Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/03/2012
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:39 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. It’s Monday, so there’s that. (Laughter.) But it’s also practically 70 degrees outside in December.
Q -- psyched golfers.
MR. CARNEY: Exactly.
Q Can we have the briefing outside? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Everybody agree? TV, you’re okay with that? (Laughter.) Unfortunately not today. Maybe one day. Perhaps my last day. (Laughter.)
Q Personnel announcement?
MR. CARNEY: Might be four years from now.
Before I take your questions, I wanted to let you know that in the past week, over 300,000 Americans from across the country have tweeted and emailed to tell us what extending income tax for middle-class families means to them.
President Obama just sent a tweet announcing that he will answer questions on Twitter about extending middle-class tax cuts today at 2:00 p.m. People can ask the President questions on Twitter with the hashtag “My2K.” You can all follow that chat at twitter.com/ObamaWhiteHouse.
I can also, just to stick with the schedule, remind you that after that, this afternoon the President has a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Prime Minister Borisov. Bulgaria is an important NATO partner, and we have a very important bilateral relationship with Bulgaria.
Later this afternoon still, at about 4:00 p.m., the President will deliver a speech at the National Defense University commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which as you know was authored by Senators Nunn and Lugar. That cooperation, bipartisan cooperation between those two men has resulted in a regime that allows us to achieve one of the President’s highest priorities -- or to try to achieve -- and that is to secure loose nuclear materials and weapons around the world.
And it’s an important time to remember that when it comes to these kinds of objectives, Democrats and Republicans can come together and achieve very important things, and the President looks forward to the fact that both Senators Nunn and Lugar will be there today.
Later this evening, you know he has the Congressional Ball. And then at about 8:30 p.m., I know many of you will, like me, be tuning in to see RGIII and the Redskins take on the New York Giants.
With that, I will take -- oh, wait, I have one more thing I wanted to mention, and that is that on behalf of everyone here in the White House, beginning with the President and the First Lady, we extend our congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the welcome news this morning out of London that they are expecting their first child.
Q Does the President personally have any advice for them as parents? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that conversation with them, but I know they both feel that having a child is one of the most wonderful parts of their lives. So I’m sure that will be the same for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
On a note about a commoner here at the White House, I also want to congratulate Brian Deese of the NEC, and his wife on the birth of their child, Adeline Sutton Deese, over the weekend.
And with that I will take your questions. Julie.
Q Thank you. The United Nations is moving staff out of Syria. Does the U.S. consider the security situation in Syria to be deteriorating further? And how does that impact U.S. concerns about the security of chemical weapons?
MR. CARNEY: Let me address a few points here. We closely monitor and we continue to closely monitor Syria’s proliferation-sensitive materials and facilities. As the opposition makes strategic advances and grows in the strength, the Assad regime has been unable to halt the opposition’s progress through conventional means, and we are concerned that an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be considering the use of chemical weapons against the Syria people.
And as the President has said, any use or proliferation of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would cross a red line for the United States. The Assad regime must know that the world is watching and that they will be held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons, or fail to meet their obligations to secure them.
We continue to consult actively with Syria’s neighbors, our friends in the international community and with the opposition to underscore our common concern about the security of these weapons and the Syrian government’s absolute obligation to secure them.
Q What does the U.S. deem the security of those chemicals weapons at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can't get into intelligence assessments. We believe they are -- remain in the possession of the Syria regime, the Assad regime. But as the regime has lost all legitimacy to lead Syria, and the opposition grows in strength, our concern about the regime’s intentions regarding its chemical weapons stockpiles has increased.
Q And just to go back to the red line, I just want to clarify where the red line is for the President. Obviously, use of chemical weapons is a red line. But in terms of the movement of that, there obviously are reports that the weapons are being moved or have been moved. Is the type of movement that we’re seeing right now, does that cross the red line?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President made clear that the use of weapons was a red line. We are monitoring the situation in Syria closely, and we are monitoring the regime’s chemical weapons stockpiles. I’m not going to get into intelligence matters, but as I said, we believe that with the regime’s grip on power loosening, with its failure to put down the opposition through conventional means, we have an increased concern about the possibility of the regime taking the desperate act of using its chemical weapons.
Q But at this point, you can't say for sure that what we’re seeing right now does not cross the President’s red line?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think we’re talking about the use of chemical weapons.
Q But he also talked about the movement of chemical weapons in his press conference in August.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I understand that.
