Press Briefing

March 12, 2013 | 48:39 | 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, 3/12/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:47 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for being here.  Just a quick thing I want to mention at the top, if I may. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send the full Senate two more important pieces of the President's plan to reduce gun violence.  Providing districts with resources to make their schools safer and closing loopholes that allow felons, the mentally ill and others who should not have guns to avoid background checks are important measures that will help save lives.  We look forward to continuing to work with Congress on this and on the other important pieces of legislation that are part of the President's comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence.
And with that, I'll go to your questions.  Darlene.
Q    Thank you, Jay.  I wanted to start off by objecting to the decision this morning to limit the President's remarks to just the print pooler and not a broader pool.
MR. CARNEY:  I take your objection.  I think it was live-streamed, so everyone in America with electricity and a computer could see it today. 
Q    That's true, but -- 
Q    If it's live-streamed on, we should allow the TV cameras in as well.
MR. CARNEY:  I take your objection.
Q    And we also don't want to see a situation where live-streaming sort of takes the place of us actually being in where the President is --
MR. CARNEY:  Well, you know that's certainly not the case.  But I appreciate the point.
Q    Jay, what was the reason for it today?
MR. CARNEY:  Again, we made a decision based on the fact that it was live-streamed.  There's a print pooler there -- or was there -- and it was available for everyone to see.
Q    But many events have been live-streamed and you've let the pool in and any other reporters with hard passes in.  Why the change this time?
MR. CARNEY:  I think it was just because of the logistics of this, and the fact that it was live-streamed and the print pooler was sent.  I would not read anything bigger than the decision today into today's decision. 
Q    On the gun vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, how will -- will that factor into the President's discussions today with the Senate Democrats?
MR. CARNEY:  I think it's safe to say that when the President meets with Senate Democrats, as he will in a little bit, he will discuss an array of topics.  I think he will commend the Senate Democrats for their focus and persistence in making sure that the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized, and the President was very glad to be able to sign that. 
He will focus on the work that Senate Democrats have done with Senate Republicans to advance bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform.  He will, I'm sure, as you note, Darlene, talk about the progress that Senate Democrats have made towards the goal of bipartisan measures to reduce gun violence in America.  And he will certainly discuss -- well, as I mentioned yesterday, he may bring up concerns he has about the unnecessary delays that have confronted our nominations, the historic delays.
Just yesterday, I believe, the Senate finally confirmed someone to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals who was filibustered for something like 464 days.  So you would think there must have been something disturbing about his nomination, that there must have been great opposition to it.  Instead, he was voted and confirmed 91-0.  That I think is emblematic of a problem that we have in the confirmation process. 
He will also, of course, talk about budget and fiscal issues, the work that Senator Murray is doing on a budget for the Senate and the work that he is engaged in, discussing with lawmakers of both parties to try to find common ground on these issues -- on the need to reduce our deficit in a balanced way, the need to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform, to move forward with measures to reduce gun violence, to take action to ensure that we're investing in education and infrastructure and innovation -- the areas that will allow our economy to grow and create jobs in the future. 
There's a big agenda here and the American people want action on all of that.  So those will likely be the subjects. 
Q    So the Ryan budget, is there anything in there that you can provide that you would find positive about it, that might prompt some breakthrough on a major deficit reduction deal?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, the President had lunch with Chairman Ryan last week, as well as Congressman Van Hollen.  He is engaging with lawmakers of both parties and has, notably, had the dinner with Senate Republicans.  But the engagement is broader and deeper and continues.
We put out a statement today -- I put out a statement about our view of the Ryan budget.  And the President certainly believes that Congressman Ryan is sincere in what he believes his budget represents in terms of policy priorities, and he commends Congressman Ryan for the effort, but there is no question that the Ryan budget, again, represents a series of policy choices that this President profoundly disagrees with. 
As I noted in my statement, it aims to reduce the deficit, but the math doesn’t add up.  And you have a situation where you either have to -- as we saw last year when there was a proposal put forward by Congressman Ryan’s running mate, in order to lower the rates the way that he proposes, there is no way to do that in a revenue-neutral way without raising taxes substantially on middle-class families.  There is simply no way.  Outside economists made that clear last year.
The problem is more severe with this budget, because the fact is that Chairman Ryan takes as his baseline the increase in rates for the wealthiest Americans that was achieved through the fiscal cliff compromise and instead of going from -- therefore going from 35 percent down to 28 percent, which is what Governor Romney proposed in his tax reform plan that was untenable and would have resulted in massive tax hikes for the middle class, Chairman Ryan would make that cut from 39.6 to 25 percent and the result would be even more punishing for middle-class Americans.
