Press Gaggle by Jay Carney en route Manchester, New Hampshire
**Please see transcript below with correction of a typo – “Senator Portman” not “Senator Corbin”
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Manchester, New Hampshire
10:40 A.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Thank you all for being here as we make our way to New Hampshire, where the President will, as you know, give a speech making a strong case for Congress to pass the provision within the American Jobs Act that would extend and expand the payroll tax cut that every working American has gotten this year, and which every working American will not get unless Congress acts. And if Congress does not act, 160 million Americans will, on average, see their taxes go up by $1,000 next year, which would be a terrible thing.
The President, as you know, in the American Jobs Act, called for an expansion of that tax cut, so if the Congress, in its infinite wisdom, were to act on the President’s proposal, which will be moved in the Senate, and passed, that it would mean a $1,500 tax cut for the average American family next year, as well as a tax cut for businesses that hire new employees or expand their payroll.
So, with that, I will take your questions.
Q Any calls that the President has made since last night? Did he call Senator Murray or Congressman Hensarling?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q Did he have any calls to any members of the super committee since that outbound trip in San Diego?
MR. CARNEY: I answered this about seven different times yesterday; I can do that here again if you’d like. The President put forward a plan mid-September, a highly detailed and comprehensive plan, laying out exactly what he believed the super committee should do in order to achieve the kind of deficit reduction mandated by Congress itself. In fact, he laid out a plan that would achieve deficit reduction far in excess of that mandate, therefore providing the super committee a variety of options by which to get to a mere $1.2 trillion, because the options put on the -- within the President’s plan were $3 trillion in size.
So, throughout this process, the President had a responsibility as a leader in this process, that was a congressional process, to do three things: one, make clear to the American public, make clear to the super committee and make clear to all of Congress what his plan was, what his vision was; he did that, as I just described. Two, rally public support behind his vision; he tried to do that. And I think every one of your organizations, I believe, has had public polling that clearly demonstrates that the public overwhelmingly supported the President’s approach -- overwhelmingly. Not just Democrats, not just independents, but Republicans as well. Three, lead his party to accept the kind of tough choices that the President was asking Democrats to make in the name of achieving a balanced approach for deficit and debt reduction and long-term debt control. He did that as well.
Anybody who reported on this and knows what the Democrats were offering in the super committee knows that there were very tough choices that Democrats were willing to make on entitlement reform and other issues -- spending cuts -- if only the Republicans were willing to budge at all on the fundamental obstacle here, the fundamental reason that the super committee failed, was because Republicans refused to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more.
Q Mine is a logistical question, though. Since the --
MR. CARNEY: I answered it.
Q Okay -- no calls since last night?
MR. CARNEY: I think I answered that now three times, yes.
Q Thank you.
Q Jay, now that we’ve moved on to sort of this new phase in the debate where the President is going to focus on the payroll tax cut extension and the jobless benefits and renewing those, what is the strategy going to be? Are we going to be see him mostly focusing again on trying to rally public support for those proposals, or are we going to see him more involved with lawmakers in coming up with a legislative strategy to get them to pass by the end of the year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s a lot of business to be done between now and the end of the year before Congress goes on its month-long recess. And that includes a number of appropriations bills, as well as getting as much of the American Jobs Act passed as humanly possible, or congressionally possible, if you will. So the President will be engaged at every level in that effort.
Again, every provision within the jobs act is the kind of provision that has been supported by Republicans as well as Democrats in the past. They’re all provisions that have been broadly supported by the public. And they’re all paid for in a way -- in the President’s plan and in the way that Senate Democrats have put his ideas forward in ways that have been supported by broad majorities of the American public. He certainly hopes that Congress will go along with that.
It is inconceivable to me and to him that a Republican Congress would want to raise taxes on 160 million hardworking Americans next year, all in the name of protecting tax breaks for the very wealthiest Americans.
Q Foreign policy, Jay. Does the administration have a view on whether Saif al-Islam Qaddafi should be tried in The Hague or by Libyans in Libya?
MR. CARNEY: We urge the TNC and the Libyan authorities to continue their cooperation with the ICC, and I think that’s an important process. And they have been cooperating, so we think that’s important.
Q Jay, Mitt Romney is unveiling his first television ads in New Hampshire today, and they’re all aimed at Obama. Is the President going to be taking on Mitt on this trip today, or is the focus the payroll tax?
MR. CARNEY: Focus on the urgent need to grow the economy and create jobs, and, specifically today, to ensure that Americans have extra money in their pockets next year to help them pay their bills and make ends meet, and also to grow the economy. He will not be talking about the many different candidates for the Republican nomination today.
I can say, about that ad -- I think the campaign has made comment. I mean, what -- seriously? I mean, an ad in which they deliberately distort what the President said? I mean, it’s a rather remarkable way to start, and an unfortunate way to start. And I’m pleased to see numerous news organizations point out the blatant dishonesty in the ad.
Q Jay, is the President worried about a downgrade in S&P and another downgrade? What can the President do to help avoid this?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, I don’t want to make predictions about what ratings agencies will do. I think some have already made some comments about this, but for anything more specific I’d refer you to the Treasury Department.
