Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 9, 2013 – 11:52 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome, everyone. Thanks for your patience. I have a couple of quick announcements. As you may have seen already, President Obama is announcing his intent to nominate three members of the National Labor Relations Board — Mark Gaston-Pearce to serve another term as member and to be designated chairman. And then, Harry I. Johnson, III and Philip Miscimarra both to be members of the NLRB.
These nominations — if all, including the two that we’ve nominated prior, are acted on by the Senate — would bring the NLRB up to full operating level, ensuring that it continues to function and fulfill its responsibilities to look after workers’ rights. This would be a bipartisan board. The two nominees, Harry Johnson and Philip Miscimarra, are Republican nominees and you would have a balanced, bipartisan board, and we urge the Senate to move on those nominations efficiently.
Separately, I’d also like to say that this afternoon the Senate will vote to confirm Judge Patty Shwartz to the Third Circuit. Judge Shwartz was reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 8, 2012, making her way to 397 days for what should be a bipartisan confirmation vote. After her expected confirmation, there will still be 14 other judicial nominees awaiting floor votes. Of these 14, 13 were approved by the Judiciary Committee unanimously, and five nominees would fill judicial emergencies. They have been waiting on the Senate floor for an average of 67 days for a vote. That’s nearly twice as long as President Bush’s judicial nominees. We urge the Senate to move on these nominees without further delay.
Q Thank you. North Korea is urging all foreigners to evacuate South Korea, saying that the two countries are on the verge of a nuclear war. Does the U.S. take this latest threat seriously in any way? Or do you think that this is just more bluster?
MR. CARNEY: North Korea’s statement advising foreigners to make plans to evacuate Seoul is more unhelpful rhetoric that serves only to escalate tensions. This kind of rhetoric will only further isolate North Korea from the international community and we continue to urge the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama’s call to choose the path of peace and to come into compliance with its international obligations. We have seen this kind of bellicose rhetoric, these kinds of provocative statements consistently — obviously, in recent days and weeks — but also as part of a pattern of behavior that we’ve seen over the years from the North Korean leadership.
The end result of this kind of behavior has only been to further isolate North Korea from the rest of the world and to do harm to the North Korean people. The North Korean leadership would be wiser to focus on developing its economy and assisting the North Korean people, who suffer under this kind of leadership that chooses development of missile programs and nuclear weapons rather than the feeding of its own people.
Q Whether related to this latest statement or just more broadly the situation there, are there any discussions happening within the administration about revising any travel warnings for Americans in South Korea?
MR. CARNEY: Well, travel warnings are issued by the State Department, so that’s your best source for information on that. In general, again, we are taking prudent measures in response to the stepped-up rhetoric and actions by the North Koreans. Those have been reported on — some of the flights that we flew, the repositioning of missile defense, assets, and the like. So those actions continue to be taken and to ensure both the defense of the homeland, as well as our allies.
Q And then on a separate topic, there’s going to be a protest outside the White House shortly with several liberal groups and a couple of lawmakers who are going to be delivering a petition. They’re upset about some of the positions the President has taken in his upcoming budget and on other issues. Is there any concern that the President may be alienating some of his liberal allies, particularly those who were such a crucial part of his reelection?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s budget represents a good-faith attempt to reach a deal with Congress that would achieve this President’s number-one objective, which is economic growth and job creation. That has to be the first priority of everyone in Washington who’s focused on our budget issues.
What his budget proves — will prove, when you see it tomorrow — is that you can invest in our economy, protect our seniors, make sure that we’re making crucial investments in areas like infrastructure, education, and innovation that help our economy grow in the future, and responsibly reduce our deficit. We need to grow the economy and create jobs. That’s the number-one objective.
We have come a long way since the depths of the Great Recession, but we have a long way to go. We’ve created 6.5 million private sector jobs — the United States of America, the American people have — since we emerged from the recession.
Since the depths of the recession, we have emerged to create 6.5 million private sector jobs. We have seen quarter after quarter of positive economic growth, but we are a long way from where we need to be. We need to move forward through a budget process that ensures that we protect the middle class; provide ladders of opportunity to those who aspire to the middle class; that we invest in education, and infrastructure, and innovation; and that we, as part of a broad budget approach, continue to reduce our deficit.
