Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 5, 2013 – 1:05 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here in the Brady Briefing Room for your daily briefing. Before I take your questions I have a couple of topics I wanted to raise.
First, tomorrow the United States Senate will hold a cloture vote on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit. It is disappointing that a cloture vote is even necessary for someone as clearly well-qualified as Ms. Halligan, who has bipartisan support from lawyers and law enforcement.
When Republicans filibustered her nomination in 2011, several of them hung their objections not on her qualifications or her judicial philosophy, but on the D.C. circuit workload. In essence, they didn’t object to her as a judge, just that the seat in their minds did not need to be filled. But since then, there has been an additional vacancy on that circuit, leaving the court with four vacancies — 36 percent vacant. In fact, the court has never been this understaffed in its history and the caseload has increased almost 15 percent since 2011.
After 726 days of delay, we strongly urge the Senate support an up or down vote for this well-qualified nominee with credentials from across the political spectrum for a court that is 36-percent vacant.
I have some slides that I hope will turn up. In fact, last night we released an infographic on WhiteHouse.gov showing that Caitlin Halligan is not alone in suffering endless delays for a vote. As you’ll see, 78 percent of President Obama’s circuit court judges have waited more than 100 days for a vote, compared to 15 of President Bush’s nominees.
On the second slide, this obstruction also applies to President Obama’s district court nominees — 42 percent of our district court judges have waited more than 100 days for a vote, compared to eight of President Bush’s nominees.
On slide three, you can see that the average wait time for our judicial nominees to get a vote on the floor of the Senate, both for the circuit court and the district court is three to four times as long as it was under our predecessor.
This is a problem that needs to be resolved for the sake of our judicial system, for the sake of a carrying out of justice in our country in an expedited and deliberate manner. And we have seen some positive signs of late that perhaps the logjam is beginning to break on Capitol Hill when it comes to confirmation of judges, and we certainly hope that the spirit that informs that change, modest as it has been, will inform the vote the Senate takes on Caitlin Halligan.
Secondly, if I may, I would like to note that on Thursday the President will sign the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. He will be joined by the Vice President, who authored the original law in 1994, as well as women’s organizations, law enforcement officials, tribal leaders, survivors, advocates, and members of Congress. The law strengthens the criminal justice system’s response to crimes against women, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and trafficking.
It’s a very important milestone that was reached with the vote most recently in the House that allowed this to reach, finally, the President’s desk, and he looks forward to signing it.
And with that, I go to Julie.
Q Thank you. Why did the White House decide today to release the OLC memos on the drones to the Senate Intelligence Committee after having said you wouldn’t before?
MR. CARNEY: We have worked with the committee to provide information about legal advice and we have worked with them to meet their concerns in what the President believes is a unique situation, and to, in doing so, help expedite confirmation.
What we have said all along is that with John Brennan, the issue here should be — as it should be with every nominee — the qualifications of the nominee. And on the merits, John Brennan is a uniquely and highly qualified nominee to be the next Director of the CIA. And we urge the committee to vote, and we urge the Senate to confirm him as quickly as possible so that he can get about the business of running the CIA — again, a job to which he is uniquely suited.
Q Is this now the full complement of the OLC memos that the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to have access to, or are there any others that they are keeping private?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Department of Justice, but I can simply say that we have worked with the committee to provide information about advice — legal advice on issues of concern to committee members, and have done that, recognizing that this is a unique and exceptional situation. But it is in keeping with the President’s commitment, which he reiterated in his State of the Union address, to work with Congress to be as transparent as possible about these actions. And we simply look forward to a speedy confirmation for John Brennan.
Q Republicans on the committee have obviously been asking for information as well but related to the Benghazi attacks. Is that information being sent to them? Are they getting any additional backup emails that they’ve been asking for?
MR. CARNEY: I think we have provided information to committee members who have been interested in that matter, again, in an attempt to be helpful and cooperative as we move this process forward. That issue then returns me to my point earlier, which is that John Brennan’s nomination ought to be considered on its merits, on his qualifications, not on disputes about an issue that did not involve John Brennan’s nomination to be the CIA director, or Senator Hagel’s nomination to be Secretary of Defense.
