Political Highlights: Best Political Quotes of 2011



Year in Quotes: White House and Congress

Source: WoodTV, 12-22-11

‘The world is safer’

“It’s like lighting the match that could burn down the house.”–Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., describing a scenario in which a debt ceiling agreement was not met by May. April, 2011

“It’s not going to get easier, it’s going to get harder. So we might as well do it now. Pull off the Band-Aid. Eat our peas.”–President Obama, in a press conference urging House and Senate leadership to come together to pass a debt ceiling bill. July, 2011

“Get your ass in line. I can’t do this job unless you’re behind me.”–House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to fellow Republicans who were holding out against his debt ceiling deal for one with more spending cuts. July, 2011

“I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics. I had to be here for this vote. I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.” –Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., after returning to the House chamber to cast her vote for the debt ceiling bill. It was her first appearance to Congress since she was shot in the head in Jan. 8, 2011. August, 2011

“At a time when spending is out of control, giving the federal government more money would be like giving a cocaine addict more cocaine.” –Speaker Boehner, in response to the president’s proposed deficit reduction plan. September, 2011

“After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.”–Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., co-chairs of the debt “supercommittee,” a congressional group tasked with identifying $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. November, 2011

“The world is safer. It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden.”–President Barack Obama, hours after U.S. forces killed the al-Qaida leader in the middle-of-the-night raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. May, 2011

“All I will say is that for three years the president has been harvesting the successes of the very strategy that he consistently dismissed as a failure. I imagine that this irony was not lost on a few of our troops at Fort Bragg today, most of whom deployed and fought as part of the surge.”–Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., after President Obama marked the end of the Iraq War at Fort Bragg, N.C. December, 2011

“I’m not sure I want to put national, federal resources into trying to figure out who posted a picture on Weiner’s website, uh, whatever. I’m not really sure it rises, no pun intended, to that level.”–Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., as a media storm continued to swirl surrounding a lewd photo sent from his Twitter account to a female college student in Seattle. June, 2011

“There isn’t anything that I can imagine doing after this that would be as demanding, as challenging or rewarding.”–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after indicating she would step down in 2012. March, 2011

Full Text Debt Ceiling Showdown, July 22, 2011: President Obama Discusses Debt Crisis at University of Maryland Town Hall



President Obama on deficit reduction

Remarks by the President at University of Maryland Town Hall

Source: WH, 7-22-11

Ritchie Coliseum University of Maryland College Park, Maryland

11:04 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Maryland!  (Applause.)  Hello!  Nice to see you.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Everybody, please have a seat.  I see some smart folks up there wore shorts. (Laughter.)  My team said I should not wear shorts.  (Laughter.) My legs aren’t good enough to wear shorts.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  (Inaudible.)  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  I’ll tell Michelle you said so. (Laughter.)

It is wonderful to be back in Maryland.  (Applause.)  I hope everybody is keeping cool, staying hydrated.  It is great to be back here in College Park.

I have a few acknowledgments that I want to make, some special guests that we have.  First of all, one of the best governors in the country, Martin O’Malley is in the house.  (Applause.)  Where’s Martin?  He was here.  There he is over there.  (Applause.)  By the way, for those of you who have not heard him, outstanding singer and rock-and-roller.  So if you ever want to catch his band, it is top-notch.

Also, one of the best senators in the country, Ben Cardin is in the house.  (Applause.)  We’ve got College Park Mayor Andrew Fellows is here.  (Applause.)  Former congressman, Frank Kratovil, is here.  (Applause.) You wouldn’t know it looking at him, but Frank is an outstanding basketball player.  (Laughter.) The Terps might be able to use him even at this age.  (Laughter.)  He is a point guard, got all kinds of moves.  (Laughter.)

And I want to thank your still quasi-new president here at Maryland, Wallace Lob, for the outstanding work that he’s doing. (Applause.)

So this is a town hall.  I want to spend some time answering some of your questions, but just want to say a few things at the top.  First of all, I have to say it’s nice to get out of Washington.  (Laughter.)  Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting, hour after hour, day after day — (laughter) — debating the fine points of the federal budget with members of Congress.  (Laughter.)  But after a while you just start feeling a little cooped up.  So I’m happy to be spending my morning with you.