I know you know, Julie, because you’ve been here, the President signed into law $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction thus far, and he’s done it in a way that has allowed our economy to continue to grow, despite some of the disruptions we’ve faced because of recalcitrance on Capitol Hill by Republicans, most notably in the summer of 2011. But we have more work to do.
If the President’s budget were to become law, that would include not just the measures that allow for economic growth and job creation, but in concert with that, an additional $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, bringing the total to $4.3 trillion. That in turn would — for the wonks out there — create a deficit to GDP ratio under 3 percent, which is what economists say we need to stabilize our debt. All of this is part of a broad, holistic approach to our budget challenges.
Q So does that mean you’re not concerned about the worries of some allies?
MR. CARNEY: I think Democrats and allies understand that this budget the President will put forward tomorrow is not his ideal budget. It is a document that recognizes that to achieve a bipartisan solution to our budget challenges we need to make tough choices. It demonstrates, in stark contrast to the House Republican budget, that you can invest in our economy and protect our middle class and protect our seniors, and reduce the deficit.
You don’t have to go the route of Chairman Ryan, which is to eviscerate or devastate programs that help the middle class, block grant, and eviscerate or slice down Medicaid, so that families that rely on Medicaid, including families who have children who are disabled, you don’t have to voucherize Medicare and shift thousands of dollars of cost annually onto vulnerable seniors just to reduce the deficit. And you certainly don’t need to give $5.7 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthiest of Americans and then pay for it by all these cuts to programs that help the middle class.
There is a better way. There is a balanced way, and that’s the way the President will put forward tomorrow.
Q Senator Baucus is saying that he wants to produce a tax reform plan by August. Is that something that’s included in the President’s vision for a grand bargain on the deficit? Does it include comprehensive tax reform? And is he interested in making reforms to the individual tax code as well as the corporate tax code?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the outlines of the President’s budget have gotten out, but I will urge you to wait until tomorrow, and we’ll have just a day-long budget-palooza filled with details for you to examine.
But the fact is the President’s balanced approach to deficit reduction does include revenues through tax reform, closing of loopholes, and capping of deductions — very much in the manner that Speaker Boehner proposed late last year. The difference being that, at least now anyway, the President believes we need to take the savings from that, the revenue generated from tax reform, and apply it to deficit reduction rather than turning it into tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected.
So that is tax reform, and that will be part of our budget. But for the details of that I would urge you to wait until tomorrow.
Q What can you tell us about the dinner planned for tomorrow night?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as was the case the first time the President had dinner with a dozen Republican senators, this will be a private dinner where the President looks forward to discussing a range of subjects, including, of course, budget and fiscal matters, but also immigration reform and the effort to pass common-sense legislation to reduce gun violence and other issues, I’m sure.
He looks forward to this. As I think you know, Senator Isakson took on the task of compiling the invitation list, and I would refer you to his office or to the individual senators’ offices to ask about who is attending. We won’t put that out, but it’s up to them to say whether or not they’re attending, or to Senator Isakson to decide whether or not he’ll put out his list.
This will be, hopefully, in the President’s view, the same kind of constructive conversation that he had the first time with a different group of senators. And he believes that there is a common-sense caucus in Washington that embraces the idea that compromise requires moving off of your absolutist positions, accepting that you don’t get everything you want; that ideological purity is not achievable legislatively when you have a divided government as we do in Washington.
And that’s what the President’s budget embodies. And he knows — because he’s had conversations with Republican senators who have expressed this — that there is at least an element of the Republican conference in the Senate that believes that bipartisan compromise is possible on a whole range of issues, including budget issues. So he’s hoping to continue that conversation, and he hopes it will be productive.
Q Is it going to be here or outside?
MR. CARNEY: I think it has been reported that it will be at the White House, and that is correct, it’s going to be here.
Q Jay, is he going to make a direct appeal at that dinner tomorrow for some Republican senator there to allow debate on gun legislation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can’t predict. There’s no script. But I think as you heard last night when the President was in Hartford, Connecticut, he feels very passionately about the obligation of each individual senator to allow a vote on each of the components of these gun violence measures.
It would be a shame, as he said, that those who applauded the idea that every one of these measures should have a vote in honor of Gabby Giffords, or the children of Newtown, or the victims of Aurora, those senators who applauded in January at the State of the Union address hopefully will, in keeping with their applause then, not take any action to try to hide behind procedural measures to avoid a vote.
