Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney and OMB Director Jack Lew, 9/12/2011By USGOV
Monday, September 12, 2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:25 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: It's your lucky day. Before I get started and tell you why I have Jack Lew here, I just wanted to give you a sense of where this week is headed for the President.
Today, as you know, the President, flanked by the kinds of workers who would benefit from the American Jobs Act, announced that he would be presenting specific legislative language on the bill today. He's still asking Congress to take up and pass the bill promptly.
Tomorrow the President will travel to Columbus, Ohio, where he will visit a school that was recently modernized. He'll get a firsthand sense of the jobs that were created and the tangible benefits to the students, teachers, parents and communities that this will provide. That's why he's included money for school construction and modernization in the American Jobs Act.
On Wednesday, the President will visit a small business in the Raleigh-Durham area that would benefit from the bipartisan proposals included in the American Jobs Act, including enjoying a reduction in their payroll tax and an expanded payroll.
I have with me today Jack Lew, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. As you know, as you heard from the President, he will be submitting the American Jobs Act to Congress later today. You've been briefed I think pretty extensively on the provisions that create jobs and grow the economy in that act. Part of the act the President presents to Congress today has what we call pay-fors — has the mechanisms by which those provisions will be paid for. Jack is here to discuss those with you, explain them to you. If you want to ask him questions that he can handle, and then I will, of course, remain and take your questions on other subjects.
Thank you. Jack Lew.
MR. LEW: Thanks, Jay. Let me start by putting the whole pay-for package into perspective. When the President spoke to Congress last week he said he was going to present the jobs and growth package — it's roughly $450 billion — and that it would be paid for. And today he's sending legislation to Congress that has both the growth package agenda and the pay-fors in it.
He is presenting a series of specifics — which I will get to in a minute — but he also said that the target for the joint committee should be raised. And I know that's caused a little bit of confusion, so I thought I'd start by putting the relationship between the two into perspective and then going through the details.
This is a standalone bill. It has the investments in growth and jobs, and it has some provisions that pay for it. By raising the target of the joint committee what we're saying is Congress should pass the jobs bill now with the pay-fors, and when the joint committee reaches its decisions later in the fall, it can then either put in new offsets to pay for it, and that would trigger the pay-fors in the bill off, or it can do the original target of $1.5 trillion and then the pay-fors that are in the jobs bill will stand.
So that's the relationship between the joint committee and the bill. The bill is paid for. And whichever path the joint committee takes, the jobs piece is paid for. It's a question of whether or not the joint committee comes back and essentially replaces these offsets with others. The specific offsets that are in the package are a series of tax provisions. I think they'll be familiar to most of you because they're ideas that we have been talking about for the most part for some time.
First there's a limit on itemized deductions and certain exemptions for individuals who earn over $200,000, and families earning over $250,000. That limitation raises roughly $400 billion over 10 years.
There is a provision that would treat carried interest — that's the interest earned by investment fund managers — as ordinary income, rather than taxing it at the capital gains rate. And that would raise $18 billion.
There are a number of oil and gas provisions, which, collectively, raise $40 billion. That would — with the enactment of these provisions, would treat the oil and gas industry like other industries, taking away the special preference. And finally, the corporate jet depreciation rule is changed. Right now corporate jets are depreciated over five years; commercial over seven. It would treat commercial and corporate jets the same, at five years. That raises $3 billion.
In the aggregate, these provisions actually raise $467 billion. It intentionally overachieves because these are based on our estimates internally. When the Congress estimates tax provisions, and we estimate tax provisions, they rarely are pinpoint-accurate to the same number. Sometimes they're higher; sometimes they're lower. And it just built in a cushion so that as we go through the process of having the scoring done on the Hill, we’ve built in a cushion for the differences that happen. But we do believe we’ve overachieved, which would leave a bit of excess.
That's kind of the package of offsets. I could take questions.
Q Jack, I wonder on that one point, though, when you say you’ve overachieved, the very first one you listed with the biggest amount of money, $400 billion, eliminating itemized deductions. I seem to remember in 2009, in the President’s first budget, that very provision was in there, and you were saying then — I know you were not OMB chair, but your predecessor was saying that that was going to pay for health care reform. And you had a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, and it went nowhere. So how are you going to get it done now with a Republican House?
MR. LEW: I think that the merits of the proposal stand on its own. As the President made clear in the speech last Thursday, and as he’s spoken to the issue subsequently, we have choices to make. We have — in order to invest in jobs and growth, we’re going to have to pay for it. And we’re going to have to look at quite a few things that we’ve looked at before and ask the question, should we do this in order to add to growth and create jobs.
We think the American people will think this is the right package. But it’s our offer as to what the right way to pay for it is. We think Congress should take it up and pass it.
Q But if Congress doesn't agree, you essentially have $50 billion left for –
MR. LEW: Well, but we believe Congress should agree. We believe Congress should agree.
Q But if they don't, you’ve got no money.
