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The White House

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/26/09

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                  February 27, 2009
1:39 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS:  Good afternoon, guys.  One quick announcement before we get started.  President Obama will welcome Taoiseach Brian Cowen of Ireland to the White House on Tuesday, March 17th.  The United States and Ireland have strong bilateral relations, deep cultural ties, and a commitment for positive change in the world.  The President is committed to strengthening our partnership with Ireland to address global challenges.  The President also looks forward to commemorating with the Taoiseach his first U.S. -- I'm sorry, his first St. Patrick's Day in the White House, a celebration which serves as a reminder of the rich history of friendship that our two countries share.
And with that --
Q    Is Obama Irish?
MR. GIBBS:  Good question.  (Laughter.)  We probably still have those t-shirts that say "O'Bama."
Q    A couple budget questions.  I was interested in the language the President used this morning when he talked about the budget.  He said, "There are times when you can afford to redecorate your house, and there are times when you need to focus on rebuilding its foundation."  Quickly, is there any -- should there be any pause taken in those words?  The Obamas have hired a decorator to redecorate the White House.  Do you think that's appropriate?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, let's understand that each administration is afforded an appropriation from Congress to ensure that the family that moves in, the needs of that family can be met.
Q    Do they have to?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't remember the last occupant of the White House having a seven-year-old, and I don't remember the last occupant having a 10-year-old.  So I would say yes.
Q    And more broadly, there's a lot of talk already on the Hill with the arrival of this budget and with the speech the other night about sort of a reorganizing of priorities, removing tax cuts on the wealthy to pay for a lot of the priorities that the President has laid out.  Are you all worried at all that that kind of argument, that class warfare argument could sink the ability to get some of these big priorities through?
MR. GIBBS:  No.  And I think it's important to understand that what the President has enumerated in his budget today is precisely the blueprint and series of promises that he made over the course of two years in the campaign, and that the American people voted for. 
I also think it's important for people that are listening to commentary on the budget or reading about it to understand that there is a -- not only as part of the stimulus package but contained in the budget -- tax cuts for 95 percent of working families in the United States of America, tax cuts for college tuition, tax cuts for savings and retirement security.  What the budget does do -- sort of -- some of the things that the budget does, in terms of changing tax rates, it's important for people to understand, affect people that are -- if they're single, if they make $200,000 a year or more, or a family that makes $250,000 a year or more, it doesn't even affect them.  There's not a member of Congress that makes $200,000 a year or more. 
The budget contains a provision that closes the loophole that provides tax benefits for companies that ship jobs overseas.  The President campaigned extensively on that, and the budget makes real his promise to close that loophole.  And there's obviously other things, including changing the way carried interest is done for hedge funds.
The President believes that these priorities lay out his promises and institute tax fairness, where we are giving tax cuts to the people and the families that need it most in our country, and asking those that have for quite some time shared in the benefits of previous tax cuts to pay a little bit more.  So I think the President and his team have struck the right balance, and it's a budget that I think Americans can be proud of, and that we hope Congress passes quickly.
Yes, sir.
Q    Robert, how realistic -- also on the budget -- are your expectations of a dramatic drop in funding for the war -- the wars by 2011 -- I think from $130 billion to $50 billion -- given the increase in troops in Afghanistan and the cost of taking personnel out of Iraq?  And I have a follow-up budget question after that.
MR. GIBBS:  Sure.  Well, I think the President -- I know the President will lay out a strategy tomorrow that will begin to draw down -- enumerate the decision to draw down our forces in Iraq, as he's promised, again, throughout the campaign.  And the President and the national security team feel that budget projects are very much in line with their priorities in each of these two countries.  So we feel confident that the projections that are in this budget -- again, some of these are the first time these projections are in the budget, which I think is a change in the way it's been done most recently, and the President feels good about that.
Q    And my follow-up question is on the money that's set aside for the situation in which you would ask Congress for additional funds for the financial sector.  How likely is it that you're going to use that backup plan, and when would you know?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the answer to both of your scenarios is contained, to some degree, in the banking health assessments that Treasury talked about yesterday and are beginning to conduct on some of the largest banks now to accurately diagnose what might ail or what might be needed to fix those particular banks.