If they are opposed to background checks, they should stand up and say so, and vote no. The American people demand at least that. They elected members of the Senate to vote. That is their principal job. That’s what they get paid for. They don’t get paid to block votes. They get paid to vote and to make decisions about what they believe is right or wrong for the country.
And if they think background checks, for example — that 90 percent of the American people support — are wrong, if they’re with the 10 percent, they ought to stand by their convictions, but explain why.
Q I mean, there is a difference between saying that in a speech and sitting over a dinner table and personally —
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I don’t think the President will be shy about expressing his views on this matter. I’m just not — I’m telling you there’s not a script, so I can’t guarantee the direction of the conversation. But I can assure you that the need to make progress on legislation that is very common-sense, that is supported in each of its components by a majority of the American people, will be a topic of conversation. It will certainly be something the President wants to discuss.
Q But on this issue of this Florida couple who allegedly abducted their children from their grandparents, who had custody of the kids, and are now apparently in Cuba. CNN has now, it appears, seen and spoken to the father of the children —
MR. CARNEY: I’m afraid I’ll have to take the — I’m not aware of this story. I’ll have to take the question. I didn’t have CNN tuned on.
Q You’re aware of the story, though. You’re aware of the story of the Florida couple?
MR. CARNEY: Just a little bit. I just don’t have anything to say on it.
Q Will the U.S. be demanding that Cuba turn over the family?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to take the question, Brianna.
Q Thanks, Jay. On the gun legislation, is the President reaching out at all to Senator Manchin or Senator Toomey? Does he hold out hope that some kind of language on the actual background checks could be reached? And in his talks with the Newtown parents, would background checks have made any difference in Newtown?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll start with the first part. The President and his team here at the White House is actively engaged — or the President and his team are actively engaged in the effort to work with those members of the Senate who are trying to forge bipartisan compromise on the various components of the gun legislation that’s up there.
I don’t have specific conversations to read out, but we are obviously continuing to work with members of the Senate. We remain hopeful that bipartisan compromise can be achieved. We remain insistent that legislation be voted on and not blocked through filibuster or other procedural measures or manners. But we are engaged in this process from the top down.
What the President has said about and said again last night about the comprehensive set of proposals that he put forward in January is that, even if they all pass, we would not eliminate all violent acts using firearms. There would still be gun violence in America, there’s no question. But it is incumbent upon those lawmakers who were sent here by their constituents and incumbent upon the President and the Vice President who were elected by the entire country to do whatever they can that is sensible and common-sense that will reduce gun violence; that will save the lives of children like the children of Newtown.
It won’t eliminate the problem, but the problem needs to be addressed. We need to reduce the number of these horrific events and the number of the often unreported or little reported events that take the lives of so many Americans every day of the week.
Q I want to take up something that was discussed last week that I think you might want to clarify, because there’s been a lot of reporting on it. When the President’s budget comes out it will replace the sequester. There are Republican contentions that the net deficit reduction will only therefore be $600 billion, and there were those who concluded from your briefing last week that you said as much.
MR. CARNEY: No, the —
Q Would you walk us through the math, as the White House sees it, on net deficit reduction, how the sequester is replaced, and what the budget will say about 10-year deficit reduction numbers?
MR. CARNEY: The budget will say about 10-year deficit reduction numbers that if the President’s budget is enacted, it will reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion. Added to the $2.5 trillion that’s already been signed into law by the President, that brings us — even for those of us who didn’t go far in math — to $4.3 trillion.
The President’s budget will replace the sequester, which was designed to be bad policy for everyone with not just $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, but $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction. In other words, it will go further than the sequester.
Now, if the proposition is that the sequester is policy that we want to embrace, I encourage members of Congress to stand up and say so — that they believe in the defense cuts; that they believe in the fact that there are no entitlement savings; that they believe in the across-the-board, indiscriminate nature of the sequester, which was designed by Congress to force Congress to do its job.
I mean, it was an admission by Congress, essentially, or at least posited by those who designed it, that we would design the sequester to reduce the deficit in an arbitrary, indiscriminate way because it is our job, members of Congress, to do it in a thoughtful way, to do it in the best possible way in terms of policy. So the whole proposition has been, as you know, Major, since you covered it, since the summer of 2011, to achieve further deficit reduction not through the sequester but through better policy, and that’s what the President’s budget does.