MR. LEW: We have policies here that are very real. And again, it’s a choice. Do we want to leave — the way this limitation on itemized deductions works, if you earn $200,000 in individual or $250,000 as a family, your itemized deductions and exemptions are worth roughly 28 percent. That's the tax break. If you’re in a higher tax bracket, it's worth 33 or 36 percent.
All this says is that the value of tax deductions above that threshold should be the same as the value at the threshold. And we think it's a fair provision. We think that it's the kind of balanced tradeoff that would be right.
And let me also point out that we are pulling out of the package that we'll present next week the pieces that, self-contained, are the jobs and growth package and the pay-for. We're going to have a lot more detail a week from today of what the overall deficit reduction package is. We're going to overachieve, beyond the joint committee target.
What the President has been saying and will continue saying is we need to do the jobs bill and the growth package now and we need to deal with the fiscal challenges, and frankly, we should do more than the target the joint committee has. This is the piece that, taken alone, would do the jobs and growth package in a paid-for way.
Q What's the rationale for having Congress vote on this set of pay-fors along with the jobs bill, then giving the super committee the option to redo that package?
MR. LEW: Well, frankly, the urgency is to act as soon as possible on the jobs and growth package. We don't think that it would be the best course of action, would be the right course of action, to just defer everything to the end of the year. We wanted to pull out the provisions that we thought could move most quickly to get action taken, so that, as the President has said, Congress can take up a bill and pass it.
As far as how we reach the deficit reduction goals, which is what the mandate of the joint committee is, there's a little bit more time if they wanted to go back and do some fine-tuning. So if you think of it as a kind of trigger mechanism, these are in place unless the joint committee acts to trigger them off. And it really is a way to try to get action started sooner.
Q Is there any provision in here where the — whatever Congress would decide on these pay-fors, if they want to pass, the super committee would have to make a decision — if they were to redo that package, they would at least make sure that it was of an equal amount?
MR. LEW: The super committee, if the recommendations as we are putting them forward are adopted, will have to hit the target of $1.5 trillion plus the cost of the jobs bill. So if they want to take these provisions and displace them under those rules, they would have to equal it. Obviously Congress can pass a subsequent law.
Q Jack, is it fair to say that given these pay-fors, that the President believes that the wealthiest Americans should pay more in order to pay for his jobs bill?
MR. LEW: I think what this package means is that we want action taken now on the jobs and growth package. It is a challenge to break apart a multi-trillion-dollar deficit reduction package so you can get a piece that stands on its own and moves quickly. This was the attempt to put together a package that can be self-contained and move quickly.
I think in terms of looking at the overall balance of shared sacrifice, when you see the package next Monday, you'll see that there's shared sacrifice that's substantially broader than just the wealthiest Americans. I think what the President has said and what this means is that as we're going through the process of dealing with paying for the jobs and growth package and reducing the deficit, that the most fortunate have to be part of that.
Q But the President is about to embark on a campaign where he's going to blame Republicans and Congress if they don't pass this jobs bill. And he's setting it up as — you pointed out — as a choice: the choice between jobs for Americans, or tax cuts for corporate jet owners, oil and gas companies, and for deductions for the wealthiest Americans. Is that incorrect?
MR. LEW: At its most simple level, what the President said on Thursday night stands and is just profoundly true — we can't afford everything. We have to make choices. And I think if the American people were asked to make a choice between tax breaks for investment fund managers who get preferential treatment for carried interest, and oil and gas industry tax breaks that treat oil and gas more favorably than other investments, and corporate jets that are treated more favorably than commercial, that is not a hard choice for most Americans if the choice is creating economic growth and jobs, or tolerating the results of many years of inequities in the tax code.
Q How many jobs will be created with this plan?
MR. LEW: We have not put out an official administration estimate –
Q Why not?
MR. LEW: Well, we just don't do official job estimates. And –
Q Do you have numbers that you –
MR. LEW: I think that we've seen the same numbers that you've seen that private forecasters have put out — Mark Zandi put out some numbers on Friday. Macroeconomic Advisers put out some numbers on Friday. There's a range, but it's millions of jobs. It's a very substantial amount of job growth, whichever of the numbers you look at.
Q So the Zandi numbers are on target, would you say?
MR. LEW: Well, I referred to two numbers that came out in different places. There's a range. I don't remember — I think Zandi said 1.9 [million] — yes, 1.9 [million], and Macroeconomic Advisers a little bit lower. In each case, they kind of demonstrate that there is very significant impact on GDP growth, very significant impact on job growth, and very significant reduction in unemployment, which is why the President's message to Congress is, take this bill up and pass it, and pass it now.
Q Isn't it easier, though, to sell a plan to the American people if you can say, listen, this jobs bill will create 2 million jobs or 1.5 million? Doesn’t that make it an easier sell?
MR. LEW: It's always a challenge with these kinds of projections because they're subject to a lot of things other than just what you're proposing in the package. I think we are very comfortable looking at the estimates that outside experts have done, which very much support the importance of this package as an engine of economic growth in terms of faster GDP growth, in terms of job growth, in terms of bringing down unemployment. And I think that the American people don't want us to be standing here kind of arguing over estimates but getting the job done to create jobs.
