Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—March 11 , 2013 – 12:25 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Happy Monday. Good afternoon. Thanks for being here for your White House briefing. Spring is here early.
Q Can we do a briefing outside?
MR. CARNEY: We’ll see. I like the idea in theory, anyway.
I have no announcements to make. You obviously know much of what’s on the President’s schedule this week, including his visits to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to meet with Senate Democrats on Tuesday, House Republicans on Wednesday, Senate Republicans on Thursday and House Democrats also on Thursday.
While he’s there he will want to discuss a range of priorities including, of course, conversations he’s been having on budget-related issues, the need to reduce our deficit in a balanced way, but also immigration reform and the progress that’s being made on that subject in a bipartisan way, efforts to move forward on actions to reduce gun violence — also efforts that involve both Democrats and Republicans. Other items that are on his list of priorities include increasing our energy independence, the need to do something about the pace of nominations being confirmed and considered in the Senate — judicial nominations, in particular — as well as the need for Congress to take action on cybersecurity.
With that, I’ll go to Jim.
Q Thanks, Jay. So since we are on week two of the charm blitz — (laughter) — on Wednesday, as you mentioned, the President is going to the Hill, but he’s also speaking to Organizing for Action, which is the group that grew out of his campaign reelection. And I’m wondering whether there’s potentially a mixed message there. Because last week OFA sent out an email saying that — calling Republicans obstructionists, blaming them for the sequester, saying if only they had voted for closing tax loopholes the public wouldn’t be in this jam. So is there a mixed message there from the President, on the one hand appealing to and speaking to Republicans on the issues you just mentioned, and then going to OFA, potentially a partisan — a more partisan address?
MR. CARNEY: Organizing for Action, as you know, Jim, was established to promote the President’s public policy agenda. It is certainly the President’s position that sequester has been implemented because Republicans made a choice. Rather than go along with a balanced approach to deficit reduction, rather than go along with either a buy-down or the deal that has been on the table since the President tried to negotiate it with Speaker Boehner last year, they said, no way, no how, and the choice they made was to allow sequester to be implemented. Let’s be clear about that. And that is not a position that we’ll take a different view on.
It is also the case that sequester is here; it’s being implemented as a result of the choice made on Capitol Hill by Republicans. And it is another reason why we should engage with and move forward — engage with Republicans and Democrats on the Hill and move forward with at least the potential for bipartisan, balanced deficit reduction that deals with the sequester and the larger goal of more than $4 trillion in deficit reduction over a decade.
That’s the nature of the conversations the President has been having with Republican lawmakers, including in his dinner with Senate Republicans last week, including in his lunch with Chairman Ryan and Congressman Van Hollen. And I’m sure it will be one of the topics that he raises in his meetings on the Hill this week.
So I think that as the President said in his inaugural address, we should not believe that we need to resolve all of our differences before we can move forward on common — working together, taking action together to achieve results for the American people; meeting on common ground, putting forward solutions that represent compromise, much as the President has put forward solutions that represent compromise, whether it’s on immigration reform or legislation that deals with gun violence or balancing — getting our fiscal house in order in a way that’s balanced so that the burden is not borne solely by seniors and middle-class families.
I think there’s a great deal of consistency in what the President has proposed and what he’s been saying for many, many months now.
Q Washington is a place of optics, too, and is it diplomatic to be thinking of — be speaking to a partisan group on the same day that he’s speaking to —
MR. CARNEY: First of all, I think you’re misrepresenting the group. As I understand it, as I’ve read about it, it will not take a position in elections; it’s focused on policy issues. And the President’s policy agenda, which Organizing for Action has been designed to promote, consists of item after item that have had bipartisan support in the past, that should have bipartisan support in the future.
I mean, there’s nothing partisan about deficit reduction. In fact, you might even say it’s more of a priority for Republicans than Democrats. And yet the President is pushing for a balanced package that would achieve the goal of over $4 trillion in deficit reduction over a decade. And that includes a proposal that produces significant savings from entitlement reform as well as savings from tax reform.
There’s nothing partisan about comprehensive immigration reform. There’s a bipartisan effort underway in the Senate right now — Democrats and Republicans pushing forward an effort to produce legislation that would achieve that bipartisan goal.
In the wake of Newtown, I would argue that there’s nothing partisan about common-sense solutions to reduce gun violence in America. The victims of gun violence aren’t Democrats or Republicans, especially when they’re children. And there ought to be — and there is — a path forward to reduce gun violence in America, much as the President laid out, that respects our Second Amendment rights. As you know, nothing the President has proposed, whether it’s executive action or legislative action, would take a single firearm away from a single law-abiding citizen.