Q And is it your contention that when we look at the numbers tomorrow, what we will see is $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction —
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q — that is composed of $600 billion in new revenue and $1.2 trillion in spending cuts? And interest that is —
MR. CARNEY: Roughly, that is the breakdown. It’s more than 2 to 1, as is the case with the President’s overall $4.3 trillion in deficit reduction. More than $2 of that deficit reduction — for every dollar in revenue, more than $2 of it comes in spending cuts.
In the President’s budget tomorrow — again, I urge you to examine the details when it is put out — there will be revenue achieved through tax reform, closing of loopholes, and capping of deductions that go to the well-off and well-connected, and that will produce revenue. I think as we’ve talked about, the offer the President made to Speaker Boehner is incorporated within the budget. That offer included roughly $580 billion in revenue gleaned from tax reform, capping of deductions, and closing of loopholes. That will be included in the budget.
The rest will come from savings elsewhere in the budget, including through entitlement reforms that we’ve proposed and we’ve talked about, and including those that were in the Boehner offer, the offer to the Speaker of the House.
It will also include entirely paid-for measures that demonstrate our need to invest in our economy so that it grows and it creates jobs. Because if there’s one thing that I think economists of all stripes would agree on, it is that we cannot reduce our deficit effectively if our economy is not growing. We need to make sure that we take a balanced approach that allows us to continue to invest so that our middle class is expanding and our economy is creating jobs.
Q There are many things we don’t know about the budget, but one of the things we don’t know is how the administration intends to protect those it only describes as most vulnerable from the superlative CPI or chained CPI alteration the President is now embracing. Is it your message to those who will soon be protesting here at the White House that they will be pleasantly surprised when they see the contours of these specifics?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I won’t speak for them. I think in some of the reporting on this, already, you’ve seen noted experts in the field who have said that should a proposal to make this technical adjustment to how we calculate cost-of-living increases — across the board in government programs, not just with social insurance programs — be made with — paired with a proposal to protect vulnerable groups of citizens, that that would be a positive thing. And that is, in fact, what the President’s budget will do.
Q And we’ll see specific details of how that would be done, tomorrow?
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q I want to ask you about your reaction, if the administration has any, to comments over the weekend from both Xi Jinping and the Chinese Foreign Minister about North Korea, and if in any way, shape, or form, Jay, they reflect conversations which I gather have been rather consistent and persistent between this administration and Chinese officials.
MR. CARNEY: We welcome the comments by the new Chinese President and by the Chinese leadership that reflect, I think, China’s concern about North Korean actions and rhetoric. We have absolutely been consulting with the Chinese about the need to use their influence on the North Koreans to help bring about a reduction in this behavior and rhetoric from the North Koreans. We’ve also been in discussions with Moscow about this, with the Russian leadership about this.
So, yes, we’ve been very open about the fact that we’re having these conversations and our call on the Chinese to use their unique influence with North Korea on this matter. It is in the interest of regional stability, in the interest of every nation in the region as well as the world that the situation there stabilize and that North Korea begin to take seriously its international obligations.
Q Can I follow on that, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q What’s your take on this warning, if you will, to countries to evacuate their embassies? What’s the purpose of that?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we have seen a series of statements from the North Korean regime that are bellicose in nature and designed to ratchet up tension in the region. This is in keeping with a pattern of behavior that is familiar to those who have worked on the North Korean issue over the past many years. Veterans from the George W. Bush administration and the Clinton administration can certainly fill you in on the history of this kind of behavior that we’re seeing from the North Koreans.
What we have said is that it is unhelpful, it is concerning, it is provocative. We are taking necessary, prudent measures to ensure that we are — as we are — able to defend the homeland our allies. We are working with our allies in Seoul and Tokyo on this matter and consulting with the Chinese and Russians to urge them to use their influence to prevail upon the North Koreans.
Q What’s your understanding of the purpose of these threats? Do you see them as intended to convince America’s allies that it should dial — that this country should dial back the pressure?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t venture into analyzing the motivations of the North Koreans.
Q Let me ask you then, if any of our allies have said, hey, tone it down a little bit?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’ve seen from our international partners and our allies in the region a great consistency in our approach to this both in the actions that we’ve taken and in our response to it from this podium and elsewhere. We are concerned about it, but we also have made clear that this is not an unusual patter of behavior when it comes to the North Koreans.
