White House Press Briefing by Jay Carney, December 20, 2011

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 20, 2011 – 1:26 P.M. EST

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for being here.  It is my great pleasure to see you today and take your questions, which I will commence with right now.

Q    What is the President going to do now that the House has rejected the two-month Senate deal?

MR. CARNEY:  What the House did today was refuse to take up the bipartisan compromise passed by the Senate with 90 percent approval.  More than 80 percent of Republicans voted for it.  And I think all of you here are astute enough analysts of Washington and Congress to know that the reason they refused to vote on that bill is because it would have passed.  It would have resulted in absolute assurance that 160 million Americans would not have their taxes go up on January 1st, and that is most unfortunate.

It still is available, however, as an option for the House.  They can take up the bipartisan compromise that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate, the result of a negotiation between the Republican leader and the Senate Democratic leader; a negotiation that was the result of a strategy agreed upon by Senator Reid, Senator McConnell and Speaker Boehner; a result that was deemed by the Speaker of the House to be a good deal in his conversation with his own colleagues, House Republicans.

We agree with that assessment.  It is absolutely a bipartisan compromise.  And it reflects the work that the Senate Democratic leader and Senate Republican leader achieved towards a year-long solution to extending the payroll tax cut.  They worked very hard on that.  Senator Reid worked very hard on that bipartisan compromise.  They could not quite achieve it in the time allowed and passed a overwhelmingly bipartisan two-month extension as insurance to make sure that Americans did not have their taxes go up in 11 days and 10 hours — 160 million Americans.  That is absolutely what must get done.  And the House still has that option.  So we hope they take it.

Q    So what is the President going to do?  Is he going to do anything?

MR. CARNEY:  He will continue to urge the House to do the responsible thing, not for him, not for Democrats or Republicans, not for party but for the American people.  Look, everyone is for, now, an extension of the payroll tax cut for a year.  I would remind you that we are even in this position of trying to extend the payroll tax cut because the President has been pushing for it since September.  Everyone is now for it; all leaders of both houses are committed to extending it for a year.  And we expect absolutely that that will happen.

But as you know, last week and then on Saturday, after negotiations, bipartisan negotiations between Senator McConnell and Senator Reid and others, a decision was made that more work needed to be done to reach that full-year extension compromise, and that as an insurance policy against raising taxes on 160 million Americans, this two-month extension of the payroll tax cut was the right way to go.

A kind of consensus that that approach created is pretty unprecedented in Washington, and definitely unprecedented in 2011 in Washington.  So we had 90 percent of the United States Senate vote in favor of something that was a toughly negotiated compromise between Democrats and Republicans.  And I think as you’ve seen, when you ask what the President will ask Congress to do or what the President will do, I mean, he will say that a growing number of Republican senators are saying.  They’re saying, “Please, Speaker Boehner, please, to our colleagues in the House, support what is absolutely the right thing to do here.  Do not let taxes go up on 160 million Americans in just 11 days.  Pass the extension.”

Q    Can he offer — can the President offer any assurances to the American people that this will get done this year, or are his hands tied and it’s up to the Speaker and the House Republicans?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, in order for it to get done, it has to pass the House.  This is one area where his executive authority does not extend.  He cannot order the extension of the payroll tax cut; Congress has to take action.  He has worked very closely with leaders on the Hill to reach this point.  And again, I will point out to you, the President began in September calling for not just an extension of the payroll tax cut that put $1,000 extra this year in average American families’ pockets, but for an expansion of that — an expansion for the individual tax cut and he pushed — he called for expanding it to small businesses.

He did not get all that he wanted in this compromise; he didn’t get that.  He originally put forward a way to pay for it that asked Congress to close subsidies and to close — end corporate subsidies and loopholes, and to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little bit more.  He didn’t get that.  He supported the Democratic proposal in the Senate to pay for the payroll tax cut extension with a surtax on the 300,000 wealthiest millionaires and billionaires in the country in order to fund a tax cut for 160 million middle-class Americans.  We didn’t get that.  What we got was a compromise, worked out by Senator Reid, that was good enough for 90 percent of the Senate, good enough for more than 80 percent of the Republican members in the Senate, and certainly the right thing to do for the country.

