Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, and OMB Director Jack LewBy USGOV
Monday, September 19, 2011
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:50 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for coming to the White House for your daily briefing. As you were told in advance, I have with me today the Secretary of the Treasury, Tim Geithner, on my left; and on my right, Jack Lew, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. They are together going to answer your questions about the President’s plan for economic growth and deficit reduction.
I know you just heard the President speak on this. Jack and Tim are here to take your specific questions. After they’re done — if you could just keep on topic with them — I’ll remain to take your questions on other issues.
All right, we’re going to go right to questions. So, Darlene, if you want to start.
Q Yes, thank you. Would someone explain why the President knowingly put forward a plan that includes these tax increases that Republicans are — I mean, they rejected them even before the President stepped into the Rose Garden?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: I think Republicans and Democrats all agree that we have a long-term deficit problem and we have to bring that down to earth. We all agree on the basic magnitude of the cuts and changes you’re going to need over time — roughly $4 trillion over 10 years. Why $4 trillion? That’s what you need to bring the deficits down to a level we can sustain over time, to a level where the debt as a share of the economy as a whole is no longer growing — stabilizes, starts to come down.
The debate we’re having is how best to do that. And what the President laid out is a balanced package of reforms on all parts of government, combined with some modest reforms to our tax system designed to make our country more competitive and make sure that the most fortunate Americans are paying a greater share of their income in taxes.
But this is about a choice — about what role you want government to play in the economy, how to make the economy stronger in the future, how to make sure we’re living within our means, but still preserve room to strengthen the economy in the short term, but also make us more competitive, preserve room for investments in the long term. And to do that, you have to figure out ways to reform our tax system to make it more competitive and more fair.
That’s why we’re proposing these changes. We think they’re good policy. We think they're good economic policy, and we think they are better than the alternatives.
Q Could you explain more about how the Buffett rule would work? The President made reference to it in the Rose Garden, and none of the materials spell out how much revenue it would raise or any details about it. And it seems like an important part of the plan that he’s trying to emphasize.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: What the President has proposed is that Congress shape comprehensive reform of the individual and the corporate tax system, so that, again, we’re not just making our country more competitive, strengthening incentives for investment, but we do so in a way that helps contribute to deficit reduction and asks the most fortunate Americans to pay a larger share of their income in taxes.
The basic principle at the heart of the Buffett principle, is that if you’re among those fortunate few in the United States, we should make sure you pay as a share of income in taxes more than what a middle-class family pays.
Now, there are lots of different ways to achieve that principle. How you do it depends on what you do to the broader tax system as a whole. We’re not going to give the Congress a detailed proposal for how to meet that specific principle now because there’s lots of different ways to do that. But we think it should be the basic foundation of tax reform, and we’re going to fight to make sure that's part of what Congress considers and ultimately delivers.
Q Why not give a specific recommendation on that, though? You’ve spelled out how much revenue you want to raise overall. Why not be specific on that one?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, again the — in some ways you could say we’re having a debate about whether you should try to reform the overall system — corporate and individual — to meet the basic principles laid out in the President's proposal, or you should try to get more revenue out of the current system.
Now, the President did lay out very, very detailed set of changes — specific changes for individuals and corporates, if we’re trying to get more revenue out of the current tax system. But I think the best strategy for the country is to try to reform the overall system so that we’re bringing rates down where we can. We’re eliminating all the wasteful subsidies and preferences in the tax code. We’re helping contribute to deficit reduction but make the economy more competitive in the long run, and again, we’re going to make the system overall more fair than it is today. And we think that's the best way to go. And again, we think it’s better than the alternatives.
Q Also, can I ask you a question about the European crisis? You’ve said that the Europeans have the firepower to tackle this crisis. Is there the political will there? And how worried are you that this is going to spill over to the U.S. economy at a time when the economy is already very fragile?
SECRTARY GEITHNER: Europe is obviously under a lot of pressure, and they face a lot of challenges. And it is affecting us. It’s affecting confidence here and around the world — not just in Europe. And we have a huge stake as a country in helping them deal with those challenges. We have a huge economic stake, financial stake, and it is not in the interest of the United States for Europe to be weakened by a protracted economic and financial crisis. So we are working very closely with them and being very supportive, as they try to craft a more effective strategy.