Q North Korean state media says today that Pyongyang has carried through with its threat to cancel the 60-year-old armistice. This seems to go beyond the typical saber-rattling from North Korea. Is the President alarmed by this development?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are certainly concerned by North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric. And the threats that they have been making follow a pattern designed to raise tension and intimidate others. The DPRK will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia. We continue to urge the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama’s call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations.
We have worked in a concerted way with our international partners to put pressure on and isolate North Korea because of its failure to live up to its obligations. As you know, the Security Council passed a resolution with unanimous support just last week in reaction to actions by North Korea. And we will continue that effort.
Q Jay, as you pointed out, it’s a big week. The President is going to the Hill. The Senate and the House are also expected to produce their own budgets. Is there some sense that the sequester ship has left the station, left the harbor —
MR. CARNEY: The sequester ship? Okay.
Q Yes — and that these cuts will go into effect no matter what? Or is there still an effort to mitigate the effect of the cuts somehow?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it’s still the President’s position, and I believe the position of Democrats on Capitol Hill, that a better alternative would have been and continues to be a piece of legislation that would postpone or push back implementation of the sequester. But that choice was made by Republicans not to embrace that alternative, an alternative that they had embraced at the end of 2012.
So our focus now, as the President has said, is on working with Congress in regular order on the budget process, and through that process hopefully produce a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction — balanced deficit reduction that couples entitlement reform with tax reform, that achieves the deficit reduction in both ways — which I would argue, when we talk about using proceeds from tax reform, closing loopholes and ending exemptions for the well-off and well-connected, we should use those proceeds towards the goal of reducing our deficit, not towards funneling them into tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the wealthy.
That’s the President’s position. That’s embodied in his proposal, and that’s the approach that he’ll take as we move forward in these conversations. And hopefully we can do that.
And the broader deficit reduction achieved — if it’s achieved — would eliminate the sequester and then some, and that would be obviously good for the entire country.
Q When does the President plan to propose his own budget? And how does he see that fitting in with the budgets that are being proposed by the Senate and the House?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have a date certain for you on the President’s budget. It’s being worked on. We are obviously watching Congress for budget proposals that will be put forward in both houses, and we will work with Congress in these conversations, as well as through our budget proposal to try to achieve the very kind of common-sense, mainstream, bipartisan, balanced package of deficit reduction that could do a lot of good for our economy and for the middle class at a time when, as we’ve seen, there’s every reason to believe that the economy is poised to do well in 2013, to grow and to create more jobs, to build on the 6.35 million jobs that have been created in the private sector over the past three years. And it is incumbent upon leaders in Washington to pursue that path of bipartisan, balanced deficit reduction, rather than sort of a partisan path that results in Washington inflicting wounds on the economy, instead of taking action to help the economy and help the middle class.
Q Over the weekend, the Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that raising the eligibility age for Medicare does not save money and it’s not a solution. We know that there’s been a charm offensive aimed at Republicans in recent weeks. Is there one needed for fellow Democrats?
MR. CARNEY: The President’s position is one that raising the eligibility age on Medicare is not good policy. It does not save money significantly, especially in the first 10 years, and it would result primarily in cost-shifting to seniors who are very vulnerable at age 65 and 66. That’s the President’s position. We’ve talked about that in recent weeks and months.
But it is also his position that we can take other measures within the framework of entitlement reform, measures that are represented in his proposal to the Speaker of the House, measures that are tough choices for Democrats to go along with, tough choices for the President, but he believes they are better policy. They are more effective in the stated goal, which is to reduce the cost of health care, and by reducing the cost of health care, reducing the burden on our long-term fiscal situation.
So I don’t think there’s anything inconsistent with what Leader Pelosi said and what the President’s position is.
Q So no wooing of Democrats will be necessary?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure what that means. The President has worked with Democrats, and I think I just made the point that his proposal consists of very tough choices for Democrats. If we take as both fact and conventional wisdom that in Washington it’s a more difficult choice for Republicans to go along with revenue, and Democrats to go along with entitlement savings, the President has put forward proposals with Democratic support that include significant entitlement savings — building on the entitlement savings he’s already signed into law.
Republicans, we’re hoping, will also make tough choices on their parts, and that would include allowing tax reform to produce revenue towards deficit reduction. If we do that, together, we can really do something good for the economy and something good for the American middle class.
