Press Briefing

March 13, 2013 | 42:09 | 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, 03/13/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:47 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Welcome to the White House.  Sorry I'm late.  Had some meetings that ran long.  I do have something I want to say at the top.

I wanted to provide a quick update on the ongoing engagement with the business community and the President, First Lady, and senior members of the President’s team on a broad range of issues including the President’s economic agenda, immigration reform, cybersecurity, and issues important to our veterans and military families, to name a few.

As you know, the President today will be dropping by two separate meetings with business leaders this afternoon.  The President will be attending a meeting with business leaders to discuss cybersecurity as a part of the administration’s ongoing dialogue with the private sector regarding this issue.  Attendees include David Cote from Honeywell International, Wes Bush from Northrop Grumman Corporation, and Randall Stephenson from AT&T. A full list of attendees will be provided later this afternoon.

After that, he will attend a meeting with business leaders where he will discuss our efforts on immigration reform and its role in our broader economic agenda.  Attendees of that meeting include Greg Brown from Motorola Solutions, Douglas Oberhelman from Caterpillar, and Virginia Rometty from IBM Corporation.  Again, a full list of the participants in that meeting will be provided afterwards.

Finally, as part of the Joining Forces initiative, the First Lady delivered remarks earlier today at the quarterly meeting of member CEOs of the Business Roundtable, where she continued her call on the private sector to hire America’s veterans and military spouses, and she also called on them to help reach their full potential within America’s companies.  Mrs. Obama made the case that it has never been more important to join together and help our veterans and military spouses find employment and to build their careers, especially with more than 1 million veterans who will be hanging up their uniforms and transitioning back to civilian life in the coming years.

Also this morning, senior staff, including Valerie Jarrett, Denis McDonough, Rob Nabors, met with members of the Business Roundtable executive committee to address a broad array of issues on the President’s agenda.  And Treasury Secretary Jack Lew held a meeting yesterday with business leaders to discuss the President’s economic agenda, including Jim McNerney from Boeing, and Fred Smith from FedEx.  I'd refer you to Treasury for the full list of attendees.

I do have one final note for the young among you in spirit or fact, and that is that Gene Sperling will be participating in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. (Laughter.)  I think you should check it out.  You will not regret it.   

Q    Awww.

MR. CARNEY:  I'll take your questions now.  Ask me anything. (Laughter.) 

Q    It sounds like yesterday the President was pushed during his meeting with Senate Democrats on chain CPI.  And this is something that the President and White House aides have said all along that he is going to support.  Is it going to be in his budget?

MR. CARNEY:  First of all, I don't have details to give to you of the President’s budget, as I think I've said to Roger many times.  But I can tell you that the President’s offer to Speaker Boehner, which includes among the entitlement reforms so-called chain CPI, remains on the table.  It is the President’s position. It is one of the items that demonstrates the seriousness with which he approaches this challenge, the seriousness with which he believes -- the seriousness with which he approaches the necessity of bipartisan cooperation and his willingness to make tough choices in an effort to find common ground.

Again, I’m not trying to telegraph too much here because I will not get ahead of the presentation of the President’s budget, which is a very detailed document, but the President’s offer remains on the table.  And it would be wonderful if the Speaker of the House were to take it up and move forward with it because it does represent both the opportunity to achieve further balanced deficit reduction, to meet and exceed the $4 trillion deficit reduction goal, to set our economy on an even more fiscally sustainable path, and to invest in those areas of the economy that help us grow in the future that ensure that we have the information necessary to compete, to ensure that we have the workforce necessary to compete.  So again, the President believes that bipartisan cooperation is possible.

He has put forward proposals that demonstrate his commitment to making tough choices, to meeting Republicans halfway in the arena of common ground and he certainly hopes that Republicans will similarly come forward with proposals that demonstrate that kind of spirit.