We have been enormously cooperative with Congress on the issue of Benghazi — hours and hours of testimony, including the Secretary of State — 10,000 pages of documents, I believe; numerous hearings; and working with members on their concerns with regards to these nominations. But, again, our nominees ought to be considered on their qualifications. We were glad to see Senator Hagel confirmed as Secretary of Defense, and we look forward to John Brennan being confirmed as CIA director.
Q And then just quickly on North Korea, does the White House believe that the package of sanctions that the U.S. and Chinese diplomats have apparently agreed to up at the U.N. will be the step that’s needed to get North Korea to back away from its nuclear program?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as Ambassador Rice indicated this morning at the United Nations in New York today, the United States tabled a draft Security Council resolution that responds to North Korea’s February 12 nuclear test. The draft resolution, which is agreed upon by the U.S. and China, provides a credible and strong response that further impedes the growth of DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and its ability to engage in proliferation activities. We anticipate adoption of this important resolution later this week.
U.S./U.N. has more information if you need more details about it, but I think this demonstrates an international consensus about the urgent need for North Korea to abide by its international obligations — to get right with the world when it comes to its nuclear weapons ambitions, and in doing so, begin to end the isolation that the government and the country of North Korea has found itself in because of its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Q Staying on North Korea for a second. The North Koreans threatened to scrap the armistice that ended the Korean War, and to sever a military hotline with the United States if South Korea and Washington press ahead with war games. And North Korea has been known to bluster before, so can you tell us how seriously, or not, the administration is taking this, and what, if any, action might be planned?
MR. CARNEY: Well, 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 have urged the North Korean leadership to heed President Obama’s call to choose the path of peace and come into compliance with its international obligations.
Again, these provocations are not new — I think to your point — but they certainly are not helpful to the North Korean people, and they’re not helpful to the effort to bring North Korea into compliance with its international obligations.
Q Okay. And another one on Venezuela. Right now, the Venezuelan Vice President is giving a live address. And of course, there are lingering questions about the declining health of President Hugo Chavez. But what Maduro says is that they’ve uncovered a conspiracy against the Venezuelan government and he’s just announced that the U.S. diplomatic attaché has been expelled for plotting against the Venezuelan government. Are you aware of this —
MR. CARNEY: Obviously, you’re reading out a real-time press conference or statement from Venezuela. I can simply say that questions about President Chavez’s health should be directed to the Venezuelan government. I have no reaction to the charge that you’ve just repeated. I can tell you that we continue to seek a functional and productive relationship with Venezuela. And we remain open to a dialogue with Venezuela on a range of issues of mutual understanding — including counter-narcotics, counterterrorism and the commercial relationship between the countries, including energy. But for more on that, I think we’ll have to wait and see if there’s a reaction that might come from the State Department.
Q House Republicans yesterday talked about — I guess they just sort of unveiled this — a proposal to extend the CR through the rest of the fiscal year. And it would include some, I guess, some provisions in there that might soften the sequester somewhat — its impacts on the Defense Department — although, the programs that they selected might not be, I guess, the same programs that Democrats would select in either the House or the Senate. What’s the President’s reaction to that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are reviewing the proposed continuing resolution, so I don’t have an official position to provide to you today. I think I would point you to a couple of things. One is we believe that a CR should be practical, it should be non-political, and it should be consistent with levels of the Budget Control Act. And it is our understanding — at least on the last point — that the CR in question is consistent with the levels of the Budget Control Act.
I would wait for a further response from us as our experts examine it and make assessments about it. But our interest is not in — as long as these goals are met, that we do not go headlong into another manufactured crisis — we are focused on trying to find common-sense solutions to the challenges that face us. The President has — when it comes to deficit reduction, which is the issue on the table — consistently put forward common-sense, middle-of-the-road solutions that represent balance and have met the Republicans halfway. And he will continue to pursue that with the Congress as we try to address both the sequester and the broader challenge of reducing our deficit in a way that’s fair and that puts us on a fiscally sustainable path. But for more on the CR, we’ll have to wait a little bit while we assess it.
Q And a number of Republican senators have stepped forward I guess in the last several hours to say that the President has reached out to them on the sequester. Is this a charm offensive?
