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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 12/11/2012

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:50 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  No announcements to make at the top, so I will go straight to your questions.  Mr. Henry is a bit disappointed that I have not a single announcement.


Q    Thanks, Jay.  The Speaker, as you know, spoke today and turned the conversation over to the spending cuts and the fiscal cliff negotiations.  Two questions on that.  One is, does that suggest that there's been movement, since we're no longer talking about tax cuts or tax increases?  And where is the administration?  I know you guys have argued back that you have provided details on the spending cuts.  But are you prepared to offer more?  Today you have a letter from CEOs urging that spending cuts, entitlement adjustments and so forth be a multiple -- a greater multiple than revenues.  Is the White House prepared to do more on that front?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me take your questions in relative order.  First of all, I did hear what the Speaker of the House had to say, and I would note that if there is one fact that should not be in dispute it ought to be this:  The President, unlike any other party to these negotiations, has put forward detailed spending cuts as well as detailed revenue proposals.  It is a simple fact that the President put those forward to the not-so-super super committee in September of 2011, and that he again, in the process of these negotiations, put them forward as his position when it came to both the revenue that was required to achieve the kind of balanced deficit reduction package on the scale of $4 trillion that was necessary, as well as very specific spending cuts, including savings in entitlement programs.

And again, it's not a mystery.  We've seen this before.  This is the document that contains the specific spending cuts.  The Speaker of the House sent us a proposal that was two pages long that included one sentence on revenue.  The proposal here includes, I believe, from pages 17 to 45, details on proposed spending cuts by the President -- pages 17 to 45.  I recommend them to you.

Now, it is entirely our expectation that Republicans may not agree with all of our spending cuts; Republicans may want to propose additional spending cuts.  And the President has said that he is prepared to make tough decisions.  He has said that he's not wedded to every detail in this plan and that he understands that compromise requires all sides to accept something short of the ideal, and he's committed to doing that.  What we haven't seen from Republicans, to this day, is a single specific proposal on revenue, and, in fact, we've seen less specificity from Republicans on spending cuts than the President himself has proposed.  So that's point one. 

I think that the letter you mentioned from the executives at the Business Roundtable adds to the growing chorus of voices from a variety of sectors of both our economy and the broader American public demonstrating a desire for compromise; demonstrating agreement that there has to be a balanced approach, an approach that includes revenues as well as spending cuts.  So we welcome that and agree with it.

Furthermore, on the ratio question, the President's proposals have, taken together, shown roughly two and a half dollars in spending cuts for every dollar in revenue.  So we think that ratio makes sense.

Q    And for that, you're counting the $1 trillion from the Budget Act and the savings from --

MR. CARNEY:  Everyone is counting the $1 trillion from the Budget Act because it should be counted.  Let's go back, again, on the spending cuts:  While we have yet to see a single specific proposal from Republicans on revenues, the President has signed into law -- law of the land -- $1 trillion in spending cuts, and he has proposed additional specific spending cuts as part of this document that I showed you.  So, absolutely.

When we talked about $4 trillion, as did the Simpson-Bowles Commission and others, that was prior to the signing of the Budget Control Act.  And the trillion dollars in spending cuts that were agreed to by all sides and signed into law and voted for by Congress were part of, had there been a grand bargain, part of the $4 trillion.

Q    One of the items in that book that you just showed us includes some Medicaid adjustments that presumably are part of this -- part of the President's offer.  But there were reports yesterday that HHS is backing off some of these Medicaid changes that would allow for a blended percentage of rate adjustments with states.  Is that true?  And if you are backing down from some of these proposals, what does that say about where the President -- how the President --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me say two things about that.  While there has been a call for greater specificity in where the cuts  -- the fact is this document was produced more than a year ago and has been available to everyone in this room for that time, and everybody on Capitol Hill.  So that is a fact.  As part of that fact, there have been some changes in the world that affect some of the proposals here, including the Supreme Court's decision.  And so some -- a very small percentage of the provisions in here, the proposals in here that affect Medicaid we would no longer put forward but would absolutely make up in terms of the size of savings in other ways.  But we're talking about 10 percent here; nothing too sizable.