I think it’s -- as you know, the President is meeting with House Republicans today, the House Republican Conference, and that's part of engagements he’s having with lawmakers in an effort to talk about opportunities for bipartisan compromise on a whole range of issues -- budget issues but also immigration reform, measures to reduce gun violence, action that we can take to create more jobs and help our economy grow faster, invest in infrastructure and manufacturing.  These are the areas where there has traditionally been bipartisan cooperation and support and that he hopes there will be in the future.

Q    On another topic, could you explain to me a contradiction between you and the President, and your statements on whether the White House made the call to cancel the tours?

MR. CARNEY:  Nedra, the fact of the matter is that the White House runs the tours.  The tours are of the White House.  The Secret Service staffs the tours.  The Secret Service came to us with a decision that because of the sequester cuts, it would be, in their view, impossible to staff those tours; that they would have to withdraw staff from those tours in order to avoid more furloughs and overtime pay cuts.  It was our job then to cancel the tours.  The Secret Service cannot because those are White House tours.  So that is what the President was referring to.

Q    But it sounds like he was wrong, though, when he said that the decision wasn’t made by the White House.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the decision to cease providing Secret Service staff to the tours was made by the Secret Service.  They have their budget.  They look at it; they evaluate the options, all the bad options that are on the table, including, as they have said and we have said, tours versus furloughs and cutting of overtime pay, which goes to their core mission, and made the decision that their core mission was better served by canceling tours, which are very labor-intensive, than by having more furloughs and cutting more pay.  And that's a decision that we agree with, that we think is not a happy choice but is the right choice when it comes to the need for every agency affected by the sequester to focus on their core mission as they implement these cuts.

Q    But didn't the President say this not a decision --

MR. CARNEY:  Sorry, go ahead.

Q    The President said this was not a decision made by the White House.  You just said it was.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Ed, I think I just answered that question and said that the Secret Service made the decision about its budget and to withdraw personnel from tours.

Q    Right, and then you said it was --

MR. CARNEY:  We had to cancel the tours.  It’s our job to cancel the tours.  They cannot cancel them so -- because we run  -- this is not a tour of the Secret Service building.  It’s a tour of the White House and the grounds.  And we run the tours and invitations and that process.  So the White House, as we have said, canceled the tours, confronted with the choice made by the Secret Service -- which we concur with, but it is certainly their choice because it’s their budget -- that it was the right thing to do not to add further furloughs to the future for Secret Service agents, the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect senior officials in our government, and that the result would be cutbacks in staffing, hours in an area like tours, which is so labor-intensive. 

So let’s go back to the fact that none of this was necessary.  These choices are all bad.  And that was the point of the sequester.  And that's the reason why we should be avoiding it.  And while it is an unhappy choice to cancel tours, on the one hand, or furlough the hardworking men and women who put their lives on the line in service of the country, our even greater concern is with the 750,000 Americans who will lose their jobs because of the choice to implement the sequester.  That is the worst outcome of the sequester.

Another terrible outcome of the sequester is the reduction in economic growth that every economist on the outside who’s analyzed this say will occur.  So I think we're now seeing that there are unhappy results of sequester.  It may be a home run in some folks’ eyes, a victory for the tea party for some, but it’s bad for America.  It’s bad for those who will lose their jobs and those who suffer from diminished economic growth.

Q    The President indicated that White House tours are under review.  Last Thursday, Major asked you that question and you said no, they’re not under review. 

MR. CARNEY:  The decision has been made to cancel the general tours.  As the President said in his interview, he’s asked the White House to consult with the Secret Service to see if there’s any way to provide limited tours to school groups or others.  That's being reviewed.  But I should be clear that the choices here -- there’s not an option here to reopen the tours in general here, because, again, that's not an option because of the sequester cuts.  These are labor-intensive operations that require thousands of man-hours by the Secret Service, and the decision was made that given the unhappy set of choices sequester presented to the Secret Service, that this was the best option.

