Gay Rights, deficit top the agenda in Carney’s session with reporters.
The President continues to fight on behalf of the gay community for “equal rights.”
“We are confident that Members of Congress, if and when presented with a balanced approach to significantly reducing the deficit, will do the right thing.”
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:53 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me begin with a brief readout. I just went in and spoke to the President about his meeting with Senator Reid, the meeting he and the Vice President held. It was a good meeting, constructive. Coming out of it, the President told me that all — everyone in the room believes that a significant deal remains possible. And I would note that Democrats and the administration have shown themselves willing to take on tough issues and make tough choices, and it’s important that Republicans are willing to do the same, to take on some of their sacred cows.
Because we have a choice here. For example, on the issue of revenues, do we perpetuate a system that allows for subsidies in revenues for oil and gas, for example, or owners of corporate private jets, and then call for cuts in things like food safety or weather services — things that the federal government really does need to do on behalf of American citizens — or do we look at everything and we take a balanced approach.
We obviously believe a balanced approach is the right approach, and we’re not alone here. It’s important to remember there are a number of proposals out there in this time period that have been made. The only one that doesn’t take a balance approach has been the House Republican proposal.
So-called Gang of Six — balanced approach. Simpson-Bowles, Rivlin-Domenici — all of these recognize that the only way to achieve significant deficit reduction and to deal with some of the issues that drive our long-term debt is to take a balanced approach, one that doesn’t put all the burden on certain segments of society, on the middle class, or on seniors; that calls for cuts in non-defense discretionary spending and in defense spending; that looks at savings from entitlements, but also savings from the tax code.
It’s the only way to get it done if you want to do it right and you want to do it in a way that is fair and balanced and ensures that the economy continues to grow and continues to create jobs.
With that, I will take your questions.
Ben. Welcome back. Congratulations.
Q Thank you very much. Let me start on that point you were just making — “It’s the only way to get it done.” So is it fair to say that this issue of a balanced approach, including increased tax revenue savings, tax increases, however you want to frame that, that’s a red line for the White House? That will be part of the deal from your perspective?
MR. CARNEY: Well, to get a significant deal, to get significant deficit reduction, there has to be a balanced approach. And let’s be clear what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the revenue that’s on the table. We’re not talking about the issue that the President has put forward in his framework, and that is the Bush tax cuts and tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. This is about subsidies for oil and gas companies — $40 billion; a loophole that allows for the owners of private corporate jets to benefit enormously in the billions compared to, say, Delta or American Airlines; and other measures that benefit millionaires and billionaires or in some way complicate our tax code that isn’t helpful. And we have to — we have to be willing — that has to be on the table.
Q So in some form or fashion, details to be determined, that kind of element, that kind of tax revenue, will have to be part of a deal?
MR. CARNEY: Again, if we’re talking about a significant deal, which everybody believes is possible — let’s step back. Here’s — I mean, there is good news here. Significant progress has been made through these negotiations led by the Vice President. We can’t lose sight of that. Everybody — every participant in those negotiations said so, and they said so because it’s true. We all agree on what the problem is, and we all agree on what the overall solution is. In Washington, that’s a huge deal. So that remains true today, and as true today as it did on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of last week.
So the President looks forward to having further discussions with leaders of Congress. The Vice President obviously does. And we believe that it is still very much possible that if everyone is willing to abandon the “my way or the highway” approach, to accept that compromise on behalf of the American people requires tough choices, we can get significant deficit reduction done this year.
Q Two other quick ones on this. Will the meeting later today with the President and Vice President just be with Senator McConnell, the three of them in the room, like this one was?
MR. CARNEY: That’s the plan, yes.
Q Okay. And how do you see this going forward? Will there — I mean, in other words, is this the beginning of a series of potential meetings like this, like the President had during the government shutdown talks?
MR. CARNEY: Look, the President will be engaged, as he has been — I mean, it is important to remind folks here that prior to the end of last week and — with the change in the disposition, if you will, of the Vice President-led talks, the President of the United States met twice with the Speaker of the House. Okay?
