PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EST
MR. CARNEY: Okay. Welcome to the White House. I have no announcements. I am here to answer your questions.
Q Thanks, Jay. A lot to cover on the fiscal cliff. I just want to focus on the tax rates portion. During the election, repeatedly, and then after the election in his first extended comments the President underscored again his central promise to the American people that tax rates have to go up on households making over $250,000. In the East Room he said, I’m not going to ask students and seniors and middle-class families to pay down the deficit while people like me making over $200,000 aren’t asked to pay a dime more in taxes. Now the White House proposal is in fact to let people making up to $400,000 go without a tax increase. How do you justify that broken promise?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I certainly wouldn’t put it that way. I would say that the President, demonstrating —
Q You wouldn’t call it a broken promise?
MR. CARNEY: — his desire — no, I would not. I would say that the President, demonstrating his belief that a balanced, large deficit reduction package is a worthwhile goal, has shown evident willingness to meet the Republicans halfway.
If you think about where he started, his initial proposal from his plan that he put forward to the so-called super committee was to achieve a goal of $1.6 trillion in revenue. He has now come down to $1.2 trillion, as you know. The Republicans started at $800 trillion and have moved up to $1 trillion. The President has come halfway. He hopes that the Republicans will do the same. That is the essence of compromise, coming halfway.
On revenue, the President has come more than halfway in an effort to try to reach an agreement with the Republicans in the House and broadly in Congress because it’s the right thing to do. But he will not accept a deal that, in order to protect some of the wealthiest Americans from having their taxes go up, shifts the burden unduly onto seniors and the middle class.
So the fact that he’s willing to compromise and have rates go up on those making $400,000 and above, as opposed to $250,000 and above, demonstrates his good-faith effort here to reach a compromise and still have a package that is balanced and asks the wealthiest to pay more, enacts significant spending cuts, and puts us on a fiscally sustainable path.
I mean, the alternative here, if you think about it and the so-called plan B makes no sense. There is an historic opportunity here to do something that has been set as a goal for a long time in Washington, which is reach a bipartisan compromise on significant deficit reduction on the order of $4 trillion when you take all the pieces of it and put them together.
We are very close to being able to achieve that, and the President has demonstrated an obvious willingness to compromise and to move more than halfway towards the Republicans. To leave that offer on the table, including the trillion — the $1.22 trillion in spending cuts that the President has put forward because you don’t want to ask someone making $950,000 a year to pay more in taxes would be a shame and it would be bad policy.
So the President believes that the opportunity is there, the parameters of a deal are clear, the path to a compromise is clear, and he hopes that the Republicans will meet him on that path and do something that would be very good for the American people, for the middle class, and for our economy.
Q Jay, there’s another alternative here, and we’re hearing some of the members of the President’s party say today, which is that for the entire campaign he talked about raising taxes on the top 2 percent. He said that was the central theme and it was adjudicated in the election. And you talked about it standing here yesterday, the top 2 percent. If you go to $400,000, you’re not the top 2 percent, you’re not even the top 1 percent. It’s less than that. So isn’t the alternative for him to craft a deal in which he stands by his principle and sticks by his promise?
MR. CARNEY: The President does have — did have a proposal that we have put forward that achieves that, and in an effort to meet the Republicans halfway he has put forward a proposal that still asks the wealthiest Americans, those, in this case, making over $400,000, to pay more in income taxes. His overall proposal, by the way, includes other pieces, elements to it to achieve the revenue goal of $1.2 trillion, that includes asking the wealthiest to pay more through cap deductions and other reforms.
But the point I’m making I think is consistent with your question, which is, yes, he has demonstrated a willingness to move towards the Republicans in order to achieve a deal, but do so in a way that maintains his principles. And the alternative, the fallback, so-called plan B that’s been put out there achieves nothing like what a bigger deal would do and it would — you would lose, by just cutting taxes — by just extending current law for those making under a million dollars, you would lose hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue relative to the decoupling the President has proposed.
And most of that money, or a significant portion of that money if not most, would go to millionaires, because everybody gets — when you extend tax cuts for those making under $250,000 or those making under $400,000, everybody who makes more than that benefits from those tax cuts, right? If you only extend — if you extend the tax cuts for everybody making up to a million dollars, that means everybody making more than that gets a significant tax cut on their first million dollars in earning. So millionaires, billionaires, everybody makes a lot of money out of this proposal.
So the proposal essentially is to give another big tax cut to the wealthiest Americans at a time when we cannot afford it. And that, as you saw in my statement, would not pass the Senate. You saw Leader Pelosi say that Democrats would not vote for it. It’s not a credible alternative. If we’re not going to do a grand bargain, a bigger deal, the one that the President seeks, then there’s an option to deal with the tax portion of this that has already passed the Senate that the House ought to take up. And he would certainly support that as he has said all along.