Q    Can I follow on just on that specific question?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    So isn't it $100 billion in Medicaid savings?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have the details in front of me.  It's not on that scale when we talk about the overall percentage of -- when we talk about the overall amount of entitlement program savings as well as, broken out, the health care savings.  So --

Q    But didn't the President also offer, and wasn't this also on the table during the last fiscal cliff negotiations or whatever it was called at the time -- I guess the debt ceiling negotiations?  Wasn't that one of the items on the table that the President had already agreed to, the $100 billion in --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don't have the specifics for the different iterations here.  But time has passed, and there have been some impacts on the Medicaid program that changed our calculations on this.  But we're not talking about a sizable portion of the proposed -- specific proposed savings from health care entitlements or overall savings from mandatory entitlement programs.  And we would find other savings.  We would propose -- we will propose other savings to make up for the difference.

The fact is, is that the vast majority of these proposed savings account for a higher degree of specificity than we have seen, by far, from the Republicans.  And going back to the revenue side of this, we've seen exactly no specificity from the Republicans except for a vague promise of an insufficient number -- $800 billion in revenue -- gleaned from unnamed closed loopholes and capped deductions. 

So if the issue is where are your proposals, I think we've answered that question in full, acknowledging that we're not going to get exactly what we've put forward, that there's a discussion and negotiation that has to take place.  And the President has been very clear that he understands that and that he'll make some tough choices in order to reach a balanced proposal on the scale that he's talked about.


Q    Jay, the Speaker's comments today seem to indicate that despite his meeting with the President on Sunday here at the White House, that very little progress has been made.  Does the White House share that assessment?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't think that's what he said.  I think he said that the discussions have been cordial, and we would agree with that, and we think that lines of communication remain open. But what we're not going to do is give a daily or hourly assessment of whether or not progress is being made, or what specific items are being discussed, because we don't think that's fruitful or helpful towards achieving the goal that we think we all share, which is reaching a compromise that Congress can pass and the President can sign into law. 

Q    You don't think it's helpful to say whether there’s progress being made?

MR. CARNEY:  I answered this question yesterday.  I don't think it is helpful to give hourly or daily readouts of progress, because our interest is in achieving a workable compromise that reflects the principles the President has talked about so clearly and has put forward before the American people for so long when it comes to having balance and making sure that everyone pays their fair share; and, as part of that, requiring that Republicans acknowledge and accept that rates are going up for the top earners in this country, and that a certain amount of revenue has to be a part of this deficit reduction package in order for it to be balanced, so that we’re not asking seniors, or the middle class, or students, or families with disabled children to bear the burden, in exchange for some vague promise that the top earners in this country might pay a little bit more down the road.  That's not the kind of deal that can work.

But there is a deal out there that's possible, and we do believe that the parameters of a compromise are pretty clear.  What is required is agreement by Republicans to some specific revenues that includes raising rates on the highest earners, and some decisions in the two-stage process that we’ve put forward and I think the Republicans agree on, on how we move forward on spending cuts and broader entitlement and tax reform.  So these things are possible, but they're less possible if we try to negotiate them on an hourly or daily basis in the media.

But having said that, I understand and I sympathize with the desire for more detail.  And if it weren’t for the broader interest here, which is in trying to allow some space for the parties to see if they can achieve a compromise, I’d be spilling my guts from here.


Q    Just one follow-up? 

MR. CARNEY:  Sorry.  Yes.

Q    Yes, it’s just one follow-up, and that is, in terms of the deadline, as the end of the year draws near, at what point do you have to have some kind of an agreement at least in principle to give Congress enough time to pass it?

MR. CARNEY:  That sounds like a question for Congress, and I wouldn’t hazard a guess.

Yes, Kristen.

Q    Jay, thanks.  I want to go back to something that Vice President Biden said on Friday.  He seemed to suggest that there was room to negotiate on the tax rates for the top income earners.  This is something that we’ve obviously talked about.  He kind of made a more definitive statement.  He said, “theoretically, we can negotiate how far up, but we think it should go up” -- referencing the rates.  Is that something that the President agrees with?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, I would simply point you to what I have said and the President has said and others have said, including the Vice President, and that is there is a clean and simple way to do this that achieves the kind of revenue package that is necessary in terms of its scope for the balance that's required in a fair plan for broad deficit reduction:  Extend tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people; do nothing on rates for the top 2 percent.  That means you don't have to vote to raise taxes.  You simply let current law stay at it is, which would result in those rates for top earners, above $250,000, going back to the rates from the Clinton era; and then find those targeted loopholes that you can close and deductions that you can cap that, combined with the revenue gleaned from raising rates, produces a size of -- in the scope that’s necessary for the balance that we’ve talked about.