You asked the question, is there political will there. I believe there is. It’s not a question of the financial resources, the economic resources of that great continent. This is within their capacity to solve. And I think you will see the leaders of Europe do what they’ve been doing over the last several months and weeks — just to try to reassure the world that they have the political will, not just the economic capacity, to manage these challenges. And, again, it’s in the interest of the United States for them to do that.
Q Jack a question for you. If the expiring Bush tax cuts, if that — for the wealthy — if that’s seen as a savings of $800 billion, then what about the cost of not letting the rest of the tax cuts expire? How do you account for that?
MR. LEW: The way we constructed our approach was to start from what would be the consequence of having all of it be extended, and then we said that the top rates should not be extended — top rate cuts should not be extended. So we’ve now projected what the impact on the deficit and the debt is of having the middle-class tax cuts continue. And a balanced approach will give you the ability to let the middle-class tax cuts continue, and if you enact the entire program that we’ve proposed, bring our deficit down to the low 2s, like 2.3 percent of GDP, at the end of this period, and keep the debt as a percentage of GDP in the low 70s, instead of climbing up into a very dangerous range.
So we’ve encompassed it by putting — in the baseline — the assumption that that would be extended.
Q So it’s factored in there?
MR. LEW: It’s factored in. Yes, it is factored in.
Q Secretary Geithner, just a couple questions. One, is are you maintaining the $1.5 trillion in tax increases, all of which would be on the top two tax brackets, as I understand it, would have no adverse impact whatsoever on job creation?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, again, our proposal is, through comprehensive tax reform, individual and corporate, to make the current tax system of the United States better for investment, better for growth, and more fair to average Americans. And if Congress were to meet those basic principles he laid out, then I’m very confident that the modest changes we’re suggesting in terms of revenues would make the economy stronger in the long term, not weaker in the long term.
Now, obviously you want to do it carefully. And that’s why the President laid out those specific principles. It is very important that we find a way to get Congress to make this tax system better for growth, better for investment in the United States. Lots of different ways to do that, but we want to make sure we meet that basic task.
Remember, we’re a very large economy and we’re talking about estimates over 10 years. And $1.5 trillion in revenues, relative to what would happen if you just extend all the Bush tax cuts, is roughly 1 percent of the entire output of the American economy over that period of time. It is a modest change in revenues, and if you do it sensibly through tax reform that strengthens investment incentives, you'll make growth in the United States stronger, you'll make people more confident in the future, more likely they invest here, and that’s something we should all be working towards.
Q Okay. At this point I’ll ask one other question. I wanted to give you an opportunity — there is a big splashy book out this week called, "Confidence Men," which talks about you, portrays you as a cagey political operator. I know you’re going to take issue with your portrayal, and I’ll give you –
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Cagey political operative?
Q Those might be my words. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY GEITHNER: It’s what my mother would say.
Q There is a memo written in February 2010 by White House senior advisor Pete Rouse, who talks about — it’s a year-one review that looks at the economic plans, and it talks about a number of efforts by, in his view, the economic team here in the White House to kind of slow roll, per the President’s orders. But it does say, once a decision is made, implementation by the Department of the Treasury has at times been slow and uneven, and that, along with the other factors, adversely affect execution of the policy process. So if you could respond to the book and also what Pete Rouse said about your execution.
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, obviously I do disagree with that characterization. I haven’t read this book, but to borrow a phrase, I lived the reality. And the reports I’ve read about this book bear no resemblance to the reality we lived together. No resemblance.
Q Specifically, though, Mr. Secretary, did you slow walk on the President’s effort to –
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Absolutely not –
Q And why not –
SECRETARY GEITHNER: I would never do that. I have spent my life in public service. It's my great privilege to serve this President, and I would never contemplate doing that. But, again, I lived the original, and the reality I lived, we all lived together, bears no relation to the sad little stories I heard reported from that book.
Q On the deficit plan, do you — specifically, the President has been talking about fair share, everyone paying their fair share. But when you’re counting over a trillion dollars in war savings, when the President’s policies have said he wasn’t going to keep troops beyond those time periods anyway so he was never going to spend that money on the war, you wall off Social Security, you don’t have major structural changes to Medicare, like the age eligibility changing or anything like that, but you’re raising taxes on the rich — where is the pain here in this budget? Where is the real pain and sacrifice that the President is calling for when you’re walling off all these things?
