White House Press Gaggle by Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One, August 2, 2012

En Route Orlando, Florida-(ENEWSPF)–August 2, 2012 – 12:36 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome aboard Air Force One as we make our way to Florida.  I have no announcements to make at the top.  But Jen does, so I’ll turn it over to Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  So a couple things we just wanted to highlight  — one, as you all saw in your inboxes, we have a new ad out called, “Stretch,” that’s running in eight states.  It highlights the devastating impact Mitt Romney’s tax plan would have on middle-class families.  The President will talk about that again today in Florida and Virginia, as he did yesterday.

We also put out a new video, starring Internet sensation, Stephanie Cutter, that includes — in the link to the video you’ll see a tax cut calculator.  Anyone can go there — any American can go there, enter their information, and they’ll see how the tax cut plans of President Obama and Mitt Romney line up. If you’re a millionaire or billionaire, it’s probably not looking good for you in our plan, but otherwise, you’re great under our plan.  So we encourage people to go there.

Last thing to highlight is we put out state-by-state reports today, as well, highlighting the impact of the tax plan.  Since we’re going to Florida and Virginia today, I just wanted to highlight for you that in Florida, there are 2.4 million families making less than $200,000 a year, who would be impacted by Mitt Romney’s tax plan, in the Tax Policy Center report that went out yesterday.  In Virginia, that’s 1.2 million.  Again, that would be an increase of — a $2,000 tax increase for those families.

Last thing — a big announcement day, sorry — is Mitt Romney, as you know, is traveling to Colorado today.  If you’ve spent any time reading the papers in Iowa and some other Midwestern states, you may have seen a focus on this wind tax credit, which is something that has been debated in Congress. Welcoming Mitt Romney there is a story in The Denver Post about how three out of four Republicans in the delegation are for the tax credit; he is, of course, against it.  And it also talks about a local company called Bestas Vestas that will stand to lose 1,700 jobs.  So I thought I’d highlight that for you, too.

But with that, we’ll take your questions.

Q    Jay, today Kofi Annan quit his role in Syria.  Is there any reaction from the President?  And you seemed concerned that this might further sideline any peace efforts in that region.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, first, the President is grateful for Kofi Annan’s willingness to serve in this capacity and for the efforts he made to achieve peace in Syria and a peaceful transition from the Assad regime. 

I think that Kofi Annan’s resignation highlights two things — one, the fact that President Assad, despite his promise to abide by Kofi Annan’s plan, continues to brutally murder his own people, to use heavy weapons in assaults on civilian population centers, to call on his military leaders to kill the Syrian people in his name.  It is disgusting and only highlights the absolute requirement that, for the future of the Syrian people, Assad must step aside.

Secondly, Annan’s resignation highlights the failure at the United Nations Security Council of Russia and China to support resolutions — meaningful resolutions against Assad that would have held Assad accountable for his failure to abide by his commitments under the Annan plan.  Those vetoes, as we’ve said repeatedly, were highly regrettable, and place both Russia and China on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the Syrian people.  Very unfortunate.

We continue to work with our international partners, including the “Friends of Syria,” to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.  In fact, today I have for you — I think we put this out already, but as you know, the President approved an additional $12 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance to support those most affected by the crisis in Syria.  That brings the commitment so far from the United States to over $76 million in humanitarian assistance.  

Additionally, as you know, we continue to work with our partners in assisting the opposition form itself and unify, and to provide non-lethal assistance to the opposition.

Q    — consider arming rebels?  

MR. CARNEY:  Our position has not changed.  We provide non-lethal assistance to the opposition.  We don’t believe that adding to the number of weapons in Syria is what’s needed to help bring about a peaceful transition.

Q    Jay, given reports that the opposition is, in some cases, executing prisoners, is there concern about providing assistance to people who may turn out to be war criminals?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we strongly condemn summary executions by either side in Syria.  And I have obviously seen those reports and we condemn actions like that.  As I just said, the reason why we — our position is that we will not supply lethal assistance to the opposition is we do not believe that adding more weapons into Syria will help bring about the peaceful transition that Syria needs. 

We believe strongly that once Assad leaves, Syria’s opportunity for a peaceful transition can move forward, that the key element here is Assad’s departure from power.  It is important to note that it is the Assad regime and Assad’s forces that have perpetrated the overwhelming amount of violence in Syria, that are responsible for the overwhelming number of civilian casualties.  And that is why we so strongly, and have for so long, believed that Assad must go.

