year so that Congress can then come together and achieve the big goal here, which is the further work that needs to be done to get to that $4 trillion figure that economists have said is what we need to get our fiscal house in order and our economy on a fiscally sustainable path for the coming decade.  That's what the President has been talking about.

But I cannot emphasize enough how important it is when you talk about the comparisons here -- the President has consistently put forward proposals that include spending cuts.  He has consistently put forward proposals that include entitlement reforms, not just revenues.  What we have not seen from Republicans in any detail and in any sincere way -- certainly not in the legislative form -- is a proposal that is similar in its request of Republicans that they compromise and make some tough choices.

The public wants that.  The President certainly wants it.


Q    Jay, thanks.  Given that -- most realistically, given the handful of days that are left, the best option is a short-term buy-down plan.  Isn’t there any value of going over the sequester, letting it kick in, and actually working toward a long-term deficit reduction plan, instead of just kicking the can down the road one more time?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, here’s what I would say to that.  It may sound okay in the abstract, but it doesn't sound okay around the kitchen table in the homes of those families who would be affected by the job cuts, by the furloughs and the layoff notices that will come if the sequester kicks in.  It doesn't sound okay to the children who -- and the parents of the children who will have to give up mental health services, or to seniors who would lose services, or to those who, understandably, worry about our border being protected who would then see a reduction in the Border Patrol because the sequester goes into effect.

The President firmly believes we ought to continue seeking and striving for completion of the so-called grand bargain or big deal, the $4 trillion figure.  Congress has demonstrated an interest in pursuing regular budget order, in pursuing a budgetary process that could lead to that end and achievement of that goal.  But it is wholly unnecessary to throw up to 750,000 people out of work just to get there.  They can pass an extension of the sequester, a delay of the sequester, just like they did at the end of last year so that Congress can get the work that it wants to get done, done.

Q    But at what point does it get done if not now?  And at what point does the President and Congress really try to avert these manufactured crises the President talked about yesterday?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there’s legislature that has been submitted that would avert the sequester implementation by House and Senate Democrats.  The President supports that legislation.  It represents the balance that the American people overwhelmingly support.  These are the kinds of both cuts and revenue increases that have in the past been acceptable to both sides in the name of avoiding something as draconian as the sequester. 

And that’s what Congress should do, and the President would sign that, and then continue with the process -- the President will submit his budget; the Senate will come up with a budget and pass a budget; and then we can return to a process that, hopefully, if there is compromise, if there is a willingness -- going back to earlier questions -- by Republicans to make the same kinds of touch choices from their perspective that Democrats and the President have been willing to make, that we can then get this business done -- achieve the $4 trillion in total deficit reduction over a decade that has been the goal since this process started.

Q    The President reached out to key Republicans who were working on immigration reform yesterday.  Does this represent a shift in his strategy?  Can we expect him to reach out to Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner on the sequester today or in the coming days?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have any calls or meetings to announce or preview for you today.  But I think it represents the regular engagement on the top priorities that the President has and that the country has with members of Congress, and that will continue.

As I think we learned yesterday, yes, the President reached out to some of the Republican leaders of the Gang of Eight on immigration reform.  That is in keeping with the regular outreach that has been done at a staff level by the White House.

Q    Republicans have said they haven’t had regular engagement with the President and they say they haven’t heard from him in months on the sequester.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, the President is the President, and he has working for him here a substantial staff that engages and works with Congress on these issues. 

As the President has made clear, he is encouraged by and hopeful about the process underway in the Senate, the bipartisan process led by the so-called Gang of Eight, towards achieving a comprehensive immigration reform bill that could pass the Senate -- hopefully overwhelmingly -- and pass the House, and land on his desk for his signature.  He prefers that option to any other, and he is very encouraged by the progress that’s been made thus far.  He thought his conversations with Senate Democrats involved in this process last week were very productive, and he felt the same about his conversations with Senate Republicans yesterday.

Q    Jay, on the sequester, you said repeatedly today and yesterday that these are real and urgent cuts that would take place quickly.  But The New York Times points out today that when the President was saying yesterday in his remarks that tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids, that that’s not really going to happen on March 1st, is it?  I mean, how do you back up that tens of thousands of parents will be searching for childcare immediately?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, whether these cuts -- whether that search begins on March 1st or in the near future, the impact on our economy, the impact on people’s lives is real.  Again, don’t take my word for it.  Macroeconomics Advisers, Moody's, the CBO all estimate massive job loss if the sequester is allowed to take effect.  That’s just a fact.