On the other side, again, I guess it’s -- we look at the Ryan budget as a perfect example of why balance is so necessary, because this is the alternative to balance.  It results in unfair tax hikes on middle-class Americans and it results in an undue burden on middle-class Americans through the cuts envisioned either on education, or investments in infrastructure, and elsewhere -- and innovation -- and those cuts, of course, harm our future long term, our future growth.
But then on the entitlement side, voucherizing Medicare is an option the public I think overwhelmingly rejects -- rejected last year, rejected the year before, does not believe is good policy.  But beyond public disapproval, it does nothing to deal with the fundamental problem here, which is rising health care costs.  It actually exacerbates that problem, but shifts the burden from the Medicare program to seniors, asks them to pay the difference.  And that doesn't, obviously, keep true to the promise of the guarantee that the Medicare program represents. 
So we see a lot of differences.  There is no question.  But the President does believe that there is a consensus in America about the need for a balanced approach.  There is a consensus, a majority -- certainly a consensus in the Senate about the need for a balanced approach.  So Senate Democrats, House Democrats, the President, the public, and a lot of Senate Republicans have expressed interest in a balanced approach.  So for that reason, the President believes there is cause to continue the effort to try to find common ground and compromise.
Q    You’ve cited a number of things that the President will say today up on the Hill.  Is he going up there to give a speech, or is it a conversation?
MR. CARNEY:  I think it’s a conversation, but he’ll certainly have some things to say at the top.  And he’ll interact with members, as he will, I believe, in his other meetings with both Democrats in the House and Republicans in the Senate and the House.
Yes, Jim.
Q    Jay, this morning the National Journal quoted a senior administration official who spoke anonymously and said about the President’s trips to the Hill and this outreach to Republicans, “This is a joke.  We’re wasting the President’s time and hours.  I hope you all (in the media) are happy because we’re doing it for you.”  Is this a show?  Does the President feel this is a joke?
MR. CARNEY:  I saw that story, Jim, and I appreciate the question because I have no idea who said that, but I can tell you that opinion has never been voiced in my presence, in the President’s presence, in the West Wing.  It does not represent the President’s view.  It does not represent the White House’s view, and it does not represent the administration’s view.
Q    And did you talk to the President personally about this to make sure that this was not his view?
MR. CARNEY:  I talk to the President every day about this very issue, and the answer is he believes strongly that it is important to engage with lawmakers of both parties in order to find common ground so that we can move forward not just on our budget issues, but on the other issues that confront us.  And there is great opportunity to do that.
We have seen progress on immigration reform.  We have seen progress, as I mentioned at the top, in the Congress, in the Senate on efforts to reduce gun violence.  We need to make progress on enhancing our energy independence.  We need to make progress on rebuilding our infrastructure, because it puts people to work now and it makes us more competitive economically in the future.  And there is reason to believe that we can do that. 
We’re not naïve.  There are disagreements and obstacles.  But the President is at the head of this effort because he believes deeply in it.  And that comment again, I’m not sure who said it, I have no idea, but it does not represent in any way the President’s view or the views of this White House.
Q    And about the Ryan budget, it does away with the President’s signature legislative achievement, health care reform.  And I was just curious -- does the President view or does the White House view that as bargaining in good faith?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think the President believes that Chairman Ryan is sincere in his views.  I think many --
Q    Some people are calling it delusional.  Is that a word you’d use?
MR. CARNEY:  I think it has been -- the House Republicans have voted more than 30 times to repeal Obamacare.  That seems at some point to be time not well spent. 
And the President believes it’s important to expand health insurance coverage to the millions of Americans who will be covered because of the Affordable Care Act.  And we have been moving forward with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, working with states around the country on establishment of exchanges, working with states around the country on the expansion of Medicaid coverage, and working with governors of both parties.  As you know, there has been some news in that regard just recently.
So again, we have profound differences at a substantive level with the budget proposed by Chairman Ryan.  It is in many ways a reiteration of his proposals of the past.  The biggest difference is that he’s able to take advantage of -- for baseline purposes and at least deficit reduction on paper -- the revenue increases that he opposed and the President put forward and the Medicare savings that he opposed and the President put forward. 
