Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 16, 2012 – 11:47 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Welcome, everyone, to the White House for what has become a less frequent briefing here from the podium, as we spend a lot of time on the road. Glad you are all here — very nice to see you. I do not have any announcements to make, so why don’t we just go right to questions?
Q Thanks, Jay. Two topics. I know Jen Psaki yesterday addressed the question about Governor Romney’s comments on anger and hate and the type of campaign that he was accusing the President of running. But I wanted to ask, follow up on that with you, and just get your thoughts more broadly from your conversation with the President about whether he thinks the tone of the debate is the right one, whether it’s befitting a race for the White House and if it’s helpful to voters.
MR. CARNEY: Well, sure, let me say a couple of things. For those of you who were out with us the last few days, I think you hear the President speak frequently about incredibly important, substantive issues — substantive issues on which we have policy differences with the Republicans. We talked about drought relief and the need for Congress to take action on a comprehensive long-term farm bill, something that Republicans have blocked. We talked about the vitally important need to extend the wind energy tax credit that has bipartisan support, that the industry has made clear if not extended could threaten up to 37,000 jobs in the United States, and that is part of an overall vision for an all-of-the above energy future that the President has put forward at a substantive policy level again and again. And thirdly, he spoke about Medicare and the competing visions on a policy and a program that affects tens of millions of American seniors. That’s what the President talked about these past few days.
I took this question in a different way yesterday and I noted that having covered a number of presidential campaigns myself and other campaigns, that there is often a point at which one side begins to distract attention from the policy debates by suggesting, sometimes without foundation, that there’s another story that you all ought to pay attention to, and that is invariably because that side is losing the policy debates.
We are focused on, the President is focused on the issues that matter to the American economy and the American people. I think Medicare is a perfect example. What we have seen since late last week, early this week, when the ticket for the other side was filled out, was this initial announcement that there was a desire for a substantive policy debate, and once that substantive policy debate focused on the critical issue of Medicare, there’s been, obviously, a desire on the other side to change the subject.
Q Let’s talk about Medicare as well.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that Medicare is a very important issue. The President thinks it’s a very important issue. The President’s Affordable Care Act, according to the AARP, an independent voice that seniors value and take seriously, strengthens and protects Medicare. According to the AARP, the Republican plan, the Ryan plan, the Romney plan, undermines Medicare.
We think that’s incredibly important. The President believes strongly that we cannot, we must not, for the sake of our seniors, turn Medicare into a voucher program, because the Congressional Budget Office has said that if you do that, seniors, on average, will see costs rise by $6,400 per year. Not the right policy.
Those are the kinds of issues that the President is out there talking about, and that’s what this campaign ultimately is about and will be about. And there are always going to be distractions, both inadvertent and deliberate, but in the end, the American people are focused on the economic issues, principally, that affect their daily lives. And that’s what this President is talking about.
Q Thanks. The other topic I want to ask you about that’s not getting as much attention this campaign season is the violence in Afghanistan. A Black Hawk was shot down today, seven American troops, four Afghans killed. We’ve seen more cases recently of Afghan troops firing on American servicemen. More than 220 Americans have been killed this year in Afghanistan. Does any of this give the President concern about the stability of the Afghan government, of the country there? And does it affect his thoughts about the American presence? Even though the war is winding down, troops will still be there for another two years. Does it affect his thinking about our posture there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me start with the helicopter. ISAF did announce that an ISAF helicopter crashed today in southern Afghanistan, killing seven American servicemembers, three Afghan security forces and one Afghan civilian interpreter. Based on my information, as of this time, the cause of that crash is still under investigation. But, of course, our thoughts and prayers are with those American and Afghan families who lost loved ones in that incident.
More broadly, on the matter of what’s called green on blue incidents, there’s no question that these incidents are deeply concerning, and our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones in those incidents. You’ve heard General Dempsey and Secretary Panetta speak in some detail this week about the steps ISAF is taking in Afghanistan to ensure our military servicemembers are as safe as possible. And ISAF is continuously assessing and refining procedures and force protection so that we can both meet mission requirements and ensure the safety of our forces.
As I have also said, Ben, it’s important to remember that — well, first of all, that our relationship with our Afghan partners is strong, and that every day our forces fight alongside Afghan forces. There are now about 350,000 Afghan forces, and we partner with those Afghan forces on 90 percent of operations. And while whenever there is a so-called green-on-blue incident, it is concerning and the fact that there have been the number of incidents that you mentioned is deeply concerning, it is also important to put it in perspective.