As I’ve said before, there’s no -- the fact that there could be theoretical ways of reaching that goal that are different from the one proposed by the President may be true, but we have yet to see anything along those lines from our negotiating partners, any specificity at all, or any acknowledgement in any concrete way from Republican leaders even that rates have to be part of this.

Q    It seems like the Vice President was signaling that they don’t have to go all the way back up to that 39.6 percent figure.  Is he suggesting that might be the way to --

MR. CARNEY:  The way you said it is theoretically, and I’m saying that a discussion about what’s theoretically possible could go on forever.  What is concretely possible is that we extend tax cuts for virtually 98 percent of the American people, allow rates to raise for the top 2 percent of earners, and address the loopholes and deductions in a way that achieves the kind of revenue package that we need for a broader deficit reduction goal.  That’s what’s on the table and that’s the way to do it.  Talking about what’s imaginable is one thing.  What we haven’t seen is anything like a concrete proposal from the Republicans when it comes to revenue.

Q    I want to take one more stab at the timeline question as well.  A lot of people are saying that you actually have to get a broad framework by this Friday.  Does the President see it that way -- in order for this to get passed by December 21st?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to set deadlines.  I don’t think that’s helpful to the process.  You can certainly either speak directly with people on Capitol Hill or have your colleagues up there do that to find out what their assessments are about how long it would take Congress to act on certain possible legislation. 

Our focus right now is working to see if we can reach an agreement that helps us avoid the so-called fiscal cliff and also achieves a broader deal, which would address this longer-term deficit challenge that we face in a way that helps the economy grow and create jobs.  That’s our focus at the moment.  And we believe there is time.


Q    On Susan Rice, the clock is winding down on Secretary Clinton’s time at the State Department.  She’s expected to leave at the end of next month.  And there’s been a lot of speculation that the decision would have been made by now as to who will replace her.  What is the holdup?  Is there a holdup?

MR. CARNEY:  There’s no holdup.  The President has made no decisions and I have no personnel announcements to make.

Q    Jay, can I ask a question?

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    About the decision to allow corporate donations for the inaugural festivities, why did the President change his mind on that?

MR. CARNEY:  I would refer you to PIC, which has been set up and I think is taking questions on that.  I haven’t had that discussion.

Q    The President was part of the Transition Committee in 2008 and 2009 when they announced that the reason that they were setting up these new limitations was part of President-elect Obama’s pledge to put the country on a new path.  This is not just a PIC decision.  This is a presidential decision.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I understand, but PIC is handling questions like that.  I haven’t had that discussion with anyone here.  It’s the province of the Inaugural Committee so I would address your questions there and I’m sure they are taking questions like that.


Q    I just wanted to continue on that.  Is the thinking that the President, the White House wants to get the fiscal cliff situation settled before the President starts making any announcements about nomination?

MR. CARNEY:  The President is working on a number of issues including resolving the fiscal cliff -- working with the Speaker of the House and other congressional leaders, also engaging with business leaders and labor leaders and others on that important issue.  And he’s certainly engaging in discussions about some of the personnel decisions that we all know he will be making.  But I haven’t got a timeline for you about when you’ll hear those announcements.  And since, as previous questions indicate, I can't give you a date for when we're going to resolve the fiscal cliff challenge, I wouldn't say that any other decisions or announcements are dependent upon that.

Q    And you don't really want to give any kind of a characterization of what happened in that meeting between the President and Speaker Boehner, but the White House has often talked about how there’s a need for certainty in the market for businesses to know what’s going to happen so they can start hiring, for middle-class Americans to know that their taxes are not going to go up.  So what is the harm in giving some progress report, that you're more optimistic now than you were last week that this deal will get done?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say that the best thing we can do for the middle class is take concrete action by having the House pass the tax cut for the middle class.  The President would sign it into law.  The best thing we can do for business confidence is produce a compromise that averts the fiscal cliff and achieves a broad-based, balanced deficit reduction package that helps our economy grow and helps it continue to create jobs. 

The ups and downs that always take place in negotiations like these I think are probably not all that conducive to creating certainty because, as you’ve seen from the variety of rumors that come out, that one hour it’s the talks are over, there’s no progress, the next hour is there’s progress, and a lot of tea leaf reading -- I don't think that -- having me participate in that kind of speculation probably doesn’t help the process. 