Q And getting back to OFA, why not do more to decouple the President from this new organization? Some of the people who represent that organization still have email addresses that end with barackobama.com. And what about the appearance that the President will be, at times, meeting behind closed doors with donors? They may not get individual meetings with the President, but they will be getting —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure about that. The organization was established specifically to promote President Obama’s policy agenda, so I don’t think there’s any question about the link between the President’s policy proposals on the economy and the middle class and education, on climate change and immigration reform, and this organization. But it is a separate organization. It is voluntarily — as I understand it, reading the news reports — disclosing its donors in an effort to be transparent. And as the President does with numerous organizations that support his policy agenda or the political agenda of the Democratic Party, which is not the goal of this specific organization, he will meet periodically with OFA.
Q But isn’t that kind of squishy? The organization is him.
MR. CARNEY: No, the organization — look, there are organizations all over Washington and around the country that support policy agendas and policy areas. That’s what this organization does. And I would refer you to them for more details on their efforts. They are not, as I understand it, again, based on news reports, engaged in political campaigning — winning elections or helping candidates win elections. They’re focused on the policy proposals.
The President speaks to the DCCC and the DNC and the DSCC. He’ll speak to other outside organizations that have policy agendas. And that’s entirely appropriate. And the President is pursuing a policy agenda, as I noted earlier, that is inherently bipartisan, that is embraced by a majority of the American people both in general, as we saw in the election, and in the specifics. And the President obviously believes that engaging the American people in our policy debates is very important. That’s what the election was all about. And he believes that when the American people are engaged in these debates, the outcomes of the debates are better for the American economy and for the middle class.
Q Jay, over the weekend, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the U.S. is encouraging violence in conjunction with the Taliban to prolong the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. He said the Taliban were killing Afghan civilians “in service to America.” What was the President’s reaction to hearing this?
MR. CARNEY: I think Secretary Hagel and General Dunford spoke to this yesterday and made clear that any suggestion the United States is colluding with the Taliban is categorically false. Secretary Hagel addressed these questions directly with President Karzai in their meeting. The United States has spent enormous blood and treasure for the past 12 years supporting the Afghan people and ensuring — in the effort to ensure stability and security in that country. The last thing we would do is support any kind of violence, particularly involving innocent civilians.
Q Do Karzai’s comments and this kind of mounting tension harm or impact U.S. plans to withdraw?
MR. CARNEY: The President has a policy that has been embraced by NATO, by our allies in the coalition, and we are pursuing that policy. That includes we’ve drawn down the surge forces and we’re winding down our troop presence in Afghanistan as we build up Afghan security forces and turn over security lead to Afghan security forces. And that progress continues.
There is no question that there have been a number of difficult security incidents, and there have been comments by President Karzai with which we’ve disagreed. But our policy has not changed.
And what’s important to remember is we went into Afghanistan because we were attacked from Afghanistan. We went into Afghanistan — and the President made sure that we refocused on this goal when he reviewed Afghan policy upon becoming President — in order to go after those who attacked the United States, go after those who killed Americans, to go after al Qaeda central, which had taken haven in Afghanistan. And that remains the principal objective of our mission in Afghanistan: to defeat — to disrupt, dismantle and ultimately defeat al Qaeda in the Afghanistan region; to, in service of that goal, build up — train and build up Afghan security forces so they can take over security for their country; and to provide the space necessary for the Afghan government to increase stability in that country and to allow us to continue to go after al Qaeda, which is, again, our primary objective.
Q Can we follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: Let me get through the first row here.
Q A couple of things. I was just taken aback by your answer to the question about Organizing for Action. You’re saying —
MR. CARNEY: You were taken aback?
Q — it’s no different than — that the President sees this group as no different than the DSCC or any other group you speak to?
MR. CARNEY: I said it’s —
Q I mean, this is a group —
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t say that. I said it’s similar.
Q — that’s planning on coordinating with the White House, is it not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, OFA, again —
A. Was legally set up so it could do that, right?
MR. CARNEY: — was set up to promote the President’s public policy agenda. And therefore, as anyone would expect, the President would likely meet with their representatives to discuss his agenda. Any notion, as we’ve talked about, that there’s a price set for a meeting with the President is absurd and wrong. I mean, the comparison here is that the President goes and speaks about his policy agenda to a variety of groups that support that agenda, including the DNC or the DSCC or the DCCC, including other organizations that have policy ideas that are —
Q This group is going to spend money on his behalf to promote his agenda.