So today he’s meeting with the Senate Minority Leader and the Senate Majority Leader. He will continue to have conversations. The Vice President will continue to have conversations. I don’t have a schedule for you or a formula for you, but you can be assured that at the highest levels, as well as at the next-to-highest levels, including our team of Jack Lew and Gene Sperling and others, that we will be continuing to push this process forward because it’s very important. It’s important for our long-term economic future to create the confidence that a deficit reduction deal would provide, and it’s important for our economy. And, understandably, Americans get frustrated when they see Democrats and Republicans talking past each other. And if you look at where compromise is possible, it really is in taking a balanced approach, a non-ideological approach, a realistic approach that places the burden broadly so that when prosperity is there it’s also shared, so that everyone gets to — everyone bears the burden, everyone shares in the prosperity. And I think that’s the right approach and it is, as you know, the President’s approach.
Q Jay, I want to ask where this sense of confidence comes from that there’s going to be a deal done. Was there anything agreed between the President and Senator Reid today that sort of encouraged — that sort of bolsters that — did they sort of take anything off the table that had caused Republicans to declare a impasse?
MR. CARNEY: I will not read out specific details of these meetings as they happen, just like we didn’t do it during the weeks that the Vice President was leading these negotiations. There is a lot of reason to be optimistic — some of the data points I just ticked off for you.
And it is important to remember that Congressman Cantor, Senator Kyl, Democratic participants, the Vice President have all said that significant progress was made in those talks. And it was. And that was the purpose. And it continues to be the purpose as we go forward. Obviously these are hard issues and obviously compromise and an agreement will depend on each side being willing to accept some tough choices.
And we believe that’s possible. We believe that it’s not only in each side’s political interests, but most importantly it’s in the country’s economic interests and in the people’s — the people’s interests.
Q And what is the drop-dead date for you? August 2 is the deadline. But when does there have to be a deal in place that gives Congress enough time to act?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you’ll have to ask members of Congress about how that works for them. We have made clear that we cannot —
Q — the July 4 deadline?
MR. CARNEY: — that the United States of America must not default on its obligations, and that therefore it is incumbent for Congress to take action to prevent that from happening.
Q But is there still an idea of getting something done by July 4?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to prevent some sort of token timetable for you. Obviously we’re very intensely focused on this, as we have been. After all, it’s important to remember it is — was the President who initiated these negotiations and put the Vice President in charge of them. And we continue to view this as a very important matter that we need to act quickly on.
Q What taxes —
MR. CARNEY: Welcome back to you.
Q Thank you. What taxes does the President want to see increased? We have the oil and gas subsidies being eliminated; the itemized deduction for — a lower itemized deduction for wealthier Americans. What else? Because that’s not even $50 billion, right?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, there are a variety of things that we’ve talked about that are on the table that have to do with subsidies and loopholes. There’s corporate jets; there’s oil and gas subsidies; there is itemization for millionaires and billionaires; there is the way that businesses depreciate or — inventory, rather — account for the inventory on their tax treatment that will help simplify the tax code and bring it in line so that the tax treatment is the same as the way the — this is a very complicated issue you’ve probably read about.
But there are a variety of measures that have to do with simplifying the tax code and ending unnecessary, unjustifiable loopholes and subsidies that simply, as — the oil and gas subsidy is a perfect example of this — that in this time, for the oil and gas industry, when they’ve had record profits, doesn’t make any sense I think to almost any American. And then others where we have to say, look, in an ideal world maybe this break for that segment of the economy or this might make sense. I’m sure there are people who would argue for them. But now’s the time to make these tough choices, and that’s why we have to have a balanced approach — so that no sector of society, no — not the middle class, not seniors, not any one segment of the business community — has to bear any disproportionate burden. We all have to come at this in a balanced way.
Q I’m sorry if I missed this — if this was asked last week, I missed it because I was off. But in terms of Afghanistan, what do you say to those strategists, those in the military, who say that the Taliban has now less of an incentive to reconcile — and, again, I apologize if this was asked — but less of an incentive to reconcile with this due date of the surge troops being pulled out by next summer?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have made clear that — and the President believes very firmly that it is important to send the signal that we are transferring, gradually, security lead over to Afghan national security forces — forces that we have endeavored to train up and to build up for this purpose. And part of this process — and it’s a balanced process — is building up the Afghan security forces and increasing the amount of responsibility they take on, because ultimately they will have to be responsible for the security of their nation. As per Lisbon and the NATO agreement, that will be by the end of 2014.
