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The White House

Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 7-21-09

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                         July 22, 2009

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
July 21, 2009
2:01 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Before we start, just one quick announcement. President Obama will address the opening session of the first U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on Monday, July 27th. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner will chair the dialogue with the Chinese Vice Premier and State Counselor. President Obama and President Hu launched this dialogue during their meeting in London in April as a way of strengthening relationships between the two countries. So that will be on Monday.
Q Where is that?
MR. GIBBS: Here.
And with that, Mr. Feller.
Q Thanks, Robert. I wanted to ask you about some of the President's rhetoric on health care. We heard him talk again today about having heard excuses for defeat and delay reform, and also those who are trying to score political points. Does he accept the premise that there are some Republicans who are not trying to defeat reform, but are genuinely opposed to the policies that are being proposed on Capitol Hill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think I would split Republicans up, best as I can understand it, in a few different baskets. You have Republicans that are working with Democrats, particularly those on the Finance Committee, to work through different proposals. I do think there are Republicans that are philosophically opposed to some level of health care reform. And then I think you saw during -- as we discussed yesterday, I think there are some Republicans that have decided that this isn’t about health care, it's about politics and it's about scoring political points and it's about perpetuating the political games that have dominated Washington for far longer than even the debates on health care reform. So I think that's how I'd roughly split that up.
Q But is there any concern -- I mean, that's a different level of detail that at least comes up in cases like in the Rose Garden. Is there a concern that the American people are watching this, they hear the President say we're pushing on behalf of the American people and there are those who are just trying to defeat, don't listen to them, or don't fall for that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there are people that -- I mean, I think you saw this yesterday. We talked about it yesterday. Remember, I remind you what Bill Kristol said yesterday on the Weekly Standard blog -- "resisting the temptation to act responsibly." I don't think that was to pitch an alternative policy.
Q I understand that point. But there are also those whose support the President is seeking or at least would like to have on the Hill who just might disagree with him, and when they give speeches and interviews, how is that different -- how is that not playing politics versus what he's doing? I guess I'm trying to find out that line there.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think there are some that oppose the bill; I think there are some that are working with Democrats on a bipartisan basis. We covered this last week -- despite the fact that there weren’t Republicans that supported the proposal that came out of the HELP Committee, for whatever reason -- the HELP Committee, chaired by Senator Dodd, incorporated 160 of their ideas in the forms of different amendments into legislation that was moved out of committee.
I don't doubt that there are some that have philosophical differences. I also think there are some, as we enumerated yesterday, that are intent on playing political games. I think -- I read something right before I came out here that I think Eric Cantor wouldn’t necessarily have used the same words that Mr. DeMint used -- I think that's maybe an admission that the message got a little off the rails about playing political games.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, two questions. One on health care. Have Democrats asked the President for a delay? And if so, what is he saying? And secondly, on the budget --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there are some who have asked for different timetables in letters to and from Capitol Hill. His response isn't different to Democrats than it is to Republicans about the fact that we can't afford to delay this, that we can't afford to simply wait months and months or another year, and add that to the other 40 years that we've waited for comprehensive reform that will actually cut costs.
Q Even a delay of a few weeks or a month?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think we're making progress. I think the President believes we're making progress. That's what's the most important. And the President thinks we can continue to make progress in the next couple of weeks.
Q And a question on the budget. Peter Orszag said yesterday about the midsession review coming out in August that there wouldn't be any big surprises. Does that mean -- or how should we interpret that in terms of the deficit figure? Is the deficit figure or projection going to go up or is it going to go down --
MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said yesterday, I think it's -- we've seen the economy, based on everybody's assumptions at the beginning of the year, deteriorate -- particularly that last quarter of last year and the first quarter of this year -- deteriorate at a rate that I think alarmed a number of people. I think it's likely that our budget challenges have become greater, not lesser.
Q But is that code for the deficit figure is going to rise?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I have not -- they don't let me in on the number-crunching sessions. I haven't seen the exact numbers. But, again, my assumption is you've got employment which is higher; you've got tax revenue which, by definition, because of the lagging economy, is going to be lower. I would assume again that the budget challenges have only become greater.