MR. CARNEY: No, this group is promoting a policy agenda. It is not trying to elect him, obviously, since he’s —
Q No, no, no, but they’re spending money to promote the agenda.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. As organizations do all over town and all over the country. They spend money to promote policy ideas.
Q But on his behalf, coordinating with the White House.
MR. CARNEY: No, on the American people’s behalf. The President believes that the agenda that he’s putting forward obviously is one that would benefit the middle class and benefit the country. The idea that an organization is out there promoting immigration reform — we heard from a lot of Republicans this weekend about their support for comprehensive immigration reform, much as the President supports comprehensive immigration reform. Would you argue then that this organization is inappropriately somehow supporting their agenda?
I think that there really is an issue here that’s about the President’s agenda, the President’s policy proposals. The President is out there pushing for his agenda. And he obviously believes that an organization like this is both helpful and appropriate in engaging the American people, engaging those Americans who support this agenda in a way that helps move the process forward.
Q And he isn’t concerned that it’s basically increasing the amount of money that is spent on the politics of Washington? I mean, it does increase the amount of money that gets poured into this.
MR. CARNEY: Ordinary Americans who contribute to these organizations to help push policy proposals that benefit ordinary Americans should have and need a voice in Washington. There’s no question that there are corporate and other interests that are amply represented in the policy debate in Washington. So a grassroots organization like this is appropriately engaged in this and should have a voice.
Q Has the President given up on campaign finance reform?
MR. CARNEY: No. I mean, one thing that he’s adamant about, because of — in the wake of the unfortunate Citizens United decision, is that at the very least, Republicans ought to go along with disclosure. At the very least, let’s pass legislation, the Disclose Act, that would create the kind of transparency that Americans deserve when it comes to financial contributions to political campaigns.
Q Is this high on his priority list?
MR. CARNEY: It remains a priority.
Q Let me ask you a question on the budget. This is sort of a weird time in the Senate — Democrats are going to put out their budget before you guys put out yours. Are you coordinating with the Senate Democrats? Did they ask for White House input on that budget, one? And two, is a balanced budget the goal of the President?
MR. CARNEY: We are engaging with Senate Democrats, with House Democrats, with Senate Republicans and House Republicans, as you know, on budget issues as well as on the broader agenda that we’ve been talking about —
Q But now that they’re drawing up their budget —
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure there are conversations going on, on that process. We are engaged in our own process. And the President had lunch with Chairman Ryan last week, and I know they talked about his budget, which I believe is going to be released very soon.
The broader effort underway here is to try to, through the budget process, achieve a compromise that allows for both entitlement reform and tax reform that produce the savings necessary to achieve that $4 trillion-plus target over 10 years of deficit reduction, to put our economy on a fiscally sustainable path.
And that is the President’s goal: deficit reduction large enough to put our economy on a fiscally sustainable path so that the ratio of debt to GDP is below 3 percent for a period of time that would allow, concurrently, through investments and other policy decisions, allow the economy to grow, to become more energy independent, for the middle class to strengthen and grow.
I think this is one of the things that — because I suppose that your question gets at this — is that the President has always believed that deficit reduction is not a goal unto itself. The whole purpose of deficit reduction should be part of an overall policy objective of strengthening the economy, having it grow faster, having it create more and better jobs for the middle class.
And that’s the President’s objective. And that’s why he has always, throughout these budget debates and going back to when he first took office, made sure that the proposals he’s put forward keep the number-one objective in mind, which is economic growth and job creation, not deficit reduction solely for the purpose of reducing the deficit.
Q Is there going to be a goal — obviously Paul Ryan has got a 10-year target. Is the President going to have a target, whether it’s 10 years, 15, 20, whatever —
MR. CARNEY: The President will have a target for deficit reduction over 10 years, as he has consistently in his budget —
Q But not a target for a balanced budget by x?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President has put forward a budget, but I think that we tend to talk in 10-year windows here when we do budget proposals, both in Congress and with the administration. And it will do — the President’s budget will achieve what it has in the past, which is through sensible, balanced deficit reduction, bring our deficit and debt into a place where we are on a fiscally sustainable path, where the ratio of debt to GDP is below 3 percent; and to do that in a way that also allows us to invest in our economy so that we’re building infrastructure for the future and we’re increasing our energy independence, and making sure that our kids are being educated so we can compete 25 years from now and not just today.
Q Just a quick — 10-year window means you guys are not — you won’t have a balanced budget target in a 10-year window? Fair enough?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to tell you what his budget says.