I’m going to spend most of my time answering your questions, but let me say a few words about the debate that’s taking place right now in Washington about debt and deficits.  Obviously, it’s dominating the news.  Even though it’s taking place in Washington, this is actually a debate about you and everybody else in America and the choices that we face.

And most people here, whether you’re still a student or you’re a graduate or you’re a parent, your number one concern is the economy.  That’s my number one concern.  It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning.  It’s the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night.  And I won’t be satisfied until every American who wants a job can find one, and until workers are getting paychecks that actually pay the bills, until families don’t have to choose between buying groceries and buying medicine, between sending their kids to college and being able to retire in some dignity and some respect.  (Applause.)

So we have gone through a very difficult two and a half years — the worst financial crisis and the worst recession we’ve seen since the Great Depression.  And although some progress has been made, there’s no doubt that this economy has not recovered as fast as it needs to.  And the truth is, it’s going to take more time because a lot of the problems that we’re facing right now — slow job growth, stagnant wages — those were there even before the recession hit.

For a decade, the average income, the average income of the American worker had flat-lined.  Those at the very top saw their incomes going up 50 percent, 100 percent.  But those in the middle, the vast majority of Americans, they had been struggling to keep up before the recession hit.

And so these challenges weren’t caused overnight; they’re not going to be solved overnight.  But as John F. Kennedy once said, “Our problems are manmade, therefore they can be solved by man.”

In the United States, we control our own destiny.  The question we have to answer, though, is:  Where do we want to go? What’s our vision for the future, and how do we get there?  Now, in the short term, I’ve been urging Congress to pass some proposals that would give the economy an immediate boost.  And these are proposals, by the way, that traditionally have had support in both parties.

I want to extend the tax relief that we put in place back in December for middle-class families, so that you have more money in your paychecks next year.  If you’ve got more money in your paychecks next year, you’re more likely to spend it, and that means small businesses and medium-sized businesses and large businesses will have more customers.  And they’ll be in a position to hire.

I want to give more opportunities to all those construction workers out there who lost their jobs when the housing bubble went bust.  We can put them to work, giving loans to private companies that want to repair our roads and our bridges and our airports — rebuilding our infrastructure, putting Americans to work doing the work that needs to be done.  We have workers in need of a job and a country that’s in need of rebuilding, and if we put those two things together we can make real progress.

I want to cut red tape that stops too many inventors and entrepreneurs from turning new ideas into thriving businesses.  I want Congress to send me a set of trade deals that would allow our businesses to sell more products in countries in Asia and South America that are stamped with the words, “Made in America.”
So these are some things that we could be doing right now.  There are proposals in Congress, as we speak, and Congress needs to act now.  But I also believe that over the long term, the strength of our economy is going to depend on how we deal with the accumulated debt and deficits that have built up over the last decade.  And that’s what the discussion in Washington is about right now.

Now, I know it’s hard to keep up with the different plans and the press conferences and the back-and-forth between the parties, but here’s what it all boils down to — it’s not that complicated.  For a decade, we have been spending more money than we take in.  Last time the budget was balanced was under a Democratic President, Bill Clinton.  (Applause.)  And a series of decisions were made — whether it was cutting taxes, or engaging in two wars, or a prescription drug benefit for seniors — that weren’t paid for, and then a financial crisis on top of that, Recovery Act to try to pull us out of a Great Depression — all those things contributed to this accumulated debt.

And regardless of what you feel about the particular policies — some of you may have supported the wars or opposed the wars; some of you may have agreed with the Recovery Act; some of you may be opposed — regardless of your views on these various actions that were taken, the fact is they all cost money. And the result is that there’s simply too much debt on America’s credit card.

Neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this problem, but both parties have a responsibility to solve it. (Applause.)  If we don’t solve it, every American will suffer.  Businesses will be less likely to invest and hire in America.  Interest rates will rise for people who need money to buy a home or a car, or go to college.  We won’t have enough money to invest in things like education and clean energy, or protect important programs like Medicare, because we’ll be paying more and more interest on this national debt and that money just flows overseas instead of being spent here on the things that we need.