MR. CARNEY: The President is engaging with lawmakers of both parties and will continue to do so. He stood before you, I believe it was Friday, and talked about the need for bipartisan work on common ground when it comes to reducing our deficit. We should be able to achieve that. He has put forward a proposal that addresses the need for entitlement reform in a very serious way as part of a comprehensive package that includes tax reform that would close loopholes and cap deductions in a way that Speaker Boehner said was his position just two months ago.
So both sides, if you will, are for entitlement reform and tax reform. And really, one of the issues that seems to be still a matter of debate is what do you do with the revenue gained from improving our tax code — closing unnecessary loopholes, eliminating special breaks for the well-connected and well-off. Do you take that and convert it into tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy? Or do you apply it to deficit reduction, which is an eminently conservative and reasonable position to have? That’s the President’s position.
So he is reaching out and talking to members about a variety of issues — not just our fiscal challenges, but certainly the fiscal issues are among the issues he is talking about with lawmakers.
Q And should the reaching out be, I guess, thought of in any way as perhaps the President or the White House not being very comfortable with what the House is talking about right now in terms of extending the CR, that this might evolve into another one of those manufactured crises?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t necessarily link the CR, which is a measure that if it meets the test that I talked about would simply continue to fund the government and avoid a government shutdown. It does not in any way — would not in any way resolve the challenges about the sequester or, more broadly, how do we further reduce our deficit so we put ourselves on a fiscally sustainable path by achieving that $4 trillion-plus goal over 10 years of deficit reduction.
That work remains to be done. And the President is interested in finding the members of the “caucus of common sense” and working with them to bring about a resolution to this challenge because we should be able to do it.
He’s put forward and finally, I think there’s some recognition here — although occasionally you see some Republican leaders insist the President doesn’t have a plan, and perhaps they don’t have the Internet in those offices — but the plan is available to all of you. It has lived in various incarnations, including the President’s submission to the super committee back in the fall of 2011, the President’s budget, as well as the President’s proposal to the Speaker Boehner at the end of the year, which remains on the table and available to be taken up, and we hope it is.
Q Can I follow up?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Ann.
Q Thank you. When is the President going to put out his budget that traditionally comes out in February? Was the delay caused at all by the sequester? Or is the CR a factor in the budget that he will produce? And why not do tax reform as one larger package later this year? If so, when would that be?
MR. CARNEY: Okay, let me address the portions of the question. As I’ve said in the past, administration officials are working on the President’s budget and we will provide it. I don’t have a specific date for you. There is no question that the series of crises, largely manufactured, that we and Congress have been having to deal with over the past several months have had an impact on that process. But the fact is we’re working on it and we will submit a budget.
And we note that the Senate will be submitting a budget, as well as the House. And I think the President believes that there is some reason to hope that we can take that simple fact and pursue what a lot of people refer to as regular order, which is to use that budget process to try to resolve some of these issues, and maybe that’s an avenue to do it. There’s an interest on both sides to return to regular order, as opposed to a situation where we’re dealing with these unique and arbitrary deadlines and cliffs and crises and things.
But the broader issue is how do we go about the job of reducing our deficit further, achieving another $1.5 trillion to $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction that would bring us to $4 trillion or more over 10 years in a balanced way.
Thus far the President has signed into law $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction. That has come largely in spending cuts. That’s an important fact to note. The Republican leaders in the House in particular, but also in the Senate, like to say that the President got his revenue increases on January 1st, but the fact of the matter is that even with the raising of the income tax rate for the wealthiest Americans back to the level under Clinton, the income achieved from that — the revenue achieved from that is something like $620 billion. And that still remains just a small — a relatively small portion of the overall achievement in deficit reduction thus far.
It does represent balance. We need to continue with the balance, and the President’s proposal, his offer to Speaker Boehner continues that. It includes entitlement reform savings, as well as savings from tax reform. And tax reform, again, as I said, is something that Republicans say they’re for. All we’re asking when we say let’s get tax reform and entitlement reform done together in this effort is for the Republicans to adopt the position that Speaker Boehner had two months ago.
Q When this year do you think tax reform would come up as a complete issue?