Q Last one on this and I’ll let somebody else have a run at this. You keep making it sound like the choice is between what the President proposed and plan B that Speaker did, but I keep going back to what he said before he was elected and he called the central promise, which was never $250,000 until I win, and then we’ll see what they offer and move the number up. It was $250,000 —
MR. CARNEY: But, Ben, I don’t — if you’re making the point that he has —
Q My point is, can’t — is it the President’s view that he can’t get a big deal unless he goes up?
MR. CARNEY: I think that’s clear that the Republicans — that this requires compromise, and that’s why we have moved and reduced our revenue target and moved from $250,000 to $400,000.
The point that the President had always made is that it is not his preferred option, but he knew that he would have to compromise in order to reach an agreement without sacrificing the principles that are clear, and that is that we have to have balance. It has to ask the wealthiest Americans to pay more so that the burden isn’t unduly placed on seniors and students and families who have children with disabilities and others. And that’s what his current proposal maintains are those principles.
And all told, as you know, the proposal still, with its one-to-one — within this proposal, one-to-one ration of revenues to spending cuts, achieves, combined with the $1.1 trillion that he signed into law in discretionary spending cuts last year, close to $4 trillion in deficit reduction.
And if I could go back to the first point here — Republicans say their goal is to reduce the deficit and to reduce spending. There is an opportunity on the table here to achieve $1.2 trillion in additional spending cuts. It seems like folly to walk away from that opportunity because you don’t want to ask somebody making $995,000 a year to pay a dime more in income taxes. It seems like terrible folly. And I don’t think the American people would support that. Certainly the President doesn’t believe that.
Did you have something?
Q I did.
MR. CARNEY: It seemed like all your questions had been answered.
Q They haven’t.
MR. CARNEY: Okay.
Q My first question is, are negotiations still active?
MR. CARNEY: Lines of communication remain open. The President continues to hope that a compromise can be reached, as I said at the top. The parameters of a deal are clear. When you look at the offers, proposals and the counterproposals, a path to an agreement is clear. And he hopes that the Republicans will join him on that path and achieve this — take advantage of this opportunity and lock in a plan that would achieve significant deficit reduction, would protect the middle class, and would help our economy. So the answer is lines of communication remain open and we hope that this opportunity is not wasted.
Q You used that phrase a lot last week.
MR. CARNEY: And it was always true.
Q Right, but does that mean you’re talking and negotiations —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any specific conversations or meetings to read out to you. But as was the case in the past, it is the case today that lines of communication remain open and there is an opportunity here. And you’ve clearly seen the President put forward an offer that represents him moving halfway towards the Republicans on revenue and moving more than halfway to the Republicans on spending cuts as part of a balanced package that still adheres to his principles. And that’s very important. And we hope that the Republicans understand that it would be a terrible waste to walk away from this opportunity.
Q We’ve seen some, obviously, progress since yesterday’s briefing; I’d just like to ask the question again: Has the shooting in Connecticut affected the tone at all, and has it affected the ability for both sides to negotiate?
MR. CARNEY: These are excellent questions and there’s been some good reporting on this, but it’s obviously hard to know what the impact of an event like that is on the way that lawmakers and others in Washington approach other issues. As the President said in Newtown, a tragedy as unfathomable, unimaginable as what happened in Newtown reminds us of what really matters. And he certainly believes that it is his responsibility — and the responsibility of everyone here in Washington — to work together to try to do important things for the American people and the American economy. And that’s on issues related to gun violence and it’s on issues related to the economy and to people’s livelihoods.
So to the extent that an event like that, as tragic as it is, brings us a little closer together both in the nation and in Washington, that would be a good thing. But it’s hard to measure an impact like that.
Q Jay, as an Illinois state legislator, the President supported quite restrictive gun measures, but as President he’s only signed into law legislation that allows guns in National Parks and on Amtrak trains as checked luggage. Is he reassessing his more recent record on gun control?
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President’s positions have been beyond what you cited — I’m sure that was an oversight — but including his support for reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, his support —
Q But actions versus words —
MR. CARNEY: — his support for closing the so-called gun show loophole, which allows people to buy weapons without going through the background checks that are standard when you purchase from a retail —
Q But I’m talking about what was actually done —
MR. CARNEY: Let me — could I finish?
Q — not just what he has said he supports.
MR. CARNEY: Could I finish? Could I finish, Brianna? I appreciate it. Thanks.