Now, the one thing we can’t do — cannot do — is decide that we are not going to pay the bills the previous congresses have already racked up.  So that’s what this whole issue of raising the debt ceiling is all about.  Basically, there’s some people out there who argue we’re not going to raise the debt ceiling any more.  And the problem is, effectively what that’s saying is we’re not going to pay some of our bills.  Well, the United States of America does not run out without paying the tab. We pay our bills.  (Applause.)  We meet our obligations.  (Applause.)  We have never defaulted on our debt.  We’re not going to do it now.

But even if we raise the debt ceiling, this debate shouldn’t just be about avoiding some kind of crisis, particularly a crisis manufactured in Washington.  This is a rare opportunity for both parties to come together and choose a path where we stop putting so much debt on our credit card.  We start paying it down a little bit.  And that’s what we’ve been trying to do.

So, for my part, I’ve already said that I’m willing to cut a historic amount of government spending in order to reduce the deficit.  I’m willing to cut spending on domestic programs, taking them to the lowest level since Dwight Eisenhower.  I’m willing to cut defense spending at the Pentagon by hundreds of billions of dollars.  (Applause.)  I’m willing to take on the rising costs of health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, so that these programs will be there for the next generation, for folks — for a population generally that’s getting older and living longer.  We’ve got to make sure that these programs, which are the crown jewels of our social safety net, that — sort of mixed metaphors there — (laughter) — that those are there for the future.

And some of these cuts would just eliminate wasteful spending — weapons we don’t need, fraud and abuse in our health care system.  But I want to be honest.  I’ve agreed to also target some programs that I actually think are worthwhile.  They’re cuts that some people in my own party aren’t too happy about.  And, frankly, I wouldn’t make them if money wasn’t so tight.  But it’s just like a family.  If you’ve got to tighten your belts, you make some choices.

Now, here’s the thing, though — and this is what the argument is about — we can’t just close our deficit with spending cuts alone, because if we take that route it means that seniors would have to pay a lot more for Medicare, or students would have to pay a lot more for student loans.  It means that laid-off workers might not be able to count on temporary assistance or training to help them get a new job.  It means we’d have to make devastating cuts in education and medical research and clean energy research — just at a time when gas prices are killing people at the pump.

So if we only did it with cuts, if we did not get any revenue to help close this gap between how much money is coming in and how much money is going out, then a lot of ordinary people would be hurt and the country as a whole would be hurt.  And that doesn’t make any sense.  It’s not fair.

And it’s why I’ve said if we’re going to reduce our deficit, then the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations should do their part as well.  (Applause.)  Before we stop funding clean energy research, let’s ask oil companies and corporate jet owners to give up the tax breaks that other companies don’t get.  I mean, these are special tax breaks.  (Applause.)  Before we ask college students to pay more for their education, let’s ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes that are lower on their rates than their secretaries.  (Applause.)  Before we ask seniors to pay more for Medicare, let’s ask people like me to give up tax breaks that we don’t need and we weren’t even asking for.  (Applause.)

Look, I want everybody in America to do well.  I want everybody to have a chance to become a millionaire.  I think the free market system is the greatest wealth generator we’ve ever known.  This isn’t about punishing wealth.  This is about asking people who have benefited most over the last decade to share in the sacrifice.  (Applause.)  I think these patriotic Americans are willing to pitch in — if they’re asked — because they know that middle-class families shouldn’t have to pick up the whole tab for closing the deficit.

So this idea of balance, this idea of shared sacrifice, of a deficit plan that includes tough spending cuts but also includes tax reform that raises more revenue — this isn’t just my position.  This isn’t just the Democratic position.  This isn’t some wild-eyed socialist position.  (Laughter.)  This is a position that’s being taken by people of both parties and no party.  It’s a position taken by Warren Buffet — somebody who knows about business and knows a little something about being wealthy.  (Laughter.)  It’s a position that’s been taken by every Democratic and Republican President who’ve signed major deficit deals in the past, from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton.  And I was pleased to see this week that it’s a position taken by Democrats and Republicans in the Senate.

So we can pass a balanced plan like this.  It’s not going to make everybody happy.  In fact, it will make everybody somewhat unhappy.  The easiest thing for a politician to do is to give you more stuff and ask less in return.  It’s a lot harder to say, we got to cut back on what you’re getting and you got to pay a little more.  That’s never fun.  But we can do it in a balanced way that doesn’t hurt anybody badly, that doesn’t put the burden just on one group.

