Debt-talks top the agenda in Carney’s session with reporters.
“Contrary to assessments that assume no significant achievement is possible, there is potential here.” But I do not expect a “hallelujah moment” today.
“The talks continue to be serious. They continue to be focused on substantive issues,” and they by-and-large occur in an environment which is “reasonably collegial and respectful.”
On Greece: Europe has within its capacity the ability to deal with this situation, and “we think they will.”
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release July 14, 2011
BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Pretty full house.
Q Why are you smiling?
MR. CARNEY: Because it’s an absolutely gorgeous day outside for the first time in a while. And if only — if only — we should have done this outside. It would have been great. We will do that one day.
Q Or at Camp David.
MR. CARNEY: I know. I know. (Laughter.)
Q Can you move the deficit talks out there?
MR. CARNEY: Boy, that would be good, wouldn’t it?
I don’t have any announcements to make at the top of briefing, so I’ll just go straight to questions.
Q Can you talk about whether you’re now considering the McConnell plan in combination with spending cuts, and might that be a better way to appeal to some Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me start by saying — reminding you what I said yesterday about Senator McConnell’s proposal, which is we appreciate the fact that implicit — explicit within it is the acknowledgment that we here in Washington — the leaders of Congress, the President of the United States — have no alternative but to ensure that the United States of America upholds the full faith and credit of the country, that we will not default on our obligations. So no matter what happens, that has to be the case. The proposal that Senator McConnell put forward acknowledges that.
It’s not the preferred option that we have. The President remains committed to working towards a bipartisan compromise agreement that significantly reduces the deficit and the long-term debt, addresses some of these major issues that have been before us in Washington for a long time.
So whether it’s Senator McConnell’s provision or some variation of it, they are not the preferred outcome here, and we continue to work, as we did yesterday in the meeting and as the President will again today in his meeting with congressional leaders, towards something more substantial and significant.
But it is an important recognition of the fact that the United States will not, for the first time in its history, default on its obligations.
Q I mean, given where things stand, is it looking like a better option today than it did yesterday, especially potentially combined with spending cuts that could bring rank-and-file Republicans onboard?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to characterize that beyond saying that it remains not the preferred option, because I think — what’s important to remember, despite everything, is that progress has been made. Significant details and proposals have been discussed and put on the table in these negotiations that involve real and substantial reductions in our spending and cuts in the deficit. The President wants that to continue.
There is now a foundation upon which we can build to get something even bigger, and in fact something very significant, the so-called grand bargain, if everyone at the table is willing to take the plunge, essentially, and to lead, and to compromise.
Q Well, but if that doesn’t happen and if the Republicans move off of their insistence for a one-to-one match between deficit reduction and debt-ceiling increase, would the President in that case move off of his insistence on revenue as part of the deal?
MR. CARNEY: There’s a lot of hypotheticals, and I don’t want to draw lines in the sand with regard to things the President may or may not do that may or may not come to pass.
The President insists that a substantial agreement that involves substantial deficit reduction has to include all the things that drive our deficits and debt, and that has a balanced approach that includes cuts in entitlement spending as well as cuts in discretionary spending as well as cuts in defense spending as well as cuts in tax code spending.
So what also is true is that — I mean, the starting point here that’s important to remember is that this President starts from the premise that he shares the concern that a lot of people have about the need to get the deficits under control — our deficits under control. He shares the concern about our long-term debt. He is committed to reducing spending.
He believes that we have now in front of us the potential to do something big. The Holy Grail, if you will, of the sort of good government think tank types and responsible leaders of both parties in this town for a long time has been: When will the leaders in Washington come together to do something significant, in a comprehensive way, that addresses our deficits and our long-term debt? That agreement is right here within reach; it’s on the table. We just have to reach for it and grasp it, and be willing to compromise to do it. And you know what? That requires thinking about the broad American public, and not the narrow bands or the narrow constituencies within your own party.
Q But then do you rule out something that’s smaller scale and does not include revenue, or do you not rule that out?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not here to rule anything out, except to say what the President has said in the past — is that he will not sign — he will not turn this into a tollbooth situation because we are not a third-world country that approaches the brink of default every three or four months. But beyond that, I’m not ruling anything out.
Q Jay, has there been any consideration of moving the talks to Camp David for this weekend? And related to that, is there a sense that the current format or the current structure needs some shaking up? The last few days don’t seem to have yielded progress, and if anything the acrimony has increased. Is there consideration to changing the format? I’m personally partial to Mark Knoller’s idea of letting them in there to tweet it out, but you guys may feel differently. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: To tweet it out — is that what you said? (Laughter.) Because you think the public posturing and that kind of stuff is really where we ought to go to get something done?