Q    And finally, Speaker Boehner wrote to him asking the President to call on the Senate to appoint conferees.  I assume that he does not intend to do that.

MR. CARNEY:  As Senator Reid has said — Senator Reid, Senator McConnell and Speaker Boehner had a conversation about what was the best way to proceed.  The best way to proceed was to have Senator McConnell and Senator Reid negotiate a bipartisan compromise.  They worked very hard to do that.  They worked very hard to reach an agreement on extending the payroll tax cut for a year.  They were not able to get that done in time to ensure that taxes wouldn’t go up on 160 million Americans, and so they passed — they worked out and passed, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of both Republicans and Democrats, a two-month extension, and committed to return next year and make sure that that extension was provided for the rest of the year.  That was the right approach.

What is not the right approach is to refuse to allow the House of Representatives to vote on that bipartisan compromise, but instead to pass a rule that calls for an approach to this that actually moves further away from compromise.  The provision that is voted on in the House today — that’s been voted on in the House today is actually less bipartisan, filled with more ideological, extraneous matter than the version that passed the House and that the Senate Republican leader wouldn’t even allow to come to a vote in the Senate because he knew it wouldn’t succeed.

So there’s no indication by the actions of the House leadership today that they’re moving towards compromise.  The available option here is to vote to pass the bipartisan compromise reached in the Senate to extend the payroll tax cut for 160 million working Americans for two more months, and to commit, as the leaders who worked that compromise out committed, to ensuring, early next year, that this extension lasts through 2012.  That’s the approach the President thinks that Congress ought to take; that’s the approach they ought to take.

Mr. Youngman, welcome to the front row.

Q    Thank you.  You seem taller from up here.  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  Better looking?

Q    Just taller.

MR. CARNEY:  Just taller.  (Laughter.)

Q    Just to put a fine point on this, the President won’t ask Senator Reid to appoint conferees?

MR. CARNEY:  The President agrees with Senator Reid and with the 89 senators, Republicans and Democrats, who voted for the bipartisan compromise, that that is the right thing to do.  The House should vote on it. 

We have a situation where the great preponderance of players in this unnecessary drama agree on one thing –Democrats and Republicans — and a small faction in the House disagrees.  And their disagreement, their willingness to not even hold a vote on this bipartisan compromise, is essentially a vote to raise taxes.  That’s what happens on January 1st. 

And that’s a — that will be, to the American people, everyone who gets a paycheck, it will be a rude awakening on January 1st when they — or even before then as the holidays approaches — if they think — they have to figure out how they’re going to make ends meet next year with $1,000 less; $1,000 more taken out of their weekly — or, rather, their yearly earnings because the House of Representatives, the Republicans in the House, refuse to pass something that got 90 percent of the U.S. Senate, including their Republican colleagues, colleagues like Senator Grassley, Senator Collins, Senator Snowe, Senator Heller, Senator Lugar, Senator Brown and Senator Wicker, who all have called on the House to pass this measure.

Q    So that’s a no?  The President —

MR. CARNEY:  The House ought to pass the bill. 

Q    Just in general terms, does the President believe it’s worth negotiating with Speaker Boehner?  Does he believe that Speaker Boehner is somebody who can deliver on what he might agree to in negotiations?

MR. CARNEY:  The issue here isn’t negotiating with the Speaker of the House, because the —

Q    That’s why I said generally

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I mean, we’re focused on the task at hand right now, and the disagreement here is not between the Speaker and the President; they both agree that we ought to extend this payroll tax cut through the end of the year.  But the disagreement, quite clearly, here is between the leadership in the House, of the House Republicans, and the rest of Congress — the Republicans in the Senate, the Democrats in the Senate and the administration.  And when it comes to what happened this weekend, what the President is not and should not be is a marriage counselor between Senate Republicans and House Republicans.

Q    On Iraq, the political crisis there seems to be escalating.  Aside from monitoring the situation, is the administration doing anything?  Has Vice President Biden been asked to step in and perhaps oversee this — or intervene?

MR. CARNEY:  You’re referring to?

Q    The — al-Hashimi, the arrest warrant.

MR. CARNEY:  As I discussed yesterday, we’re obviously concerned about this and we have — we are always in conversations with Iraqi leaders.  We closely monitor the reports.  And we urge the Iraqi authorities charged with this responsibility to conduct their investigations into alleged terrorist activities in accordance with international legal norms and full respect for Iraqi law.

