Press Briefing May 7, 2009

May 7, 2009 | 40:14

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Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 5-7-09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                 May 7, 2009


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:11 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS:  Good afternoon.  How is everyone today?  Quiet, I see.  All right.  We'll -- what did you say?  Thoughtful, is that what somebody said?  Wow, that's --

Q    Better than Manny Ramirez?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, no kidding, huh?  Sorry about your Dodgers, Chuck.

Q    Brutal.

MR. GIBBS:  It's -- wow, official day of mourning here for Chuck's Dodgers -- wearing his Carolina blue tie.

Q    And you, too.  Let the record show.

MR. GIBBS:  You know, and I'm going to get many e-mails from alum today wondering why I don't wear the red of the wolf pack.  (Laughter.)

Take us away.

Q    Monday is going to be a big day, Robert.

MR. GIBBS:  I will probably be out Monday.

Q    On the proposed budget cuts, if you look at $17 billion not as a stand-alone number but in the more meaningful context of the overall budget and even the extra spending, and add to that the extreme likelihood that some of these proposals will not will not happen, Congress isn't going to let them happen -- the C-17 cargo plane is just one example.  Is the administration leveling with the public about the potential for a meaningful difference --

MR. GIBBS:  Sure.  Let's talk about a few numbers, Chuck.  Let's compare some numbers that you talk about in the overall budget.

This is -- our budget will bring non-defense discretionary spending to the lowest level as a share of our GDP since we began keeping records in 1962.  We'll cut the budget deficit in half in four years and put ourselves -- put this country back on a path toward fiscal sustainability.

I've said this before and I'll say it again:  $17 billion is a lot of money to people in America.  I understand that -- I understand it might not be to some people in this town, but that's probably why we're sitting on a $12 trillion American Express bill. 

The President has a continuing commitment to go through the budget, to pull out programs that don't work, to cut them or to end them, and to ensure that taxpayer money is spent wisely as we put ourselves on a path toward fiscal sustainability.  That's the beginning of this project.  There are some people, Chuck, who said we couldn't get -- it would be tough to do contracting and procurement reform, get that through Congress, though it looks like the Senate is probably going to finish that tonight and the House will pass that out of committee some time this week.  So the President's effort to cut wasteful spending and put us on a path toward fiscal sustainability is not something he's going to do just one day, he's going to do it each and every day he's here.

Q    Do you think perhaps he'll have better luck than a lot of people are predicting on some of these things -- the C-17 cargo plane --

MR. GIBBS:  I think we've had a lot of luck -- a lot better luck than many have predicted thus far, yes.

Yes, sir.

Q    With the stress test results coming out later today, the focus is going to be shifting to cleaning up the bank balance sheets.  How quickly can the administration get the public-private investment program for toxic assets up and running?  Is the June target realistic, and how big a dent can this make in resolving the capital deficiencies that are going to show up when these results are out?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let's take this in two ways.  Obviously you talked about -- because I think you're talking about several different steps on the road toward financial stability.  You mentioned toxic assets -- the President and the team are working, as you said, to set up a program -- I think the time frame is realistic -- to set up a program and a plan through that partnership to remove toxic assets from the balance sheets of financial institutions.  And that will go a long way toward stabilizing our financial system.

The stress test results that will be released by regulators and the Treasury today, I also think, and the administration believes, is an important step on the road to financial stability.

When these were first conceptualized several months ago, a lot of people got nervous, the market got nervous, people in here got nervous about what in the world these might show.  I think what we're likely to see is some confidence in our financial system and some genuine clarity about the path moving forward.  And I think that's good for the American people and the financial system.

I think it's tremendously important that we continue to make that progress, that we continue to deal with home foreclosure, that we continue to deal with small business lending -- each of the aspects of financial stability that have to be dealt with.

Q    Well, Congress is currently hostile to providing more money for bank bailouts.  And is the administration going to be having to go back at some point, though, and ask for more money once you've seen these results?

MR. GIBBS:  I said this a couple days ago, that we don't believe that's necessary.  Obviously there are -- for banks that are in need of additional capital resources, for the cushion that these tests are required, there are many ways that they can do that.  First and foremost -- and I think you've seen many banks that in the news over the past couple of days that have been associated with shortfalls say that they're very eager to go out on the private market and seek that capital.