Q You brought up the window, so that’s why —
MR. CARNEY: Right, but I would look to the President’s past budget proposals, the President’s offer to John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, for what his target has been, which is consistent with bipartisan panels that have looked at these issues. Because, again, it should not be deficit reduction for deficit reduction’s sake; the goal here should be economic growth and job creation.
Q So, again, what’s the point of the President’s budget other than the fact that he’s required by law to submit it in early February? If he’s not leading, what’s the point of the budget except perhaps to negotiate the differences between the House and Senate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I challenge virtually every premise of your question, Bill. First of all, the President is the only one, right now, with an offer on the table and available online that has been there for months, much to the surprise of —
Q He was supposed to have a budget in February.
MR. CARNEY: Well, Bill, he has had a budget that represents the same goals that were represented in his offer to Speaker Boehner, the same kind of balanced deficit reduction that also has within it investments in our economy that allow our economy to grow and create jobs and to expand the middle class.
Q Yeah, but it’s not the budget he was supposed to present in February.
MR. CARNEY: Bill, I don’t know what your question is here. The President’s —
Q What’s the point of the budget?
MR. CARNEY: The point of the budget is the President will outline, again, through the budget process, his priorities, economic priorities and policy priorities, both in deficit reduction and in economic growth and job creation. And his budget will contribute to the process of regular order that we hope will produce bipartisan, balanced deficit reduction, the kind that the American people overwhelmingly support — deficit reduction that all the data available shows would include both savings from entitlement reform and savings from tax reform, so that senior citizens aren’t asked to bear this deficit reduction on their own, and middle-class families and families who have kids with disabilities, that they’re not stuck with the bill alone; that it asks the well-off and well-connected, through the tax reform process, to give up special loopholes, to give up deductions that only they enjoy in the name of both deficit reduction and economic growth.
Q So with House and Senate budgets out there before the White House budget comes out, it’s like a benchmark for negotiations, mainly?
MR. CARNEY: Bill, how long have you been covering Washington?
Q A long time.
MR. CARNEY: Has there ever been a presidential budget that was enacted word for word into law?
MR. CARNEY: Okay, there is a process in Washington of negotiation where the President’s ideas —
Q But they had them in time —
Q Never had anything like this —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I disagree with that. But the President’s ideas are introduced and ideas of Democrats and Republicans are introduced, and hopefully there is an approach taken by leaders and rank-and-file members on Capitol Hill that embraces the idea of cooperation and compromise, that rejects the idea of absolutist positions that only serve the ideological and partisan interests of a small minority of people in the country, as well as on Capitol Hill, and that the result is a product that both reduces the deficit, invests in our economy, helps it grow and create jobs, that doesn’t ask any segment of society to bear the burden alone for deficit reduction. I mean, that’s the process here and that’s the goal. That’s why the President has been having these conversations.
Q Only time will tell.
MR. CARNEY: Ed.
Q On OFA, do you plan on letting the press pool in and let cameras show what the President says in this speech on Wednesday?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sure there will be press access. We’re working that out now.
Q Okay. And in terms of the Taliban, before I believe you said that the comments by President Karzai are “categorically false.”
MR. CARNEY: Correct.
Q Isn’t there something even stronger you can say beyond that just they’re false? I mean, just in terms of after 12 years of U.S. sacrifice, the man is now saying that within the Taliban they are abusing our people. Aren’t the Americans actually —
MR. CARNEY: And that’s categorically false, and nobody believes it. And our men and women, for going on 12 years, have sacrificed enormously on behalf of Afghanistan, and they’ve sacrificed enormously in the effort to achieve our goals, which have been to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda; and in service of that goal to build up Afghan security forces so that they can be responsible for that country’s security, and to help stabilize the situation for the Afghan government so that they can be responsible for their own governance. And that has come at enormous sacrifice.
And as you know, Ed, when this President came into office, our policy in Afghanistan was adrift. And this President made clear in that campaign in 2008 and after he took office that he would fix that problem, that he would refocus our efforts in Afghanistan and make clear what our objectives were and what they were not. And that has resulted in both the surge in forces, the withdrawal of those surge forces, and the now paced withdrawal of our forces as we turn over security to Afghan security forces.
Q And finally on that, on the substance of the paced withdrawal — I think Mary tried to get at this. General Mattis last week testified on Capitol Hill that his recommendation for the President is 13,600 U.S. forces beyond 2014 when that ends. Where is the President in deciding all of this? And how does it impact it when your so-called partner on the ground, Karzai, is saying these awful things? That’s got to impact these negotiations, doesn’t it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we deal with, in these negotiations, with the Afghan government, and the President will review the options for post-2014. What is a fact is that we will draw down our forces and end this war as the President promised. Future security agreements are subject to negotiation, and the President will work on that.