It’s clear that as a nation we haven’t done enough to address the scourge of gun violence in this country. It’s a complex problem that requires more than one solution. It calls for not only reexamining our gun laws and how well we enforce them, but also for engaging mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, educators, parents and communities to find those solutions.
And while, as I said, there’s no one answer to this problem, it is clear that we cannot once again retreat to our separate corners and to our stale talking points, because that inevitably leads to an impasse. That’s why, as I think you saw reported, the President yesterday afternoon had discussions with members of his Cabinet, members of his senior staff and the Vice President to begin looking for ways — or at ways that the country can move forward and respond to the tragedy in Newtown. And I think that if you look at the Cabinet members the President met with — Secretary Duncan, Attorney General Holder and Secretary Sebelius — they underscore — their participation underscores the comprehensive way in which the President views this problem.
So he will, as he said in Newtown on Sunday night, two nights ago, in coming weeks, engage with the American people; engage with lawmakers, with members of his administration, with mental health professionals, with law enforcement officials, with parents, communities, to try to find answers to this problem. And that includes his support for legislation that, like the assault weapons ban, that addresses issues of access to guns. It will include other issues that he thinks are part of the scourge of gun violence.
Q But is he right now actively considering measures, be it gun laws or mental health measures — right now?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he is actively supportive of, for example, Senator Feinstein’s stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the assault weapons ban. He supports, and would support, legislation that addresses the problem of the so-called gun show loophole. And there are other elements of gun law — gun legislation that he could support. People have talked about high-capacity gun — ammunition clips, for example, and that is something certainly that he would be interested in looking at. My point is that it goes beyond that.
He is heartened, I should mention, by what we have all heard from some members of Congress who have been long-time opponents of gun control measures, common-sense gun control measures like the assault weapons ban and the like. He, in fact, not long before I came out here was on the phone with Senator Manchin discussing just this issue.
Q So this sounds like very much a shift from yesterday. I mean, there were really no specifics yesterday, and today you’re talking about his support for Senator Feinstein’s reinstatement. You were —
MR. CARNEY: Brianna, I think I said yesterday that he supported —
Q Yesterday you were talking about his support for the ban, but you wouldn’t actually say whether he would support Senator Feinstein’s effort. And today it sounds like you’re saying that he will.
MR. CARNEY: Well, let me be clear that, again, we are less than 48 hours from the President’s participation in the vigil.
Q But he supports her legislation initiatives?
MR. CARNEY: And the President is moving forward, as he said he would, in having discussions here at the White House with members of his team, having discussions moments ago with Senator Manchin and others who have introduced important ideas about how we can move forward and whose decision to break from past positions and — in how they look at this is heartening, and perhaps harbors an opportunity to move forward in a constructive way. But we are still early in a process.
And I just want to be clear that, in addition to his support for a renewal of the assault weapons ban, which has long been stated and if it does take form in legislation that Senator Feinstein introduces, then that would obviously be something that would win his support, but it goes beyond that. His view is that we need to address this in a way that, as I said yesterday, acknowledges that no single piece of legislation, no single restriction on access to a certain type of weapon will solve this problem and that we need to address it more broadly.
Q Sure, but why the change? Because — I mean, he hadn’t even said “gun” in his public comments. And then you have, for instance, Republicans like Steve LaTourette talking about a majority of Republicans — this is what he told us today — being open to discussing gun control. Did the President feel like he was behind on this?
MR. CARNEY: I think you’re trying to turn this into, like, a political theater thing. That’s not how the President views it. He went to Newtown in his role as President and met with family members of victims. He met with first responders and with others in that community, and then he spoke to that community, and tried to convey the grief and the pain that the American people are feeling and share with those who are suffering so deeply in Connecticut.
And at that time he spoke about the fact that we cannot tolerate these kinds of tragedies and that we have to act, and it would be unforgivable not to try to take steps that address the problem, that address our fundamental responsibility to take care of our children in the first instance. And he is, as he said and true to his word, moving forward on that process. And the conversation he had — the meeting he had yesterday, the conversation I just mentioned with the Senator from West Virginia and other conversations he will have going forward will reflect the approach that he’s taking.
He does want to move. As he said on Sunday night, he wants to move in the coming weeks, which is a fairly short period of time. And while he supports, and strongly, renewal of the assault weapons ban, and strongly other measures, he wants to expand the conversation beyond those specific areas of legislation to look at other ways we can address this problem.
Let me move in the back. Sam.
Q Yes, Jay, a lot of top Democrats on the Hill, and I think President Obama, spent the campaign season saying, let’s not touch Social Security — it doesn’t add to the deficit; we can resolve this issue without going to that entitlement program. What is the President’s message to those lawmakers who promised constituents that Social Security would not be touched after the President now has put chain CPI on the table for Republicans?