Q    The President said this morning that differences may be too wide to bridge the gap on reaching a grand bargain.  That's a pretty pessimistic assessment.  Has he thrown in the towel?  And would he prefer simply to be given greater flexibility in how to administer the sequester cuts?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you're confusing two propositions here.  We've addressed the flexibility issue.  There is no positive way to slice $85 billion out of the budget in six months.  We're now seeing that.  It’s a fact.  And that's not on the table.

The second issue is whether or not we can achieve the grand bargain or the completion of the bigger deal that would achieve the $4 trillion-plus in deficit reduction that outside groups, as well as the President, the Speaker of the House and others have identified as the goal in deficit reduction over 10 years. 

It’s true, as the President said, the divide may be too wide.  But it is also true that there is at least the potential for bipartisan compromise.  I mean, if you look at it, both sides say they believe we should have additional savings from entitlement reforms, spending cuts.  Both sides say that we should reform our tax code in a manner that eliminates unnecessary loopholes and special breaks and incentives.  The President believes that that tax reform should generate revenue from the well-off and well-connected to contribute to the cause of deficit reduction.  And if we do that and take the additional savings from the entitlement reforms that he’s proposed, we can hit the mark and achieve that $4 trillion-plus in deficit reduction, in a way that helps our economy, allows it to grow, and does not unduly burden senior citizens or the middle class.

In many ways, the Ryan budget, as we talked about and as the President said, presents the best argument for why balance is necessary, because if you don't choose balance, a balanced approach, you have to make the stark choices that that budget represents -- dramatic cuts in our investments in education, in manufacturing, in infrastructure, voucherization of our Medicare program, dramatic reductions in our Medicaid program. 

These are necessary choices if you're willing to ask the well-off and the well-connected, as the President has said we should and as the public has said we should, to contribute, to be part of the solution. 

And the President will have this discussion with House Republicans today.  He will also talk about a number of other issues.  He will continue those discussions when he meets with Senate Republicans and House Democrats, and he will continue these discussions in conversations and meetings, small and large, with lawmakers going forward.

Q    On cybersecurity, the National Security Advisor and I guess now also the President have mentioned China specifically in connection with cyber intrusions.  Would the United States accept China’s offer to hold talks about cybersecurity?  And if there is any concrete evidence that the Chinese government is in any way behind any of the hacking attacks, what does the United States do?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I spoke about Mr. Donilon’s speech, which was well covered and addressed this issue, among others.  And certainly the President has spoken about cybersecurity and made clear, as he has all along, that he sees it as an enormous priority, one that should have the attention of Congress and that Congress should act on through legislation that the President has supported but thus far has not made it out of Congress.

He has taken action -- executive action to enhance our cybersecurity, but Congress needs to act.  That's the first.

I would note -- you talk about the Chinese response, and we note that response from the Chinese foreign ministry and the foreign ministry said, “China is willing on the basis of the principles of mutual respect and mutual trust to have constructive dialogue and cooperation on this issue.”  And we welcome that statement and look forward to engaging in a constructive dialogue on this issue.  That is one of the things that Tom Donilon talked about in his speech -- we need to have that conversation; we need to have that dialogue.  This is an international challenge and we look forward to that.

Q    I wanted to get back to the comment that the President made that the differences may be just too wide.  Should he talk to the Republicans in the House and the Senate before making that assessment?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think you're -- isn't it a statement that is obvious?  As I have said, we're not saying that a deal is absolutely going to happen.  We're not trying to wish away the differences that exist.  We're trying to find common ground.  And the President believes there is common ground.  The President believes that we all have acknowledged that we need to reduce our deficit; we all believe that economic growth and job creation is a priority; and we all believe that the way forward in reducing our deficit should include entitlement reform savings and tax reform.  The open question is, in our minds, is what do you do with the savings from tax reform? 

The Speaker of the House identified, he said, up to a trillion dollars that you could gain just from the wealthy through tax reform, closing loopholes and exemptions.  That was just a few months ago.  He said that he would use that money to help pay down the deficit.  Now he says we won't use that money to help pay down the deficit.  But presumably, those loopholes exist and should be closed.  Those deductions can be capped and those exemptions should be eliminated.