And then, more broadly, the President’s policy in Afghanistan was, after his review, predicated on the principle that our goal, our principle goal for being there is to go after al Qaeda, to eliminate al Qaeda and those who threaten the United States from the AfPak region. In the service of that overarching goal, we have helped build up Afghan security forces, helped stabilize portions of the country, and we are in the process of drawing down our forces as we turn over more and more responsibility to Afghan security forces.
Q I wanted to ask you about the situation in Lebanon where there has been violence this morning — as seen as a spillover from Syria. Is the President concerned about the more regional upheaval at the moment? And has it affected his vision or plan over how to proceed in confronting Assad?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as we have said for some time, the longer that President Assad stays in power and the longer he continues his assault on his own people, the more likely it becomes that we will witness a broader sectarian conflict that can spill over Syria’s borders.
We have repeatedly said that we’re concerned about this conflict spilling over into other countries in the region and destabilizing other countries in the region. And that’s why the way to prevent it from happening is to bring about the political transition that the Syrian people so deserve and desire.
As for — I think in terms of the President’s view and his policy, I think this development reinforces what he’s been saying, that we cannot — that those people and organizations and states that continue to support Assad need to recognize that they are on the wrong side of history. It is unquestionable that the momentum in Syria is with opposition forces and that — and with the Syrian people, and that Assad will not be a part of the future in Syria. We’ve seen a series of high-level defections, another indicator of the fact that Assad’s hold on Syria is loosening. And we are taking action with our international partners to further isolate Assad, to starve his regime of the resources it needs to continue to perpetuate this violence against the Syrian people. And at the same time, we are providing substantial humanitarian aid to the Syrian people as well as non-lethal assistance to the opposition.
Q Jay, going back to the anger and hate accusation for a moment. When we asked the Romney campaign why he would make that charge, they cited not so much the things that the President has said on the stump but things that have happened by the campaign and from the White House — things like you and the campaign refusing to condemn this outside ad about the steelworker’s wife and his connection to Mitt Romney, the fact that someone on the campaign suggested that Mitt Romney might be a felon for the way that he ran Bain Capital, and also the Vice President’s “chains” comments. Are you ready to condemn any of those things?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, let’s go back to the obvious attempt to distract attention by focusing so much of your attention on an ad that never ran, as I understood it — understand it.
Q It did end up running in some places.
MR. CARNEY: Inadvertently — according to a press report and a station error. That stands in stark, stark contrast to an advertising campaign behind which there is millions of dollars, endorsed by and paid for by the Romney campaign, that is built entirely on a fiction about the President’s policy, and that’s his policy on the work requirement necessary in welfare reform.
You know and everybody in this room knows that every outside expert on this issue has declared that the advertising campaign on welfare reform is false. Just false. Factually false. And yet there’s all this attention on an outside ad that, again, has barely run. I think that you know that there are plenty of third-party ads out there that — in support of Governor Romney that allege certain things that are ridiculous, including suggesting that the President is not an American citizen.
What this President is doing is focusing on the issues that matter to the American people — okay?
Q What are you saying to Republicans who say that the Vice President’s comments about putting people back in chains is an example of why he should be replaced on the ticket?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things. One is, they know that what they’re saying about this is ridiculous. The Vice President was clearly making, as he repeated later, a statement about the Republican insistence that if they are able to by taking control of the White House, they will immediately repeal Wall Street reform — Wall Street reform that was put in place and fought for by this President because we cannot afford to have happen what happened in the financial sector to this country just a few short years ago. We need to make it impossible for the taxpayers to be holding the bag when big institutions fail, if they fail.
We need to make sure that we have the consumer protections in place that are part of Wall Street reform that were fought tooth and nail by Wall Street and by Republicans on the Hill. And the point was obvious to, I know, everyone in this room, to every one in that room, and to every Republican who is making this charge that that’s what the Vice President was talking about.
So I understand — going back to my other point — that there’s an attempt to distract attention from the actual substance of the discussion, which is should we or should we not have Wall Street reform. They don’t want to talk about that because they know that most Americans answer that question, “Absolutely, definitely yes.” But they’re opposed to it.
Should we or should we not turn Medicare into a voucher system that costs seniors an extra $6,400 per person, per year? Overwhelmingly, the American people say no. But Republicans don’t want to debate that because they know that’s the answer.
So, look, we’re going to keep talking about the issues. And there’s going to be along the road here, as there always is, an attempt to distract attention from the issues when one side is losing the debate over the issues. And that’s what we’re seeing right now.
Q But does he just regret the choice of words? Because some took it as a reference to slavery. And he had a chance to go back —
MR. CARNEY: Nobody took it as a reference to —
Q — and he said, I always say exactly what I mean.