MR. LEW: I think that if you look at the details of what’s in the plan that the President is sending to Congress this morning, there is a lot of pain, and it’s spread — spread broadly and, we think, fairly.
Start with the issue that you led with, in terms of the spending on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no doubt that those are going to be savings when presented to Congress. The Republican budget in the House took account of them. And at a time when we just enacted spending caps that apply to defense and non-defense spending, this is locking the back door, and it’s making very real that we’re on a downward trajectory.
And just to remind everyone, in August the President signed into law spending caps that will bring spending to the lowest level they’ve been since President Eisenhower was President. Tight spending caps enforced by reducing it — and it is real policy to bring down that spending.
On the question of no structural change, I think if you look at the details that are in here, there's very real structural change and there's very meaningful savings in many areas. In health care, there are serious changes that affect both what we pay to providers and in terms of the structure of benefits and the incentives for savings in the long term.
While we did not raise the retirement age, I would just note that raising the retirement age is not something that actually reduces cost; it just determines whether or not the government is going to pay them.
There are a number of provisions in here that will mean that beneficiaries will have a different set of incentives. Right now, if you’re on Medicare and you take a Medigap policy to protect you for first-dollar coverage, the extra cost that comes from that is completely distributed through the system. We’re saying it ought to be built into the premium you pay. We have extra deductibles phased in. We have co-payments on post-acute care — that means home care services.
This is serious stuff. It's not the kind of stuff you would choose to do if you weren’t tightening your belt. But we do it in a fair way. We say it's not going to affect people who are currently retired; it's going to affect new retirees, and it will take effect after 2017. You look over 20 years, very substantial savings.
I think if you look outside of health care, there is a host of savings, whether it's in farm programs, or in federal employee retirement, or in health benefits that military retirees get — these, in a normal budget environment would be considered $257 billion of pain.
So I just urge you to look at the details. I think what the President did do is he put a plan that's balanced, that he says we shouldn’t ask unfairly those who are retired to pay the burden, we shouldn’t ask unfairly either farmers or federal workers — we should ask everyone to have shared sacrifice. And the tax piece is part of that.
Q Just following — talking about Social Security specifically, the President, by his own admission, has said that this is a program that does need to be looked at and reformed, something that was talked about this summer during the debt ceiling debate. Why isn't it part of this package?
MR. LEW: Well, the President put out a plan that would reach the goal of $4 trillion of savings; it would get the deficit into a place where, over the 10 years and at the end of the 10 years, we'd be at a sustainable level — 2.3 percent of GDP. It gets the debt as a percentage of GDP into a place that's controllable, the low 70s. So he put together a plan that accomplishes the goal in a way that he thinks is the right, balanced way to do it.
Obviously over the summer, we were in a different context. We were in a negotiation where the President made a very, very serious effort to reach agreement on a broad range of issues. When it became clear that there was no willingness on the other side to embrace a balanced approach with revenue, then we went back to put together a plan that reflects our view of how to do it.
The President has made clear over and over, as he did today, that Social Security is not the principal driver that's causing the deficits we're facing. Our real challenge in Social Security is to have a balanced approach that would, without slashing benefits, protect the program as it should be for 75 years. And he remains open to working on a bipartisan basis to do that. So it doesn’t belong here, but it's very much a subject for future discussion.
Q And since we have you both here, the President has said that his jobs plan is insurance against going into a double-dip recession. How much concern do you have about delving back into another recession?
MR. LEW: Well, let me just reinforce what the President said, that the jobs plan is very much a part of this proposal. The $447 billion in spending that would go both to reduce the tax burden on working Americans and on businesses that make hiring decisions, in terms of creating jobs through preventing the layoffs of teachers and firemen and policemen, in terms of the construction that would go on in highways — that's built into this. It's paid for. All of the deficit reduction that we're talking about today is after paying for that.
I think that it's the prudent thing to do at a time when the economy is still not where we want it to be. We're not in a double-dip recession, but we're not at a point of the kind of robust recovery we should be at to bring employment to the levels that the American people expect. And this plan, including the jobs plan, would very much deal with it.
Q Can you guys clarify the President's veto threat? Would he veto any bill that does not have revenues in it, or is it only if it doesn’t also –
MR. LEW: I think the President's statement, if you look at it, speaks very clearly to — he said he would not support a bill that he thinks is unfair and unbalanced, and he said he would veto a bill if it cuts benefits that people are relying on for Medicare without a balanced component in revenues.