MR. CARNEY: Well, let’s be clear about one thing: The President didn’t put it on the table. This is something that Republicans want. And it is —
Q But the Republicans —
MR. CARNEY: — part of his — if I could please answer Sam’s question, I’d appreciate it. And the President did include it in his counterproposal, his counteroffer, as part of this process, as part of the negotiation process. I would note that this is a technical change — would be if instated — to the way that economists calculate inflation, and it would affect every program that has — that uses the CPI in its calculations. And so it’s not directed at one particular program; it would affect every program that uses CPI. There are also — as part of the President’s proposals, he would make sure that the most vulnerable were exempted out from this change.
But let’s be clear, this is something that the Republicans have asked for, and as part of an effort to find common ground with the Republicans, the President has agreed to put this in his proposal — agreed to have this as part of a broad deficit reduction package that includes asking the wealthiest to pay more so that we can achieve the kind of revenue targets that are necessary for a balanced approach to deficit reduction.
Q Right, but there’s a lot — again, my question was there’s a lot of people who voted for these lawmakers on a promise that —
MR. CARNEY: You heard the President say every time he talked about this —
Q Can I finish my question?
MR. CARNEY: Sure, yes.
Q A lot of people — I’ll let you answer — a lot of people voted for these lawmakers for reelection not too long ago on a promise that Social Security wouldn’t be touched, and if it was touched, it would be done separately from these fiscal cliff negotiations. What do those people — what are these people now supposed to believe about the promises that their lawmakers made, including the President?
MR. CARNEY: Let me again make clear two things. One, the President has always said as part of this process when we’re talking about the spending cuts side of this that it would require tough choices by both sides. And that is certainly the case if you want to reach an agreement.
Secondly, this is a technical adjustment that supporters of it and economists — outside economists say is meant to make the government’s estimates of inflation more accurate. Thirdly, as part of the President’s proposal, there is a clause that would protect vulnerable communities including the very elderly when it comes to Social Security recipients.
So there’s no question that it represents an effort to compromise, but it is also not — this is a technical adjustment that economists believe is about getting the proper measure of inflation, and it is one sought by Republicans.
So, again, we’re not going to get everything we want. We knew that the President’s proposal that he put forward to the super committee that we put forward in the beginning of these negotiations would not pass unchanged. But I think your question demonstrates the absolute fact that the President has shown enormous good faith in trying to reach a compromise here. And it would be shocking if Republicans passed up this opportunity for what they say they seek, which is significant deficit reduction, significant spending cuts, simply to protect those just shy of being millionaires from having to pay a dime extra in income taxes.
Q Do you acknowledge the Speaker’s criticism of the counterproposal yesterday that it really isn’t one to one —
MR. CARNEY: I do not.
Q — because the saved interest payment is not a spending cut?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I find that an interesting charge because every budget proposal that’s been made since we’ve been here includes interest payments as spending cuts when they’re reduced. The Bowles-Simpson proposal included it.
Q Well, nobody disputes that it’s part of deficit reduction, but this idea of one to one on tax hikes to a spending cut —
MR. CARNEY: Again, when they — in the Budget Control Act and their assertions that they wanted one to one, it was only achievable — only achievable — because they counted saved interest as spending cut. So a practice that they participated in regularly up until this moment to abandon now, to say that it doesn’t represent one-to-one spending cuts for revenue, is just — doesn’t pass the plausibility test.
The fact is that spending on interest payments is one of the big problems that we face when it comes to our budget deficits, and reducing those payments is a significant achievement when it comes to reducing spending. So including those reductions as part of the overall reductions in spending is in keeping with past practice by both Republicans and Democrats, including the Speaker of the House, including House Republican leadership, past practice as represented in the Simpson-Bowles proposal and other proposals that have been out there.
So I do reject that charge that somehow that this is a novelty that doesn’t represent actual savings, because that has always been the practice, including by the Republicans who are now complaining about it.
Q So at 10 o’clock this morning, 9 o’clock this morning, the markets open; they all see the different proposals the President has given on the CPI and Social Security, Boehner’s given on tax rates over a million dollars. And the public up on Wall Street and the business community sees — oh, look, they’re about to come to a deal. Boehner puts out his plan B, and you guys decide to publicly go after it. Why? Why antagonize the situation?
MR. CARNEY: Well, what the Speaker —
Q I’m just curious. You guys — on one hand, you don’t want to negotiate through the press; this clearly is a decision to negotiate through the press.
MR. CARNEY: No. The Speaker also made clear that he has not abandoned hope for a bigger deal, and that we see as a good thing. And we certainly have not either. And I think our objections to plan B is simply to point that it is such a far cry from what’s possible here — and not only that, it wouldn’t pass the Senate, it wouldn’t get any Democratic votes in the House, might not pass the House.