MR. CARNEY: I would not predict when this would happen. Obviously the President hopes that we can have movement on this issue sooner rather than later, because it’s one that has tied up Washington unnecessarily and to the nation’s detriment often. That’s certainly what we’re living through now with the imposition of the sequester, a wholly manufactured crisis, wholly unnecessary, that’s happening because of a decision by the Republicans in Congress not to go along with the basic proposition that balance is the right way to reduce our deficit.
So I think the sooner the better. But I’m not saying it will happen sooner. I’m saying that the President is pursuing — taking an approach that is looking for partners who agree with the basic idea that we can do these two big things, we can reach that goal of $4 trillion through entitlement reform and tax reform. And he has put forward a very reasonable solution to that end.
Q Jay, thanks. Senator Lindsey Graham is telling reporters that part of the President’s message today to him was that he wants to revisit the idea of a grand bargain. Can you confirm that? Is that really the central message that —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to read out conversations — individual conversations that the President has had. I think that it’s fair to say that when I talk about, and the President talks about finishing the job of hitting that $4 trillion target that was originally laid out when we were all talking about grand bargains, and the Simpson-Bowles Commission was putting its original plan forward, and others were doing that same kind of work, that achieving — finishing that job you could say would be the completion of the goals set when the grand bargain negotiations were started.
The task is smaller numerically now because of the achievements that have taken place already and the $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction. But it is also true that what remains is hard stuff — entitlement reform and tax reform. But it should not be that hard because the President has led on this issue by demonstrating a willingness to agree to entitlement reforms that, I think it’s fair to say, most of you would recognize as tough choices for Democrats. All he is asking is that Republicans make similarly tough choices for themselves, and that is to go along with a reasonable proposition, which is that everybody ought to share in the burden of reducing our deficit.
That is the best thing to do for our economy. It’s the best thing to do for our middle class. And it is an absolute fact in our history that when our middle class is strong, when the economy is growing from the middle out instead of from the top down, our country is stronger and our people are better off.
Q Is it fair to say he sees this as an opening, a new opportunity to achieve the rest of the grand bargain, though?
MR. CARNEY: I think that he’s been very transparent about his desire for Republicans to take up his offer which remains on the table from the fiscal cliff negotiations and to move forward with a balanced approach to deficit reduction that includes revenues through tax reform — much as Speaker Boehner said was possible to the tune of a trillion dollars in December. The President’s proposal I think is something short of $600 billion. So it doesn’t seem — it doesn’t make a lot of sense that what the Speaker thought was possible in December, and possible in a way that could produce a trillion dollars in revenue, is now impossible under the President’s plan. And he has put forward serious entitlement reform.
So he’ll continue to have these conversations, continue to have these discussions with lawmakers. I want to make clear that he’s not — when he talks to lawmakers, it’s not just on one subject. You have seen that we continue to work on immigration reform; we continue to work on measures to reduce gun violence; we continue to work on all of the items on the President’s agenda. And conversations he’s having with lawmakers include those issues as well, not just our fiscal challenges.
Q And, Jay, if you look at some of the latest polls — the Gallup Poll, the President’s approval rating has dropped. If you look at the CBS News-Wall Street Journal poll, it seems as though Americans are pretty evenly dividing the blame on the sequester — 38 percent blaming Republicans, and 33 percent blaming President Obama. Was there a miscalculation on his part not to negotiate more with Republicans sooner?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you’re misrepresenting his position in that he was making clear that his proposal was on the table, a proposal that represented compromise. The position Republicans took was no compromise, no way — I think the Speaker of the House said he would never negotiate with the President again. Right? That’s him saying it.
I think Republicans made clear in the run-up to the implementation of the sequester that they would have no discussion about revenues. Well, that hardly represents a willingness to negotiate a compromise.
And the Senate put forward a bill that Republicans filibustered that would have brought down the sequester and postponed the implementation of the sequester in a way that would have allowed Congress to pursue the broader deficit reduction package through regular order. Unfortunately, as I said, Republicans filibustered that.
The fact of the matter is Americans are rightfully upset by the dysfunction they see in Washington when you have, in particular, one House of Congress and one party within that House of Congress adamantly refusing to go along with a principle that is endorsed by a vast majority of the American people, including a majority of Republicans out in the country.
Q It seems like they’re blaming everyone for this dysfunction, though, at this point.