Q Transparency and openness is how I’d put it.
MR. CARNEY: Let me address your first question, which is that the — every meeting we’ve had so far in this round of negotiations led by the President has occurred in the White House; every meeting we have planned, today and in the coming days, is planned for the White House. And the possibility that you mentioned is not currently planned, but I’m not — so that’s all I have to say about that.
And in terms of the structure of the meetings, look, these are the leaders of Congress, and this is the President and the Vice President and the Secretary of the Treasury and Director of OMB, et cetera, et cetera. These are the people who have to, in the end, come to an agreement. And whatever table they sit around in whatever room, it’s still the same people who have to do this.
And it’s important to note that the fact that we have these negotiations and discussions here in the White House in the Cabinet Room does not preclude, obviously, additional conversations between — among lawmakers or smaller groups, or other interactions that help move things forward.
And in terms of — look, I think — nobody said this was going to be easy. And in terms of the progress that has been made, I go back to what I was just saying — progress has been made. It’s important to remember that not every member in there — in fact, the majority of the folks in there from Congress were not participants in the conversations led by the Vice President. They were not participants, except for the two men themselves in the conversations between the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States. And so there was a lot of significant detail that everybody needed to be brought up to speed on.
We are now in a situation where our side, the White House, has made clear in a presentation yesterday that there are significant cuts — $1.5 trillion in cuts that everybody can agree on, real and significant; an additional $200 billion in cuts that essentially we believe everybody can agree on. That’s $1.7 trillion, significant in and of itself. The President wants more. You know why? Because that significant agreement is right there on the table to be achieved if people are willing to lead and to compromise and not posture and not cater to segments of their own constituency. So we want to build on that.
Today, they will discuss significant issues in terms of savings that could be found — reasonable savings that can be found in the health care entitlement programs; significant savings that can be found through the tax code. And all it requires is for leaders of both parties, as well as the President, to decide that achieving something significant here is a worthy goal, and that they’re willing to get outside their comfort zone, they’re willing to take the heat that will inevitably come when leaders lead and make significant choices, because inevitably not everybody in your party, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, is going to be happy with the choices you make. But the goal here is worth taking that risk.
Q Moody’s and S&P having weighed in recently, do you think the participants are feeling the added pressure? Are we in this kind of red zone where the markets could really get spooked? I know that everybody is focused on August 2nd, but are you equally worried that in the run-up to that, that investors may see that this is not really yielding the kind of progress that they would hope to see and they could get spooked?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have said I think for a long time now that it is important not to push this to the absolute last minute — although that is what Congress tends to do — precisely for the reasons that you mention. On the other hand, we are — have been and continue to be heartened by the fact that leaders of both parties in Congress are saying what we are saying, which is that it is inconceivable and it will not happen that the United States will default for the first time in its history.
So it’s important to send out that reassurance that the people in the room all agree on that fundamental principle. And I think that that is an important thing to remember even as we get closer and closer to the deadline. Nevertheless, the clock is ticking. We need to get further down the road here. We need to get to the point where we know whether or not we can achieve a significant compromise, bipartisan compromise, on deficit reduction. And if not, then we have to make sure we do the bare minimum, which is not default on our obligations.
Q The worst-case scenario here is a default, right?
MR. CARNEY: That is a bad scenario. I’m not — there are things you could anticipate, but I — yes.
Q Is it worse than voting on the debt ceiling again next year?
MR. CARNEY: The uncertainty created by regular votes on whether or not for the first — and if you think the political obstacles —
Q Weren’t there regular votes every year in the Bush years, pretty much every year?
MR. CARNEY: Well, but it had not become — look, boy, there were. It’s funny that you should mention it, because —
Q There were, every year, and all these guys voted for them.
MR. CARNEY: — collectively, the Republican negotiators in this room with the President have voted to raise the debt limit 25 times. The Speaker of the House has voted six times. The Majority Leader of the House has voted to raise the debt limit five times in his career in the House. Senator McConnell has voted to raise the debt limit eight times; Senator Kyl six times.
Q Senator Obama voted against it one time.
MR. CARNEY: And he has made very clear that he now views that as a mistake.
Q My point is —
Q Over what period is that?
MR. CARNEY: Since 1990.
Q I don’t understand this ultimatum that the President brought into the room with him that this needs to extend into 2013.
MR. CARNEY: Because the kind of atmosphere that’s created now that has brought us to the brink of doing something that has never been done before is unlikely to improve in an election year, and we are not, as I said before, the kind of country that wants to or should put in doubt in the global economic market, or raise the question on a regular basis whether or not we’re going to default on our obligations. I mean, as Caren just mentioned, we have rating agencies putting us on warning. I mean, this is not good for our economy.