Q But you seem to be intent on sending that message when that’s a way of antagonizing the situation, isn’t it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m certainly not trying to antagonize the —
Q Are you trying to disrupt talks? Make it harder?
MR. CARNEY: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I think that we would — we, as I said at the beginning — and let me make clear, that I’m — the President hopes that Speaker Boehner and others remain open to what is a clear path to achieve a bipartisan compromise here. And in the details that have come out about the President’s proposal, I think it is clear that he has demonstrated good faith and a willingness to meet Speaker Boehner and the Republicans halfway in an effort to achieve what would be a very significant agreement that would be of benefit both to the middle class and to the economy.
Q — move further. It was pretty clear from talking to some Democrats that that wasn’t your final offer.
MR. CARNEY: Look, I think that a path to a legitimate, balanced compromise is clear. But the room for movement here is not large, because the President’s principles are what they are and the President has already moved exactly halfway on revenue and more than halfway on spending cuts. So that is by definition what compromise is about — I’ll meet you halfway. The President is here. Republicans are here. The President has come halfway, maybe a little bit more. Republicans have come about this far. So we’re close.
The President has demonstrated his reasonableness. And his principles here are ones that are broadly supported by the American public. So he hopes that we can get this deal.
My point about plan B is that it’s not a great alternative. It’s not a great fallback.
Q Your plan B? Do you think your plan is a good alternative?
MR. CARNEY: We would prefer a bigger —
Q — good alternative, your plan B, the $250,000 —
MR. CARNEY: One, it’s already passed the Senate. So if we —
Q Why are you so sure the other one doesn’t pass the Senate? Has Harry Reid assured you he just won’t put it on the floor?
MR. CARNEY: I think Senator Reid has said that it wouldn’t pass the Senate. The point is —
Q Would he put the —
MR. CARNEY: Again, you should speak with Senator Reid about Senate procedure and upcoming actions. But the point is neither of these options is preferable to a balanced, broad deficit reduction package, which would be healthy, good for the economy, good for the American people, would protect the middle class as we move forward.
The President has said now for months that at the very least the House ought to follow the Senate’s action and pass tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people. That bill is there. It could be passed tomorrow. We have always sought more than that. We have always sought the opportunity to achieve significant deficit reduction, because it’s good for the economy if it’s done well and right, and in a way that’s fair and balanced.
Let me move around. Yes, Leslie.
Q Jay, can you comment at all on the Pentagon? Investigators have concluded that a senior defense official has leaked restricted information to the makers of the bin Laden film. Peter King’s office is out and says they’re quite troubled by it.
MR. CARNEY: I have seen those reports, but I can only refer you to the Pentagon. I don’t have anything on it from here.
Q But the fact that it went beyond and into a criminal investigation seems to suggest that it’s a little bit worse than you had led us to believe. I think King’s office said that it’s an indication that our security was placed at risk by people who wanted to help Hollywood make a movie.
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, I think that that’s not — your memory of the discussions that we had from here had to do with charges by that Congressman and others about White House — what the White House’s role in informing people who are doing stories on or other things on the bin Laden raid was. Again, on this particular matter, I would refer you to the Pentagon. I just don’t have anything for you on it.
Q If Speaker Boehner’s idea of just taxing people making a million dollars or more is so bad and unbalanced, why did the President propose that in September of 2011 — he had the millionaire’s tax, when he came out in the Rose Garden?
MR. CARNEY: First of all, that’s an entirely different proposal. The President has always supported expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000. That is a position he has held since the time he took office.
There have been other proposals including the so-called Buffett Rule that would address the problem of millionaires and billionaires not paying, for example — and this goes to other — this goes beyond issues of income tax, because one of the reasons why the Buffett Rule, for example, was something the President supports — supported and supports — is because we have the issue of carried interests, which enables billionaires to pay a lower tax rate if they’re hedge fund managers or private equity investors, to pay at a much lower rate than probably you and I pay.
Q The New York Times at the time said, “his idea” — the President’s idea — “of a millionaire’s minimum tax would be prominent in the broad plan for long-term deficit reduction that he will outline at the White House.” So the President thought that a millionaire’s tax was —
MR. CARNEY: You’re really confusing policies here. The fact that you support a minimum tax for millionaires tax rate does not alter the fact that you also support returning tax rates for those making under a million dollars to what they were prior to the Bush-era tax cuts. I think that has been established many times.
Q Senator Schumer brought that up for a vote in 2010 —
MR. CARNEY: It was actually a different — you really need to check your —
Q There’s a lot of different versions of it —
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, but —
Q It was a million-dollar threshold is the point.
