Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 4/5/2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:06 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Morning, everyone. Welcome to this morning’s gaggle. Just a couple of quick points. I’ll try to keep this tight. We obviously have a lot going on today here at the White House, and I want to be able to get back there so I can report back to you later this afternoon when we do an on-camera briefing.
As you know, the President called today for a meeting with -- at the White House with the Speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader, and the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees because he believes that time is of the essence; that we need to reach an agreement on the fiscal year 2011 budget. The fiscal year is halfway over; it’s time to reach a deal. And he believes very strongly that an agreement is in reach; that the President and Democrats have demonstrated their willingness, in the spirit of finding common ground, to come more than halfway towards the Republicans, and by any baseline, any way you measure it, we have done that.
And he believes that we can get a deal done and that the American people want us to get a deal done so that we can move on to the very significant challenges that still face us and the issues that we need to deal with going forward. And if everyone is reasonable, we can get this done, and that’s why he’s having the meeting today.
Obviously we’ll have more to say about the meeting afterwards, so I’m not going to be able to tell you what’s happened in a meeting that hasn’t happened yet. But like I said, I’ll be out here this afternoon.
With that --
Q Do you mean this week? He believes a deal is possible --
MR. CARNEY: Yes, we believe that a deal is possible to finish the funding for fiscal year 2011 that significantly cuts spending. Seventy-three billion dollars in cuts would be the deepest discretionary spending cuts in history, and that is a fair compromise.
Q Jay, you said “if everyone is reasonable.” Does the President think everybody involved, particularly the Republicans, are being reasonable?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ll see. He believes that we have made progress over the past days and weeks. There has been an agreement to work off of the $73 billion figure, which, again, no matter how you slice it, represents more than halfway towards the Republican position represented by the House of Representatives bill that passed. And the appropriators have been working hard to reach an agreement around that number.
Obviously the content -- the composition of those cuts is what has prevented the final agreement from being reached. Like I said, that number represents the deepest discretionary cuts in history, and we are still working out disagreements, and the Republicans -- there’s a disagreement about -- Republicans would prefer deep cuts in education, medical research, community health care centers. We believe that there are other opportunities for cuts in, for example, earmarks for transportation projects, pork-barrel projects that remain in the proposal, and Pentagon spending, military spending that the Pentagon doesn’t want and says it doesn’t need.
We think those choices are what -- those are the choices that are on the table. And we believe that reasonable -- if you take a reasonable approach where each side gives -- and we’ve demonstrated our willingness to come a long way and accept cuts that in an ideal world we would not accept, and I think the American people expect all sides to move off their starting position to settle for less than their perfect world in the name of doing the business of the American people.
Q Jay --
Q Speaker Boehner has proposed a one-week stopgap --
MR. CARNEY: Could we just do this in an orderly way?
Q One quick follow-up. Speaker Boehner has proposed a one-week stopgap to prevent a shutdown. If it should come to that, would President Obama support that? Does he support that idea?
MR. CARNEY: That’s getting ahead of the process. We believe that we can reach an agreement on funding for the full year if people sit around a table in a good-faith effort to approach this in a reasonable way, to tackle what should not be that challenging a goal here, which is to -- everyone agrees we should cut spending. That’s not under debate, right, because we have agreed to a number that is, as I said, among the deepest discretionary cuts in history.
So we agree we need to cut spending. The President believes we need to cut spending responsibly, and the choices you make about how you do it are important. And we believe that we can find that compromise.
Q Can I follow that?
MR. CARNEY: Let me just -- I’ll come quickly. We’re not going to do a zillion, but yes.
Q As you say, progress has been made towards a deal, and yet one isn’t reached by -- in time to get one through this week. What is so objectionable about going ahead for a week or 10 days period, stopgap --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t want to presume that we can’t reach a deal when we believe that we can. What we have said and our position remains that it is not good for the economy. It is not helpful to the process to constantly pass through the tollbooth and to pay your money to keep the essential government operations running. We don’t think that’s the right approach, and that remains our position.