As I said, we are talking to all parties to express our concern regarding these developments.  We continue to urge all sides to work to resolve differences peacefully, through dialogue and in a manner that is consistent with the international standards of rule of law, transparency and the democratic political process.

Ambassador James Jeffrey, as well as other U.S. — senior U.S. officials, have been in frequent contact with Iraqi leaders on this matter and will continue to do so.

Q    Is Vice President Biden one of those officials?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any conversations involving the Vice President to report out to you.  You correctly identify the fact that the Vice President is very engaged in Iraq as a rule, but I don’t have any specific conversations of his to report out.

Let me move it around.  Yes, ma’am.

Q    Any comment about result of Egyptian elections?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear — quite hear — I know it’s about Egypt —

Q    Do you have any comment result of the Egyptian elections?

MR. CARNEY:  Hold on one second, let me — I can comment generally about what we’ve seen in Egypt of late in the last few days and say that we remain deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt.  We again reiterate the need for Egyptian security forces to respect and protect the universal rights of all Egyptians, including the rights to peaceful free expression and assembly.

Egyptian authorities should also hold accountable those, including the security forces, who violate these standards.

As Secretary Clinton said yesterday, the promise, the beauty of the revolutionary aspirations that everyone watched unfold in Tahrir Square, the restraint of the security forces and how they responded, all of that was very promising and it was held up by the Egyptian people as what a new Egypt would look like.

We continue to support a timely, inclusive and credible transition to full democracy that lives up to this promise.


Q    Thank you, Jay.  Two questions.  First one is, Japan announced they will buy the F-35 fighter jet from the U.S.  What’s the reaction from the White House?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a reaction on that.  I would refer you to I guess the Defense Department.

Q    And also, we noticed that the President has already reached out to President Lee and Prime Minister Noda, and is there any plan for him to reach out to Chinese leader or Russian leader?  And what kind of role that U.S. expect China to play after the — Kim Jong-il’s death?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t have any additional phone calls to read out on this matter involving the President. We are reaching out to all of our allies and partners in the region, as I mentioned yesterday, and will continue to do so.

We work with all our allies and partners on this issue, and will continue to.  And we will — or I will simply add to what I said yesterday, that we hope that the North — new North Korean leadership will take the steps necessary to support peace, prosperity and a better future for the North Korean people, including through acting on its commitments to denuclearization.

Moving back.  Norah.

Q    First on the payroll tax cut.  Speaker Boehner has said that they will adjourn at the end of the day; there are no plans for the Senate to return.  Will the President stay in Washington while Congress is away?

MR. CARNEY:  The President is here and is very focused on the need for Congress to take the appropriate action to make sure that Americans don’t have their taxes go up on January 1st.  He believes that the absolutely right course of action here is for the House to take up the Senate bill that has already garnered overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate, and to pass that bill so that Americans don’t have their taxes go up. 

While you know what Speaker Boehner said, the fact is it remains an option for the House to do that.  And I think it is the result of avoidance, if you will, that the House resulted to sort of parliamentary machinations to avoid actually voting on a measure that got such sweeping bipartisan support in the Senate — because, I think it’s safe to say, they were worried — they, the Republican leadership — that it would actually pass and Americans’ taxes wouldn’t go up.  Which is just mighty unfortunate, because this is not a game.  For people who are struggling to make ends meet, $1,000 is a big deal.  And it is absolutely essential that the House reconsider its approach to this, accept that leaders in both parties of both houses and that the President of the United States are all committed to a full-year extension. 

The President has been hammering on this issue since September, as you know.  And what the Senate leadership, both Republican and Democrat, decided is that they didn’t have enough time to finish a one-year extension, so they decided that what was absolutely essential is that Americans don’t have their taxes go up in just 11 days.  So they passed, by a vote of 89 to 10, a bipartisan compromise to extend the payroll tax cut for two months.  The House ought to follow suit.

Q    That is correct that the President has been hammering about this since September, but it looks like the President is going to be left standing at the altar on this one.