So we can solve our deficit problem.  And I’m willing to sign a plan that includes tough choices I would not normally make, and there are a lot of Democrats and Republicans in Congress who I believe are willing to do the same thing.  The only people we have left to convince are some folks in the House of Representatives.  We’re going to keep working on that.  (Laughter.)  Because I still believe we can do what you sent us here to do.

In 2010, Americans chose a divided government, but they didn’t choose a dysfunctional government.  (Applause.)  So there will be time for political campaigning, but right now this debate shouldn’t be about putting on — scoring political points.  It should be about doing what’s right for the country, for everybody.  You expect us to work together.  You expect us to compromise.  You’ve all been working hard.  You’ve been doing whatever you have to do in order to get by and raise your families.  You’re meeting your responsibilities.  So it’s time for those of us in Washington to do the same thing.  And I intend to make that happen in the coming days.  (Applause.)

So thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Let me take some  questions.

All right, so the way this works is you put up your hand and I call on you.  (Laughter.)  But I am going to go girl-boy-girl-boy to make sure that it’s even and fair.  All right?  So I’m going to start with you right there.

Yes.  Hold on, we got a mic here.  And introduce yourself if you don’t mind.

Q    Hello, Mr. President.


Q    My name is Amanda — and I’m a big fan.  I’m from Iowa, originally.


Q    Yes.  (Laughter.)  I’m an atheist.  And in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2008, you asserted that no organization receiving taxpayer funds would be able to discriminate in hiring or firing based on a person’s religion.  However, you have not rescinded the executive order that permits this type of discrimination.  In a time of economic hardship, when it is difficult for a person to get a job based on her skills, what would you say to a woman who has been denied employment because of her religion or lack of religious beliefs by a taxpayer-funded organization?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, this is a very difficult issue, but a more narrow one than I think might be implied.  It’s very straightforward that people shouldn’t be discriminated against for race, gender, sexual orientation, and — or religious affiliation.

What has happened is, is that there has been a carve-out, dating back to President Clinton’s presidency, for religious organizations in their hiring for particular purposes.  And this is always a tricky part of the First Amendment.  On the one hand, the First Amendment ensures that there’s freedom of religion.  On the other hand, we want to make sure that religious bodies are abiding by general laws.

And so where this issue has come up is in fairly narrow circumstances where, for example, you’ve got a faith-based organization that’s providing certain services; they consider part of their mission to be promoting their religious views, but they may have a daycare center associated with the organization, or they may be running a food pantry, and so then the question is, does a Jewish organization have to hire a non-Jewish person as part of that organization?

Now, I think that the balance we’ve tried to strike is to say that if you are offering — if you have set up a nonprofit that is disassociated from your core religious functions and is out there in the public doing all kinds of work, then you have to abide generally with the non-discrimination hiring practices.  If, on the other hand, it is closer to your core functions as a synagogue or a mosque or a church, then there may be more leeway for you to hire somebody who is a believer of that particular religious faith.

It doesn’t satisfy everybody.  I will tell you that a lot of faith-based organizations think that we are too restrictive in how we define those issues.  There are others like you, obviously, who think that we’re not restrictive enough.  I think we’ve struck the right balance so far.  But this is something that we continue to be in dialogue with faith-based organizations about to try to make sure that their hiring practices are as open and as inclusive as possible.

Okay?  Thank you.

Yes, sir.  Back here.  Hold on a second, we got a mic.

Q    Yes.  Most of the American people are on your side about a balanced approach —


Q    What we also know is most of the budget cuts are going to be in the out-years.  So the question is why push so hard for a big settlement now, when if you push hard and let the American people vote in 2012 and get rid of these hooligans in the House, we might actually have a reasonable settlement — (applause) — maybe more like a one-to-one relationship instead of three to one or worse?

THE PRESIDENT:  The challenge I have in these negotiations is, whether I like it or not, I’ve got to get the debt ceiling limit raised.

Q    — the 14th Amendment?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’ll answer that question later.  But I just want to make sure that everybody understands defaulting is not an option.