Again, the President believes strongly that as we were -- as we were putting into the budget costs going forward in Iraq, costs going forward in Afghanistan, costs going forward in terms of things like Medicare or AMT tax payments that, to be truly honest, the budget needed to have the idea that some additional money, as he talked about in his speech to Congress on Tuesday, might well be needed and should be accounted for.
I would point out also, in talking to the budget team over the past couple days, you know, employing all of the -- I called it yesterday "Enron accounting" or gimmicks that we've seen in this -- in budgets in previous years, the administration could have demonstrated an additional $2.6 trillion in deficit reduction.  So we could have come to you and said that, in fact, the deficit in four years was going to be just about half of what we've projected it to be under the scenario and the accounting that's been used in previous budgets.  The President believed instead it's important to be upfront and honest with the American people about the way the budgeting is being done.
Q    Robert, for those who are making more than $250,000, there's a limit on how much they can write off their taxes, itemize deductions for charitable contributions.  In light of the fact that about a third of these of these charitable organizations are experiencing a dramatic decrease in contributions, how do you stop the bleeding there if you take away a major incentive for these wealthy Americans to give?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, understand two things.  I believe that we're changing that amount from 33 percent to 28 percent, which I'm told is the level equal to that for those income groups, equal to what it was when Ronald Reagan left office in 1989.  I think I would posit that charitable giving under the Reagan administration was probably pretty robust and just fine.
Q    But is there a concern that there's going to be a further decrease, that these charitable groups are not going to get the kinds of funds they need, particularly when people are suffering?
MR. GIBBS:  I think the way that the rules are changed is not likely to dramatically affect that.  I think the best way to likely increase charitable giving is to get -- my sense is that, if anybody is experiencing that, it's -- can somebody answer that?  (Laughter.)  The -- that it's likely that the change in giving is experienced by a downturn in the economy, which, as you know, and which I've talked about, the President is keenly aware of and hoping to turn around quite quickly.
Q    Just a quick follow on another matter.  I understand that the Pentagon is considering allowing media access to see the coffins of war victims to Dover Air Force Base.  Can you talk a little bit about the --
MR. GIBBS:  Let me talk about this, because I know this was asked of the President in his news conference.  The Secretary of Defense will -- you've read this already -- the Secretary of Defense will talk about this fairly shortly over at the Pentagon.  The President asked that the Secretary of Defense review our policy towards media and photos at Dover Air Base for victims returning of -- from Iraq and Afghanistan.
And what the Secretary has come back with, and what the President supports, is a policy consistent with that that we have at Arlington Cemetery, which allows, at the family's permission, for that to be open, which allows them to make that decision and protect their privacy if that's what they wish to do.  And the President is supportive of the Secretary's decision.
Yes, sir.
Q    Robert, two questions.  One, does the President believe that raising taxes hinders economic growth?  I understand that he believes in fairness in the tax system and he needs to -- they need to reduce the deficit and fund some of these programs.  But is he concerned at all that raising taxes could hinder economic growth?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, the tax changes that I mentioned a second ago take place for 2011.   The President, I think, is reasonably concerned about our economic growth in general and getting our economy back on track, and believes -- but believes that the changes that this budget would require in the tax code are good for the American people, doesn't believe that the changes that are being made would hinder economic growth.
I would point -- I think you could point many of these rates for people that make above two hundred -- families that make above $250,000 a year revert to the rates that we saw throughout the '90s when this economy enjoyed fairly robust economic growth.
Q    Okay.  And second question, Paul Volcker today said about the staffing at the Treasury Department, "There is an area that I think is ¼ shameful.  The Secretary of the Treasury is sitting there without a deputy, without any under secretaries, without any, as far as I know, assistant secretaries, responsive in substantive areas at a time of very severe crisis.  He shouldn't be sitting there alone."  He said, "Now, various things have contributed to this, I guess, including vetting procedures, but it's really an unfortunate situation."  And he said that we can't have a weak Treasury at a moment like this.  Does the President agree with Mr. Volcker, that this is a problem, his Treasury staff?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, this President is committed -- excuse me -- to ensuring that we have as many people and as quickly as possible that we can get into this government.  I think I would take a little -- I wouldn't quite agree with everything that our friend, Mr. Volcker, said.  I don't think that the Secretary is alone at the Treasury Department.  I think there are many able people assisting him.