Q    So what happens on March 1st?  What happens on March 2nd?  How quickly does this -- because when you say -- the President said that yesterday, too -- hundreds of thousands of jobs.  There's not going to be hundreds of thousands of job losses the first week, are there?

MR. CARNEY:  No, but there will be job losses, and that’s been clear.  Look, we have already --

Q    But people want to quantify this because you're making -- you're scaring the public that this is going to happen, it's going to be horrible --

MR. CARNEY:  So these outside economic firms are scaring the public?  And the CBO is scaring the public?

Q    I'm just saying, how do you back up that this is urgent and that hundreds of thousands of jobs are going to be lost?

MR. CARNEY:  I'd love to rewind to the questions I got the day that the GDP figure came out for the fourth quarter.  And those questions were pretty alarming.  And maybe you guys were trying to scare the public, but, in fact, I think you guys were asking sensible questions about why we got the number we got.  And one of the reasons we got the number we got in the fourth quarter, despite all the other positive economic news we had been getting, was because industries, especially in the defense sector, were anticipating the implementation of the sequester, which, at the time, of course, was due January 1st. 

But Congress did the sensible thing -- something it could do again -- which is passed an extension, a delay of the sequester, by buying it down with a reasonable, balanced package of spending cuts and revenues.  That’s what they ought to do again.

It is easy to stand in Washington, whether you're a congressman on Capitol Hill, or a reporter here, or an administration official, and suggest that this is all abstract.  But it's not abstract to the people who are affected.  And there will be people affected. 

I think we heard today that there's a process -- the process begins, essentially, at the Defense Department for furlough notices, the process that leads to furlough notices.  Those are people who are working to protect our country every day who will be affected by the implementation of the sequester.  Those are real people with real jobs.

Q    Before the election, though, the White House tried to stop those furlough notices -- right before the election. 

MR. CARNEY:  We were hopeful -- well, first of all, before the election -- the election was, what, November 6th, November 8th?  That was not 10 days before implementation of the sequester.  That’s one.

Two, the fact is we're doing reasonable planning -- the administration has reasonable planning in anticipation of a sequester that, again, depending on the day of the week, the Speaker of the House either says is a good thing that he's convinced his fellow Republicans in the House to support because he's got it in his back pocket as leverage against the President and Democrats, or is a bad thing because the cuts would hurt our national defense and cost us jobs.  Both can't be true unless you're highly cynical.  And we agree that the sequester implementation would be a bad thing for jobs, for middle-class families, and for our national defense.


Q    Since the general wisdom in Washington is that it's probably going to happen --

MR. CARNEY:  How often is it right? 

Q    -- why shouldn’t we suspect that you're willing to take a few weeks of this until it begins to bite and you have to then get some more money, the CR runs out end of the month -- I mean, work it all together to your advantage?

MR. CARNEY:  I think you should pay attention to what we have been doing and saying.  And in contrast to, unfortunately, Republicans, including the leadership, including the Speaker of the House, who have been suggesting that implementation of the sequester would not be a bad thing, that it would give them political leverage --

Q    Oh, I hear what you're saying --

MR. CARNEY:  -- but we have been I think -- the question I just got a moment ago was that we're being too alarmist about the implementation of the sequester.

Again, we don’t want the sequester to happen.  The impact would be negative on our economy, would be terrible for American families.  We don’t want it.  We think that it's bad policy.  It was designed to be bad policy.  That was the whole point.  The sequester was written in a way that would assure that Congress would never let it happen.

Q    But by putting it off to the point where it was put off, it conflates to your advantage, perhaps.

MR. CARNEY:  Look, we're not -- I think you're misunderstanding.  Maybe we're not doing a good enough job of trying to convince you that we wholly support efforts in Congress to buy down the sequester.  They should come back and do it tomorrow, and if not, come back and do it next week -- buy it down so that the sequester does not have an effect -- an immediate effect, and that Congress can get back to work on long-term deficit reduction so we can get that $4 trillion deficit reduction that economists have long called for and that we have been working towards, the President and the Congress, not always in pretty fashion.

But the fact is, $2.5 trillion -- up to $2.7 in deficit reduction has been achieved thus far.  We have seen a situation where our deficits are coming down, but we need to do more work to make sure that process continues.  And that’s what we want. That’s what the President wants.