Q So does it change the equation if it was being moved?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that you’re hearing from me about our increased concern. You’re hearing from me the fact that we are consulting with our allies and international partners, as well as the opposition about this, and there is no doubt that we have an increased concern about this.
But beyond that I’m not going to get into matters of intelligence except to say that we do have an increased concern.
Q And what action would the U.S. take if Syria were to cross that red line and use chemical weapons?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I wouldn’t want to speculate, but we think it is important to prepare for all scenarios. Contingency planning is the responsible thing to do, and we are also actively consulting with friends, allies and the opposition. But I wouldn’t want to speculate about what action we might take.
Q Could that include military action?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think the contingency planning of all kinds is the responsible thing to do.
Q Israel’s settlement-building plan has provoked some pretty strong reactions, especially in Europe where several countries have summoned Israeli ambassadors to hear protests. But Israel is sticking to that plan. Is the U.S. taking any further steps beyond criticizing the settlement expansion plan as counterproductive to the peace process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you that we reiterate our longstanding opposition to Israeli settlement activity and East Jerusalem construction. We oppose all unilateral actions, including settlement activity and housing construction, as they complicate efforts to resume direct bilateral negotiations and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations. And this includes building in the so-called E1 area.
We have made clear to the Israeli government that such action is contrary to U.S. policy, opposing unilateral action including settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem. And we in the international community expect all parties to play a constructive role in efforts to achieve peace. We urge Israeli leaders to reconsider these unilateral decisions and exercise restraint as these actions are counterproductive and make it harder to resume direct negotiations to achieve a two-state solution.
Q Jay, thanks. Over the weekend, House Speaker John Boehner said on FOX News Sunday, “Right now I would say we’re nowhere, period, in terms of the fiscal cliff negotiations.” Does the President agree with that assessment?
MR. CARNEY: No, he doesn't. I think you saw Secretary Geithner over the weekend on other Sunday shows very clearly express the President’s position, talk about the proposals the President has put forward, and express our belief that there has been progress and that we can achieve a bipartisan agreement.
The obstacle remains at this point the refusal to acknowledge by Republican leaders that there is no deal that achieves the kind of balance that is necessary without raising rates on the top 2 percent wealthiest Americans. The math simply does not add up. And we look forward to presentation by Republican leaders -- their ideas for how to achieve the kind of revenue targets that are necessary, or their ideas for spending cuts.
As you know, and Secretary Geithner spoke quite clearly about, we have put forward a proposal that includes $600 billion in detailed spending cuts in health care and other entitlement programs, including the farm subsidy program, and that comes on top of over a trillion dollars in spending cuts, both defense and non-defense, that the President signed into law as part of the Budget Control Act, and is companioned with our proposals for how to achieve the kinds of revenue from the wealthiest Americans that we believe is necessary to help the economy grow and achieve the sort of deficit reduction that puts us in -- puts us on a path towards a better economy.
Q Republicans have said, though, that the President’s initial offer is “not a serious one” -- that’s another quote. What will he do at this moment to try to move these negotiations forward?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply redirect that question to Republican leaders who to this day have not put forward any proposal on how they would achieve revenues, how they would address the issue that rates have to rise on the top 2 percent. There’s no other way to do it.
There is no mathematically sound way to do it. And making vague promises about achieving revenue through capping deductions or closing loopholes simply doesn’t add up to a serious proposal. We haven’t heard which deductions they would cap or which loopholes they would close. And what is true is that other proposals that have been put forward that include attempts to do it, to raise revenue only through closing loopholes and limiting deductions, can only achieve the necessary revenue if the middle class gets stuck with the bill.
And that’s simply not -- or if you have a proposal, it’s wildly politically unfeasible because it suggests that we would wipe out charitable deductions or other measures that might add up on paper, but simply aren’t plausible when it comes to getting something through Congress.
Q Jay, also, on one other topic, today marks the three-year anniversary of the arrest of American contractor Alan Gross in Cuba. Cuba has offered to sit down with the U.S. to talk about issues of mutual interest, including Gross. Given that the campaign is over, the President beginning his second term, is this something that the administration is open to and is considering right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President has followed Mr. Gross’s case with concern, and he urges Mr. Gross’s release. The Cuban government should release Alan Gross and return him to his family where he belongs. Tomorrow, Alan Gross will begin his fourth year of unjustified imprisonment in Cuba. He was arrested on December 3, 2009, and later given a 15-year prison sentence by Cuban authorities for simply facilitating communications between Cuba’s Jewish community and the rest of the world.