Q A question about what you're going to propose next week. You say you're going to overachieve the target — I guess you're referring to the $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion.
MR. LEW: Correct.
Q So you are — there have been a lot of calls for the grand bargain again, go big, do the $4 trillion package. He is not going to do that next week?
MR. LEW: I'm not going to get ahead of what the President is going to announce a week from today, but I can safely say that it will achieve beyond the targets the joint committee has, fully pay for the jobs package, and stabilize the deficit and debt in this 10-year window.
Q When you say go beyond or overachieve, you're talking about the kind of cushion you just provided for your jobs act. You're not talking about go beyond, as in go all the way to $4 trillion?
MR. LEW: I'm not saying where we're going, but it will overachieve compared to the joint committee target.
Q If you really want quick package of a standalone bill in a Congress that's half Republican, or one half is controlled by the Republicans, why no spending cuts in this pay-for package?
MR. LEW: Well, I just want to remind everyone that in August, just a few weeks ago, we had an agreement that locked in very substantial spending cuts in discretionary spending. We have a joint committee that is going to be working on deficit reduction. And as I indicated, on Monday we're going to be coming in with a proposal that shows a balanced approach to shared sacrifice.
The challenge in this jobs and growth package is to put together something that's self-contained that can move, and that's what we put together here.
Q But you know that Republicans will say that the sacrifice is not shared in this. It's all –
MR. LEW: If you look at the overall impact, I think one can look at the Budget Control Act and see a trillion dollars of savings; one can look ahead at the joint committee with the full knowledge that there are going to be calls for additional spending cuts there.
The President has always said that a balanced approach involves all of them, not just some of the areas of the budget. And this is one piece of the overall effort.
Q Maybe I'm just not getting it, but I thought that all these things that are in the pay-fors that he is proposing now are things that were proposed before when it was a smaller amount of — before this got added to the stuff that the super committee is going to have to do. So does this mean that itemized deductions, carried interest, oil and gas provisions, and the corporate jet stuff are off the table for the additional cuts that they'll have to come up with, or that there could be more of these — these numbers plus more? I don't know if I worded that in a way that makes sense.
MR. LEW: Obviously each of the things that saves money or raises revenue can only be used once. And I do understand that there's the risk that if you kind of use things in two places you don't get the result you mean.
We are saying that next week we will be putting out a plan, which includes these provisions and others, that will overachieve compared to the joint committee plan. The joint committee will then look at what we've submitted to it; it will look at other things as well. They will make some choices as to how they want to approach deficit reduction.
So this hopefully will have passed the Congress, will be in place as something that takes effect unless they take some other action. And in that case, they couldn't use it to meet their $1.5 trillion.
Q Right. Whether Congress accepts the President's proposal, or whether the joint committee decides to seize on these, even if they pay for $467 billion, that $467 billion has got to offset $447 billion –
MR. LEW: Yes, so it would be $1.5 trillion –
Q So they are at zero. Then you have to have completely new, other ways to –
MR. LEW: That is correct. (Laughter.)
Q Why this separation of (inaudible)? I understand you want to put the pay-fors with the jobs plan as a package, but why not put out the deficit reduction plan, the larger one, now instead of a week from now? The committee is meeting a couple of times before they'll see what the President is putting forward.
MR. LEW: We're working hard on putting the final plan together and we'll put it out a week from today, which is very much in time to be part of the committee's deliberations. It's very much our purpose to have the President's specific details out there early in the process. So that –
Q So it's that it's just not complete yet?
MR. LEW: No, I think that the urgency of the jobs and growth package is that we have an immediate, urgent need for Congress to act on jobs and growth. It can't wait until Thanksgiving and it can't wait until Christmas. So we can't tie dealing with jobs and growth to the schedule of the joint committee. We moved as quickly as possible to get the jobs and growth package out, so literally as soon as Congress returned from the August break this package is out there. Thursday was the presentation of the policy. Today we're sending legislative language. We're moving very quickly to get this jobs and growth package up there. We'll bring the full package out a week from today.
Q What time is the — when are you sending this?
MR. LEW: Later in the day today. Congress is in, in the afternoon, I believe, but the exact time we'll –
Q The President has talked about making sure wealthy corporations pay their fair share. Treasury is supposed to come out with this white paper on corporate tax reform. And I'm just wondering if the deficit reduction plan next week might include eliminating or limiting the national tax break, particularly international tax law –
MR. LEW: I don't want to get ahead of what the President said last Thursday and what he's going to say a week from today. There will be additional discussion of our corporate tax plan in the package next week, though.
MR. CARNEY: A couple more for Jack, and then we'll move on.
Q Do you anticipate any job losses from raising taxes?
MR. LEW: First of all, the kinds of provisions that we are talking about changing we don't believe will cause any kind of a reduction in economic activity or job loss. So just in terms of the substance of these policies, we're very comfortable that they're consistent with economic growth.
Secondly, in terms of timing, these provisions don't taken effect until January 2013. So I think between the fact that they're not provisions that substantively should have that impact and that won't even be on the books until January 2013, it's very consistent in terms of paying for an immediate jobs and growth package.