MR. CARNEY: — anything, except for those who are trying to make something out of nothing here and distract attention from the policy debates. This is — you know that’s not what this is about. You know he was talking, if you look at what he said, about Wall Street reform, about the desire of some to put banks and Wall Street back in charge of your financial transactions and life. That’s not what this President believes is the right policy.
We understand that there’s going to be efforts to distract attention from the policy debates because the other side is losing these policy debates pretty overwhelmingly. But we’re going to keep talking about the policy issues.
Q Can I follow on that question?
MR. CARNEY: Jake. I said I’d call on Jake next. I’ll get to you.
Q The President the other day made three allusions to Mitt Romney putting his dog on his roof. Is that part of this important policy debate?
MR. CARNEY: I think he made one allusion in three different speeches that was a joke — just like I think the Romney campaign and others have joked about the fact that in the President’s memoir he talked about as a boy eating dog meat in Indonesia, because that is something that’s done there. I think a little levity is a lot different from the kind of ridiculous charges that are being made here.
But that’s an interesting case in point. The President on that day spent a great deal of time talking about the importance of the wind energy tax credit, the importance to the renewable energy sector in this country, which has doubled its output, its production under this President because of the historic investments that this administration has made in that sector — and about the fact that extension of that tax credit is supported by both Democrats and Republicans — Republicans in the states that are principally affected, including governors and senators, but is opposed by Congress, Washington Republicans. That’s an issue that affects the jobs and livelihood of up to 7,000 people in Iowa. It affects the jobs and livelihood of up to 37,000 people around the country, in an industry that employs roughly 75,000 people in this country. And it’s an industry that has been growing and will continue to grow if we make the kinds of wise investments that will ensure that as we move forward in this century, we rely less and less on foreign imports of energy and more and more on American energy.
And that is a substantive policy issue. And one joke, as an aside, should not become the focus of the campaign or the coverage of the campaign. I understand that Republicans don’t want to talk about the wind energy tax credit, but —
Q I don’t think you guys are so naïve as to think that the President talking about Mitt Romney putting his dog on his roof isn’t going to elevate that and become what Chuck Todd might refer to as “cable catnip,” and that will step on the President’s own message on wind energy. I mean, especially considering it was obviously in his prepared remarks.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me make clear that the President’s message that day was on wind energy. It was not on a joke. And maybe I am naïve to think that a one-line joke about a dog would not then become the principal focus of the coverage of the President for the day. I know it wasn’t in Iowa the principle focus of the coverage. The focus was on the importance of the wind energy tax credit. But I take your point and I’ll be less naïve in the future. (Laughter.)
Q All right, I appreciate that. Can we talk about Medicare for a second?
MR. CARNEY: Please.
Q Does the President believe that Medicare is on a sustainable path right now?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes and knows — and others have judged it so — that the Affordable Care Act that he fought hard for and that Congress passed and he signed into law extends the life of —
Q Right, but —
MR. CARNEY: — no, wait, I’ll answer your question more fully — extends the life of Medicare by eight years. He knows that, as outside experts have made clear, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, as Republican leaders, the Republican nominee have ardently expressed their desire to do, Medicare’s insolvency will come eight years sooner. That’s an irrefutable fact.
He knows that, as he said in the discussions and debates and the proposals about the steps we need to take to get our fiscal house in order through a balanced approach to reducing our deficit, that we need to make additional reforms that protect beneficiaries, but ensure that Medicare remains in place as Medicare — not a voucher system — for future generations.
Q Okay. So the fact is he has, through his actions and despite great resistance from Republicans, extended the life of Medicare, but he knows that much more needs to be done to keep it sustainable.
MR. CARNEY: There’s no question that we have serious fiscal challenges that we need to address, and we need to address them in a balanced way. We don’t need to do it in a way — I mean, one of the marvels of the marvelous, exciting Ryan budget is that, despite claims to deficit hawkishness, is that that budget makes no claims to balancing deficits — or eliminating deficits until something like 30 years from now — because it’s so preoccupied with giving, and dominated by giving tax cuts to wealthy Americans.
Q So, about a year ago when the grand bargain talks were going on, I believe right before they fell apart, the President came into this room, and I asked him what was one thing he was willing to concede on Medicare in doing all this negotiation — and he said that he would be — he wouldn’t talk about the retirement age, he wouldn’t touch it, but he did talk about how maybe further means-testing would be something that he’d be willing to consider. But since then, we haven’t really seen any serious proposal to help the sustainability of Medicare. And say what you will about the Ryan plan, it does look forward. It does — it is a plan — or the Romney plan — there is an outline there for trying to change the system to preserve it.
