White House Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney aboard Air Force One, April 20, 2011

En Route San Francisco, California–(ENEWSPF)–April 20, 2011 – 11:45 A.M. EDT.

MR. CARNEY:  I have no announcements or statements so I will just take your questions.

Q On some of the criticism from the Republicans on the Hill over the President’s plan for reducing the deficit, they say that there’s no comparison between what the President is out on the West Coast this week pitching and the level of detail about Paul Ryan’s plan.  Does the President think that his plan is as detailed and comprehensive as Congressman Ryan’s?

MR. CARNEY:  Julie, the President has made clear two things — one, that there is not a debate about the need to reduce our deficits.  Democrats and Republicans agree that that needs to be done, and he strongly agrees that it needs to be done.  He has demonstrated his commitment already to reducing the deficit.

Secondly, as he has said for a long time now, and certainly since his State of the Union address, the only way we’re going to deal with a serious fiscal reform is if we do it in a bipartisan way, if we have serious, responsible — serious-minded, responsible leaders in Washington come together to work out an approach, a compromise, that will be bipartisan, that can reach a consensus, a bipartisan consensus.  There is no way to do it otherwise.

And what he has done — what he did last week is lay out a vision, his vision, for how we should get there.  And it is quite detailed.  The issue is not — at this point is not do we need deficit reduction, or how specific are the proposals — because the balance is key.  Everyone knows what needs to be done in terms of finding savings in health care costs; additional spending cuts that we’ve already made a lot of progress on, but additional spending cuts; dealing with spending through our tax code; and obviously — and the fourth leg of that stool, if you will, is savings on interest payments.

So he looks very much forward to working in a bipartisan way to getting this done.  Because it is fine to say for one house of Congress and one party and one house to say we passed a bill — which they have, indeed.  That bill cannot and will not become law.  If we’re serious about doing something, we have to work together.  That’s what the American people expect us to do.

And anticipating, perhaps, a question, I’d like to say that when people talk about the way that the President spoke last week and laid out competing visions that now exist for how we get there, I would remind you that a good portion of the speech was dedicated to talking about just this, the need for bipartisan compromise, the need for consensus, the same themes that he has been sounding for a long time now.

And that’s really what the American people want.  He has demonstrated his willingness to cut spending in programs that he thinks are good programs that provide valuable services but that are not absolutely essential in a time when we have to tighten our belts, live within our means.

In other words, he’s demonstrated his willingness to move outside the traditional comfort zone for Democrats because he knows that we have to get something done.  And he looks forward to all interested parties in this debate to doing the same thing.

Q Jay, the President said yesterday at the town hall that there were still very big philosophical differences between the two sides.  How does he expect to bridge those gaps?

MR. CARNEY:  There have long been very large philosophical differences between our two parties.  It’s the nature of our two-party system.  It’s part of what makes our country great.  And it’s also why we have such spirited debate about the issues.

That diversity of opinion or disagreement, if you will, did not prevent Ronald Reagan from coming to an agreement on some very weighty matters with Tip O’Neill, Democratic Speaker of the House; did not prevent Bill Clinton — President Bill Clinton from coming to an agreement on balancing the budget with Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.  It did not prevent President Obama from reaching an agreement last December with Republican leaders on a broad tax cut for all Americans.  And it did not prevent the President from reaching an agreement with Speaker of the House John Boehner to reduce deficits substantially, more than ever before, in an annual budget appropriation bill just a few weeks ago.

So when there is a sense of urgency, when there is something that everyone agrees has to be done, there is an enormous amount of pressure I believe from the American people, from all sides of the debate, to get something done that we can and should come together, that the President believes that’s possible.

Q It seems hard to reconcile that optimism with the fact that both sides are still fighting over taxes and the very basic building blocks of the two different plans.

MR. CARNEY:  I just think that this is a process.  We’re obviously not going to come to an agreement on all the issues that divide us in the next few months.  Then we’d have a one-party system, right?  But that’s not going to happen.  But what we can do is reach an agreement on the need to reduce deficits and address our long-term debt problem, deal with fiscal reform.

And there’s no reason why we can’t do this, because the elements of what needs to be done are pretty clear to reasonable people, and I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure from the American people for Washington to work, and for each side to demonstrate its willingness to compromise.

Compromise should not be a dirty word.  It’s what Americans expect out of their leaders in Washington; not to sacrifice their principles, but to enact legislation that achieves essential goals.  And in this case, the essential goals are reducing our deficit, reforming our fiscal situation, and all — not as an esoteric exercise, but to strengthen our economy and improve job creation.

Americans are going to work today, they’re taking their kids to school today.  They’re worried about gas prices; they’re worried about are we going to continue growing this economy — is it going to continue growing after we suffered the worst recession since the Great Depression; are there going to be more jobs in their communities; do they have job security themselves.