Mr. Gross is a 63-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional, with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries. Since his arrest, Mr. Gross has lost more than 100 pounds and suffers from severe degenerative arthritis that affects his mobility and other health problems. His family is anxious, understandably, to evaluate whether he is receiving appropriate medical treatment, something that can be best determined by having a doctor of his own choosing examine him.
We continue to ask for the Cuban government to grant Alan Gross’s request to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, who is gravely ill. This is a humanitarian issue.
Q His family believes that he’s been abandoned by the U.S. government. His wife was quoted as saying, he feels like a soldier who’s been left to die. What specifically is the President going to do to try to get his release beyond asking the Cuban government to release him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we continue to press the Cuban government to release him for the reasons that I just enumerated. This is a humanitarian issue. There is -- it is essential that he released for his own health reasons, and it is -- would be incredible appropriate to allow him to visit his gravely-ill mother.
Q Jay, on the fiscal cliff, you were just laying out about $1.6 trillion of spending cuts, $600 billion new ones you say on top of a trillion from 2011. But then the Republicans point out you’ve put about $1.6 trillion in new tax increases or revenue increases on the table in some new spending, question being that’s roughly one to one. I thought during the campaign a balanced approach was $2.50 in spending cuts per $1 in tax increases. That’s roughly what both Bill Clinton and I think President Obama said on the trail, at the convention. So my question is, sort of the latest balanced approach, what is that split for this White House?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, it is absolutely the case that the President’s proposal that he put forward to the super committee and that is repeated in his budget achieves roughly the ratio that you’re talking about. And it achieves the target of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that was put forward by the Simpson-Bowles commission, for example, as the kind of deficit reduction that’s necessary over 10 years to put us on a sustainable path, get our fiscal house in order.
It is also the case, and the President talked about this repeatedly during the campaign, that we need to make the kinds of investments in key sectors of our economy that will help our economy grow faster and help it create jobs.
I think Republicans have likely heard what the President has heard from business leaders, which is they are adamant about the need to take action to improve our infrastructure, to put people to work building our -- rebuilding our roads and bridges and highways, ports and airports, because that is essential to long-term economic growth. So what the President has put forward in terms of measures that would put Americans back to work are the kinds of things that help us grow in the long term. They’re paid for and they’re vital for that balance that we've talked about all along.
Again, what we have not seen from Republicans -- we understand that they don't agree with everything the President has put on the table, but we haven't seen alternatives from them. They have spoken about the need for revenue, and that acknowledgment is welcome. But thus far, Republican leaders have been adamant that they don't believe rates ought to go up on the top 2 percent of wealthiest Americans. Well, the American people overwhelmingly disagree -- overwhelmingly. And what the President believes is that you cannot mathematically achieve the kinds of revenue that are necessary for that balanced approach through any other means. So rates have to rise. And the Republicans need to acknowledge that, that that's the only way to get from here to there.
Q You say rates need to rise, so there’s one scenario floating out there that the Republicans may say, okay, we'll -- they say they’ll extend the middle-class tax rates that the President has been demanding, Bush tax rates, so that --
MR. CARNEY: That would be welcome.
Q That would suggest that the Bush -- taxes for the rich would go up, as you're asking for. But my question is, they then suggest, the Republicans, that they would leave the debt ceiling, all this other stuff until at least January. Is that acceptable? They essentially do what you want on the middle-class tax cuts and then go home and deal with the rest of this in January?
MR. CARNEY: I'll say two things. One is I'm not going to negotiate the specifics of an end-of-the-year deal from here. But I will reiterate and echo what Secretary Geithner said over the weekend, which is that it is entirely unacceptable to have a repeat performance of what the American people watched with horror in the summer of 2011, which was a willingness by a minority of the overall assemblage of lawmakers on Capitol Hill to hold the American economy hostage, to threaten default on the American economy, and therefore default on the savings and investments of the American people, in the name of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. It’s just not acceptable. And it’s bad policy.
What the President put forward, what the President believes we ought to do, as Secretary Geithner spelled out over the weekend, is adopt the proposal that was enacted into law in the Budget Control Act that was put forward by Senator McConnell, nobody’s idea of a liberal, a man with solid conservative credentials, the Republican Leader in the Senate put forward a proposal that enables the debt ceiling to be raised appropriately so the United States pays its bills. It allows Congress to voice its opinion, but it makes sure that we do not have the threat of default hanging over us periodically as if we were not the greatest and strongest economy in the world. It’s just not the right way to do business.
Q And the last thing, there have been reports suggesting that the Defense and State Department picks could come as soon as this week. Is that possible?