MR. CARNEY:  But here’s the problem with that approach to this, or the premise behind that question, is that somehow this has to do with the President winning or losing.  This is not a game; it’s not politics.  It’s Americans’ livelihoods; it’s their paychecks; it’s 1,000 bucks, on average.  And I think the nature of your question correctly identifies the irony that were it not for the fact that President Obama supports this payroll tax cut, I suspect it would pass overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives.  After all, Republicans, in the early days of 2009 when we were in an economic freefall and people were proposing different ideas for how we should approach our economic problems and how we should get the economy growing instead of shrinking, many Republicans came out in support of a payroll tax cut.  Some of them came out and supported a two-month payroll tax holiday.

Q    Will you reiterate that the President plans to stay in Washington until the payroll tax cut is passed?

MR. CARNEY:  The President intends to stay and work with Congress to ensure that Americans don’t have their taxes go up.  But let’s be clear about where the power to make that happen resides.  The President supports this bipartisan compromise.  Senate Democrats support this bipartisan compromise.  Senate Republicans overwhelmingly support this bipartisan compromise.  At least a handful if not more already on the record House Republicans support this bipartisan compromise.  I suspect that many, many more do.  The holdout here — the holdouts are very much in the minority.  The House ought to vote to make sure Americans don’t have their taxes go up.

Q    And just a quick question on Iraq.  Now that American forces are out of Iraq — this was brought up yesterday — the Vice President, al-Hashimi, has been arrested.  Does the U.S. want to be involved now at all in limiting sectarian tensions, or is Iraq, as the President said at Fort Bragg, in the hands of the Iraqi people?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Iraq is a sovereign nation.  And it is very much in the hands of Iraqi leaders as well as the Iraqi people the future of that country.  We will absolutely continue to engage directly with Iraq in a very robust relationship that involves diplomatic, educational, economic and other ties — including security ties — to help Iraq as it further develops as a democratic nation.

So, as I mentioned earlier in response to a question about this, we are speaking with Iraqi leaders from all sides about this specific matter, and would be anyway on the variety of other challenges that they face.  Because we have very strong relationships and are very committed to helping Iraq build on the remarkable progress that, thanks to our efforts, the efforts of our troops as well as our civilians, and of course the remarkable efforts of the Iraqi people and their leaders towards creating a stable and prosperous and democratic country.

So we have tried throughout this period that marks the end of the Iraq war to make clear that the end of the war does not mean an end to our relationship with Iraq.  We want a strong and vibrant relationship with Iraq, and we will continue to work with Iraqi leaders and Iraqi institutions to develop that relationship. 


Q    Thank you.  In response to one of Sam’s questions, you said that the President shouldn’t have to play the role of marriage counselor.  Why shouldn’t the President play that role — or any other kind of counselor — in order to get this deal done, and to protect middle-class Americans, as you’ve been saying and others as well?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it’s a good question, Dan.  The President’s approach has been focused on — and his strategy has been focused on getting this very important piece of business done for the American people.  He put it on the table in September as part of the American Jobs Act.  He called for not just an extension of the payroll tax cut but an expansion, so that if his proposal had passed, if he got his way in entirety, Americans wouldn’t just have $1,000 extra next year, they would have had on average $1,550 extra.  If he had gotten his way in his proposal entirely, small businesses would have had a payroll tax cut.

So then he worked with Senate leadership on an alternative way to pay for that measure, and he has worked with Senate leadership on the efforts to reach a bipartisan compromise on a year-long extension as well as on the two-month insurance policy that Senators Reid and McConnell worked out, and worked out — I mean, let’s just be clear — with the full knowledge of the House leadership.  And it is — again, you’d have to be a rube about how Washington works to believe that the Senate leaders of both parties would have worked out a compromise on this issue that resulted in a vote of 89 to 10 without careful communication with House leadership. 

So we are at this point where a bipartisan compromise and solution exists precisely because of the President’s leadership.  And my point in my admittedly glib comment was that the issue here isn’t about what the President can work out with the Speaker of the House, because the issue is that an overwhelming majority in Congress of Republicans and Democrats want one thing, which is to make sure that Americans don’t have their taxes go up on January 1st, and for political reasons or ideological reasons — or reasons that we’ve yet to fathom — the House Republican leadership wants something else.

And I think that is — as we’ve increasingly seen, as we’ve heard from Republican senators and others, puts the House Republican leadership at odds with the interests of Republicans generally.  And that’s a conflict that they need to resolve on behalf of the American people.