Mara and then April.
Q I have an OFA question and a budget question. On OFA, how does the President or you judge their success so far in advocating for his agenda? They failed to head off the sequester, and I know that gun background checks, which is another thing they’ve focused on, is encountering a lot of obstacles in the Senate.
MR. CARNEY: Nobody said that any of the issues that the President has taken up are easy. If they were — if comprehensive immigration reform or reducing gun violence in America were easy, they would have been done. And there’s no question that Republicans made a definitive choice, basically reversing a position from last year when the worst possible thing in the world would be the implementation of the sequester to a position where various members were calling it a “home run” or a “victory for the tea party” to have the sequester take effect. But the President is not deterred in the pursuit of the broader agenda.
Q No, I don’t think he is. I’m just asking you how can you — do you see any signs that what OFA is trying to do for him is working?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I would point your questions about OFA’s success to OFA. The President is focused on his agenda, and there is progress on comprehensive immigration reform, bipartisan progress. There is progress on legislation to help reduce gun violence, and we are moving on the executive actions that were part of the President’s comprehensive proposal to reduce gun violence.
We are working and having conversations with members of both parties on Capitol Hill in the effort to see if we can find common ground on balanced deficit reduction to deal not just with the sequester, but the broader goal. We are moving forward on a whole host of areas. The President will be talking about cybersecurity. He will talk about the need to do something about the broken process on Capitol Hill in the Senate with confirmation of judges. And it’s a broad agenda, and the President is focused on all of it.
Q On the budget, can we assume that the entitlement reform ideas that are in the offer that you always say is still on the table will be in his budget — superlative CPI and the means testing of Medicare?
MR. CARNEY: Mara, the way you phrase that question makes me think that you’re still working on a typewriter or something. It’s available online. The proposal is there. It’s not just that I say they’re on the table. They’re on the table, all right?
Q Okay. But they’ll be in the budget?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I’m not going to predict the budget, but that is the offer, okay?
Q Right, but I’m asking will that be in the budget. That’s a fair question.
MR. CARNEY: Again, you’re asking me to tell you what’s in the budget. I would be — I would wait for you for the — I would wait for the budget to come out. But it is the President’s position, it is the President’s offer — if John Boehner, the Speaker of the House, wanted to take that offer today, the President would take him up on it.
Q Well, it seems like it would be — obviously then it would be in the budget.
MR. CARNEY: Again, Mara, I will allow the budget to be presented.
MR. CARNEY: It is the President’s position that in pursuit of balanced deficit reduction that includes both entitlement reforms and revenues from tax reform, that the offer he made to Speaker Boehner remains on the table, and that if the Speaker of the House were to change his position and go back to the position he held just a few months ago, which is that tax reform could generate significant revenues towards deficit reduction — at the time, he claimed he could produce a trillion dollars in revenues in deficit reduction through tax reform — then we would be well on our way, potentially, to reaching a bipartisan agreement. And that offer is on the table.
Q White House officials often say that Republicans never come forward and say what they want to do with Medicare. Now that we understand the Ryan budget is going to include the same premium support plan that he’s had in the past, do you feel that — do you take that as the Republican position, proposal for Medicare?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’d say two things. One, this debate was had over the previous year and a half, and I think the American people were categorically opposed to the approach that says that we should voucherize Medicare, shift costs over to senior citizens to the tune of $5,000 or $6,000 a year extra per senior. That’s just not an approach that the American people support. It’s certainly not an approach the President supports.
However, there are measures we can take in entitlement reform, including dealing with Medicare, that are sensible policy that don’t unduly burden seniors, that strengthen the program and produce savings. And the President includes those in his proposal that is on the table with Speaker of the House Boehner.
The fact of the matter is, let’s wait and see what the budget proposals are from Capitol Hill. But there is — if you look at the broad picture here when it comes to this, both sides — the President certainly, and Democrats — say that we need to do some entitlement reform, produce some savings. I mean, that is in the President’s proposal. Both sides say that we should reform our tax code and close loopholes, and cap deductions and simplify.
The fact is, as has been noted, the President has put forward a proposal that includes some tough choices when it comes to entitlement reforms. Some Republicans have recognized that. And the Speaker, just a few months ago, said that we could cap deductions and close loopholes for the well-off and well-connected and produce a trillion dollars over 10 years in deficit reduction. The President’s proposal asks for less than that, as a matter of fact.