And I was asked somewhat of this question yesterday, and I asked that they pulled some numbers for me.  So I have to figure out exactly the breakdown of -- this includes political appointees and Schedule C appointees, that by the end of February, there were 279 that were staffed up in the first Bush administration, 286 in the Clinton administration, two hundred and -- this was for the whole government -- 288 for the second Bush term, and as of today 483 in the Obama administration. 
Q    In the Treasury Department.
MR. GIBBS:  This is for -- this is government-wide.  I will find out -- I don't have specific Treasury figures in front of me, but I'll pull those.
Q    What's -- because that was the point that he was making, he was --
MR. GIBBS:  These are -- this is in relation partly to some questions that I got yesterday about that.  But no, I think the Treasury Department -- I think what we've asked the Treasury Department to do is certainly a lot, and I think what they've produced, through a Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, in both working on a financial stability package dealing with individual banks, ensuring that we have a way forward that protects our manufacturing base in autos.  We've asked a lot of Treasury, and they're doing a lot of great work.
Yes, sir.
Q    On jobs, which is the big complaint up on Capitol Hill right now from Republicans, that this plan is a job killer, I mean, the $787 billion plan was all about jobs more than anything else, and now you've got a plan in place that -- how can you possibly tax people making over $250,000 something like $667 billion over the next 10 years and not have a downward effect on jobs?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, Chip, how did it work in 1994 and 1995 and 1996 and 1997?
Q    I guess their argument would be, imagine if they didn't have those -- those taxes, how much better it would have been?
MR. GIBBS:  Isn't it interesting that there's always some little slip?  Again, you know -- again, I don't do this by happenstance.  There isn't a member of Congress, if they were to file a single taxpayer form, that makes above $200,000 a year.
Q    Well, Congress.
MR. GIBBS:  Well –-
Q    There's a lot of millionaires up there.
MR. GIBBS:  Well, that's true.  But it's on their income.  I mean, I think it's interesting, as people listen to those complaining about some aspects of the budget, I think it's just interesting to note -- I think the President was pretty clear on Tuesday -- we're talking about people that earn in excess of a quarter of a million dollars a year.
Q    And a huge percentage of those people are small business owners.
MR. GIBBS:  Some of them are, sure.  Some of them are big business owners.  Some of them are home-run hitters in major league baseball.  Some of them run kickoffs back for a living.  Some of them are the President of the United States. 
Q    But a lot of them create jobs.
MR. GIBBS:  Some of them -- certainly, some of them, that's what their job is.  But I would reject this overall premise that when we're asking for tax fairness from the American people, that we're -- that this is going to kill jobs.  I guess if I follow the logic of the Republicans on Capitol Hill, how do you explain last month's unemployment figures?  Current tax rates, 550,000 jobs -- what happened?
Q    This is a unique moment.  (Laughter.) 
MR. GIBBS:  Apparently, it always is.  The President believes that he's put forth a budget and a Reinvestment and Recovery Plan that will save and create 3.5 million jobs, get our economy back on track, make the necessary and needed investments for sustained long-term growth in things like health care, education and energy, and do so in a way that's most fair for the American people. 
And again, I go back to my first thing -- the President ran specifically on the promises that are contained in what he believes is a blueprint and a vision for our future.  And that's what the American people -- that's the result they rendered in November. 
Yes, sir.
Q    A couple things.  One, the President has talked about how everybody has got to chip in on their -- not everybody is going to get what they want right now.  And he was, through his speech, saying that to Congress and to both political parties.  So what of the President's agenda is he not getting?  I mean, it seems like in this budget, as much as he's asking for sacrifice, he is getting everything he's --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think a number of the priorities that we've -- that we've campaigned on are certainly in the budget.  I think that as we get closer to a more detailed budget blueprint which will, as Peter --
Q    Is he willing to give up --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think you'll see there will be some, as he said in his speech, there will be changes to programs in education.  There will be changes to some of his priorities because we understand that in a time of economic crisis we can't and won't get everything that we want.  But the President believes that this budget accurately reflects both his priorities and addresses the needs of this country at the singular moment that we stand in.
Q    On the financial bailout security number, safety net, whatever you guys are calling it -- obviously you came up with a number, you thought that that was a number you might use.  The auto companies, would they potentially be a beneficiary of that -- I know right now it's set aside as financial.  Is it fair to say the auto companies could be --  
MR. GIBBS:  I think it is likely that if the previous -- the previous administration, through loans using TARP money, provided assistance to GM and Chrysler, and I think it's likely that additional funding, if it were both needed and granted, would likely come from that -- some pool of that money, yes.
