Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 17, 2012 – 1:17 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. I think as you know, the President and Speaker of the House had a meeting here at the White House a little earlier today. Conversations continue. I have no readout of that meeting to provide, though I’m sure you will ask for one. And with that, I will take your questions.
Q Can we have a readout of the meeting? (Laughter.)
Q I want to ask you about gun violence and then fiscal cliff. The President made an impassioned plea last night for the nation to do more to protect its children, and I want to try to get a little more specific about what he means. Can you tell us when he talks about using the power of his office whether that includes using the power of his office to push for tighter gun control?
MR. CARNEY: I appreciate the question. The President spoke last night at the vigil in Newtown and he spoke about the fact that the families of Newtown are not alone. And he also spoke about the fact that the kind of violence that occurred in Newtown occurs too often in this country, although what we saw in Newtown was particularly horrific. He said that in the coming weeks he would use the power of his office to engage the American people and lawmakers, law enforcement, mental health experts, educators and others in an effort to try to prevent these kinds of terrible tragedies from happening in the future.
It’s a complex problem that will require a complex solution. No single piece of legislation, no single action will fully address the problem. So I don’t have a specific agenda to announce to you today. I would simply point you to what the President said last night about moving forward in coming weeks and I would look for him to do that.
Q In the comprehensive solution, do you think it’s fair and accurate to say that addressing gun violence, gun control, would have to be part of it?
MR. CARNEY: I think that it’s part of it, but it is far from all of it. And as you know, the President has taken positions on common-sense measures that he believes should be taken to help address this problem, but he made clear that more needs to be done, that we as a nation have not done enough clearly to fulfill our number-one obligation, which is to protect our children.
Q One more on this. As you know, we’ve seen these horrific moments come and go and the debate about gun safety, children’s safety goes with it. Does the President think that he needs to capitalize on this, get this conversation going and see some action in the short term, or does he feel like he can get through fiscal cliff, immigration, and there’s now a mind-set and a will to get this done months down the line?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific timeline for you for what the President will do moving forward. I would simply refer you to his remarks last night when he talked about the action he hoped to take to engage the American people in the coming weeks. I think that what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School has clearly shocked the entire nation and has laid bare the necessity of evaluating the various things that we can and must do as a nation to try to better protect our children.
Q A couple quickly on fiscal cliff. The President said to the Business Roundtable recently that Republicans need to reach what you called a conceptual breakthrough on rates, tax rates going up, and then once that happens, a deal could come together pretty quickly. Does he feel he has that now that Speaker Boehner is talking about rates as part of the conversation?
MR. CARNEY: I won’t comment on specific reported proposals or counterproposals on internal conversations between the President and the Speaker, or the President’s team and the Speaker’s team, or with other members of leadership.
The President’s insistence that rates need to go up on the top 2 percent was based on an economic reality, which is that in order to achieve a broad deficit reduction package that puts our economy on a sustainable fiscal path in the future, a certain level of revenue gleaned from the wealthy has to be met. And the only way to do that was through, in part, rates rising. That remains his position.
So we have seen since the election a change in tone and, in some cases, a change in position from different Republicans, including elected Republicans, on the issue of, first revenue, and then acknowledging that rates have to go up. But thus far, the President’s proposal is the only proposal that we have seen that achieves the balance that’s so necessary. And the balance is important because a plan that does not have it puts unduly the burden on senior citizens, or on middle-class Americans, or on parents with disabled children, and that is not acceptable.
Balance is essential because in order to move forward in a way that protects the middle class, we need to have the package include the kind of revenue that the President has talked about.
Q Last question. The President campaigned on taxes going up on households over $250,000. He was very clear and specific about that. When you were asked about that threshold over the summer, you said the President’s position has been the same for a long, long time; it has not changed and it will not change. I know you don’t want to talk about the Boehner proposal of a million, but I’m just asking about the President’s stand. Is it still and will remain that $250,000 is the threshold?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I will say what I’ve said many times from here in recent weeks and months, which is that the only plan that we’ve seen that achieves the size and the balance that’s required for sustainable — for long-term deficit reduction and putting our economy on a sustainable fiscal path is the President’s. And an element — an important element of that on the revenue side is allowing current law when it comes to the top 2 percent to remain in place, which would see rates on those wealthy Americans rise even as we extend, and in the President’s mind, make permanent, tax cuts for the 98 percent of the American people — for the other 98 percent of the American people. That’s the President’s position.