Q    Can I ask you a question about the USTR announcement this afternoon about cybercrime, among other things; trade protection?  What can we expect?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think if you're talking about the issue of trade secrets --

Q    Yes.

MR. CARNEY:  Right.  I mean, there are two things that I think have been conflated, and I want to make sure that everybody understands.  There were a series of stories in the last 48 hours or so about hackers, cybersecurity issues, and I addressed that in the briefing yesterday. 

And this is a very large concern of the President's.  He's made this an issue repeatedly.  He pressed Congress last year to pass legislation, and as you know, just the other day issued an executive order addressing cybersecurity.  But the fact of the matter is an executive order is not a substitute for new cyber legislation.  So we, again, call on Congress to take up cybersecurity legislation because it's important for our national security and our economic security. 

The other issue, which I think you're talking about, is that today there is a launch of the administration's strategy to -- I almost said “strategery,” which would be pretty funny -- (laughter) -- to mitigate the theft of U.S. trade secrets.  We know that trade secret theft can cripple a company's competitive advantage in foreign markets, diminish export prospects around the globe, and put American jobs in jeopardy.  And that strategy we are releasing today coordinates and improves U.S. government efforts to protect the innovation that drives the American economy and supports jobs in the United States.

So these are understandably related issues, but separate.


Q    Jay, you said repeatedly this is a choice between tax breaks for corporate jet owners and devastating spending cuts.  Can you tell me how much money closing that loophole for corporate jet owners would save?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have that figure.  I know -- I remember from when we talked about this and called on Congress to do it that we're talking in terms of subsidies to oil and gas companies something like $4 billion a year, if I remember.  We can get those figures for you.

Here's the thing.  Here's the point I'm making, Jon, is the President has never said, we have never said that we should close our deficit through revenue increases alone.  In fact, the President has always said that we should have a ratio of spending cuts that is -- ratio of spending cuts to revenues that is higher in spending cuts than revenues.  And that’s what he's pursued. 

But we have to do it in a balanced way, because if you don’t, you end up with something like the Ryan budget, which, in the name of deficit reduction and also tax breaks for the wealthy, voucherized Medicare.  Well, that was bad policy and unnecessary.

Q    But can we acknowledge here that closing the tax loophole for corporate jet owners -- which, as far as I know, I think is about $300 million a year or a little less -- that that is not going to solve your sequester problem?  I mean, you keep pointing to it as --

MR. CARNEY:  We can acknowledge it, but --

Q    It’s a tiny sliver, it’s nothing.

MR. CARNEY:  -- implicit in your suggestion is that we've ever suggested it would.

Q    Well, you've said multiple times today that they want to project -- they want to protect corporate jet owners' loophole instead of --

MR. CARNEY:  Can you tell me a single tax loophole, special-interest tax breaks that Republicans have identified that they are willing to close to reduce the deficit?  I take your silence as no.

Q    Well, I'll let them make their case for that.  I'm just saying it’s going to take more than corporate --

MR. CARNEY:  Although the Speaker of the House did -- the Speaker of the House -- let's give him a little credit here -- did, late last year, suggest without giving any details, that he could come up with $800 billion in revenue from wealthy Americans and corporations to reduce the deficit by closing loopholes and capping deductions.  We think he's right, or he was right then.  We can do that.

It's not going to do the job alone -- absolutely not.  That’s why the President has signed into law more than $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction, 2-to-1 spending cuts over revenue increases.  And that’s why he continues to have on the table an offer to the Republicans, an offer to the Speaker of the House, that includes spending cuts, including savings from revenue -- I mean, savings from entitlement programs that are very tough for Democrats to accept.  But as part of a balanced package, he has put it forward and the offer still stands.

Q    So on a totally different subject, why does the Vice President keep suggesting that people buy shotguns?  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  The point the Vice President was making yesterday is one that he’s made before.  And that is, first, that this administration, this President and this Vice President, this administration firmly supports our Second Amendment rights upheld by the Constitution.  And that includes the right of homeowners, law-abiding American citizens to have a firearm at their home to protect themselves and their home.

The point he was making yesterday -- again, a point that he's made in the past -- is that in his view, you do not need a military-style assault weapon to protect your home.  In fact, you would be better off with a shotgun, including --

Q    Double-barrel.