MR. CARNEY: In the middle of the row — yes, sir.
Q Thank you, Jay. Old glasses, I see.
MR. CARNEY: I'll get to that. (Laughter.)
Q Jack, when you talk about what the figure is and how many jobs are created, as Dan did in the previous question, one has to go back to January of '09 when the stimulus package was unveiled, and Dr. Romer and Jared Bernstein said at the time it would bring unemployment levels down to 6.8 percent. And they have not gone down to that level now. How can there be confidence in any figures you offer on jobs created or what the unemployment will be, based on that record?
MR. LEW: As you know, I was not a member of the economic team then and I have an outsider's knowledge of the deliberations that were going on at the time. I will say that the Recovery Act produced the level of new jobs that was expected. What changed was that the economy was in a much deeper recession than anyone knew at the time. The hole was deeper and it was that much harder to get out.
So I think there's a danger of ever predicting unemployment rates, because as I said in response to the earlier question, there's a lot of things that determine what the unemployment rate is and will be. So even if you create x-million new jobs, if you started out farther behind in economic growth, it's going to take longer to hit a certain level of employment/unemployment.
So my own view is and always has been that it's a dangerous thing to try to pinpoint predicting unemployment rates. I do think that when you look at a package like this that you know is going to have a positive impact in terms of GDP growth, and you know it's going to have a positive effect on jobs with a multiplier, that there is very much a demonstrable impact on job growth.
I think the position we're in is right, which is to rely on outside experts who take a range of views, and it sets, I think, an objective measure that policymakers can look to, to kind of see the bandwidth of what the impact is likely to be. And as I've said, all the numbers I've seen range in a pretty tight space, but showing substantial positive impact on both GDP growth, substantial impact on jobs growth, and a substantial reduction in unemployment.
Q But there will no more predictions of what the figures will –
MR. LEW: I'm not making any other predictions.
MR. CARNEY: I'm going to let — I'm sorry, go ahead, Tricia, and then I'm going to let Jack go.
Q Given that the Republicans are already quibbling over what's in the package, what will you do to get it passed in terms of what elements are you guys willing to let go?
MR. LEW: Well, we are going to be sending Congress later today the President's proposal. We think Congress should take that proposal up and should pass it. So I'm not going to stand here before we've even transmitted it to Congress and speculate on a hypothetical. I think it's clear that what we're doing would help the economy enormously. It would create jobs. Everything in it is the kind of initiative that either now or in the past has had bipartisan support. We think there's the basis for working together and doing something that would very much help the American people and the American economy.
Q So your position now is you're going to push for everything that's in it?
MR. LEW: I said we're transmitting to Congress our proposals this afternoon and we very much urge them to take it up and to pass it.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, Jack. Appreciate it, as always.
Q How many pages in it, Jay? How many pages?
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to get that for you.
MR. LEW: Haven't counted them yet. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to get that for you.
I'm going to — before I go straight to questions, I'm going to respond to a couple of things here. Tricia, on yours, the President believes the United States Congress should, upon receiving the American Jobs Act, pass it. He is submitting a bill that, by the estimate of any economist on the outside whose PhD is worth the value of the paper it’s printed on, would say creates jobs and grows the economy by incentivizing the private sector, by putting more money in Americans’ pockets, by putting teachers back to work, putting construction workers back to work, police and firefighters. And he believes the American Jobs Act should be passed by Congress.
Second, if I could, I think we’ll see the reference to Dr. Romer and Dr. Bernstein’s estimates many times in political advertisements coming forward, many times from candidates and political committees. I think it ought to be incumbent upon people who are journalists to at least acknowledge in their writing, if not in the phrasing of their question, what Jack Lew just talked about, which is that the forecasts made in early 2009 were based on the economic data available to any economist inside or outside the administration. And what we didn’t know — in fact, what we only learned this summer — is that in the fourth quarter of 2008, the American economy contracted 9 percent — before this President took office. The next month, when he took office, at the end of that month — by the end of that month, the American economy had shed in that month alone 770,000 jobs. Again, I certainly don’t think that you are suggesting that President Obama, regardless of his forecast of his economic team, is responsible for that.
So I just think that we need to — and I will simply go on and — those 770,000 jobs we talked about losing in January of 2009 were part of a total that reached 8 million as a result of the recession that was in full bloom, as we know now, when he took office.
So, at least as a reporter, acknowledge that there’s a separation between a talking point and the facts on the ground at the time.
Q But if you start raising taxes on people, won’t that do the opposite of what the President said Thursday night with the jobs bill? Now you want to raise taxes on mortgage interest, charitable contributions — that’s going to hit people in the wallet.
MR. CARNEY: I think Jack addressed that we certainly do not believe that anything in this provision would do anything but — in this American Jobs Act would do anything but grow the economy and create jobs. It would not harm job creation. We are also talking about, as the President made clear, we have to act now to help the economy grow, to help the private sector hire, and to ensure that firefighters and teachers and others go back to work. We will — you need to act now to do that.