But what it doesn’t do is plausibly deal with deficit reduction in a way -- I mean, there’s a choice here.  Either you reduce the deficit or balance the budget, as he says, by having to raise taxes on the middle class and voucherizing Medicare and all the other deep cuts and unnecessary programmatic changes that are included in there, or you don’t actually reach deficit reduction, and there’s no -- or both, you do both -- and you still stick it to the middle class.
So on the issue of the tax reform, we did go through this last year.  And it was widely viewed when it was proposed by Governor Romney as untenable because you simply can’t find $5 trillion in loopholes and deductions only from the wealthy and well-connected through tax reform to make it revenue neutral, to achieve the kind of tax rate reduction that Chairman Ryan and Governor Romney envisioned last year with Chairman Ryan, and Chairman Ryan envisions this year.  It’s just not mathematically possible.
So the result is that the middle class ends up paying, and the middle class ends up paying for tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy.  I mean, after all, those in the top bracket would see something like a 37 percent pay cut -- I mean tax cut, a 37 percent tax cut, from 39.6 to 25 percent. That’s pretty hefty.  And it doesn’t reflect the principle that the President has put forward that we need to ask the wealthy to contribute to deficit reduction.  And that’s a position that the public widely supports.
Q    You’ve talked about the need for balance many times, and pointed out the President has put out some entitlement reforms and that’s a critical part of balance.  Do you expect -- do you hope that when the Senate Democrats release their budget tomorrow, that it has entitlement reforms along the lines of what the President has proposed?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I will wait for the budget to be put forward and Senator Murray to do that.  We do expect it to be balanced, to have the principle of balance inherent in its proposals.  If it’s not -- and I don’t expect it will be -- in agreement on every item of the President’s proposal, but it will be consistent with the President’s balanced approach, we expect.
Q    But will it fall short if it doesn’t have entitlement reforms, if it doesn’t have the kind of things the President has put out there?
MR. CARNEY:  Again, I haven’t seen it yet and I would wait until it’s put forward.  But I would simply say that it will be consistent in terms of balance, we expect.  That is where it would strongly differentiate -- be differentiated from the House Republican budget.  And the President commends Senate Democrats for pursuing a budget that includes the balance that he believes is necessary, the public believes is necessary, the Bowles-Simpson commission has long since made clear is necessary. 
And so we look forward to working with Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans and everyone on Capitol Hill, including House Republicans and House Democrats, in hopes of achieving a compromise that achieves -- that has within it the balance that is essential.  Because that’s what’s so instructive about the budget proposal from Chairman Ryan, is that it really does make the case for balance, because if you don’t have balance, if instead of asking the wealthiest to contribute to deficit reduction, you say we’d like to give the wealthiest a huge tax cut, the result is that everybody else -- the burden is doubled or tripled on everyone else.  And that just doesn’t seem fair.  And it’s also not good economics.
Q    Now, when you say balance, you don’t mean balanced.  I mean, they’re not going to --
MR. CARNEY:  I mean a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes asking everyone to pay their share.
Q    But it won’t be a balanced budget, right?
MR. CARNEY:  No, what the President’s budget proposal will do, as his previous proposals have done, is achieve the economically important goal of bringing our debt-to-GDP down below 3 percent.  That was the target set under the Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson commission, the President’s fiscal commission.  It is the target widely recognized by economists as a necessary goal when we talk about getting our fiscal house in order.  And it is a goal that’s achievable in a way that also allows other goals to be achieved -- like investing in our economy so that it grows; like building roads and bridges so that we’re competitive with Europe and China and India; and investing in education so your children and mine are getting the jobs that pay the best and they’re getting those jobs here in the United States in 25 and 30 years. 
That’s why the President has never viewed budget proposals as -- or proposals in negotiations for deficit reduction as having as their only goal deficit reduction.  Deficit reduction is an absolutely important goal, and it is important to bring our deficits down and to reduce our debt-to-GDP.  But they are part of -- those goals are part of the broader purpose here, which is to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class.  And if you achieve one without the other two, you have not done right by the middle class of the country, and you probably have undermined the future economy of the United States.
So that’s why the President’s focus has been on balance.  On the important goal of deficit reduction, he has signed into law, as you know, Jon, $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction thus far, and he looks forward to working with Congress to bring that total to beyond $4 trillion, which, in turn, if done in a balanced way, will achieve the goals that I just laid out.
Q    Let me follow up on Jonathan.  Would the President be disappointed if Senate Democrats did not include one of the reforms that you often talk about from this very podium, on entitlements?  Superlative CPI or chained CPI?