There are some on either side that have suggested that somehow we could manage our way through.  But I just want everybody to be clear, the United States government sends out about 70 million checks every month.  We have to refinance bonds that we’ve issued, essentially IOUs to investors.  We do that every week.  If suddenly investors — and by the way, a lot of those investors are Americans who have Treasury bills, pension funds, et cetera — if suddenly they started thinking that we might not pay them back on time, at the very least, at the bare minimum, they would charge a much higher interest rate to allow the United States to borrow money.

And if interest rate costs go up for the United States, they’re probably going to go up for everybody.  So it would be a indirect tax on every single one of you.  Your credit card interest rates would go up.  Your mortgage interest would go up. Your student loan interest would potentially go up.  And, ironically, the costs of servicing our deficit would go up, which means it would actually potentially be worse for our deficit if we had default.  It could also plunge us back into the kind of recession that we had back in 2008 and ’09.  So it is not an option for us to default.

My challenge, then, is I’ve got to get something passed.  I’ve got to get 218 votes in the House of Representatives.

Now, the gentleman asked about the 14th Amendment.  There is — there’s a provision in our Constitution that speaks to making sure that the United States meets its obligations.  And there have been some suggestions that a President could use that language to basically ignore this debt ceiling rule, which is a statutory rule.  It’s not a constitutional rule.  I have talked to my lawyers.  They do not — they are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.  So the challenge for me is to make sure that we do not default, but to do so in a way that is as balanced as possible and gets us at least a down payment on solving this problem.

Now, we’re not going to solve the entire debt and deficit in the next 10 days.  So there’s still going to be more work to do after this.  And what we’re doing is to try to make sure that any deal that we strike protects our core commitments to Medicare and Medicaid recipients, to senior citizens, to veterans.  We want to make sure that student loans remain affordable.  We want to make sure that poor kids can still get a checkup, that food stamps are still available for folks who are desperately in need.  We want to make sure that unemployment insurance continues for those who are out there looking for work.

So there are going to be a certain set of equities that we’re not willing to sacrifice.  And I’ve said we have to have revenue as part of the package.

But I’m sympathetic to your view that this would be easier if I could do this entirely on my own.  (Laughter.)  It would mean all these conversations I’ve had over the last three weeks I could have been spending time with Malia and Sasha instead.  But that’s not how our democracy works.  And as I said, Americans made a decision about divided government.  I’m going to be making the case as to why I think we’ve got a better vision for the country.  In the meantime, we’ve got a responsibility to do our job.

But it was an excellent question.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

All right.  Young lady right here, right in the front.  Hold on, let’s get you a mic so we can hear you.  Stand up.  What’s your name?

Q    My name is Kasa (phonetic.)  I have two questions.  One is, is there anything — like, obviously you’ve had a successful presidency, but is there anything —

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, there’s not obvious to everyone.  (Laughter and applause.)  But I appreciate you thinking it’s obvious.

Q    I think it’s successful, that’s all that matters.  But is there anything you regret or would have done differently?  And my second question is, can I shake your hand?  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, I’ll come and shake your hand, I promise.  I will.  (Laughter.)  Do I have any major regrets?  You know, when I think — and I think about this all the time.  I mean, I’m constantly re-running in my head did we make the right move here, could we have done more there.  I think, overall, in an extremely difficult situation, we’ve made good choices; we’ve made good decisions.  (Applause.)

But we’ve been constrained, even when we had a Democratic Congress, because the way the Senate works these days is you’ve got to get essentially 60 votes in order to get anything through the Senate.  Frank remembers this because we got a lot of good stuff out of the House that never survived in the Senate.  So because of what’s — the rules of the filibuster in the Senate, it meant that, on economic policy, I might have done some things more aggressively if I could have convinced more Republicans in the Senate to go along.

I do think that in the first year, right after we found out that 4 million people had lost their jobs before I was sworn in, I think that I could have told the American people more clearly how tough this was going to be, how deep and long-lasting this recession was going to be.

That’s always a balance for a President.  On the one hand, you want to project confidence and optimism.  And remember, in that first year, people weren’t sure whether the banking system was going to melt down, and whether we were going to go into a Great Depression.  And so it was important for me to let the American people know we’re going to be all right; we’re going to be able to get through this.