The timeframe over which the American Jobs Act would be paid for ensures that there is no negative impact in the short term in terms of the costs involved. So, no, we very much believe — and again, look –
Q But if you start raising taxes on people making — individuals making $200,000, that’s not going to affect their spending habits? It’s not going to affect the economy?
MR. CARNEY: Look, you’re welcome to interview economists about whether or not, if you make more than $200,000 a year, or $250,000 as a family, whether or not itemizing your deductions to create more tax advantage for you rather than people who are at that level or below, what kind of effect that has on the economy. Again, the pay-fors are spread out to ensure that there aren’t negative impacts from that. The need to take action to help the economy grow and create jobs is urgent and present right now, and that’s why the President believes he ought to take action.
Q Jay, has the President spoken with Boehner or McConnell, any of the Republican leaders, on the details of the pay-fors?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any phone calls or meetings to read out to you now or to announce to you. I’m sure there will be plenty of consultations going forward. As you know, the President spoke with Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell on Thursday, prior to his –
Q But did he talk about the pay-fors in those conversations –
MR. CARNEY: I think he spoke about, in general, about the American Jobs Act and the provisions within it. But again, Julie, this conversation — the legislation goes to Congress, which I believe gets back in session later today — once Congress gets back in session. The conversation will continue once the legislation hits the desk up there.
Q But my question is — this is a lot of déjà vu — we talked about corporate jet owners and we talked about oil and gas companies during the debt ceiling, and the administration wasn’t able to get Republicans on board with any of those proposals. So why would the President think Republicans would agree to them now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear that the negotiations around the debt ceiling crisis, in which the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States tried to reach a grand bargain on the $3 to $4 trillion scale in terms of deficit reduction involved both spending cuts — discretionary spending cuts, entitlement reform and tax reform — tax revenues. As the Speaker himself ultimately did admit on the floor of the House, he had agreed to put revenues on the table.
Now, we already passed and have signed into law the roughly $1 trillion in budget cuts. That’s — going to Mara’s question — when you’re talking about $4 trillion, you’ve got to — this is not another new — if you were going for $4 trillion now, you can’t then make it $5 trillion, because we’ve passed $1 trillion, all right? So that’s $1 trillion. And it was always the case, in the grand bargain and Simpson-Bowles and Rivlin-Domenici, that these were building blocks — the discretionary cuts, the entitlement reform, tax reform, savings from interest, et cetera.
So the President is asking the Congress to make choices, because, as he said, we simply don’t have the capacity to pay for everything — to pay for special treatment in the tax code for oil and gas companies, which are also making record profits this year, and jobs for up to 280,000 teachers. We don’t have enough to pay for a special little provision in the tax code for corporate jet owners that doesn’t apply to commercial jet owners, and also pay for the kind of repairs that schools across the country need.
And those are the kinds of — I think he believes — I know he believes, because I’ve talked to him about it — that members of Congress in the House and Senate went back to their districts and states over the August recess and got an earful from their constituents, who, by and large, because they’re Americans, are fed up with what they’re witnessing in Washington — the kind of political posturing, the gamesmanship over ideological imperatives that most Americans do not care about. Because they just want Washington, at the very least, not to do harm to the economy, which Washington did do this summer.
But more than that, they expect the people they send to Washington to take positive action, and that requires coming together and doing things in a sensible, balanced way — which is why the President put forward the American Jobs Act, which includes — now you’ve seen it — provisions that Republicans, either now or in the past, have supported. And if they take the imperative that they need to act on the economy and act to create jobs now, they will take this legislation very seriously.
I’ll go Tricia and then Helene. Yes.
Q On a separate subject, polls are showing that the Republican is ahead in the special election in New York in a strongly — what has been a strongly Democratic district. And they’re saying it’s a referendum on the President and his policies, particularly toward Israel. Can you talk about that at all?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know what the polls show in that race. Obviously, special elections, small turnout, circumstances involving why the special election is taking place all have an impact on races like that. I will simply point you to a statement that the prime minister of Israel made just the other day about the historic level of assistance and cooperation and friendship that President Barack Obama has shown Israel. And I think that answers the question.
Q So, just to go back to what you said a few minutes ago, are you banking on the fact that the political climate has changed, that Republicans who have rejected some of these things in the past will now embrace them because the political climate has changed since they’ve come back from getting an earful, as you pointed out?
MR. CARNEY: We are hopeful that that is the case, yes. We are hopeful that, as members of Congress heard from their constituents and heard that they actually didn’t appreciate the willingness by some members to threaten the American and global economy, and the impact that had on the economy in general — even the fact that we didn’t default still — that we went to the brink, affected confidence, both consumer and business — they didn’t appreciate that. They certainly don’t expect Washington to make their lives harder. And I think that they — as we’ve all seen for the various reasons that the economy has slowed, that the growth and job creation has slowed, the intense focus that the American people have on the need to address those issues has increased, as you would expect.
