Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 1, 2011 – 1:52 P.M. EST
NOTE: See below for an answer to a question (marked with an asterisk) posed in the briefing that required follow up.
MR. CARNEY: Hi, everyone. Thanks for being here. Thanks for coming to the White House for your daily briefing on this chilly but glorious day outside.
You should have, if you check your inboxes, a statement from me on European Union actions targeting Iran and Syria. We welcome today’s announcement by the European Union of new economic sanctions and other measures against both Iran and Syria. The United States recently increased our own sanctions, as you know, on Iran, and today announced additional sanctions against Syrian officials and entities.
I will not read the entire statement, but I encourage you to do so at your leisure.
With that, I will go to questions. Ben Feller of The Associated Press.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple points on the debate in Congress. The House Republicans are moving to include unemployment insurance, the extension, as part of their payroll tax bill, and of course that’s something the President has been pushing for. What’s your reaction to the fact that they seem amenable to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President certainly supports the extension of unemployment insurance benefits. As you know, those additional benefits would not only help families very much in need of help, but that kind of assistance is judged by independent economists to be the most effective means of giving a boost to the economy, because folks who are unemployed are much more likely to spend the assistance that they get and inject it right back into the economy. So, broadly speaking, the President, as you know, does support that.
In terms of the overall Senate Republican proposal, I think it’s important to note that they fall short, substantially, of what the President has put forward and what Senate Democrats have put forward on the payroll tax cut. The President has called for not just an extension of the existing 2 percent tax cut, but an expansion to 3.1 percent, which would give an average American family, working family next year, a $1,550 tax cut. That’s the kind of money that can help Americans across the country make ends meet, put groceries on the table and in the refrigerator, make a car payment, a mortgage payment, help with school supplies and tuition payments.
The Republicans don’t do that. They call for simply an extension of the existing 2 percent tax cut.
In addition, the President has called for extending the payroll tax cut to small business. Six million small businesses, nearly, would be helped by the President’s proposal, which was also put forward by the Senate Democrats. There is no assistance in the Senate Republican proposal for small businesses.
And what the Senate Democratic bill does is ask that — and this is supported, as you know, by broad majorities of the American people — is ask that the wealthiest Americans, the wealthiest among us, pay a little bit more.
Approximately 300,000 taxpayers, the most fortunate among us, 300,000, would be asked to pay a little bit more so that 160 million Americans would get a tax cut. The President thinks that’s the right thing to do; Democrats think that’s the right thing to do. And Congress — Americans of all types think it’s the right thing to do. We urge Republicans in the Senate to vote accordingly when that bill comes to the floor either today or tomorrow.
Q What about the White House reaction to how the Republicans in their proposal yesterday would pay for the payroll tax? They had several provisions; one of them was asking for the wealthy to simply donate money to draw down the deficit. Is that something the White House thinks we can do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, a couple of things. One, I just want to note again that their proposal is not — this is not an issue where they both put forward the same payroll tax cut the President has put forward, the Democrats have put forward. It’s something much more substantial for middle-class Americans and for small businesses. Again, the Republicans offer no assistance to small businesses, no tax cut. And we pay for it in a way that is broadly supported by the American people.
I would urge you not to be distracted by window dressing in the proposals that have come forward, in terms of pay-fors, by the Republicans. The fact of the matter is, is it’s an unbalanced approach that would not and will not garner the same kind of support from the American people that the President’s proposal has garnered.
Q One quick question on Europe. I haven’t heard the White House yet react — unless I missed it — to one of the big ideas being talked about, which is a fiscal union of the countries so that they wouldn’t only have united currency, but they would actually tie together their budgeting and spending policy — obviously a big deal. Is that something the White House supports?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you haven’t heard the White House comment on it and you won’t today, because it’s not an idea that I have heard discussed here in meetings at the White House. Perhaps you might address that question to the Treasury Secretary. But it’s not something ever discussed here.
Q Jay, are you — is the White House, at least, encouraged by what the Republicans have been saying over the last two days on the payroll tax cut? Boehner said today that he thinks that extending it would help the economy. And even though you don’t agree with their pay-fors, they’ve put forward a plan on that, and there seems to be an interest in extending it. Are you finding there’s —
MR. CARNEY: Well, there’s no question that there has been some progress, some movement. Because as you heard over the weekend, one of the top Senate Republicans said he did not support an extension, just a simple extension of the payroll tax cut. And I believe the Senate Majority Leader — Minority Leader, rather, only a few days ago, said it would have no positive economic benefit. Now he’s saying it would. That’s progress. That’s good. And I think it’s not just because we’re saying it. In fact, I’m sure it’s not just because the President is saying it and the administration is saying it, but because they’re hearing it from the American people. They’re hearing it from businesses who would be helped not just by the President’s small business tax cut, but by the expanded tax cut to 160 million Americans who would then use that money to pay bills, to make purchases, and thereby boost the economy, and cause it to grow and cause businesses to hire.