MR. CARNEY: Anything is possible, Ed, but I would urge you to accept the notion -- and I mean you, plural -- that the President will make personnel announcements after he has made personnel decisions, and when he believes it’s appropriate. There’s a great deal of speculation about the timing of that. I can promise you that no decisions have been made by the President, and you will hear from him when he believes he’s ready to make any such announcements.
Q Does the President believe that he has a mandate to push for the increases on taxes on the top 2 percent because he campaigned on it and because of polls -- is that a correct assessment?
MR. CARNEY: He believes -- and I think most people would acknowledge -- that the American people support that. He also believes that it’s the right thing to do as a matter of policy, as a matter of economic policy. We know from independent economists that tax cuts for middle-class Americans -- and in the case of the legislation that he wants to see pass, tax cuts for 98 percent of American taxpayers -- are vastly more beneficial to the economy and economic growth than giving tax cuts to the wealthiest 2 percent -- so as economic policy.
We also cannot afford tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent. That's $950 billion over 10 years that we should not be spending in order to provide tax cuts to folks who have enjoyed enormous tax cuts over the last 10 years as the middle class has been squeezed. So when it comes to balance, the President believes that, yes, it’s the right economic policy to let rates rise; it’s the only mathematically sound way to achieve balance in a deficit reduction package; and it is supported by the American people.
Q And as a political matter, the President campaigned on it repeatedly.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the point I've been trying to make is that he was very clear about this, so it should not be a surprise to Republican leaders, and it’s certainly not a surprise to the American people.
Q So my question is, in this offer that the President made to House Republicans and Senate Republicans, he’s pushing for more than that, though. It’s not just the ones -- the tax increases that he campaigned on, it’s other ones as well.
MR. CARNEY: The President spoke repeatedly during the year about his proposal that is enshrined in the 70-odd-page document that I had with me at the podium last week, that was presented for the super committee’s consideration. The $1.6 trillion target of deficit reduction through revenues has long been his position. It has been explicitly his position. We talked about it prior to the election. We talked about it in the immediate aftermath of the election. This is not -- he did not -- to suggest that he somehow added to his proposal is to pretend that --
Q I'm not saying he added to his proposal, but what I'm saying is he didn’t campaign on, for instance, limiting the mortgage deduction for wealthier Americans, or limiting the charity deduction for wealthier Americans. Those are not items that he talked about on the campaign trail.
MR. CARNEY: He talked explicitly and broadly about his approach on this issue, which included letting rates return to Clinton-era levels for the top 2 percent and included broadly $1.6 trillion in revenues from the wealthiest. And if you look at his proposals -- and we were very explicit about this both here in Washington when we were engaged in legislative negotiations with Congress, and broadly throughout the year -- those proposals included -- I mean, I talked numerous times last year and the year before about capping deductions at 28 percent for the wealthiest --
Q That's not the President on the campaign trail. I didn’t hear him really talk about that.
MR. CARNEY: Well, he did, Jake, and he would certainly when engaged with reporters in discussions about his detailed plan, he would talk about this. This is something that --
Q Limiting deductions?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely. For the top 2 percent, absolutely. And it is something that he has been explicit about for more than a year now, since September of 2011, when he put forward that proposal to the super committee.
Q Is one of the reasons that the stimulus is in this proposal because it’s intended to offset the economic damage caused by any of the tax increases?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that one of the reasons for measures that would put Americans back to work is that we need to continue to grow the economy. And he has always believed that you don't achieve -- deficit reduction is not a goal unto itself, that we need to achieve deficit reduction in a way that doesn’t halt progress we've made or throw us backwards. One of the reasons why people are so concerned about the prospect of the fiscal cliff is that the combination of tax increases and spending cuts across the board would have a negative impact on economic growth and on hiring. So we need to do it in a smart way.
And the President has longed believed and been very explicit about that even as we find savings and enact cuts in programs where they can be found and can be enacted, we need to make targeted investments in infrastructure, research and development, or education and the like that help our economy grow in the long term.
Q So the answer is, no, it’s not there to offset any economic harm to job growth that might result because of the tax increases on wealthy Americans?
MR. CARNEY: It’s not. It is part of -- I mean, in the sense that it’s not specifically designed for that. It is part of the President’s broader approach to this, which is you need to be very discriminating in how you approach it. You need to achieve savings where you can, significant savings -- a trillion-plus in the original Budget Control Act in discretionary non-defense and defense savings; additional $600 billion in savings put forward as part of his proposal and in revenues from the wealthiest 2 percent. Coupled with that, you need to make targeted investments that help the economy grow, because the balance in the package is essential for the broader goal, which is stronger growth, job creation.