So if we do this regularly you can bet that it will have a negative impact on our economic prospects, on our growth and our job creation because it creates uncertainty about the economic environment that businesses are operating in.
Q You’re comparing it to extending the debt ceiling to 2013. I’m not. I’m comparing it to defaulting. Which is worse? Because the President is saying essentially he would rather have it default than have to vote on this again next year. That doesn’t make any sense.
MR. CARNEY: He is saying that leaders should lead and we have to do the right thing here. You can, as a piece of political analysis, have an opinion about it. The President’s position is this is not what the United States should do. And he doesn’t believe we will do it —
Q I’m analyzing your own — but it’s your own statements.
MR. CARNEY: — and we think — we think we can get to an agreement that’s significant. And remember, this is all because of an arbitrary connection that was established between the amount by which Congress would have to raise the debt ceiling and the amount by which we should —
Q Granted, and if Steel or Buck were in front of me, I’d be asking them that question.
MR. CARNEY: — I mean, a completely unrelated, arbitrary political and, essentially, meaningless connection between the two.
Q Okay. So that’s Boehner’s ultimatum, and I’ll ask them about that later. But I’m asking you about the President’s.
MR. CARNEY: So — but, Jake, I’ve answered the question. We do not think that that is the way that this country should operate — the President has made very clear.
Q What the President made clear in the meeting was that he will not —
MR. CARNEY: Both are bad; I can’t choose which is worse for you.
Q Really? You can’t? Default might not be as bad as voting on this next year?
MR. CARNEY: Jake, I’ve answered the question.
Q No, you guys are painting a very cataclysmic picture — that I’m not challenging — on how bad a default would be. I don’t understand why that is preferable —
MR. CARNEY: Because we don’t have to get there. We’re not going to default, Jake. We’re not going to default. I think I — in the answer to two previous questions, before I got to you, made clear that no one in the room thinks we’re going to default, and the President and the Vice President don’t think we’re going to default. So it’s a hypothetical that we don’t even have to entertain.
Q Thanks. Does the President believe that it would be easier to reach a deal without House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the room?
MR. CARNEY: The President believes that we have to reach a deal with the leaders of Congress of both parties, and everyone has to participate and be engaged in that process. And what’s important is not — it’s that everyone decides to play the role of the leader and to think, again, not just about the constituents in his or her district or state, and not just the constituents who are the most vocal in his or her party, but about the whole country and what’s right for the whole country.
And the opportunity here — again, this is a prize, this is a prize that has been sought for a long time and it is an objective that Republicans in particular have made clear is very important — significant deficit reduction, getting our debt — long-term debt under control, getting our spending under control. Well, here it is. The President is ready to make that deal; he is ready to compromise; he is ready to make tough choices. And he’s waiting for partners.
Q So the President doesn’t think that Cantor has complicated the process in any way?
MR. CARNEY: No, I think it’s a complicated process. What has to happen is that the leaders of both parties in both houses have to be willing to do the right thing for the country — not the party, not a narrow band of constituents, but for the country.
Q How does the White House view Friday, if that’s sort of the ultimate date to reach some kind of agreement?
MR. CARNEY: No, no, we’ve never said that. The President views Friday as an important moment where we can make an assessment about whether we are moving toward a significant bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction or not.
Q And if you’re not?
MR. CARNEY: But it is not a day — and if we are moving in that direction — and he sincerely hopes we are — then we will continue towards that goal.
Q But if you’re not?
MR. CARNEY: If we’re not then we have to begin looking at making sure that we fulfill our obligation to uphold the credit rating of the United States.
Q And how many options are out there that the White House is currently reviewing if there’s no significant progress on Friday?
MR. CARNEY: I think — I don’t have a number of options that they’re reviewing.
Q But it’s more — it’s several options?
MR. CARNEY: No, look, various people I’m sure are working on various options. We are focused at the White House on the opportunity here that has presented itself, and it doesn’t come every day, which is to achieve a significant bipartisan agreement that reduces spending, cuts the deficit, and does it in a balanced way that will help our economy grow and create jobs. That’s the President’s focus.
Q Jay, Boehner’s office says that — obviously revenues is on the agenda today, but they say what’s on the agenda is net-neutral revenues, which I take to mean that they’re not going to —
MR. CARNEY: Is that an Internet thing? (Laughter.)