MR. CARNEY:  The President has a proposal that he made to the Speaker of the House --
Q    If no one endorses it in your party does it also suggest it has a political -- a radioactivity to it that people are afraid to touch?
MR. CARNEY:  I think that the question supports what I’ve been saying all along, which is that the President’s proposal includes items in it that are very tough choices for Democrats to go along with, A; B, that stands in stark contrast to proposals in a Republican budget that makes a tough choice of voucherizing Medicare while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.
Q    But if nobody is willing to vote for that, what’s the point of it?
MR. CARNEY:  First of all, I think you’re talking about a process that has the Senate putting forward a budget and the House putting forward a budget, and the President putting forward a budget.  And hopefully through regular order, which leaders of both parties have said they would like to see, and which the President would like to see, we will see a compromise that results in a balanced package of deficit reduction that allows the economy to grow and to continue to create jobs. 
And that will include tough choices for Democrats on the entitlement side, and tough choices for Republicans on the revenue side.
Q    So you recruit a Democrat to come up with an amendment on the CPI?
MR. CARNEY:  You’re getting down into the weeds of process. You and I both covered the Hill and that’s fun stuff, but the President is looking at a higher objective here, which is to work together with lawmakers of both parties to find that common ground and compromise that is essential if we’re going to move forward in a way that helps our economy, reduces our deficit, protects seniors, strengthens the middle class.
Q    In the preamble to his budget, Paul Ryan says it is economically essential to get to balance.  Does the White House believe that balance, meaning zero, no deficit, is economically irrelevant?
MR. CARNEY:  No.  We believe that the economically important goal, as economists have said repeatedly -- outside independent economists, as well as the much venerated Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson commission -- is achieving the goal of reducing our debt-to-GDP ratio to below 3 percent.  And the President’s proposals do that.  The President’s budget will do that.
The goal of balance is worthy and it should be pursued, but it should not be pursued if it is done in a way that does harm to the economy, does harm to senior citizens, does harm to the middle class, and gives short-term benefits to the wealthy -- because, in the end, everybody suffers if the American economy is weaker because of an implementation of a budget proposal that's so profoundly unbalanced that it does not allow for the growth and expansion of the middle class.
Q    You made reference a moment ago to Ryan's budget.  Are you saying he is tacitly admitting in that budget without saying so publicly that the tax increase and the revenue from the health care law make his job easier?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I wouldn't put words into his mouth.  But it's my understanding that he includes as part of his baseline the revenue achieved through the fiscal cliff deal, the ATRA, and that means the revenue achieved from raising the rates on the wealthiest individuals that the President fought for.  And it achieves the savings in the Affordable Care Act that the President put forward, the Medicare savings -- getting rid of waste fraud and abuse and reducing payments to insurance companies, subsidies to insurance companies and the like.  Those are savings that of course were highlighted in the Republican campaign against the President last year and criticized greatly, but they are included in the budget. 
Q    On balance, the President talks a lot about everyone paying their fair share.  The IRS has a report out claiming that 312,000 federal employees owe over $3 billion in federal taxes.  And that includes, I believe, 40 employees of the Executive Office of the President.  Is the President going to make sure everybody here, everybody in the federal government, is paying their fair share of taxes?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President believes that everybody ought to pay their taxes.  And for details on the report, I would refer you to the IRS.  But absolutely the President believes everybody ought to pay their taxes.  And I believe the IRS is the place to go for more specifics. 
Q    In terms of the Ryan budget, how can you attack the Ryan budget when you are standing here without an Obama budget?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, Ed, I appreciate the question.  The President will be putting forward a budget --
Q    When?
MR. CARNEY:  -- in the next several weeks, probably the week of April 8th, I would expect.
Q    Let me write that down.
Q    Is that new?  Did you make news?  I think you did.
MR. CARNEY:  But as you know, Ed, the President has put forward a proposal that will be reflected in his budget and the principles will be reflected in his budget.  And that proposal, as you know, because you covered it, that he made to the Speaker of the House demonstrated his willingness to find common ground with the Republicans on both revenue and entitlement cuts, demonstrated his seriousness of purpose, demonstrated his belief that balances is essential in our pursuit of deficit reduction.  And that offer has been on the table ever since he made it to the Speaker.  And sadly, the Speaker has not taken it up.  In fact, he declared he would never negotiate with the President again, which was a rather stark proclamation.