Again, I understand you disagree with that. Where is the President’s plan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the President, what he said to you in this briefing room remains true today. And it’s reflected in the budget proposal he put forward both for the super committee and again this year — has additional reforms and savings from out of federal health care spending. But what it does not do is attempt to get our fiscal house in order by placing the entire burden on seniors and families with disabled children, or other low-income Americans who depend on these health care programs literally for, in some cases, for their survival.
That’s just not — and you know what, the thing is we don’t have to do that. The President’s plan, other balanced plans that have been put forward demonstrate that you do not have to do that. You do not have to voucherize Medicare, basically eliminate Medicare and turn it into a voucher system, if you’re willing to, on the other side, make some compromises on the principle that everyone ought to pay their fair share, that we need revenue to be part of the package when we address our fiscal challenge.
It’s a complete inside-baseball, inside-the-beltway conversation, but I am constantly amazed at the willingness of Republicans, who in one breath will say absolutely no revenue, absolutely no defense cuts, in fact, I want defense increases, but I love the Simpson-Bowles plan. And you know, because you know what’s in the Simpson-Bowles plan, that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe they haven’t read it. Maybe they deliberately put their fingers in their ears when there are reports on it, but the Simpson-Bowles plan has more tax revenue than what the President called for, has far deeper defense cuts than what the President has called for, but it has similar discretionary cuts that the President has already signed into law and pledged.
So there has to be — and I’ll end here — I know I’m testing your patience — but there has to be some — you can’t blithely say, as Governor Romney has, and Lindsey Graham and others — my plan, says Romney, is very similar to Simpson-Bowles. Well, I think Erskine Bowles made clear that that’s laughable. It’s simply not. Because if you stand up on stage and say, I won’t ask the wealthiest — I won’t ask for $1 of revenue for every $10 in spending cuts, you don’t know what you’re talking about when you say your plan is very similar to Simpson-Bowles.
Q Just to summarize, you’re saying the President’s Medicare plan is contained within his budget.
MR. CARNEY: The President has put forward in his budget proposal additional savings in our health care programs, not through — not by cuts in benefits, but by savings from providers and insurance companies, which is the kinds of savings he achieved in the Affordable Care Act —
Q It’s not really in itself a solution for Medicare.
MR. CARNEY: But I’m not saying that ends the discussion about the kinds of further challenges we face in our fiscal future, but it does achieve the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that we need and it does achieve it in a balanced way that includes savings —
Q I’m just talking about Medicare.
MR. CARNEY: No, but it achieves it in a balanced way that includes savings in health care reform — I mean, savings in health care — which, by the way, demonstrates the approach he took during deficit reduction talks and the debt ceiling talks, which was one of a willingness to compromise and make tough choices, sometimes against the wishes of some of his fellow Democrats, because he knew that in order to achieve this you needed to do it in a bipartisan way and you needed to reach a compromise.
But instead, there was an absolute refusal to accept the notion that we needed revenue. And there was a role played in the failure of those discussions, the failure of Simpson-Bowles and the failure of the grand bargain talks, by the guy who’s now running for vice president.
Q You and Jen were asked about this yesterday, but you didn’t have an answer at the time, so I just want to circle back. Has the President actually spoken to Vice President Biden about the “chains” comments, or does he plan to do so?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know if the President has had — I mean, he speaks with the Vice President all the time. I don’t know if they — I know you can see — I think the President was asked about this and it was put out in one of his interviews yesterday that he absolutely understands and knows what the Vice President was talking about, as does everybody in this room — I’m sure there are some exceptions who pretend otherwise — but he was talking about Wall Street reform. And you know that the President is one hundred percent with the Vice President in his commitment to ensuring that Wall Street reform stays in place.
Q I understand that he defended the Vice President, but was he frustrated at all that this took attention away from what he was trying to do in Iowa?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I saw. I mean, look, I think that he understands what I was talking about earlier, that there are going to be confected distractions from the important issues of the day. That’s part of every campaign, and it’s often the result of one side trying to change the subject when they’re losing the debate on the substantive policy issues that matter most to the American people. And there is no question that when it comes to protecting seniors on Medicare, when it comes to protecting businesses, small and large, that are part of our renewable energy sector, especially wind energy, that this President has been making very strong policy arguments, and that at a substantive level as well as at a level of support from the American people, he’s winning those arguments.
Q Does he have any concern that the Vice President will make these types of verbal missteps moving forward?