MR. CARNEY:  -- I think that is what he said.  And as I understand it, he has a double-barrel -- he has a 12-gauge and a 20-gauge.

Q    But does the President agree with him -- and this is a direct quote from the Vice President -- "If you want to protect yourself, get a double-barreled shotgun."  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  I think the Vice President -- the President does agree with the Vice President that homeowners who are interested in utilizing their Second Amendment rights to own a firearm to protect themselves in their home, and their families in their home, do not need a military-style assault weapon, and that a shotgun would be a logical choice.

Q    And going out onto the balcony and firing a couple shots in the air, is that -- I mean, that was the other thing he suggested.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, that was what the Vice President recommended.  I think the point he was making is that you do not need a military-style assault weapon, and that a shotgun would do the trick. 


Q    Back to the theft of trade secrets report coming out later this afternoon -- how much of that is aimed at China?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think we need to separate reports yesterday about hacking -- and I addressed this yesterday and I think I made clear that with regard to China, the United States and China are among the world's largest cyber actors, and it is vital that we continue a sustained, meaningful dialogue and work together to develop an understanding of acceptable behavior in cyberspace.

We repeatedly and will continue to raise our concerns at the highest levels about cyber theft with senior Chinese officials, including in the military.  And that is that issue.

On trade secrets, again, I would refer you to the rollout later today that the OMB's Office of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator will be releasing as part of the administration's strategy to mitigate the theft of U.S. trade secrets.  So more details on that will be forthcoming.  I don’t really have them. 

Q    Understood.  Does the administration favor fines or trade retaliation for countries that are engaged in this sort of thing?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think that’s a broad question that would have to be addressed by the experts on this issue, so I would refer you to the rollout later today.

Q    Okay, one other.  Any number of companies, and according to court cases, GM, DuPont, others have been victims of such espionage.  What does the administration want companies to do as a result of this report coming out this afternoon?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, with regards to the trade secrets report, I would urge you to seek information from those who are rolling out the strategy.  I can tell you that as a general matter, this administration has been focused on protecting government cybersecurity as well as assisting and providing information to the private sector to help the private sector protect itself when it comes to cybercrime.

This is especially important when it comes to private companies that deal with the national infrastructure -- the electric grid and other types of infrastructure that is vital in this country.  So this is a very serious issue.  And you’ve heard John Brennan and others address it in the past.  It is something that is very much on the President’s mind.  It is why the President has urged Congress to act appropriately on cybersecurity legislation and why, again, today we’re calling on Congress to act.


Q    Jay, I want to go back to a question I asked you yesterday.  We know CBO has the numbers for those -- the job losses through sequestration.  What are the White House numbers? Have you, the numbers crunchers here, calculated the exact numbers that you think if sequestration were to happen, how many people would lose their jobs?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any specific numbers done by White House economists.  I think you can assume that my citation of CBO, Moody’s, and Macroeconomics Advisers to outside private economic firms suggests that we believe that they are in the ballpark of accuracy over here when we talk about massive job loss that would result from implementation of the sequester.

Q    So when the President said hundreds of thousands yesterday, he was talking about Moody’s, he was talking about -- or was he talking about CBO?

MR. CARNEY:  We agree with the consensus estimates here, again, from private outside economic firms, from the Congressional Budget Office that say that we would lose -- the country would lose up to 750,000 jobs if the sequester were allowed to be implemented.

Q    And I want to kind of follow up -- back up on what Jon said.  It was kind of striking what the Vice President said yesterday about the double-barreled shotgun.  How long has he been an owner of a shotgun?  And what does he -- is he a hunter? Is it just for protection?  What?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the Vice President’s comments.  This is a comment he has made on several occasions, and I would refer you to the Vice President’s office.  He does own and keeps in a safe at his home in Delaware a .12-gauge and a .20-gauge shotgun.  He is a law-abiding gun owner.  And I think that reflects the fact that he, as Vice President and as a senator, and this President fully supports Second Amendment rights. 

A point that I’ve tried to make again and again when we talk about the President’s comprehensive package of proposals to address the problem of gun violence in America would not -- if all of them were implemented, the executive actions and the legislation -- if it all happened tomorrow, not a single law-abiding American citizen would lose his or her weapon, or his or her firearm.  And that’s because we believe in Second Amendment rights.  But we need to take action -- sensible action, common-sense action to try to reduce the scourge of gun violence in this country.