So, yes, that’s progress. But let’s be clear that they are still not proposing — setting aside pay-fors — they are still not proposing what the President believes is the right remedy for the economy, the right medicine, if you will, which is not just to extend the tax cut but to expand it, make it bigger. This year, 160 million Americans got on average an extra $1,000 in their paychecks because of that tax cut that the President and Republicans agreed to and the President signed into law a year ago. That will expire, resulting in taxes going up if nothing is done.
But this year now, the President believes for 2012 that tax cut ought to be expanded, because that’s the surest way we can assist the economy, help it grow, and help it create jobs. And then, of course, he’s added something that Republicans apparently do not support, which is — even though numerous leading Republicans said in the past that they would support a payroll tax cut for small businesses, they have not included that in their proposals.
Q Are you seeing a basis for compromise? You say it falls short, but do you see a basis for compromise?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, there’s been progress. We’re focused on a vote that’s going to take place either today or tomorrow in the Senate on a bill that we believe is the right medicine, that we believe gives the kind of support to American taxpayers that they deserve as we continue to emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression. We urge Republicans to vote for it, to hear the voices of their constituents who support it and who support the way it’s paid for as proposed by Democrats and as supported by the President.
If and when that vote comes to pass and does not clear the bar established by opposition, we can discuss what other means there are to getting to the solution which is necessary, which is the assistance through tax cuts that the American people deserve.
Q One other topic quickly: Was the White House or the President informed ahead of time about the central bank action to stem the European crisis? And what does the President think about that action? Is he consulting closely with the Federal Reserve on these actions?
MR. CARNEY: We don’t talk much about the Fed from the podium here. The Treasury Department might have a statement. In fact, I’m not sure if Secretary Geithner or the Treasury Department put out a statement on that. I don’t have anything further for you on it from the podium.
Q What’s the President doing to make anything come through either this evening or tomorrow, when this vote is —
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’re clearly succeeding in that there’s progress, Ann, that Republicans have gone in a few short days from opposing an extension and arguing that it would have no positive economic impact, against the assembled evidence of independent economists everywhere, to grudgingly agreeing that this is the right thing to do, to give tax cuts to middle-class Americans. So we must be doing something right, or at the very least our arguments are being echoed by average Americans across the country who want this assistance.
So the President continues to consult with his team, continues to have his team have conversations with relevant members and staff on the Hill as we push this forward; obviously, working with Senator Reid in the Senate to move the Senate Democratic proposal forward. And we hope and expect that, in the end, we will get the kind of tax relief for middle-class Americans that they deserve in this economic situation.
Q On Iraq, where Vice President Biden was today, Camp Victory shuts down tomorrow. Would President Obama consider ever sending back into Iraq trainers or others to help the Iraqi government — the Iraqi —
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve said, Ann, as you know, that we expect to have a relationship, and a full one, with Iraq going forward; the kind of relationship that’s built on economic ties, diplomatic ties, as well as security ties, that we have with sovereign nations elsewhere in the region and around the globe. What form that would take, or might take, is going to be a matter of discussion and agreement between the Iraqi government and the United States government.
So what is happening now, as has been noted in the stories coming out of Iraq, is that we are now witnessing the fulfillment of the President’s commitment to end the war in Iraq responsibly, to keep his commitment — and the commitment of the previous president — to draw down all U.S. forces by the end of this year. That is happening. I believe we’re down to something like 15,000 now, and they will be out by December 31st. And that is a very important commitment for the American people as well as this President.
Let me move to the back. Cheryl.
Q Yes, House Republicans have been working on a series of regulatory reform bills over the last few weeks, and more votes ahead. Is it time — and these are supported by the U.S. Chamber and others, businesses, that they say would help create jobs — is it time for a regulatory reform bill?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know specifically which bills you’re referring to. This President’s record on regulatory reform is quite significant. The look-back that he instituted to ensure that the regulations that are on the books are as efficient as possible, and the ones that are no longer useful or effective are removed — I can cite the studies that have been made that demonstrate that there actually have been fewer and less costly regulations put in place by this administration in its first two and a half years than in the previous administration. So we work very aggressively to ensure that we take the necessary action to protect our air and water and that we also issue regulations and reform regulations in a way that makes them as efficient as possible.