Q The House Energy and Commerce Committee canceled the mark-up. That's largely perceived that the reason this is because of the Blue Dog Democrats on the committee balking at some of the provisions in the bill. I know the Blue Dogs are here right now with the President. But what's his intention of -- what does he intend to tell them, or what do you --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think they're working through -- I mean, I think they -- as you mentioned, they've delayed a mark-up for a little bit of time to come down here and talk through some of the issues and concerns that they have on costs and things like that. They're going to meet with the President -- they may be doing it probably right now -- to work through some of the issues and concerns that they have and that -- and again, try to work toward meeting in an area where we can agree to move health care reform forward.
Q As you know, one of the concerns they have is they don't want to be BTU'd, they don't want to vote for a provision that passes in the House and the Senate does something else less controversial. Is the President on board with that? Does he think that the House and the Senate should have basically the same funding mechanism for this bill so that no one side has to walk the plank?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if that will specifically come up, or has specifically come up in today's meeting. I know that the President is encouraged, as you heard him in the Rose Garden say, in terms of the amount of progress that we've made, that we're closer to health care reform than we've been in 40 or 50 years.
I assume many of these issues, particularly cost -- not just cost of health care but how to pay for it -- will come up. I don't know if he believes that both proposals should be identical, but hopes that we continue to make progress on both sides of Capitol Hill so that we can get a bill closer to his desk.
Q Does he understand philosophically why the House wouldn't want to --
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Absolutely.
Yes, sir.
Q Back to Jeff's question on the deadline. Does the White House believe that if this August deadline were missed, that health care reform will not get done?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that's the case. I think, as the President enunciated pretty clearly yesterday, a lot doesn't tend to happen in this town without some poking and some prodding, which generally manifests itself in deadlines. But again, remember, this is just part of the process. We're going to come back here after the August break and still have work to do on health care.
Q So then why do you have that deadline?
MR. GIBBS: Because I'd refer you to the first part, that not a lot happens without that poking and prodding. Remember, Dan, we've been -- I said this yesterday and I've said this before -- health care is not something that somebody came to Washington about a couple of months ago and said, you know what, I've been out in America and a lot of people are paying more for their health insurance each and every year -- and somebody said, wow, I heard that, too, and they started a debate on health care. We've been doing this for years and years and decades and decades. This is not a new argument.
Q I understand -- so the whole purpose then of the deadline, essentially, is just to get them going?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely.
Q Just to push them --
MR. GIBBS: Move this process along.
Q There was no expectation that it would get done by that time?
MR. GIBBS: Deadlines don't tend to be that good unless they're recognized as being something -- a point in time in which you'd like to see something done.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, is it fair to characterize that there is not a bill yet in either the House or the Senate on health care that the President is ready to support? He seemed to indicate that in one of these interviews yesterday. Is that a fair characterization?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you look at -- and I think, look, part of this is based on where we are in the process. I think the President has laid out probably 15 or 16 different ideas that he'd like to see around cutting costs in health care, containing the skyrocketing cost that families and businesses pay each year.
I'm not entirely sure that one piece of legislation encompasses each and every one of those ideas quite yet -- but believes that both the House -- and that's one of the things they'll talk about in the meeting today, is how do we contain costs -- that's part of that proposal. And then understand again that the growth of Medicare and Medicaid is under the jurisdiction of the Finance Committee, so by definition, the HELP Committee's legislation can't have addressed provisions in Medicare and Medicaid because they don't have jurisdiction over it.
So I think part of this is the process of a piece of legislation going through five committees and two houses of Congress. But I think the principles that he's laid out are pretty clear.
Q So it's incorrect to say he supports any of these bills?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, again, I think there are aspects of each of these bills that meet his principles. I think if you want to know how he feels, again, I think the letter that he sent to Congress about the principles he sees in health care is a good place to go.
Q And you just said the eighth public event the President spoke on health care in the last nine days. Nine out of the last 10?
Q Ninth out of nine.
Q Nine out of nine. (Laughter.)
Q He did two on Thursday.
Q Two in one day.
Q Oh, two on Thursday. (Laughter.) See?
MR. GIBBS: You mean golf doesn't count as a -- (laughter.)