So I don’t think they told — by and large, that they told — even at these — those who had town halls, even the ones that were paid — required a payment to get in — they probably heard what the President heard when he was in the Midwest, which is, Washington needs to be sensible, Republicans and Democrats need to come together and they need to take action on jobs and the economy, which is why the President has come back, because he agrees, and put forward the American Jobs Act.
Q On another subject, on the terror threat from last week, anything more on that? Did that turn out to be something that was foiled because of intelligence? Or was it more of just useless chatter in the end?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, well, I think it was not useless chatter. It was a specific, credible threat that was — because it was a specific, credible threat the actions that you saw the agencies here responsible for homeland security take were taken, which includes notifying local law enforcement of that specific and credible threat. And I think that we continue to remain very focused, as the President made clear was necessary when he met with his team over the weekend, on pulling all the threads on that threat and chasing it down. And that’s what we do for — with all specific and credible threats, and we’ll continue to do it.
We are, obviously, relieved that the anniversary of 9/11 — the 10-year anniversary went off without an incident, because we knew, based on information that was gathered in Osama bin Laden’s compound that al Qaeda remained very interested in that specific date and in significant dates in general. But we don’t suddenly stop our vigilance the day after. The vigilance continues. And on that issue in particular, the work continues.
Let me go to Helene. She was — and then I’ll go to Mara.
Q Thanks, Jay. How did you break your glasses? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I am so mad about this. But I lost my glasses. (Laughter.) I was buying my son a bike for his birthday and –
Q Aww –
MR. CARNEY: I know. And I think, when I was taking it off the bike rack at home, that I had had my sunglasses on, and I had the other ones, and I think I put them on the bumper and then drove off. So — (laughter.)
Q So no more Superman?
Q You're blaming your son, then? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I’m blaming my son — (laughter.) I take full responsibility for the regrettable action that resulted in the loss of my fancy new glasses.
Q Are you going to go back to the park and look?
MR. CARNEY: I’m going to try to rustle the money together, because I do need the prescription — the new prescription back.
Q I realize that all of us keep asking a different version of this question, but since so much of your strategy seems to depend on a change of heart by the Republican Party because they’ve been supposedly read the Riot Act by voters during the summer recess, have you seen any evidence whatsoever, since they got back, that that is actually the case and that you are dealing with a different political environment?
MR. CARNEY: We certainly have seen, as you have, some conciliatory messaging, if you will, from some members of Congress. And that’s a welcome thing. And we think it reflects the fact that — not that suddenly members of Congress who might previously have reacted differently have suddenly decided that when this President says we need to do something, they will suddenly agree where they might not have in the past, but because the American people, the people that elected them, are now telling them that they — with great clarity and volume, that they need to do something. So, yes, we have seen some indication that the message of the American people is being heard by members of Congress. But we don’t have any illusions about the need to keep focusing on this, the need to make clear that urgent action is necessary, that the American people expect Washington to take sensible measures to grow the economy and help the private sector create jobs. And so we will keep up that conversation very aggressively.
It just goes back to I think what I was saying to Julie, which is it becomes a question of choices. And I think Margaret was talking about this. I mean, you need to look at it in terms of — or Dan, I can’t remember — but the provisions that are set aside in the American Jobs Act, if Congress were to pass it tomorrow, it would be paid for if it passed it entirely. You needed those discreet measures to make that the case. But when you still look at the overall package, in terms of deficit and debt reduction that the President supports, you’re still talking about balance between cuts and revenues. And this goes to the $1 trillion in cuts that he signed into law. It goes to his commitment, as he restated in his address to the joint session of Congress, to deal with entitlement reform, and his absolute insistence that we have to make the burden-sharing here fair. And that goes to revenues and tax reform.
So you will see this — this story continues as we go forward.
Q Can I follow on Helene’s question? By Wednesday, the President will have done five jobs speeches in just seven days. If you believe that Congress was so persuaded when they were back at home, why does the President need such hard-driving tactics in order to sell his plan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Norah, you know as well as I do that in the world we live in 2011, that we do not — this President, any President, does not command the nation’s attention in the sheer numbers that a President used to because of the way our media works. And the reality is, as go the American people so goes the members of Congress, in this case. So we have to keep focusing everyone’s attention on this because it’s vitally important. You don't just simply say –
Q — campaign in order to do this?
MR. CARNEY: I’ve been asked this question, isn’t this a campaign. You’re absolutely right, it is a campaign. The President is campaigning for growth and jobs. He is out there –
Q — his reelection.
MR. CARNEY: He is out there campaigning for growth and jobs.
Q Not for his reelection?
MR. CARNEY: He’s campaigning to have the American Jobs Act passed. That's what he talked about in Richmond. That's what he’ll talk about tomorrow in Columbus. And it’s what he’ll talk about Wednesday in Raleigh-Durham. And I can assure you he will continue to talk about it after that.
Q And will he take that message then to non-swing states? There are a number of Republicans in the South –
MR. CARNEY: He will — he is taking this –
Q — Mississippi, Alabama –
MR. CARNEY: — as he said, across the land. Yes, every corner.