Q    When is Mexico security our problem? 
MR. GIBBS:  I think there's no doubt that the situation is of interest to the President, strong interest, given the relationship that we have with the country and certainly its proximity to ours.  It's something that the national security team and the President are watching closely.
Q    Can I follow up on that?
MR. GIBBS:  Sure.  I don't know if I've got much, but --
Q    Yesterday, the National Director of Intelligence went to -- I mean, two days ago went to Congress and said that -- because the influence of the drug cartels and corruption, the government -- the federal government of Mexico is losing control of the Mexican territory -- parts of the Mexican territory.  My question:  the White House agrees on that?   The federal government is losing control of parts of the territory?
MR. GIBBS:  I haven't seen those specific reports.  Obviously for, I think, a specific comment on that I would point you over to -- I almost said Governor -- Secretary Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security.
Q    Robert, can I ask a question about --
MR. GIBBS:  Yes, sir.
Q    The Governor of Texas called for a thousand more troops along the border.  What is the -- is the President considering that?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't have anything on that, but, Todd, I'll certainly check on it.
Yes, sir.
Q    Back to the budget.  Through the years, so many Presidents have made the same kinds of promises that this President, this Budget Director, have been making, about cutting waste, going after military cost overruns, farm subsidies.  One President's sacrifice always turns out to be somebody's sacred cow on the Hill.  What makes you, him, think that this is going to work where so many others have failed?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I would say a couple of different things, but primarily, we -- I think, as I said a minute ago, we stand at a very different moment.  We have a budget deficit that -- before the President took office of somewhere between $1.2 trillion and $1.3 trillion, which constituted right around 10 percent of our GDP.  That obviously is a cause and concern for both this government and for Wall Street. 
The President and his economic team sought to understand that if we're going to have sustained long-term economic growth, then we can't continue to spend the amounts and the -- have the amounts and the types of spending that we've seen in the last few years as that percentage and that deficit have ballooned. 
There is no doubt that the President is going to ask Congress, as Chuck pointed out, ask Congress and himself to make changes and sacrifices that might -- he might not -- or might not be granted in ordinary times.  But I think he would tell you that we're in extraordinary times. 
Q    Now, on the health care down payment, where is the rest of the money going to come from?  It's not in the budget.
MR. GIBBS:  Right.  I think health care reform obviously is going to, as I mentioned yesterday, going to go through a lot of different stakeholders and a lot of different players on Capitol Hill and throughout the country.  The President believed it was important, as he mentioned in the speech, to provide a down payment for health care reform.  The President also understands that we have to do something -- have to do something -- about the cost of health care in this country.  That's why he believed that the investments that we were making as a result of the recovery plan were so important, that an investment in health IT and medical technology would, as many studies have denoted, drive down the cost of health care.
We are not going to be able to increase coverage in this country, but continue to pay the rates and the amounts that we're paying now.  Only by driving down costs are we going to be able to fully understand and realize some larger health care reform that's eluded this country for many decades.  The President said in the campaign that health care reform would be achieved through some additional spending, largely by rolling back tax cuts for the very wealthy, and coupled with some savings in the amount of money that we spend on health care.  And that's where we are right now.
Q    On the budget, can you tell us who wrote the opening chapters of the budget book that you put out?  And since those -- introductory material is usually fairly dry in previous budgets, this time it was quite passionate, some would say almost angry about the situation that you're facing.  Can you talk a little bit about the tone?
MR. GIBBS:  I will admit I haven't the slightest idea who penned with such passion the budget.  I will scour the big building and try to figure out who that might be.  (Laughter.)  No, I think that -- I mean, I mentioned this yesterday -- it is -- you see -- to build on Chip's question earlier, you see passion these days for the amazing amounts of spending in this town.  Some apparently have realized that in only the previous 37 to 38 days, despite their occupancy in the District for many years in which we saw the budget deficit and the debt that this country owes balloon by $5 trillion.  The economic team and the President believe that the path we are on is simply unsustainable; that to make the investments that this country has long ignored and are most needed, that we have to get serious about health care reform and energy independence and reforming the way our public schools teach our children. 