If that was his view then, I assume it’s his view now.  The question is, Jim, what do you do with the money.  And the President’s proposition is that it is in the national interest and it is in the interest of fairness to the middle class and to senior citizens that they not be asked to bear the burden of further deficit reduction alone. 

Spending cuts have been signed into law.  Further spending cuts can be found, and the President has put spending cuts on the table.  He has put savings from entitlements on the table.  So there’s no question here that he believes that more can be done on that side of the ledger.  But we need to do more on the revenue side, as well.

I think President Ronald Reagan’s chief economist has said in the last couple of days in an op-ed that he believes that we should have tax reform that generates more than $2 trillion in revenue towards deficit reduction.  Well, the President admires the audacity of that proposal, but the President is asking for significantly less than that.  And maybe, in their veneration of Ronald Reagan, they will listen to that proposition and Republicans will say, we should do this and we can do this in the name of deficit reduction, which is allegedly or supposedly a top priority.

Q    Speaking of deficit reduction, the President also said that there was not an immediate crisis in terms of debt.  But back in 2008, when the national debt was at $9 trillion, he called that irresponsible and unpatriotic.  The national debt has nearly doubled since then.  How is it not an immediate crisis?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, here is why this chart is here.  When the President came into office, we were in economic free fall.  We were heading towards the worst recession of our lifetimes, and we were on the precipice of a Great Depression, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1930s.  The President took decisive action, working with Congress, to reverse the course of that downturn, to stabilize our economy and to set it back on the path of growth and job creation.

Once that stabilization began to take hold, he turned towards the task of reducing our deficit, which he believes is also a worthy and necessary goal when it is part of the overall project, the overall number-one priority which is growth and job creation.  And you can see here what the effect is.  Because of the Great Recession when he took office, and because obviously of the measures necessary to be taken to avert a depression, here is what happened to deficits as a share of GDP in 2009.  Now, look at this drop:  2010, 2011, 2012, the projection for 2013, 2014 and forward, if the President’s offer were enacted going forward.

You have deficits that fall consistently well below the 3 percent target that economists have said is economically important, and you have the largest reduction in the deficit since the end of World War II, when we had massive demobilization in the wake of that war. 

This is progress.  Work needs to be done, but the President’s point is we do not have an immediate debt crisis.  We are on the right trajectory.  We need to make decisions that affect the long term, and the long term not just in terms of deficit reduction, but in terms of economic growth.

And if we make those choices now -- and that includes investments in infrastructure, investments in education, investments in manufacturing and innovation -- we will be growing faster, we will be stronger economically.  And that contributes  -- as the veteran reporters from the 1990s here know, growth contributes to deficit reduction.  That's part of the package.  It is much harder to reduce your deficit and deal with your debt if you’re not growing. 

Q    But that only happens if you get a deal, if you get some kind of deal.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, this is if -- first of all, this has happened, and this will happen.  And that is the largest reduction in the deficit since the end of World War II.

Q    But the offer would be a deal of some sort.

MR. CARNEY:  The fact is that the further projections are if the President’s compromise solution were adopted.  I think if a compromise solution of any sort that represented the principles the President has put forward and bipartisan commissions have put forward -- a balance that includes revenues and reductions -- that you would have a similar positive impact on our deficits and debt.  And that would be tremendous for our economy.  It would be fantastic for our middle class.  And that's the goal here.

But it’s part of the bigger goal of growth and jobs.  It is not, as the President has said, and I’ve said less articulately, it’s not a goal unto itself.  It’s part of the bigger project here of growing the economy and strengthening the middle class.

Jonathan Karl.

Q    Jay, one of those groups that have been having bake sales and raising money for their trip to Washington, the President referred to, was the St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Waverly, Iowa.  Their tour was scheduled for Saturday.  Will you be able to provide a tour for the St. Paul’s School?