He also believes that as a principle, deficit reduction done well, done right, is positive for the economy. So there aren't pieces -- they all go together in his mind.
Q One last question, on the subject of Israel, in the last few weeks, when it comes to U.S. lobbying against the declaration of statehood or whatever for the Palestinians, the very successful results of the Iron Dome and the U.S. support for Israeli military activities in Gaza, the U.S. has been very steadfastly standing by Israel. I'm wondering, in light of that, other than you expressing displeasure in any paper statements that have gone out on the matter, what the Obama administration or the President has done, or any of his emissaries, to express displeasure with what the Israelis are doing right now in terms of settlements and other what can be described as punitive actions against the Palestinians.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the State Department for communications that may be taking place, as they do on a daily basis, with the Israelis.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have any conversation with the President to read out. But I want to be clear -- we oppose unilateral actions that make a return to bilateral negotiations harder. We oppose, as we long have, Israeli settlement activity and construction in East Jerusalem because they are counterproductive to what we believe is the goal here, and should be the goal, which is Israel and a Palestinian state side by side living in security and freedom.
Q Did we know -- did the U.S. know about this before the Netanyahu government announced it?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department for those kinds of communications. I can just tell you that --
Q In the past, they’ve done it without notifying -- in fact, I believe there was one time when it was -- when Netanyahu was arriving here and the announcement was made.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have information to give --
Q When you worked for the Vice President -- you must remember -- when the Vice President arrived in Israel one time, there was an announcement. That must have been fun.
MR. CARNEY: I can just tell you, Jake, that I don't have any specific information about those communications between the Israeli government and this administration. I don't think we could be clearer about our position that we oppose unilateral actions that make the return to bilateral negotiations harder. We oppose Israeli settlement activity and the construction in East Jerusalem. And we're obviously communicating that.
Q But there’s no consequences, they’ll do whatever and you’ll --
MR. CARNEY: I don't have anything additional to provide to you on that.
Major and then Jessica.
Q Jay, what’s the degree of the President’s awareness of and concern about and appetite for intervening in the dock strike in Los Angeles and Long Beach?
MR. CARNEY: Concern about, appetite for -- lot of verbs and prepositions there that I will have to appropriately digest. (Laughter.)
Q -- all at once. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I can just tell you that we -- and that includes the President -- continue to monitor the situation in Los Angeles closely and urge the parties to continue their work at the negotiating table to get a deal done as quickly as possible.
Q Does he have any appetite to intervene?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any additional insights about the President on this to provide to you except that we’re monitoring the situation and we urge each side -- all parties to continue negotiations.
Q -- look at the situation and say has real-time economic consequences not only in that immediate region, but possibly throughout the entire U.S. economy, and they would say the President is only concerned?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he is concerned, and that is -- and we at the White House and broadly in the administration are concerned, which is why we’re urging parties to continue their work at the negotiating table to reach a deal as quickly as possible for the reasons that you just mentioned.
Q A follow-up on Ed’s question. Isn’t it true that when Secretary Geithner went up to the Hill and described broadly his and the administration’s approach, there were far more things put on the table as asks or requests -- unemployment insurance payroll tax, at least conceptualized, and dealing with Medicare premium reimbursement issue -- there are lots of other issues beside the one singular issue that you are focusing on as far as the top 2 percent. Isn’t it true that you are seeking something that is much broader than that?
MR. CARNEY: No, it’s not true. And what is remarkable -- and I was stunned by this even on the Sunday shows -- is to this day, in December of 2012, how few people are aware of what was a highly detailed, specific proposal that the President put out in September of 2011. And these issues were all in there. We have long been on the record for extension of unemployment insurance, for example -- at a time when the unemployment rate, while it has come down, is still higher at this time than it was when George W. Bush extended unemployment insurance.
Q -- these particular conversations --
MR. CARNEY: But the conversations weren’t just about the revenue component. Included in that was the $600 billion in spending cuts that the President has proposed through, again, in detail and with specificity in a way that we have yet to see from our Republican friends. So, no. And again, I know you know because you covered it that we talked explicitly about, and have since we introduced the American Jobs Act, the need to invest in infrastructure, put people back to work building our roads and bridges and highways. This is not -- there is nothing -- there is, literally, nothing that should come as a surprise in terms of what the President’s positions are and what he believes, in his view, are the right actions to take.