Q No, it’s not, actually. I think they’re borrowing the expression. But net-neutral revenues, meaning it’s not going to do anything to deficits or debts, it’s going to be neutral. Is that the President’s understanding?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what we will discuss today, as I said, is some of these difficult issues that could help us reach a significant package if people are willing to compromise, and that includes getting savings out of health care entitlements in a reasonable way that protects beneficiaries, that strengthens the programs involved, and ways that we can find savings in our tax code.
Now, there are a variety of different ways to skin this cat, and I’m not going to — I’m sure people will come to the table with positions about what they believe is the right thing to do, and obviously we will, too, and then from that point negotiations hopefully will ensue.
Q At the briefing last night there were some who felt that — in the White House who felt there could actually be the kind of breakthrough today that would put this thing on a path to the big deal.
MR. CARNEY: Let it be so.
Q What reason do you have to be that optimistic, given how contentious things were yesterday?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t think — I’m not sure that that optimism, while admirable, is wholly rooted in reality. I don’t think that I would predict to you — and I’m an optimist — that we’re going to reach an agreement today, a grand bargain. What I will predict to you is — what I will say to you is that, contrary to assessments that assume no significant achievement is possible here, there is a potential here for a significant achievement; there is potential here of savings in the $1.7 trillion and up, which while not the grand bargain that is still possible is significant.
And we want to build on that. And the President, if he finds partners willing to compromise, willing to make the right choices here on behalf of the American people, we can do something even bigger and more significant. So — but I do not expect today a hallelujah moment.
Q Just to clarify, tomorrow — when you say that’s the day when the President wants to determine whether they can continue to move toward a significant deal — are you saying the $4 trillion deal would be taken off the table, or both?
MR. CARNEY: No, I’m saying — no, I’m saying — it’s not a question of size. It’s whether or not we can reach a significant bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction. And I think “significant” means where everybody agrees.
And even the stuff that I talked about — and let me go back, when I talked about what is already on the table that the sides agreed to — this is in principle, because nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon. And there are components here that different sides feel differently about that are dependent on agreement in other areas. So without characterizing what “significant” looks like in terms of numbers, I think we will know tomorrow — the President wants everyone to be able to make an assessment, whether that’s — we’re moving down the road towards something along those lines or not, and then we can decide what to do.
Q But it’s only the 14th. It sounds like you’re saying you’re going to take things off the table tomorrow if —
MR. CARNEY: No, we’re not going to if we’re making progress.
Q And if not?
MR. CARNEY: And as I think I’ve made clear up to this point is we believe, in spite of everything, that we have made progress.
Q And I hate to beat this dead horse, but you guys did go through some of this last night, but now that you’re on camera — of the things that Eric Cantor alleged happened at yesterday’s meeting, what did happen and what didn’t happen?
MR. CARNEY: Well, you have to ask me a more specific question. But I think —
Q Did the President say, “Eric, don’t call my bluff. I’m taking this to the American people”?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a word-for-word account to give you, but the President, as the meeting was wrapping up, expressed his feelings that the folks in that room need to lead, all of us — all of them together need to lead, and that this is a moment when it’s important to reach for a goal that works for the whole country, that is supported by the vast majority of the American people, which is a balanced agreement that does something significant on deficits, does something on our long-term debt, begins to get our fiscal house in order, and not resort to the kind of stuff that people hate about Washington — the sort of posturing and catering and positioning that don’t lead us down the road towards significant accomplishments.
It requires a willingness to move outside of your comfort zone to do something like this. And so that’s what he called on —
Q Did the President storm out of the room?
MR. CARNEY: He did not. It is preposterous to suggest so. The meeting was wrapping up; he expressed his very strongly held opinion about what we need to do here, and that was the end of the meeting.
Q Did the President invoke Ronald Reagan to say he wouldn’t sit here like this?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know. I think it is fair to say, as any student of history can tell you, that Ronald Reagan successfully reached agreements with the Democratic Speaker of the House that involved balance and involved, in this case, a willingness to accept revenues as part of a package to achieve longer-term solvency, for example, in Social Security or tax reform or things like that — that Ronald Reagan, who is admired widely by many Americans, but in particular Republicans, who admire him as somebody who was serious about cutting spending and reducing taxes and getting control of deficits, was willing to work with the Democratic Speaker of the House and accept that he wasn’t going to get everything he wanted, and in fact recognized that if he insisted on his maximalist position he wouldn’t get anything at all.
So President Reagan was a realist in that sense and he understood that victory can be shared, that accomplishments in this town require Democrats and Republicans working together. President Obama shares that opinion.