Many banks have taken steps, over the course of the last few months, to shore up their balance sheets by selling businesses and raising some of that capital that they need themselves.  And certainly, we'll evaluate any requests that may or may not come as part of a capital assistance program.

Yes, sir.

Q    Chairman Spratt today seemed to indicate, as Chuck alluded to, that not all of these budget cuts that the President is proposing today are going to happen.  Is the President pledging that all 121 of these proposed cuts will be made?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, the President is pledging to use his time and energy and political resources to do all that he can to ensure that they do.  I don't have a crystal ball, Jake, and predict whether each of the 121 will happen.  My guess is that we'll propose more, and more will be taken.

Q    And the other question I have is, during the campaign, when he was a senator, Senator -- President Obama, then Senator Obama, seemed to belittle Senator McCain's proposal to cut earmarks.  And then-Senator Obama said it's only $18 billion, 0.5 percent of the budget; it's important but what's -- you know, but not as important as the $300 billion that Senator McCain is proposing in tax cuts.  How do you square that with President Obama's --

MR. GIBBS:  Let me -- I think if you go back and look at the language that the President, and then-Senator, used, I think if you ask somebody how you're going to balance the budget and they said end earmarks, I think that would likely to have been met with some level of skepticism that's been exhibited in this room.  I think if you think you're going to close in total the budget deficit or cut our debt by making only $18 billion in cuts, that's one way of doing it.  And you're not likely to close that total deficit.

What the President has said is that we will take steps along the way.  The President was very active in identifying those that sought earmarks, publishing transparently on the web site any earmarks that he sought earlier in his career.  And, again, the President has said before today and today that this is a continual effort to look through our budget and find out what doesn't work and what does work; to fund what does and to terminate what doesn't.  Several of the programs -- and many of you were probably on the call with Peter -- that some of these programs were comprised of funds that were heavily earmarked but when the team here looked at and evaluated the effectiveness of these programs, they found that they, quite frankly, weren't that effective.  That's why they're in the book to be terminated.

Q    If I could just follow up on the point you just made -- and I apologize to my colleagues -- is that one of the cuts that you guys are making is the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center.  You guys signed, President Obama signed a bill two months ago to give that same exact science center $19 million.  Doesn't it indicate that he shouldn't have signed that bill?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, no, no.  There's a difference between investing in research that's being done there and investing in the refurbishing of some piece of architecture there.  They're two different missions -- investing in a science lab that will help on energy independence and create scientific breakthroughs, that's certainly fine.  Whether or not we need to build or refurbish buildings in order to do that research I think is something that the President has come down on.

Q    But to follow on that, if the President was saying in the campaign that $18 billion was a small amount of money, isn't $17 million paltry?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, no, no, no.  Ed, go back and what -- again --

Q    He said, "Senator McCain has been talking tough about earmarks and that's good, but earmarks account for about $18 billion of our budget."

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  And what he's talking about is, around this notion of are you going to close the deficit by killing earmarks, the President rendered his opinion no.  I'd render the opinion no -- just like I'm not standing up here saying that by terminating the 121 programs that we have are going to solve our budget deficit.   But, Ed, if you don't try to cut spending, if you don't try to evaluate programs that don't work and end them, you end up with a $12 trillion debt.  You end up spending almost as much money on anything else as you do in servicing that debt each and every year. 

The President understands that we cannot continue to spend money like this.  You've seen the President just this week say we ought to close offshore tax haven loopholes that account for about $210 billion.  The President, both in this budget and in the earlier budget, cut several hundred billion dollars from insurance middlemen in Medicare.  But if what anybody is suggesting is we ought to wait to make one single cut to solve each and every problem that we have dealing with fiscal restraint, or cut none at all, the President rejects that notion.

But we're going to, each and every day, look at programs that do and don't work and decide how to use money effectively, the taxpayers' money, for programs that do and cut those that don't.

Q    Okay, on that point, in his speech to Congress on February 24th, the President said, "We have already identified $2 trillion in savings over the next decade."  So how do you -- it's a pretty wide gulf between $17 billion and $2 trillion.  So where are the big-ticket items beyond the $17 billion?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I just mentioned two of them.  I just mentioned $210 billion that we laid out on Monday on tax havens. Can somebody get Ed the fact sheet from Monday?