On the other hand, I think maybe people’s expectations were that somehow we were going to be able to solve this in a year.  And we knew pretty soon after I took office that this was going to last for a while — because, historically, when you have recessions that arise out of financial crises, they last a lot longer than the usual business cycle recessions.

Beyond that, I also think that over the first two years I was so focused on policy and getting the policy right, that sometimes I forgot part of my job is explaining to the American people why we’re doing this policy and where we’re going.  And so I think a lot of people started trying to figure out, well, how do all these pieces fit together.  The auto industry has been saved, and that was a good thing.  Well, that saved a million jobs, but people weren’t sure how did that relate to our housing strategy, or how did that relate to health care.  And so I think that was something that I could have done better.

That’s just two items on what I’m sure are a very long list — (laughter) — of things that I could do better.  But having said that, the basic thrust of my first two-and-a-half years have been entirely consistent with what I said I was going to do during the campaign — because what I promised was that not only were we going to deal with the immediate crisis, I said we are going to start laying the foundation for us to solve some of these long-term problems.

So when we changed, for example, the student loan program to take billions of dollars that were going to the banks, as middlemen in the student loan program, and redirected them so that students — millions more students would benefit from things like Pell grants, that was in pursuit of this larger goal that we have to once again be the nation that has the highest percentage of college graduates and that we have the best-skilled workforce, because that’s what it’s going to take to win the future.

When we initiated health care reform, it was based on a long-term assessment that if we don’t get control of our health care costs and stop sending people to the emergency room for very expensive care, but instead make sure they’ve got adequate coverage so that they are getting regular checkups and they are avoiding preventable diseases like diabetes — that unless we do that, we’re going to go broke just on health care spending.

When we made the biggest investment in clean energy in our history over the last two-and-a-half years, it’s because of my belief that we have to free ourselves from the lock-grip that oil has on our economic well-being and our security.

And so I’m going to keep on pushing for those things that position us to be the most competitive, the most productive nation on Earth in the 21st century.  And I think on that front we have been very successful.  (Applause.)

All right.  Let me see.  This gentleman right here in the blue shirt.

Q    Mr. President, good to meet you.  My name is Steve.  I’m a doctoral student here.

THE PRESIDENT:  What are you studying?

Q    Political rhetoric.

THE PRESIDENT:  Uh-oh.  (Laughter.)  How am I doing so far?
Q    Pretty good.  Pretty good.

THE PRESIDENT:  I feel like I’m getting graded up there.  (Laughter.)  Go ahead.

Q    All right.  Much sacrifice is being asked of our generation.  So when are our economic perspectives going to be addressed?  For example, when is the war on drugs and society going to be abandoned and replaced by a more sophisticated and cost-effective program of rehabilitation such as the one in Portugal?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I have stated repeatedly, and it’s actually reflected in our most recent statement by our Office of Drug Policy, that we need to have an approach that emphasizes prevention, treatment, a public health model for reducing drug use in our country.  We’ve got to put more resources into that.  We can’t simply focus on interdiction because, frankly, no matter how good of a job we’re doing, when it comes to an interdiction approach, if there is high demand in this country for drugs, we are going to continue to see not only drug use but also the violence associated with the drug trade.

This has obviously become extremely severe for Mexico, and we are working now with the Mexican government, in part to help them deal with these transnational drug dealers, but one of the things that I’ve said to President Calderón is we understand that we have an obligation here in this country to reduce demand and the only way that you reduce demand is through treatment and prevention.

And there are a lot of communities around the country where if you are — if you have a serious drug problem and you decide, I’m going to kick the habit, and you seek out treatment — assuming you’re not wealthy, because it may not be covered even if you have health insurance — but particularly if you’re poor, you may have a 90-day wait before you can even get into a program.  Well, obviously if you’re trying to kick a habit, waiting 90 days to get help is a problem.

So I agree with you that we have to make sure that our balance in our approach is also focused on treatment, prevention. And part of our challenge is also getting into schools early and making sure that young people recognize the perils of drug use.

Now, am I — just to make sure that I’m actually answering your question, am I willing to pursue a decriminalization strategy as an approach?  No.  But I am willing to make sure that we’re putting more resources on the treatment and prevention side.  (Applause.)

Okay?  All right — right here, right in the front.

Q    Hi.  My name is Mary Wagner.  I teach government at Blake High School in Montgomery County.