MR. CARNEY: I understand this unbelievable obsession about trivia, as I’ve been trying to discuss. The fact of the matter is that the Vice President was talking about a policy issue, which there is an attempt to turn into an insubstantial campaign issue that’s divorced from policy because Republicans don’t want to talk about the fact that they are ardently in favor of repealing Wall Street reform because they know that the American people are determined to see that Wall Street reforms stay in place.
Q Also, Jay, does the President have a reaction to the case in Pennsylvania, the voter I.D. laws that were upheld — does he see that in any way as a blow to his reelection effort, or his effort in Pennsylvania at least?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say a couple of things about that. I know the campaign has addressed this and I would point you to the campaign’s statements. The broader principle here is one that I think I’ve talked about, which is that this President is committed to, and I know the Department of Justice is committed to, ensuring that Americans enjoy and get to take advantage of that most basic and fundamental right, which is the right to vote.
But in terms of the specific cases, I would refer you to the Department of Justice or to the campaign.
Q Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has issued an executive order ordering state agencies to deny driver’s licenses and other public benefits to young illegal immigrants who get work authorization under this new Obama administration policy. Do you have a reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. It looks like you just pulled it up online, so I haven’t seen that.
Q I’m just reading it off my work document — (laughter.) Let’s go to the Vice President’s comments.
MR. CARNEY: You know, you guys are — you’re almost — you’re — well, go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Former Virginia governor, Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, he basically called it inappropriate, the comments. He said you can’t defend it. Do you think that the first African American governor since Reconstruction is, as you put it, trying to make something out of nothing and distracting policy debates, or does he have a point?
MR. CARNEY: He doesn’t have a point. The Vice President was talking about Wall Street reform. As everyone who speaks publicly for a living, or as part of what they do in this arena — and I include myself — every day that you go out there and give a speech or answer questions, there is always the possibility that something you say and the way you say it can be misunderstood or taken out of context and made a big deal of, when everyone knows — and I know you know and everyone who watched the tape, who knows the Vice President, knows that he was talking about Wall Street reform.
Q Don’t you think it speaks to the sensitivity in using words like that?
MR. CARNEY: There’s no question that there are — there are sensitivities around words. But again, as I just said, the Vice President, the President, Governor Romney, Congressman Ryan, others in the arena go out there and speak all the time; they answer questions all the time. And I think that it’s important to acknowledge in the remarkable amount of air time for something that is so weightless that is being devoted to this subject, that you also make clear that you know that the Vice President was talking about Wall Street reform.
Q But you don’t understand why Wilder would be offended by the comments?
MR. CARNEY: I understand that one person has expressed his opinion that he’s offended by it —
Q This isn’t one person. This is the first African American governor since Reconstruction.
MR. CARNEY: Brianna, the Vice President’s intention was clear. What he was talking about is clear.
Q Obviously not. It was obviously not clear.
MR. CARNEY: Was he not clear to you? Was he not talking about Wall Street —
Q I thought that personally I think when you use the word “chains” in a crowd with many African Americans, you better be careful of what you’re talking about.
MR. CARNEY: I think the Vice President, at a later event, made clear that his word choice was off, that he had been using similar phrases — saying similar things with slightly different phrasing. But the purpose of that section of his comments was to talk about the absolute need to ensure that Wall Street reform is not repealed. And you know that that’s not — that this is not what the campaign is about.
The campaign is about do we repeal Wall Street reform or do we continue to implement it? Do we turn Medicare into a voucher system, or do we ensure that we take steps to strengthen it and preserve it for America’s seniors?
Do we pass $5 trillion in tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy — think about the size of that — $5 trillion. That’s $500 billion a year. I mean, that’s real money, and do we do that — doing incredible damage to our deficits, devastating investments in education, innovation, research and development, infrastructure spending, roads, bridges, highways schools — or do we take a balanced approach to our fiscal challenges that, in addition to the substantial spending cuts the President has signed into law, the substantial savings he has put forward in his budget proposal, we ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more — to go back to, when it comes to the Bush tax cuts, the top marginal rate that was in place when Bill Clinton was President.
And I never cease to marvel at the rhetoric about the doom and gloom that Republicans promise if this rate was reinstated, because it’s eerily similar to the doom and gloom that they promised would occur in this country the first time around when the Clinton budget passed in the spring of 1993. And what we saw instead was the opposite of what was predicted and promised by Republican leaders, including the current Speaker of the House. We saw record economic growth, record expansion and record job creation.
April. Oh, Ed. No, I said Ed, then April.