I mean, again, going back to I think somebody else’s question, this is not about President Obama.  I mean, we are in this ironic situation where we’re now arguing over whether or not the Republican House of Representatives is going to allow a tax cut for most Americans in spite of the fact the President supports it, who happens to be a Democrat.  That kind of turns conventional wisdom on its head about the priorities of the different parties — and that’s because, in part, this President’s priority is the American economy and the need to create jobs.  Put aside all the political posturing, and who’s up and who’s down, and who wins and who’s to blame; the President wants this because he thinks it’s vitally important to the economy.

We have had some good news lately with the economy.  We have a lot of work to do, but there are some signs of improvement.  And what outside economists have said is that if we do not extend the payroll tax cut, that could have a very negative effect on an economy that is just beginning to show some positive signs.  So the President wants this not as a political victory, but because his number-one priority is growing the economy and creating — or helping the economy create more jobs so that fewer Americans are looking for work and more Americans are employed and have the means to ensure that they can pay their bills and send their kids to school.

Q    And one other question.  I know you often don’t like to talk about polls, but CNN has a new poll that came out and it shows that the President’s numbers are much better than they were just last month:  his approval rating, 49 percent now compared to 44 percent in November; disapproval, 48 percent now compared to 54 percent in November.  Any comment on that?  What do you attribute that to?

MR. CARNEY:  I will simply say that polls go up and down.  We live in a very challenging political environment, and more importantly, in a continuingly challenging economic environment.  This President is focused on the challenging economic environment.  And admittedly, in focusing on that, he has to contend with the challenging political environment. 

But right now, he is committed to working with Congress and doing the things he can do outside of Congress to grow the economy and help it create jobs.  And I think that in these last several months, that focus has been pretty clear.  And he’s going to continue that focus.  And the impact that has on polls remains to be seen, but the — but it is his primary focus as President.


Q    Jay, I just want to put a finer point then — are you saying there’s a scenario that’s possible, on December 25th, where the President wakes up and “It’s a Wonderful Life” is on, and he puts on his Christmas sweater in the White House, and he’s all alone and his family is in Hawaii?

MR. CARNEY:  And he and John Boehner — (laughter) —

Q    He invites John Boehner over and — is it possible that he spends Christmas alone at the White House?

MR. CARNEY:  I think it would be — (laughter) — will you be available if — (laughter) —

Q    I have an opening, yes.  (Laughter.)  You just give us 20 minutes, we’ll do an interview.

MR. CARNEY:  When he hears this this is going to change his opinion about — (laughter) —

Q    He’ll go to Hawaii.

MR. CARNEY:  Look, I’m reluctant to say where he’s going to be on which day because I don’t want to make this about him.  And also, it is a very fluid situation.  Today, the House — or overnight, the House abruptly avoided voting on the available Senate bipartisan compromise to engage in some political theater, and then — but what remains true is, although they have done that, is that available bipartisan compromise is still there, or is still available.

So it’s hard to know what tomorrow is going to look like, what the next day is going to look like, as this saga continues.

What the President will continue to articulate is his firm belief that, A, he and every leader in Congress is committed to extending the payroll tax cut for a year; B, that we need to make sure, as an insurance policy against taxes going up in 11 days on 160 million Americans, that we pass the bipartisan compromise that extends the payroll tax cut for two months.

Beyond that my crystal ball is very cloudy, so I can’t really tell you.  I’m sure — I mean, I know the President wants to see his daughters and his wife.  But right now, we’re focused on urging Congress to do the right thing — urging the House of Representatives, the Republicans in the House of Representatives, the leadership of the Republicans in the House of Representatives to do the right thing.

Q    Two other quick things.  One, do you dismiss the concerns that have been raised — putting aside all the other issues that are out there — dismiss the concerns by some payroll experts who say that just practically speaking, not politically speaking, it is going to be difficult, confusing, hard, to implement a two-month extension — putting aside any politics.

MR. CARNEY:  Sure.

Q    Do you agree at all?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I don’t dismiss it.  I understand that when Congress waits until the last minute to do something like this, as it did last year, it creates some challenges and complications.  But as I said yesterday, the President is committed to asking his administration to work with American businesses to overcome whatever complications this might cause.  He would rather do that, rather make that request of his administration, than ask Americans to spend the holidays worrying about how they’re going to deal with $1,000 less next year.