And again, it’s not — as I’ve said repeatedly, his position is not based on the notion that these rates have to go up because that’s good in and of itself. It’s based on the necessity of having enough revenue as part of this balanced package, and revenue only coming from the wealthiest Americans, those who can afford it most, to ensure that we’re not unduly putting the burden on the middle class or on seniors or families with children with disabilities. So that’s the underlying premise that the President has always had, and it’s been the foundation of the proposals he’s put forward.
I’m going to mix it up here, go in back. Yes, sir.
Q Thank you, Jay. On Japan’s incoming Prime Minister, instead of visiting China first, like his first term, he said he would like to visit the U.S. first, early next year. What’s the President’s expectation of his visit? And also he said he would like to stop the challenge from China over the disputed islands. Will the U.S. support that position?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I’d like to say that we congratulate Liberal Democratic Party President Shinzo Abe on his election as Japan’s next Prime Minister and on his party’s success in the elections in Japan yesterday. The U.S.-Japan alliance serves as the cornerstone of peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific, and we look forward to working closely with the new Japanese Prime Minister, cabinet, and the people of Japan on a range of important bilateral, regional and global issues.
I’d also like to say that the President appreciates Prime Minister Noda’s contribution — contributions rather — to U.S.-Japan relations on a range of global, regional and bilateral issues. And we would like to thank Prime Minister Noda for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors.
As you know, of course, the new Prime Minister does not take office — and I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that before we start talking about potential meetings or policy discussions with him.
Q So, Jay, you made the point last Friday that that was not the day to start to talk about policy as it relates to gun control. But we are looking for some more specifics, especially now that the President has said quite plainly that he’s going to use all the powers of his office to engage Americans on the issue. Senator Lieberman has suggested a national commission on violence. Would the President be — would he consider setting up a presidential task force on this?
MR. CARNEY: What I think is important to note is what the President said about the actions he intends to take in coming weeks to engage the American people in efforts to try to prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening again in the future, and to engage broadly — that means lawmakers and law enforcement officials, and mental health professionals, and educators — because this is a complex problem that requires many solutions, not just one. And I don’t have a series of proposals to present to you. Again, the President spoke yesterday about moving forward in the coming weeks —
Q Would he consider such a —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to rule in or rule out specific proposals. I think, broadly speaking, it’s I think a reflection of the tragedy in Newtown and its horrific nature that both elected officials and others are thinking broadly about ways that we can move forward, and that’s a good thing — and being thoughtful in their approach, because it’s just generally important as we move forward on this not to get into a situation where anybody retreats to the usual corner or starts issuing the usual talking points. I think it’s important that we — and the President does — that we all recognize that we need to change a situation in this country that has led to too many senseless deaths of American children.
Q And you said on Friday as well that the President remains committed to working to reinstate the ban on assault weapon sales. Senator Feinstein said over the weekend that she will come back from the holidays, next year, with a new Congress, and she will put forth such a proposal. Will the President and the White House support that effort and help push it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to engage in specific point-by-point policy proposals or prescriptions. But the President, as you know, has long supported reinstating the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. And as the President has said, and I just said, this is a complex problem that requires complex and a variety of solutions. So I don’t have a specific policy outline for you today from the President. And I think it’s important to remember that this is about our gun laws and enforcing them, but it’s also about a broader series of issues, including issues of mental health and education and the like.
So the President’s position on the assault weapons ban has not changed; he still supports its reenactment. But you’ll hear from him I think, as he said last night, in the coming weeks to speak more specifically about what he thinks we can do moving forward.
Q Okay. So last question on this — even in the aftermath of this tragedy —
MR. CARNEY: I want to give others a chance here.