Now, he has also said that he is not wedded to every detail of his plan, that he is willing to compromise, and he looks forward to concrete proposals from Republicans that address the question of revenue, for example. They’re open to revenue. They say at this point that they don’t want to raise tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. It is mathematically impossible to achieve the kind of revenue targets that are necessary for balance in a way that only closes loopholes and caps deductions, both economically --
Q -- I think it’s mathematically possible; it’s not politically possible. That’s been your earlier point.
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s both, depending on the proposal that you’re talking about. It’s either possible to do it if you stick it to the middle class and raise taxes on the middle class so that you protect the wealthiest Americans from having to contribute more in revenue, or you would do it in a way that would go after things like the charitable deduction or the home mortgage plan in a way that is not either economically sound or politically feasible on Capitol Hill.
So what we hope for is some specificity from Republicans. We can’t -- if they need something different, if their ideas are different from ours, we can’t guess what they are. They need to tell us. And we look forward to the time when they are specific with ideas in the way that we have been.
We understand that they don’t like our plan in its entirety. The President has understood and made clear that he won’t get everything that he wants. He brings to this very specific principles about balance. He’s made very clear that he will not under any circumstances sign an extension of tax cuts for the top 2 percent. He’s made very clear that he would sign tomorrow if just a few dozen or so House Republicans -- well, first, if the leaders of the Republican Party in the House said, let’s vote on that Senate bill to extend cuts for 98 percent of the American people and then however many Republicans it takes -- probably not that many, because I know every Democrat wants to extend tax cuts for the middle-class Americans -- let that pass.
That addresses a good portion of the fiscal cliff and it says to the American people, we can actually take action on things that we agree on: tax cuts for the middle class. It’s good for everybody. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for the fiscal cliff. And it would I think set a tone here in Washington that we can get something done when we work together cooperatively.
So we’ve been explicit and specific. We look forward to specificity from the Republicans.
Q One last question on this, the sequencing. There are now countdown clocks around the country predicated on December 31st. For those of us who have been lucky enough to cover the legislative body once or twice in our career, we have a practical understanding of how things have to go. And there are more and more lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, who look at the calendar and say, it’s not December 31st, it’s December 15th, really, if you’re going to have an agreement and have the time necessary for it to be read, digested, debated, and gotten to the President in a practical matter before Christmas. Does the President share that time horizon? Do you look at this actually as not December 31st, but something, as a practical matter, much earlier than that, and does that in any way create a greater sense of urgency?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President certainly believes that the sooner the better; that we receive specificity from Republicans about what it is they would do on revenues, for example; what it is they want on spending cuts, for example, we will be able to move forward, and we look forward to doing that.
In terms of the congressional clock, I, too, enjoyed covering Congress when I had the opportunity and I know what you’re talking about. But we’re not going to dictate to congressional leaders their calendar, but it is certainly the case that we hope and expect that Republicans will be more specific about what it is beyond not liking the President’s proposals; what is it they would do alternatively to achieve the kind of deficit reduction and a resolution of the fiscal cliff that the President’s plan would do.
Q Perhaps the President will stay in Washington until this is resolved?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I believe -- as Secretary Geithner expressed over the weekend -- that we can accomplish this. I really believe that if Republicans were to acknowledge and do so with some specificity that rates are going up on the wealthiest Americans --
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m talking about getting to -- no, no, I’m not talking about an endgame here. I’m talking about getting -- moving the ball forward here in terms of progress and reaching a deal. That that’s a principle -- that’s an obstacle that, once overcome, would allow us to I think move more quickly towards the kind of compromise that -- remember, what was new in what Secretary Geithner spoke about and what he and Rob Nabors brought to their meetings on Capitol Hill was a framework for -- our proposed framework for how to achieve, if you will, a two-stage process towards a resolution.
So there’s a means to get there. What we need from the Republicans, what we need to hear and see from the Republicans is pretty clear. As of now, the only party to these negotiations who has put forward anything specific when it comes to broad-based deficit reduction is the President.
Q Jay, you just said that the administration laid out a highly detailed, specific proposal, including on spending cuts.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Did the administration’s proposal also detail how you’d get to $400 billion on Medicare and other entitlement savings?
MR. CARNEY: I think you heard Secretary Geithner say over the weekend he talked about -- when you talk about the broader spending cuts, including a $600 billion, they include reform of our farm subsidy program, but he also spoke about asking high-wage earners, high earners who are Medicare beneficiaries to pay more in premiums, a little bit more in premiums, and he talked about some other specifics.