Q I want to follow on that, though.
MR. CARNEY: Well, you will.
Q On the Vice President, one short question. I’m not going to get — I hear exactly what you’re saying, I’m not going to repeat the same stuff, but since the President has given the vote of confidence and you’ve defended the Vice President repeatedly, does this settle it once and for all, all the speculation, this is the ticket? Obama-Biden? (Laughter.) That’s a yes or no, it’s not —
MR. CARNEY: Yes. And that was settled a long, long time ago. And while I appreciate — I have great admiration for and respect for and a long relationship with Senator John McCain, but one place I would not go for advice on vice presidential running mates is to Senator McCain.
Q Okay — on that —
MR. CARNEY: You said you had one question. (Laughter.)
Q One question on that, and I wasn’t going to belabor it. You answered it, thank you. On Medicare — a substantive issue. In the answers to Jake, you said at the end of it you acknowledged that the President had not put all the details on the table. You acknowledged that more —
MR. CARNEY: No, no, I didn’t say that.
Q You said more savings could be achieved.
MR. CARNEY: I said there’s no question that as we go forward as a country we’re going to have to continue to deal with — and that includes this President and future Presidents — with our fiscal challenges.
But the President has put forward a budget proposal that creates $4 trillion in deficit reduction — more than $4 trillion — does it through a balanced approach of cuts in discretionary spending — non-defense and defense — cuts in savings out of health care and —
Q — he said his budget plan then is where the Medicare details are. And you said, well, that’s a start, but there needs to be more. So my question —
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s a process where the Affordable Care Act, in addition to extending insurance to 30 million people who didn’t have it, in addition to providing seniors with millions and millions of dollars in savings on their prescription drugs by closing the doughnut hole, in addition to allowing young Americans 26 and under to remain on their parent’s health insurance, in addition to making sure that those with preexisting conditions can get insurance and that Americans who develop an illness can’t be thrown off their insurance policies — in addition to all that, it extends the life of Medicare by an additional eight years.
And this is obviously a project that we have to continue to address. There are additional savings put forward in the President’s budget, and I’m certainly accepting the supposition that we will, as a country, continue to need to address our fiscal challenges and the growth of spending in our federal health care programs.
What we cannot do is eliminate Medicare. What we cannot do is turn Medicare into a voucher system and basically tell seniors, you know what, the way we’re going to deal with this problem is not find savings within the system, not reduce the cost of health care, but just basically shift it to you, so that your elderly relatives are going to have to — would have to pay, or you when you get older would have to pay $6,400 extra per year for your health care. There are a lot of seniors out there who will not be able to afford that.
Q But my question is, Ryan has put his details out there; you’re hitting them. When does the President put his details out, those extra details — before the election or after the election?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President —
Q — that we still have to continue to confront our fiscal challenges, what’s on the table now? An extra eight years to Medicare only kicks it down eight more years. Everyone acknowledges you’ve got to do more.
MR. CARNEY: But I think you need to focus a little more attention on what’s in the Ryan budget proposal. Again, it does not even —
Q Yes, but where’s the proposal that is the counter to that, I guess?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s budget —
Q — in the budget. That’s all he’s —
MR. CARNEY: Paul Ryan has put forward a proposal that I think claims to achieve something like $5 trillion in deficit reduction, I believe it is. And the President put forward a proposal that achieves over $4 trillion. The Romney/Ryan plan, if you will, has to cut drastically discretionary spending — investments in education, innovation, infrastructure, Department of Transportation — everything that people think of as federal investments dramatically. And it also has to turn Medicare into a voucher program — in order, largely, to pay for not reducing our deficit, not building the economic foundation of this country, but to give tax cuts.
Now, I understand that they believe in their hearts that that’s good for the economy; that, as the President says, that the fairy dust will be sprinkled across the country and everyone will benefit.
Q He said snake oil yesterday.
MR. CARNEY: Or snake oil. (Laughter.) I think I’d rather be sprinkled with fairy dust than snake oil. (Laughter.)
Q So last question — as part of this serious discussion of policy issues, the President sat down with Entertainment Tonight yesterday and said that he — nobody could say that he’s dividing the country, we’ve always tried to bring the country together. So you were asked before about the cancer ad again. Why, then, won’t the President say, in that interview or anywhere — that since he wants to focus on these serious issues, why doesn’t he tell any of his advisors out there, this does not fit with that, this does not fit with this —
MR. CARNEY: Well, of course, we do not — he doesn’t dictate to or coordinate with third-party groups.