Q I’m sorry — just what if any concern does the President have that his fellow Democrats, as well as some Republicans, will be hesitant to, in the face of opposition from the gun lobby, to move forward on — that they’ll feel intimidated, they won’t move forward on actions to bring gun control into force?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I think we all recognize that this is a complex problem and there are obstacles to taking action of a variety — coming from a variety of places. And what the President hopes, as you heard him say last night, is that everyone steps back and looks at a situation that has to be addressed, and thinks broadly and thoughtfully about how we can move forward. And he certainly hopes that that will happen.
Q Thank you, Jay. Getting back to the fiscal cliff, is there concern on the part of the White House, given the reaction that some conservative groups have already got to the latest proffer from the Speaker — a very negative reaction from some quarters — that you could get in a situation where if you push the Speaker too far, you get an agreement with him but it becomes moot because he can’t marshal the votes to pass it in the House? How are you balancing that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, John Boehner is the Speaker of the House, he is the leader of the House of Representatives, the leader of the House Republican conference, and I believe the third most powerful elected official in the land. So I won’t tell him, and we won’t tell him what his politics are or how he should work with his conference.
But we are obviously engaged in conversations with the Speaker and his staff and other leadership members, and believe that we can — that the parameters of an agreement have been and are clear. It requires balance, in our view. It requires a deal that does not unduly put the burden on seniors, or middle-class Americans, or families with children of disabilities, or kids trying to go to college. And on the issue of revenues, it is absolutely a fact that rates will go up on the top 2 percent.
And again, I’m not addressing specific proposals and reactions to proposals, but it has always been the President’s position that we need to extend tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. That is a position that Republicans and Democrats alike support, and the President has been arguing for months now that the House ought to simply pass that Senate bill that gives the certainty that it would give to the middle class, that their taxes won’t go up on January 1st, and then we can discuss the issue of tax rates for the remaining 2 percent — the top 2 percent in the United States.
The purpose, broadly, is for balance. And the President has always said that part of this is revenue and part of this is spending cuts. And he is willing to make tough choices on the issue of spending cuts, and that remains the case. So any potential agreement would not only have to align with the President’s principles; it would require tough choices by both sides, including the President and including Republicans. And that’s the only way it can come together.
Q So just to clarify, is the goal here to get the best deal you can from the Speaker, or to get the best deal that you can get through the House?
MR. CARNEY: It’s the best deal that we can sign into law for the American people. And there are very clear principles that the President has laid out, and one is that we will not — he will not sign into law an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the top 2 percent. He will not. He would veto any legislation that got to his desk that extended those tax cuts for the top 2 percent. Any deal that attempted to reduce our deficit broadly for the long term, a bigger deal that he has been seeking, has to be balanced. It has to have enough revenue from those who can afford it, and a mix of spending cuts that do not unduly put the burden on seniors or the middle class or students or families who have children with disabilities. I mean, these are the fundamental parameters that the President has brought with him in these conversations.
He believes that a deal is possible. He believes that it would be a good thing for the economy if we were to get a deal that met those parameters and also allowed us to continue to invest in key areas of our economy, because the purpose here, by the way, on the first instance of avoiding the fiscal cliff is to avoid a situation where — that would affect our potential to continue to grow and create jobs. And the second issue is engaging in longer-term deficit reduction in a way that allows the economy to grow faster and create jobs more quickly.
So these are big goals, lofty goals, but they’re important ones.
Q Jay, unfortunately we’ve realized that there’s sort of a pattern to the public engagement following these shootings. At first, there’s a lot of shock and there’s outrage, but then over time it sort of gives way to I guess people being — people having less concern than they did. In light of that, isn’t it more likely that people retreat to their corners, which you say you don’t want to see, the farther out from this event?
MR. CARNEY: The President mentioned yesterday that he would, in coming weeks, use the power of his office to try to engage the American people and lawmakers and law enforcement officials and mental health experts and others in an effort to try to prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening again, and he will do that.
On the first part of your question, I think that it’s hard to imagine people in any near term somehow forgetting the rawness of what happened on Friday. It is hard to think about 20 six- and seven-year-olds and what happened to them on Friday and imagine that, in a few weeks or a few months, that pain would not still be incredibly intense and present. I think that’s probably true for everyone in this room, and I suspect it’s true for the vast majority of people in Washington and around the country. So what happened was both consistent, unfortunately, with a series of events that have been happening in the United States, but also exceptional in its horrendousness.