MR. CARNEY:  We have seen that report, and it’s very unfortunate, as is the case with all those who have seen their tours canceled because of the implementation of the sequester.  As I said, the Secret Service and the White House are talking about what is possible.  I would not anticipate that opening tours that soon would be possible.  But again, I don't want to prejudge the outcome of this, but I also want to set expectations here.

There is a stark reality that has come about because of the imposition of the sequester, the home run, the tea party victory, and that is that these cuts are being implemented across agencies and across the country.  And the effects are real, and they result in job loss or furloughs or pay cuts, and closures of tours in this case, because those are the options that are available. 

So there is no way to guild the lily here.  This is a bad situation that results in bad choices because the policy was designed to present bad choices and bad choices only, which is why Congress was supposed to avoid it and to come up with an alternative means of achieving the deficit reduction that is otherwise achieved through arbitrary, across-the-board cuts.

Q    The Secret Service told us that the tours cost $74,000 a week.  How much is it going to cost for the President to travel later this week to Illinois?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President is the President of the United States, and he is elected to represent all of the people. And he travels around the country, appropriately.  I don't have a figure on the cost of presidential travel.  It is obviously something, as every President deals with because of security and staff, a significant undertaking.  But the President has to travel around the country.  He has to travel around the world.  That is part of his job.

Q    How much does it cost for him to go and play golf?

MR. CARNEY:  Jon, again, you’re trivializing an impact here. People will lose their jobs.  Three-quarters of a million people will lose their job.

Q    This is about choices.  You have a certain amount of --

MR. CARNEY:  Right.  The law stipulates what the costs will be for each agency.  Those jobs will be lost, okay?  And you can report on White House tours, or you can find out what the impacts are out in the real world -- additional impacts are.  This is a real-world impact here, and it is unfortunate.  And it is an unhappy choice.

The fact of the matter is Congress made this choice -- Republicans made this choice.  Their option was to do what they did a few months ago and delay the sequester to allow for time to try to negotiate a bigger deal.  They chose not to because they refused to accept the principle that the well-off and well-connected ought to pay a little bit towards deficit reduction.  That was a choice.  And it was a choice that was presented to the American people as a home run, as something that was politically advantageous, in the back pocket of the Speaker of the House; it was a tea party victory.  But there are consequences to that victory for the tea party, and the consequences are what we’ve been discussing today. 

Q    When the President says there is no deficit crisis --

MR. CARNEY:  He didn't say that, actually.

Q    -- no immediate deficit crisis, and he said none for 10 years, how do you expect to get a grand bargain?  How do you expect to get both sides to make those difficult choices if there's no crisis?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there is a long-term debt challenge.  Everybody recognizes this.  The President speaks frequently that our long-term deficit and debt are driven primarily by health care costs, the expense of administering programs like Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security.  That's why he’s put on the table, actually, more detailed entitlement reforms than the Speaker did, for example, on the fiscal cliff deal.  And that's why he has already implemented savings out of our entitlement program, savings that of course Chairman Ryan and others railed against but then adopted in their own budget proposals.

So this is a challenge.  But what we should not do is take action that does harm to our economy, does harm to our middle class, does harm to our seniors and only does well by the well-off and well-connected in order to address a deficit challenge that can be addressed appropriately in a balanced way that grows the economy, helps the middle class, and protects our seniors.  This is a pretty clear choice. 

And the President is heartened by the fact that there are not just Democrats and independents who support the balanced approach to deficit reduction, but Republicans and Republican lawmakers who have expressed it and who have an interest in finding common ground.  And that's why he's having these conversations on this issue and many others. 

Q    Briefly concluding the tour conversation, are the weekend staff tours, are those also --

MR. CARNEY:  All tours are canceled.

Q    Even for the staff members of the White House?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, there's no weekend staff tours.  Staff are able to give tours, but those are all canceled, correct.