Q The Republican — Senate Republicans’ plan has a component to pay for it through means testing for millionaires. And are they on to something here?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think, again — that’s what I was referring to as sort of a little — to pick your metaphor — window dressing or gorilla dust. It’s a fraction, as they admit, of what their pay-fors are, what the foundation of their pay-for is basically a violation of the very agreement they made just a few short months ago. And that’s the kind of stuff that drives Americans crazy about Washington, where you sign a deal, you have an agreement — bipartisan agreement, then you change your mind a few months later, whether it’s with the sequester or with non-defense discretionary spending — which, I would remind you, through the Budget Control Act, in the agreement reached in a bipartisan fashion and signed by this President into law, brings non-defense discretionary spending down to its lowest levels since Eisenhower was President. And we all like Ike. And that is a deal that has been signed and should be adhered to.
Alexis, and then Jessica.
Q Jay, Senator McConnell asserted yesterday that the country needs the extension of the payroll tax, and perhaps the UI extension, because Obama’s economic policies have failed. What’s the President’s reaction to the idea that these extensions or expansions are needed because his policies have failed?
MR. CARNEY: What my reaction is, is that the policies that got us to the worst recession since the Great Depression obviously preceded this President coming into office; in fact, the economy was in a dramatic freefall when this President was sworn in. As you well know, and as every American with a brain in his head knows, this economy was in collapse when President Obama took office. And the actions that he took, working with Congress, saved us from a depression, saved the auto industry in this country from collapse and the loss of another million-plus jobs in addition to the 8 million that were lost as a result of the recession.
The actions that he took we firmly believe have set this economy back in the right direction. It has been growing steadily now for a number of quarters and it has been creating private sector jobs, over 2.5 million. Not enough when the hole is as deep as this recession caused, but the direction is the right direction. The direction that we had when we got here was very dramatically the wrong direction.
Yes, Bill. Oh, I’m sorry, wait, I did say Jessica, sorry.
Q The administration apologized to Pakistan for the NATO airstrikes that killed about two dozen soldiers.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no. Let me say, we expressed our condolences to Pakistan about the regrettable loss of life. There’s an issue between a headline and a story that I think needs to be clarified.
Q Will you tease out why that distinction is important?
MR. CARNEY: Well, two things. One —
Q And what’s the distinction?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think there’s a — it’s a matter of fact that I, speaking for the White House and the President, offered condolences on behalf of him, the administration, the American people, for the tragic loss of life — and it was a tragedy.
And we have launched an investigation through CENTCOM, as well as ISAF, to find out exactly what transpired. But — maybe I’m preempting what your question was, but there was obviously no apology and there was an expression of condolences.
Q Why is it important that no one from this podium and from this White House issue an apology?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are in the middle of an investigation — actually, at the early stages of an investigation — into what exactly happened. So I think that the expression of condolences for tragic loss of life conveys a sincere sentiment about our feelings, the President’s feelings and the administration’s feelings, and it goes to the importance of the relationship that we have with Pakistan. But we have to be clear about what — the premise of your question is established as we move on.
Q My question was going to be, why was the apology — as I was going to phrase it — was from Secretary of State Clinton, not the President. But let me just cut to it, cut through this —
MR. CARNEY: But I spoke — I said very clearly from here that — on behalf of the President and the entire administration, that the expression of condolences was forthcoming.
Q So we all know what the subtext of a lot of this is. And there was a report this morning that there may be domestic politics in play. So can you just address that?
MR. CARNEY: That is utter nonsense.
Q Okay, that’s what —
MR. CARNEY: And I can just tell you that the problem with the story that you reference is that somebody wrote a headline that had no bearing on the actual story. The story discussed the decision to express our condolences, which is not what’s reflected in the headline.
Q May I just follow, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: I did say — oh, no, Bill. Yes.
Q Yesterday the President accused the Republicans of playing politics with the payroll tax issue, but how is it that he isn’t doing the same thing and that you’re not doing the same thing from this podium? Because you’re talking about a plan that Democrats have, which is not likely to make it through the Senate in the end, and neither is theirs likely to make it anywhere. So there must be politics involved here, because —
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s Washington, so obviously this is a political process when you have members of both parties in Congress having differing opinions about what the right course of action is here.
But what the President has put forward and Senate Democrats have put forward is what he and they believe is the right course of action, and it happens to be very much in sync with what the American people believe is the right course of action.