So the President’s decision was a very focused one, based on his own keen knowledge of this issue area, as you know. He’s doing it aggressively enough that that transfer takes hold, but not in any precipitous way. And that’s why we’ll have 10,000 U.S. troops out by the end of the year, and an additional 23,000 by next summer. And we think that’s absolutely the right approach.
Q So you don’t think it will discourage the Taliban from —
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that it’s important — ultimately, one could argue in any of these circumstances — and this is true in Iraq or any of the places where you can have a conflict like this — that what is the end point of that argument? The Taliban or whomever could wait for a hundred years, but the U.S. is not going to be in Afghanistan for a hundred years.
We have a strategy that we are implementing. The President, because he saw the need to go aggressively after al Qaeda, did have the surge in forces; that has been very successful. We’ve met a lot of objectives as we pursued that policy. And we are beginning, as planned, as promised, the drawdown of U.S. forces next month, in a sensible way, working with our military commanders.
We believe that that will give Afghanistan the best chance of success as it begins to take on more responsibility for its own security.
Q And lastly, on Friday, Paul Monti, the father of posthumous Medal of Honor awardee, Jared Monti — Sergeant First Class Jared Monti — wrote on his Facebook page that the President had called him and apologized for the mess-up at Fort Drum, and he accepted the apology. Is there anything more you can tell us about that call?
MR. CARNEY: No, except that he obviously, when he realized his mistake, wanted to call right away — understands that that was important to do.
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q It seems, Jay, that — I mean, in this meeting, that maybe a line was drawn in the sand, right? That revenue raisers had to be on the table? Didn’t Senate Reid and the President agree —
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me just be clear — everybody agrees that a big — a significant deficit reduction deal is possible, and for that to happen we have to have a balanced approach — and that includes making sure that we achieve significant deficit reduction in a balanced way, through cuts in non-defense discretionary spending; through cuts in defense spending; through savings out of the tax code; and through obviously savings through entitlements and interest on the debt. That’s the way you get to significant deficit reduction. That’s the way everyone who’s taken on this problem — save one group — everyone who’s taken on this problem in the last six, eight, 10 months, that’s the approach they’ve taken. So we believe it’s possible, and we believe that we can do it.
Q It seems like you’re stressing progress still, but you’re also sort of taking a stronger approach on saying the only of the approaches that is not balanced is the House Republican approach. It seems like a slight rationing —
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have never been —
Q I’m just wondering how do you —
MR. CARNEY: We have never been — minced words about why we believe that the approach taken in the House Republican budget is not the right approach.
Q How do you not kind of get the sense that this is cruising for an impasse more than it has before?
MR. CARNEY: Well, for the reasons that I laid out in answer to Alister’s questions and Ben’s, that we believe there has been significant progress made, and there continues to be room for finding common ground and reaching an agreement — a significant agreement that achieves significant deficit reduction.
It will take tough choices — no mystery there — because if it didn’t, we would have achieved it a long time ago. But that’s what being elected and sent to Washington is supposed to mean, that you are faced with and you make tough decisions.
Q And what do you — what is the President hoping to come out of this meeting with Mr. McConnell?
MR. CARNEY: I think the same thing. I think he wants to have a productive and constructive conversation about where we are, where we can agree, and where we need to continue to work towards finding additional areas of common ground so that we can achieve a significant deficit reduction package.
Q Is there a concern that there is — I mean, it seems like a lot of uncertainty in the process right now. I mean, is there a concern of the ramifications of that?
MR. CARNEY: Look — concern in what sense?
Q In, I guess, sort of markets, for instance.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have made the point all along that if you’re talking about the need for the United States to fulfill its obligations and not default, that it’s very important that we not play chicken here; that we don’t test the markets; that we don’t test the theory that is broadly shared by economists of all stripes, that this would be a calamitous thing to do, to allow the United States to default.
And I don’t have the letter from President Reagan or the one from Treasury Secretary Baker from the past to cite again today. But this is a position that has been held by many of both parties in the past, including obviously the Reagan administration.
We can’t do this. It’s too risky. And we are in a point right now where we need to grow the economy, we need to create jobs, and defaulting on our obligations as the United States of America is precisely the wrong thing to do if our goal is to grow the economy and create jobs.