Q    I'm glad you mentioned the President's proposal.  It is on the White House website, as you said many times.  I printed it out to make sure I have it.  Last question on this -- it says, for example, this is the President's proposal to Speaker Boehner, $100 billion in cuts to defense discretionary spending.  As you understand, that's not really a budget, though, because we don't know where the $100 billion in cuts will be.  Which programs of the Defense Department does he want to cut specifically?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I appreciate the opportunity to provide the budget in advance, but we have provided --
Q    The other budgets are being put on the table this week.
MR. CARNEY:  Have you looked at the Ryan budget?  Can you find a single item in tax reform, a single loophole closed to achieve $5 trillion -- $5 trillion!  That's a lot of money.  Not one.  I would challenge you to find any entitlement reform in the Ryan budget beyond the adoption of the President's --
Q    We will invite Paul Ryan to come here and defend his plan.  However, the President's plan is --
MR. CARNEY:  There is ample detail in the President's previous budget, which goes into his defense -- the levels he calls for, for defense spending that are consistent with the national security plan laid out by his national security plan laid out by his national security team.  And the budget the President puts forward will have the detail that presidential budgets tend to have, which are, unfortunately, lacking in the House Republican budget.
Yes, Kristen.
Q    Jay, thanks.  The Ryan budget also calls for moving forward with construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  Given that the State Department has said that the pipeline won’t have a serious impact on the environment, will the President now give that project the green light?
MR. CARNEY:  I have no updates for you on that.  That's obviously an assessment that is housed at the State Department.  There are a series of steps that are taken, as I understand it, by the State Department.  The assessment that you’ve mentioned is one of those.  But that process is ongoing, in keeping with years of tradition, when we talk about trans-border pipelines, as this one is.  And when there is an announcement to make we’ll be ready to announce it.
Q    Well, taking it another way, is this a potential area of common ground, given the State Department’s assessment?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I would set aside -- I have nothing to say to project about an announcement that is not ready to be made and that is part of a process that is undertaken at the State Department. 
I will make the point that since this President came into office, we have dramatically increased our domestic energy production, we have dramatically reduced our imports of foreign oil, and we have dramatically expanded the production of renewable energy and investments in clean energy technology, all of which represent the President’s all-of-the-above energy approach -- an approach that will allow us to become increasingly energy independent, will assist in the effort to create high-paying, quality jobs in cutting-edge industries of the future in the United States, and that will allow us to in the future withstand the shocks caused by fluctuations in global energy prices, global oil prices. 
We are experiencing elevated prices right now, and this is another reminder of why we need to pursue the kind of comprehensive, all-of-the-above approach that the President has pursued and which has yielded results.  He will continue to pursue that in his second term.
Q    And just to go back to the timing of the budget, which you’ve now confirmed will come out in April.  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said today that the President’s plan to submit his budget in April would be like dropping a bomb on the legislative process.  What’s your reaction and how does the President not in some way negatively impact the legislative process?
MR. CARNEY:  I have no doubt that anytime the President introduces his budget that perhaps Senator McConnell or some other Republican will say it was wildly inappropriate or inconvenient to do it that day or that week or that month.  Let’s just stipulate that.
When the President introduces his budget, it will be an important contribution to what we hope will be a process of regular order where a compromise is reached that embodies the principles of balance when it comes to deficit reduction that the President supports, that Senate Democrats support, House Democrats support, a lot of Senate Republicans support, the vast majority of the American people support, and that enables us to deal with these important issues even as we’re dealing with other challenges like comprehensive immigration reform, like reducing gun violence, like investing in education and innovation and infrastructure.  Because our fiscal challenges are important and our budget priorities are very important, but we have other priorities, too, and the American people expect us to be working on all of them.
Q    Thank you, Jay.  You mentioned the White House doesn’t believe that this sort of outreach is a waste of time.  But we’ve heard the President talk about the limitations of personal diplomacy.  He mentioned his golf game with Speaker Boehner and noting that a deal didn’t really come of that.  So what is the White House view -- that personal diplomacy and engagement can be helpful in the legislative process, or is it that partisanship in Washington is just so deep-rooted that it’s really unrealistic to think that that kind of outreach can break through those barriers?
MR. CARNEY:  The President believes that personal engagement is important, that relationships are important, that conversation and discussion are important.  And he is engaged in that process, as he was in a series of negotiations with Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell and others, and as he was throughout his first term on different issues.  But he is engaged, as we’ve noted, in a sort of more intensified process of consultations with lawmakers -- Republican lawmakers as well as Democratic lawmakers -- because he believes that there are circumstances now, partly born of misfortune -- the decision to embrace the sequester by Republicans -- but circumstances that allow for the time and space, if you will, for serious conversation and debate within the regular order process to try to move forward on these budget issues, and to hopefully create an environment -- or improve the environment when it comes to bipartisan cooperation on these other issues.