And I have certainly allowed for the fact that that measure may not pass, and that if it does not pass we will move forward and try to find a way to reach an agreement that ensures that the American people, 160 million of them, get the kind of tax relief that this President firmly believes they deserve and need next year.
So we will get to that point, if it so comes to pass. But we obviously believe and hope that Republicans — and there has been some signs of movement among a handful of Republicans on this issue — that Republicans will, if you will, come to their senses, hear the voices of their constituents, and say, on balance, it is worth giving 160 million American taxpayers a tax cut of $1,500 by asking 300,000 taxpayers to pay a little extra.
Q That’s agreed. My question is how can he accuse them of playing politics —
MR. CARNEY: I mean, that’s not even —
Q How can he with a straight face accuse them of playing politics, granted you both want the same thing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I would say is the President has been utterly consistent in his support for this proposal and his argument about why it’s so important. It’s been an important component of the American Jobs Act since the day he laid it on the table, and he has argued for it ever since.
What we have heard in just a few days is a lot of different points of view not just from Republicans, but sometimes from the very same Republican in a matter of hours or days about whether or not they even support giving tax cuts to the middle class here in America. So I think that consistency on one side, fluctuation and variation on the other, you tell me where the politics is.
What we care most about is not how they get there or why, but that in the end the majority — or rather 60 percent — of Senate Republicans agree to give the kind of tax relief to the American people that they deserve.
Q Then why not go at them with a plan that you know they’re more likely to accept —
MR. CARNEY: Because the fact of the matter is if the President had not put this in the American Jobs Act and had not fought for it every day and every week, sometimes to the consternation of people who have been hearing the same message so frequently, we might not even be debating this.
I mean, given that the number-two Senate Republican said he wasn’t even for it just four days ago, if the President hadn’t put it on the table, you think the Republicans would have? I’m not sure they would have. So it is because of the leadership of the President, because of the agreement of Senate Democrats and the consistency of our message that we are where we are and we believe we will get a payroll tax cut for middle-class Americans. And hopefully, we will get a payroll tax cut for small businesses.
That’s how this town works, as you know even better than I, Bill, because you’ve been covering it longer than I did. That’s called leadership.
Q — not likely to come out of the hides of the millionaires, as the President and you keep suggesting.
MR. CARNEY: And the American people suggest is the right thing to do.
Q Jay, the Housing Secretary is on the Hill today, talking about the crisis; it’s still obviously very difficult for a lot of Americans. In February ‘09, the President promised that his housing plan would help refinance between 7 and 9 million homes to prevent foreclosures. I checked with the officials today who oversee this. They say 894,000 people have refinanced under that program. What happened?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the size of the problem is significant, as you know. The housing bubble burst and caused a situation where a vast number of American homeowners saw their mortgages go underwater, the values of their home go lower than the cost of their mortgage. And this President has taken actions steadily since he took office to help those homeowners get into a better financial system with regards to their mortgages — financial situation, rather. And there have been a number of steps taken, including those this year, this summer and fall, and he’s going to keep looking for ways to improve it.
If you’re asking me, is the situation a problem and is it — is the problem quite large, the answer is yes. And that’s why this President has been so focused on taking every step he can — small, medium and large — to try to assist homeowners who, with a little help, either through refinancing or other measures, can meet their payments and keep their homes.
Q One of those actions he took: October 24th, he went to Nevada, and he said, I’m going to move forward with executive — I’m not going to wait for Congress.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q I checked with the housing officials as well, and they say, this morning that actually today, December 1st, is the first day you can apply for that program the President talked about October 24th.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q So in fairness, you can’t really get any statistics on how many people have refinanced. But my question would be, how can the President go out on October 24th and say, we can’t wait, we’re going to move, and here we are on December 1st and the officials are saying that —
MR. CARNEY: Well, because he launched —
Q — it won’t have an impact until the first quarter of 2012.
MR. CARNEY: He made an executive action on October 24th, if that’s the day — my mother’s birthday — (laughter) — hi, mom — (laughter) — I hope I called her. I hope I called. The President took that action, it was an executive action, and he launched a process that results, any day now — December — if it is today, I believe you may be right — that will now allow homeowners to take advantage of this executive action. I mean, it would — these things take a little time. But five weeks is a pretty short period of time for something like this to get up and running and to be ready, as I believe it is now, or almost is, for homeowners to find out whether or not they qualify.
So that’s, again, small actions, medium actions, large actions — whatever it takes, within his authority, working with Congress or just using his executive authority to assist homeowners deal with this very difficult situation that persists.
