White House Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney Aboard Air Force One, April 15, 2011

En Route Joint Base Andrews–(ENEWSPF)–April 15, 2011 – 1:39 P.M. EDT.

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I don’t have any opening announcements or statements, so I will take your questions.

Q    The President said in an interview today that the debt ceiling won’t be raised without spending cuts.  Can you explain what he means by that?  Are these two separate issues like you have been saying, or one and the same?

MR. CARNEY:  I think what the President made clear and has made clear in the past is that we — there are two urgent tasks that need to be addressed.  One, Congress has to vote to raise the ceiling on our debt.  That’s an imperative that shouldn’t be linked or held hostage to any other action because the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling — those consequences would be catastrophic to the American economy, to the global economy and to America’s creditworthiness internationally.

We are also moving with a great sense of urgency towards — taking steps towards greater deficit reduction, through the speech the President gave the other day, and the process that he has asked the Vice President to oversee and leaders of Congress to appoint members to participate in where they can come together and begin to negotiate areas where we can agree to bring about further deficit reduction in a balanced way that can achieve the kind of results that we think are what America needs economically and for our future.

These are both urgent, but they’re not linked.  How this will play out remains to be seen, but both need to be done.  And with regards to the debt ceiling, it cannot be linked or held hostage to something that wouldn’t pass — couldn’t reach consensus.  It has to be done.  All the leaders of Congress of both parties have said that, and we obviously share that sentiment.

Q    So the one isn’t contingent on the other?  It seemed in the interview like he was saying that he recognizes the relationship —

MR. CARNEY:  I think what the President was saying is that he recognizes that the — that Republicans want more deficit reduction.  He wants more deficit reduction.  He wants it in a balanced way.  He also said that as in any compromise and any negotiation, he recognizes he’s not going to get 100 percent of what he wants or that it’s not going to be his way only, and Republicans need to recognize that, which is how we ended up with an agreement last week on the funding for the 2011 budget.

So I think that’s the process that he — a similar kind of process that he hopes that we’ll see as we go forward with — on the deficit-reduction track for the larger-picture issues that we’re looking at.

Q    But if his condition now is that the deficit ceiling won’t be raised without an agreement to cuts —

MR. CARNEY:  That’s not his position at all.  His position is that the deficit ceiling must be raised — absolutely.  And that’s the position of the Speaker of the House, the Senate Minority Leader, the Senate Majority Leader, the House Minority Leader, et cetera, et cetera — all the major players in Congress — which is fortunate because as we’ve all said and as I know you know, if you talk to economists or businessmen or women, that there’s simply too much at stake here to be playing around with the full faith and credit of the United States government.

What he is saying is that he recognizes that there is a great focus, as there should be, on the need for deficit reduction and building on the significant achievement of last week which was — and voted on and passed into law yesterday the — for the fiscal year 2011, the largest domestic non-defense discretionary spending cuts in history.

Q    Does the President believe Paul Ryan is a sincere person?  I mean, his comments in the public were very different than the comments when the reporters left the room, were very pointed in saying does he think — you know, implying that Ryan was not serious about the deficit, he voted for two wars, that kind of thing.  Is there a difference between what he said in public and what he said when we thought he was not in public?

MR. CARNEY:  Actually I think what he said in that session you’re talking about and the things he’s said in more public forums have been entirely consistent.  And you can’t in one breath criticize him for being pointed in his comments about the House Republican budget plan in public and then say, my gosh, he was pointed and so different in private, because he is making clear that the visions are quite different.

He does believe that Chairman Ryan is absolutely sincere and that he believes that this is the right — that that’s the right path, the one he put forward is the right path for America.

The President simply disagrees because he doesn’t think that it’s balanced.  He doesn’t think that we need to — that the price of deficit reduction needs to be ending the guarantee, the health benefits that Medicare has provided our seniors, cutting energy — clean energy investment by 70 percent, cutting education by 25 percent, cutting infrastructure by 30 percent — and all so that we can not just reduce the deficit but so that we can extend tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans and give new tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.  That’s just not — that’s just — it’s a different vision.

And then — and I think the point he’s making is that there is more here than a goal of deficit reduction.  It’s a vision of government and what — and the way our system should work and what America should look like.