Q So are you saying this should not be read as an impasse?
MR. CARNEY: I’m absolutely saying that we have made progress and we believe we can continue to make progress. I mean, the President is meeting today with leaders of the Senate to push this process forward.
Q Jay, but the only way they can avoid an impasse is for the other side to make a tough choice here.
MR. CARNEY: No. Both sides have to make tough choices.
Q Has the White House already made its tough choices, or are you still —
MR. CARNEY: We are continuing to negotiate. And we recognize — and we have recognized this from day one, that there will be choices to be made in spending cuts that will not be easy, to programs that the President would rather not have to cut and Democrats would rather not have to cut, but that we need to get this done. And if we take a balanced approach, we can do it in a way that doesn’t foist the entire burden onto the middle class; doesn’t end Medicare as we know it; doesn’t put additional burdens on parents of disabled children — that there’s a way to do this.
It is true that one theory out there, emanating from the House Republican budget, is that you can do this without looking at tax revenues. I agree. But look at what you have to do to get it done. Look who carries the burden. Look who pays the price. Dramatic cuts in education, in clean energy, in innovation, in food safety and other areas. Ending essentially the Medicare program as we know it, privatizing it and turning it into a voucher program that will cost seniors on average $6,000 a year more.
Now, you can do that and achieve significant deficit reduction, or you can take a balanced approach.
Q And following up on that, this weekend when the Vice President was laying out all the things that you have to do and how much — when he said that those were — you’d have to ask those who are struggling in this economy to bear the burden and let the most fortunate among us off the hook — he said that borders on being immoral. Does the President agree with that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he does. Yes.
Q Has he used language that strong in his meetings with Boehner?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think it would be immoral to — I mean, I haven’t heard him use that language in — with leaders, but I’m not saying he hasn’t. I’m just saying that it is — these are choices about priorities. And when we’re talking about adding burdens to people for whom the burdens are hard to bear, that becomes a moral choice, yes.
Q Any reaction that you’ve heard from him about Michele Bachmann today?
MR. CARNEY: None at all, no.
Q He’s still not talking about that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, when I went in to talk to him, we didn’t — we talked about the meeting with Senator Reid. So —
Q It’s not chatter —
MR. CARNEY: My sense is, given how busy his morning has been, that he is not caught up to that news yet.
Q He’s not even thinking about that stuff?
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I didn’t say that. He is certainly thinking about — I mean, he’s certainly thinking about — he obviously has campaign events and — but I haven’t heard him talk about it.
Q So, Jay, you’re saying the Paul Ryan budget — according to President Obama, the Paul Ryan budget is immoral?
MR. CARNEY: What I’m saying is that the — budgets are about our priorities, and that those priorities are not what we think are the right ones to elevate when we have to make some tough choices, and that you can do this in a way that doesn’t put undue burden on seniors, or the middle class, or parents of disabled children; that spreads the burden — that takes cuts in discretionary programs, defense, entitlement, tax code, in a way that’s more fair.
Now, I mean, again, I think this was a quote that Chip read to me. To us, priorities of course are about morals. We’re not — but the issue here is: Can we find common ground? Can we come together, move off of our starting positions, be willing to compromise, and do what the American people are dying for us to do, which is significantly reduce the deficit in a way that enhances the chances for growth and job creation and doesn’t hurt them. I think that’s the bottom line.
Q Jay, why not have the President give a speech, say, here’s the progress that’s been made and here’s my vision for pushing it across the finish line? Is there too much risk in the President laying out a plan at this point?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m pretty sure you were here, Mike, when the President spoke at George Washington University and laid out a broad framework for his ideas for reducing the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 to 12 years. Again, in its balanced approach — if not in all the particulars — in its balanced approach, it’s very similar to every other significant proposal that’s been out there, with the exception of one.
So the President’s position is clear. The President’s willingness and acceptance of the fact that he will not get everything he wants has been stated numerous times by me and by others. We’re at a point now of not introducing new plans, but of making serious decisions about how we get there. And that’s what the talks led by the Vice President achieved in significant measure, and where we need to go going forward in order to make this happen.