Q So does he feel that engaging right now is counterproductive or inappropriate in light of the fact that obviously he feels that this is different, that somehow this pushes the shelf life of concern?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President spoke about this from the heart with great passion and conviction just last night. So the idea that he’s not engaging in this at present I think doesn’t explain the speech that he gave last night. I just don’t have a series of specific steps —
Q I mean, what you said about how it’s not the time to sort of push specific policy prescriptions. Is that because he thinks it’s inappropriate?
MR. CARNEY: But I said that on Friday, at a time, remember, when there were still bodies in the school. The President has spoken twice since then and you heard him speak about what he plans to do in the coming weeks just last night. So I will leave it to him to follow what he said he would do, and, again, that’s coming weeks.
Jon Christopher, then Peter.
Q In the aftermath of what happened on Friday and the President’s two speeches, does this issue of serious gun control legislation, is that still the third rail of politics for Democrats?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to engage in political analysis. There have been challenges to moving forward on a variety of issues that relate to the problem of gun violence in America, and there’s no question that the complexity of the problem and the complexity of the solutions will mean that there will be obstacles moving forward. But I’m not going to speculate about how that might play out in the future. Again, I don’t have a specific set of proposals to discuss with you today, at least from the President’s perspective.
Q Jay, in the course of the last four years as President, he’s been consoling communities now four times — Aurora, Arizona, Fort Hood, and now in Connecticut. Given the fact that in 2008 he pledged, I think it was at the DNC that year, where he said specifically that he would keep AK-47s out of criminals’ hands and had advocated among other things reinstating the assault weapons ban, what does the President say today to Americans in communities like the one he visited just yesterday why nothing more has happened yet?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President’s support for reinstatement of the assault weapons ban has been the case ever since it expired, and was true — has been true for the past several years. The fact is we have taken steps to improve background checks, which goes at the issue of preventing those who should not have guns from acquiring them. But as you heard the President say last night, we all need to do more. We must change. We must take more action and greater action to address this problem, because we have not adequately in his view taken care of our first priority, which in this case was protecting our children.
So he’s committed himself, as you heard him last night say, to using the power of his office to help bring about that change. And he will do that in a way that is inclusive because it requires more than a President; it requires more than gun laws and more than legislation. So he will engage in a process that encompasses a lot of different communities and potential actions.
Q Is it then unfair for Americans to say that the President should have done more in the course of the last four years? They point today to facts like — that he signed bills allowing guns in National Parks and on Amtrak, and say, why is this conversation starting only now? Should he have done more in the course of the last four years?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’ve heard over the course of his presidency the President speak about these tragedies and about taking common-sense measures to deal with gun violence, to prevent those who should not have weapons from acquiring them. And we have taken some actions, but there is no question, as the President said last night, that we need to change and we need to do more. And he’s committed to doing that.
Q If combating gun violence is moving up on the President’s legislative agenda, how do you keep that from distracting from the focus on jobs, the economy, fiscal issues and the way that critics said health care did in the first term?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re getting way ahead of yourself, George. I think that we have a lot of priorities as a nation, and this President will work on a series of issues that he considers priorities for the nation. And I think that we all as a country need to have the bandwidth to move forward on all of them. He certainly will do that.
Q But, Jay, as legislative items go, is this now a priority?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to rank priorities. This is clearly extremely important.
Q But he did last night — he said — he made it sound like this was the most important thing on the nation’s agenda.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to rank priorities. We have to take — the President just met with the Speaker of the House to continue discussions on the fiscal cliff and efforts to get our deficits under control. We have the priority of immigration reform. We have further steps we need to take to enhance economic growth and job creation. And we need to take meaningful action when it comes to the problem and scourge of gun violence in America. We need to do all of it. And this President is committed to just that.
Q Jay, on another topic, Benghazi, the State Department today said that Secretary Clinton received the report from the Accountability Review Board and they’ve been waiting for that. Can you give us an idea of when the President — when you expect the President may receive that, and what kind of action the White House may take to prevent another terror attack like that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have a timetable for you in terms of that process, when that report moves from the State Department. The President has looked forward to the Review Board’s work as he looks forward to the completion of the investigation by the FBI. So it’s hard to say what action he will take since we haven’t seen those reports.