MR. CARNEY: Again, the President is focused on trying to find solutions. He’s not focused on assigning blame. He wants to work together with lawmakers of both parties to fix these problems, to put our economy on a fiscally sustainable path through further deficit reduction that is achieved in a balanced way that doesn’t ask seniors to bear all the burden, that doesn’t ask middle-class families to carry the load by themselves.
The choice of imposing sequester that, as I said yesterday, achieves none of the stated goals that Republicans claim they have, but only does harm to those who will have their hours reduced or their jobs taken away from them, or to industries in the defense sector that will be hard hit, businesses within the defense industry that will be hard hit, because they refuse to close some tax loopholes or agree to the basic principle that revenue ought to be part of the package.
So that’s unfortunate. The President is looking forward to how do we move from here to resolve these challenges.
Q General Mattis said earlier today that the Syrian opposition was complicated enough so that he could not recommend arming them, not knowing where the arms might wind up. The Secretary of State didn’t seem to go quite that far. Do you have any guidance?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think we have said all along that we are working with the Syrian opposition and helping them unify, with our international partners, and identifying those elements within the opposition that have as their goal greater democracy for the Syrian people. And we will continue to do that.
I don’t see — I’m not sure what conflict you’re suggesting exists between what the Secretary has said and what General Mattis has said.
Q It seems that, according to what’s been said, that it might be possible that we would find some segment of the opposition to help with arms.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, our policy remains what it has been, which is we do not provide arms to the Syrian opposition. We have provided substantial assistance in general, including the assistance announced by Secretary Kerry in Rome. And separately from assistance to the opposition, we’ve provided substantial humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and that will continue.
But on the issue of arms, I have said consistently and will say again today that we are constantly reviewing our assistance programs, constantly reviewing our policies with regards to Syria, and making changes and adjustments and increases in our assistance according to our assessments of what will help the Syrian people achieve their objectives.
Q So when you say you do not supply — we do not supply arms, you’re speaking in the present and not necessarily in the future?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I try never to predict the future, Bill, but the —
Q I mean, you’re suggesting that it might be possible under some circumstances —
MR. CARNEY: My answer to the question has always been we are constantly reviewing the options in front of us, and that includes the issue of providing arms. But our policy today is what it has been, and that is we do not provide arms.
Q Jay, on the sequester cuts, Head Start is one that you’ve been focusing on a lot and Republicans on the Hill are saying that Head Start was supposed to get about a 5-percent increase in funding. The sequester, as I understand it, is about 5 percent. So if the cut is about what the rate of growth was going to be, how do you back up that up to 70,000 people are going to be kicked off Head Start if it’s a relatively small cut?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I don’t have the tables in front of me, but I will get that information for you. It is entirely inaccurate to suggest that those kids will not lose those slots under Head Start if the —
Q But shouldn’t you — how do you back up that up to 70,000 will be kicked off —
MR. CARNEY: How do I back up that some claim by a House Republican —
Q No, how do you back up the President’s claim from that podium on Friday that up to 70,000 will be cut? You just said, I don’t have the table —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have it front of me. I appreciate —
Q How do you know that it’s up to 70,000?
MR. CARNEY: We will get that information for you. Again, I find it remarkable that those who weeks ago and certainly months ago were decrying sequester as the worst possible thing that could happen now embrace it as a victory, and try to diminish its impact on the most vulnerable people in America, including kids who go to Head Start. Is that really the message they want?
What does the CBO say: 750,000 people will lose their jobs; the economy will grow by a full half a percentage point more slowly than it would have otherwise. The effects are real, and they affect real people. And I am happy to ensure that you get the information that you seek, but I would be wary of charges that somehow folks out there aren’t going to be affected because —
Q Because there have been other Cabinet Secretaries like on Homeland Security — so Secretary Napolitano yesterday was at a breakfast with Politico and was saying that there’s long lines at airports already, and then she started listing some airports and literally said, but I have to check. Shouldn’t she know before she says something like that exactly which airports are having longer lines?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, as Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made clear when he spoke to you from this podium, there will be negative effects on our air traffic because of the reductions in FAA man-hours, air traffic controllers in particular. That’s a fact.
And efforts to muddy that fact by singling out a certain statement, just that can — we can do that, but there are real people out there who will be delayed, or who will have their wages cut, or who will lose their jobs as a result of the sequester, while folks in Washington are arguing over whether this particular impact happened when we said it was going to happen, or a week later, or a month later.