But unless or until we get a hold of the deficit and the debt, we're going to have a hard time growing this economy for the long term.  This President understands that; tough choices are made in this budget to get us to a point where the deficit will be cut in half at the end of four years, because the President understands how important that it.
Q    On health reform, I realize that you guys want to leave a lot of openings for discussions with Congress, and don't want to be overly prescriptive.  But having said that, as an opening White House position, is it -- does President Obama still start with the plan he campaigned on?  Is that his opening sort of position in approaching Congress?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think that's the plan that, as he talked about in the campaign, he thought was best to achieve the long-term goals of health care reform.  I would expand, I guess, your question a little bit to include not just people that are in Congress, but stakeholders that include doctors, insurance companies, certainly businesses that are grappling with the rising costs of health care coverage, labor unions.  And I think we all laughed more -- on more than one occasion when the President talked about getting a big table and some chairs together and getting everybody around it to talk about health care reform.
So I think the President understands that this is an issue that has -- been a lot of talk about but little, ultimately, sometimes gets accomplished.  The way to do that is to broaden that discussion and include all of those that have to be involved early.
Q    My question was whether we should assume the White House's position going into those --
MR. GIBBS:  You should.  You should.
Q    Robert, just to follow on Jake's question, are you satisfied with Congress's role in moving nominations, processing nominations along?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q    What grade would you give them?
MR. GIBBS:  Congress?  (Laughter.)  Oh, A+.  (Laughter.)
Q    There are no concerns with how -- zero concerns --
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I -- look, I'm not probably in a position to adequately grade Congress, and certainly even my small amount of political instincts would steer me away from any desire to do that.  (Laughter.) 
Q    Only if you're going to give them a bad grade.
MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- well, I'll leave that so I don't get into that trouble.
No, obviously, you know, we've asked Congress to do a lot; there's no question about that.  We want to ensure that we can get nominees in to this government as quickly as possible, and we know that Congress shares those goals, too.
Q    The budget foresees $645 billion over 10 years from cap and trade.  Can you tell me who pays that?
MR. GIBBS:  I understand the -- as I understand the notion of cap and trade, you would create a market for renewable energy through a cap and trade system that sets a level of pollution that, if somebody exceeds that level of pollution, they would pay.  As the cap slowly ratchets down, I think the -- probably the best example of something like this -- maybe not totally analogous, so bear with me -- but in the late '80s to deal with acid rain we set a level, and if companies exceeded that level -- but understand what --
Q    Companies initially pay, but then what happens?  Are those costs not, in many cases, transferred to the consumers or the utility consumers?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, here's what we hope happens:  Businesses become more efficient because -- building on Chip's question about job creation and the free enterprise system -- companies understand there's a value now to that.  Therefore, money is used and garnered through this that increases research, develops greater efficiencies, and ultimately makes it more valuable for someone to reduce their pollution out-take than it does to pay for that pollution being emitted.  When that happens, we create jobs; we put people back to work; we provide a market and an incentive for alternative energy and for renewable fuels; and that over time, while that cap goes down, businesses find the most efficient way to make smart economic decisions.
What you mentioned --
Q    Do consumers along the way pay for something?
MR. GIBBS:  What you mentioned is there is likely to be -- and I think Peter talked about this -- there could be instances where higher electricity costs are passed on, which is why the budget that you talked about equates, or connects a Making Work Pay tax credit -- or I'm sorry, tax cut -- with revenue that's received through that cap and trade program.  So that if higher electricity costs are passed on, that consumers have money to pay for it.  Leftover money in a cap and trade system that isn't used for increased research and efficiency would also be passed on.
Q    Let me ask you another separate question.  Is the administration preparing to charge Ali Saleh al-Marri in U.S. judicial courts?  And if so, how would you describe that as a difference from the Bush administration, which always argued that al-Marri should be tried in military commissions?  Justice has (inaudible) just asked you, and the only reason I bring it up here.
MR. GIBBS:  And I appreciate Justice doing that, and I'm not going to comment on that at this time.