MR. CARNEY: On the tax rates. Again, you’re confusing a lot of different tax proposals. And our position then is what it is now, which is that we support expiration of the tax cuts for the top 2 percent. In his proposal for a bigger package with the Republicans, he has agreed to move that threshold from $250,000 to $400,000.
What we do know, instead of talking about things that got votes two years ago in the Senate, is that two months ago the Senate passed a bill that extends tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people — tax cuts that everyone in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike say they support, and that the House, if it fails to do anything else, has the opportunity to pass that legislation to ensure that most Americans out there don’t have their taxes go up next year. The only thing preventing them from that when you look at the proposals here is their insistence thus far on the idea that people making $995,000 should not have their income tax rates go up.
Q Quick question on another subject. There’s this 27-year-old former Marine who, as you know, is in a Mexican prison. His family is urging the administration to do something about it. We don’t know all the facts of the case and what he did, what he didn’t do, but his family is asking the White House to look into it. Is there anything going on to ascertain the facts to see whether he’s innocent or not? Because again we don’t know what really happened.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’ll have to take the question because I don’t know the facts myself on that, so I’ll have to take the question.
Q The President’s close friend and advisor, David Axelrod, on Sunday evening, after watching the President’s speech was watching a football game, and an ad came on for a violent video game, and he tweeted, shouldn’t we quit — he tweeted an expression of support for banning certain kinds of weapons or regulating certain kinds of weapons, but then he said shouldn’t we also quit marketing murder as a game. And this touches on the cultural aspect that you seem to be alluding to also being part of the solution. And I’m wondering if the President has any views on it, because we haven’t really heard him talk that much about these cultural issues in his time as President.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I was asked about this — well, I have seen reports on it, and I don’t have any proposals to tell you that the President thinks or we think should be moved on. I think that there are cultural issues — and every expert on this issue would, I think, agree with that — that there are cultural issues that contribute to the broader problem with gun violence.
One of the reasons why the President wants to expand the net beyond considerations of gun laws is because he recognizes that and agrees with it that we need to look broadly at all of the potential contributors to the scourge of gun violence in this country.
So on that particular area of inquiry, I don’t have a specific proposal to tell you about, or even that there will be one. But it’s certainly — he wants to have these conversations with people who have worked on this issue and people who are affected by it to explore all the possibilities, to move forward with a broad approach that addresses gun violence, that includes sensible legislation to deal with things like assault weapons and gun show loopholes, magazine capacity, potentially, as well as other issues — mental health issues, education issues, and perhaps cultural issues.
Q Speaking of mental health issues, the National Alliance for Mental Illness — or of Mental Illness reports that during the recession states trimming their budgets cut almost $2 billion from mental health services. This seems to be an area where the President could take immediate action, working with Congress to help fill the gap of the — for those states. Has the President — is he aware of this statistic?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure if he’s aware of this statistic. The issue of mental health is something that both the President and others in this administration who have broadly addressed health care issues, including Secretary Sibelius, believes is very important. And that is why the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, contains within it assurances that those who will gain coverage that they have not had in the past will gain medical health services, including a set of services that will be available without copays or deductibles. Because mental health issues are health issues, and the President believes that firmly.
Again, in terms of potential areas that could be addressed through action at the federal level or at the state level, he wants to hear about proposals that might help address this problem. It is, as he said, an issue that the mental health aspect of this is an important aspect.
Q According to the book by Daniel Klaidman, from Newsweek, the Daily Beast, about the Obama administration, in the first year of the Obama administration, Attorney General Holder was going to take action regulating guns, and the President’s Chief of Staff told him to shut up — he actually added a couple of words in there — about guns. The issue being the fact that there were a number of Democrats in vulnerable districts where gun rights were popular that would — politically it was not wise. Does the President know about this? Does the President regret that that took place? Has Attorney General Holder been told since Aurora or Fort Hood or Sikh Temple or Newtown or any of the other many, many shootings that have taken place while Mr. Obama has been President, has Mr. Holder been told to resume what he was planning on doing before the White House Chief of Staff told him to stop?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that’s an anecdote that I’m not familiar with.
Q It was reported —
MR. CARNEY: — I know the author. I confess from the podium that I didn’t read his book. But the —
Q Does that mean it didn’t happen?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t know, so I certainly haven’t had a discussion with the President about it. I can tell you that the President believes, as he, I think, made very clear on Sunday night, and as I reiterated both yesterday and today, that we have not done enough as a country to address this problem and we need to do more, and that what happened in Newtown hopefully will catalyze the process of doing more. And he will use the power of his office to move that along. And that has begun already with the conversations he’s had here internally with — a conversation that he had today with one senator, I’m sure he’ll have with other lawmakers.