Q    Those are all proposals.  It's not -- none of this -- he's already identified savings as if he's going to get --

MR. GIBBS:  Right.

Q    But Congress -- there's already been some resistance by Republicans.  It's not clear they're going to actually cut all that money.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, it's not -- we're going to propose what cuts -- the programs that don't work; we're not going to decide beforehand simply based on what we think Congress may or may not do.  I've seen comments today from Republicans that would like to see more cuts.  That's great.  We'd like their support on these $17 billion and then we'd like to take the next step and cut more.  That's how you cut the deficit; that's how you bring the debt down; that's how you get yourself on a path toward fiscal sustainability.

That's why the budget we proposed cuts the deficit in half in four years.  That's why non-defense discretionary spending is at its lowest level as a percentage of our economy since we began keeping records in 1962.  Those are just the facts.


Q    When you and the President both are questioned on spending and deficits, you often say the previous administration and the deficits that you inherited.  But even that previous administration last year proposed bigger budget cuts than this from discretionary spending.  Wouldn't you at least want to exceed what they -- what their goals were?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, no, no, no.  I would reject that notion simply -- again, based on what we proposed this week.  I don't think the previous administration sought to close tax loopholes for offshore tax havens at $210 billion.  I don't think the previous administration entered into contract and procurement reform that we believe will save tens of billions of dollars -- legislation that's going through the Senate right now.

Q    That's a pretty good answer.

MR. GIBBS:  Not bad.  Next.  (Laughter.) 

Q    But how is -- staying on this a minute -- (laughter) --the President said the following:  "During these difficult economic times, Americans are tightening their belts and making tough decisions about where they need to spend."  One half of one percent -- how is this truly a tough decision and a tightening of the belt?  Why not say, you know what, we're going to do 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent?  No, but you want to have a money argument, but the percentage doesn't matter.  People are cutting back their spending by 10 percent, companies are cutting --


Q    -- by 5 percent.  Trust me, no --

MR. GIBBS:  The stock of GE?

Q    A lot of -- a lot of companies are cutting back by real numbers.  One half of one percent doesn't strike us as a real number.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'd -- do this.  Let's do this.  Let's you and I walk out on the street today.  Let's interview maybe a dozen people and ask them whether they think $17 billion is a lot of money.  I'm free right after this.  Let's go --

Q    You're a political guy.  You can ask the question.

Q    And then ask them do they think one half of one percent -- one half of one percent is a lot of money.

MR. GIBBS:  We can do that.  And then let's ask them if $210 billion, which the President proposed on Monday, is a lot of money, or a hundred and some billion dollars in changes to insurance company middlemen as part of Medicare is a lot of money, or contracting and procurement reform in our weapons system is a lot of money.  Let's ask them if cutting the budget deficit in half over two years -- over four years is a lot of money.

Q    Do you still stand by that projection, by the way?  Because all of the others --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, don't stand by that -- it's not my projection, Chuck.

Q    No, it's your -- but budget projections have changed, GDP has changed, unemployment -- tax revenues that are coming in.  Do you really still think you can actually cut the deficit in half?

MR. GIBBS:  Don't believe me saying it.  Don't believe me.  Simply go up to Congress, go to the Congressional Budget Office, and ask them for the scoring on the budget that passed the House and the Senate.  I'm happy for you to go -- don't believe me; go ask the people that keep the score on this, Chuck.  I'm simply saying --

Q    No, wait a minute.  You guys have not changed your -- but the projections get changed in July, do they not, on the budget?

MR. GIBBS:  There will be a mid-session economic review based on where the economy is.  But, look, Chuck, if you're willing to predict where the economy is in July, any of us would be happy to take notes.

Q    Really quick, does the President support this economic commission that's passed Congress, both Houses?  It's got to come to the President's signature.  Is he going to support that, even though it's not a bipartisan split; it's a 60-40 --

MR. GIBBS:  Six to four.  I haven't asked them specifically to evaluate the legislation, but I'm sure if it landed on his desk the President would sign it.


Q    This conversation is a little silly because in fact he's not cutting $17 billion --

MR. GIBBS:  I want to defend both Chucks -- (laughter) and say I don't think it's silly.

