Press Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton Aboard Air Force One en route Winston-Salem, North Carolina
10:51 A.M. EST
MR. BURTON: Thank you all for joining this flight down to North Carolina. This is Hannah August. It’s her first flight on Air Force One. She promised not to break anything.
Okay, any questions?
Q Can you talk about the latest on the tax talks? And are there any new developments as of this morning, and how many times has the President talked directly to Mr. McConnell?
MR. BURTON: Say that last -- Mr. who?
Q Mr. McConnell. Senator McConnell. How many times has he talked to him directly?
MR. BURTON: I can get you a number on that. They have been making progress --
MR. BURTON: Let me just get you a number so that I'm absolutely sure. They are making progress. The President is confident that in the next couple of days or so we will find a way to extend tax cuts for middle-class families and do some other things that the President thinks are important in helping to grow the economy and create jobs. So those negotiations are, of course, ongoing. And the test for the President here is to ensure that anything that we do is strengthening the economy and creating jobs.
Q Is it looking like a two-year extension of all the tax rates?
MR. BURTON: I don't want to get into the specifics of where they’re going to end up before they actually have a deal.
Q -- go without saying now at this point that the UI extension would go along with extension of the -- the temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts?
MR. BURTON: Well, as the President has been saying, he’s not going to just sign an extension of these tax cuts. He thinks that what we need to do is extend unemployment insurance and do some of these other tax credits that are so stimulative and help to both grow the economy and also help middle-class families who are really struggling right now.
Q So extending those tax cuts would also be a part of this? Is that part of the deal?
MR. BURTON: That's one of the things that they’re working out right now. We've got unemployment insurance. There’s the tuition tax cut, the OTC; EITC -- there’s a handful of tax cuts that the President is working to make sure that we maintain here.
Q Is he drawing a line, saying that he will not sign on to a temporary extension of the upper-income tax cuts if he doesn’t get all of those, that whole basket of extenders?
MR. BURTON: He thinks that we need to get other things besides just the extension of the tax cuts, but in terms of what the specifics are, that's one of the things that they’re hammering out.
Q I mean, could it end up being just the jobless benefits and not the other -- not those various tax credits that go along with the --
MR. BURTON: Well, I don't want to negotiate it out right here. But the President has made it crystal-clear that he is going to sign -- if he’s going to sign an extension of these tax cuts, it’s going to include some of those other things.
Q On a different topic, on today’s speech, we got -- several of us got guidance that said that it was a Sputnik-like moment. We need investments in education and infrastructure. What specifically is the President talking about here? What is it that he wants to invest in?
MR. BURTON: Well, what the President will be saying today in North Carolina is that for a long time America has been a leader when it’s come to education, when it comes to innovation, and he thinks that in order for us to remain a leader and continue to excel in this new century, what we need to do is make investments in infrastructure, education and innovation. And that means some of the things that we've already done, but it also means looking ahead to new ideas and other things that we can do in order to make sure that America is a leader on those things.
He’s not going to roll out any specific new policies today, but you can bet that in the coming months this is going to be a central focus of his presidency.
Q You're saying in the coming months he’s going to be rolling out new ideas and new proposals for investments in these areas?
MR. BURTON: Yes, I am saying that.
Q And so that new -- will those new ideas require federal spending?
MR. BURTON: Well, I think that we’re going to have to take a look at what those ideas are and how they get paid for. But I’m not going to -- I appreciate the question, but I think me sort of pontificating on proposals that haven’t been made just yet doesn’t necessarily do justice to proposals that haven’t even been made just yet.
Q But you’re -- he’s giving a speech today that you’re presumably hoping all of us write about and put on TV that talks in very lofty terms about a Sputnik moment, which was a very specific goal for the U.S. So can you tell us anything about how the President -- what new ideas for achieving such a big goal?
MR. BURTON: Like I said, we’re going to be rolling out some of the specific ideas in the future. I appreciate your enthusiasm about what those ideas are, but this is a framing speech to talk about what we should be focused on here, going into the next year. And you’re going to hear a lot more about this in the coming months.
Q So it would be accurate to say that the White House would not say what the ideas were for achieving this goal?
MR. BURTON: Stunning.
Anything else? (Laughter.)
Q Let the record reflect there was a long pause. (Laughter.)
Q Are we going to see these ideas before the new Congress convenes or after?
MR. BURTON: I think -- I don't know. I don't have a specific schedule for when they -- when we’re going to roll out any of the new ideas.
Q Sounds like a State of the Union topic.
MR. BURTON: I think that considering this will be a central focus of the President’s in the coming year, I'd be surprised if you didn't hear a lot about it in the State of the Union.
Q Hey, anything further on the call with Chinese President Hu? Is he getting anywhere with them on North Korea?
MR. BURTON: I don't have anything further for you besides the readout that we put out very late last night.
Q Bill, why did it take 10 or 11 days to arrange this call?
MR. BURTON: Well, calls like this -- you’ve got two world leaders who are -- have pretty busy schedules. As you could tell from when the call was made, it was something that was not always the easiest thing to get on the schedule. But it was obviously constructive and we’re going to continue to stay in contact. And that's not the only level of contact that we’ve had with the Chinese. Of course, members of the American government have been speaking with members of the Chinese government, as well.
Q Whose schedule was busier that it made it difficult to arrange the call?
MR. BURTON: I think they’re two very busy individuals, together.
Q All right. Was the call linked or tied to Secretary Clinton’s meetings today with the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan?
MR. BURTON: I don't think I want to get any further than what was in the readout.
Q Bill, a couple of members of Congress over the weekend were suggesting a debt summit. Is that something the President would consider participating in, or convening even?
MR. BURTON: As you know, this is something that the President has been focused on from the very first days of the administration. He convened a similar type event right in the beginning of his presidency. As we go into the new Congress, we’re going to be listening to all the ideas that are out there and considering them as they come.
Oh, speaking of members, I don't know if you guys saw Richard Burr -- Senator Richard Burr and Brad Miller are on board -- Representative Brad Miller.
Q Brad Miller?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
Q So he’s open to a debt summit at some point?
MR. BURTON: He’s open to listening to all the ideas that are out there on whatever the best way forward is here to --
Q And are Geithner and Lew talking with members today on the tax --
MR. BURTON: I don't know their specific schedules, but I know that they remain engaged on this.
Q This trip to North Carolina, is it partly because you view North Carolina as a swing state that will be important in 2012?
MR. BURTON: The reason we’re going to North Carolina is because there's this great community college there where you can see some of the types of investments that the President is talking about in the speech. So it’s a good opportunity to get out, go out in the country, which the President likes to do, hear -- go hear directly from Americans here in North Carolina. And he’ll have an opportunity to talk about his agenda.
Q So no political subtext?
MR. BURTON: I mean, I can’t control you guys from writing about what political subtexts might be out there.
Q You mentioned the community college visit. Is community college -- are community colleges going to be a big focus of his coming travel?
MR. BURTON: You’ll definitely see him back at community colleges. This is something that he’s been talking about for the last two years. It was a big focus of folks who got grants through the Recovery Act, and you’ll see him talking about this as a way to get more Americans graduated from college and get the kind of technical expertise that they need for America to be competitive in the 21st century.
Q Thank you.
MR. BURTON: You bet. Buckle up.
END 11:01 A.M. EST