Q But he could end up with a situation where you have an end product that doesn’t have any revenues in it as long as it didn’t have –
MR. LEW: I don't want to address hypotheticals. Today the President is sending to Congress a balanced, comprehensive plan that overachieves the goal of the joint committee and gives the joint committee a blueprint as to how to solve a problem, that would get us pointed in the right direction in terms of fiscal policy. We think Congress should do it in a balanced way.
Q Gentlemen, can you explain whether the Buffett rule is another level of AMT?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: The Buffett principle is like thinking about — one way of thinking about it is to say that Americans who are fortunate enough to make over a million dollars should, as a share of their income, pay a minimum level that is no lower than that paid by an average middle-class family. Lots of different ways to do that. I wouldn't call it what you called it. (Laughter.) I'd call it what I said. (Laughter.)
But it's a sensible — why should we — we're going through a tough period as a country. We have a lot of challenges ahead. Why should you say to the American people that we're going to solve our long-term fiscal problem by adding to the burdens of the middle class, or by letting the most fortunate Americans pay a smaller share of their income than does an average middle-class family. I don't think it makes sense. And what we’re proposing is, we think, something basically fair. We think it’s good economic policy, and, again, it’s better than the alternative.
If you think about — again, if you try to return this country to living within our means, if you try to restore financial soundness to the basic fiscal trajectory of the United States, and you do so without modest changes in revenues, then you're just adding to the burden of people that have already borne so much of the burden of this crisis and a long period of very low growth in median incomes. So, again, we think it’s a basic, fair principle and better than the alternatives we’ve seen.
Q Are you able to say what the Buffet rule tax rate would be?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: No, because it depends on what happens to the shape of tax reform. Again, we’re proposing this as a basic principle that should be the foundation of tax reform. There’s lots of different ways to achieve it, but it depends on the overall result or the options to the alternative you look at in tax reform.
Remember the President’s principles are — you want to lower marginal tax rates, clean up and eliminate all the wasteful subsidy spending — tax expenditures in the tax code, help make incentives for investing in the United States stronger so that we’re more competitive over time, bring down those long-term deficits, and as part of that, make sure the system is more fair. So how you achieve that principle, the Buffet principle, depends on the shape of the basic reforms.
Q Mr. Secretary, could you clarify what the President said on the fees on banks relating to TARP? Maybe I missed it in all the briefings last night –
SECRTARY GEITHNER: That's a proposal that we had in the President’s budget back in February, and that proposal is designed to make sure that if there are any losses from the emergency actions we took to put out the financial fires of ’08 and ’09, that we recover those losses in the form of a fee on the institutions that benefitted most directly from those programs. But that's been a longstanding proposal in our budget.
Q — 10 basis points for banks that have assets over $50 billion, that's –
SECRETARY GEITHNER: That's the structure we proposed to do, and, again, that was in the President’s budget in February.
Q But this wouldn’t add to revenues? This would just make you whole from TARP?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, not quite the way you’re thinking about it. If Congress did not legislate a fee like this, then if we ultimately realize losses on the emergency programs, then those would add to the deficit. So by proposing this fee, we try to make sure that doesn’t happen. And, again, that’s a very important principle, underscored financial reform from the beginning, which is that the largest institutions that benefited most directly from the financial emergencies bear the costs of the resolution.
Q Do you have an estimate of how many millionaires currently pay an effective tax rate that’s lower than, say, 28 or some middle-class tax rate?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: I think you’re going to find that we're rich in examples and illustrations about what average effective tax rates are as you go up the income chain. But it depends what your profession is in many ways. There’s lots of people who make more than $1 million a year who — their income is in the form of wages and salaries, and they pay much higher marginal tax rates. But there’s a lot of people whose income comes predominantly in the form of dividends on investments, and those Americans pay much lower tax rates.
So it really depends on what is your profession, where’s the source of your income, what’s the specific circumstances you face — and the averages won’t really capture that.
MR. CARNEY: A couple more on this. Alexis and then Andrei.
Q Can I just ask — there are some special interests in Washington that are trying to calculate whether they would be better off if there’s gridlock and then sequestration later. Can either of you comment on what would be the risk, as the President sees it, or the downside of trying to game it, looking ahead at that prospect?