Q One last thing, I’m sorry. February 2009 as well, you’ll remember on Chuck’s fine network, the President told Matt Lauer — Republicans bring this up a lot — that the President said, if I don’t get the economy turned around in three years, this is going to be a one-term proposition. Last night, at one of the fundraisers in New York, he was saying, look, these problems are so large, you might need more than one term; you might need another — down the road, it might need more than one presidency. Is he trying to buy more time to get the economy turned around when he says that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t think he’s trying to buy time for somebody beyond 2016, if that’s what you mean. I think that the President believes that the actions that he and other leaders in Washington took in the face of the worst economic crisis that we’ve had since the 1930s did reverse the freefall, did begin a process where the economy is growing again, did begin a process where it’s been steadily creating private sector jobs.
But there is much more work to do. And he is eager to do that work — with Congress, without Congress, whatever it takes to get it done. But it is a big job — 8 million jobs lost is a substantial number and it requires the focus and diligence of the President, of members of Congress, of other leaders in Washington and around the country to tackle because it is so big. And he’s completely up for the job.
Lesley. And then Mara, and then Laura.
Q Thanks. On Saturday —
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I’m sorry — you, too. (Laughter.) And your fine network. (Laughter.)
Q On Saturday, it will mark two years since the American contractor Alan Gross has been held in Cuba. His wife has been rather vocally critical of the administration in recent days as it comes up to the anniversary. She said that the President has sort of — the administration has kept its hands off it. Can you address that, and does the President intend to mark it at any occasion on Saturday?
MR. CARNEY: I apologize, if you had given me a heads-up I would have looked into this before I got here, but I would have to check on that. I just don’t know. Thanks.
What order did I say? Mara.
Q Now that we’re no longer talking about — fighting about whether the payroll tax should be extended, we’re fighting about whether it should be expanded and how to pay for it. Could you clarify when you said the means testing of federal benefits was window dressing — is the President against means testing, or just because it’s a violation of the (inaudible) agreement? That’s what I didn’t understand.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear. As I understand it, the pay-fors they put forward will require a change in the caps, a reduction in the caps agreed to in the Budget Control Act. That’s the violation. I’m not sure what the means testing aspect of it is. What I do know is that it’s window dressing because it’s a very small portion of what their pay-fors would be —
Q So he’s not saying he’s against means testing —
MR. CARNEY: The majority of — I’m not — no, he’s not saying that. But he’s not saying he’s for this proposal because we haven’t really had a chance to look at it that much. What is important, though, is that it is window dressing.
Q Okay. But the second question about the pay-fors — I mean, I know you want this fight to go on and on and on —
MR. CARNEY: No! No! We want it to pass tonight or tomorrow.
Q Well, yes, but one of the other pay-fors that they suggest, in addition to the millionaires can donate their money to the deficit, is they want to extend the President’s own federal hiring and pay freeze. Are you for that? Are you open to that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, there was an agreement, as you guys covered very closely this summer, called the Budget Control Act, that set caps in discretionary spending — non-defense and defense — that required very significant cuts, reductions in non-defense discretionary spending that bring us down to the lowest level relative to the size of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.
Q So this would violate that, too.
MR. CARNEY: This would violate that. And it would result in — because their proposal says you would have to lower the caps.
Q It doesn’t violate it, it just increases it, right?
MR. CARNEY: It means that you prevent — yes, it lowers the caps more so that you cut energy, you cut education, you cut Head Start — you cut all the things — so, in other words, rather than ask 300,000 American taxpayers, millionaires and billionaires, to pay a little bit extra, you stick it to the very people you’re trying to help through the payroll tax cut — by violating the Budget Control Act that you voted for and agreed to just a few short months ago.
Q And one other question to follow up on Jessica’s mischievous inquiry about the apology. (Laughter.) Are you ruling out an apology, or are you just saying it’s premature because you haven’t finished the investigation?
MR. CARNEY: I’m just saying that there is an investigation that has just been launched by CENTCOM and that we don’t know — we need to find the results of this investigation. We have offered our condolences. We have called it what it is, a tragic loss of life. And we anticipate results of the investigation to come when they’re ready. And for now —
Q So the question of whether we should apologize or not is too early, is premature?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to prejudge actions we might take — what we might say in the future. I think the whole issue that you raise was brought up through a faulty headline that is not even reflected in the story. The whole discussion here was about the expression of condolences.
I believe Laura is next, then Chuck. Did you have one?