Q    But he's not cutting $17 billion.  He's cutting programs worth $17 billion, but there are more than $17 billion worth of expansion, expanded programs, and new programs.  There isn't a $17 billion cut from projected budget cuts.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, there's 17 -- I'll go back and look at the transcript.  You just said there are not $17 billion in cuts; there's $17 billion in cuts to programs.

Q    Right.

Q    It's not net.

Q    It's not net, right.

Q    Not net.

MR. GIBBS:  No, I get where he's going.  Again, the budget is cut -- not based on what I say; what the Congressional Budget Office says -- the budget deficit is cut in half in four years.  That's a net, that's an actual cut in spending by the government.

Q    In our conference call with Peter Orszag today, he framed this as a broken -- an end to broken-window budgeting.  He didn't say that this was an effort to cut the budget deficit.  What he said was, this is an effort to end programs that didn't work and shift it to programs that did work, and that this isn't a question of trying to lower the budget deficit; it's trying to send a signal to the rest of the government that we're not going to tolerate ineffective programs.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, as I said earlier, the evaluation of many of these programs -- one of the programs I think the overhead costs for it were encompassed 80 of the 100 percent of the spending.  So the fellowship spent 20 percent on the fellowship and 80 percent on the overhead.

Q    Which leads me to my question.

MR. GIBBS:  That's quite a leap.  Wow.  (Laughter.)  Wow, that's a -- speaking of net cuts.  Yes.

Q    The administration is saying that this is not -- these are not ideologically motivated; they're motivated by what is good governance.  But some of these -- some of these programs, for instance, the replacement nuclear warhead or shutting Yucca Mountain -- you can't really say that Yucca Mountain is an ineffectual program.  It's a controversial program.  Or the replacement -- 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think the President has come down on whether or not it makes sense based on the science.

Q    So, I mean, but is the President making some political decisions here -- to stop a new nuclear warhead development, or to stop Yucca Mountain?  And what are you going to do with the nuclear waste?   

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think there's money in there to study particular options for how to deal with nuclear waste and do it in a way that's based on sound science.  I'll leave it up to others to decide whether individual cuts are in any way viewed through a political lens.  But understand that the programs that Mr. Orszag pointed out today in many ways don't work.

They have supporters on the left and supporters on the right -- different programs.  Our evaluation was that they weren't doing what they needed to do; they weren't doing what they were designed to do; they were obsolete; they were duplicative.  And therefore, we think they should go.

But again, if you guys want to have the debate about the overall spending of the government, then let's do that.  And again, I would simply point out that the Congressional Budget Office has said that the deficit will be halved in four years.  If that's --

Q    You keep saying that, but after those --

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, no, no, Chip --

Q    -- it's back-loaded after those three or four years.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't say that.  I don't -- well --

Q    You're right.

MR. GIBBS:  I don't say that, the CBO says that.

Q    After those four years it's back-loaded.  It goes up and up and up. 

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let's worry about years -- the last -- it's hard to worry about how we're going to do at the end of the decade.  I think many of the choices that we make in the beginning part of a 10-year period will ultimately decide how we are.  If people believe that $17 billion isn't a lot of money, my guess is that $17 billion over a 10-year period of time -- $170 billion is probably a lot of money. 

Q    Compared to the deficit and the national debt, it's nothing.  It's only one AIG bailout.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, but did you think that's a lot of money?  Did you think that --

Q    Last we heard, that was a lot of money.

MR. GIBBS:  So let me just make sure I understand the argument that you're making.  That amount of money constitutes a large sum.  Okay. 

Q    To one entity.

MR. GIBBS:  I just -- let me -- I hope that -- yes, can you just -- (laughter) – "to one entity."

All right.  Who's next?  Mark.

Q    It's only one half of one percent.  (Laughter.) 

MR. GIBBS:  I should at least get a chair if we're going to do this.

Q    I mean, $17 billion is a lot of money to an individual, to the person on the street, even to a company.  But to a government that is projecting a $3.5 trillion spending plan for next year, starting October 1, it's not.  And that's what we're -- that's the blowback -- what the blowback is all about.

MR. GIBBS:  I understand.  Trust me, it didn't take me until the second row to discern what the nature or the thesis of your questions might have been.  (Laughter.)