Q Quick follow-up then — to cooperate with that investigation, the FBI is still investigating as well. Do you have any sense of when the last time the President got an update from the FBI on where their investigation on Benghazi stands? And also, Secretary Clinton has been ill, obviously, and nobody would expect her to testify right now. But is the administration committed to having her testify before she leaves office, basically?
MR. CARNEY: I would ask the State Department about her schedule and her illness that she’s dealing with. And I certainly haven’t — I’m not aware of any updates the President has gotten on an investigation.
Q Jay, last night the President said in his speech, “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” When he referred to “our freedom,” was he referring to gun rights? Was he referring to the difficulty that some societies have, some communities have now when it comes to committing people against their will? What exactly did he mean by “freedom”?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that he meant, broadly, those and other issues — that we obviously have a society that is one based on laws, but it is a free society that creates a balance between the laws that we must abide and the freedoms that we enjoy.
Q So both?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, again, I’m not going to get — I think that both could be encompassed within the meaning of what he said and other issues of freedoms and responsibilities more broadly. So I don’t think — it wasn’t a single specific meaning. I think it was broader than that.
Q Okay. The President has been focused on the health care system in this country since he took office. Does he feel that the mental health care system in this country is adequate?
MR. CARNEY: It’s a very good question, and I would say that the Obama administration has taken action for the past four years to ensure that more Americans have access to mental health services, and we will continue to work with leaders across the country to help ensure people get the care and treatment they need. As you know the Affordable Care Act will ensure that 30 million more Americans have access to health care, including mental health services. And the law makes recommended health services available without a copay or deductible.
One of the reasons why the President explicitly talked about engaging not just with lawmakers and law enforcement officials and educators but mental health experts is because that’s clearly a factor that needs to be addressed in some of these cases of horrific violence. So what the Affordable Care Act has done, Obamacare, if you will, has ensured that mental health services are integral and part of the services that the 30 million people who will be — additional Americans who will have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act will receive, and in terms of the recommended services, receive them without a co-pay or deductible.
So I think that reflects the administration’s view on how important mental health services are. But when it comes to this broader — or rather this more specific issue of mental health and the kind of violence that we saw in Newtown, I think that he believes it’s important that experts in that field are part of this discussion.
Q Okay. And lastly, Jay, after the Tucson shooting that left Congresswoman Gabby Giffords seriously wounded and six others dead, including a little girl, the President wrote an op-ed, this is in 2011, in the Arizona Star, and he talked about the gun restrictions he favored. He said that “The laws on the books should be enforced more when it came to the background check. It relies on data supplied by states, but the data is often incomplete and inadequate. We must do better. Second, we should reward the states who provide the best data. And third, we should make the system faster and nimbler.”
So that was about — that was almost two years ago, so what’s the progress on —
MR. CARNEY: Well, the fact is — I mean, I would refer you to the Justice Department for the specifics, but we have taken steps specifically on the issue of background checks to make the system more thorough and complete because this is a key component of an effort to enforce existing laws that when properly enforced do not allow weapons to fall into the hands of those who should not have them under existing law. So that’s an important component. We have taken steps — and I’m sure that will be part of the broader discussion moving forward, but it is an issue that we have taken steps on because the background check system, making it more complete and thorough, is an important component.
Q And last, Jay, in the October presidential debate, the President said — one of the debates: “Weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don’t belong on our streets.” Can you name one thing the President has done in the last four years to help remove weapons of war from our streets?
MR. CARNEY: There’s no question, Jake, that the scourge of gun violence is a problem that has not sufficiently been addressed, because, as we saw in Newtown, we continue to have horrific tragedies that result in innocent victims. The President supports the assault weapons ban and the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, but we have to —
Q — tell me about his thinking. I mean like has he taken one measure, one act — one — to remove the weapons of war that he talks about?
MR. CARNEY: Again, he supports legislation that is designed to ban some weapons. But as you know, this is a complex issue and that requires complex solutions. And he looks forward to engaging the American people in an effort to do more. As he made clear last night, we need to change. We have not done enough — we as a nation. And he will, in coming weeks, use the power of his office to try to help make that change.