Q    Jay, what’s the administration’s view of the cohesiveness of the rebel force?  Are they acting in unison?  Is there a leadership group within it?  Are they so disparate that it makes it difficult for the administration to determine who they can count on there?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we have spent, as I’ve said in the past, time studying the opposition, working with the opposition.  I would note that there has been progress by the opposition in unifying itself.  I would note that some leaders of the opposition, military leaders, have made clear their position that they are fighting for a Syria that is inclusive, that recognizes the rights of all Syrians.  And we would certainly support that position.  That’s what we believe the Syrian people deserve and that’s what we believe those peaceful demonstrators who first came out against Assad were demanding.

Q    Jay, there was also a report in Reuters, confirmed by NBC, that the President had signed a finding.  The White House has not commented on that.  But in the past you’ve shot down some of those reports; in this case, you’re not.  Should we read anything into that?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not sure that we’ve commented one way or the other on intelligence matters.  We don’t do that.  And I would not have any comment on that report.  I would point to you — point out what I just said in answer to another question, that our position has not changed when it comes to the kinds of support that we provide and assistance that we provide to the Syrian opposition. 

Q    Congress is going to release a report, maybe later this week, about more on the Solyndra affair — I don’t know if you saw a report today about that, reporting that I think some White House analyst thought it not wise to move forward with the restructuring but rather cut your losses earlier, and that Jack Lew, when he was head of the Office of Management and Budget, despite some of that advice from internal White House advisors, decided to go ahead and go forward with it.  Do you have any comment about that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I did see these reports, and what it points out is, yet again, proof positive that none of the accusations that the Republicans have made about this particular loan have turned out to be true — that this was a merit-based decision. 

And the President firmly believes that it is the right decision to invest in clean energy technologies in this country, because if we do not, we will cede those industries to China and India and Europe and elsewhere.  The President is not willing to do that — because those industries will be essential to the economic growth of the United States in the 21st century and to the energy security of the United States in the 21st century.

I think some Republicans have conceded, have acknowledged that the Solyndra investigation is about politics.  It’s now gone on for 18 months, if I’m not mistaken — 18 months.  Congress began looking at this loan in February of 2010, and everything disclosed in the 215,000 pages of documents, the 14 committee staff briefings, the 5 congressional hearings, the 72,000 pages from Solyndra investors, and committee interviews with George Kaiser affirm what we have said since day one, that this was a merit-based decision.

With regards to the comment about the Office of Management and Budget, I mean, as you know, because your paper covered it, as did all papers — this was all explored both in newspapers and in a congressional hearing nine months ago.  At the time, then-OMB Deputy Director Jeff Zients said in his testimony the OMB’s career staff worked closely with the Department of Energy to understand the specifics of the proposal before making a cost determination, and ultimately determined that DOE’s approach was reasonable and reflected the information as it was understood at the time.

And I can point you to, and will gladly read for the record, 18 independent news sources, including the Wall Street Journal, Politifact, The Washington Post, San Jose Mercury News, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Hill, et cetera, et cetera — concluded that, to quote this, “The emails do not offer evidence that would support Republican allegations that politics influenced the Department of Energy’s decision.”  That’s a quote from the Wall Street Journal in November of 2011.

What we knew then we still know, and this is a 18-month, costly investigation that only highlights the fact that Congress is not doing what it should do to help the American people.  Why isn’t it extending the production tax credit that Jen was talking about that has bipartisan support, has had it in the past and has it right now, that would help clean energy firms in Colorado and Iowa and elsewhere?  Why isn’t the House passing tax relief for middle-class Americans, for 98 percent of the population?  Why isn’t it passing legislation that was submitted by the President in the American Jobs Act that would put over a million Americans to work teaching our children, building our roads and protecting our people?  That’s the choice they’re making.

Q    A report today showed that initial jobless claims rose less than anticipated today.  Does that provide any sense of optimism looking ahead to tomorrow’s jobs report?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no observation to make in anticipation of tomorrow’s data release.  I would simply say that what I can be confident of is that we — and the President believes that we absolutely need to continue to work to help the economy grow faster, to help it create more jobs.  And that will be as true tomorrow as it is today. 