And so there is a potential here, it seems to me, when you look at these broad areas of entitlement reform and tax reform, for discussion, debate, and hopefully compromise. Now, we’re not overly — well, let me just say this: We’re not naïve about the obstacles that remain, and I think lawmakers of both parties have said so and I’ve said so and the President. This is challenging stuff. There are real disagreements. But there is ground here for discussion and negotiation.
Q Jay, you called on me next.
MR. CARNEY: April, then Connie. Sorry.
Q On guns and Medicare cuts. Two Fridays ago, in Massachusetts, Attorney General Eric Holder told a crowd that he and the President share similarly one of the worst days in office. He said — speaking of the aftermath that he viewed at Sandy Hook, Holder said there was blood on the floor and some on the walls when he visited. He said the carpet was picked up in certain places, and he said he realized that was where the bullets had gone. Does the President share that view that it was one of the worst days in his office? And will the President take that message on the Hill when he’s talking about gun control this week?
MR. CARNEY: The President has said that the day of Newtown was perhaps the worst day of his presidency. And I think those of you who saw him that day, when he came out here, those of you who saw him speak in Newtown, felt that. And I think he felt that as a father as well as as President.
I know that he places great importance on the need to move forward with common-sense actions that can help reduce gun violence, and I’m sure he will address that. I know he will address that when he’s on Capitol Hill.
Q Did the President see what Eric Holder described?
MR. CARNEY: No, we did not visit the school.
Q Okay. Now, on Medicare cuts, is there any way to put a safety net in place? Is the White House talking about a safety net so that doctors can receive their Medicare payments and efforts to maintain a certain level, a certain standard of quality care for those Medicare recipients? Because there’s this concern out there —
MR. CARNEY: Are you talking about the SGR fix thing? The doctors fix?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, that’s something that’s addressed annually. Whether that — how they deal with that in the — everybody deals with that in the budget process —
Q But there’s a concern —
MR. CARNEY: — I think we’ll have to leave that to the budget process.
Q You do?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, yes, I think. But the so-called doc fix is something that’s addressed almost annually of late.
Q But there is concern out there right now that doctors are not going to get their payments because of these cuts in these entitlement programs. And if they don’t —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not sure. You have to be specific about which cuts you’re talking about. The President —
Q Medicare. The doctors — the payments to the doctors. And there is a concern amongst doctors and those analysts who are looking at this process —
MR. CARNEY: I think I’ll have to take your question, because I think it depends on whether you’re talking about the annual thing known as the doc fix, or the cuts proposed by Republicans, or the reforms proposed by the President. It just depends on what you’re talking about.
Q Well, this time that you’re allowing those entitlements to be on the table — this is what we’re hearing, that the White House is allowing these possibilities for these cuts to —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll have to — again, I need more specifics.
Q Thank you. On Afghanistan — where’s the passion, where’s the anger? Two more Americans were killed. Karzai’s comments are more strident. Is there any evidence that the Afghans really want us there to continue training? Is there any possibility the U.S. will pull out —
MR. CARNEY: Connie, you know the President’s policy. He is winding down this war and he is withdrawing American troops. Our objective was refined to make it very clear under the President’s policies that we are in Afghanistan — we went to Afghanistan and we are there now because of al Qaeda, because al Qaeda took up safe haven in Afghanistan and attacked the United States from Afghanistan. And that effort continues, and there has been significant progress in decimating al Qaeda central in Afghanistan.
We are winding down that war, as the President promised. We are withdrawing U.S. forces, as the President promised. We are training Afghan security forces precisely because that enables Afghan security forces to take security lead over from U.S. forces. And we have made significant progress towards that goal.
The purpose of the policy, in addition to disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda, is to allow for the stability of Afghanistan and enough strength in Afghan security forces to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for al Qaeda in the way that it was prior to the 9/11 attacks.
Q Do the Afghans still want us there? And what sort of talks has the U.S. had with the Taliban leadership?
MR. CARNEY: Look, we support Afghan-led reconciliation discussions. There are no current — I’m not going to get into details, but the focus right now is on Afghan-led reconciliation negotiations.
Q The transfer of Bagram prison to the Afghans fell apart over the weekend when apparently President Karzai balked at some of the details of the transfer. Do you believe that those details can be worked out for the transfer to take place this week?
MR. CARNEY: We continue to work out the details on the transfer of the detention facility in Parwan, which is the facility you’re referencing, and making that transfer to the Afghan government. We remain committed to the full transfer of the facility and to all Afghan detainees to the government of Afghanistan. We respect Afghan sovereignty and intend to proceed with the transfer once we have reached full agreement.