Q And on gun violence, some fairly mainstream conservative groups are now supporting the idea of filibustering even expanded background checks. Does that concern you?
MR. CARNEY: It would be appalling if common-sense legislation supported by 90 percent of the American people, by something like 80 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of gun owners were to be filibustered. Have the courage of your convictions and allow a vote, and vote no. If you want to vote no, vote no.
How you can tell the families of Newtown victims, some of whom are here today trying to urge members of the Senate to pass — or at least vote on these common-sense measures — that the memory of their children doesn’t deserve at least that — I can’t even imagine that conversation.
We fully expect and hope that individual senators will be see the rightness in allowing votes on these measures, even if they believe that they need to vote no for whatever reason. The victims of Newtown and of Aurora, of Oak Creek and Tucson, of Virginia Tech and the countless other victims of other shootings deserve that.
Q Jay, politically, has it become a case of where the President is trying to just get a vote? There has been so much focus on vote — this up-or-down vote on this legislation. Is that now the focus of just getting a vote?
MR. CARNEY: The focus is on turning these common-sense proposals into common-sense laws. The first hurdle is to ensure that they get voted on. All of these legislative initiatives have, based on the data, majority support in the country. Some of them, like universal background checks, have overwhelming support. As the President said last night, how many issues do you know where the breakdown is 90-10? Ninety percent on one side and 10 percent on the other.
Wouldn’t it be shocking — how would you explain to your constituents and for those in leadership, to the entire country, why you voted — why you took action to block a vote, a simple majority vote on a piece of legislation that more than 90 percent of the American people support; that Democrats, Republicans and independents support; that Americans from all over the country — both in cities and in rural areas — support; that gun owners support in substantial majority? I’m not sure. It’s a task I can’t even imagine trying to accomplish.
So I hope, the President hopes, as you heard last night, that that’s not the path that they will take. And then we’ll see what happens. The President strongly supports every element of this legislation. He believes that, as the majority of the American people do, that they’re all common-sense measures, that they all protect Second Amendment rights, and that they will as a package reduce the scourge of gun violence in America. But we have to get to a vote.
Q Politically, it seems like the assault weapons ban, limiting high-capacity magazines, though, doesn’t have a whole lot of political viability. So is the focus — has it changed to just getting a vote on those? Or is he going to direct his focus on getting a vote on expanding background checks?
MR. CARNEY: We are focused, as you heard the President last night, on every element of this. Every element of this package enjoys majority support. So, generally speaking, something is politically viable if a majority supports it.
Q Do you believe you have majority support in the Senate?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll see. But we won’t find out if we don’t get a vote. And that’s why the first hurdle here is to make it clear to members of the Senate that it is their obligation, if they — well, whether or not they stood up at the State of the Union and applauded when the President said that Gabby Giffords and the victims of Newtown and the victims of Tucson and Oak Creek and Virginia Tech deserved a vote — it is their obligation, because they were sent here to vote, to fulfill their responsibility and to show the courage of their convictions, and to explain why they’re voting no if they’re voting no, as the President said.
And then we’ll see where the votes — how the votes come out. But we can’t test the principle about whether or not there’s majority support if some senators decide to prevent a vote.
Q And, Jay, on North Korea, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command said that North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and missile program represents a “clear and direct threat to the United States and its allies in the region.” Does the President share that assessment? And doesn’t that suggest that there is concern that these latest provocations are more than just bluster?
MR. CARNEY: Our North Korean policy is based upon the premise, with our allies and partners internationally, on the proposition that North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons is a threat, is a problem. North Korea’s violation of its international obligations when it comes to developing missile capacity is a threat. And that is why we work so closely with our partners to isolate and pressure North Korea and to bring about a change in behavior. So there’s no inconsistency with that.
And I have said that the latest developments in North Korea are a matter of concern and that is why we have taken the steps that we’ve taken. But it is important also to remember the history here and the patterns that we have seen in behavior and rhetoric from the North Koreans. So both are true.
Q But some veterans have said that the patterns are different, that this leader is younger and more unpredictable, and that there has been a consistency to these provocations that haven’t been seen in the past.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think much of what you have seen thus far from the North Koreans has occurred in the past, whether it’s testing missiles or weapons, or shutting down or threatening to shut down Kaesong, the joint facility. These are actions that have been taken in the past. Clearly, there’s a new leader, but the regime is very much what it was.