Q    And I want to follow up on that real quick.  I mean, he did bring the Second Lady into the conversation with that, and he was talking about -- he said, you know, Jill, if -- and I’m just paraphrasing -- if there’s a problem, just fire it off twice.  So is she -- do you have any information on her?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to the Vice President’s office.

Donovan.  Oh, sorry, and then Jim.

Q    Two quick questions.  Does the White House have any estimate about White House jobs that may be lost or furloughed?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to take the question and refer you to OMB.

Q    If you can get back to us on that?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    Really get back to us.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m looking forward to -- no.  (Laughter.)   I’ll have to take that question.

Q    And would he cancel his trip to the Middle East if the --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to speculate.

Q    Well, you have to plan.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to speculate.  We believe Congress should act next week to avoid the sequester.  It is inherently the right thing to do, using -- if you just look at what the Speaker of the House himself has said all on different occasions about the terrible consequences of the sequester to our national defense and to jobs, it makes the point -- he makes the point, as the President has made and others have made, that Congress should take the appropriate action to avoid the sequester so that Congress can then proceed to deal with our larger budget challenges.


Q    But you don’t rule out canceling the trip?

Q    Yes, if you could get back to me --

MR. CARNEY:  We have no schedule changes to make or announce.

Q    If you could get back to me about the White House job numbers and planning process, that would be great.  Separately, North Korea has released --

MR. CARNEY:  I could also encourage you to call OMB, but we’ll do both.

Q    Thank you.  North Korea has released a video showing the President surrounded by flames and is suggesting -- the official state news agency said that it was a computer visualization of their nuclear attack -- their threatened nuclear attack, and it’s directed obviously at the President of the United States.  And I was wondering if you guys had seen that, and if you had a reaction.

MR. CARNEY:  I read about it.  I haven’t seen it.  I would simply say that provocative propaganda is far less concerning to us and to our allies than provocative actions that violate North Korea’s commitments to the United Nations and the international community, its flagrant violations of its commitments when it comes to its nuclear weapons program.  And we are working with our allies to isolate and pressure North Korea appropriately, given its continuing defiance of its international obligations.


Q    Jay, on the issue of immigration again, Senator John McCain, in his home state at a town meeting today, said that obviously the borders are not secure, that Arizona remains the main drug pipeline for drugs coming from Mexico, and that until this issue is resolved there will be no path to citizenship.
Understanding the numbers there that have happened recently, still how would the White House certify -- how would the White House propose to convince those along the borders that what they're saying is not true, that the borders are secure?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we have made the point very clearly that's backed up by independent data that our borders are significantly more secure than when the President took office; that we have made great strides in border security in the last several years; that we have dedicated significant resources to that effort and that statistics bear out the fact that that effort is resulting in fewer -- producing positive results in terms of migration and interdictions. 

We have never said that the work is done, that the job is done.  That is why when the President talks about comprehensive immigration reform, when the President lays out his blueprint -- as he has now for more than a year on -- one of the priorities -- the number-one priority is continuing to take necessary action to enhance our border security, following on the work that’s been done thus far.

I would point to previous quotes, very recent quotes from Senator McCain in which he acknowledged the significant improvements in border security that have been made over the last several years.  And we share his commitment to taking further action as part of comprehensive immigration reform.  So I don’t think there's a lot of disagreement here when it comes to the need to pursue enhanced border security as part of comprehensive immigration reform.  That’s part of why it's called comprehensive.

So we look forward, as the President -- as we said in the aftermath of the President's conversations with Republican senators, to continuing to work with Congress, work with the Senate as they pursue bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation.  The President is encouraged by the progress that’s been made.  We saw comments from Senator Rubio and others that talked about the positive progress that’s been made and the optimism that I think those engaged in the process generally share about the prospects of success.

But we encourage the Senate to keep working because this is a significant priority.  It's a priority that has in the past enjoyed broad bipartisan support, and that we believe is, once again, enjoying broad bipartisan support.  I mean, don’t forget that the legislation that then-Senator Obama supported back in 2006 was co-authored by Senator McCain.  It had the support of President George W. Bush, Republican President.  And that I think represents and reflects what should be the bipartisan consensus behind this very important policy goal.