Q I disagree with that. That’s not what —
MR. CARNEY: And I know you’re out there with us often. You hear his tone when he speaks. You hear the issues that he talks about. And there’s no question that these — we have tough debates about the issues, and as you know, there has been a relentless critical evaluation by the Republican side of the President’s record, of his proposals, paid for in hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising over the past several years, and specifically by the Romney campaign.
And on the issues, the President is obviously going to engage and has engaged because he thinks the stakes are so very high for the American people. He will continue to focus on the issues, continue to talk about his very optimistic vision for the American economy and the American people, because he knows that that’s what this is all about, for him and for the country — and that those issues, to go back to my earlier point, are what the American people want to decide this election. And those are the issues that will decide this election.
So a third-party ad that essentially had no money behind it, never appeared except accidentally on one station once, versus a focus on the issues that’s backed up by the President’s campaign and all the efforts that it’s engaged in, on the one hand, and to compare apples to apples, as opposed to apples to oranges or pears or pomegranates, the Romney campaign has as a matter of policy, invested tens of millions of dollars in an advertising campaign that’s based on a blatantly false assertion about the President’s policy. I think you know my feelings on that.
Q I have a couple of questions on a couple of subjects. And thanks to Mark Knoller’s great pool report, Vice President Biden and the President are having a lunch right now. What should we anticipate? Yes, Mark said it. He was just with the President.
MR. CARNEY: Mark, I know you’re an intrepid reporter, but you probably got that from the published schedule, right?
Q I did. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, okay. But either way —
Q I didn’t say otherwise.
Q Right, right — but he just left the President saying that he walked — in the pool report if you follow Mark’s pool report —
MR. CARNEY: You guys know that since you’ve been covering this, the President and the Vice President have as a standing proposition, lunch every week — right? Every week, when they’re in town. Obviously, they’re both traveling a lot, so it may not be every week, but this is something that happens every week — as do the President’s weekly meetings with Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner, which the Vice President, when he’s in town, always participates in. This is routine stuff.
Q So what’s the stuff that’s not routine, that’s going to be on the plate?
MR. CARNEY: Nothing. It’s all routine.
Q They’re not going to talk about the “chains” at all, by any chance?
MR. CARNEY: I think the focus on this is pretty much entirely yours and not ours. This is a, as I said before, non-issue. The Vice President was talking about Wall Street reform, the absolute urgent need to ensure that it remains in place, the opposition to that principle by the Republican Party and the Republican candidates for president and vice president. And as I said before, there’s always an attempt during campaigns to distract attention from the substantive policy issues when you’re losing the substantive policy issues and debates.
Q I understand the dynamic power habits — it started with Ryan, then with Biden, and then, you had other people chime in. But have you ever heard of the word “pun”, a play on words?
MR. CARNEY: No. (Laughter.)
Q Understanding what happened — and listening to Jake, Jake was right, and going back to what Brianna said about Governor Wilder. Governor Wilder said that race was interjected — and he even says, understanding as a grandson of slaves.
MR. CARNEY: April, I think you heard or saw that the Vice President said in his next appearance, or soon thereafter, explained the use of his words, his language and how he had meant to phrase it. And I think I made the point that we all — all of us who are out there every day giving speeches, taking questions, talking about the issues, sometimes don’t use the exact language that we thought we were going to use or wanted to use. But you know what he was talking about. You know that he was talking about a substantive issue. And it certainly was not his intention —
Q So he was not using a pun at all, is that what you’re trying to say?
MR. CARNEY: No, he wasn’t.
Q Okay, wait a minute — I’m not finished. Just one second. Do you think race ever needs to be interjected in this campaign, as many African Americans — the day that Ryan was announced, many African Americans, particularly black ministers, bombarded this White House with concerns because of the Ryan budget, how it cut into middle and low-income programs, support for those programs. Do you think race will ever have to be injected in this campaign?
MR. CARNEY: I think the issue with the Republican budget proposals, the Romney/Ryan plans, is that they harm Americans across the board — middle-class Americans, low-income Americans, seniors. They’re just not the right economic prescription. As the President says, the vice presidential nominee on the other side is an articulate spokesman for Governor Romney’s economic vision. He just happens to disagree with that vision. And that’s the debate we’re having. That’s the debate in many ways we’ve been having for the last couple of years.
And the President looks forward to continuing to talk about why we cannot pursue — we cannot afford as a country a $5 trillion tax cut. We cannot afford as a country the decimation of our investments in education and innovation and infrastructure. We can’t attempt to get our fiscal house in order by asking seniors to accept vouchers instead of Medicare and to shoulder the burden of an extra, on average, $6,400 per year in costs for their health care. That’s just not the right economic policy vision this President believes for this country.