Q Except I’m sure you’re aware that on social media there are real people that you cite who are tweeting from airports all over the country saying, I’m not seeing any long lines. Now, that may just be anecdotal —
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I think you should go with the story that the sequester is having no effects.
Q No effect on airports. One other quick thing — TSA — the Secretary said that TSA is impacted because their budget has been cut, that that’s why we’re getting longer lines at the airports. It came out today that TSA, on February 27th of this year, had a new contract for new uniforms to the tune of $50 million. Do you think it’s a good idea for the TSA, two days before the March 1st deadline that you and every Cabinet Secretary has been up here warning about, you’ve got to really be careful with the pennies right now — why would they have a $50 million contract?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, I appreciate the question. Obviously TSA would be well suited to answer it, as would DHS. I am not aware of it.
Peter, and then Roger.
Q Jay, could you give us your thoughts on the Dow reaching a record high, and also what it might say about an economy — the economy? We have the Dow at an all-time high, but unemployment still remains stubbornly high.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t comment on markets. I would simply say that we have an economy in 2013 that outside economists say and I think government economists agree is poised to grow and poised to create jobs, if only Washington did not unnecessarily hinder that progress. And what we know, unfortunately, is that if Washington were not in the way here when it came to imposition of the sequester, the growth that we do see and the job creation that we do see would have been better, would have been greater, if it were not for this adamant refusal to approach this problem in a balanced, sensible, common-sense way.
Now, again, as I’ve said already, the President is engaging with lawmakers in the hope that we can move forward in a balanced way because he believes and knows that there are Republicans who agree with the vast majority of the American people, with the majority of Republicans in the country, with the majority of independents in the country, that we should do this in a balanced way, that we should include revenues as well as entitlement cuts, spending cuts when we further reduce our deficit.
And so he’s looking for solutions. He’s going to work with — or hope to work with those members of Congress who are interested in common-sense solutions. But we know that the economy is poised to do well. We know that the sooner Washington resolves these challenges it will do better.
Q Just to follow — is the President frustrated with congressional Republican leadership? Is that one of the reasons he is reaching out to some more rank-and-file Republican members in search of a compromise on fiscal issues?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, the President is interested in working with lawmakers who are newly arrived, lawmakers who are in leadership, lawmakers who are somewhere in between, to find common-sense solutions. And it’s a fact that in his negotiations with the Speaker in the past he has had reason to believe that real bipartisan compromise was possible. That’s why he pursued those negotiations. That’s why he compromised in the way that he did and he put forward offers that represented true good faith in their attempts to meet Republicans halfway. And he will continue to do that. The offer to Speaker Boehner remains available.
It is also true that, thus far, we have not seen from the leadership an interest in taking up balance as an approach to dealing with our fiscal challenges. But we have seen indications that others in the Republican Party, as well, obviously, as Democrats, believe that balance is a wise way to go when we talk about achieving both entitlement reform and tax reform.
Q Back to the budget for a moment. Senator McConnell said on the Senate floor this morning that the budget would be coming out on April 8th. Can you clarify that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t have any information for you. I don’t believe that the White House is looking to the Senate to make announcements for it. So I don’t have a date for you, Roger.
Q To follow up — and I’m sure this will come as a surprise — he also said that the budget timing is politically motivated and irresponsible. Do you want to comment?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t.
Q Jay, as the White House is gauging the pulse of the American people, has there been an uptick in letters and calls to the White House about sequestration and what’s happening?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know the answer to that question. I can take it and we can see.
Q Please. And also, I want to find out when will the President say when? And I’m reminded about something that he said at the podium last week. He said he’s going to make hard decisions that some in his party will not like. Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott says the solutions to sequester are about as bad as sequester itself. So when does the President say, okay, this is how far I will go?
MR. CARNEY: The President has made clear that he does not support budgetary practices that claim as their goal putting our fiscal house in order that ask all of the burden to be borne by senior citizens or middle-class families or the most vulnerable among us. He will not support that approach. I think that has been consistent throughout the several years that we’ve had this debate.