But before we talk about what might happen if we can’t reach an agreement, the President believes that -- and the reason why he called this meeting today is because he believes that we can -- an agreement is possible.
Q Jay, what gives you such confidence that an agreement is possible? These are the same debates that have been happening for many months. And also with that, can you talk about what the White House is telling agencies to do in case there is a shutdown?
MR. CARNEY: Why don’t -- on the second part of your question, I will be back later today, and I can take those questions -- some of the specifics, OMB and others can give to you. But I would just say more -- broadly speaking that it is -- it would be irresponsible not to go through the motions of -- that are on the books and have been on the books since the 1980s towards preparing for a situation where funding is cut off.
We don’t believe that needs to happen, and we believe an agreement is possible. So that’s on the shutdown.
And, look, I mean, agreement is -- this is -- it’s not easy, right, ever to reach an agreement on significant issues, but we believe that it can be done. So we’ve made progress. We’ve negotiated in good faith. We have offered a number of ways to reach that target of $73 billion that represent real and substantial cuts, and we believe that with that approach that an agreement can be reached.
Q On the President’s meeting with President Peres, what are his goals going into the meeting, especially in light of the unusual circumstances that the President of Israel visits the U.S. -- with so much unrest in the Middle East, especially for Israel?
MR. CARNEY: Well, they will no doubt -- first of all, it’s an important meeting because of our very important and strong alliance with Israel, and the President looks forward to it. Shimon Peres has been a friend and partner with the United States for many administrations and many years. They will obviously discuss -- the two Presidents will discuss events in the Middle East and around the world, and they will discuss, obviously, efforts that need to be taken towards finding compromise on the Middle East peace process. But that’s -- so it’s an important meeting, no question.
Q I’m not guessing you’ll give me an answer, but does the President have a new position currently on the best way to get the Mideast peace process going forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, nothing that I have to announce from here. But he will -- he looks forward to the discussion about the important issues on the table.
Q Is the President prepared to compromise on some of the difficult issues? I mean, you’ve said that one has got to be reasonable, but reasonableness is in the eye of the beholder. And obviously, as you said, there are differences about where to cut. So --
MR. CARNEY: Well, and we have offered a variety of ways to close the gap that protect the investments that we think are essential, like investments in education that we think are essential to the future economic growth of this country, and we honestly believe that the American people share that belief. And -- but like I said, there are --
Q In other words, you’re not willing to accept the Republicans --
MR. CARNEY: Well, but wait, that’s like saying, we’re not -- if you start at zero and they start at 100 and we come to 73, right, is that -- have we not demonstrated a certain amount of flexibility and willingness?
Q Well, that’s only if you got to 73.
MR. CARNEY: Or if you start at zero and 61 and we come to 33 and they’re at 61, or they’re at 100. The point is, is that we have shown a great deal of flexibility; a willingness to accept spending cuts that in an ideal world we would not accept -- we would not want to take because there are some programs that we believe are important, but that in these times when everyone needs to sacrifice in order to get our spending under control, that we can do that. But there are areas that are vital, and that when you are faced with choices like cutting education, on the one hand, or -- in order to preserve hundreds of millions of dollars of transportation spending projects that are earmarks, we think the choice is pretty clear.
Q So what you’re saying is there are places where the President won’t compromise.
MR. CARNEY: Of course. Of course there are places. I mean, he has outlined his principles very clearly. But the fact that there are places he won’t compromise doesn’t mean that there are places where -- there are places where he will and there are places where he won’t, and he’s made a number of gestures that have demonstrated a willingness to find the common ground that he thinks the American people want us to find.
Q Is a one-week CR, if necessary, a non-starter?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, that’s an “if” question, and I think that we’re --
Q But they’re good questions.