Q    Okay.  And I hope this doesn’t affect my Christmas Day invitation, but if you feel like John Boehner and the House Republicans now are blocking the payroll tax cut extension — and many times at this podium you’ve said that the Republicans are out to stop him, practically at every turn — how is it then the President was able to tell CBS news that basically his accomplishments in three years are only beaten by three other Presidents in American history?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he was talking about legislative accomplishments.  And I think it’s fair to say that a significant portion of his —

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  Sorry to interrupt. 

MR. CARNEY:  All yours, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, everybody.  It is no secret that there hasn’t been an abundance of partisanship in Washington this year.  And that’s why what happened on Saturday was such a big deal. 

Nearly the entire Senate — including almost all of the Republicans — voted to prevent 160 million working Americans from receiving a tax increase on January 1st.  Nearly the entire Senate voted to make sure that nearly 2.5 million Americans who are out there looking for a job don’t lose their unemployment insurance in the first two months of next year.  And just about everybody — Democrats and Republicans — committed to making sure that early next year we find a way to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance through the end of 2012.

But now, even though Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were willing to compromise for the good of the country, a faction of Republicans in the House are refusing to even vote on the Senate bill — a bill that cuts taxes for 160 million Americans.  And because of their refusal to cooperate, all those Americans could face a tax hike in just 11 days, and millions of Americans who are out there looking for work could find their unemployment insurance expired.

Now, let’s be clear:  Right now, the bipartisan compromise that was reached on Saturday is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on January 1st.  It’s the only one.  All of the leaders in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — say they are committed to making sure we extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the entire year.  And by the way, this is something I called for months ago. 

The issue is, is that the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate worked on a one-year deal, made good progress, but determined that they needed more time to reach an agreement.  And that’s why they passed an insurance policy — to make sure that taxes don’t go up on January 1st. 

In fact, the House Republicans say they don’t dispute the need for a payroll tax cut.  What they’re really trying to do, what they’re holding out for, is to wring concessions from Democrats on issues that have nothing to do with the payroll tax cut — issues where the parties fundamentally disagree.  So a one-year deal is not the issue; we can and we will come to that agreement, as long as it’s focused on the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance and not focused on extraneous issues.

The issue right now is this:  The clock is ticking; time is running out.  And if the House Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate bill, or even allow it to come up for a vote, taxes will go up in 11 days.  I saw today that one of the House Republicans referred to what they’re doing as, “high-stakes poker.”  He’s right about the stakes, but this is not poker, this is not a game — this shouldn’t be politics as usual.  Right now, the recovery is fragile, but it is moving in the right direction.  Our failure to do this could have effects not just on families but on the economy as a whole.  It’s not a game for the average family, who doesn’t have an extra 1,000 bucks to lose.  It’s not a game for somebody who’s out there looking for work right now, and might lose his house if unemployment insurance doesn’t come through.  It’s not a game for the millions of Americans who will take a hit when the entire economy grows more slowly because these proposals aren’t extended.

I just got back from a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, where we received the flag and the colors that our troops fought under in Iraq, and I met with some of the last men and women to return home from that war.  And these Americans, and all Americans who serve, are the embodiment of courage and selflessness and patriotism, and when they fight together, and sometimes die together, they don’t know and they certainly don’t care who’s a Democrat and who’s a Republican and how somebody is doing in the polls and how this might play in the spin room.  They work as a team, and they do their job.  And they do it for something bigger than themselves. 

The people in this town need to learn something from them.  We have more important things to worry about than politics right now.  We have more important things to worry about than saving face, or figuring out internal caucus politics.  We have people who are counting on us to make their lives just a little bit easier, to build an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded.  And we owe it to them to come together right now and do the right thing.  That’s what the Senate did.  Democrats and Republicans in the Senate said, we’re going to put our fights on other issues aside and go ahead and do what’s right on something we all agree to.  Let’s go ahead and do it.  We’ll have time later for the politics; we’ll have time later to have fights around a whole bunch of other issues.  Right now, though, we know this is good for the economy — and they went ahead and did the right thing.