And like I said to Jeff, I really -- I understand there’s great interest in this, not just in this room but around the country, and we all here appreciate that.  And this is important, and it’s because it’s important that we believe it’s most helpful to the process to try to let those who are working on these challenges and trying to reach a compromise work with as much -- with the ability to focus on that work, rather than the kind of conversation on the outside, as much as possible.

Let me get Major.

Q    Jay, when you say “the work,” what kind of work are you talking about?  Lines of communication are open.  So far as I can tell, and based on your comments at the podium just now, no proposals are being exchanged.  There are no ideas being bandied back and forth between the White House and congressional Republicans.  It sounds like we're stuck. 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, Major, I'm not going to read out what’s happening.  And so I would neither confirm, nor deny any characterizations about what’s happening or the progress that's being made beyond the fact that we confirmed the meeting the President had; we've confirmed various phone calls and other activity -- in part because some of it takes place on Capitol Hill with some members of the President’s team and we can't really keep that secret.  But I'm not going to talk about --

Q    -- it sounds as if there’s nothing actually being exchanged between the two sides who have to create a deal.

MR. CARNEY:  I'm simply responding to the public statements by the Speaker of the House.  I'm not going to characterize internal negotiations. 

Q    Okay.  Can you tell us and the public what the coverage will be of the swearing-in for the President on Sunday for the inauguration?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't believe those decisions have been made, and I'm sure once they --

Q    Why is it even a question?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't know that it’s an open question.  Nobody has -- we just haven’t had discussions about press coverage.

Q    But the public would be entitled to --

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I just don't have an answer for you on that.  But I'm sure there will be and we'll make sure --

Q    There will be coverage?

MR. CARNEY:  -- I'm sure there will be an answer for you.  We haven't made those --

Q    You can't guarantee the public there will be coverage?

MR. CARNEY:  Major, I'm telling you that we don't have an answer for you yet, but I'm sure we will soon.

Q    You’ve invited a lot of us to look at the details when you talk about the mandatory spending cuts.  I take you up on your invitation.  On the $240 -- not the health care savings, but the other entitlement spending cuts that are identified -- would you say that those represent efforts to make the government smaller and reduce the size and scope of government activity?  Because that's a priority for Republicans. 

MR. CARNEY:  I think this President is committed to reducing spending by government -- and spending including tax expenditures, as the Simpson-Bowles Commission identified them -- and to having a leaner, more efficient government and a more effective government.  That's been reflected in the steps he’s taken to reduce spending.  What he signed into law last summer represented one of the largest cuts in discretionary spending in generations.  And he is continued to committed -- he continues to be committed to doing that. 

What he does not believe is helpful is making cuts in areas of investment that actually help the economy grow like research and development or education.  This was some of the debate we had.  And I would note that the irony of this -- and it goes to the broader point about I think some misunderstandings about what we’re contemplating.  What I think a lot of people don't understand is that the fiscal cliff is not about spending; it’s about cutting spending too fast and the impact that would have on our economy.

Q    I understand that.  But we’re just talking about other non-health care mandatory savings that the administration put forward -- $100 billion of that $240 billion is better IRS enforcement, meaning more rapid and efficient gathering of tax revenue; and a $61 billion financial crisis fee, which is a tax. And then there’s a $44 billion changing in payment on timing.  That's only a one-time-only savings.  And $27 billion from higher fees for federal employees.

Republicans would look at that and say that's not reducing the size, scope of government.  That's fees, better IRS enforcement and making federal employees pay more.  That's not really changing anything structurally in the federal government.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, here’s what I would say.  As demonstrated by your recitation, there’s a lot of specificity in there.  We have not seen anything like that kind of specificity from Republicans.  And what I said at the top is, no question Republicans may have different proposals; we just haven’t seen them with any great specificity about how they would reduce spending.

Q    But those aren’t reductions --

MR. CARNEY:  And they may want --

Q    -- they're fees, mostly.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I don't have the item-by-item here to go over.  I have the document, but I’m not going to go item by item with you.  There are significant savings represented that the President put forward.  If the Republicans have specifics that they want to put forward, they ought to do that.  And then we can discuss about how we achieve that kind of balanced package that I think most people agree is necessary to help our economy and most people agree is fair when it comes to everyone bearing the burden fairly and equally to get our deficits under control.