Q The President told NBC News, Brian Williams that this is — this plan is really insurance against a double-dip recession. Does that mean that there are renewed fears about the possibility of a double-dip recession?
MR. CARNEY: It’s an insurance policy that we do not — first of all, let me step back. We do not believe — we continue to say and we believe that we will not experience a so-called double-dip recession. But the fact that the economy has slowed, the fact that job creation has slowed, obviously makes our economic situation less positive than it was, say, six months ago.
And there is an unqualified need for greater growth and greater employment — unqualified. And that's true regardless of where this economy would go if you don't take this action, because it’s not acceptable for growth to simply stay at 1 percent, say, or for private-sector job creation to continue but not continue at the pace that we need it to, to get more Americans back to work. So it’s an insurance policy in that sense.
Q Is there a concern that if this doesn't pass that you would be closer?
MR. CARNEY: I think that if it doesn't pass — and we believe it will because Congress will listen to the American people and do the right thing — but if it were not to pass, in that hypothetical, we would obviously forego the boost to the economy and the boost to job creation that it represents. And Congress would have to go back at its next recess — or rather at the end of the year and explain why they felt there was no need to take action on the absolute top priority that the American people have.
Margaret, good to see you.
Q Thank you. I wanted to switch gears to foreign policy for a second. Writing in today’s New York Times, Turki Al-Faisal, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., talked about the Palestinians’ bid for statehood at the U.N. and the U.S. opposition to it and said that if the U.S. doesn't support the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N., “Saudi Arabia would no longer be able to cooperate with America in the same way it historically has.” He said U.S. influence would decline. Israeli security would be undermined. Iran would be empowered and that the Saudis would switch gears on Iraq and maybe Afghanistan and Yemen. So we’ve talked before in the briefing about the U.S. position that the U.N. vote is not the right way to go, that direct negotiations are the right way to go. Is the U.S. concerned about how the Saudis will react? And what are you doing both publicly and behind the scenes to try to prevent everything he foreshadows in here?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll say two things. First of all, we obviously have a lot of important relationships in the region and around the world with countries that care very deeply about this issue, and we will continue to handle those relationships with the — mindful of the importance that they have for us.
But we’ve been very clear about the fact that the only realistic path for the Palestinians to realize their aspirations is through direct negotiations. A unilateral effort — Palestinian effort to achieve statehood at the U.N. would be counterproductive. Even if these actions are well intentioned, they will not achieve statehood. And they will — and for that reason, we continue to make clear that we oppose it, and we continue to make clear that we believe that both sides need to return to direct negotiations. That is the only path to the kind of solution that the Palestinians rightfully want and that the Israelis rightfully want. You have to do it through direct negotiations. You won’t get it through the U.N.
Q Do you believe that what he talks about are things that could happen? And what are you doing to try to react since –
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don't have any specifics with regard to an individual bilateral relationship we have. Again, there are a lot of countries in the region and the world who understandably have a specific interest in this, and we share that interest. And we work with our partners bilaterally and multilaterally to address this issue. We are very convinced that the only way that the Palestinians will achieve their aspirations is through direct negotiations.
Q Just following on that, given the fact that Prince Turki has been — has billed himself in the past as a great friend of the United States, and the President has made great efforts to reach out to the Muslim world, are you not concerned, whatever the merits of the Palestinian case, that a U.S. veto would cause great harm to U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world? And does the White House still believe that it could be possible to come to some kind of solution that would convince the Palestinians not to necessarily go all the way to the Security Council next week?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't want to predict ahead of time what will or won’t happen next week, and I’m just going to restate what I said in answer to the previous question.
We obviously take these relationships very seriously. We take concerns expressed by our friends and partners around the world very seriously, but we are absolutely convinced that trying to achieve statehood through the U.N. is counterproductive and that it will not allow the Palestinians to achieve their aspirations.
Q Just to follow and clarify on Ed Henry’s earlier question. To avoid the — to avoid undercutting the growth acceleration and job creation of your bill, have you back-loaded all or some of the pay-fors in the bill — that is the tax increases — so that they don't take effect in the next year, but take effect later in the 10-year window? And I apologize if Jack addressed that.
MR. CARNEY: He didn't, I don't think. But the specific — is that what he said, 2013? Okay, that's my understanding. And obviously — and it’s important to go back, again, and look at the grand bargain negotiations and the recommendations of Simpson-Bowles and Domenici-Rivlin. Nobody suggested in any of these approaches that were responsible and bipartisan and balanced that we should be taking measures in the near term that might actually hamper growth, reverse growth or reverse job creation. That's going to be true of the way that the American Jobs Act is laid out as well.
Q So the tax increases would not take effect until 2013?
MR. CARNEY: That's what I understand to be the case and what Jack said here today. But you’ll see more details of this when we submit the legislation.
Q Can I follow?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, well, you can follow, but I think I exhausted my knowledge of it. But, yes.