Q    I want to ask a question that was sort of alluded to  -- you spoke to in brief yesterday.  But obviously, this is day two of this sort of shuttle diplomacy, this charm offensive as some have described it right now.  Is this, as one White House anonymous individual described it, this is a joke done for the media's benefit, mind you -- is this a legitimate, genuine effort as some Republicans have questioned?  Or is this --

MR. CARNEY:  I know Kristen was here yesterday.  Let me make clear -- I have no idea who said that to the writer of that article.  But that thought, that opinion does not represent the President's views.  It does not represent the White House's views.  It does not represent the administration's views.  The President is absolutely committed to engaging with members of Congress.  He has enjoyed his engagement so far.  He believes it has been productive and constructive, and has led to positive conversations both with Senate Republicans and House Republicans, and that includes his lunch with Chairman Ryan last week.  So I could not be more categorical in making clear, I believe, that that remark does not represent the views of this White House or this President. 

Q    So given the fact that he has now had that dinner with some Republican senators and that conversation over lunch with Chairman Ryan as well as Representative Van Hollen here, now we're several days into this and just yesterday, Chairman Ryan put out a budget that a senior administration official referred to as draconian and a "gimmick."  So how is it going?  Is this working, this so-called charm offensive?

MR. CARNEY:  We're not going to shy away from our policy differences any more than Chairman Ryan has shied away from his policy differences with us.  And the President believes that Chairman Ryan is sincere in the expression of his priorities that are demonstrated in his budget priorities -- in his budget proposal.  But he also believes that it was a constructive conversation; I believe Chairman Ryan has said that.  And he also believes that we can and should move forward to see if we can find common ground on this -- the general proposition that we can move together and take action to reduce our deficit in what the President believes should be a balanced way.

And let's just dial back to what the President said in his inaugural address.  The American people do not expect us to resolve all of our differences.  They do expect us to come together and work together to meet the challenges that face us.  There is no question that on matters of budget policy and fiscal policy, social policy, and other kinds of policy there are and there will be stark differences between the two parties, leaders of the parties.  And that is true today and it will be true four years from now.

But there is remarkable consensus on some issues, on identifying a problem that should be solved -- deficit reduction.  We forget that now everybody takes for granted the idea that both sides agree with this notion that we should reduce our deficit by at least $4 trillion over 10 years.  That's a consensus opinion.  People forget that it's noteworthy that Republicans and Democrats alike believe that we ought to deal with our long-term entitlement challenges, that we ought to reduce spending in a smart way, and that we ought to reduce the size of our deficits as a portion of GDP.  That's significant. 

And people forget, too, that when you talk about the differences that if Republicans are firmly in the camp of no new revenues and Democrats are supposedly firmly in the camp of no spending cuts, this President -- this Democratic President -- has signed into law with Democratic support more than $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction, more than four to one, four dollars to one dollar in spending cuts.  That represents compromise.  That represents middle-of-the-road consensus, positive action for the economy and for the country.


You seemed a little -- 

Q    I defer. 

MR. CARNEY:  Did you hear that everybody?  Major Garrett defers.  Are you deferring tomorrow?  This is a very chivalrous group. 


Q    On cybersecurity, could you talk a little bit more about what it is the President is either going to impart to the CEOs or wants to hear from the CEOs?  And is there a reason in particular that the contents of that conversation in either direction requires them to be in the Sit Room?

MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question.  I know it sounds super cool.  But as those of you who are familiar with the West Wing, it is an amazingly small space, and when the Roosevelt Room is occupied with a meeting -- as is the case at the same time -- the options are few for a meeting of any size that would exceed, say, my office.

So the Situation Room is being utilized -- as it is frequently -- for that kind of meeting.  It's not related to the -- 

Q    It's not related to the subject.

MR. CARNEY:  Not related to the subject, no.  And we have meetings there on occasion on different topics that are not related to national security issues or classified matters.