I think I noted yesterday that it is worth standing back and assessing the landscape here and acknowledging that despite our partisan differences there is important quality work being done by Republicans and Democrats together on some very important issues.  And that extends beyond deficit reduction and budget issues into immigration reform and gun violence and other areas.
So the President believes this is an important process and he has enjoyed his consultations thus far.  He’s looking forward to his meetings with the conferences and caucuses this week on Capitol Hill, and that process will continue.
Q    We’ve been hearing from various sources, Jay, what the President has intended to be delivering in terms of his message to the leaders in the Middle East next week.  On the flip side, what is the President looking forward to hearing from the leaders in Ramallah and in Amman and in Jerusalem in terms of their insight and their message to him?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President looks forward to all of his meetings on his trip.  And I don't want to get ahead of it.  I’m sure we will be doing, as we have traditionally, a background briefing prior to the trip to fill you in on more details of both the program and what we expect from the trip.  But the President will hope to hear from the leaders he meets with assessments of all the issues that are top of the agenda when you consider Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and the leaders that he’ll be meeting with.  But I don't have anything more specific for you than that.
Q    How will the President measure the success of his trip?
MR. CARNEY:  I think we’ve made clear that the President greatly looks forward to this visit, that he will be engaging with leaders on the range of issues of importance in the region and with the leaders specifically, but that we’re not laying out markers for success on the peace process or otherwise.  These will all be part of important conversations that the President will be having.
Mara and then Scott.
Q    You said earlier that the Ryan budget will result in tax hikes for middle-class Americans.  He envisions a 25-percent top rate and a 10-percent rate.
MR. CARNEY:  Correct.
Q    So why -- where are the tax hikes?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you remember, I thank you for the question, I was probably using shorthand, and I shouldn’t have.  Last year when Governor Romney put forward a proposal to reduce -- a tax reform proposal that would have cut rates not quite as far, but I believe the top rate to 28 percent and the other rate -- I forget, what -- Jon, do you remember?  Anyway, two rates, but not quite as low as Chairman Ryan, and 28 was the top rate.  There were assessments done by outside economists that made clear that the only way you could achieve the goal of that tax reform being revenue neutral -- lowering those rates so dramatically and somehow making it revenue neutral when you're making these massive tax cuts would be to, through tax reform, stick it to the middle class to the tune of more than $2,000, eliminating deductions and the like that middle-class Americans depend on, whether it’s deductions for health insurance or education or home ownership or --
Q    So you’re saying their net taxes will be higher in the end?
MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely.  There is no question about it.  Absolutely.  By a significant amount.  When it was the Romney plan, it was $2,000 on estimate -- the Tax Policy Center, I believe, assessment.  And since the gap is larger here, the reduction in the Ryan plan is from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, as opposed to 35 percent to 28 percent, that the hole that needs to be filled through middle-class tax hikes is even larger.
Q    I’m just curious about what specifically the President talks about when you say he talks to the Hill about energy independence.  Is it spending more money on developing an American green economy?  Is it other -- increasing natural gas exports?  Can you be a little bit -- is it climate change-related?  What exactly is he saying specifically?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, to torture you with a phrase, it’s all of the above.  It’s that the President has embraced increased development of our traditional forms of energy.  That includes our remarkable strides in development of natural gas, as well as increased development of oil.  It includes investment in and development of renewable energy sources.  It includes measures taken when it comes to the environmental side of it, the climate side of it.  Important actions taken, most specifically the car rule, which will dramatically reduce -- or increase fuel efficiency and reduce consumption thereby.  And that contributes in two ways.  Obviously it contributes to our environmental health, but also reduces, again, our demand for fossil fuels, which reduces -- continues the reduction in our demand for foreign sources of oil. 
So this is an approach that the President really sees as comprehensive, and only through that comprehensive approach can we achieve the kind of independence from outside energy sources that we all believe, I believe, would be beneficial to our national and economic security.
Q    He’s talking to legislators.  Is he talking about legislation to them as well as --
MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any proposals, legislative proposals to preview for you.  The President believes that we can take steps to increase development of energy resources in the United States, both traditional and renewable, as well as take steps to enhance efficiency and improve the quality of our air.  And that’s what he did in the first term, and he’ll continue to do that.