Q    But if they are saying -- if John McCain is saying that the path to citizenship will not happen until the borders are secure, and there still remains this disagreement about whether or not they are secure, what is the White House's idea to certify?  Is it going to be a commission?  Is it going to be some kind of statement?  Is there going to be a certain number?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven't seen the specific comments that you've talked about.  We've talked a lot about the interplay between border security as part of a broader -- and other measures that are part of comprehensive immigration reform.  We wait to see what the bipartisan group produces and the legislation that’s written and produced by this effort.

We insist -- and this reflects views of both Republicans and Democrats -- that comprehensive immigration reform provide a clear path to citizenship that includes getting in the back of the line and paying taxes and the like.  And I think that is a goal, again, shared by Republicans and Democrats.  But I’m not going to prejudge legislation that we haven’t seen yet.


Q    Jay, you said that Republicans will ultimately be swayed by the American public.  I was looking at a bunch of polling results from the last few months that showed that Americans are pretty complacent about defense cuts in particular. They see more room for cutting the Pentagon budget.  Does that make it harder to sway Republicans on that part of the sequester?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would point you to what Republicans have said about the effects of sequester -- sequestration on national security, on our defense readiness.  It is a fact that it affects deployment.  It would have impacts on Army readiness. It would impose cuts to Air Force flying hours.  And I think that would be a concern to all Americans who worry about our national defense.

But it would also, again, result in 70,000 kids getting kicked off of Head Start.  It would result in cuts to mental health services for children, and to schools and teachers, to the border patrols I’ve mentioned, and to military mental health care -- to just name a few; to the jobs of first responders, to others who would be affected by this.

So this is -- the reason why the list is so long is because the sequester was written to be broad and indiscriminate, and therefore not to become policy.  So we call on Congress to take reasonable and appropriate action to pass legislation that would buy down the sequester; postpone the sequester with a package of spending cuts and revenue increases that make sure that we’re not asking people to lose their jobs rather than ask corporate jet owners to give up their tax breaks, or oil and gas companies to give up their taxpayer subsidies achieved through special lines in the tax code that reflect the influence they have in Washington through lobbyists that regular folks don’t have, that small business owners don’t have.  And that’s why this choice is so stark.  It’s why we have to have balance. 

And to go to Jon’s point, we have never suggested that revenues alone would do the job.  We have always suggested that balance is the right approach; that spending cuts, entitlement reforms, and revenues taken together produce the kind of package -- as every bipartisan group that’s looked at this has said -- that does the job that’s fair -- in a fair way, and does it in a way that helps our economy grow and create jobs.

Q    The political calculation, though -- it was that the Pentagon cuts would be toxic to Republicans, not the Head Start cuts or something like that.  Are you surprised that Republicans don’t seem as put off by that kind of cut?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I feel like I’m suffering from whiplash, because what Republicans said about how these cuts would be devastating and unacceptable last year they then seemed to recant earlier this year.  But then we have the Speaker saying again today that the cuts would be devastating and deep, and would result in job loss.  And for some reason, rather than focusing on solutions to this problem, they seem to be obsessed with whose idea it was in the first place. 

And, I mean, you know my point about that, which is it’s irrelevant, first of all, because the policy was never supposed to be implemented.  That was the purpose that both Democrats and Republicans had in mind when they wrote the legislation, A.  And then, B, if they had nothing to do with it and never liked it in the first place, why, as a Republican congressman has said, did they vote for it, overwhelmingly?  One hundred and seventy-one Republicans in the House voted for it, compared to I think 95 Democrats.  Every Republican leader in the House voted for it, including Speaker Boehner.  And on the day it passed, the Speaker of the House said, I got 98 percent of what I wanted and I’m pretty pleased.

So this is a ridiculous argument.  We should be focusing on solutions.  We should be focusing on resolving this so that people don’t lose their jobs.

Alexis -- last one.

Q    Just related to this -- can you clarify, is the President calling on the Senate next week to vote on the alternative to the sequester, the postponement, the mini deal that they pull together as time is ticking by?  I’m just not sure, when you were saying vote on the alternative, is a date set?  Does he want them to vote next week?

MR. CARNEY:  We want Congress to act before March 1st to avert the sequester.  There is legislation that has been put forward by Senate Democrats and House Democrats that would do that in a balanced way, a way that the President supports.  He would certainly welcome a congressional package of that legislation to achieve the goal he set out, which is to avoid the sequester so that Congress, working with the administration, can take action to further reduce our deficit in a way that helps our economy grow, that helps expand the middle class and create ladders of opportunity for Americans who aspire to the middle class.