And they see this debate in Washington through that lens, and they see that — I think they want — the President believes that they demand that their leaders in Washington make sure that everything they do is aimed at strengthening our economy, improving our job creation, and certainly doing nothing that would harm that.  And not taking this action would be detrimental to our economy, and that’s why we have to do it.

Q Jay, there was — there were reports this morning that the administration is considering an executive order requiring companies seeking government contracts to disclose their contributions to groups that under current law would be secret.  Is that correct?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I can tell you is there is a draft — there’s a process, and it’s in the — it’s part of a process.  There’s a draft, and the particular specifics of that executive order could change over time, so I can’t talk about the specifics.  What I can tell you is the President is committed to improving our federal contracting system, making it more transparent and more accountable.  He believes that American taxpayers deserve that, and that’s what he intends to pursue through this executive order.

Q     Is there any political goals behind this?

MR. CARNEY:  Quite the contrary.  He believes very strongly that taxpayers deserve to know whether or not the contractors that their money is going to is being used — how they’re spending their money, and how — whether they’re — how they’re spending in terms of political campaigns.  And his goal is transparency and accountability.  That’s the responsible thing to do when you’re handling taxpayer dollars.

Q Is he likely to go ahead with the executive order?  Or is there another way to accomplish it?

MR. CARNEY:  I can’t — there’s an executive order in the draft process.  I can’t give you any specifics on it because the specifics could change.  That’s the nature of the process.

Q Jay, on a trip like this that combines presidential events with campaign events, can you talk about how it’s funded?  For example, there are no presidential events in Los Angeles.  Is that entire part of the trip funded through the campaign?

MR. CARNEY:  Ari, you know the — when there is travel like this that involves official travel and also political travel, this administration very diligently follows all the same rules that the Bush administration did.  And as far as the specifics on how that breaks down, I’ll have to get back to you.  I don’t have that.  But we’re very careful about making sure that all those rules are followed.

Q Can you talk a little bit about the Facebook approach and the social media approach as this campaign unfolds?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, dating back to the President’s first campaign for the presidency, there’s a great focus on social media.  But this is not — I mean, first of all, back up.  I mean, that was a question about — the campaign is using social media.  The issue here is about reaching the American people on what we were talking about at the top of this, which is the need for fiscal reform, the need to reduce our deficit, the need to do it in a balanced way through bipartisan compromise and consensus.

That’s a pretty esoteric debate — or it can sound like that to most people who have a lot of other things on their minds than the comparative debt-to-GDP ratio in two different proposals or visions, right?

So what the President looks forward to doing through this town hall, as well as the one he did in Virginia and the one he’s doing in Nevada, is have a discussion with Americans from around the country about what this means to them, why it’s so important, how it relates directly to growing the economy, creating jobs, and giving everyone a greater sense of economic security.

And this is — as you know, because you cover it in detail, it can be arcane and — arcane material and it can sometimes just sound like a lot of noise coming out of Washington, and especially when there is disagreements about how to approach it.  And what the President thinks is very important is that the public is keenly aware of the need to — for the government to live within its means, just as they have to; to tighten its belt, just as they have to; and he wants to explain, as he did in his Wednesday speech — you can’t just do it once — he wants to explain what the problem is, how we got there, and how he believes we should get out of it.

Q    Jay, on Libya, we have Italy, France and UK sending, essentially, boots on the ground.  I was wondering if the administration had a reaction to that and if you’ve changed whatsoever your stance on that subject.

MR. CARNEY:  The President, obviously, was aware of this decision and supports it, and hopes that — believes it will help the opposition.  But it does not at all change our — the President’s policy on no boots on the ground for American troops.

Q    Jay, the White House has made great use of Facebook in terms of its messaging strategy.  Could the appearance today at Facebook headquarters be construed as an effort to also promote Facebook, to thank Facebook?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely not.  I mean, Facebook has half a billion users, I think something like that — more people than you can possibly imagine.  The President — we get our message out in a variety of ways and the President appears in a variety of private enterprises to have events.  And this is not about endorsing a specific company; it’s about accepting an invitation for a forum to speak to the American people.  This is an excellent opportunity to do that.

Q    What do you think about the press corps watching the Social Network as we fly to Facebook headquarters?

MR. CARNEY:  I thought it was a very interesting movie myself.  I hope you enjoy it.

Q    I have a question on the immigration meeting, yesterday the President had with all those stakeholders, business leaders, et cetera.  It was interesting, afterwards none of the prominent Latino or Hispanic leaders came out to the stakeout.  How do you convince people that are really interested in the immigration issue that meetings like yesterday aren’t just checking a box?  Like what’s really going to happen, or what’s the President really going to do on immigration in this Congress?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Athena, you know that the President’s time is a valuable commodity.  We all fight for space on it for the things we need to do — for example, when I say, sir, we need a press conference or an interview.  And meeting with the President with those stakeholders is a demonstration of his commitment to continue to try to get comprehensive immigration reform, because he thinks it’s vitally important.