Q I did. My question is about the confirmation of Richard Cordray, and I’m wondering if you could tell me what the administration is doing right now to try to make that happen, including —
MR. CARNEY: Fighting tooth and nail to make it happen, because the — we need that consumer watchdog in place to fully implement the Wall Street reforms that this President fought so hard working with members of Congress to get passed in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. And we call on Congress to pass, and not try to stall that confirmation, or reject that confirmation, of a man who is unbelievably qualified and supported by Republicans, but yet, apparently, we’ll see, not so much that they’re willing to vote for him because they want to water down the kind of Wall Street reform that this President fought for.
Q So as you well know, in order to get something through the Senate, you need Republican support. So what are you doing — what is the White House doing —
MR. CARNEY: We’ve been lobbying like crazy to get Republican support for it.
Q So what does that lobbying look like? Are you having one-on-one meetings with the Republicans? Are you doing direct outreach to individuals?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, this has been going on, as you know, far too long. He should have been confirmed —
Q What’s happening right now? As I understand it —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know if anybody is on the phone right now, but we have been working very — we have folks who go up to the Hill, we have folks who call key staffers and key senators, and we hope that they would vote to confirm Mr. Cordray because he’s the right man for the job.
Q So you’re saying that the White House is doing direct, specific outreach to individual members?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t know what’s happening at this moment or what’s happened today, but there has been direct outreach, yes.
Q I’m not really — I mean, I don’t want to play lawyer here. I’m not really talking about like this moment or today, I’m talking about at this moment —
MR. CARNEY: If you’re asking me, has there been an effort, a direct contact with senators, urging them to vote for and explaining why they should vote for Richard Cordray, the answer is yes.
Q With Republicans, as well as Democrats?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, yes.
Q You called their proposal to pay for it unbalanced. What makes it unbalanced?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the solution of cutting education and energy, and the kind of programs that often, in large measure, help the very people that are supposed to be assisted by a middle-class tax cut for 160 million working Americans makes it unbalanced. The reason why the American people support the approach the President takes, the approach — which is similar to the approach, and supported by the President, and similar to the approach that Senate Democrats take — is because they look at the 300,000 wealthiest taxpayers in America and say, they should be asked to pay a little more, pay their fair share to help give 160 million Americans a tax cut — 160 million Americans, on average, for the American family, $1,550 in tax cuts; nearly 6 million small businesses.
And you know what happens when you give small businesses a break like that? If passed, I think this would be the 18th tax cut, or tax relief, form of tax relief, that this President would have made law. And it encourages businesses to hire people, to grow, to invest. And that causes economic growth and causes job creation.
Q There are some Republicans, though, that say a balanced approach is a little bit of what you’re trying to do with the millionaires, but also offering a lot more cuts. So why not offer them some more cuts to actually try to sort of breach this divide?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve made clear — let’s have the vote. We’ve made clear what we think is the right approach. The Senate Democrats have made clear what they think is the right approach, and we support that. And we support it because it is balanced — because you don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul. You don’t want to —
Q You think it’s balanced, they don’t think it’s balanced.
MR. CARNEY: Well, and I’m comforted by the millions of people behind me and us, the President, who support it, in the form of the majority of the American people who support our balanced approach.
So you’re right that thus far in this process, in the debates over the American Jobs Act in whole and its provisions, that Republicans have, Senate Republicans have unfortunately staked out a position that is at odds with the vast majority of the American people. That’s regrettable. But we continue to fight for those provisions. We got one through. We hope to get the payroll cut tax — payroll tax cut, and extension and expansion through. And then we’ll keep fighting for the other provisions.
Q So is the President going to be playing a more personal role in this now next week, when this thing fails? Is that fair to say? In the Senate — when the Senate —
MR. CARNEY: It’s quite possible.
Q Iran and Iraq?
MR. CARNEY: Margaret. And then — yes, sir.
Q Chuck sort of stole my thunder. I had a domestic and a foreign policy question. But following up on that, what I wanted to ask is, is the President going to engage personally, not on the stump, but in terms of the negotiations? Or was the lesson from the summer of the debt ceiling sort of, this is a nightmare, don’t get involved, let Congress do it? And then I’ll ask my foreign policy question.
MR. CARNEY: He might.
Q He might what?
MR. CARNEY: Engage personally. I think he — I mean, I’m sure — look, the President does have conversations with leaders and members of Congress, and he will continue to have those. And I anticipate he will have some such conversations in the coming days and weeks.