Scott, and then Jackie.
Q Thanks, Jay. Tomorrow — could you speak a little bit about the First Lady’s appearance in Chicago on the gun issue? I don’t recall her getting this directly involved on a political issue of the day. And just some of the White House thinking behind putting her out front right now.
MR. CARNEY: I urge you to listen to what the First Lady has to say and assess it once you have. The First Lady obviously is a native of Chicago, born and raised in Chicago, and as has been discussed, there was a very high-profile shooting in Chicago — Hadiya Pendleton. And Hadiya’s parents were in attendance at the State of the Union address. And I think that is something that the First Lady has spoken to — has spoken about and will likely speak about.
But the legislative effort, the working with Congress, the political effort, if you will, is being undertaken and led by the President.
Q How unusual is this? I mean, you’ve been in Washington a long time. I don’t recall, other than perhaps Secretary Clinton in her husband’s administration, getting directly involved in a major issue like this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think before you — I think it’s important to wait and listen to what the First Lady will say. And then, also understand that, as I just said, the negotiations with Congress, the legislative effort that’s underway, the attempt to convince senators directly that they should not filibuster these bills is being led by and undertaken by the President and his team.
MR. CARNEY: I have a question on guns and also on budget. On the guns subject, could you address the critics who, especially yesterday, were saying that the President is exploiting the Newtown tragedy and that were questioning how he came to — tell us a little about how the family members came to be on Air Force One and brought back to town with him? And a little of what transpired between him and them on the plane for the roughly hour that they were in the air.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. Well, first of all, the families that you’re talking about are here in Washington expressing their views about the need to pass common-sense legislation to reduce gun violence, and I think nobody can speak better for them than they can for themselves.
When we looked at having an event in Connecticut — Connecticut being a state that recently passed bipartisan legislation to reduce gun violence at the state level — it was always our intention to meet with Newtown families. The President has met with them in the past. And some of those families were scheduled to come to Washington for this effort that they’re undertaking today, and that’s where the — when that confluence of our intention to travel and their intention to visit Washington came about, that we offered to give them a ride on Air Force One.
Q Was it the President’s idea?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not quite sure whose idea it was. The President was very supportive of it.
Q And on the subject of the budget, will the President be meeting either today or in the near future with some of these representatives of liberal, left groups, who are especially concerned about Social Security? Or how exactly are you handling the protest from the base?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we meet with allies all the time, both in Congress and representatives of outside groups, and that will continue. I don’t have a meeting with the President to announce or preview, but that’s a dialogue that of course continues regularly. And we are discussing with Democrats on Capitol Hill what’s in the budget; why it is shaped in the fashion that it is; why it represents the President’s top priority, which is economic growth and job creation; and why it embodies the simple fact that you can grow the economy, create jobs, invest in and protect the middle class, protect our seniors, and still reduce the deficit responsibly. It is not one or the other, an either/or proposition.
If you take a balanced approach to deficit reduction, you can do all the things we have to do to invest in our economy. You do not need to do what the House Republican budget does, which is just institute deep, deep cuts in investments that will help our economy grow in the future, and building our roads and bridges and airports and schools; investing in innovation and job training and other aspects of our economy that help the American people take the jobs that will be available in this 21st century economy.
Instead, they cut these programs dramatically. They block grant Medicaid, leaving families who have kids with disabilities in the lurch. They voucherize Medicare and shift costs. And the President is interested in reducing the cost of health care, because the cost of health care drives our long-term deficit and debt challenges. That is one of the aspects of the Affordable Care Act that is often underreported, that it addresses the costs and lowers the costs long term of health care. And the President is interested in that and has taken action on that, and will continue to take action on that.
He is not interested in the proposition that we should just dump costs onto our seniors who can’t afford it, which is what the House Republican budget does. And this is the irony of this thing — it’s almost like an alternate universe that House Republicans are living in, as if we hadn’t had this debate; as if the American people hadn’t made clear their views on budget proposals like the one the House passed; as if the American people hadn’t made clear their absolute preference for balance in our deficit reduction, and their absolute focus, primarily, on jobs and the economy — not on doing great harm to our social welfare programs that protect seniors, and giving huge tax cuts to the most fortunate in America.
We had this debate. It would be a little more interesting, I guess, if it weren’t a case of déjà vu. Because we already know what’s in that proposition. We know how the American people feel about it.