Q Well, we heard he did talk about health care on the golf course.
MR. GIBBS: He and Marvin were in a riveting discussion in a sandtrap about cost containment.
Q The Canadian -- no. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Right, exactly.
Q In all seriousness, do you worry about the overexposure? I mean, at what point -- do the President's -- is he worried about this? You laugh.
MR. GIBBS: No, I'm laughing because -- I'm going to have somebody look this up and I'll get this answer to you today. The last time somebody asked me if were doing too much; and now we do something nine out of nine days and you're wondering if we're doing -- if we're focusing too much on one thing.
Q No, but do you worry that your words are not as persuasive on the ninth event as opposed to the first event?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- well, some of that will depend on your package tonight, Chuck. No, again, I think what the President strongly believes -- and he'll do this tomorrow, certainly, 10 out of 10 at the press conference -- I think it's important that the President continues to remind the American people what's at stake, what's in it for them, why the status quo is unacceptable and unaffordable, and what must be done in terms of this issue to lay that foundation for long-term economic growth.
I don't think he can probably say that enough. There are -- as we've discussed, there are people out there that are opposed to this. There are special-interest groups out there that are opposed to this that are going to continue to make their arguments and I think the President is going to continue to make his.
Q Very quickly, since you promised to follow up on that stat, yesterday you had said that you would try to get an answer when the decision was made to postpone the budget.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I've asked OMB, but I haven't gotten anything back on that yet.
Q Okay. Neither have I. So it's good to see we're both being -- (laughter.)
Q Robert, can I follow on health care?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me just get Chip.
Q In his statement today and following up on what Ben said, he goes after the Republicans pretty hard here. But it's the Democrats, it could be argued -- but then Republicans argue, of course, it's really the Democrats here who are the barrier. You've got people like Nelson and Conrad and Landrieu and others in the Senate saying, let's slow this thing down and wait until after we get back from recess. And you've got 40 Blue Dog Democrats who are enough to kill this thing, using their leverage both in committee and in the entire House, basically saying, it's not going to pass until we get what we want. And you've got the RNC, 12 of the 15 new ads in congressional districts are in Democratic districts. So why isn't his attention on the Democrats? Isn't it creating a strawman --
MR. GIBBS: Why isn't our attention on the Democrats, based on the fact that the RNC is running ads in their district?
Q No, DNC. DNC is running --
MR. GIBBS: You said RNC.
Q I'm sorry. DNC is running 12 of its 15 ads in Democratic districts against the Republicans, but if the Democrats would fall in line here this thing would pass.
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate your optimism. (Laughter.) Look, that's one of the reasons the President is meeting with Democrats today, to try to work through the differences that they and other members in the House may have --
Q But in his statements he comes out and beats up on Republicans, isn't it just kind of a strawman argument here for public consumption?
MR. GIBBS: No. I think your questions yesterday -- I don't assume your question yesterday on Jim DeMint was a strawman argument. You asked specifically about his criticism about the legislation. I don't think that's --
Q So we're driving this train.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we're just pulling the horn.
Again, I think the President wants to work with -- he's made calls to Democrats and Republicans in the past few days. The staff has met endlessly with members on Capitol Hill to try to work toward a solution. I think that's what the President will continue to do.
Q And finally, this is not a quibble, I just want to know what should we say? What is the deadline for this thing? He has said October in the past for signing a bill. I've heard November. A couple of days ago he said by the end of the year. What is the deadline for signing a bill? Is one of those correct: October, November, end of the year?
MR. GIBBS: Well, understanding that October, November could be the end of the year, based on what the legislative session is, I think the President is intent on ensuring that when Congress is done in 2009, that he signs comprehensive health care reform that cuts costs for small businesses and families, provides an opportunity for affordable, accessible health insurance, and has put -- has done something to bend the cost curve and help our fiscal -- put our fiscal house in order -- I think that we'd like to see done before Congress goes home. I'd love to tell you -- if you can tell me when Congress is going to go home, we'll --
Q Robert, isn't there a flip side to what you said to Ben that --
MR. GIBBS: Probably.