We have, as you know, experienced two years of positive economic growth — more than that.  We have experienced 4.4 million private sector jobs created, but we still have a long way to go.  And that’s what I was just saying to Dave — Congress must act to pass the American Jobs Act provisions that have not passed that would put teachers back to work, construction workers on the job, firefighters and police officers back to work, and pass this tax cut that the Senate passed that represents what we all agree on in Washington, that 98 percent of Americans ought to have their tax cut extended next year. 

That would create economic security for them.  It would prevent a $2,200 tax hike on middle-class families, and it would address some of the concerns about the economy at the end of the year.  It would help the macroeconomic picture for 2013.  And Congress could do that simply by acknowledging that Republicans and Democrats all agree on this, and that we should act on that and then debate the things that we disagree on as we move forward.

Q    Can we expect to hear from the President tomorrow after the numbers come out?

MR. CARNEY:  Oh, I would expect you will.  As he normally does, he will address that bit of news.  But I have no more for you on that.

Q    — had a story today about a near miss, potential accident at Reagan National Airport.  I’m wondering if the White House has been briefed on what happened by the FAA, and also what concerns you might have about it —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I certainly saw the reports, and I know that people in the White House are aware of it, but I do not have anything more for you on it.  It’s under investigation by the FAA and I would refer you to the FAA.

Q    Hey, Jen, can you preview the President’s comments to the blogger conference —

Q    Can you repeat the question?

MS. PSAKI:  Ari asked about the blogger conference.  The President is speaking — will be appearing live over satellite to their 2012 conference today from our first stop in Florida.  This is a group of women bloggers.  They reach millions of people across the country.  As you all know, people get their news from many different sources — NPR, AP, Reuters, Washington Post — but they also get it from blogs and online, increasingly.  And this is a group the President has addressed in the past, and it’s an opportunity for him to speak about his commitment to not just fighting for middle-class tax cuts, but fighting for affordable health care, making sure that women have a voice in the White House.  And I expect when you hear his remarks today that’s what you’ll hear him talk about.

Q    Jay, Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that the fiscal cliff, the sequester and the cuts that it envisions could be resolved if the President would just call John McCain and have a discussion as to how to emerge out of this.  Does the President agree that a mere phone call can get this issue resolved with somebody like McCain?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I certainly think the President believes that if Republican leaders were to tell him that they were ready to support the basic principle that we need to address our fiscal challenges in a balanced way, that we can move forward with a plan for deficit reduction that doesn’t just cut spending, doesn’t just reform entitlements, but also asks everyone to pay their fair share — then, absolutely, we could get this done very quickly, as I’ve said repeatedly and as the President has said repeatedly.

Unfortunately, what I have seen from the Senators you mentioned is that they’re calling for action to prevent cuts that the President does not support — that no one supports — to take action on that not by advancing a balanced deficit reduction plan.  And the reason they won’t do that, or haven’t yet, is because they would rather see those defense cuts take place than ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more.  And that is simply indefensible as a proposition.

Look, let’s go back to why the so-called sequester exists — because of the refusal of Republicans to accept the principle that we ought to have a balanced approach to deficit reduction, and because of their willingness to play chicken with the global and American economies.  The President and the congressional negotiators agreed to the Budget Control Act, which enacted significant deficit reduction, spending cuts, and called on Congress — assigned to Congress the task of delivering additional deficit reduction.  If Congress failed to do its job, the sequester was to kick in.  And the design of the sequester was onerous for everyone.  No one supports the cuts, and that’s why no amount of planning can paper over the fact that the cuts are bad policy.  The President doesn’t support them.  But the problem here is, is that Congress refuses to do its job. 

And as I just said at the top, what they need to do is abundantly clear to anyone who has paid attention to this issue, studied this issue, and that is agree to the simple principle that we have to address our fiscal challenges by implementing a balanced plan — because if we don’t, we know what the alternative looks like.  The alternative says millionaires and billionaires get tax cuts, the middle class gets stuck with the bill of solving our fiscal challenges; that seniors see their Medicare program ended as they know it and turned into a voucher program; that families who have disabled children see their benefits cut dramatically; that programs in education and innovation and investments in infrastructure all get dramatically slashed.

We cannot do that.  It’s bad for the American people.  It’s bad for the middle class.  It’s bad for the economy.  And we do not have to do that.  All we have to do is pass legislation that is balanced, that reflects the principles of the Bowles-Simpson commission, reflects the principles of the Domenici-Rivlin commission, reflects the principles of the Gang of Six — reflects the principles of every common-sense person who has looked at this issue — every economist, every legislative analyst who has looked at this issue.