MR. CARNEY: They’re excellent questions. But I don’t want to get ahead of the process. The meeting today is focused around the notion that these leaders -- remember there’s a process here that has involved in large measure up on the Hill Appropriations Committee staff, with input from leaders, especially on our side -- from the Vice President, from the President, and others. But it is important for the leaders to gather here and say, look, here’s what’s on the table; why can’t we get this done? And here are the issues that divide us and here’s why we think we need to do this, and that the American people expect us to get this done because, goodness gracious, we should be able to get this done. There are bigger issues that lie ahead of us that we need to address.
Q On Libya, I know the President and the Vice President will have just met on Libya this morning, and we saw the Treasury Department yesterday lift sanctions on Moussa Koussa. What -- are additional sanctions being considered to try to encourage more defections, and can you give us a sense of what kind of sanctions those would be?
And separately on Guantanamo, the administration has said they’re committed to still closing the prison facility there. But with all the news that’s come out, it looks as though there’s a recognition that it’s not going to happen anytime soon. So what’s going on to continue that work towards trying to close it, even given the congressional situation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, okay, let me do Guantanamo first. I mean, we remain committed to closing Guantanamo because it’s in our national security interest, as military commanders have said and as the previous administration said prior to the arrival and the inauguration of the President -- of this President. Obviously that’s a process that is ongoing.
On Moussa Koussa, yes -- to answer your question, yes, there are more sanctions. We are in the process of identifying other senior members of Qaddafi’s circle and targeting them with sanctions. So far, at the moment, there were 14 and now there are 13 senior Libyan government officials on that list, the Treasury Department’s black list, essentially. And what I would say is that those sanctions were deliberately targeted in order to induce individuals around Qaddafi to make the decision that Moussa Koussa made. So we believe that those sanctions can be effective, demonstrated in the case of Mr. Koussa, and we’ll continue to pursue that course.
Q Do you have any initial reaction to Congressman Ryan’s budget proposal?
MR. CARNEY: Why don’t we do that after -- for the later briefing, because we want to -- we do need to, as a country, as the responsible parties in government, to move on to the process of the fiscal year 2012 budget and beyond. The President very much looks forward to that. As you know, he proposed his own budget a number of months ago. But we have to get this work done as well.
Q Are you not likely to comment on it until the CR is --
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I just -- first of all, it hasn’t come out. Obviously there’s been an op-ed and a lot of information about it -- or maybe -- I thought it was coming out at noon, but I haven’t had a chance to review it and get out my calculator, and so I don’t want to -- why don’t I wait for the afternoon briefing on that.
Q Does the President plan to offer a counterproposal, and when does he plan on the Ryan -- on the entitlement debate? When does he plan to enter that debate in a sort of sustained personal way?
MR. CARNEY: I’m looking for the President’s strategy on fiscal -- oh, it’s not here. So I -- no, seriously, I don’t want to start talking about that this morning, but I will address questions on that this afternoon.
Q If I could just ask a question on the current budget negotiations. Why did it take the President until today to enter this personally with a sit-down meeting? I know the staff has done things, and the Vice President has been there. But procedurally in the House and the Senate, it’s going to be very difficult unless you get an agreement today to get this done by Friday. So why did this just happen today?
MR. CARNEY: I will happily provide to you the number of engagements at all levels that this administration has had on this process, including the President, including phone calls the President made this weekend and phone calls the President made previously, and the visits and phone calls the Vice President made. I think that there is a great misperception out there about the relative engagement of leadership on all sides in this. I mean, the President, Vice President, Director Lew, Rob Nabors, we have been engaged daily, and the -- in a process that really is a process, an appropriations process, that’s supposed to be done between the House and the Senate. And obviously our input is important and our role in this is significant. But it is a congressional process, and the fact is the President is calling this meeting in part because Congress can’t get its work done, and so he has asked them to come here to talk about how we can get this done. So certainly -- the engagement has been pretty extensive.