Q So using the bully pulpit at this point —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I mean, if you — I mean, I will take your proposal to him if you think he ought to give a speech. But the — you know —
Q Throw it out there. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: He is — he will I’m sure be talking about this with the American people in the future, as he has in the past. But I don’t have a proposal to put forward.
Q On this New York Times story about a stealth survey on access to doctors, any concern that the survey is no longer stealth? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: Well, not a concern that I have, if that’s what you mean. I think it’s important to point out that this is a proposal, there will be public hearings, hasn’t happened yet. We will look at this and decide after comment from all quarters about moving forward.
It’s almost important to know that this is a practice that has been engaged in by a lot of previous administrations, including the most recent one — President Bush’s administration did this in order — while it was looking at Medicare Advantage.
So — but having said that, we’ll look at this. We’ll look at the comments and we’ll make a decision.
Q There’s even like part of a script in the story, though. So, I mean, if you work at a doctor’s office and you hear somebody saying what was in The New York Times —
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, that’s a level of specificity I don’t — I might refer you to Health and Human Services for that. But it is a process by which — a very common process by which public comment is sought and then a decision is made.
Q What was the President’s strategy for not being more directly involved initially in these talks? You say he initiated them, but he put the Vice President in charge of that. And then it looks publicly like he’s taking it on the chin for being on the sidelines. Governor Christie criticized him —
MR. CARNEY: Well, if you honestly believe that the public is out there wondering why the President wasn’t in every one of these meetings, you know, I think that’s nuts. You know that’s not true. I mean, that can be some dialogue that you hear on cable talk shows. He’s President of the United States. He has had to make important decisions on Afghanistan, deal with Libya, deal with other economic issues. He has been directly engaged. And by the way, he, as President, designated his Vice President to organize these negotiations that had been so productive. That was a proposal not from Congress, but by the President. And every participant in that — in those negotiations, Republicans included, have commented on how focused and effective those negotiations were; that everybody was quite serious in them and they achieved a lot. Did they resolve every issue? No. Did anyone expect them to resolve every issue? No.
So, I mean, look, the Vice President, I don’t need to remind you, is a major player in this administration. He was obviously intimately involved in the negotiation that led to the tax cut deal that the President reached with Republicans and Democrats last December, and numerous other measures and initiatives that this administration takes.
So I think it is — to counter that perception or counter that argument that 10 people might be hearing on cable news, I think the point is the President asked the Vice President to lead these talks precisely because he thinks they’re so important.
Hey, how are you?
Q I’m good. Back from vacation, rested.
MR. CARNEY: A lot of people were on vacation. That’s nice. (Laughter.)
Q You should try it.
Q When’s yours?
Q You should try it, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, I will. Okay, sorry, go ahead.
Q On another topic, last week the President spoke about gay marriage when he was in New York and he said that — talked about how this has been the province of the state and that’s the — referring to what was happening in the debate in New York, he said that’s the power of democracy at work. Does that mean that he also respects the outcome of democracy at work in California where voters rejected the idea of gay marriage?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as you saw in the decision we announced that we would no longer — this administration would no longer be participants defending the Defense of Marriage Act because we do not believe it’s constitutional, that it’s precisely because of his belief that this was a matter that needs to be decided by the states. So without commenting on a particular other state, I think he was making that clear with regard to the action in New York.
Q Okay, but —
MR. CARNEY: But I’m not going to put words in his mouth applying to another state. I mean, you can analyze that, but — because I haven’t heard him say that. But obviously the DOMA decision — what he said in New York was about his belief, our belief, that this is a matter that states should decide.
Q And the central argument in the challenge to Proposition 8 by supporters of same-sex marriage rights is that this isn’t something that should be decided state by states, in fact, that there are federal rights involved. So would he reject —
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President very strongly supports equal rights and he’s — we’ve been — he’s made that clear as well, and he said it again in New York at the event that you’re discussing. So I’m not going to —
Q But I’m referring to the —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t really have a lot I can say about Proposition 8 with regards to what the President said last week. You know, I don’t — I’m not willing to go to what the President didn’t discuss. I can talk about what he did discuss.