Q    But it's what President Obama said himself last fall.  It's what he said himself.  He said 0.5 percent is not going to solve the problem.  You're having -- President Obama had a whole event today about less than 0.5 percent as if it is going to solve the problem.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, and we had a debate -- we had an event on Monday about -- I don't know what $210 billion is; somebody can figure out that on their calculator.  We'll put out a statement later today about the Senate passing contract and procurement reform, which I think -- I forget the estimate -- I think we believe will save $40 billion.

Now, I don't know if all this stuff adds up.  My sense is it does.  But, look, again -- Mark, if what we're doing is waiting for somebody to accumulate a booklet of $3.5 trillion, or $1.2 trillion in cuts before they ever make an effort to do something about the runaway spending in this town, the programs that haven't worked for decades, my guess is that's how you're going to end up with some spokesperson standing here years from now discussing the $15 trillion or $20 trillion debt that we've accumulated in this town.

But this President is going to --

Q    They'll be speaking Chinese.

MR. GIBBS:  This President is going to take steps on Monday, on Thursday, on Friday, other days to identify programs that don't work and to make progress on that.

Q    Entitlements?

MR. GIBBS:  How much money did we cut out of Medicare?  That's an entitlement.  We have said on numerous occasions that the way to get control of Medicare and Medicaid is to address this through health care reform. 

What grows each and every year out of Medicare and Medicaid is the amount of spending that happens each year on individual cases because health care inflation greatly exceeds the normal inflation rate each and every year.  If we don't do something to cut costs, it's going to continue to skyrocket -- the deficit, the debt, each of those things.

The President will seek to make changes in that in order to cut costs.  The President is going to look for programs that don't work.  The President is going to work on contracting reform from wasteful spending.  The President is going to try to close tax loopholes that he believes is wasteful spending, and make progress on this.  And, as always, you can judge us by the end of today, or you can judge us by the end of the year, or the end of four years.  The President takes the long view on this.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, on the Air Force One Manhattan fly-by, I just wanted to clarify, are you guys going to be releasing the picture from that?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes.

Q    And when will that be?

MR. GIBBS:  Sometime this week.

Q    Sometime this week, okay.

Q    It's Thursday.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  You can't get anything by you guys, can you?  (Laughter.)

Q    At 6:31 p.m. on Friday?

Q    Not necessarily today?

MR. GIBBS:  Not necessarily today. 

Q    Okay.

Q    Can you rule out today?

MR. GIBBS:  I can -- hence not necessarily today.

Q    So then it's tomorrow. 

MR. GIBBS:  Man, I'm telling you what, these guys -- (laughter) -- go slow writing this transcript.  (Laughter.)  There's a lot of knowledge.

Yes, sir.

Q    How much do the 121 programs and the tax loophole changes and the Medicare reforms and the procurement reforms deliver on the President's promise to go line by line through the budget?  Are you through?  Is this the easy stuff?

MR. GIBBS:  No, no, I think the President was clear on this today.  The President said this was the beginning of that process.  Peter Orszag said that.  I said this.  I think Peter addressed the fact that transition years in budget preparation are never easy years.  We'll have -- we'll take a longer view of this.  The President will continue to look for programs that don't work, loopholes that need to be closed, and reform that needs to happen to ensure that we're making progress on putting ourselves back on that path toward fiscal responsibility.

Q    So do we characterize these first proposed cuts as the easy stuff, the obvious stuff?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't know if cutting a hundred and some billion dollars out of the grip of insurance companies on Medicare constitutes an easy cut or not.  I'll let you guys decide that.  I think -- but what goes to your question, Wendell, is that for a long time nobody has even made or taken the easy steps, and it's hard to get serious progress if you're -- on the hard stuff if you're not willing to first take on some of the stuff that's not as hard.  And that's what the President is going to do.

Q    President Bush did make these steps last year.  In fact, he did more.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, he identified a bunch of programs, right.

Q    So you're saying you're going to deliver.

MR. GIBBS:  I think, as always, we prefer the results speak for themselves.

Yes, sir.