Q    Jay, to Major’s point on the size of government, if you look at Labor Department statistics, there have been about 135,000 more federal workers hired during the President’s first term -- it’s about 95 workers per day, every day in his first term.  Is that really reducing the size of government?  To Major’s question about -- since this whole exercise in part is about reducing the size of the debt, is the President proud of the fact that the number of federal workers is increasing?  And do you see in the second term any decrease in that number coming?

MR. CARNEY:  The President has put forward a proposal to streamline and reorganize the variety of agencies that deal with commerce in the federal government and exports.  And as part of asking Congress for the authority for that kind of reorganization that existed up through President Reagan, he has made -- he has added as an incentive a component of that request that would require any reorganization to save money for the taxpayer, to save federal dollars.  So I think that demonstrates his commitment to making a more efficient and effective federal government.

The broader issue here is how do we make choices that ensure that the middle class is protected, ensure that our economy continues to grow, ensure that it continues to create jobs, that we are making investments in education and research and development and infrastructure that the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, as well as the President of the United States all agree are essential for long-term economic growth. 

That's the vision the President has.  That's the vision he talked about during the campaign.  Again, we have put forward a specific set of proposals on both the revenue and the spending side.  We look forward to specificity from the Republicans.  And the President believes that we can reach an agreement if everyone acknowledges that they’re not going to get what they want and everyone acknowledges that the agreement has to be balanced, that it cannot -- we had the debate about whether we should put this all on the backs of senior citizens and middle-class Americans and families with kids who have disabilities, and I think that debate was settled.  The American public, by and large, does not support that approach. 

The approach they do support is one that asks everyone to pay their fair share, that includes asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more, but that also demands that we all contribute and that our government perform efficiently and effectively.  And the President understands that he’s going to have to and he is ready and willing to make some tough choices as part of that process.

Q    Quick question on Michigan and the right-to-work debate, which has gotten a bit testy today on the House floor.  There’s one Democrat, Doug Geiss, who said today that if this right-to-work initiative is signed into law, “there will be blood.”  Since the President weighed in yesterday, and obviously made his feelings known, but has talked about changing the tone here in Washington and around the country, does the White House feel any obligation to tell fellow Democrats to debate this issue, but debate it in a peaceful and sort of --

MR. CARNEY:  The President believes in debate that’s civil.  I haven’t seen those comments and I’m not sure that they mean what some would interpret them to mean.  I just haven’t seen them.  You heard the President talk about his views.  He has always opposed the so-called right-to-work laws.  As he said, those laws are generally political and not economic.  They’re more about the right to earn less pay than they are helpful to our economy.  And he presented those views yesterday in Michigan.

Q    Last thing on that -- when we were asking about the Chicago teacher strike in September, right before the election when that was getting a little tense, you were kind of suggesting it was a local issue.  At one point you said that the President “has not expressed any opinion or made any assessment about this particular incident” that was going on in his hometown in terms of the teacher strike.  So why was this different?  This is playing out in Michigan.  It’s playing out in various states; we saw it in Wisconsin several months ago.  Why all of a sudden -- I understand that he was in the state of Michigan, but he was also -- he’s from Chicago.  So why did he not weigh in before the election?

MR. CARNEY:  The President’s position on right-to-work laws, so-called right-to-work laws is well known.  He stated before.  He stated it again yesterday.  The specific teacher strike was one where he called on all sides to work together to reach a compromise that was in the interest of the children, who had the most to lose from a prolonged strike.  And he welcomed the resolution of that strike.

Let me move around.  Peter.

Q    Thank you, Jay.  Yesterday we saw an e-mail come out from a campaign official urging people, the President’s supporters, to contact members of Congress and express support for the President’s view of -- proposal for resolving the fiscal cliff.  Does the White House believe that this debate will be solved through internal negotiations between the parties or through outside pressure being brought to bear from the general public?

MR. CARNEY:  Both.  It’s our position that this is one of those issues that is very important to the American public, an issue that affects everyone, and one where it’s absolutely appropriate for the President and for members of Congress to engage with the public on and seek their opinions and encourage members of the public to participate by adding their voices to the debate. 