And then on your first question, the President has obviously had discussions with business leaders on the cybersecurity issue. He has seen, as various corporations and business leaders have gone public with their concerns about cybersecurity and the effects of breaches of cybersecurity on their operations, and that is why he wants to have this conversation and why he thinks this is an important part of building a consensus about moving forward, about why it's necessary for our economy and for our national security.

The sharing of information and working with private -- with the private sector on this issue is vitally important in the comprehensive approach the President believes we need to take to deal with it.

Q    But is this more of the President wanting to communicate his concerns to them and employ them in the lobbying effort on Capitol Hill?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it's a two-way.  He wants to hear from out in the field what they're -- in the private sector -- what they're experiencing, what their concerns are, what their challenges are, what they hope to see in terms of action in Washington.  And he also wants to convey to them how seriously he takes this issue and what he believes the right steps are moving forward.  And he certainly hopes that out of this meeting and the many others he has on this topic, that we will build the kind of consensus necessary to compel Congress to take appropriate action.


Q    Thank you.  You said earlier that Republicans consider this a home run.  You called it a tea party victory.

MR. CARNEY:  Those are quotes from the fine work of the fourth estate.  

Q    Yes, I know.  I'm assuming you were quoting Republicans, right.  But the recent polls have shown that the President's job approval, especially on the economy, has taken a hit as the gridlock and the sequester has gone forward.  It seems like he owns the economy no matter -- and dysfunction in Washington no matter what you've tried to do.  I'm wondering whether you think your efforts to explain to the country that it's the Republicans fault have fallen short.

MR. CARNEY:  I would say a couple of things.  First of all, as I say repeatedly and as we experience together, communally, be careful of making too much of any individual poll --

Q    Well, there’s a series of them.

MR. CARNEY:  -- or even a series of polls. 

I would also say, if we refer to the latest, the Washington Post or ABC News poll, that the President at 50-percent job approval is about where he was when he won reelection overwhelmingly with 332 electoral votes.  I'm just a layman in making that observation, but I think it's true.

It is a remarkable fact about how low the public's estimation of Republicans has sunk that the news of that poll was that the President was at 50 percent -- not that the Republican Party had a disapproval rating in the mid-seventies.  But let me say, having made those observations -- simply to urge you not to focus too much them -- is that we're about the business of trying to get stuff done for the American people. 

We understand when Washington is dysfunctional -- as Washington was dysfunctional when Republicans made the decision to allow the sequester to be implemented -- that the American people look at that and say, enough already.  They want positive action.  They want bipartisan cooperation.  And when Washington is dysfunctional, everybody in Washington looks bad. 

So we -- I would note, in that poll, as long as we're talking about it, that the change in view that Americans have developed in -- as it regards to the sequester, now that it has been implemented and the cuts are being felt -- I think frustrations with the result of congressional inaction are growing.  And it's just another reason why we need to come together and have the kind of discussions that hopefully can lead to a bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction.

Q    Just to follow up on Jon's question about the President's own budget.  Other briefers have said that every -- the sequester means that every single program from top to bottom has to be cut by the same percentage.  I don’t know what it is for nondefense -- like 9 percent or something.

MR. CARNEY:  I think it's 9 percent and 13 percent for Defense, roughly.

Q    So does that mean that the President's budget -- personal staff, household budget?  Or were those exempted -- I mean, in terms of how it affects his golf trips and his --

MR. CARNEY:  I believe the Executive Office of the President was affected just like every agency within the executive branch.

Q    It was?

MR. CARNEY:  But we've referred these questions to OMB for the details, and they have been providing information about how the sequester is affecting the White House and White House staff.

Q    Right, but the problem you're going to be faced with every day is to show that the President himself is taking a hit, his own activities are being curtailed by the same percentage as all those other people who are getting furloughed.  And my question is, are they?  I mean, you work here.  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  I do, and everyone here works, obviously, in service of the President, and the fact is, his staff is going to be affected by the sequester.  So the President will be affected, there's no question, as the sequester takes effect and as the impacts of the sequester are felt in terms of pay reductions or furloughs or the like.  And I think we've provided information as it's become available about what those impacts will be on the executive branch.

Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you, Jay.  Does the President still think that American involvement and American mediation is necessary for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  And why does he see the need to stress to the groups he met that he's not taking any new peace plan to the region?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think he's stressing a matter of fact; it's not a need.  He's simply saying that he's going to the region, going to Israel and Jordan and the West Bank, to have conversations with leaders that he's meeting with, and also with -- in Israel, to engage with young people in Israel about the future of the Israeli-U.S. relationship. 

And when it comes to the Middle East peace process, our fundamental position has been that the two sides need to come together in face-to-face negotiations to resolve the differences between them and to achieve the two-state solution that is the goal of both sides, as well as the United States and our international partners.  So that is why we are critical of unilateral steps by either side that we believe do not serve the cause of returning to face-to-face negotiations, and it is why we encourage both sides to return to face-to-face negotiations.

In the end, peace has to be reached in negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians -- not imposed by any outside party.  Now, the United States historically and in this administration has been engaged in that process, in trying to facilitate that process, and we remain very much engaged in that process.  But we believe the steps need to be taken to bring the two parties back to negotiations, and that's what the President I’m sure will stress when he talks about this.  But he doesn't have a new proposal, and I think that's the point he was making.

Q    Just one more question.  Does he intend to visit Syrian refugees while in Jordan?

MR. CARNEY:  I think we’re going to have a background briefing on the President’s schedule.  I don't have any more details for it -- about it today.

Let me go to Mike, yes.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  I just wanted to go back to the chart there and the goal that the President has set.

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    In the past, particularly around the time of the convention, the President had praised the balanced budgets and even surpluses that had been generated during the Clinton administration with a Republican Congress.  Now he’s setting the goal not at a balance or a surplus, but at 3 percent of GDP.  Why is that not a contradiction?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, because -- you were around, right?  You remember the recession in 1991?  Wouldn’t it have been wonderful for the country if the recession of 2007, 2008, and 2009 were anything like as shallow as that recession?  The country was faced with catastrophic economic decline, a global financial crisis.  The President inherited deficits from the previous administration that dwarfed the size of deficits that were inherited by the incoming President in 1993, which is not to suggest that the task that President Clinton met and the success he enjoyed working with Congress in eliminating those deficits was not significant, but the size of the problem was unprecedented that this President faced when he took office in January of 2009.

Let’s just review the fact that in the fourth quarter of 2008, prior to him taking office, the United States economy shrank by almost 9 percent -- 9 percent.  It is estimated that the United States lost $16 trillion of wealth -- that's the size of the debt -- $16 trillion of wealth because of the financial crisis.  Those figures are enormous, and the country faced enormous challenges as a result of the financial crisis. 

And because of the grit and determination of the American people, because of their ingenuity, because of the focus that was applied by the President, members of Congress, business leaders and others, we have reversed that course.  We have been on a period of sustained growth and sustained job creation for three years -- over $6.3 trillion -- sorry -- 6.3 million private-sector jobs created in three months. 

So I think the answer to your question is the size of the problem was exponentially larger, but the goal of reducing our deficit is worthwhile within the context of the bigger goal of economic growth and job creation.

Q    Can I ask you just about one other thing?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    You just announced Deborah Jones has been picked as the Ambassador to Libya.  Can you tell us a little bit about why the President chose her?

MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the question.  The President has announced today his nomination of Deborah K. Jones to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Libya and to represent the American people during this important stage of Libya’s new democracy.

We are pleased also to welcome Libyan Prime Minister Zeidan to Washington for his first official visit.  The Prime Minister is meeting with Secretary Kerry today at the State Department and will also be at the White House for meetings with senior administration officials. 

I can tell you that Ambassador-to-be Jones is a career Foreign Service officer who has served admirably in diplomatic posts around the world.

Q    Thanks.

MR. CARNEY:  Thanks.

1:30 P.M. EDT

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