Q Jay, I need to switch gears for a second. Judicial Watch, the watchdog group, has obtained some emails from the administration about an October 2009 incident about whether or not FOX News would get an interview with Ken Feinberg, then the executive pay czar. And publicly, the administration was saying that FOX was not excluded. The emails seemed to suggest that FOX was perhaps punished and was excluded. Has the administration concluded there was any inappropriate activity there?
MR. CARNEY: Well, Mike, first of all, let me address a serious matter here, that I can say, having looked into this matter, that no one at the White House, either a current or former employee, ever placed a dead fish in the FOX News cubbyhole, which I know is a suggestion. (Laughter.) I can also say that it is well known that at the time there was a dispute between FOX News and its coverage and the White House and its feelings about the coverage. I mean, that was then, and we obviously deal with FOX News regularly. I call on you regularly. We give interviews to FOX News, including to Bill O’Reilly. But beyond that, I don’t really know much about it.
Q As a matter of policy, if there’s a pool event, should it be open to all networks?
MR. CARNEY: As a matter of policy? I’ll have to look at — I didn’t read that part of the policy manual. Isn’t a pooled event when one network pools for the rest? I feel like I’m getting caught in a trick question. And since I wasn’t here for that part of it, I’ll have to examine that, Mike.
Q Well, if you were going to arrange for a pooled interview with a senior administration official, would you assume that all the standard networks would be included?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’d have to look at what the policy standards are. But my point, Mike, is that we regularly engage with every network and every news organization here, including FOX, and give interviews to FOX, and respect the reporters at FOX who are reporters and do their job.
Q Jay, you say it’s a hypothetical and there will not be a default, so I’ll ask again today even though I know we plow this ground every day but we’re one day closer. Has the administration begun to prioritize how it will handle a default on August 3rd?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’ll have to address that question to the Treasury Department, which does the analysis on what happens in a default. I just — I don’t —
Q So it would be the responsible thing to do.
MR. CARNEY: I’m not arguing with that. I think that where we get hung up was this assertion that there’s a plan B that somehow allows us to get around default. No such thing exists. If there were —
Q So it’s not a hypothetical, as you said, if there is actually planning to —
MR. CARNEY: It would be irresponsible not to, but I’m not aware in any specificity of what planning is going on. But I’ve read that — it just stands to reason that, again, if you have a dollar in bills and you only have 60 cents in your pocket, you got to borrow the other 40 cents, but you’ve just been cut off from borrowing, that you got to figure out what to do. Beyond that, how that process works, I think Treasury, OMB is where I would direct you.
Q Okay. I’m sort of curious about the politics of this and how something is going to pass eventually, assuming that something does pass. There’s a hard-core — if that’s the right word — there’s a group of Republicans in the House who will not vote in any way, shape or form to raise the debt ceiling no matter what any prospective deal looks like. Inside these rooms, are these people taking into consideration, or are they largely taking themselves out of consideration by adopting that position?
MR. CARNEY: Well, in the room we have leaders of both houses of Congress, including of the House of Representatives, where I think some of the folks that you’re talking about reside. The leaders in that room take that into account. They know that the need for the United States to pay its bills and fulfill its obligations is a national priority. It’s not a Democratic priority or a Republican priority. And it is in fact — I mean, I think that when you talk about those members who seem to think that there is little consequence to the prospect of defaulting, despite all the significant evidence to the contrary, that they need to think twice about what goals are they looking to achieve here.
Because, remember, raising the debt ceiling is simply a mechanism by which Congress is allowed to borrow the money to pay the bills that it ran up already. This is not — we’re not talking about new spending here. We’re talking about spending that was run up — and we’re talking about national debt — spending that was run up disproportionately prior to this administration coming into office.
So this is a shared responsibility. And I am confident that it will be viewed that way, and is viewed that way, by the American people.
Q Thank you. Does the White House see any value in getting out of the confines of this building into a place like Camp David to have the conversations?
MR. CARNEY: I personally do. I’d like to get out more often. But I don’t know — does the administration as a whole see a value in getting —
Q Do the people in the White House who are running these deficit talks see a value in it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the meetings have been held in the White House so I think we feel that it’s a nice building with some nice rooms and comfortable chairs and a table and it’s a perfectly suitable place to have the meeting. I mean, you’re asking me in theory would it also be that could these meetings be held in other places? I suppose in theory they could be.
Q No, I’m not asking in theory —
MR. CARNEY: — but if we felt like they should be I think we’d be there.
Q My question is what — maybe I should put it this way — what value does it bring to having a meeting in a different, alternate setting, where perhaps —
MR. CARNEY: Who said we’re having a meeting in an alternate setting?
Q I didn’t say you were.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know, this sounds like a question you could ask like a management training seminar organizer. (Laughter.) What value does it have — we’re holding the meetings here.