Q    Thanks, Jay.  At the risk of getting a little bit in the weeds, I want to ask a little bit more about the budget.  How does the White House envision the process for reaching a fiscal deal?  Leave it up to the committees in Congress and provide technical assistance?  Or maybe have the President get directly involved?  Like, how does this look?  What does this look like?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, as I was saying earlier, leaders of both parties in both houses have expressed interest in returning to regular order.  I know that’s shorthand, but for those who don’t understand the picture that I’m trying to paint here, we have been, as the President often notes, living in -- governing by  crisis, lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis, often crises determined by fabricated deadlines around debt ceilings or fiscal cliffs or sequesters that have taken us out of the regular process, which is a budgetary process that has been the one that is traditionally pursued to set our budget priorities and allocate spending and decide what our revenue streams look like.
And I think everybody in Washington -- there is a consensus -- and this was a topic of conversation at the dinner, as participants noted -- there is a growing consensus about the desire and need to return to normalcy, to regular order.  And through that process, through a budget produced in the Senate and a budget produced and passed in the House, and the President’s budget, that we can come together and find some -- find agreement on a budget that, in the President’s view, hopefully will represent the will of the American people as reflected in data that we see every day, as reflected in the election.  And that is for a balanced approach to deficit reduction that doesn’t, in the name of deficit reduction, slash our investments in education or in innovation or research.  Because these are things -- this is eating your seed corn.  Doing that makes the future less bright economically for the whole country.
So we need to make wise choices when it comes to deficit reduction, and wise choices when it comes to spending cuts and spending investments.
Q    So just the shorthand, regular order, a return to normalcy -- that means basically --
MR. CARNEY:  I thought I explained it with great detail.  (Laughter.)  But the President will be engaged in this process.  The White House will be.  The administration will be.  But obviously, this is something that legislatively moves through Congress.  And I want to say all this and make clear that I am not being naïve about the challenges that clearly remain. 
The President’s position is clear.  The President has put forward proposals and will continue to put forward proposals that represent balance, that represent tough choices for him and for Democrats, that compromise on the issue of revenues, as he has done in the past, but achieve that balance because it’s necessary. 
He is engaging with Republican lawmakers, trying to find common ground around the idea that we can do entitlement reform and tax reform together in a balanced way, the way that the American people want.  But it remains to be seen if the result of this embrace of regular order and embrace of common ground is an achievement that fits the bill here, which is a resolution, a budget that reduces the deficit in a balanced way, hits the target of $4 trillion-plus over 10 years in deficit reduction, allows for the investments that are necessary to keep our economy growing, protects middle-class Americans and seniors.  We’ll see.
We are mindful of the challenges, but we believe there can be and should be common ground and compromise.
Q    In the run-up to the President’s Middle East trip, he’s been meeting with American Jewish leaders and now Arab American leaders.  But one of the participants in the Arab American group’s meeting said this is the first meeting of its kind that they’ve had with the President.  Why has there not been one before this?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not sure that’s the case, but I will take your question.  The President has been engaged with leaders of different communities throughout his presidency, both in the first term and now in his second term.  It’s entirely appropriate in advance of this trip to have these meetings, and they were both very productive meetings and helpful to the President, and hopefully helpful to those who participated in hearing the President’s views about the various issues that will be discussed on his trip.
Q    What did he hear that will help him on this trip?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t want to read out a private meeting, but the President values greatly the insights provided by, in this case, both Jewish American leaders and Arab American leaders in these meetings, as he does appreciate the outside advice and observations that he receives on a variety of issues.
Q    Jay, has the President received a letter from CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge about the President’s lack of nominations of African Americans to Cabinet posts in his second term?
MR. CARNEY:  I believe we have received that letter, and I can tell you that the President is deeply committed to diversity in his Cabinet and to ensuring his administration reflects the breadth of our country.  He believes that the best decisions are made when he is surrounded by people who share different perspectives, as we work toward improving our economy and building a strong middle class together.
Q    So does that mean that the President will in the next couple of weeks nominate an African American to a --
MR. CARNEY:  I don't have any personnel announcements to make today.  When the President is ready to make announcements, he will make them.
Q    Well, what has the President said about this?  Because she has made it clear in her letter that many African Americans around the country are calling into the CBC offices very upset because they supported him overwhelmingly, and they have yet to see an African American nominated to a Cabinet post right now.
MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I don't have any personnel announcements to make.  There are obviously still appointments the President will be making.  And I can tell you, as I made clear at the top, the President is committed to diversity.  He believes that having a diverse Cabinet and a diverse set of advisors enhances the decision-making and deliberation process for him and for any President.  And so he values it greatly and that's why he has pursued it both in his first term and continues to pursue it in his second term.
Q    Does the White House believe that the information that hackers claim they have put on the Internet is legitimate -- Mrs. Obama's social security number, some of her financial information, along with other officials including the FBI Director?
MR. CARNEY:  On this I have to refer you to the Secret Service.  I just don't have anything for that on you -- I have no assessments to offer, just a reference to the Secret Service.
Yes, Chris. 
Q    I just want to follow up on April’s questioning there.  There are new reports that the President is close to making his nominees for the Labor and Commerce Secretary.  There was a lot of hope within the LGBT community that the President would take the opportunity with those vacancies to appoint the first-ever LGBT Cabinet member.  But it looks like it's not going to happen now.  And you just mentioned how the President values diversity, and I'm just wondering if that excludes LGBT people.  Does the President not believe that sexual orientation and gender identity are elements of diversity that you want to see at the highest levels of the administration?
MR. CARNEY:  Again, Chris, I have no personnel announcements to make.  I certainly am not confirming any speculation in the press about possible announcements the President might make.  I would refer you, again, to what I said and what the President has said about the value he places on diversity, and encourage you to assess the diversity of his appointments once they've all been made.
Q    But is sexual orientation --
MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think -- I don't have any -- you're asking me to make a statement about appointments that haven't been made and I'm not going to do that.  I'm not going to get ahead of the President.
Q    But I’m asking you to make a statement on value -- does the President believe that --
MR. CARNEY:  The President values diversity.
Q    And is sexual orientation and gender identity part of that diversity?
MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely.  And the President values diversity. 
Q    Back to the Export Council this morning.  The Council has long favored a territorial tax system, and I know the President has disagreed with them in the past.  Is there any reevaluation going on within the administration on a territorial tax system?

MR. CARNEY:  I certainly don't have anything new for you on that.  I think what the President has said about this represents his views.  But I don't have anything new for you.  The President believes we need to reform our corporate tax code.  But I don't have anything new from what we've said in the past about it. 
Q    Two questions -- one foreign and one domestic.  First, the foreign.  The U.S. and South Korea are engaged in joint military exercises right now.  When those conclude, is the President seriously considering leaving behind any assets like a nuclear-armed sub or anything to assist with any deterrents against North Korean provocation?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, that's a speculative question, A; B, it's not a question that I think I can answer from here.  I would just tell you that these are military exercises that like all combined forces command exercises are defense oriented and designed to enhance readiness and the ability to respond to any potential contingency that could arise.  You heard me talk yesterday about our view of the provocative rhetoric emanating from the DPRK.  You heard me talk about the actions taken at the United Nations Security Council in response to North Korean behavior and decisions.
And we continue to work with our allies on this issue, but I don't have any defense posture announcements to make from here.
Q    And then on the budget, on its face, it looks like the President is waiting for the Democrats to come out -- the Senate Democrats to come out with their plan that’s unpalatable, the Republicans in the House come out with their plan that’s unpalatable, and then come out in April with his own compromised plan that will be more palatable.
MR. CARNEY:  It will be entirely palatable.
Q    But that’s out of regular order when the law requires the President put a budget out in February.  So is it worth ignoring the law in order to own the compromise?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it is worth getting to yes if there are Republicans willing to get to yes, if that’s your question.  I don’t think that the timing of the budget is reflective of that goal, but I think the goal here is to find willing partners who embrace the idea of a balanced approach to deficit reduction as well as who embrace the idea of bipartisan cooperation in tackling some of the other challenges that won’t be solved if we don’t do it in a bipartisan way.
Q    But would you admit that regular order involves the President presenting a budget in the first week of February?
MR. CARNEY:  I think that the President’s budget will be a useful and valuable contribution to a process that, at least potentially, could result in a bipartisan compromise that achieves balanced deficit reduction, that includes the essential investments in our economy that allow it to grow and protect the middle class, and that would be part of a process -- again, this is in an ideal world -- that will see bipartisan cooperation on not just these issues, but other issues, because the American people really expect that and want that.  And the President is focused not just on deficit reduction and budget matters, but on the other things that we can do together in Washington that will help the country help the economy and help the middle class.
Q    Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY:  Thanks, all.
1:36 P.M. EDT

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