MR. LEW: I don’t know any serious policymakers on either side of the aisle who thinks sequestration is a good place to go. It was designed to be something that would have bad consequences wherever you look, because it is not a serious set of policies; it’s an across-the-board cut. It would lead to cuts in domestic programs, it would lead to cuts in defense, it would lead to cuts in Medicare that are not based on specific policy decisions but just taking a slice off of everything.
Undoubtedly, there are interests in Washington who can figure out what that percentage is and say, rather than lose something that isn’t adding to the general economic well-being, I’m going to — I will oppose the specific things that hurt me and have this kind of broadly shared pain. I haven’t heard Republicans or Democrats in positions of authority advocate that. I think that if you look at where we’re headed, right now we have a joint committee that’s working towards a target of $1.5 trillion of deficit reduction. I think that that is something that they say as being their job, because the $1.2 trillion of sequestration would be bad.
What the President is saying today is that’s a minimum, but that’s not the right endpoint. That would not get us to the place where the deficit as a percentage of the economy and debt as a percentage of the economy would in the way we should address the problem. What he’s putting forward today is a balanced plan.
There will be a lot of interests that say this is goring my ox. But that’s what it’s going to take to make policy. It’s going to mean picking and choosing, and making choices. So we’ve tried to do it in a way that we think is balanced and fair, that reflects a serious set of policy judgments, and is not kind of mechanical, spread pain everywhere, even where it shouldn't belong, which is just sequestration, by its basic design, does.
Q Can I follow on one question? Mr. Secretary, what do you think Standard & Poor's reaction will be to this number in terms of their concern of $4 trillion and the downgrade?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: I don't know. But I would say that if you step back and you look at the basic economic or the financial requirements of what we’re trying to do, what this proposal does is meet the critical test of restoring financial soundness to the United States of America. Because what it will do is — and it’s a very detailed list of proposals — would bring our deficits down, as Jack said, to a level below 3 percent of GDP, which is a level that is sustainable over the long run because it allows the debt burden to stabilize and start to fall as a share of the economy.
Now, it will not solve all the problems facing the country. There are still other things we’re going to have to deal with as a country. But all those things are going to be harder unless we put in place a set of long-term fiscal reforms that allow Americans and investors around the world to know that this political system is able to return to living within our means.
So it will meet that critical test for financial prudence, for financial soundness.
Q Thank you. A technical question and then an international political question. The technical question: Have you gentlemen estimated how much of a primary circles you need to handle the problems in the medium-term?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Yes, we have. I mean — but you’re raising the economic term. Primary surplus is the term that refers to revenues and expenditures being in balance without interest. So you’re taking in as much as you’re paying out except for interest. That’s what primary balance refers to. And for an economy like the United States, you need to have the deficit below 3 percent of GDP to achieve that basic test.
Why is that test important? That’s the level that stops the debt from growing as a share of the economy. To bring it below that level, then the debt starts to fall as a share of the economy. Why is that important? It’s because if we are not able to do that as a country, then growth will be weaker in the future, we’ll have less ability to meet the basic fundamental needs of the American economy going forward. That’s why it’s important, and that’s what the basic threshold is.
Q So, basically, you’re saying it’s below 3 percent?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: That’s right. That’s the test for sustainability for the economy like the United States.
Q Okay. And the policy question is about the BRICs. In the overall context of the global situation, especially in Europe, what do you see as the appropriate role of countries such as the BRICs, and not necessarily just China, but the other BRICs also?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, I think one of the great strengths of the world economy, looking forward, is the prospects of a long period of very rapid growth in the major emerging economies, including the ones you referred to — China, India, Brazil, Russia. And it’s very important that you see — we want to see that growth happen over a sustained period of time.
We will benefit as a country from the realization of those very optimistic long-term growth prospects. We’ll export more. We’ll see more jobs created in the United States. And we expect to be major beneficiaries as a country of that long boom we’re seeing. We want to see them contribute to global growth, and to do so in a way that's more balanced and fair. And they're going to face different policy requirements than we in the United States because they're in a very different situation. But again, they're a great source of strength for the global economy, and the faster they grow in the future, the more we’ll benefit as a country and the more balanced the global economy will be.
MR. CARNEY: Last one.