Q -- yes -- (laughter) -- that if some Republicans are against it -- are against health care reform for political reasons, aren't there many Democrats that are for it for political reasons?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I guess I don't follow you.
Q Because they feel it would benefit them politically.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I'm not entirely sure I understand the notion that a Democrat would simply be for it because the health care reform is a good thing to be for. I think health care reform is a good thing to be for because millions of Americans are struggling each and every day with the high cost of that insurance, those that are lucky enough to have it. There are millions that are -- that lose their health care when they change their jobs. They're unable to get health care because they have a preexisting condition, all things that the President wants to change.
Q But there are political motivations on both sides.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think the American people want to see Congress do something. If that's a benefit of anybody in Congress, I think that's a good thing because it's likely the benefit of the American people.
Q I tried. (Laughter.)
Q Steny Hoyer, in his weekly news conference this morning, left open the possibility that the House at least would go home for the recess without taking a vote. Do you have any response to that?
MR. GIBBS: No, just that the notion, again, that we've -- I think two of the three committees that are looking at this legislation have passed this legislation. I know Energy and Commerce worked until past midnight last night; they're down here today discussing issues of concern and I think likely will be back at the table tomorrow. I think it's a bit early to talk about "what if" two and a half or two weeks from now.
Q Pretty big disappointment to the President, wouldn't it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it would be a pretty big disappointment to the American people.
Q Another question -- on the Senate side, Conrad says his panel today is considering a tax on the so-called Cadillac health plans. The President, in a PBS interview yesterday, seemed to suggest he was sort of open to that. Is that a correct reading?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I was in the interview and I think I told a number of people I just simply take the President -- I tend not to look two or three levels down to figure out what I think he might have meant to say. I think he said quite clearly -- and I don't think this is much of a surprise since we're six months and a day into this administration -- that he doesn’t support what Senator McCain proposed in the campaign, which as you know wasn’t a tax on a certain level of the exclusion, but instead to remove the entire tax deductibility -- to remove any of that exclusion whatsoever from health care plans. I think that's what he discussed.
Q That leaves the door open for --
MR. GIBBS: Well, you guys -- your job is to parse. I just listened to him and heard what he said.
Q You wouldn't quarrel with that?
MR. GIBBS: Wouldn't quarrel with? No, again, I take the President at what he said, not what you're asking me to interpret what he might have meant to say.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q He also said in that interview that he's interested in the idea of penalizing insurance companies that cover Cadillac plans. So is that a signal that --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have the interview in front of me to look at what he was -- what you're referring to. I don't know whether he was discussing proposals -- I think there are proposals up on the Hill that would --
Q -- answered -- first talking about McCain, the differences of getting rid of a total exclusion versus perhaps some of it. But then he volunteered the idea of insurance companies --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that's -- not having the transcript in front of me in terms of that particular answer, I think he was simply discussing a proposal that's being discussed on Capitol Hill by some relating to putting the onus on insurance companies that offer those plans.
Q One of the Blue Dogs, Dan Boren, told me today that what's lacking in this debate is bipartisanship, and you mentioned that as well. Does the President think that some of the elements that are missing from the various plans are things that might be offered by Republicans?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that's probably a better question for Republicans in terms of what it is they want to offer. Again, in the HELP Committee, they offered 160 suggestions, which I assume they believe would improve the bill, that were incorporated by Democrats -- or were incorporated by that panel, I'm sure with both Democratic and Republican support -- in order to improve that piece of legislation. I know that when our team goes up to talk to members of the Finance Committee, they're talking to both Democrats and Republicans on that.
So I think the President is mindful of that and the President wants to work with Republicans that want to work with him. But again, I think, Wendell, that part of that has got to be -- you got to have people that want to work with the President rather than try to look at this as scoring political points in a Washington game.
Q On an unrelated matter, the acknowledgment that you're not going to have the recommendations for how to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, at least in -- on your original schedule.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take this back a little bit. There are -- the President's executive order that was signed I think six months ago today set up three different task forces to examine both issues related to the closure of Guantanamo Bay, but also to answer questions that related to the debate about detention and interrogation going forward in different theaters of war.