And when he talked about those votes under the previous administration, he was making the point that that’s evidence that this is more than — this is not just about deficit reduction.  If it were just about deficit reduction, you wouldn’t vote for —

Q    Wars.

MR. CARNEY:  — an entitlement, a brand new entitlement without paying for it.  You wouldn’t vote for two massive tax cuts without paying for them, or for the funding of two wars without paying for them, which is what happened in the first decade of this year.

Q    How did it happen last night that those remarks were piped back into the press room?

MR. CARNEY:  It was a miscommunication, nothing more than that.  But we’ve — it’s not a problem, not an issue.

Q    Is the President embarrassed about anything that he said —

MR. CARNEY:  Not at all.

Q    — or regret —

MR. CARNEY:  Not at all.  There’s nothing —

Q    — might have clarified them differently if he had known they were for public distribution?

MR. CARNEY:  He obviously — that was meant to be a closed-press event.  He was taking questions from supporters.  But there’s nothing — nothing he said that contradicts anything he said in public.

Q    In an interview yesterday, the Senate Majority Leader had raised some doubts as to whether the President’s Afghanistan policy is going to be ultimately successful.  Did the Commander-in-Chief hear those remarks, and did he have any thought on them?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not aware that he heard those remarks, so I don’t have a response for you.

Q    I’ve only read the top line from the AP interview, but it looks as if the President, speaking about Libya, said that they are at a stalemate and — but that he still believes Qaddafi will go.

MR. CARNEY:  Right, what his point was that the — what he said, rather, was that the — obviously the military conflict remains contentious and unresolved because what the NATO mission is — NATO is fulfilling its mission which is to enforce the no-fly zone, enforce an arms embargo and provide civilian protection; it is not to win the war or decapitate the regime.

But all the other measures that the United States and its partners are taking are tightening the noose around Qaddafi, putting more pressure on Qaddafi, with the end goal of having him accept the fact that he can no longer rule legitimately in Libya, and that the Libyan people need to decide their future for themselves.

Q    How does he think, though, that Qaddafi is going to come to that realization or leave by force in some other way?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that it becomes increasingly clear when your assets are frozen, your capacities have become increasingly diminished, that you are — your days are numbered in terms of your — what exactly are you ruling over.  And that what we have seen, because the sanctions are targeted not just at Colonel Qaddafi and his family but members of his inner circle who are being identified in greater numbers every week, that there — pressure is put on them to make an existential decision about who they want to be, whose side do they want to be on, the Libyan people’s side or Colonel Qaddafi’s side, a man who has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the world and his people.

So that kind of pressure has led to defections already.  We hope and anticipate that it will lead to more defections, put more pressure on Colonel Qaddafi, and eventually lead to his stepping down from power.

Q    In the Q&A last night the President said that he anticipates that Republicans will seek to kind of put policy issue riders on future budget-type bills.  So would he veto a deficit-reduction package that had unrelated social policy or environmental riders?  Because he did, in the end, have to accept some, as you know.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to speculate about what might be on a bill that hasn’t been written or anything like that.  What I will say is that his position on these issues was made pretty clear in the negotiations over the 2011 continuing resolution and — because he doesn’t believe that highly contentious social issues or ideological issues belong in budget bills.  But I’m not going to pre-negotiate something that doesn’t even exist at this point.

Q    What time is he going to sign the 2011 budget bill — today?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t know, actually — we can find out.

Q    Will that be open, closed, photo —

MR. CARNEY:  We’ll have to find out.  I don’t know.

Q    Do you guys have any reaction to the CBO report that shows that the budget deal reduced government spending by $20-$25 billion, not the $38 billion number?  Have you seen that?

MR. CARNEY:  I have read reports of that.  My only reaction is that we worked together with members of Congress on a package that, by the numbers, Republicans and Democrats measured together in the negotiations, reduced spending by roughly $38.5 billion.  And there are obviously different ways to measure this and there are different kinds of spending, but those are real cuts with real impact on the government and on Americans.

Q    Is there a week ahead?

MR. CARNEY:  You know what, I don’t but I’ll — my understanding is that they are providing something back at home in Washington out of the press/comms office.  But if — I’ll double-check to see if there’s anything additional on top of that.

Q    Great.

MR. CARNEY:  All right?

Q    Thank you very much, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Thanks for flying with us.

1:50 P.M. EDT