I need the Speaker and House Republicans to do the same:  Put politics aside, put aside issues where there are fundamental disagreements, and come together on something we agree on.  And let’s not play brinksmanship.  The American people are weary of it; they’re tired of it.  They expect better.  I’m calling on the Speaker and the House Republican leadership to bring up the Senate bill for a vote.  Give the American people the assurance they need in this holiday season.

Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Yes, sorry, I’ll just take a couple more because — (laughter) — I think — you’ll never know.

Q    So is he going to deliver that message now in phone calls?
MR. CARNEY:  I think he just did.  (Laughter.) 

Q    This was it?  Is he calling Boehner, or is this the way he’s going to do it?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I’ve answered the question about whether or not this is an issue of that kind of negotiation.  It is simply a call by the President for the House of Representatives, the leadership of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives, to follow the example of the Senate, and to act in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion to ensure that Americans’ taxes don’t go up on January 1st.

Q    Is this a stalemate?  Jay, is this a stalemate?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to — you guys get to write the flowery prose.  I don’t get to do that anymore.

Kristen, sorry.

Q    Jay, thanks.  House Republicans have said that their main issue with the bill is that it only extends the payroll tax cut for two months.  Given that, as the President just said, ultimately, he does want to see a one-year extension, can you just explain what the problem is with renegotiating this deal?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’ll point you back to both what the President said and I said, which is that, as part of an approach that was agreed upon by the Speaker of the House, the Senate Republican leader, the Senate Democratic leader worked very hard on a bipartisan compromise to extend the payroll tax cut for a year.  They made great progress but they were not able to get it done in time, and they believe that what was of the utmost importance was that they reach a compromise to extend the payroll tax cut for two months to ensure that Americans did not have their taxes go up on January 1st.  But they committed to come back and finish the work that would lead to a year-long extension.  That is absolutely the President’s approach.

I mean, it is simply a fallacy to suggest that this is about one year versus two months.  Everybody is for one year.  In fact — and I won’t bore you with reading all the quotations that exist — this President has been pushing for a one-year extension and expansion of the payroll tax cut for months, initially against great Republican resistance to even that idea. 

So his commitment to doing this for a year I think is beyond doubt.  What concerns him is that if the House does not take action on the Senate compromise, taxes go up on 160 million Americans. 

The avenue out of this problem that the House leadership created is obvious and clear to everyone:  Vote on the Senate bill.  It didn’t pass 51-49; the Vice President didn’t come out — have to come in and break a tie.  It passed 89-10.  That’s huge.  They don’t get much bigger than that on things that aren’t post offices. 

So that’s the right way to go.

Q    Nancy Pelosi was quoted as saying, “It is just the extreme tea party element of the Republicans in the House of Representatives who are standing in the way of a tax cut for 160 million Americans.”  Does the administration agree that the tea party is behind this?  What do you think is at work here?

MR. CARNEY:  I think, as I’ve said, and I can say again, is that what is clear is that, based on an abundance of reporting, is that the Speaker believed that this was a good deal; that he thought House Republicans ought to support it.  And then he changed his position because of the strong opposition of some segment or element of his conference.

Now, you’re a better student of Republican Party politics probably than I am now.  But certainly some folks would use that label.  To me it’s irrelevant.  It’s simply that a small faction of one party in one house is blocking a compromise that has been agreed to overwhelmingly by everyone else of both parties.

So, look, the fact of the matter is, if taxes don’t get — if the extension doesn’t happen and taxes go up, people aren’t going to remember — the American people aren’t going to remember who won, who saved face, who won the political battle in the middle of December; they’re going to just remember their taxes went up.  And they’re going to be rightfully angry about it.

So it is for that reason that the House should act, and not worry about whether or not they’ve extracted the political concessions that would somehow make giving a tax cut to 160 million Americans palatable.  That used to be what it meant to be a Republican. 

Bill.  And then Jackie.

Q    Jay, isn’t there just one flaw to this equation, which is, if you went to Dulles right now you’d probably meet half the Republican members of Congress already running out of town.  So in effect, the Senate has gone and the House has gone, except for the conferees.  So there’s —

MR. CARNEY:  We call on the Speaker to do what is necessary to have the House vote on this bipartisan compromise.