Q So, but the proper reading of what he said — it sounds like what you’re saying but I want to be clear — is that, yes, this is up for the states and if New York decides that they want to allow same-sex marriage, great; if California decides that they don’t want to, then that’s their decision as well.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I can’t improve upon the words that the President delivered publicly whatever night it was — Thursday night. So I’m not disagreeing with that interpretation, but he has said quite clearly, as he did in the DOMA decision and as he did on Thursday night, that he believes that it’s for the states to decide.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m working my way. Yes, sir.
Q Just to quickly — just first. Do you plan on any kind of a readout on the McConnell meeting, Jay? Or can we just expect sort of a “hit control-C” on what you just said? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I thought it was pretty good. Look, I mean, here’s how I work for you. In a tiny meeting, I went in and asked the President to give me a readout. And so I took the note.
Q All right. So will you give us the same thing on — (laughter) —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t know. I mean, we’ll see. I’m sure we’ll have something.
Q All right. You mentioned the deliberations on Libya. Do you see any impact at all on the situation there from the international court warrant today?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we certainly welcome — it’s another indication that Muammar Qaddafi has lost his legitimacy. We certainly believe that in the face of crimes of the magnitude that he has committed and the gravity, that there must be justice and accountability, and the court’s decision underscores the stakes and importance of the coalition effort in Libya. So it’s another step in this process of holding him accountable.
Q Thank you. On Friday in Pittsburgh the President rolled out $500 million in support for manufacturers to modernize and create jobs and so forth.
MR. CARNEY: It was a great event. I don’t know if you — were you there? Very cool robots.
Q I listened to it back here. In his February 14th budget, the President also proposed something for manufacturers, and that is the elimination of the last in, first out tax break. That’s worth $72 billion. So he’s proposing $500 million and taking away — proposing to take away $72 billion. Can you explain that, walk us through —
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, the event on Pittsburgh was about advanced manufacturing, specifically some of the areas of industry that we think are vital to the economic foundation we need to build for the 21st century so that we can compete and win the future.
Secondly, on — forgive me for doing the Bloomberg thing — LIFO and FIFO — this is about regularizing a situation so that, for example, oil and gas companies who deal in commodities that fluctuate in price. So what we’re calling for is an end to a provision that would allow, for example, an oil — an energy company to sell a barrel of oil today, for the sake of argument, for $100, even though it bought that oil two years ago or three years ago for $40. Okay, that’s fine, $60 profit — but only report the profit as $2 because the last time they bought a barrel of oil it was $98. Anybody follow me? I know you do. Okay.
So we just don’t think that’s right and we think that there’s broad support for that in the field. And as you know, there is a convergence here in terms of reporting requirements towards FIFO — first in, first out — as opposed to last in, last out.
So we think that this is part of simplifying the tax code, making it more of a level playing field, so that all companies are treated the same.
Q But on balance, that benefits large and small manufacturers. So are you saying on balance this is a good thing to —
MR. CARNEY: We think on balance it’s the right thing to do when we’re making tough choices about how we should achieve significant deficit reduction, and in the meantime, with this, level the playing field so that some companies aren’t getting this significant tax advantage when it’s not, at this point, necessary or justified.
Q Okay. And one other. Can I follow up on — Mr. Geithner gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said that the package under consideration is a $4 billion to $5 billion package over 10 years. It would be a two-tiered package with a down payment. Can you elaborate a little bit on —
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I’m not going to elaborate on — I mean, obviously when we talk about the big package that we have all discussed and what could be achievable if we all came together, I mean, we have noted that everyone has been aiming for the $4 billion, $4 plus billion — or trillion, rather, — in deficit reduction, in savings over 10 to 12 years. I think that’s what Secretary Geithner was referring to.
In terms of specifics about the contents of the negotiation, the two-tier, I’m not going to get into any more detail about what’s been discussed in the room with the Vice President or even those comments there.
Yes, sir. Scott.
Q Jay, you talked about focusing on these various tax subsidies and so forth, and not dealing with the expiration of the ‘01 and ‘03 tax cuts. Does that mean the President is giving up on that —
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q — or deferring it for another day?
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no. I’m just saying that it is — when you have some people going out and saying, tax hikes are off the table, that we’re not talking about — we’re talking about loopholes and subsidies and that sort of thing, in terms of what’s been on the table, in terms of revenue, okay?
Our position on the Bush tax cuts for upper-income —
Q — the Obama tax cuts?