Q Jay, one more thing on the deficit committee. Given that the cuts that they have to enact don’t have to take place until 2013, is there concern that lawmakers might try to push this off until after the 2012 election, wait to see what voters do in that election, and then basically we’re set up for a fight in the lame duck next year?
MR. CARNEY: That would be unfortunate. That would be far less than ideal, and it would be a shame because there is plenty of time now. The super committee may have failed but Congress has certainly the capacity here to get something done to avoid the deliberately onerous imposition of the sequester.
So one would hope that, in the coming months, that Congress would do its job and make some I think fairly basic and simple choices about how to achieve deficit reduction in a balanced way.
Going back to this question, and it clearly is on my mind because there’s -- a lot of the reporting has been good, I feel, about what went down and why the super committee failed. But there is a certain amount of analysis that -- where commentators on this find refuge in the comfort of declaring a pox on both their houses, a false moral equivalence of “everybody is guilty, everybody is to blame.”
But let’s be clear here: You all reported on it. You know how difficult it was for Democrats to go along with the kind of entitlement reforms the President was willing to support if the Republicans were willing to do something in a balanced way, were willing to deal with revenue. You see what the Democrats put on the table, the super committee, and it has, as Senator Corbin** himself said, “demonstrated a willingness by Democrats to put entitlement reform on the table.”
What we never saw, and have yet to see, is a willingness -- a commensurate willingness -- by Republicans to do what the public says should be done, which is ask the wealthiest Americans who have done exceptionally well -- far better than the rest of the country over the past 10 years, even 30 years -- to pay a little bit extra so that we can get our fiscal house in order, and not do it on the backs of the middle class and senior citizens.
And here’s one of the reasons why the Republican Party is so hamstrung -- because the very men and woman who would occupy the Oval Office stood up on a stage and all raised their hand and said they would not accept a deal that had as its foundation $10 in spending cuts every $1 in revenue. That is so wildly inconsistent with where the public is, so wildly out of the mainstream, that it’s not a surprise, then, if those are the Republican standard bearers, that Republicans in Congress are not willing to do what is obvious to all, what the public supports.
Q Just to follow on Helene’s question on the decision to go to New Hampshire. The President might not be talking about the specific Republican candidates, but his selection of Manchester, in New Hampshire, is a fairly loud political statement.
MR. CARNEY: As opposed to another town in New Hampshire? It’s not a huge state. I mean, I think all of New Hampshire is well known as a famous state politically --
Q The selection of New Hampshire --
MR. CARNEY: -- well, wait, the President doesn’t have a primary. I will -- well, I’ll confidently predict that he’ll win the primary in the Democratic Party. So there are a lot of states that matter in the political process in this country, and if you didn’t travel to any of them, you would severely limit your ability to travel around the country. The President has gone north, south, east and west, and will continue to travel around the country making the case for his agenda.
Q Do you have -- just shifting to international affairs -- do you have anything on Egypt? Fourth day of protests in Tahrir Square. What is the President’s level of concern?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are deeply concerned about the violence. The violence is deplorable. We call on restraint -- we call on all sides to exercise restraint. We think it’s very important that the elections go forward. And, again, going back to the first point, the violence needs to stop. The Egyptians need to be able to decide their future and decide it in a peaceful manner.
Q Any anything on the prime minister-elect in Spain? Has the President called, reached out to him yet? Anything in Europe in general?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have anything new on Europe, beyond what I said yesterday.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Hold on, there’s one other thing I wanted to say. (Laughter.) One other thing I wanted to say. No, let’s just talk about the calls for undoing the sequester, right? I mean --
Q Can you give us the White House views on undoing the sequester? (Laughter.) I just am curious --
MR. CARNEY: Hans, I am so glad you asked, because let’s go -- let’s examine this within the context of approval ratings for
Congress that hover in single digits, maybe 10 or 11 percent, and ask ourselves why that might be the case when you have members of Congress who voted for the sequester, said we will hold ourselves accountable. This is a sword of Damocles over our heads to make sure that we, Congress, will act responsibly. Never mind, they say, we won’t do that. I mean, why do you think people are so cynical about how Congress works? If they pass a law that’s supposed to hold them responsible for their actions and then say, never mind, we don’t want to be held responsible for our actions -- there is an obvious -- look, those cuts in the sequester are broad and onerous for a reason, because they’re supposed to force action by Congress to avoid them. They’re never supposed to take place. And they don’t need to take place, and they won’t take place if Congress simply acts.
And the concern about national defense is understandable, and I think that one way to -- if the concern is so great about the need to maintain a certain level of defense spending, there is an easy way out here, which is be willing to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more in order to achieve this comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction plan, and then the sequester will never kick in. It’s very simple.
Q No wiggle room on the veto threat?
MR. CARNEY: No wiggle room. No wiggle room.
Q Even in a potential lame duck session?
MR. CARNEY: The President spoke very clearly on this. Let me think, is there anything else I have to say? (Laughter.) Any other questions I’d like to ask?
Q Alister Bull of Reuters usually has a variety of good questions in his notebook. Alister?
Q All done. Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: All right, guys, thanks you very much.
10:54 A.M. EST