The first task force was set up to go file by file through each of those at Guantanamo Bay and to make decisions about how to bring swift and certain justice and how to do that in a way that was consistent with our values. More than half of those detainees currently at Guantanamo Bay -- more than half of those files have been looked at and determinations are in the process of being made.
The second task force had to do with our interrogation policy and steps that might be taken over and above the Army Field Manual to ensure, again, the effectiveness of interrogations at the same time that we are ensuring that whatever is done going forward on interrogations is done with our values in mind, as well.
The third task force is on future detainee policy. Again, what do we do, for instance, with someone picked up on a battlefield somewhere in the world today? Where does that individual go? What circumstances surround that individual?
The second task force on interrogation policy needs -- I think asked for and was granted a two-month extension in dealing with that. The detainee policy, a draft or -- I'm sorry, a summary of what they've been working on has been released as they seek an additional extension of six months to answer some of the longer-term questions as it relates to that.
All that by saying that the task forces and the President believe we continue to make progress and can meet the goal of closing Guantanamo Bay in a year.
Q Specifically on that goal, I'm asking for a definition of closure. Is it possible that Guantanamo Bay as a detention facility could remain open under different ground rules? Or do you mean all inmates out?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think closure means closure. We're not interested in changing the name, in changing the ownership, because the reason why it is so important to do this is the symbol that it's become throughout the world. I think people throughout the world are smart enough to understand that simply changing the sign out front is not going to change what it means and what it's done to our standing in the world.
Yes, sir.
Q Thank you, Robert. Going back to Wendell's question about reaching out to Republicans, one Republican member I spoke to just today indicated that the eight Republicans who put the cap and trade over the top are not inclined at all to vote for health care legislation backed by the White House. In addition, Governor Douglas of Vermont, who was a key Republican ally of the President in getting a stimulus package, has been very, very skeptical about health care proposals on the table, as you well know from the papers. Just what is the President's outreach to these Republicans, in particular the eight who backed him on cap and trade and centrists like Governor Douglas?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can check on the eight that were with us on cap and trade. I haven't -- I don't know what relevant committees some of those might be on or the degree to which the President has specifically spoken to each of them.
And I addressed this a little bit yesterday. I think the question regarding some of Governor Douglas and other governors' criticisms surrounded some contention about mandates that would come from Washington for additional spending on Medicaid. As I understand it, again, Medicaid in the Senate is under the jurisdiction of Finance, and that's still being worked through, but anything additional for Medicaid as it's related to the House bill is funded by the House bill.
So I think in many ways, the criticism you heard enunciated from governors I think in many ways is addressed in provisions contained without the House legislation addressing those Medicaid concerns.
Yes, sir.
Q Robert, can I ask about the TARP program and the IG's report? There was a hearing on the Hill today. The report, as you know, is pretty critical of Treasury and saying that it really was not attempting to hold the banks' feet to the fire about getting lending out into the economy. And I was especially struck by Edolphus Towns, the chairman of the committee, saying that he doesn't think Treasury is making any attempt to find out what kind of lending is going on, and is pursuing a philosophy -- I'm quoting here -- of don't ask, don't tell. That's pretty nasty words from a Democratic committee chairman, isn't it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the Treasury Department puts out monthly reports on the lending activities from banks. I think, again, one of the suggestions was in some ways being able to follow what might not be, according to us, followable. In other words, you have the fungibility of money; it's not put in a separate TARP lending account for the Deposit and Guarantee in Auburn, Alabama, for us to measure the increase in lending.
I think the administration believes that that transparency is important but can be done better in measuring the increase in that lending, but it's going to be hard to follow, again, something that's as fungible as money moving from one bank to another.
Q So he's wrong to say there's no supervision going on here?
MR. GIBBS: I think he's wrong to believe that the administration isn't concerned about how that money is used, ensuring that that money is used wisely and in a way that the taxpayers can be proud of. I think, to the point where you've seen already this year, I think upwards of $70 billion paid back to the federal government from lending institutions, which might denote that there is -- there's some watching going on from Washington.