Q Do you see value — and if so, what is it? That’s the question.
MR. CARNEY: But based on what? We’re having the meetings here. I see value in having the meeting down the hall from my office and the President’s office so that, as a matter of convenience — that works for me. And I think that Congress is just up the road here — that’s pretty convenient. So I’m not sure what you’re asking.
Q What other values besides convenience?
MR. CARNEY: Ask me a question that makes sense and I can answer.
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t mean — I apologize. I apologize. Ask me a question that relates to what we’re doing here. I mean, if you’re asking me, are we going to another location — we have no plans to do that. In theory, could we or might that be a good idea? I suppose so, but —
Q Why? Why do you suppose so?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t — well, because — I don’t know. I like to move around and see new places and — but —
Q Because of your personal preferences, that’s why it might be —
MR. CARNEY: No. But, again, Laura, what are we talking about here? I’m not sure you know, and I know I sure don’t.
Q I think we all know, and you didn’t decline to answer the question — that’s fine — but I —
MR. CARNEY: I honestly am not trying to decline to answer the question. I’m just not sure what the question is. Because it’s been reported that we’re considering something. I’ve made clear that we’re here. The only meetings we have scheduled are here, so it’s a — it’s like an alternate universe question.
Q What’s the purpose of the interviews that you’re doing with local TV stations —
MR. CARNEY: A lot of folks get their news — believe it or not — from other places besides the news organizations represented here or represented by me when I worked for one for 20 years. So we — the President tries to — we give interviews to CBS News and we give interviews to local reporters from a local network.
Q Is this part of the effort to take the case to the American people?
MR. CARNEY: We’ve been doing this since he became President. So if “the case” means explaining what he’s doing as President, yes.
Q Jay, would you say the talks are becoming increasingly contentious and frustrating as each day goes forward?
MR. CARNEY: Would I say that?
MR. CARNEY: I would say that the talks continue to be serious, they continue to be focused on substantive issues, and they are by and large engaged — they by and large occur in an environment that’s reasonably collegial and respectful.
Q Is President Obama feeling frustrated that he’s not really getting the progress that he hoped rapidly enough?
MR. CARNEY: He’s not, and — because, again, I think there is more progress than is necessarily perceived on the outside. And I’m not — I understand that this is hard stuff and participants in the meeting come out and talk about the disagreements, but it’s also important to remember that there are areas of agreement and there are areas of overlap where we can reduce spending and build upon that to do something even more significant.
I would simply say that the — to the extent the President feels any frustration, it’s simply at the prospect that something real and tangible and significant, and in fact generational, in terms of an accomplishment, is there for the taking if everyone in that room would be willing to compromise, get outside his or her comfort zone, and reach an agreement. Because it’s not that far out of reach; it’s really quite close.
Q And a follow-up on Laura — will you take a pool to Camp David with you?
MR. CARNEY: (Laughter.) When I go with my family to — actually they won’t let me do that. But we have no plans to move offsite.
Q So even though you have no plans, are you ruling it out, especially since Boehner has said that he doesn’t want to go?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not ruling anything out. It’s — again, this is a —
Q Well, you couldn’t do it without him.
MR. CARNEY: What I read was a report by a news organization with two unnamed, unidentified, unlocated sources saying that something was being considered. Well, I considered having the chicken tacos today — (laughter) — but instead I had the salmon. I mean, it’s just — it’s not — for lunch, it’s just — we’re not — we’re here, we’ve had meetings here. If those plans change, we will absolutely tell you, and I’m sure we will bring a pool.
Q Boehner has said that he doesn’t want to — he wouldn’t go; it’s not necessary to do it. So could you do the talks without him?
MR. CARNEY: Well, nobody has invited him to go anywhere. (Laughter.)
Q All right.
MR. CARNEY: Except to come here, and I think he’s coming.
Q Is July 22nd still — can you explain where that falls? That was originally your deadline. Is that — to get a deal — would that mean —
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s — I have explained a few times from here the July 22nd date was a loose date put — a judgment made based on the need for Congress to do the things that it does to produce legislation working back from the August 2nd date. So generally speaking, the clock is ticking and we’re getting closer and closer to August 2nd. And there is a point before August 2nd after which it becomes really hard for Congress to move legislation through both houses.
So, again, it’s not — July 22nd is not some — it’s not similar to the August 2nd date, which is reached by careful analysis and numbers crunching and all that sort of thing. This is more an observation about how Congress works.
Q At one of these background briefings, though, we learned that 80 percent of a deal would have to be reached by July 22nd. At least a big portion of a deal would have to be reached by that point. Is that correct?