Q Are there any specific — sorry, just to follow up — are there any specific policies you would encourage them to take, to help the Europeans for instance?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, I think we all have an interest in a strong, credible resolution of the financial pressures now in Europe. It’s not just the United States, not just the Europeans, of course. The global economy as a whole depends on there being a sensible resolution to those financial pressures. And you’ve seen all the nations of the world through the IMF make really very substantial contributions to the challenges ongoing in Europe. And that just underscores the stakes we all have in more growth and financial stability in Europe.
MR. CARNEY: We’re going to do John Christopher, and then Paula, and then we’re going to let these guys go.
Q Mr. Secretary, if I may just kind of add to that — in fact, the life that we live in now is a borderless global economy and recovery is weak worldwide. Is the U.S. coordinating its economic policies and regulations with those of its key allies to make sure that U.S. businesses are not at a disadvantage in the global marketplace, especially when it comes to jobs?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Well, again, a basic fundamental tenet of the President’s economic strategy for this country is to do things that make us more competitive over the long run, that improve incentives for investing in the United States, that make it more likely — not less likely — that the things the world needs are made in this country, in the United States of America. And that requires not just better education for Americans; it requires investing in innovation, improving our long-term infrastructure, but it also requires through things like tax reform, changes to the incentives that affect all businesses to make us more competitive as a country.
So, absolutely, a basic principle that guides the policies that this President evaluates are: Are they going to make us stronger in the long run as a place for people to build, create and invest?
MR. CARNEY: Last one, Paula.
Q Secretary Geithner, you’ve indicated that details for tax reform wouldn't really come out yet — there’s too many variables. Yet there's also been an indication here that you would come forward with a standalone corporate tax bill if the super committee doesn't enact any — well, agree to anything. So I guess my question is, how can you have that happen if there aren’t details? And also, does that mean the corporate tax reform white paper won’t come out, which does have details and which you said would come out after the default was resolved?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Soon; not sure quite when. Sometime before the end of the year, we will lay out a set of broad proposals on corporate tax reform that meets this test of making us more competitive as a country, strengthening incentives for investing in the United States. Now, we’re going to be guided by, in terms of strategy, is how to make sure we maximize the chances of reform coming on sensible terms. But I expect you’ll see us lay out relatively soon the detailed proposals you refer to.
Q Before or after November 23rd?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: We haven’t — again, we haven’t made that judgment yet. There’s a lot of interest in the super committee looking at this — not just in the super committee but in Congress, generally. And we’ve been talking very actively to all the principal parties involved, and we’ll keep doing that. But again, what we’re going to be guided by in terms of when and how we advance the specific proposals is what’s going to maximize the chances we get something done on terms that we can support again that meet this basic test, which is to make the country stronger over a long term, make sure that we’re improving incentives for investing in the United States.
MR. CARNEY: Thank you, guys.
Okay, let’s move on here. April, you have your hand up?
Q Jay, I want to ask you a couple of questions about the death penalty issue, especially as we’re seeing September 31st [sic] as the date for Troy Davis to possibly be executed. Where does this administration stand on issues of the death penalty, particularly when there is a question about a person’s guilt or innocence?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, the President has written that he believes the death penalty does little to deter crime but that some crimes merit the ultimate punishment. Some of you may also recall that when the President was in the Illinois State Senate this was an issue where he worked across the aisle to find common ground.
With regard to the specific case, I haven’t talked to the President about that, and I would refer questions about it to the Department of Justice.
Q A follow-up on that, please. Congress has several bills that I understand the Justice Department is in support of review of the criminal punishment system, as well as death penalty. Why is there a review when some things, particularly in a death penalty case, on racial aspects, there are — we know that certain groups of people are on death row and a lot of those cases those people are found to be innocent. So is there any thought of a moratorium on death penalty cases right now with all the questions that are –
MR. CARNEY: I’m not aware of a review of that nature. There may be one, but, yes, I would direct you to the Department of Justice if, in fact, they're doing that kind of review. But I’m not aware of that kind of discussion going on.
Q Can you get Justice to talk about it at least?
MR. CARNEY: Well, honestly, Justice is an independent — is an agency that decides when it deals with the press how it will answer those questions.
Q I’m sorry, Jay. Just to piggyback on what April said, because she and I are obviously on the same plane today. The President was supposed to speak at the Martin Luther King Memorial dedication. And two of the people that I got a chance to interview at that dedication said that if Dr. King were alive today, an issue that would be most on his mind would be the mass incarceration of African Americans. I just wanted to maybe follow up with — just wanted to get the President’s stance on that. Do you know where he stands on this issue?