Q His concern was about the amount of money being lent into the economy. But the goal is -- one of the goals of this program was to get lending going back on again, and --
MR. GIBBS: It's one of the goals of this administration. But, again, Mark, one of the ways we're going to increase lending is to get this economy moving again. It's a little bit of a push and pull, right -- is the economy going to expand until or unless a small business can get the credit it needs to expand, and vice versa.
And I think the President -- look, the President strongly believes that we have to see an increase in lending. I think it's pretty safe to say that when the President took office in January, that we were headed, as many have described in this administration, for an economic catastrophe. Many businesses couldn't find -- didn't have access to the capital and the credit that they needed, and many banks were, as we discussed in this room a lot, in peril.
We've now seen banks be able to raise their own capital. And I think we have seen some increase in lending activity. Obviously the President doesn't believe that's enough, because we still have a long way to go in fixing our economy.
Q Back on the Cadillac health plans, two points on insurance companies. What the President said yesterday was, "I understand they're talking about the possibility of penalizing insurance companies who are offering super gold-plated Cadillac plans." Is that the difference: the President is willing to penalize insurance companies but not tax the health benefits?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, just from reading that statement, I think he's simply denoting that's a proposal on Capitol Hill. I don't --
Q He volunteers it as something that --
MR. GIBBS: Volunteers it as something that Capitol Hill is looking at.
Q You put that together with what he said yesterday about insurance companies reaping windfall profits with premiums, and he talked even in the same sentence about boondoggles -- does he think the health insurance industry isn't doing enough to make health insurance reform happen? Is he disappointed in them?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I mean, obviously the underpinnings of health insurance and health care reform are that some of the practices that insurance companies have employed over the past many years simply have to change, I think first and foremost, the very longstanding practice of denying someone coverage simply for a preexisting condition.
Q But does he think they're not doing enough right now in the debate in Congress to move this forward? Is he disappointed --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- I think he believes all can be doing more because we are in a critical time to push health care reform forward.
Q Is he disappointed in the health insurance industry right now?
MR. GIBBS: I think he wants to see continued -- their continued support, as he likes to see the continued support of all stakeholders on something that is as important as insurance reforms.
But let me just go back for a second on -- again, what's critically important -- again, this is one aspect of what I think you've heard the President discuss the past several days and you'll hear him discuss in these days moving forward, is how critical some of these basic insurance reforms are going to be in moving reform forward. And that is, again, first and foremost, no longer allowing an insurance company to simply deny coverage for a preexisting condition or denying coverage for somebody that -- I mean, you've got a natural selection problem, right? I mean, is it any -- it's no wonder -- if you're an insurance company and you cherry-pick all the healthy young people, right, and don't open up that pool to a greater risk association and a greater risk sharing, you're simply exacerbating the problem rather than helping it, and I think that's ultimately part of reform.
Q On Afghanistan, please. Is there a timeline or a deadline, shall we say, to end the surge buildup in Afghanistan? Does the White House believe that the American people support this continued buildup of American soldiers in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I hesitate to quote polls, but if one goes back and reads The Washington Post poll, it appears as if the President enjoys the confidence of the American people on the steps that he's taking to address the threats in Afghanistan, if I read those numbers correctly.
I think the President long spoke during the campaign about taking our eye off of a critical situation in Afghanistan and certainly along the border region with Pakistan that had to be dealt with.
In terms of -- I know that the planners here -- I don't know exactly when the last set of troops in the additional forces that the President and his team approved, I'm not entirely sure when they all get there. I can certainly look that up. But as we get closer and closer to the election, the President believes those additional troops to help the security situation as we got to that important event was critical -- that adding those forces is critical to securing the environment. And he continues to speak regularly with Secretary Gates and commanders on the ground and in the region to evaluate where we are in Afghanistan.
Q What constitutes a victory?
MR. GIBBS: Dismantling and destroying al Qaeda.
Q Is the President aware of the fights going on between Senator Arlen Specter and Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary? He said he was going to campaign for Arlen Specter when he switched parties. Where does that stand now and is he uncomfortable with kind of the level of campaign rhetoric that's getting thrown back and forth between two Democrats?