What he has been willing to do is make clear that if we take a balanced approach, we can enact spending cuts in our discretionary non-defense budget that are serious, but allow us to continue to invest in key areas of the economy like education and research, and development and innovation, and clean energy technology. And we can do that in a way that still brings our discretionary non-defense spending to a level that it has not been since Dwight Eisenhower was President.
If we do it in a balanced way, we can reform our entitlements in a way that preserves these incredibly crucial programs for our senior citizens for generations to come and strengthens them, rather than the alternative, which is if you don’t do it in a balanced way, as we’ve seen in the past, you have to gut those programs or end them as we know them, or voucherize them in a way that just shifts costs enormously to seniors. And that’s something the President opposes.
Q But you have Democrats within the President’s own party who are vehemently opposed to those cuts in entitlements. Even if it’s administratively, in Social Security or Medicare, they are vehemently opposed. So when will the President say when, and will the President listen to his own party?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President made clear when he was here on Friday, as he has many times, that he has made some tough choices in his proposals that he understands are difficult for some Democrats, often many Democrats to go along with. He believes they’re within a context of a broader deal, if you will, within a context of a balanced deal that includes tax reform that generates revenues for deficit reduction. The entitlement reforms that he has proposed are sensible. They protect the programs that help our seniors and others. And he knows that they are tough decisions. And I think your question in a way makes his point, which is that he has led on this issue in a way that I think leadership has often been defined in Washington, which is making decisions that are difficult politically within your own party.
And what we have not seen from Republicans thus far in this debate, at least from the leaders, is a commensurate willingness to make the tough call and say, you know what, in the name of broader deficit reduction and getting some serious entitlement reforms and getting our fiscal house in order, we should go along with tax reform that produces revenues, much as the Speaker of the House said he wanted just two short months ago.
Q You said tax reform that generates revenues for deficit reduction. How is that different than just tax reform that generates revenues?
MR. CARNEY: Because the distinction I’m making is that the Speaker has said that he still believes that those loopholes should be closed and those —
Q Right, by revenue-neutral —
MR. CARNEY: — revenue neutral, and that the savings from that tax reform should be funneled into tax cuts through lowered rates. And as we know, and every economist will tell you, lower rates results in a disproportionate benefit to wealthier Americans.
Again, we haven’t seen anything laid out specifically from the Republicans on how they would envision this tax reform and who would benefit, but if you’re saying we should reform our tax code and then funnel that into tax breaks, as opposed to funneling that into deficit reduction, I think —
Q How do you funnel revenue into deficit reduction? You just get revenue. You can’t say that those revenues automatically get —
MR. CARNEY: Right, and the President’s plan would, as he has put forward numerous times, would generate revenue through tax reform as well as savings through entitlement reforms. And the combination would account for roughly $1.8 trillion in further deficit reduction.
Q Okay. One quick question about immigration reform. Would the President sign a comprehensive bill that did not include a path to citizenship?
MR. CARNEY: The President has made very clear that he believes a path to citizenship is a vital component of comprehensive immigration reform. This is in keeping with bipartisan efforts in the past. It’s in keeping with the bipartisan discussions that have been underway in the Senate with the so-called Gang of Eight. So he is encouraged by the progress that’s been made thus far in the Senate by that bipartisan group, and he hopes that that progress will continue.
Q But would he sign a bill that didn’t include a path to citizenship?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to speculate. I think the answer is pretty clear. He believes that a path —
Q The answer is no?
MR. CARNEY: — a pathway to citizenship is vital to a comprehensive immigration package, so, yes.
Q Mine follows this.
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q On Jeb Bush’s comments yesterday, I’m just wondering if, as a result, does the White House believe that it has made it harder for the President to work with Republicans in Congress now that Jeb Bush has come out against a path to citizenship? Does it move the whole debate to the right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would leave it to you and others to assess the political dynamics at play here. I would note that numerous Republicans believe that part of comprehensive immigration reform has to include a pathway to citizenship. I would also note that — just to be clear — that the President’s — what the President has put forward in his blueprint and what others have been considering does not give an advantage to illegal immigrants. It makes clear that they have to go to the back of the line when it comes to applying for citizenship. And that’s a key component of the President’s blueprint.
All the way in the back, yes. Donovan, you’re next. Sorry.