We were talking about this I think the week before last in anticipation of a trip the President was going to make, and to me, I think it makes all the sense in the world for leaders in Washington to go out in the country and engage the American people on these incredibly important issues.  I mean, we saw that this was the subject of sustained debate during the campaign, and I think that reflected the assessment of both the candidates and their campaigns that this was of great interest to the American people.  And it remains of great interest, because they have a great deal at stake. 

I mean, think about it:  If Congress fails to act, taxes go up on everyone.  Everyone who pays income taxes will see a tax hike.  The President believes that that should not happen, that the House of Representatives ought to follow the Senate’s lead and pass a bill that extends tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people because supposedly we all agree that that’s what should be done.  So let’s get it done and -- as many Republicans have now said, let’s get that done and continue to debate about whether or not the top 2 percent should get another tax cut. 

You know the President’s views on that.  You know the public’s views on that.  But we ought to take care of extending those tax cuts for the middle class.  So the answer, again, is both.  We will continue to engage with leaders on Capitol Hill.  We’ll continue to engage with a broader coalition of people who have a stake in this, and that includes ordinary Americans out in the country.

Yes, Mara.

Q    Given that he’s dark today, doesn’t have anything scheduled public in the days to come, whereas in the past week or so he did something almost every single day -- either with stakeholders or a family or went on Twitter -- is there a change now?  Are things kind of moving indoors and there will be less -- this is not the time to do something public every single day?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we did travel to Michigan.  It was only yesterday -- only yesterday.

Q    This is a day-by-day kind of thing?

MR. CARNEY:  So I’ve gotten one question about how come he’s going out and campaigning among the people, and the next question is how come he stopped campaigning among the people. 

Q    Has he stopped for the moment?

MR. CARNEY:  No, and I wouldn’t expect that he will.  I wouldn’t expect that he will stop engaging with the American people in the manner that he has at any time during the next four-plus years.

Q    So what’s the next thing that he’s going to do?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a scheduling announcement for you, but you can be sure that the approach that we’re taking, which includes engaging with leaders on Capitol Hill and it includes engaging with the broader public, will continue.

Q    Jay, I understand your wish to leave the negotiated space and room to maneuver and all the rest of it.  But one of the parties to the negotiations just finished holding forth on Capitol Hill and said you folks are slow-walking this.  Are you slow-walking?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m speaking for another party to the negotiations, and my response is we would like to see some specifics.

Q    But that's not even a yes or a no.  It’s just --

MR. CARNEY:  We’re not going to characterize the internal process here, the phone calls or the conversations or the meetings.

Q    But that confirms they're not specific conversations, right?

MR. CARNEY:  I said that in response to the inaccurate suggestion that we haven’t put forward spending cuts, I pointed out that we have.  And I pointed out that Republicans have thus far not proposed a single specific savings through revenue, and we would welcome it if they did.


Q    Hill Republicans are saying that talks on a budget plan remain deadlocked because the administration’s negotiators have taken different positions than what the President did when he spoke with Mr. Boehner on the 9th; different positions -- they vary on revenue as well as the amount of spending cuts.  Can you --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m just not going to comment on internal -- conversations that the President had, meetings the President had, meetings and conversations that the President -- the members of the President’s team have had because it doesn't help the process.  And speculation about what was said and spin about what it means does not in my view or our view help the process move forward.

And we hope and remain optimistic about the possibility of an agreement being reached, and that is why we are taking the approach that we’re taking.

Q    A follow-up on what Jim and Jake were asking about, that $100-billion item -- in the September 19th proposal from 2011 that's now off the table, you said because it’s been -- it’s changed a little bit since it’s been more than a year.

MR. CARNEY:  There has been -- there are some changes to our views on that, but it does not represent a sizeable portion of the overall savings put forward in the proposal.  And again, we’re committed to achieving that level of savings.

Q    Okay.  The $100 billion was about one-third of the health savings, which was $320 [billion].

MR. CARNEY:  And I’m saying that the issue here, the changes that we would make do not represent a third.  They represent a much smaller portion.

Q    Okay, has there been any replacement --

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to get more --

Q    -- and substitute?

MR. CARNEY:  I’ll have to see if we have more specifics for you.