Q    Sort of a budget question, but the House took the money for closing Guantanamo Bay out; I believe the Senate left it in -- I'm sure you guys will find the money somewhere.  But my question is, does the President believe that bringing detainees from Guantanamo Bay to be detained in the United States poses a security risk to the districts where they're going to be --

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I'm not going to add a lot to what I added to this in the last few days, except to say the President outlined in the executive order the fact that we would close Guantanamo Bay in a year, and meetings are continuing to happen in evaluating our detainee policy.  And those meetings are ongoing and when we have announcements about that we will make them, but I don't have any of those announcements today.

Q    Just a quick follow.  I believe there was something in the works called the Keeping Terrorists Out of America Act.  Do you have any comments on that?

MR. GIBBS:  I saw a brief on it, but I have not looked at the legislation and I don't know if others here have yet either.

Yes, sir.

Q    Robert, one of the cuts that you propose is this $26 billion in oil and gas tax breaks.  That's also one of those that have been tried before, I guess.  Isn't that going to result in lower domestic oil and gas production, and thus higher prices?

MR. GIBBS:  I think, Mark, I would direct you to the quarterly earning statements of many of the companies that receive tax breaks to explore domestically for oil and gas.  I think the President has looked at those and the subsidies and determined that somehow those companies will be able to search for, drill, capture, produce, and bring to market that oil and gas without the subsidies of the American taxpayers.

Q    Can I also ask just briefly, you mentioned Monday, Thursday, and Friday -- not wanting to get a jump on the week ahead -- specific follow-up budget steps that the President is going to be proposing next week?

MR. GIBBS:  Yes, but I don't have any -- I don't have the specifics.  We'll do that first thing tomorrow at the briefing.


Q    If Manny Ramirez is out for 50 games, is the President disappointed in the state of professional athletics, still unable to be able to get over this kind of violation?

MR. GIBBS:  I haven't talked with him specifically about this news.  But I know we addressed this at an earlier news conference.  Look, I think it's a disappointment -- I think it's a disappointment to anybody that's a sports fan.  I think it's a disappointment to anybody that believes -- and you don't have to do this at a professional level to be disappointed that an athletic competition, whether you're successful or not, you believe is a group of people or individuals doing all that they can and giving all that they can and seeing how they fare against the competition; and that it violates your believe in that if any of those individuals are using something that helps them get ahead that others aren't using. 

I think it's a tragedy.  It's a shame.  My sense is it's a great embarrassment on Major League Baseball.  You hope that each time this happens that others will recognize if they are doing it and stop.  But regrettably, it happens over and over again.


Q    The President mentioned again today that he wants Social Security reform on a bipartisan basis.  He kind of includes this in most of these speeches.  Where does that stand?  Like, what's the process for that?  What's he doing so far?  I mean, he talks about it a lot, but what are -- could you give us some details?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't have any announcements to make on it.  It's something that the President is mindful of.  The President talked about, in the campaign, ways that have to be -- ways that he believes -- and I think he did just recently in the press conference --

Q    Oh, yes, the town meeting --

MR. GIBBS:  -- ways that we can and must shore up the Social Security and entitlement system moving forward.  I think it's obvious that to make a substantial dent in our operating costs here in the budget, we're going to have to tackle some of the big problems.  That's why the President has done what he's done on Medicare, and that's why he's tackled health care reform early on in this administration.  And he looks forward to working with others to ensure the same thing with other programs.

Q    When can we expect some kind of an initiative on that?

MR. GIBBS:  When we have an announcement, you'll know.


Q    Were you in the education meeting today?

MR. GIBBS:  No, I was not.

Q    Too bad.  (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS:  I have to admit I'm a little sorry I missed it, as well.

Q    Do you know if vouchers came up -- in D.C.?

MR. GIBBS:  I will check specifically with somebody -- I'm sorry, vouchers in D.C. or just vouchers in general?

Q    I believe D.C. is where the President has allowed that to be phased out going forward.

MR. GIBBS:  Right.  Allowed it to be?

Q    Phased out.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, Congress passed legislation ending the program.  I think you've seen reports that the budget includes a continuation of that program for people that are already in that program.  And I will check specifically as to see whether vouchers came up.

Q    Without having a fresh understanding of all the ins and outs of the policy and the technical details -- the President could have stopped that from happening, I believe.  Does the White House maintain that that was not a decision motivated by some kind of fealty to the unions?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't -- I didn't follow closely the congressional debate on this.  And I think you've probably heard the President talk about his passion for education reform.  I think the group that left the Oval Office and went to the microphones before I came out here spoke about the President's passion in the meeting for education reform, and I think the President believes and will take steps to do what's right to improve our education system not based on any political ideology or any particular interest group. 