MR. CARNEY: The extension that was signed into law by President Obama, but commonly known as the Bush tax cuts, is well known. And that position pertains. And we believe that for even more significant balanced savings, that’s the approach we should take.
But I just want to be clear that when some folks are throwing up a lot of gorilla dust to confuse people about what they’re ruling out, you got to understand what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about oil and gas subsidies. We’re talking about a tax loophole for the owners of corporate jets, private jets and other things that benefit millionaires and billionaires.
Now, that’s — I mean, it’s important that we understand the specifics that are underlying some of the rhetoric.
Q So would he get back to the —
MR. CARNEY: Look, I’m not — everything remains on the table, but in terms of what we’re — specifically what we’re talking about, what was being discussed when we had the sort of — turn in events at the end of last week, it’s just important to be clear what we were talking about then.
Q Thank you, Jay. There’s some concern in Israel that there might be attacks, that there might be another war, especially when the U.N. votes on the Palestinian referendum. Does the U.S. plan to veto that referendum when it comes up?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve said all along, Connie, that we don’t think that the two-state solution can be achieved through a vote at the United Nations, that reaching an agreement and the future that we all — everybody — participants in the talks believe is necessary have to come through negotiations between the two parties.
So I’m not going to foreshadow something that hasn’t happened yet, but our position on how we can get true, lasting Middle East peace has not changed.
Q If Israel is attacked and the situation is really dire —
MR. CARNEY: That’s a hypothetical that I’m not going to entertain.
Q Okay, thank you.
MR. CARNEY: Mr. Landler.
Q The members of the political opposition met in Syria for the first time in this current cycle of unrest. And I’m just wondering whether you see that as evidence that the Assad government is maybe beginning to get the message from the U.S. and others? There are people who point out that even as these meetings were going on, so was the crackdown.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that’s a good point. We obviously take note of this, and we think it’s a worthwhile step. And it would be a significant step if it takes place without interference or intimidation because it would be the first meeting of its kind in decades. I mean, it is the first meeting of its kind in decades. But the violence has to stop.
As you note, they can’t occur concurrently and be — and then the situation be declared some giant step forward. It is a significant — it is an important step, but for it to be truly significant, it has to be part of a cessation of violence against the Syrian people. It has to be part of an embrace of the idea that we need — that they need to have a national dialogue about their future, and that that transition needs to take place with the regime leading it or getting out of the way.
So we do take note of this. We think it’s important, but with all the caveats I just enunciated.
Q Yes, thanks, Jay. Could you tell me what is the exact date that the President learned about the Justice Department ATF operation to allow guns to flow into Mexico?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I think I’ve answered this question a bunch about — about what he learned?
Q Or what is the exact date that he learned about it?
MR. CARNEY: The exact thing that he learned —
Q Exact date — date.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to get back to you. I don’t have an exact date for you.
Q Okay. And also there’s been some recent reports that acting ATF Director Melson is resisting pressure about resigning. Does the President believe he should resign?
MR. CARNEY: I’m going to refer questions about that to the Department of Justice. I don’t really have any more comment on that.
Q The President doesn’t have a position on his resignation?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any more comment.
Q Thank you.
Q Can we expect any joint negotiating sessions between the President and the leaders — bipartisan negotiations this week at some point after these one-on-one meetings?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can’t really go beyond what I said to Ben, which is that obviously we will continue to have conversations at a very high level and at a senior staff level going forward. I don’t have an announcement to make about next meetings or next conversations, but you can be sure that we will continue to press forward because this is obviously very important, and we are operating under a deadline in terms of the need to fulfill our obligations financially.
Q And as the — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that she would expect the House Democrats to be part of any kind of joint sessions here or elsewhere on these negotiating sessions. Does the President anticipate involving her?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, we obviously consult regularly with the Minority Leader and with House Democrats and will continue to do so. You’re presupposing joint sessions that do not yet exist and may not. I would point you to the fact that in the negotiations led by the Vice President, obviously, the House Democrats were ably represented, and that’s because we believe they need to be at the table.
Q Jay, you said a couple minutes ago that it would be in both parties’ politics interests as well as the economy’s interest to try to reach a balanced agreement. So can you explain how the President believes that the conservative Republicans would find political benefit if they were to close loopholes, attack the subsidies on the revenue side?