Q    We're already hearing some pretty vociferous complaints from Democratic leaders about the plan for Iraq that he's going to talk about tomorrow.  What's your response to them?  And what is the President doing to try and work on these members of Congress?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President obviously is going to talk about this tomorrow.  The President has charged to his national security team at the beginning of this administration and on the first full day, as I said yesterday, was to bring his national security team and military commanders in the region and on the ground together, to develop a solution and a policy recommendation on drawing down our forces in Iraq that's consistent with what he talked about in the campaign, and allows us to do so responsibly, gives more responsibility to the Iraqis to govern, for government and security, and does so in a way that protects our troops.
The President also talked in the campaign that some force would remain in Iraq for limited missions consistent with training and combating terrorism.  The President will speak more eloquently tomorrow on that, and lay out a plan.  I think it's been noted on Capitol Hill that there will be some members of Congress will be briefed on what the President will say tomorrow later today, at the White House.
Q    But what's the response to the criticism?  I mean, Speaker Pelosi in particular is already upset about the levels that will remain, for example.
MR. GIBBS:  The President asked the national security team to put together a plan that they and he believed would accomplish the goal of removing our combat forces from Iraq in the most responsible way.  The President will lay out exactly what that plan is.  And I think tomorrow you'll see a President and the national security leadership comfortable with the recommendations that have been made and accepted by the Commander-in-Chief.
Q    Robert, I'd like to come back to the question we tried yesterday, now that we have numbers in front of us.  The President claimed the other night $2 trillion in savings, now we're calling it a deficit reduction over the next 10 years.  This chart tells us that $1.5 trillion of that we're getting from lower costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I mean, to get to that number -- you talking about a gimmick -- you get to that number of $1.5 trillion in savings or reductions in war costs, you have to assume that we would have spent $183 billion in 2019, even though all troops are supposed to be out of Iraq by 2011, even under President Bush's agreement.
So how is it that that's not a gimmick, an artificially high number so that we can say we're saving money that wasn't going to be spent in the first place?
MR. GIBBS:  Let me have Peter -- I didn't -- I read some of the passionate rhetoric, but I didn't get quite so deeply into the matrixes.
Q    Do you disagree with it?
MR. GIBBS:  I'm out of my depth, and I'll get Peter to go through those numbers.
Q    It's one number.  It's just one number.
MR. GIBBS:  Which is why I'm going to get Peter to do it.  It won't take long.
Q    For all of us, or just for -- I mean, can we get a response to all of us?
MR. GIBBS:  Sure.  My office is pretty big.
Q    About Iran --
Q    Robert --
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.
Q    Me?  Oh, thank you.
MR. GIBBS:  You're welcome.
Q    While campaigning, President Obama said, as a group, the Hispanics, because of the economy, were suffering the most.  What is he really going to do -- like, now -- for the immigrants, the Hispanics?  They are suffering.  And they just would like to know what's going to happen to them.
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think if you look at -- certainly if you break out unemployment numbers and home foreclosure rates, you see what the rate is.  The rate of unemployment is inordinately high; the amount of foreclosures and the percentage and change in that employment of -- it makes up a much broader portion of the unemployed than it did in either the most recent recessions or even ones in the early '80s.
I think that's why the President has laid out such an important Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that, one, will put money back -- directly back into people's pockets; a plan that will address the foreclosure crisis and ensure that people that are playing by the rules can get some refinancing help from the government in order to ensure that they can stay in their homes.
And I think the President, in looking at the economic problems of the country, tried to address both changes in income, as well as changes in our housing policy to ensure that those needs were addressed.
Q    Why is the President meeting with the chief -- sorry -- Robert, why is the President meeting -- on that line of minorities -- why is the President meeting now with the CBC, when he could have met with them earlier to help with the implementation of stimulus, bailout, as well as the budget?  Why now?  Why today, after all of this is said and done, the ink is dried?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't think I understand the formulation of your question.
Q    The formulation of the question is the Congressional Black Caucus wanted to meet with the President to help in the implementation, as he was talking about fixing the economy, helping create jobs.  Hispanics -- I believe 9.6, 9.8 job losses;  African Americans, 12.6 percent job losses.  Why now is the President meeting with the CBC today, versus talking to them earlier and helping to formulate the stimulus, the bailout, as well as the budget?
MR. GIBBS:  April, as you know, the President met with, and the staff met with hundreds of members of Congress in putting together an Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that got through Congress.  The President spoke to the entire Democratic Caucus, of which I'm pretty sure most of the CBC, if not -- I think the entire CBC is in the Democratic Caucus -- in Williamsburg and the House and at the Newseum, here in the Senate.