Q Are you concerned that the Afghan government is going to release Afghan prisoners who might harm Americans?
MR. CARNEY: Again, we are working on this issue with the Afghan government, and we will work out those details and make the transfer of the facility to the Afghans.
Q In your answer to Jim, you outlined the agenda for the meetings coming up with the members of Congress. What does the President get out of meetings like this?
MR. CARNEY: I think he hopes to make clear to members of the Republican conferences and the Democratic caucuses what his policy positions are, his priorities, and his willingness to work with lawmakers of both parties to achieve these, essentially, bipartisan or nonpartisan objectives: balanced deficit reduction that strengthens our economy and helps it create jobs; comprehensive immigration reform that strengthens our economy and that has had traditionally the support of Republicans and Democrats; sensible action to reduce gun violence — action that respects our Second Amendment rights but deals with a scourge that is taking too many lives in our country; action to enhance our energy independence; action that he has in the past and he will in the future, that the President has called on Congress to take with regards to our cybersecurity. And he will also, I’m sure, talk about the need to do something about the problems that we’ve been seeing in the Senate with Republicans when it comes to confirming the President’s judicial nominations.
Q But if you have a meeting like the one with Chairman Ryan where they just repeat their disagreements, does that move the process along at all?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think both what we said about that lunch and what Chairman Ryan said was more than that, George. I think that it was a constructive meeting and that certainly the President, and I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I believe over the weekend the Chairman said that he thought there was room for further discussion and possible compromise on these issues.
So that’s what the President believes. He thinks it’s important to have these conversations because the American people have made pretty clear what they want Washington to do and what they think is the right approach. So the President has been engaged in conversations with lawmakers of both parties, seeking out lawmakers who support balanced deficit reduction, who support the idea of compromise and moving forward on fiscal and budget issues as well as on all these other issues, which remain high priorities.
Q There are reports circulating that the United States is training Syrian rebels in Jordan. Any truth to that?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t seen those reports. They’re news to me.
Q Any update on when either Commerce Secretary or Labor Secretary might be announced? Will that be this week?
MR. CARNEY: I have no personnel announcements to make.
Q Jay, in recent weeks, the administration has taken executive action on behalf of the LGBT community. Last month the Pentagon started the process for recommending certain partner benefits for gay troops. And a couple weeks ago the Justice Department filed a brief in the Prop 8 case. One action that remains outstanding is that executive order for federal contractors prohibiting anti-LGBT workplace discrimination. If you’re going to do these other two executive actions, why not do the executive order as well?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, I think filing a brief is an entirely different piece of business, Chris. But I think, as you know, the President has long supported an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and his administration will continue to work to build support for it. We welcome Chairman Harkin’s announcement that he will hold a vote on ENDA this year. I have no updates for you on an executive order.
Q Well, speaking about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, when the President goes to Capitol Hill this week to talk to lawmakers about his priorities, will he enumerate the — will he mention the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as one of the things he wants passed?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I know that he’ll talk about some of the issues that I laid out, maybe not all of them, and I’m sure there will be other topics that he’ll raise. But I don’t have a specific agenda for him.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Ann, last one.
Q Thank you. To put a fine point on what George asked, when the President goes to talk with both the Republicans in the Senate and the House, he doesn’t have the new budget to present yet. Will he be presenting new aspects of the programs and the policies he’s already got out there, new areas where he thinks there can be common ground? Or is this a chance to repeat what they know is already on the record?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I think you’re mistaking the meetings for a budget negotiation. He’s meeting with I guess potentially 535 lawmakers, so I wouldn’t expect that they’re going to trade paper on numbers. First of all, the President is the only one with a proposal out there right now that is balanced and achieves the kind of deficit reduction that gets our fiscal house in order over 10 years. And he, I think, as I’ve said — he looks forward to making clear what his policy positions are, to making clear his sincerity when it comes to his belief that we need to take action on our deficit, but to do it in a balanced way that enhances rather than harms economic growth, that strengthens rather than weakens the middle class.
But he also wants to talk about these other issues. I mean, amidst all the talk about partisan stalemating, gridlock, it is a simple fact that there is activity right now in Washington that represents bipartisan compromise — efforts towards immigration reform, discussions on reducing gun violence. This is important, and they reflect areas that the President believes should be priorities. They’re priorities for his agenda, and he will discuss a number of issues, not just the budget and fiscal issues.
Thanks very much.
1:14 P.M. EDT