MR. CARNEY: Again, this is an issue, broadly speaking, both the death penalty and broader issues in terms of crime and punishment, that the President as a state senator or senator and a candidate, as well as President, has addressed with regards to — in terms of his views on it. And he will, as you know, speak when the ceremony has been rescheduled, he'll speak at that event.
Q Has the President been active this weekend on the question of the Palestinians and their U.N. statehood application? And is there any reason to think that after this weekend of intense diplomacy, they are any closer to, or further away from, making that application?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we obviously saw what Mr. Abbas said. We remain where we were on the inadvisability of unilateral actions that will bring the Palestinians no closer to the statehood they seek. And we generally — as a rule, this administration, this President, supports the things that move the parties — actions that move the parties closer together, and do not support the things that move them further apart. That is our guiding principle, if you will.
And we believe that the only way the Israelis and Palestinians will achieve a two-state solution that’s fair and equitable to both sides, that allows for a Palestinian state, that allows for a secure Jewish state of Israel, is through direct negotiations. And that is the focus of all the diplomatic efforts that we are engaged in.
Q Has the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu been locked in yet?
MR. CARNEY: It has not been scheduled, but we believe that the two leaders will meet. And when we have a scheduling update for you we’ll give it to you.
Q Can I just follow up on that?
MR. CARNEY: You spoke first. Yes, Victoria.
Q Does the President — what does the President intend to say about Palestinian statehood in his U.N. address?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think you ought to listen to the address. (Laughter.) I’m not going to preview the speech from here. You know what our –
Q But the President does intend to address the issue?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don’t want to foreshadow or preview the speech that he will give. He will talk about a number of issues that are very much on the minds of the international community and the leaders who are gathered in New York this week. But I won’t preview it further than that, except to say that our position on Middle East peace, his position on the right way forward is well known.
Q On Palestine, has the administration specifically asked Britain or any other members of the Security Council to veto the stated initiative if it goes ahead?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you know our position on this. It has been clearly stated. What kind of conversations we’ve had with our allies and others I’ll leave to your imagination. I mean, I’m not going to confirm or –
Q Officials have spoken of lobbying aggressively.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that there have been intense diplomatic negotiations about the right way forward. We firmly believe that the right way forward, the way to achieve the very goal that the Palestinians seek, is through direct negotiations — in fact, it is the only way to achieve it — and that actions that don’t move the two parties closer to direct negotiations are counterproductive. We support those actions that move the two parties closer towards those negotiations — negotiations which are the only path to the two-state solution that both sides desire.
All the way in the back, yes.
Q Jay, why did Secretary Geithner refer to the new revenue component as modest, I think was the term he used, when the President is still talking about the $1.8 trillion Bush tax cuts as a primary driver in the situation?
MR. CARNEY: He was talking about it with regard to the size of the economy. The President spoke, and has spoken, clearly about the decisions that were taken in the previous administration that took surpluses and turned them into deficits — massive deficits. And they include the two tax cuts; they include an unfunded Medicare prescription drug program; they include two wars put on credit cards.
Now, we have spent a lot of time in this administration cleaning up the tent — the elephant tent, if you will. And it hasn’t always been an easy task, because it has required some very tough decisions that weren’t always popular but had to be done to prevent a Great Depression from happening again in the United States. It required actions to make sure that the financial industry in this country did not collapse; actions to make sure that the automobile industry in this country did not collapse; actions to make sure that the kind of unbelievable contraction in our economy that was taking place in the quarter before this President took office was halted and turned towards growth again; the kinds of policies that resulted in hemorrhaging of jobs at a rate that none of us in this room have probably experienced had to be halted and reversed.
So I think we’ve been clear about that. I think the American people understand that. And what the President is focused on now is the urgent need to take sensible actions — the kinds of actions that have enjoyed bipartisan support in the past — to grow the economy and get hiring accelerated.
He is also focused, as part of his broader economic vision, on the need to tackle our medium- and long-term deficit and debt problems, which Secretary Geithner and Director Lew just discussed. He believes that the responsible approach is to do both — not to simply wash your hands and say, gee, there’s nothing we can do to help the economy now, to help the fact that growth is stalled, help the fact that unemployment remains at 9.1 percent, and only focus on the medium- and long-term issues. He believes you have to do both, and that’s what leadership requires.