I guess I would reject the notion that somehow the cares and concerns of those regarding unemployment or housing or anything else haven't been addressed.
Q    Was Burris here for the meeting?
MR. GIBBS:  He's a member of the CBC, so I --
Q    Could you get back to us on that?
MR. GIBBS:  Sure.
Q    And Robert, also, on "pay as you go" -- is there going to be any kind of an impact on the way services are delivered because now the government is changing to this "pay as you go" system?
MR. GIBBS:  No, I -- we hope that the services are delivered more efficiently.  And that is we change the desired funding level that we do so through paying for it, just as each and every family does in this country.  They had "pay as you go" for quite some time and the economy grew, jobs were created and the budget deficit shrank.  And I think the hope is, from the President, that will happen again.
Q    There was some discussion in here yesterday about earmarks, and you said that the President's commitment on the issue was shown by the fact that he had not requested one in the omnibus bill that's currently before Congress.  There's a report this morning that indicates that that may not be the case, and I was wondering if you could address that.
And also, I understand that he did raise some concerns about the bill when the Democratic leadership was here yesterday, and I'm hoping you can expand on the conversation that they had.
MR. GIBBS:  Let me take the second part.  I don't want to get into some private conversations that the President had with members regarding going forward.  I will give you and anybody else who wants it a -- I think the letter that the 37 members of Congress signed about the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program on April 2, 2008, to appropriators that, I think, for some people constitutes that earmark -- you'll notice, and I'll have them distribute this letter -- there's no funding level in here.  So the President, as a senator, did not request earmarks for the final two years he was in the Senate.
Q    Is he more concerned, though, about the nature of the rates of increase in the bill, the number of earmarks in the bill?  Did he raise these concerns with --
MR. GIBBS:  I won't get -- I don't want to get too much into some of those private --
Q    Is it not an --
Q    Robert, Robert --
MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry.  Michael.
Q    Is it not an earmark if he doesn't put a money figure next to it?  I mean, he requested the program.  Is that what you're saying?
MR. GIBBS:  He signed a letter -- signed a letter, which we'll distribute a copy.  The President did not request earmarks the final two years in which he was in the Senate.  That was his policy.  And I think many of you all remember that the President also, for earlier -- for 2005 and 2006, put up on the Internet earmarks and the amounts that he had requested in an effort to garner greater transparency, and did so because he believed that that was important to do.
Q    Robert, the RNC Chair Michael Steele on Tuesday came out very hard against civil unions.  I want to know if the White House has a response, and are there any actions to support civil unions?
MR. GIBBS:  I did not see the Chairman's --
Q    He was asked about if he favors civil unions.  He said, "Are you crazy; why would we want to do that?"
MR. GIBBS:  I would -- the President's position on that hasn't changed since the campaign when he voiced his support.
Q    Robert, there are have been several reports that the President has settled on former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chas Freeman, to head his National Intelligence Council.  Mr. Freeman's organization took a million dollars from the Saudi government, and he later refers to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia,  saying, "Perhaps you should be called, King Abdullah the Great."  Is this someone that has the kind of detachment necessary to assess intelligence for the U.S. government?
MR. GIBBS:  I've, on any number of occasions, said that I will talk about personnel announcements when we make personnel announcements, and we haven't done so in that.
Q    Robert, critics of this budget blueprint that has been put out today charged that this is a form of wealth redistribution.  Even The New York Times, in its front page story, fourth paragraph, talks about the idea of wealth redistribution.  How do you respond to that?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, the same way I did to the other questions; that the President campaigned on, explicitly promising, that he would cut taxes for 95 percent of working Americans if he was elected President.  We did that in the Reinvestment and Recovery Plan, and those tax cuts are also contained in this budget.
The President also said that for those families that make a quarter of a million dollars, $250,000 a year, are likely to see their tax rates revert back to the way they were for most of the '90s.  That's also in this budget.
And the President believes that we have a plan that will lead to long-term economic growth, sustained long-term economic growth, while making those important investments.  And that's what this budget blueprint does, and that's what he campaigned on, instituting fairness in our -- more fairness in our system.  And I think that's what he's done.
Q    Thank you.
MR. GIBBS:  Thanks, guys.
                              END                   2:25 P.M. EST