But I would refer you, again, to a document that’s been available to everyone for 14 or 15 months now and we’ve been specific about what the President believes is the right course of action and we look forward to Republicans doing the same.
Q Is the administration committing to that as its proposal for bringing down entitlement spending, or is the administration outlining a framework -- $400 in proposed cuts -- to be resolved down the line?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to what -- I think Secretary Geithner spoke in detail about this. But we have -- we do have specific proposals.
Q When it came to entitlements, he said there were principles, but he did not commit --
MR. CARNEY: There are specifics in the proposals, far more than we've seen from the other side. Remember, in the House Republican budget, we saw nothing like the specificity -- we saw undocumented savings, unspecified savings over 10 years, after which Medicare would end as we know it, and there would be additional savings that would help pay for tax cuts.
The President has been much more specific. His proposed savings in health care entitlements in the first 10 years exceed the savings put forward by the Bowles-Simpson commission, the North Star, if you will, of this process. And, again, I'd refer you to the document for more details.
We have been specific. We understand that Republicans won't -- maybe they want different kinds of cuts. Maybe they want additional cuts. The President has made clear he will entertain others' ideas. He looks forward to hearing them. But we need to see what they are. We can't guess on their behalf what Republicans want out of this process. They need to put forward their ideas as we have put forward ours.
Q One of their frustrations is that they feel the administration has been less than specific about entitlement changes, but is being very specific about what's needed for tax reform and that this amounts to overreach. It amounts to bullying -- you've heard what they've said.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I understand what you're saying, but instead of just quoting what they've said, look at the proposals we've put on the table, they are specific. We understand that they may want different ones. Senator McConnell has talked about different ones. Others have talked about different ones or additional ones. But let's be specific about the fact that we've put forward substantial savings in health care entitlements, as well as other entitlement programs. The Republicans have not.
Q Secretary Geithner seemed to reject what over the weekend -- Secretary Geithner seemed to reject what McConnell said in the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal interview.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know that he rejected it. We know what our position is. What I would note is that the ideas that Senator McConnell talked about don't even amount to half of the savings that are documented in the President's proposal.
So the President's willing to entertain others' ideas. But we haven't seen anything yet from Republicans that is credible and specific. On the revenue side, we've seen nothing at all. Because sometimes when we get into this debate and the crossfire about who has a plan and who doesn't, and who's showing you theirs and who's not, they say, well, we passed a budget. But let's remember, the Ryan budget -- the House Republican budget contains zero in revenues. So that's not a plausible alternative.
Republicans have acknowledged that we need revenues and that revenues have to come from those who can afford them. Now we need to move that acknowledgement further along down the road to include specificity about how -- what loopholes, what deductions and what they envision in terms of rates. We've been very clear about what we propose: Rates should rise to the Clinton era. And we've been very specific about capping deductions for wealthy earners and closing loopholes. So what do the Republicans have to show us on that score?
Q So Speaker Boehner is supposed to be attending this holiday reception here tonight. Does the President plan to have a pull-aside with him to discuss some of these issues?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a schedule for you of the President's conversations. He looks forward to the event tonight, but I don't have anything specific for you. But it is true that every member of Congress has been invited and he looks forward to the event.
Q Did President Clinton have any advice or suggestions for President Obama yesterday during their golf game on the fiscal cliff? Might there have been some discussion about the fiscal cliff when he played golf?
MR. CARNEY: For reasons that would be apparent to anybody who has seen me swing a golf club, I was not there and therefore do not know.
Q No readout on the golf game?
MR. CARNEY: I know that President Obama enjoyed the session. But beyond that, I don't have anything else for you.
Q Who won?
MR. CARNEY: Doesn't the sitting President always win?
Q Tomorrow, the President is meeting with governors about the fiscal cliff. Can you give us more detail about who will be here and how many, and what he hopes governors can add to the dialogue that isn't already part of the conversation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, broadly speaking, governors can have a lot to add to the dialogue. And the President looks forward to the meeting. I think we'll have details on that later this evening. I don't have a list for you.
Q Can you just, in concept, talk about what experience governors have, what he's hoping to hear from them, what he wants to say to them that differs from what we've been hearing every day?
MR. CARNEY: I think that governors have a lot at stake in this process. They have an interest in seeing Washington get its fiscal house in order. They have an interest in seeing Washington take action to ensure that the economy continues to grow. I think governors, broadly speaking, have a keen interest in, for example, Washington making wise investments in rebuilding our infrastructure. They obviously have a stake in our health care entitlement programs, including, of course, Medicaid.