MR. CARNEY: Because it’s in everyone’s interests to achieve significant deficit reduction that does something that we haven’t been able to do in a long time, which is in a bipartisan way, reach an agreement on deficit reduction that sends the message around the country and the globe that we are getting our fiscal house in order as we emerge from this terrible recession, the worst since the Great Depression; that we are able to do this — and I think that the benefit is in the positive impact that that would have we believe on the economy and on job creation; and simply that, fortunately, sometimes in politics, doing the right thing is rewarded. So we just think that this is essential for all the right reasons.
Q So why does he think they’re having a struggle —
MR. CARNEY: Because this is hard stuff, and obviously we disagree on a lot of things. I mean, that’s why there are two parties and why we take different approaches to some of these difficult issues. Hard stuff gets resolved before it gets to the level of conversations between the President, the Vice President and the leaders of Congress.
But that doesn’t mean that it can’t get resolved, and it doesn’t mean that it must not get resolved. It must get resolved because we have to do this for the American people.
Q And also, could we expect a presidential news conference this week before the holiday?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any announcements of that nature to make today.
Q Thank you, Jay. What assurances can the President give international markets that the U.S. will, in fat, raise the debt ceiling and honor its obligations, and that Congress will comply before August 2nd?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I will give you the assurances and those whom you speak for — or speak to that the President has said this is essential. Leaders of Congress have said this is essential. We must not default on our obligations. We remain confident that Congress will not let that happen.
Q And you believe that will calm the markets abroad as well?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not a market predictor, but I believe that the impact of not doing that, of not voting to fulfill our obligations, the impact of allowing the United States of America to default would have a negative impact on the global marketplace, a negative impact on the American economy, on Americans who have pension funds and 401(k)s, Americans who have jobs but are worried about losing them, or Americans who are looking for jobs. The impact is significant and real. It is not some ethereal thing that you can measure in terms of debt holders and that sort of thing.
The impact will be — as many economists of all stripes have made clear — will be significant, and it will be felt at every level of society.
Q Should Saudi Arabian —
MR. CARNEY: Bill.
Q Jay —
Q — should Saudi Arabian airliners —
Q Excuse me.
MR. CARNEY: Hey, I called on Bill.
Q My name is Bill. (Laughter.) Jay, I want to come back to the same-sex marriage issue, if I can. If the right to — if the opportunity to enjoy the same rights, same-sex couples or straight couples or whatever, is a basic civil right, how can you square that with saying we leave it up to the states?
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I’m not going to — the President has made his position clear. It’s not very useful for us to have this debate. I think the President spoke about this on Thursday. He spoke about it — sorry, he’s spoken about this a number of times in the past. So you could take it to other places but I think I’ll leave it to what he said.
Q Let me ask this, then. But with New York being the largest state so far to recognize same-sex marriage, are you concerned that the President may have missed his opportunity to lead on this issue?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the President’s record on issues involving and of concern to the LGBT community is exemplary and we are very proud of it. He continues to fight on behalf of that community for the rights — for equal rights. And his position on New York, he himself, rather than his press secretary, spoke at length about just a few nights ago. So I’ll leave it at that.
Q One much easier question —
MR. CARNEY: Lester, I called on Sam.
Q Dangerous back here. (Laughter.) Got to fight. I just want to go back to the deficit reduction talks. If you look at the wording that’s coming from the leadership offices, Republican leadership offices, they’re not saying they will not raise taxes, they’re not saying they should not raise taxes, they’re saying taxes being raised cannot pass the House. Are you all overestimating what Speaker Boehner can deliver?
MR. CARNEY: We are confident that Congress, members of Congress, if and when presented with a balanced approach to solving — to significantly reducing our deficit, will do the right thing because it will involve sacrifice by all sides, tough decisions by all sides. Nobody is going to get everything he or she wants, but everybody is going to embrace — or everyone should embrace the significant deficit reduction which we all say is a goal and which we all say is necessary at this time.
So if you’re asking me will there be some members of Congress for whom the absence of a hundred percent of what they want will be unacceptable to them, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case. But I believe that there are majorities in Congress — the President believes there are majorities in Congress for reasonable compromise that achieves this very important goal.
All right. Thanks, guys.
1:39 P.M. EDT