Q    Bring them back to town, is what you’re saying?

MR. CARNEY:  If he feels that the last act of the Republicans in the House in the year of 2011 is a vote to raise taxes on Americans, that’s what he wants it to be, he could take that approach; it’s the wrong approach for the country. 

And again, going back to my answer, this is not about political winners or losers.  It’s about average folks, their paychecks, and the fact that it’s so unnecessary to make Americans worry about whether or not their taxes are going up as they’re spending the holidays with their families.  Because there’s an overwhelming bipartisan consensus that that should not happen, and there has been a bill passed out of the Senate — 89-10 — that would prevent it from happening.  And but for the objection of a small fraction of one house and its leadership, it would have happened and the President would have signed it into law.

Q    Can I follow on that?

MR. CARNEY:  Jackie.  And then Alexis.

Q    Speaker Boehner’s just named eight Republicans for a conference committee.  Harry Reid has said he won’t do anything until the House votes for the short-term bill.  Is Harry Reid calling the shots here now as we go forward?

MR. CARNEY:  Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, worked very hard with the Senate Republican leader to fashion a bipartisan compromise in the Senate that is exactly what I just described it as — a bipartisan compromise.  It does not contain — it is not the bill that the President put forward; it is not the bill that Senate Democrats put forward.  It is the product of a compromise between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, both in terms of the extent of the tax reduction — the President wanted more — and in the way that it’s paid for.

And it even — as providing the political scalp that some thought was necessary in the Republican Party — it has within it some extraneous, ideological measures.  That is available to the House.  The House has not even voted on it; they have not disposed of it.  It remains as an option for the House to take action. 

Senator Reid, Senator McConnell worked very hard to try to get that one-year extension done before the end of the year.  It was their judgment — their bipartisan judgment — echoed by the 89-10 vote that their two-month extension received — that it was not possible to reach final agreement on the one-year extension in time, and that they did not want to risk American tax — American — middle-class Americans and workers having their taxes go up on January 1st as a result of the need to spend a little more time reaching the full-year agreement.  That’s the right approach. 

But what is not in doubt is that the President, Senator Reid, Senator McConnell and the Speaker of the House all agree — and Leader Pelosi — all agree that we should extend the payroll tax cut for the entire year.  And this President is committed, the leaders are all committed to working to make that happen.  But what this political brinksmanship has created is the possibility that taxes will go up on January 1st because House Republicans refuse to even vote on a bill that received overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate. 

Q    But is he completely supportive of Senator Reid’s stance that the Senate will not come back, will not even consider coming back, unless the House first votes on the short-term —

MR. CARNEY:  I have this rare — Jackie, I have this rare luxury of being able to say — but you heard exactly what the President thinks moments ago from this podium.  And he could not have been clearer about what he thinks Congress needs to do, what the House Republicans need to do.  He spelled it out very clearly.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  Alexis, then I’ll go.

Q    Jay, two quick questions.  First, can you catch us up on what’s going on with the omnibus spending bill, the President’s disposition to finish that off?  And the second question is, the President had some traction this fall with going to the American people and saying, “Pass this bill,” and sending them a message he wanted them to pressure Congress.  The President just gave a message to Congress, but is there a role to play for the electorate right now in these 11 days?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, starting with your second question, I think that the more that Americans become aware of the fact that this particular impasse in Washington will directly result, if not resolved, in their taxes going up substantially, they will probably let their members of Congress know how unhappy they are about that. 

The Senate, in the spirit of working on the nation’s problems and putting aside politics, reached a bipartisan agreement that would prevent that from happening; that would relieve members of the House, including House Republicans, of having to explain to their constituents on January 1st or 2nd or 3rd why it is that their failure to act has resulted in a tax hike for 160 million Americans.

On the first part, there’s a whole process that involves producing a bill like the size of the omnibus.  I think it hasn’t arrived here yet.  When it does the President will sign it.

Q    And I have one follow-up.

MR. CARNEY:  Okay.  Connie, then I got to go.

Q    I just wondered why you don’t just take a few days off, have a cooling-off period?  You’ve got 11 days.  Just declare a recess so people can make their plans.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, this is — there is a very easy solution here:  Pass the Senate bill that received 90 percent support — Republicans and Democrats.


2:19 P.M. EST