And by bringing those stakeholders together from a broad array of the American society — business, labor, interest groups, all that kind of thing — he’s trying to — he wants to reenergize and reinvigorate this discussion, because as you know, there was — this is another issue, like fiscal reform; you can’t do it without a bipartisan compromise.  It has to be through bipartisan compromise and consensus.

And there was a time not so long ago in our country when there were prominent Republicans that supported comprehensive immigration reform.  He believes that they were right then and hopefully there is a capacity, there is a possibility of rebuilding a core bipartisan element of support within the Congress towards doing something serious, because it’s essential for our economy to do that.

And that’s why he had that meeting and why — the President doesn’t shy away from trying to do hard things.  I think that’s been true of the first two-plus years of his presidency and it will be true for the duration of his first term and for his full second term.  So he’s committed to doing this.

Q    Isn’t it — I was going to say, why not set a realistic goal, like why not say we’re going to put together a group of congressmen to talk about this, and by December or whatever we’re going to have —

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to lay out what our strategy is on how to move from here to there.  But be assured that he’s committed to this.  We are taking steps, and yesterday’s meeting was one of those steps.

Q    Jay, the incident with the First Lady’s plane at Andrews yesterday, how concerned was the President about his wife when he heard about this incident, and then just on the larger picture of this, where we seem to have this pattern of incidents involving air traffic controllers?

MR. CARNEY:  I haven’t spoken with the President about it.  I would refer you to the FAA for specifics.  I mean, it’s my understanding that there was no imminent danger for the First Lady or Dr. Biden or anybody else on the plane.

Q    Jay, one more on the budget, please.  The Gang of Six is considering a mechanism where if the GDP and the percentage of debt is not stabilized by 2014, that there would be automatic across-the-board spending cuts as well as tax increase.  It’s similar to what the President laid out, but there are some differences.  Is Lew and Sperling and company looking at that Gang of Six plan?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think it’s an important point to make that what has not gotten a lot of focus is what we call the trigger mechanism in the President’s plan, which is very important, which is a way of sort of holding everyone’s feet to the fire to ensure that we take the necessary steps so that we don’t hit that trigger, so that we do reach well before that period, that critical debt-to-GDP ratio.

So I think the fact that their thinking is similar to ours is probably a positive thing.  And we have worked with, and had discussions with, a number of members of Congress who are interested in pursuing a comprehensive approach to fiscal reform that, as it has to, that addresses all the elements that drive our long-term deficits and debt.

Q    But is the Gang of Six, though — or is the White House looking at that Gang of Six mechanism?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I would say that the mechanism your just described to me is somewhat similar to the one — or very similar to the one that the President described last Wednesday in his speech.  So I don’t have the specifics on whether our discussions with members of the Senate have focused on that detail, but it sure sounds like something similar to me.

Q    A year after the Gulf oil spill, is the President concerned about reports about people in the region still really struggling?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely.  And even as that catastrophic oil spill disappeared from the front pages and the newscasts, this administration has been focused on doing everything it can to mitigate the damage, to restore the Gulf region, to assist those families and businesses that were affected by it.

And I think we put out some paper this morning on all the different things the administration continues to do.  And the President remains very committed to doing everything we can to help mitigate the effects of that terrible spill, including what he has done and the administration has done to ensure that we can continue to drill in deepwater and, as well, shallow water, off shore, as long as it is safe and responsible.  And that’s why we have undertaken these significant reforms so that now that we have in recent weeks begun issuing new permits for deepwater drilling, that we have only done so when industry has demonstrated capacity to contain a spill similar to the BP oil spill.

Q    Any concern about the perception of the President being out in California fundraising for his campaign on the anniversary of the explosion?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, look, the President is going out to California and Nevada for a number of reasons, including talking about — to the American people about why we need to take the some of the steps we need to take to grow our economy and create jobs.  He has — as the lengthy statement we put out from him this morning makes clear, we’re very focused on this.  The agencies responsible for various elements of it are very focused on it.  So we continue to have our eye on the ball on that.

Q    Jay, can you give us a preview of tomorrow’s town hall?  Why Nevada, and will it be different in significant ways from the Facebook —

MR. CARNEY:  I actually don’t have a lot of details on that.  They’re available — I think we made in that call or briefing that Dan Pfeiffer and others did, I think there were some details on that.  I’ll refer you to that.  But I can certainly come back with more paper on that if you need it.  I mean, it’s all — all three town halls are focused on having the President take questions from and engage with the American people on his vision for fiscal reform and shared responsibility and shared — if we’re going to share in the prosperity and share in the responsibility to get our fiscal house in order.

Q    Thank you.

MR. CARNEY:  All right, thanks.

12:06 P.M. EDT