MR. CARNEY: I suppose. Again, I think these are — 80 percent is probably a loose figure. July 22nd is a rough estimate. We’ve talked about already today the need for participants in these meetings to make an assessment tomorrow whether or not we are moving towards a significant bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction. And that’s tomorrow, July 15th.
So there are milestones along the way here, because we only have so many days between now and August 2nd to decide whether we are going to press forward and achieve a significant deficit reduction deal or not. Because what will happen regardless is we will — Congress will raise the debt ceiling. We will not default on our obligations. We take the leaders at their words and believe them when they say that they understand the impact of default would be quite serious.
Q And one final thing. The EU is drawing up a second rescue package for Greece. How often is the President getting briefed on the situation in Greece? And how concerned is he about the impact globally?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have a — beyond saying “regularly,” I mean, he is briefed on it and brought up to date on it, as you know. I mean, our view of this has not changed, which is that Europe has within its capacity and the institutions like the IMF have within their capacity the ability to deal with this situation, and we think they will.
Q Is he getting daily updates, then?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he gets daily economic briefings both on paper and verbally. And I’m sure he is updated as necessary on that situation.
Q Can I just follow?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll get to you.
Christi? Did you — sorry, you weren’t — Scott, sorry. No, you’re good? Jackie?
Q Yes, just quickly, do you expect meetings this weekend like we’ve had each day this week?
MR. CARNEY: Hard to say. I think that if we are moving towards an agreement that we can expect to continue working through the weekend. But I don’t have a schedule to announce.
Q Since beyond that though, it would just be two weeks before August 2nd, what do you see — what’s the thinking here as to what the process would be that you would — having made a decision tomorrow to fish or cut bait, you would work through the weekend, have something that could start being put into —
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I think regardless of the assessment that’s made tomorrow about which direction we’re going in, that people will continue to work through the weekend for precisely the reason that you’re suggesting, which is that there’s not a lot of time here with regards to the need to raise the debt ceiling. Now, what form that work will take, I just — we haven’t made determinations yet about meetings. But I’m sure the folks with the calculators at the very least will be working through the weekend regardless.
Q On the Moody’s release yesterday, if the President were able to get a deal that had the agreed cuts in it, $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion, would that be sufficient to retain a stable outlook?
MR. CARNEY: Wow, I don’t even know the answer to that question. I mean, that would be, obviously, up to the rating agencies. And I’m not — what I don’t want to engage in — even though I wanted to make clear the substantive, significant, real, irrefutably consequential cuts that the White House has been — made clear it is willing to accept, I am not at all willing to say we’re — we want to stop here or we’ll be satisfied with this. I’m not drawing any of those lines in the sand.
The President wants to continue working towards the most significant package possible that’s balanced and ensures that the sacrifice here is shared. And how the ratings agencies will react to that, I can’t tell you.
Q So that’s not part of the analysis that Secretary Geithner is doing in the meetings?
MR. CARNEY: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, he sometimes speaks a language I don’t understand, so —
Q Also, is it accurate that — do you think it’s true that the President would wear the jacket if they — if the group ended up deciding on some kind of exit — McConnell-style exit strategy?
MR. CARNEY: I think the meaning intended here was that the President is willing to take responsibility for leading, and that he is willing to do what it takes to compromise to reach something significant, and that he is willing to own it if other people won’t. But we have to raise the debt ceiling, because the United States is the United States and it does not default on its obligations. That’s the jacket you get to wear when you’re the President of the United States, and he’ll wear it.
Let me move around a bit here. Yes.
Q The President yesterday issued a statement on Mumbai terrorist attack, and he offered help to India in investigations. Today, do you have any information on who was behind the attack?
MR. CARNEY: Obviously the Indian government is investigating that and we have offered to assist in any way we can. But I don’t have any information regarding who might be responsible.
Q And secondly, Secretary Clinton is going to India next week for the second Strategic Dialogue with India. Is she carrying any message from the President for the talks?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the State Department. As regards the attacks, the same message that was expressed in the statement the President put forward yesterday. But in the talks themselves, I would send you to the State Department.
Q May I just follow, Jay?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q The President continues to push for the largest deal possible, and yet a lot of lawmakers have outwardly said they don’t think it’s going to be possible. Is it still realistic to think that a large deal is possible?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, it is realistic. I don’t — I’m not being Pollyannaish and I’m not going to say that it’s going to happen, it will happen, it’s guaranteed or it’s an odds-on likelihood, but I think that the whole purpose of the meetings we’ve had so far is to clear the decks, look at what has been discussed in previous negotiating rounds, where we have agreement, look at where we’re close to agreement, come to agreement on that, and keep building.