Q    And one of the things that we teach our students when we’re teaching them about this governmental system that we have is how important it is in a two-party system to compromise.  And my students watched the Republican leadership after the last election saying things out loud like, we’re not going to compromise with the Democrats.  And does that mean — are things changing?  Do we not use compromise anymore?  And what should I teach my students about how our government works if people are saying out loud, we’re not going to compromise with the other party?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I think you should keep on teaching your students to compromise, because that’s not just how government works; that’s how life works.  How many people here are married? (Laughter.)  For those of you who are not but intend to get married, let me just tell you — (laughter) — you better get used to compromise.

All of us have particular views, a particular vision, in terms of where we think things should go.  But we live in societies, we live in communities.  And that means we never get our way a hundred percent of the time.  That’s what we teach our kids.  That’s what we teach our students.  That’s how government has to work.

And there’s this notion — I was actually reading an article on the way over here, and the basic notion was that, well, Obama is responsible, but he doesn’t fight enough for how he believes, and the Republicans are irresponsible but all full of conviction. So this was sort of the way the article was posed.  And this notion that somehow if you’re responsible and you compromise, that somehow you’re giving up your convictions — that’s absolutely not true.  (Applause.)

I think it’s fair to say that Abraham Lincoln had convictions.  But he constantly was making concessions and compromises.  I’ve got the Emancipation Proclamation hanging up in the Oval Office, and if you read that document — for those of you who have not read it — it doesn’t emancipate everybody.  It actually declares the slaves who are in areas that have rebelled against the Union are free but it carves out various provinces, various parts of various states, that are still in the Union, you can keep your slaves.

Now, think about that.  That’s — “the great emancipator” was making a compromise in the Emancipation Proclamation because he thought it was necessary in terms of advancing the goals of preserving the Union and winning the war.  And then, ultimately, after the war was completed, you then had the 13th and 14th and 15th amendments.

So, you know what, if Abraham Lincoln could make some compromises as part of governance, then surely we can make some compromises when it comes to handling our budget.  (Applause.)

But you’re absolutely right that the culture is now pushing against compromise, and here are a couple of reasons.  I mean, one reason is the nature of congressional districts.  They’ve gotten drawn in such a way where some of these districts are so solidly Republican or so solidly Democrat, that a lot of Republicans in the House of Representatives, they’re not worried about losing to a Democrat, they’re worried about somebody on the right running against them because they compromise.  So even if their instinct is to compromise, their instinct of self-preservation is stronger, and they say to themselves, I don’t want a primary challenge.  So that leads them to dig in.

You’ve got a media that has become much more splintered.  So those of you who are of a Democratic persuasion are only reading The New York Times and watching MSNBC — (laughter) — and if you are on the right, then you’re only reading the Wall Street Journal editorial page and watching FOX News.  (Laughter.)  And if that’s where you get your information, just from one side, if you never even have to hear another argument, then over time you start getting more dug in into your positions.

They’ve actually done studies — this is interesting — that if you put people in a room who agree with each other basically  — if you just put a group of very liberal folks together and they’re only talking to each other for long periods of time, then they start becoming — they kind of gin each other up and they become more and more and more liberal.  And the same thing happens on the conservative side; they become more and more and more conservative.  And pretty soon you’ve got what you have now, which is everybody is demonizing the other side; everybody considers the other side completely extremist, completely unscrupulous, completely untrustworthy.  Well, in that kind of atmosphere it’s pretty hard to compromise.

So we have to wind back from that kind of political culture. But the only way we do it is if the American people insist on a different approach and say to their elected officials, we expect you to act reasonably, and we don’t expect you to get your way a hundred percent of the time, and we expect you to have strong convictions, but we also expect you to manage the business of the people.  And if you’re sending that message, eventually Congress will get it.  But it may take some time.  You’ve got to stay on them.

All right?  Gentleman back there, right there.  You got a microphone.  Oh, I’m sorry, I was pointing to this gentleman right there.  Yes.

Q    Mr. President, good morning to you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.