Q I know that he’s including the CPI/cost-of-living formula in his budget, not because he favors it but as a sort of overture toward compromise with Republicans. But now that he’s doing so, can you say why he also didn’t include, say, an increase in — raising the taxable wage base for Social Security, which is, polls show, a really popular idea that would raise revenues for Social Security as well as reduce benefits —
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are other things besides so-called chained CPI that we’ve talked about, that were in the Boehner offer, first of all. Secondly, there are a host of proposals that are out that the President doesn’t support that unnecessarily burden seniors. On others, he’s obviously open to discussion. He’s made that clear. He’s open to negotiation with Republicans about proposals that deal with cost but do not shift costs and burdens to seniors who can’t afford it.
Overall, it’s important to remember that this is a holistic document. This is a budget that demonstrates that if we do all of this together, we can — if we do all of it together, for those watching on TV, there was a little sideshow, but — (laughter) — that if we move forward; if we move all of it together; if we make the necessary investments; if we make sure that the middle class is growing and that there are ladders of opportunity for those who aspire to the middle class; if we reform our tax code in a way that asks the well-off and well-connected to give up special provisions in the tax code that benefit them disproportionately, then we can also make sensible reforms in our entitlements and, taken as a package, reduce our deficit enough so that we exceed the $4-trillion mark over 10 years that economists say will put our debt situation on a stable path, and that is key to longer-term economic growth, which is the objective.
Economic growth and job creation is the objective. Everything else is a means to achieving that objective.
Alexis, then Cheryl, and then April.
Q Jay, a question on guns and then a quick question on the budget. On guns, you’ve used the term “block” to describe what Senate opponents of the gun legislation are trying to do. But I just want to clarify, are you saying that if 15 senators begin a filibuster, there is not enough support or any technique to break the filibuster and then proceed to move to votes on something that 90 percent, you’re saying, Americans are supportive of, that the families are here to lobby for? You’re saying that if they begin a filibuster, it will be blocked?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that senators who decide that it is appropriate to use the filibuster or other procedural methods to prevent a simple vote on these measures are doing a disservice to 90 percent of the American people who support — in the case of background checks, universal background checks. They are doing a disserve to the memory of the victims of gun violence across the country who deserve at least a vote on these common-sense measures that do not infringe upon our Second Amendment rights.
The President said last night if you support the Second Amendment rights of the American people, as he does, you can also support common-sense measures that do not infringe upon those Second Amendment rights but simply make the job of law enforcement easier, and that close gaping loopholes in our background check system that allow for those who should not by law obtain weapons from obtaining them.
Q But I’m just saying — there is no other way to get a vote once they begin to filibuster?
MR. CARNEY: Look, I’m saying that this issue has and continues to be challenging enough that if senators don’t have the guts to go on the record to vote how they feel on this issue — background checks or the other issues — that would be a shame. And that would be a disservice to their constituents and to the 90 percent of the American people who want this passed.
Q Quick question, to follow up on Major’s question about sequestration: I may be confused about this, but sequestration, the $86 billion, is in this fiscal year. The President’s budget is talking about the next fiscal year, which begins in October. So when you talk about replacing the sequester, can you just clarify for me, we’re talking about two separate fiscal years. The sequester has gone into effect —
MR. CARNEY: The sequester — the $1.2 trillion of the sequester is over 10 years. This budget would replace the $1.2 trillion of the overall sequester over —
Q So we sustain the impact of the sequester for this fiscal year, but the President is talking about in the next fiscal year we would hook that money back in?
MR. CARNEY: That’s an excellent question. I believe if the President submitted the budget Wednesday and the Congress were to pass it right away, we’d probably deal with the sequester right away. But that’s an interesting technical question about the imposition of the sequester for this fiscal year when we’re talking about a budget for the next.
Our interest, obviously, is and has been consistently in eliminating the sequester today as well as for the next 10 years.
Q perhaps without negotiating something that would be retroactively —
MR. CARNEY: I think — it’s a technical question that I think is smart, but I’ll have to get the answer for.
Yes. Yes, sir. Oh, I’m sorry. Cheryl, April, then you. Sorry, short-term memory.
Q Thanks, just real quick about Keystone. A Canadian official, Alison Redford, is in Washington this week to lobby on Keystone. Is she meeting with anyone here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. I just don’t know. I think the State Department is probably the fruitful place to have discussions about the process that the State Department is running on that decision.