Q Yes, you’re not commenting on this one-week stopgap measure, but on the Hill, Republicans, including Eric Cantor, have said that the White House has rejected the measure. And I’m wondering where the difference is here. Have you not rejected the measure outright?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Sam, I’m not commenting on it. I’m not aware of any communications --
Q Well, they’re already saying you rejected it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, did he say who told him that?
Q He said he -- according to my report on the Hill, they said that they’ve confirmed that they heard from the White House that they rejected this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I’m saying, Sam, is that we are having a meeting here today, that has probably already begun, to discuss the need to reach an agreement on the full remainder of fiscal year 2011, that it is not necessary to continue a process of short-term measures when an agreement is within reach and when we’ve had a target figure, and the parameters of that agreement are on the table and some choices just have to be made and we can reach this agreement and get on to the bigger issues that face us.
Q So you can’t confirm or deny --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not -- I’m not going to -- no, I’m not going to confirm or deny what we may or may not do in the future.
Q But it’s not what you’re going to do, it’s what you have done. What they’re saying is last night you told them that you will not accept the one-week stopgap.
MR. CARNEY: Yes --
Q Democrats are saying the same --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I -- what we have said is that it is not necessary and not acceptable to continue to create a tollbooth where you have to pay to keep the government going every two weeks, one week, three weeks. That remains our position. It is counterproductive, we think, to assume that we have to negotiate a short-term CR when we have an agreement on the table that can be reached for the full fiscal year.
Q Is OMB now giving agencies the go-ahead to start implementing shutdown plans, or --
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s been well reported, and OMB has addressed this, that there are procedures that are required to be taken and it would be irresponsible not to take to alert agencies and for secretaries and deputy secretaries to pass on information about what would happen if funding were cut off. But again, that is a process that it would be irresponsible not to engage in.
Q But the agencies haven’t been telling, like, which employees are --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, there are steps -- again, the details of this I can get into later this afternoon or, better yet, somebody who is primarily responsible for it could get into it. But there are steps to the process. So wherever they are is where they’re supposed to be in terms of the process, and then as we move forward, if this remains an issue I’m sure they will take the next necessary steps.
Q If I could follow up on a question from before, back when we were engaged in the extension of the Bush tax cuts deal back at the end of the year, the President was out there pretty frequently giving his position and talking to the country about how he felt that deal should go. But he’s been much more behind the doors this time. And why is it that just now he’s decided to be much more public pushing on this deal and working on this deal?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that’s a version of a question that came from the row ahead of you, which is we simply -- this is a six-month bill to fund the government, an appropriations process that is the business of Congress, and yet the engagement at the presidential level, at the vice presidential level, and at the senior staff level has been intense and regular and ongoing.
And I think there’s a great misperception out there about the relative engagement of the leaders in the White House in this process and the leaders in the Congress. And we are --
Q I’m not saying there hasn’t been --
MR. CARNEY: -- there has been a process where essentially appropriations clerks have been doing the work and we’ve been engaging directly at that level, and then, of course, at the presidential and vice presidential level.
Yes, let’s just keep moving here. Carol Lee.
Q Quickly, on the $33 billion, is that something -- is the White House willing to move on that number, or is that part of this not negotiable?
MR. CARNEY: This is a number that is -- it is a number that was agreed on as a target --
Q Well, Boehner said that he wants more.
MR. CARNEY: Well, something has been happening for five or six days with the appropriators who have all magically been working off the $73 billion number. I don’t think they pulled it out of their hat. So that is a number that has been agreed on as a target. The content obviously matters a great deal. And -- but as I said, 73 is a heck of a long way towards 100; 33 is a long way towards 61.
We have demonstrated our willingness, because the American people expect this, to come more than halfway, to be reasonable and to find common ground. And we think that it’s incumbent upon all players in this discussion to do the same.
Q So that’s where the line is? That’s not changing?
MR. CARNEY: Carol, it’s a target that all sides have agreed on.
Q Thanks, Jay.
Q More hypotheticals this afternoon.
MR. CARNEY: I look forward to them. Thanks.
10:27 A.M. EDT