I mean, that’s the simple formula here.  And, again, it shouldn’t be that difficult.  We should not have these kind of crises where some folks seem to see it as leverage and political advantage to drive our economy off a cliff, whichever cliff you choose, in this case the so-called sequester, in order to try to advance ideological goals.  We should be working towards common-sense solutions here.

And common sense means balance.  It means tough choices by Democrats, tough choices by Republicans, nobody gets everything that they want, and we get something done for the American people.

Q    One other quick budget question.  Somewhere between March 1 and March 27th, the President's next fiscal blueprint, his budget blueprint will come out, presumably before he goes to the Middle East.  So my question is, how does the President want that new budget -- including his revenue ideas, his list of cuts, his list of investments -- how does he want that to shape the discussion that will either come after sequester or precede the CR debate?  How will that help or hurt the debate?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we certainly hope it doesn’t hurt the debate.  Our expectation -- well, I mean, I would say first off, I'm sure the President will be enormously pleased if Congress just passed it as written.  That I don’t think has ever happened, so we don’t expect it will.

But a presidential budget is essentially a detailed outline for Congress of what the President's priorities are.  And we would certainly hope that, as has been the case in the past, that the balance represented in his approach to deficit reduction, the key investments that he insists we make in infrastructure, in education, in research and development are adopted by Congress, because that’s the way we can ensure not only that people are working now and that the middle class is growing now, but that the American economy is strong in the future and that we do that, we put into place these policies in a way that reduces our deficit, gets our fiscal house in order and allows us to continue to grow.

Dan, I feel like I've been -- neglected you.  Go ahead.  Last one.

Q    The President is going to Israel.  There is a lot of concern there about impact from the sequester on the Iron Dome project, maybe visiting an Iron Dome battery.  Can he go there with the intent on assuring Israelis that there will be no severe impact on support of --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have the specificity required to address the question about those kinds of impacts.  I think the Pentagon would be the place to go for that. 

But I can say broadly that the President believes, and agrees with the Speaker of the House, that the sequester should not become fact.  It was never meant to become implemented policy because, in part, the cuts to our defense are too severe and would adversely affect our national security.  But the specifics would have to be addressed over at the Pentagon. 

Thanks, everybody.

Q    Can you take a question from a local affiliate?

Q    Oh, yes.  We want to hear. 

MR. CARNEY:  Okay, I'll take a question.  Yes, I'm sorry, I didn’t even see you guys here.  Yes.

Q    About the tax-exempt status of the corporate jets -- there are tens of thousands of people who are middle-class workers who work in corporate aviation.  My question is -- including several tens of thousands in Kansas, Washington, Oklahoma.  They are very worried about the President's comments about eliminating the tax exemption because in their words, every time it's been eliminated before, there has been layoffs.  And there have been thousands of layoffs in Kansas since the President started mentioning this in the corporate aviation area. These are middle-class workers.  What would you say to them?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say that making budgets and choices about deficit reduction always involves difficult choices, and that when it's a choice between laying teachers off or affecting our national security or, in the broader scheme, reforming our tax code in a way that eliminates these tax breaks -- special interest tax breaks or subsidies, that is a better option than voucherizing Medicare or cutting education investment or throwing people -- kids off of Head Start.  I think that --

Q    The guy that lost his job last week -- or last June --

MR. CARNEY:  No, I understand --

Q    -- he left me a message and said, I lost my job because of this.  I'm sure -- I mean, he supports a family.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think that the question here is what choices do we make, and do we choose to protect narrow, special interest loopholes that, by the way, the Speaker of the House said just late last year, there were so many of them that he could come up with $800 billion in revenues that he would direct towards deficit reduction just by closing loopholes like that and capping deductions like the ones we've discussed. 

I don’t doubt that there are benefits that are enjoyed by companies and others that flow from these loopholes and special provisions in the tax code.  But the broader interest here is in making choices that are fair for everyone in the way that we reduce our deficit.  And closing --

Q    -- the middle class is employed, so it will affect them. 

MR. CARNEY:  I take your point.  I think I've answered the question, which is that we have to make choices here.  And I think that, overwhelmingly, a decision to close a special interest tax break as opposed to throwing 70,000 kids off of Head Start is a pretty clear choice.  None of these are cost-free, but it's a pretty clear choice.

Thank you.
1:45 P.M. EST

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