Q Governor Romney just held a news conference and you may want to respond to this. Using a whiteboard, he sketched out the difference between his Medicare and Congressman Ryan’s Medicare plan and the President’s. And one of the points he makes is that under President Obama’s approach, those approaching retirement — 55 and over — would indeed see changes, and under his plan they would not. Would you remind us whether the President would change benefits to the plan of Social Security for those who are 55 and over?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, you mean Medicare?
Q Excuse me, Medicare.
MR. CARNEY: The President’s plan protects benefits. The AARP has said — let’s be clear — has said that the President’s Affordable Care Act strengthens and protects Medicare benefits and beneficiaries. The Ryan budget — the Romney/Ryan proposal, which, by the way — I didn’t see this press conference, but just because it’s constantly unclear every day, the answer to this question — that Governor Romney said — actually, this is in an interview I believe last night in Wisconsin, Romney — “Actually Paul Ryan’s and my plan for Medicare I think is the same. It is probably close to identical.”
So we know what that plan is. I mean, we’ve been debating it. It’s passed the House. It voucherizes Medicare. It shifts costs to seniors. The President’s plan does none of that. The President’s plan extends the life of Medicare. It has already bequeathed millions of dollars in savings to seniors by closing the doughnut hole. It has given millions of seniors the opportunity for free preventive services like mammograms and cancer screenings. This is just a different vision.
Look, this is exactly what we want to be talking about. These are the substantive issues that will be decided for this country and that will have a huge impact on this country and on America’s seniors and others for years to come.
Q Is he correct that those 55 and over under the Obama plan would have a change in their Medicare benefits?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know what change you’re talking about. The President protects Medicare beneficiaries and Medicare benefits. The savings he achieved through the Affordable Care Act have extended the life of the Medicare program by eight years. And they come not from Medicare beneficiaries, not from benefits, but from providers and insurance companies through savings in waste and fraud.
This is a very important debate and the President looks forward to engaging in it.
Q Hey, Jay, one other thing from that press conference — Romney said he has never —
MR. CARNEY: We should have had it up here, so I could — (laughter) —
Q No, you’ll probably want to respond. He’s never paid less than 13 percent of an income tax over the past 10 years. Any reaction?
Q I don’t have a reaction. I think my statement to that would simply be that this President believes that the tradition of a — for presidential candidates to put forward multiple years of their tax returns is a useful and valuable one, not always a comfortable one, but one that he has certainly abided by, and he thinks is one that the American people believe is right and expect their candidates to abide by.
Q Does the new immigration order potentially leave all these young people in a state of limbo because it doesn’t confer legal status? And then also, following up on Brianna’s question earlier about Governor Brewer, since she did — the Governor issued this executive order last night. And it would basically be denying driver’s licenses to these same people who are applying. It’s obviously very hard to get to work if you don’t have a driver’s license. So is there concern about how some states are trying to skirt this rule?
MR. CARNEY: I simply — and I appreciate that it was last night and that Brianna didn’t just call it up on her screen — but I have not seen it and I simply don’t know enough about it to give you a comment on it.
The answer to your first question is, yes, this is not a long-term solution. The President believes and fought hard for the DREAM Act and believes that Congress ought to pass it. And the administrative action taken by this administration, led by DHS, is to make sure that we’re using prosecutorial discretion in a way that focuses our resources on criminals and not on so-called DREAM Act kids, who, as the President said, got here — arrived in this country when they were very young, grew up in the United States, consider themselves Americans, and who are or can contribute mightily to this country.
Q I would imagine that the President would not be pleased seeing what Governor Brewer —
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just hesitate to offer an assessment since I have not seen that story.
Q And then keeping — any surprise on the turnout? We’re seeing so many people around the country coming out applying for this. Is the administration surprised by this number?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know how to judge that because I’m not sure what numbers were expected.
Q Thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you very much, guys.
Q Do you have any comment on the Family Research Council shooting, Jay? Can you talk about that?
MR. CARNEY: I made a statement about it yesterday. The President was informed about it by his Homeland Security Advisor, John Brennan, and he was very concerned about the victim — the person who was shot — and made clear to me, and I conveyed this to the pool, that he firmly believes that violence of that kind has no place in our society. And this goes to the greater discussion we’ve had about violence in America and the need to tackle it on multiple fronts.
Q Does he consider it a hate crime or an act of —
MR. CARNEY: Those kinds of determinations are made by the FBI, and I know the FBI is part of this investigation.
12:40 P.M. EDT