And the building process continues today as we look at some of the areas of disagreement on entitlement spending and on spending through the tax code. And if there is a willingness to compromise on that, you keep building, and you can get to what’s been called the mid-size deal. And you can get to something even bigger if you’re willing to compromise.
And, again, the sentiment that the President feels strongly that we should compromise, that we should do this in a balanced way, where everybody accepts that he won’t get what he wants necessarily, everybody accepts the pain of doing things that won’t necessarily be popular with elements of his or her party, is not just his. In fact, it’s shared broadly and by Republicans and Democrats alike. And as recently as today, I noticed when I — an op-ed today by a former finance director for President George W. Bush, who made very clear that the compromise that has been outlined that’s on the table and the balance that it represents is a win — it’s a desirable outcome, it’s good for the American people, it’s good for the economy, it’s good for Americans who are Democrats and Republicans, and we should do it. And the President is ready to do it.
Q And finally, it seems like every day there’s more of a sort of readout of the verbal back and forth about what’s happened. Not just from the White House, but from the Hill. Is there a concern that that’s damaging the talks, that it’s slowing them down and creating more tension?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that everyone in that room is and should be focused on the task at hand, which is the need to find areas of agreement, see where other — what areas are possible to agree on, and try to reach a bipartisan agreement. And that’s the most important task. And I think if people keep focused on that, we’ll — we can achieve something significant here.
Q But what about the Jell-O comment? I mean, that’s a real comment. He was subtle, but it was very strongly said.
MR. CARNEY: Look, a lot gets said in public by different folks that we all — I think from both sides — discount because there’s a lot of, as I said, sort of — people say things to different audiences in their parties and different audiences within their caucuses. What matters is what is being achieved in the room.
Q But you said it was — earlier, you said it was a congenial atmosphere, but when you have words like this —
MR. CARNEY: Well, generally.
Q Okay. But — okay, generally. (Laughter.) Okay. So now, listening to this yesterday: “Dealing with them the last couple of months has been like dealing with Jell-O — some days it’s firmer than others; sometimes it’s like they’ve left it out overnight.” Now that’s kind of strong. When you really think about it, Jell-o is slippery, slimy. I mean, there’s —
Q I like Jell-O.
MR. CARNEY: I love Jell-O personally. If you mix peas in it — (laughter) —
Q That’s nasty. (Laughter.) No, but seriously, I mean, when you really think of it, when you really think of it, you can say Jell-O, but what is Jell-O?
MR. CARNEY: Look, everybody in that room is a grownup and everybody can — is an experienced elected official. We can all survive some of the theater that takes place out in the public arena.
Q Thanks, Jay. Earlier you described some of the negotiators in the Cabinet Room as posturing, as catering. Back when President Obama was a senator and he voted against increasing the debt limit — some critics may say that was posturing and that was catering. How would you describe that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would certainly say what the President has said, and which I’ve said from here, which is he now views that as a mistake, because it’s an important vote. No matter how you feel about the administration’s policies, you need to recognize that the United States of America cannot default on its obligations; the consequences would be calamitous. And he has said that vote was a mistake. I think that’s — you don’t get that kind of candor very often. He said it was a mistake and he wouldn’t take that vote again.
Q Can I follow up?
Q Why is it not difficult —
MR. CARNEY: I’m not saying it’s not.
Q No, why is it not difficult then, as you say, to lead for the President having made that mistake? Why is it not difficult for the President to lead having taken that vote when he was a U.S. senator?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure I understand. I think that acknowledging that he thinks that vote was a mistake is explicitly a recognition that this is something too important to mess around with when we’re talking about the debt ceiling. And the President has made very clear that what is required of our leaders is a willingness to accept the fact that in a democracy, in a two-party system and a divided government, you don’t get everything that you want and you don’t get everything that your most ardent supporters wish you could in an ideal world. You have to make compromises. You have to do what the broad swath of the middle and the American population expects you to do, which is work together to get things done. The kind of stuff that happens when people talk past each other and position themselves for political advantage in some small arena is stasis and gridlock, and that’s what drives Americans crazy.
This President is willing to get outside, well outside his comfort zone to get something done, something significant that people have talked about needing to be done for a long time, to address the spending that we have, which I think it’s important that everybody understands has been a long time building, in terms of deficits and debt, that 2001 — January of 2001 there were surpluses as far as the eye could see. A lot of credit has been rung up since then. And the President is willing to deal with, to take responsibility for the need to solve that problem, and he expects others to as well.
Q Thanks, Jay.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks very much.
END 2:05 P.M. EDT