And what governors have in common with the President of the United States is that they're chief executives. They understand -- they run things and they're very practical and pragmatic about it, by and large. That's sometimes a distinction between governors and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. I think governors -- I can't speak for every single one of them -- tend to want pragmatic, practical solutions to these kinds of fiscal challenges.
So the President looks forward to having a conversation with those governors that he'll meet with.
Q A question on Puerto Rico.
Q Actually following up on Ari's question about the governors, since some of the states have not yet completed or met all the deadlines with regard to the health care exchanges, health insurance exchanges, will that be on the table as part of the fiscal cliff discussions tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: I suppose it could be discussed. I don't have an agenda beyond what we've talked about to read out to you.
Q And then, one more question on a different topic. The President has a honorary degree, Jay, a law degree from the University of Notre Dame. Will he be rooting for his honorary alma mater in the BCS title game on January 7th?
MR. CARNEY: I don't know and I will have to ask him. But that was a heck of a game between Alabama and Georgia? Anybody catch it?
Yes, Puerto Rico question.
Q Thank you. As you know, this last time around, 61 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for statehood. Is the President going to be helping us or trying to make it easier or trying to make it faster? What is he going to do for us?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the outcome was a little less clear than that, because of the process itself. And what I can tell you is the people of Puerto Rico have made it clear that they want a resolution to the issue of the island's political status. And consistent with the recommendations of the task force report, Congress should now study the results closely and provide the people of Puerto Rico with a clear path forward that lays out the means by which Puerto Ricans themselves can determine their own status.
This administration, as you know, is committed to the principle that the question of political status is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. And the task force on Puerto Rico's status will work with Congress to address this important issue.
In addition to the question of status, the task force continues to work with Congress, the people of Puerto Rico and its leaders to address the concerns of the 4 million U.S. citizens who call Puerto Rico home by implementing their 2011 report's recommendations to promote job creation and economic development, education, health care, clean energy and to improve security.
Q Jay, what are your thoughts about Congressman Elijah Cummings, who happens to be very good friends with the President, saying that no deal is better than a bad deal on the issue of the fiscal cliff? What say you about that, that statement?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn't see those specific comments. The President certainly has principles here that he intends to stick to, which is that he will not sign an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2 percent -- full stop. He will not sign a bill that extends those tax rates for the top 2 percent. We can't afford it. It is not a wise economic policy. It's not a wise fiscal policy. And it would defeat the principle of balance that he has embraced so clearly throughout these negotiations.
He is fully committed to extending tax cuts for the vast majority of the American people -- 98 percent. And he wishes that the House of Representatives would pass that bill tomorrow, and he would sign it right away. That is a principle that he takes into this.
So I don’t want to forecast in a pessimistic way, because I believe, and the President believes, and Secretary Geithner believes that we can achieve a compromise here. And how that -- what that compromise looks like and how we get there are both pretty clear. We just hope that Republicans will acknowledge that the ball is in their court, that the President has put forward a specific proposal. They know where he stands. He has put forward a framework that would achieve a process by which we could reach an agreement.
And obviously the Republicans don’t agree with every detail of that, so we look forward to their specific proposals on rates and revenues and on spending cuts, as opposed to just saying that they don’t like the President’s proposal. We look forward to seeing something from them that’s specific.
Q But with the belief that there is deal -- could it become a reality that December 31st comes and there is no deal because there could be bad options on the table?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I remain optimistic that that won’t come to pass. But the obstacle here continues to be Republicans who hold out hope that we can somehow go through this process and still deliver tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. And that’s just not going to happen. It cannot happen mathematically. It’s bad policy. And it certainly is the case that this is an issue that was broadly discussed and debated in the past year, during the campaign. So the President’s position on this is absolutely clear. It is supported by the majority of the American people. And he will abide by that principle.
But there has been progress, as Secretary Geithner said, and we hope that there will be more progress. We need to do this on behalf of the American people and on behalf of the American economy.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Steve. Last one.
Q Back to the speech. Earlier this year, the Russians said that they didn’t want to extend Nunn-Lugar, after 20 years. Was the President disappointed by this given his interest in this area and his friendship with Senator Lugar? And is he going to ask the Putin government to reconsider?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of the President’s remarks, which are on an issue that he considers one of his highest priorities. He is committed to continued action to secure loose nuclear materials and weapons, and he has made it a priority of his international agenda. It’s something that he always raises with our international partners, and will continue to do so. But beyond that, I think I’ll ask you to wait for the President’s remarks.
Q Thanks, Jay.
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