Q So that’s a no?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Major.
Q Speaking of the power of his office, the President, of course, sits atop agencies that have a tremendous amount of resources they can pull together for him at his direction options, new policies. Has he, since Friday, asked either HHS, the Justice Department, any one at the DPC to either form a task force or do anything to bring to him either new ideas, research, data, anything to address what you described as a complex problem that requires a complex solution?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into internal policy deliberations.
Q But that would be different. I’m not asking about deliberation. I’m just asking if he had asked for things to be brought to him to be assembled.
MR. CARNEY: That would be an internal request or an internal policy deliberation as to make those kinds of requests or to compile those kinds of proposals. The President looks forward, as he said last night, to engaging with the American public in the coming weeks in an effort to try to prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening in the future, and engage broadly — not just with lawmakers, not just with legislation related to guns, but broadly — on all of the issues that are in play here that affect this scourge of gun violence.
Q Michael Bloomberg on Friday and then Joe Califano in the Post today said time is of the essence. Does the President disagree that there is a clamoring from some corners to move more rapidly on this one particular issue — not the wide, complex range of issues, but on this issue, gun control, specifically — does the President disagree with that assessment either as a matter of timing or politics or policy, and if so, why?
MR. CARNEY: I think you heard the President say and use the phrase, “in coming weeks.” They didn’t talk about months or years; he said coming weeks. But that is not specific to any one particular avenue of pursuit. Again, gun laws are a part of this, but they are not the only part of this, as anyone who is truly an expert on these issues will tell you.
But he will — and again, I’ll just cite him again from last night — he will engage in an effort in coming weeks to bring an array of people in the American public and move forward in this effort to try to prevent these tragedies from happening again. These are — there is no single legislation, no single bill that’s been written, that’s been enacted and expired that alone solves this problem. And that’s why you have to take a broader approach.
Q Over the weekend, through conversations on the Hill and in this building, it has been suggested to many of us that some genuine progress has been achieved on the fiscal cliff, that things are not where they were a week ago, either atmospherically or in the exchange of the ideas, the productive nature of the exchanges of ideas. Broadly speaking, would you agree that this process is in a different place than it was a week ago, and that, not predicting anything in the future, that a sufficient number of issues have been at least dealt with and that you might be closer to a deal than we were, let’s say, a week ago?
MR. CARNEY: Without going into details of conversations, I think it’s fair to say that we have continued to engage in communications with the Speaker’s office and his staff and with the other leaders and their staff. And the President believes that the parameters of a potential agreement are clear. It is also the case that we have not seen a proposal, besides the President’s, that achieves the balance that the President insists be part of a deal — because we can’t have a situation where deficit reduction is borne unduly or primarily by the middle class or by seniors, or by families with children who have disabilities or kids trying to go to school.
So I’m not going to characterize discussions beyond that. They’ve been, as we’ve said in the past, frank and direct and deliberate. And I think we’ve used words like that, and that remains the case. But our goal here is to have an environment that maximizes that possibility of an agreement that works for the American people and that achieves the goals the President has laid out.
Q Back in the summer of 2011, the President at least considered a different inflation measure — the slowing of the rate of adjustments, the so-called chain CPI. But in the package September 19 that was submitted to the Hill on tax increases and cuts, that formula was not adopted. Can you tell us right today what is the President’s thinking on a chain CPI?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into specific policy proposals. The principles the President has brought forward in this process are clear. The spending cuts that he has put forward are clear and specific, as are the revenue ideas that he’s put forward.
As I’ve said in the past, he’s prepared to make tough choices. He also understands that his bill will not, as written, likely be what the final compromise, if there is one, looks like. But he insists and will insist, before he signs anything, that there is the balance that he seeks, that is fair, and that seniors aren’t bearing the burden so that the wealthy bear less
— those who can afford it most bear less; that the middle class isn’t stuck holding the bag so that the wealthiest pay less. That’s just not a balance the President thinks is fair to the American people, and it’s not one that makes economic sense in the long term.
Q Is it fair to conclude, then, that since they weren’t included and he’s not including them now, that he’s not —
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into the specifics of the conversations or proposals that may or may not have been put forward as part of them. The principles that I’ve outlined are what is guiding the President now.