Q Jay, two questions on the budget. One, you talk a lot about middle-income Americans. What about low-income Americans when it comes to this budget? We’re already seeing cuts to programs, furloughs, and things of that nature. What happens with low-income America with this budget?
MR. CARNEY: There will be investments in our budget that demonstrate the President’s commitment to expanding the middle class by providing what he calls ladders of opportunity to those who are not in the middle class but aspire to be there. And, again, I will ask you to look at the details tomorrow.
But, I mean, this has been a theme that’s been consistent throughout this President’s time in office, which is the necessity of investing in our people, investing in our economy so that it grows and creates jobs, and that the benefits of growth are not enjoyed by only the wealthiest, but that our middle class expands and those who aspire to it, who are struggling, can enter the middle class and go beyond that. So that will be an element of our budget.
I mean, I think that’s a great question because it goes to the point, which is the President’s priority is — the North Star is how do we help the middle class, how do we expand the middle class. We have to do that through necessary investments. We have to do that through economic growth and job creation. That’s the purpose, he sees, of budgeting; and that, as part of that process, for the strongest economy possible, we can reduce our deficit — as we have already — in a way that does not prevent further economic growth or restrict it and that allows for greater job creation.
We can meet that $4-trillion target over 10 years without doing harm to our economy or our middle-class families or our seniors. That’s the whole enchilada as far as the President is concerned. That’s the purpose of his budget.
And then, in this White House, is there a fear that since the GOP is for less government, less spending, that sequestration has fallen into their lap is what they really want?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s an interesting theory. I think there are a variety of ways to answer that. I have said in the past that it is ironic, of course, that those who decried the sequester last year have embraced it as a political or tea party victory. But it is also true that the sequester itself does not achieve any of the stated goals of conservatives who want to see long-term reductions in entitlement spending, who don’t generally support across-the-board, damaging cuts to our defense spending.
On the broader proposition, like the idea of shrinking the government, it is interesting to note that — I was just looking at a table that compared this — that in the recoveries from the most two recent recessions — the Great Recession that was in full bloom when this President took office and then the milder recession in 2001, when President Bush was in office — a huge portion of the job creation in what was otherwise an anemic recovery under President Bush was in government jobs.
As you know, under this President, we’ve had 6.5 million private sector jobs created during the recovery, but we have lost substantial state and local government jobs. That was of course not the case under President Bush, nor was it the case under President Reagan or President Clinton, for that matter.
So this has been a unique recovery that has been made more difficult in the jobs area by the layoffs of teachers and police officers as well as other state and local government workers, a problem that the President has attempted to address in the past through the American Jobs Act and through his budget proposals, but Republicans have rejected — ironically, because of course they celebrated it back when it happened in the past.
Q I’m going to go back to the original question.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, ma’am.
Q Is there a fear around this White House that you gave — that this administration, the sequestration gave the Republicans exactly what they wanted?
MR. CARNEY: Again, if the Republicans are saying that exactly what they wanted is the severe, across-the-board reductions in our defense spending, the throwing-off of people on Head Start and the indiscriminate cuts that have resulted in furloughs and layoffs in other parts of the government, I think it would be interesting to hear them say so.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: I did promise you a question.
Q Yes, real quick on the furloughs. About 70,000 employees, or at least 70,000 federal employees got letters last month indicating they were — their agencies intended to furlough them. The letter started this 30-day clock. Have any actually been furloughed?
MR. CARNEY: Are you talking about administration-wide? I would have to direct you to the agencies. You may be able to contact the OMB and they can help direct you to the agencies. It’s an agency by agency — because they each have their own budgets and they have to both make the notices; the notices go out and then the action is taken.
Q On Thatcher?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q Who’s going to represent the U.S. at the funeral?
MR. CARNEY: I have no updates on that at this time.
Q President Obama, has he been critical of her stand on unions? She was pretty tough of on the unions.
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that, Connie?
Q President Obama, has he been critical — had he been critical of her stand on the unions? She was very tough on the unions in the U.K.
MR. CARNEY: Well, obviously we’re talking about a different country and a different leader and a different time. I have noted with some irony the fact that — well, I won’t even go there. (Laughter.) The President put out a statement about mourning the loss of a great British leader who was much admired by many Americans.
12:44 P.M. EDT