The point I’m making, though, is that the President has put forward spending cuts and will continue to do that in discussions if we get to a point where there is an acceptance and acknowledgement of the fact that as part of this, rates have to go up on the top 2 percent; revenue has to be for a big deal of the -- on the order that we’ve been talking about and that everybody who has looked at this has been talking about.  And we will not -- there’s no deal that envisions -- there’s no deal available that will see the tax cuts of the Bush era for the wealthiest Americans extended.  And it’s simply not acceptable to have a deal where all these specific burdens are placed on the middle class and seniors and others, on the one hand, and then there’s some vague promise that tax reform will produce savings from wealthy Americans sometime in the future without any specifics.  That can't be how it works.


Q    Jay, how do you explain this enormous disconnect that you say the President has put forward spending cuts, and yet today Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell say no, you haven’t.  There’s no leadership on that.  They haven't gotten any.  Isn’t that something you need to address?

MR. CARNEY:  I have.  And I think I made --

Q    -- pages 17 through 45, is that --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m making it clear that that assertion is incorrect.  We all know it is because we have access to the computer.  I don't have any more hard copies for you, but I can give you the link.

And having said that, I also acknowledge, as the President has, that in seeking a broader compromise, we understand that not every detail of his proposal will make it into the final product, and that there will be tough choices that he will have to make as part of that.

And we recognize that Republicans might have different spending cuts that they would prefer over the ones the President has put forward.  They might and I think are probably likely to suggest that there should be more, greater spending cuts than the President has put forward.  We acknowledge all of that.

But on the question of whether or not we have put forward specific spending cuts, the answer is we have.  And not only that, we’ve signed into law a trillion dollars in specific spending cuts.  So if you combine what’s signed into law with what we’ve proposed versus the total absence of any specificity from Republicans for a single dollar in revenue, and I think in the battle of specificity, the outcome has already been decided.

We’re looking for more concrete specifics from them, and I understand that this is a negotiation.  And we continue to be optimistic that -- or hopeful that we can reach a deal.

Q    Do you understand why the Republican leaders might say they didn't receive any when you say they have?

MR. CARNEY:  Mark, can we just end the charade here that we say they have?

Q    Well, we didn't go to the floor of the Senate and the House saying this.  They did.

MR. CARNEY:  No, no.  But it’s not that we say one thing and it might be true, and they say one thing and it might be true.  This is a real piece of -- this is a real document here with pages and tables and numbers.

Now, I understand they may not agree with all of it, but it exists and it was put forward.  And the President understands that there’s more to this process than just his proposal.  But it has -- it contains specificity and detail, and it is certainly -- it certainly represents his willingness to enact further spending cuts to achieve savings through our health care entitlement programs, as well as other entitlements.  And it represents his belief about how we can achieve the kind of revenue that's necessary for a balanced package in a way that ensures that we don't put all the burden for long-term deficit reduction on seniors or the middle class or other vulnerable communities.

Q    Syria, Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, Syria. 

Q    Can you explain to us which groups you're going to support and which groups you won’t and what your reasoning is?

MR. CARNEY:  I can say a few things.  Tomorrow, Deputy Secretary of State Burns will attend the Friends of Syria   -- Friends of the Syrian People meeting in Morocco.  We will do all we can to broaden our support of the Syrian opposition coalition and to work with like-minded countries to bring this crisis to an end.

We are pleased with the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s continued efforts to organize, form technical committees, engage with the international community, and take concrete steps to promote a unified, just, democratic future for Syria.

These actions are in line with what we and our international partners hoped would result from the formation of the Syrian Opposition Coalition in Doha last month.  As we look to tomorrow’s meeting and our ongoing efforts to support the Syrian people, let me be absolutely clear:  The United States stands with the Syrian people in insisting that any transition process result in a peaceful, unified, democratic Syria, in which all citizens are protected -- Sunni, Alawite, Christians, Kurds, Druze, men, women and children.  And a future of this kind cannot include Bashar al Assad.

Q    Still no plans for the U.S. to get involved militarily?

MR. CARNEY:  That's correct.  We provide significant assistance to the Syrian people in humanitarian aid.  We provide significant non-lethal assistance to the opposition.  But our position on providing lethal aid has not changed.

Q    Jay, can I follow up on Syria?

MR. CARNEY:  Okay, let me -- I've got to get to some folks in the back.  But go ahead, Kristen, on this.  On Syria, go ahead.