Q Back on that note, we have been talking about the end of the year, but is there a date at which everyone’s paychecks get screwed up? What’s the date?
MR. CARNEY: I would ask Treasury, but I believe it’s January 1st that the payroll tax cut expires at the end of the year. Taxes begin — you get hit right away. Taxes go up the next time you get a paycheck. And that’s just — this is not the right time to do that to hardworking middle-class and working-class Americans, right?
This is still a fragile time in our economy. Outside independent economists have said very clearly that payroll tax cut extension and expansion has a very positive impact on economic growth and on job creation, as does the extension of it to small businesses. So we cannot let this process result in a vote that raises taxes on middle-class Americans because a section of Congress not supported by the majority of the American people wants to protect the tax benefits of 300,000 Americans.
Q On Turkey, the Vice President is there. Does President Obama believe that Turkey is doing enough with regard to Iran? I know with Syria, they’ve come forward this week in a way that’s been really helpful to the U.S.’s policy. But is President Obama and is Vice President Biden asking Turkey to take additional steps on Iran? And what do they need to do?
MR. CARNEY: I would maybe take part of your question in terms of what specifically the Vice President’s conversations will be like in Turkey or the messages that he’s carrying. I mean, broadly, on Iran we have been very focused on and pleased by the international consensus that has been developed over these several years to sanction Iran, to pressure and isolate Iran. And that continues today, as I announced at the top of the briefing.
Q Iran and Iraq?
MR. CARNEY: Hold on. Yes, I think I said you. Tell me your name again? Sorry.
Q Tejinder Singh.
MR. CARNEY: Nice to see you.
Q Can you please confirm — following up on Jessica’s question — that the White House received an advice from the American diplomats in Pakistan asking for an apology?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would encourage you to read that story, because although the headline said one thing, the story said something else. There was a suggestion from our embassy in Pakistan that a message of expressing condolences be taped. We didn’t do that, but I personally got up here and expressed condolences on behalf of the President and the American people. Secretary Panetta has done the same thing. So that message has been delivered. But, again, the headline is at odds with the story.
Q So do you expect Pakistan —
MR. CARNEY: I’ve been asked that, and I’m not going to —
Q Do you expect Pakistan to reopen the border soon?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, we certainly are working with Pakistan on this issue. We urge them to attend the conference in Bonn, and are working with them on our overall relationship. We understand that this is complicated by events, as has been the case at various times this year. But it’s an important relationship that we continue to work on, because it’s in the interest of the American people and our national security that we continue to work on it.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. CARNEY: Carrie, and then, yes, Connie.
Q A question about the President’s AIDS speech this morning. He said he was going to refocus the fight on AIDS domestically, given how great is the constant over the last decade. Is that an indication that his predecessor, Bush, who focused a lot on the AIDS fight internationally, didn’t do enough domestically? And does he — will he — and in addition to that, does he plan to reach beyond what Bush did, at some point, internationally, in terms of fighting —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you may be reading too much into this. I think one of the positive things about today’s event was how bipartisan it was. President Bush participated; President Obama obviously did. The announcements that he made build on the work that President Bush did on this very important issue. And I would not take the steps that he’s announcing, in terms of domestic tackling of this problem, as criticism, but just simply the right step to take at the right time.
Q And does he plan to go beyond what President Bush did internationally?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t want to anticipate what he may or may not do in the future. I just want to celebrate what he announced today.
Q Did he talk with President Bush today?
MR. CARNEY: I believe President Bush was speaking from a remote location. Yes. I do not know that they spoke.
Yes, Connie, and then —
Q Pakistan and then Iraq, and I’ll go real fast. How many more billions does the U.S. plan to give to Pakistan?
MR. CARNEY: We have a program of assistance to Pakistan that is reviewed all the time, and there’s no plan — I’m not even sure I understand the question. But the — we work with Pakistan; it’s an important, sometimes complicated relationship, and it’s, as I just mentioned, vital to our national security that we continue to have that kind of cooperative relationship, especially in the fight against terror.
Q On Iraq, why does the U.S. need 16,000 diplomats in Iraq?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a vital — I’m not sure it’s 16,000, but it’s a significant civilian presence — it will be — because it’s an important relationship in an important region of the world that requires the kind of contacts at the economic, scientific, education, diplomatic level that a significant embassy presence and consulate presence demonstrates and represents.
And it’s an important relationship. It is now a relationship that is changing, because we have, as the President promised, ended the war responsibly in Iraq. We’re bringing home the last of our men and women in uniform, and we are moving forward with a comprehensive relationship with Iraq that we hope will lead to significant cooperation in the future.