Q Mike asked you about Speaker Boehner’s ability to bring Republicans along on an idea. Can you talk about what outreach and hand-holding and temperature-taking the White House is doing with Democrats to make sure that they’ll agree to the parameters of any — on the spending side?
MR. CARNEY: I think, as we’ve said all along, a compromise that meets the President’s principles and the objectives of deficit reduction that is done in a way that protects the middle class and seniors, and asks the wealthiest to pay more, will require tough choices by all sides. It will not be a deal that any single person or either party is going to say reflects exactly what they wanted.
The President speaks frequently with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and as well as Democratic lawmakers in general. And he believes that it’s important to be guided by the principles that he’s laid out and to seek and hopefully achieve a deal that is big enough to really make a dent in our deficits in a way that puts us on a fiscally sustainable path, because that is good for the economy and good for the middle class. And that deal just has to be structured in a way that’s balanced, that doesn’t protect the wealthiest by shifting burdens to seniors, for example, or students or the middle class.
But he believes we can find a deal that should earn the support of Democrats and Republicans alike.
MR. CARNEY: Andrei.
Q Thank you. You talk about the complex solutions, but looking here as an outsider, as a very sympathetic outsider, I see that the United States is basically the only country in the world — major, developed country — that has these terrible, recurring attacks — criminal attacks. We’ve lived through similar things in Russia, but those were terrorist attacks. The criminal attacks —
MR. CARNEY: What’s your question, Andrei?
Q My question is: The solution is basically known, not even talking about the freedoms that Jake asked and I asked, that the President now asked. Without gun control — okay, question — (laughter) — the question is, when you look at the solutions —
MR. CARNEY: I thought you were going to ask me about permanent trade relations. (Laughter.)
Q When you look at the solutions, will you consider the experience of the outside world, the experience of other countries that do prevent such things?
MR. CARNEY: I think that the President is going to engage the American public and — in trying to find a solution, or solutions, to the scourge of gun violence so that the kinds of things that happened — or what happened in Newtown, Connecticut don’t happen again in the future. I think that this is — the comparative issue is not in the forefront here. The issue here is what steps can we take, working together, to try to address this problem.
Q Has he heard from his colleagues around the world about this?
MR. CARNEY: He had not on this issue that I’m aware of.
Q Following up on this, quick question. Brianna was talking about the potency of the moment. Is the President eager to talk about this in his inaugural address — that kind of outline of where we can go forward —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any more details to give you about how or when the President will address this issue in coming weeks, except to cite what he said yesterday about doing so in coming weeks.
Q And can I also ask, did the President talk to any other leaders on the Hill today?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any other conversations to read out to you today.
Q So the timing of this horrific event and the nation mourning, and we have that sort of juxtaposed against this fiscal cliff deal — does that put any more pressure on you — sort of on Washington and the different players, the President and Speaker Boehner — to sort of get their act together, get a deal together? Does it put more pressure on? Because the nation is watching what Washington is doing right now as the President is speaking about how important it is to do something to discourage the gun violence, to do away with the scourge of gun violence. But it’s coming at the same time, so my question is, does it put more pressure to get a deal done?
MR. CARNEY: I think that that is an interesting question. I would simply say that, echoing what the President said, that what happened in Connecticut reminds us truly of what matters most and what really matters in our lives, and it is also true that we have other challenges that have to be addressed. And I think one of the reasons why it would be such a good thing if an agreement could be reached on these fiscal and budget issues, is that it would send a signal that Washington can function and that compromise can happen.
That was true — that is true more narrowly if the House would simply pass tax cuts for the middle class that supposedly House Republicans want as much as the President and Democrats want. But it would also apply broadly to a bigger deficit reduction deal if one were achieved.
I think that on that issue, on the issue of gun violence, and on issue after issue, most Americans out in the country do not look at this as which side is up and which party is winning, but is Washington functioning and is it working in a way that’s good for the country and good for them.
So I hope that whatever the issue is, that we can come together and respond to that call and that desire. I know that’s how the President feels.
Q Thank you, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks very much, guys.
2:07 P.M. EST