Q    Okay, thank you.  Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seemed to suggest that the Syrian government had slowed its preparations of chemical weapons, that the administration is not as concerned about this as it may have been last week.  Can you talk a little bit about that?  Is that accurate, and what has changed?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I'm not going to get into assessments beyond what Secretary of Defense Panetta said.  I would simply reiterate our clear warning to the Assad regime about the potential use of or proliferation of chemical weapons.  And that warning was made by the President, and that warning stands.

We take this very seriously.  And were the Assad regime to unwisely make the wrong choice here, there would be consequences.

Q    Jay, the incoming and outgoing leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee have written a letter calling on the President to close the PLO office in Washington.  Will he do that?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven't seen the letter.  I'll have to take the question.

Yes, Alexis and then Justin.

Q    Jay, to clarify, when you're saying that the administration is looking for concrete specifics, and then you also say that you're not discussing the Sunday meeting between the President and the Speaker, are you separating the two?  Are you saying the concrete specifics have to be publicly and brought forth by Republicans?  Or are you saying that the President spent a lovely moment in time on Sunday with the Speaker talking about generalities?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm trying to be incredibly opaque about the distinction.  I know, look -- (laughter) --

Q    It's working.

MR. CARNEY:  It's working.  (Laughter.)  The Speaker made a public statement and I'm responding to that with the fact that we have put forward specifics, and that answers his charge that we have not put forward specific spending cuts.  We have.  We understand that Republicans may not agree with all of them, but it is simply uncontestable that we have put forward a plan with spending cuts. 

Beyond that, and beyond our insistence -- our public insistence that Republicans accept and acknowledge that rates on top earners have to go up, and accept and acknowledge that any package on the revenue side would have to include that element, I'm not going to get into the sausage-making or the internal discussions and deliberations, only because we hope that this process actually produces a positive result.  I’m not guaranteeing that, but I’m saying that this is the reason why we’re not really commenting on the process, or at least trying not to.

Q    Well, actually, I’m not asking about the process.  Do you want us to come away with the thought that the Speaker came to the White House and that two men did not discuss these two things?

MR. CARNEY:  I want to leave your thoughts to you and not frame them or shape them on that issue.  I think I would simply say that the President met with the Speaker and as a part of a series of engagements with the Speaker, as you know, and that the lines of communication remain open, as we have said, and that we hope the process moves forward.

Q    And can you also add when was the last time that the President talked with Harry Reid -- Senator Reid?

MR. CARNEY:  I believe it was yesterday.

Q    There was a poll released this week that showed 76 percent wanted across-the-board spending cuts as part of the deal, which is a higher margin than actually said they wanted tax increases on the rich.  But I also want to ask about the timeline for spending cuts.  A complaint among some conservatives in the past has been when these deals have been made, so much -- $3.00 in spending cuts for every $1.00 in tax increases, the cuts are always out 10 years ahead or 5 years ahead, or somewhere along the line.  Would the White House agree to something along the lines of upfront cuts early on?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would make two points.  The first is that when rates rise on the top 2 percent, as a subject much discussed during the campaign, the savings achieved from that would be gleaned over 10 years.  It’s not collected all in the first week or month or even year.  This is -- all of this is about a period of over 10 years, both the savings from spending cuts and the savings from revenue increases.  That’s one.

Two, the President has signed into law specific spending cuts as part of the Budget Control Act.  What we have not seen, as I’ve said already, is any specific proposal from Republicans -- at least Republican leaders -- about how we achieve the kind of revenue targets that are necessary for a balanced approach.

So the President is committed to achieving a package that includes all three pieces here:  the discretionary spending, much of which we’ve signed into law; the savings from entitlement programs, and the savings from revenue.  And he looks forward to reaching a compromise with the Speaker of the House and others.


Q    Jay, will the administration take a public stance on the Proposition-8 case that was taken up by the Supreme Court on Friday, in particular some of the broader questions raised by that case, including whether or not the Constitution protects the rights of same-sex couples to marry?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I appreciate the question, but for comment on the Court’s actions on that case, I would point you to the Department of Justice.  As you know, the administration is not a party to this case, and I just have nothing more for you on it.

Q    Did the President have any reaction to the court taking up the DOMA or the Prop-8 case?

MR. CARNEY:  I have nothing more for you on that.  Appreciate it.

Q    -- going to be able tell us what the President’s views are on that case.  Is the President not concerned about the outcome of that case?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I just don’t have anything more for you, and I’d refer you to the Department of Justice.

Thank you all very much.
2:40 P.M. EST