That's why during the campaign we talked about different ways to pay teachers.  I think that's why a record amount of money for education reform was included in the Recovery Act, and I think the President is anxious to see -- and the Secretary of Education -- moving forward quickly in getting that money out into the system to see that reform.

Q    Can I ask a follow-up --

Q    I know Sharpton and Gingrich both disagree with the President on the vouchers issue.

MR. GIBBS:  Well, I don't doubt that -- and like I said, I'll check specifically on that -- I don't doubt that there were issues that they disagreed on.  I think -- but most importantly I think there is unanimous agreement -- and I think you saw quite a different political spectrum out there today, to say the least -- that understands the responsibility that we have at the federal, the state, and the local level to ensure that our children are ready to take the jobs of the 21st century.  I will mention that $17 billion is half of what the federal government spends on K-12 education.

Q    Robert, a follow-up?

Q    Among those at the meeting today, as you know, was Mayor Bloomberg.  A lot of people in New York are sort of viewing this as sort of -- at least a tacit endorsement of his handling of education.  What can we read into that, his invitation here, given the fact that Bloomberg is running for reelection?

And secondly, does President Obama share his Education Secretary's view about the value of mayoral control of school districts in big, unwieldy cities like New York?

MR. GIBBS:  I didn't hear what Arne said specifically about mayoral control in New York.  I'll go back and look at that.  Look, I don't think anybody should infer that simply coming to the White House is any sort of political endorsement.  The President doesn't intend to make any political endorsements in the New York mayor's race. 

This is a group, as I said, of diverse political opinions coming together around an issue that the President believes, and I think the existence of these three individuals correctly denote, that reforming our education system, ensuring that our children have what they need to be successful, isn't a partisan political issue and that it shouldn't be; and the steps that need to be taken to ensure that we have the very best teachers, the very best equipment, that we have all of the resources and the parental responsibility necessary to be successful -- making sure all of that is there.  That's not a partisan political issue.

Q    Setting aside Secretary Duncan's -- what he -- the words he used, does President Obama believe there is a value in mayoral control of school districts in big cities like New York?

MR. GIBBS:  I will check with him.  I haven't spoken directly with him on that.

Yes, ma'am.

Q    Did they talk about anything else, like foreign policy, or did Mr. Gingrich bring up any critique of the President's policy on --

MR. GIBBS:  I will check.  I don't know if there was a specific whole section on critiques, but we'll certainly check.

Thanks, guys.

Q    Robert, realistically, do you think something can change in four years to bridge the gap, the racial gap, that Al Sharpton and even Mayor Bloomberg was talking about at the stakeout today after the meeting?

MR. GIBBS:  Look, I think the President believes that we have to do all that we can to ensure that every child in this country has the opportunity to succeed.  Whether that is -- whether that's getting -- you heard the President talk about this in the campaign -- how do we get mothers help that they need even before they have children?  How do we get help to children and families before they start kindergarten?  How do we reform our education system to ensure that the biggest determinant in the outcome of children is having a teacher that is prepared to teach the children what they need to know?

We have millions of good teachers in this country and the President believes that we have to take steps to ensure that they're paid well and, as he said, if they're not doing what they need to do to effectively teach our children, then we need to find them something else to do.

The President, in the Recovery Act, talked about the resources that are dedicated to ensuring that families have the opportunity to send their children to an education beyond high school.  And I think you can bet that this administration continues to work on solutions to improve the delivery of the educational system beyond high school but not in a four-year college environment, and to ensure that individuals have the training necessary if they're not going to go on to a four-year education to be able to undertake the jobs of the 21st century.

Q    So is four years ample time -- is four years ample time for a turnaround?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think everything will be accomplished in four years.  But like cutting the budget, the President is going to start this process now; that we can't afford to wait because it's too important to ignore.

Q    Robert, did you just say that the President is going to stay out of the New York mayor's race, so he's not going to endorse the Democrat?

MR. GIBBS:  I don't think he has any plans to -- I was suggesting on Charlie's behalf that we weren't making an endorsement of Mr. Bloomberg.

2:50 P.M. EDT


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