Q    The President is about to go speak in Florida, a state hard hit by housing boom and bust.  Is there any reaction from the President on Edward DeMarco’s refusal to do the administration’s plan to implement a principal write-down program?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Treasury Secretary Geithner addressed this,  And look, we certainly believe that we need to take measures that assist homeowners who are underwater.  And the President has implemented a number of measures that have done that.  The President is calling on Congress to take measures that would assist homeowners and allow them to refinance at these historically low rates.  And we certainly believe that the action that Mr. DeMarco, after six months of study, refused to take should have been taken — could be taken to further assist homeowners.

Q    Any plans to replace him?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m sorry?

Q    Any plans to replace him?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let’s be clear.  First of all, this is a career position.  This is not – [it’s] an independent agency, one.  Two, the President nominated a highly qualified person, and because of the kind of classic obstructionism we’ve seen in Congress, that nomination did not move forward.  But I have no other personnel announcements to make.

I’m sorry.  Jen had something on that.

MS. PSAKI:  I’ll just add one thing since you referenced our trip to Florida.  While the President has taken a number of steps to help hardest-hit states like Florida help recover during the housing market — as the housing market has struggled, let’s not forget that Mitt Romney has suggested we should just let the housing market hit bottom.  So even though we’re going there today, we know he’s going to go there soon, and this is an issue that, no question, gives people in states like Florida and Nevada and the hardest-hit states pause when they’re looking at the choice.

Go ahead.

Q    Jay, there were 19 House Democrats that voted with House Republicans yesterday to pass all the Bush tax cuts.  Is the President prepared to criticize those Democrats as he has Republicans?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, he doesn’t support that position.  He believes that we cannot afford to extend tax cuts to the wealthiest 2 percent of the American people at the cost of over a trillion dollars over 10 years. 

And it’s not just an esoteric position the President is taking.  It’s based on what we know happened when those tax cuts were passed.  When the Bush tax cuts were passed, we, the American people, were told that they would cause a huge increase in economic growth, a huge increase in job creation.  Neither happened.  In fact, we saw the slowest economic growth of any expansion in 50 years.  We saw anemic job creation.  And ultimately, we saw the worst economic and financial crisis in any of our lifetimes.  That was the legacy of those policies of the previous administration. 

Oh, and I forgot, record deficits.  President Bush came into office in January of 2001 with the largest surpluses in history, delivered to him by President Bill Clinton.  When he left office and President Obama took the oath in January of 2009, in addition to a cascading global economic calamity and a situation where we were losing jobs at the rate of 750,000 a month, President Obama was given the largest deficit in American history — over a trillion dollars.

So we know what that approach results in.  The President’s approach is quite different.  And, again, we can debate, and we should debate, and the President will debate, no doubt, during this campaign, whether or not now is the right time to give tax cuts to the richest and wealthiest Americans.  But where there is no debate is that middle-class Americans, 98 percent of taxpaying Americans, ought to have their tax cuts extended.  There’s no disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on that.

So the only obstacle to ensuring that 98 percent of the American people don’t see their taxes rise on January 1st is the obstinate refusal of Republicans to let go of the idea that millionaires and billionaires need a tax cut.

Q    Is it just Republicans?  It’s a significant number of Democrats as well —

MR. CARNEY:  I’m saying the position of the President could not have been clearer.  And, yes, a very small fraction of Democrats may have voted here, but the overwhelming majority of Democrats support the principle that the overwhelming, in fact, the entire majority — the entire Republican caucus, I assume, in both the House and the Senate supports, which is that we ought to extend tax cuts for the middle class.  So let’s do that.  Let’s not hold middle-class tax cuts hostage to the idea that folks making over $250,000 need a tax cut.

Q    Any Olympic calls?

MR. CARNEY:  Any other who?

Q    Olympic calls.

MR. CARNEY:  None today to report.

Q    Is he watching onboard?

MR. CARNEY:  He was in his office when I came down here, so I’m not sure.

MS. PSAKI:  We’ll be watching the women’s all-around, and Ryan Lochte’s attempt to go for a twofer gold, so — we, being us.  And encouragement of others on the plane.  (Laughter.) 

MR. CARNEY:  That’s right.  The Olympics is definitely on on all the TV sets that I saw walking through the cabin.

1:05 P.M. EDT