Q And on Iran and the British, do you have any comment on the rupture of diplomatic relations?
MR. CARNEY: I have nothing more. I would point you to the State Department.
Q Jay, on the AIDS day issue —
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, and then you.
April, go ahead.
Q Okay. On the AIDS day issue, did this White House look at any chance, any ways of working with HHS in trying to push more anti-retrovirals out for more AIDS patients and HIV patients? Is that something you’re still looking at? Did you look at it?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. And I think we put out a significant paper on this, very detailed, that may go to the issue you’re talking about. I don’t have the answer from here in terms of the specifics and the approach that we’re taking. So I would just either point you to HHS or I would start with the paper that we put out and then go to HHS for more details.
Q Should we expect something beyond today, since the President really emphasized that the numbers are climbing here versus in other places around the world?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s why he directed $50 million in funding for domestic HIV/AIDS treatment and care using existing funds, but an additional $50 million for treatment and care of HIV and AIDS patients.
Toshi. Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. Tell me your name again. I know we spoke.
MR. CARNEY: Richard, okay.
Q Thank you, Jay. Next week, the Kenyan Prime Minister will be in town to sign a new comprehensive border security deal. Nine months negotiation, it’s pretty fast these days. Is there any new terrorist threat that would justify such a fast signing —
MR. CARNEY: I would urge you to come back to me with that question. I don’t have an answer. I don’t have anything specific on that visit next week. But maybe our folks at the National Security Council can help you.
Q Thank you, Jay. Just this week an international organization called OECD in Paris predicted that the eurozone economy is now entering a recession now. And do you have any concern that a European recession could drag the U.S. economy down to a recession again? And given the context, are you satisfied with the European response to the crisis? There was a meeting on Monday, but are you satisfied and confident on the process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as I’ve said before, we believe that the Europeans have it within their capacity to deal with this problem and that they need to do so conclusively and quickly. They have taken some positive steps. They obviously need to take some more steps. And we are advising and consulting with them given our significant experience on matters similar to this.
Regarding your question about the OECD and the economic headwinds created by Europe, they are a concern, as this President has said and Secretary Geithner and others, Dr. Krueger who was here with me just a few days ago, which only reinforces why we need to act so aggressively on the things that we can control directly, like cutting taxes for 160 million Americans here at home, expanding that tax cut in 2012, expanding it for individuals and expanding it to small businesses. Those are the kind of steps we can take that will help our economy grow, will help it create jobs and will insulate us from potential future shocks whether they come from Europe, or as they did earlier this year from Japan, or the Middle East.
So we need to take the action that we can take. And obviously this President believes that we should be doing more than just extending and expanding the payroll tax cut. We should be passing other elements of the American Jobs Act, like the assistance to states to hire back teachers who have been laid off. I mean, you get a — that’s a double positive impact. You put teachers back to work, and having them back in the classroom helps our kids prepare for a future in the economy.
So additional measures include infrastructure funding to put construction workers back to work rebuilding our infrastructure, which also has a long-term positive impact on our economy. So we need to do the things we can that we can control to help us grow, to help us create jobs, and to insulate us from the kinds of economic shocks that we know happen because that’s the kind of global economy we live in.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Last one. Julia.
Q Among the pieces of legislation that are set to expire at the end of the year, one of them is the doc fix that would — calls doctors if you paid less, I think it’s 27 percent less for Medicare reimbursements. Is that something that the White House has pushed members of Congress to pass, or are they less concerned about that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I believe that they fixed the doc fix, the SGR, we had a comprehensive fix to that — and check me on this — but in the American Jobs Act. Now, obviously this is something that in a bipartisan fashion has been addressed in the past and needs to be addressed going forward.*
Q So now — the time is coming up, the end of the year.
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I don’t have any — are people making phone calls on it? (Laughter.)
Q Are you as concerned about that not being fixed as you would be something like unemployment insurance and payroll tax cuts? Is it getting the same amount of attention?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think right now we’re focused on the bill that’s coming to the floor in the Senate that if all were right in the world, or at least in this country, would be passed overwhelmingly with votes from members of both parties so that we can provide that vital tax cut to the American people and to small businesses.
But we don’t have just one priority, and fixing that is a concern and a priority that we have shared I think in a bipartisan way since we’ve been in office.
Q Thanks, Jay.
2:40 P.M. EST
*The so-called ‘doc fix’ is accounted for both in the President’s proposal to the supercommittee and in his FY2012 budget but was not included in the American Jobs Act.