MR. GIBBS: I doubt he's up to speed on the back-and-forth on that in Pennsylvania. I mean, I know that the administration has taken steps to campaign for Senator Specter as the President committed to do, and that's what he'll -- those are promises he intends to keep. I don't have any reason to believe, though, he's following the day-to-day back-and-forth in that.
Q Thanks, Robert. Back to health care. How much is the White House looking to the experiences of different countries with health care reform? If you take figures from most West European countries, they have as much coverage on health care, but on average people get much better coverage in the United States. So I don't find that here in the debate. Why? Is it because the systems are so different or is it because nobody has the time? Because the debate is so heated up in this country that you don't look --
MR. GIBBS: I think the President discusses and has discussed that on a number of occasions. The notion that -- and again, this goes to that very argument about why the status quo is unacceptable, because you're assuming that if we do nothing that -- if we assume we're going to do nothing, what we're simply going to do is exactly what you said: We're going to perpetuate a system that pays twice as much for lesser outcomes, okay. We're going to continue people losing health insurance; we're going to continue people being kicked off their health insurance or not allowed to buy insurance because of a preexisting condition. All of those things are a part of it.
I don't know the degree to which they've looked at individual countries' systems. But I think the President is mindful and cognizant of the notion that what we pay and what we get for what we pay for is not comparable in many ways and certainly not acceptable to the American people.
Q Thanks, Robert. On the Department of Defense authorization bill, the White House got a win today when the Senate voted to eliminate $1.75 billion in funding for the F-22 project. The House version still has $369 million in it. Will the President veto the DOD authorization bill based on that $369 million, if it still exists when it gets to his desk?
MR. GIBBS: Let me start by saying I think if you saw the vote today in the Senate, there was -- it was not a close vote: 58 votes for eliminating a weapons system that this Pentagon and the former Pentagon, this President, the former President, and the last three Joint Chiefs of Staff believe is unnecessary and is taking money away from the resources that our men and women need. Again, the F-22 has flown exactly zero missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a weapons systems that we believe is unnecessary and unwise.
The President was clear. He made phone calls even in the Oval Office this morning to lawmakers; staff, as well as Secretary Gates, very involved in this effort. I think the strong bipartisan vote today shows clearly that the President's position is supported strongly in the Senate, and he will not accept money for a weapons system that we don't need to be in the final DOD authorization bill. If it is, he'll veto that legislation.
Q So he will --
MR. GIBBS: If that money is there, that bill will be vetoed.
Q How many lawmakers did he call?
MR. GIBBS: We can try to find out a number. I know he -- while I was in there this morning doing something else, he called -- he made three different calls. But I can try to get you the number of -- yes, ma'am.
Q Robert, two questions. Democratic lawmakers in the House said that all the President needs to expedite the passage of health care is to "lean in," put his shoulder in. Is there any thought here in the White House not just to pick up the phone or have leaders come here? In the past, Presidents, when they wanted to get things done, they went to lawmakers on the Hill to show how much they really cared and wanted to push it through. Is there any effort, any thoughts of that kind of effort from this White House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, to me it's hard to distinguish -- I think there's like a 1.8-mile difference between where they work and where -- I didn't finish and you're already smirking at me. Let me at least get the first couple sentences out before I get graded on --
Q How far is he going to go?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- look, one, I think it's pretty clear that staff members have been up to Capitol Hill regularly. They're up there often. I think the President is --
Q Not taking away from the staff members, they are not the President.
MR. GIBBS: I understand, but I don't -- let's just say this, I don't know that a member of Congress with the President is going to bring up a different set of causes or concerns based on where exactly that meeting is held. I do think that people that either come -- I think people that come here are serious about talking to the President about health reform, just as they would be if we were sitting in their office. I don't think there's -- I don't think there's necessarily a home-field advantage on any of that.
Q Also, on the NAACP, granted the President gave a speech that people say -- the NAACP said was balanced last week. Now they're trying to hold the President accountable. They're saying that the President -- they've sent letters, they want the President to reinstate or put back the $85 million of HBCU funding that sunset in May -- we talked about earlier in the year. And what say you about this? And could you talk about the letters or the efforts to possibly do that?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the letters, and I can try to find information on those efforts. But I don't have any of that with me today.
Thanks, guys.
2:44 P.M. EDT