Q Today, China announced it would increase its defense budget by 10 percent. How does the U.S. see this? Do you think this will give stability in the region for all concerned?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a specific reaction. Obviously, we work very closely with our international partners in — well, our partners in the Asia Pacific region. We are a Pacific power and we have significant interests in the region. We engage with and work with our Chinese counterparts on a variety of issues, both economic and security-related. But for specific reactions to that, I would probably refer you to the Defense Department.
Q Thanks, Jay. A little bit of a follow-up on something Kristen and April asked. Gallup had a survey recently that showed 51 percent of the American people have no idea whether the sequester cuts are good or bad. And, as Kristen noted, the President’s approval rating dropped seven points in a week. So it’s clear the American people are blaming him, no matter what it is —
MR. CARNEY: Whoa, whoa — before we say anything is clear based on one poll, could we just remember, just think back a few months to the summer and fall of 2012, and understand that we’re here focused on the President’s agenda, getting the work done that we think is most beneficial to the middle class. And I would caution everyone — I’m not saying this is a bad poll at all. I have no idea. I haven’t even looked at it. But I would caution everyone to not suffer from amnesia about the folly that comes from chasing one poll’s results and making grand conclusions about it.
Q Sort of like Romnesia?
MR. CARNEY: It could be. Anyway —
Q So can I just finish my question? Sorry about that. So over half don’t know whether sequester is good or bad. He’s been out stumping on this —
MR. CARNEY: I’m stunned that sequester or that that many people even know what sequester is because it is — I mean, it’s a term that most people are familiar with only if they’ve done jury duty, right, so it’s not — it doesn’t really make a lot of sense when it comes to budgetary issues. But, sorry, proceed, Donovan.
Q If they’re furloughed they know. If they’re furloughed they know what’s going on.
MR. CARNEY: They do know furlough, yes.
Q So he’s been out there, though, stumping, speaking across the country and also addressing it from here. How does the White House account for that seeming failure to break through to get his messages out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I would argue that most Americans are focused on their daily lives, what they’re doing to ensure that they’re taking care of their families, that they’re making ends meet. And to April’s point, whether they know or have heard about sequester or sequestration, they’ll know that something bad has happened if they get a furlough notice or a layoff notice or a notice that says their child — in direct contradiction to Ed’s question — actually loses a slot in Head Start. They will know. And it will be unfortunate.
The President said, and it is absolutely true, that we will manage this situation. But it cannot be lost on anyone that it’s unnecessary and that none of this achieves the stated objectives of the Republican Party — that is, significant long-term deficit reduction — sequester doesn’t do it; increases in defense spending, which a lot of Republicans say they want, Republican budgets have proposed, it does the opposite; increases in Border Patrol; increases in some of the other priorities that Republicans say they have — none of this is achieved through sequester. Entitlement reform — does not happen under sequester. I think for these reasons, Republicans decried sequester, and the Speaker of the House just a few weeks ago said it would harm our national defense and cost thousands of jobs. And he was right then.
And when some House Republicans call this a “tea party victory,” or “a home run,” as two House Republicans have on the record, we couldn’t disagree more, because it may be a narrow political victory in some conference room on Capitol Hill, if that, but it achieves none of the Republican Party’s stated objectives and it does direct harm to our national defense and to average folks across the country.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll take one more.
Q The Saudi Foreign Minister said today that negotiation with Iran is a waste of time. Does the White House agree with this point of view?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we are engaged with our international partners through the P5-plus-1 process in discussions with Iran. We are very clear-eyed about Iranian behavior, and that behavior has led to a situation where they are more isolated and suffering through an unprecedented sanctions regime — more isolated than ever before and suffering through this sanctions regime, and that regime has done harm to its economy.
And Iran faces a choice — the leadership in Tehran faces a choice, which is to abide U.N. Security Council resolutions, to abide by international norms and obligations, and by doing so rejoin the community of nations, end Iran’s isolation, give greater hope for the Iranian people — or continue down the path of flouting those obligations and endure the consequences through greater isolation and greater sanctions, and the ultimate fact that it is our policy that Iran will not and cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. And the window of opportunity here, as I said the other day — I think yesterday — will not remain open forever when it comes to Iran’s chances to get right with the world.
END 1:55 P.M. EST