Jake, and then — yes.
Q I just wanted to give you the opportunity to respond to the book — the Ron Suskind book, which the entire — what seems like almost the entire White House participated in. You guys gave the author a 50-minute interview with the President. It seems like he did first-person interviews with most, if not all, of the senior players involved. He paints a picture of a President who is rolled by his advisors, and, at times, does not make tough decisions when asked, and I wanted to make sure you had an opportunity to respond.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks for that. (Laughter.) Look, I, too, have not read the book, although I’ve read a lot about it. What we know is that very simple things, facts that could be ascertained — dates, titles, statistics, quotes — are wrong in this book. So I think that — in fact, one passage seems to be lifted almost entirely from Wikipedia, in the book.
I think, based on that, I would caution anyone to assume that if you can’t get those things right, that you suddenly get the broader analysis right. That analysis is wrong. Tim Geithner, who lived it, just told you that it bears no resemblance to the reality he lived. And what I just talked about goes right to that.
The extraordinarily difficult times that this country was going through when this President took office, and the extraordinarily complex and difficult decisions that this administration — this President — took, they weren’t easy, but they were necessary. And it took decisive leadership. It took clarity of vision about where we needed to move the country. And it took a willingness to suffer political risk in order to do the right thing for the country. And that was absolutely at the heart of all the decisions the President made, and the President made them.
Q What part was lifted from Wikipedia?
MR. CARNEY: We can get that for you. It just — there’s almost a word-for-word Wikipedia.
Yes, Chris. And then I did promise you on Social Security, yes.
Q Pat Toomey, who is on the super committee, reacted to the President’s deficit reduction plan by saying, “I welcome President Obama putting some ideas on the table. However, I’m concerned that his deficit reduction strategy sometimes seems more defined by political posturing.” Can you react to the notion that has been put forth by some Republicans that this plan is really more political posturing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that’s rich as an assertion, when we have been clear from the beginning, this President has been clear from the beginning of this process that he is willing to make tough decisions that are not easy for Democrats, that challenge — that take on some of the sacred cows within his own party, and he has simply asked that the other party do the same. There at least appeared to be the opportunity of that with the Speaker of the House. Unfortunately, that did not come to fruition.
I would point you to the fact — and this goes to a question I think Darlene had about, why would you propose something that Republicans have already said they wouldn’t support — well, slow down. First of all, the Speaker of the House was willing to put revenues on the table when a grand bargain was a possibility. Secondly, something like two dozen Republican senators said they supported the Gang of Six proposals, which had, by the way, more revenue than the President is putting forward. Republicans out in the larger world, including rank-and-file Republicans among the American electorate, support the balanced approach.
So I think when it comes to accusations of political posturing, some folks ought to look in the mirror.
Thanks very much. Oh wait, sorry, Social Security.
Q Thank you, thank you. And my name is Sarah.
MR. CARNEY: Sarah, I know, I forgot. I’m sorry, I'm so focused on the –
Q No, that’s okay. You have too many people to remember. Social Security — I wanted to ask the Secretary — I am a senior citizen, and I have a lot of friends who have –
MR. CARNEY: I don't believe that, by the way. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you. I say that is diplomatic. A lot of friends are calling me and saying, what is this that they are saying about Social Security with all this — this is all we have. We have Social Security. Also, we are talking about Medicare. What are they doing?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think — let me just go to your question. First of all, as you know I’m sure, and as Jack and Tim just discussed, the President did not include Social Security within his $4 trillion deficit and debt reduction plan. He believes that we do need a separate track, take measures to strengthen Social Security for the long-term. But let’s be clear, it is not in this proposal.
Secondly, it is precisely because we need — if we take a balanced approach to tackling our deficit problems and tackling our debt problems, we can do it in a way that ensures that the fundamental guarantee with the American people, with American seniors, that Medicare represents is honored and maintained. What happens if we don't take a balanced approach, and if we follow the prescriptions that others have put forward, is that you have to end Medicare as we know it. You have to voucherize the program. You have to basically say, seniors, here’s what you get, the rest is up to you, you’re on your own.
That’s obviously not the right answer, as far as we’re concerned, as far as the President is concerned, which is why he has taken the approach he’s taken.
Thank you all very much.
12:35 P.M. EDT
Tags: Office of the Press Secretary, Press Briefings, United States, Whitehouse