And as I think we’ve heard from a number of people both in Washington and elsewhere, the enormity of what happened on Friday I think has caused everyone — or many people to reassess where we are when it comes to the ways that we address this problem, and hopefully that that reassessment will lead to action.
Q But, Jay, why are these conversations not taking place on a national level? Why are —
MR. CARNEY: Jake, can I just remind you that the shooting happened four days ago.
Q This one did, Jay. But there have been a lot that have taken place over the last four years. It’s not as though gun violence became a problem on Friday.
MR. CARNEY: I completely agree with that. And I can only —
Q But it’s as though you’re completely oblivious to the fact that there have been shootings for years.
MR. CARNEY: That’s not true. I mean, the President — it is a fact that we have taken action — and the Department of Justice can fill you in on this — to enhance background checks. And background checks — when we talk about the fundamental issue of making sure that those who should not have weapons do not acquire them or cannot acquire them, enhancing our background check system is an important step that addresses specifically the problem.
So it is the case that we have taken action in this President’s first term. And he made clear on Sunday evening that he believes we need to take more action. And he looks forward to working with Congress and working with communities beyond Washington to help bring that about.
Q Jay, the President said and you’ve repeated that the nation has not done enough. It sounds like what — previous Presidents used the formulation “mistakes were made,” sort of a passive construction. Is he saying that he thinks that he has not done enough as President, personally?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think he made clear on Sunday that we as a nation, and he as a member and leader of this nation need to do more; that we cannot tolerate these kinds of tragic incidents. And he committed himself in the coming weeks to taking steps that use the power of his office to help try to bring about changes that will address this problem, recognizing the complexity of the problem and the obstacles to potential solutions to the problem.
He also said — and it’s important to remember that he said this — if whatever action we take saves one child’s life, we should take it, because what would we say to ourselves if we haven’t. And then I think that recognizes, again, that this is a problem that cannot be solved by a single action or necessarily even a series of actions, but it should be and can be addressed.
Q Big part of the question is, does he regret — it’s one thing to regret that Congress hasn’t done what he thinks they ought to do. But does he regret that he hasn’t done something that he wishes now, in light of Friday, that he had done prior to that?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t heard him say it in terms other than the way he said it on Sunday night. And I think you heard from him in a very passionate way what his reaction is to Newtown, and his reaction to Newtown as part of a series of events and incidents like it that have occurred since he’s been President, and that on too many occasions he has been in the situation that he was in in Newtown of consoling family members who have lost innocent loved ones in events like this. So I think he spoke very passionately about his views on this and the fact that we need to take action.
Q And one quick question. If this compromise were to go forward that the President’s proposed, the $400,000 be the cutoff — would that be it? Or would the President still, at some point at a later date as part of some future negotiations and future legislative initiative, try again at $250,000? Is this the end of it from his perspective, or just one —
MR. CARNEY: Well, he seeks, as part of this process, to make permanent tax cuts for those making below the threshold. It is also in his proposal to fast-track processes for both corporate and individual tax reform. But the revenue achieved through a potential compromise here, at least the one that he put forward, would be locked in, and then the reform would be essentially revenue-neutral.
How that plays out in terms of tax rates would obviously be up to those who negotiate it and worked on the tax reform in that fast track process, both on the Hill and working with administration officials.
Q So he’s not closing off the possibility of raising rates at some later date —
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, he’s not — his proposal here is to achieve the revenue that would be gained from extending tax cuts permanently for those making under $400,000, allowing rates to rise to their Clinton-era levels for those making above $400,000. There are a series of other pieces of his revenue proposal that deal with some reform measures, like capping deductions and other issues, and then there would be a separate or additional tax reform process that is something that both sides have sought in a so-called two-stage deal.
But the revenue achieved — the $1.2 trillion in revenue part of this proposal would be achieved at the outset. Then the reform process could go forward.
Major, and then Roger.
Q You may accuse me of being unduly mathematical. I’m not trying to be unduly mathematical.
MR. CARNEY: I want to be wowed by your numbers.
Q No, no, it has nothing to do with numbers, but I asked you yesterday if there was any task force work. Obviously, there was a meeting yesterday on this subject post-Newtown. So if it’s possible to convey to the nation after that meeting and in the intervening days since, proportionally, does the President view this as mostly a gun-control issue, or a 50-50 gun control, mental health, personal responsibility? And can you give the nation a sense that whatever he proposes, whenever he proposes it, will be inclusive of all of those things?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that’s a good question and I appreciate it. The President believes that there are multiple elements that need to be addressed that are part of the problem of gun violence. And as any expert on this subject I think would tell you gun laws would not alone solve this problem and he recognizes that. He would, however, support and has supported some gun control legislation like the assault weapons ban, like closure of the gun show loophole.