Q You just said that the President started out with this $1 trillion of cuts that he already signed, and it’s this cumulative process. And he is for entitlement reform and for a balanced approach to tax reform. Is he going to offer details on what kind of entitlement reform and tax reform he wants when he puts –
MR. CARNEY: The President made clear that he would put forward to Congress and the select committee, joint committee, super committee, a specific proposal — series of proposals that represent his ideas for how we can achieve the kind of significant deficit and debt reduction that will put us on solid fiscal footing going forward. That was his view back during the negotiations with the Speaker of the House, and it is his view today. So, yes, it will address all those issues.
And I think — again, because of the nature of your question before to Jack about will we put forward a $4 trillion proposal, remember that –
Q You already spent one.
MR. CARNEY: First of all, what was — the $4 trillion, roughly, whether — $3 to $4 trillion — that the Speaker and the President were working on, depending on what elements made it into it, included within that were the trillion dollars, okay? So anything — that's been done now, the trillion dollars in discretionary cuts that are part of the Budget Control Act, passed into law, and represent a significant — significant cuts that have an effect on significant — on programs and on people.
And this goes to the question about, again, balance. So even if you did that, and you did the $467 billion in the pay-fors for the jobs act, that's still more than two to one in terms of cuts over revenues, right? So — but the President — that's not enough. The President is going to say, go further; the super committee should overachieve.
Q Maybe I asked my question the wrong way. Will it all add up to $4 trillion in the end, including –
MR. CARNEY: I think that Jack avoided that question, and I’m going to avoid it. We’re not going to get out ahead of the President of the United States, who will put forward a specific proposal on –
Q It sounds like you're saying you're not going to touch tax reform –
MR. CARNEY: No, I'm not. I'm actually not. And secondly — I'm not saying that at all. What I am saying is, first of all, you guys are just guessing at what the ultimate price tag of the grand bargain was because, contrary to the statements at the time, the reason why there was no piece of paper out there for you to look at is because it was in the desk drawer both here and in the desk drawer of certain members of Congress. And it was a fluid document because the final decisions couldn't be resolved, which is why it fell apart.
Q If you put aside the number for a minute, if he's going to tackle tax reform and entitlement reform –
MR. CARNEY: It will be big.
Q — that is the grand bargain. That is big. That would be big –
MR. CARNEY: It's a grand bargain if you — I think the nomenclature here is less important than the elements of the policies and their effect. So, obviously, you add up — if he's saying, at the minimum the super committee should overachieve by roughly $450 billion — on top of the $1.5 trillion, that gets you close to $2 trillion, plus the $1 trillion — that's $3 trillion. But I'm not going to get into any more specifics about what he'll propose in a week.
Q Can I ask –
MR. CARNEY: You can, but I'm not going to do any more — yes.
Q No, no, not about that. So — but related. (Laughter.) So there are going to be a lot — there are a lot of lawmakers who are thinking about these various pieces — the part they’ve already voted on, what the President has presented they’ll see today and what he’s going to present next week. And many of them anticipate that they're going to have — both parties — that they're going to have to make up their minds what to do in December if the super committee comes up with something. Parts of this are tax reform; parts of this are deficit reduction. So if they decide that they're going to have to vote again in September — I mean in December or January, and they’d like to wait until it is one whole package, my question is what would be lost? We already have a payroll tax extension, right? What would be lost if they decided I want to vote on the whole thing, I want to see what I’m doing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have in place, in law, a 2 percent reduction on the payroll tax cut on the employee side through this year — through the fiscal year, I believe. I think it’s through this calendar — I don't want to get too specific on that because I can't remember. But you’re right, what Congress passed in December and the President signed into law was just that. It’s not the employer side, and it’s not the increase — the expansion that the President is calling for in the American Jobs Act. And it doesn't include any of these other provisions.
We need to take — I don't think the American people are going to be satisfied with a message from Congress that, well, we just wanted to think about it some more, because we understand you’re suffering, we understand the economy is not growing, we understand that your teacher just laid off another dozen — your school just laid off another dozen teachers, and that highway outside your city is crumbling, but we just want to wait a little longer.
The Congress has the capacity and the absolute need to act on the economy and jobs now. And again, as Jack pointed out, if it passed the American Jobs Act in its entirety tomorrow, the pay-fors are there. They're cushioned so that if — there’s more money in there than is necessary to pay for the provisions, depending on how it’s scored. And then if the super committee does act, it can say, okay, we’re going to make some adjustments about how — what the offsets are, it can certainly do that. But either way, the American Jobs Act is paid for. So there’s no — there’s nothing inhibiting Congress to act on this American Jobs Act. The committee still needs to act.
Q You’re trying to say that if they wait another 10 weeks and deliberate together that the American people will lose jobs? That's what you’re saying? There will not be jobs?
MR. CARNEY: I’m saying that every day Congress doesn't act is a day lost in terms of the need to deal with our economy and deal with jobs, and it’s another day of doubt that the American people have about whether Washington can get its act together, whether Congress can get its act together, and take on the issue that matters most to them, which is the economy and jobs.
Thank you, all.
1:18 P.M. EDT
Tags: Barack Obama, Office of the Press Secretary, Press Briefings, United States, Whitehouse