What the proportion is, is hard to say, but I think you break it down to issues of law enforcement, issues of — and then law enforcement can mean not just gun legislation, but other issues of law enforcement, obviously, like background checks and the like. Then there’s mental health and broader health care issues. There’s education issues. I think those are three pockets; whether that’s 33, 33, 33 is hard to say.
But it is simply a fact that legislation that addresses access to certain types of weapons or magazines or how we perform background checks, while they have merit and the President supports the ones that I’ve mentioned, would not alone address this problem. What I can’t tell you — to go to the second part of your question — is what the rollout of the President’s ideas, what form that will take, whether it will be things of — pieces of legislation that exist that he supports and has made that clear, I have also, or other things that might come up that he supports.
I think at some point you’ll hear from him more broadly on this issue, but I don’t have a timeframe for you on that. So this is a process that has just begun and includes the meeting he had yesterday. But beyond that, I just don’t have more for you.
Q All right, more mathematics. Based on briefings here and reaction from the Hill, there are some differences, but the revenue differences, which heretofore have been a significant impediment, are down to $1.2 trillion versus $1 trillion. And there are a lot of other issues, I acknowledge that. My question to you is, does this bill, and does the President believe there is an intrinsic, larger value to resolving this during this week as the country mourns a larger national tragedy in providing some evidence that all the rhetoric about the future of the children and everything else has actual meaning as related to our fiscal future?
MR. CARNEY: I hesitate to make grand pronouncements about the connection that some of you have made between what happened in Connecticut and other work that is taking place here. I do think that the President —
Q But you know and I know —
MR. CARNEY: No, I understand —
Q — here that it reverberates.
MR. CARNEY: It certainly does. And I think that at its core, tragedies like that at their core bring us as Americans together in our grief, and in our resolve, and in our neighborliness. They remind us of all that we share as opposed to the differences that we have.
And out of the ashes of a tragedy like that, as the President I think spoke to in Newtown, we should take heart from that — from the spirit of the community there, the spirit of communities that have been affected elsewhere. When first responders rush into a situation like that to try to save lives, nobody is thinking about political differences. So I think that any reminder of what binds us together is helpful and useful as we try to do the country’s business here. I think the President —
Q Would you acknowledge it has catalyzed the process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I just don’t know because I can’t speak to everyone’s motivations. I think that —
Q Does the President think it’s catalyzed the process?
MR. CARNEY: Well, he has been committed to this process for a long time. He has been committed to seeking a broad deficit-reduction deal, one that protects the middle class, one that achieves balance and is good for our economy.
It is certainly — I think the events in Connecticut are a reminder to him, as he spoke about in Newtown, of what’s most important in our lives, what our greatest responsibilities are. And if to the extent that that is a motivation to do more and do better for all of us, I think, then that’s worth recognizing.
Roger, I think I said I’d call on you.
Q In the Biden meeting yesterday on guns, did the President give the Vice President a specific due date for this report or recommendations?
MR. CARNEY: No. And I don’t have a further readout of the meeting that included not just the Vice President, but the secretaries — Cabinet Secretaries that I mentioned and some senior staff here at the White House. It’s the beginning of a process where they’re looking for — we will look for ways to address this problem in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown.
Q And one other quick follow-up on chained CPI. You said the most vulnerable would be exempted out. What do you mean by that?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don’t have the technical details for you. But this is something that can be and has been done before in an effort to make sure that — one example, the oldest of Social Security recipients would be potentially protected from the impact of a change like this. But I don’t have more details for you on that.
Q Jay, to be determined, in other words?
MR. CARNEY: Well, there are processes that this has been done in the past and can be done.
Q I guess what threw me was when you said “exempted out.” It means they would be taken off —
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question, because it gives me the opportunity to refine my language — because I think what I meant to say is that there would be protections for most vulnerable populations and perhaps “exempted out” is not the proper way to describe it.
Q Jay, does the President have concerns about the dramatic increase, the upsurge in weapons sales just obviously based on the specter of the prospect of new gun control laws?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t asked him about that. I think that’s a phenomenon we’ve seen in the past. But I haven’t got a response from him for you.
Q Would he like to see retailers — as one, at least one already has — voluntarily stop selling the type of weapon that was used in Newtown?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t had that discussion with him either. I know that he supports some legislation that we’ve already talked about and is certainly interested in hearing about other ideas and other possible proposals, mindful of the fact that gun control legislation alone will not sufficiently address this problem.
Thanks very much.
END 1:42 P.M. EST