Q    I have cerebral palsy, as does my brother.  And I come to you to implore you to do as much as you can to protect services and supports for people with disabilities in your negotiations with Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor.  I know that’s hard because Mr. McConnell has said he wants to make you a one-term President.  But the issue is we need the vital therapies that Medicaid provides.  We need a generous IDEA budget so people like me with severe disabilities can graduate from high school with a diploma and go to college.  So please don’t leave us holding the bag.  I know that a lot of people at Easter Seals are very worried, but given your experience with your father-in-law, I know you’ll do the right thing, sir.  It’s an honor to speak with you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thanks.  Thank you.  Thank you. That’s a wonderful comment.  And the reference to my father-in-law, he actually had muscular dystrophy but ended up being pretty severely handicapped by the time he was 30, 35, but still went to work every single day, never missed a day of work, never missed a ballgame of Michelle’s brother, never missed a dance recital of Michelle’s, raised an incredible family, took care of all his responsibilities, didn’t leave a lot of debt to his kids.  An extraordinary man.

And you’re exactly right that the enormous potential that so many people have, if they just get a little bit of help, that has to be factored in when we’re making decisions about our budget, because if we’re not providing services to persons with disabilities and they are not able to fulfill their potential — graduate from high school, go to college, get a job — then they will be more reliant on government over the long term because they’ll be less self-sufficient.  That doesn’t make any sense.

So we’ve always got to factor in, are we being penny wise and pound foolish?  If we cut services for young people — let’s say a lot of states are having to make some tough budget decisions — I know Martin has had to make some tough ones here. But I know one of the things that Martin has tried to do is to preserve as much as possible Maryland’s commitment to education, because he knows, look, I may save some money — (applause) — he knows, short term I may save some money if I lay off a whole bunch of teachers and classroom sizes get larger and we’re giving less supplemental help to kids in need.  But over the long term, it’s more likely, then, that those kids end up dropping out of school, not working, not paying taxes, not starting businesses, maybe going to prison.  And that’s going to be a huge drag on the state’s capacity to grow and prosper.

So we’ve always go to think about how do we trim back on what we need now, but keep our eyes on what are our investments in the future.  And this is what you do in your own family.  Think about it.  Let’s say that something happens, somebody in your family loses a job; you’ve got less income coming in.  You’re probably going to cut back on eating out.  You’re probably going to cut back on the kind of vacations you take, if any.  But you’re not going to cut out the college fund for your kid.  You’re not going to cut out fixing the roof if it’s leaking, because you know that if I don’t fix the roof, I’m going to get water damage in my house and that’s going to cost me more money.
Well, the same thing is true here in America when it comes to infrastructure, for example.  We’ve got all these broken down roads and bridges, and our ports and airports are in terrible shape.

I was talking to the CEO of Southwest Airlines and we’ve been doing a lot of work on the need for a next-generation air control system.  And he said to me — think about this — that if we fixed, updated an air control system that was basically put in place back in the ‘30s, if we upgraded that to use GPS and all the new technologies, the average airline would save 15 percent in fuel — 15 percent — which some of that you’d get in terms of lower airfare.  That’s 15 percent less carbon going into the atmosphere, for those of you who are concerned about climate change.  So why wouldn’t we do that?  Now, it cost some money to do it initially, but if we make the investment it will pay off.

All right, how much time do I have, Reggie?  I got time for one more question?  Okay.  Well, this one — all right, well, she is standing and waving.  (Laughter.)

Q    Hi, my name is Darla Bunting.  I’m a third grade literacy teacher in Southeast D.C.  (Applause.)  And I view gentrification as a Catch 22, because, on one hand, you’re bringing major businesses to underdeveloped areas in different cities, but on the other hand, the very people who live in the neighborhoods, it kind of seems as though they’re not reaping the benefits.  And I wanted to know how can we create sustainable neighborhoods that allow people who are still trying to achieve the American Dream to be able to afford and live in these brand new neighborhoods and communities?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I have to say that gentrification has been a problem in some communities.  But right now, frankly, that would probably be a problem that a lot of communities would welcome if there was a lot of investment going on.  We’re probably seeing in a lot of cities around the country the reverse problem, which is no investment, people not building new homes, young people not moving back into some of these communities and it’s emptying out.  So as problems go for cities, this is probably not a bad problem to have because it means the city is growing and attracting new businesses and new energy.

I think that this is typically an issue for local communities to make determinations about how do you get the right balance.  If, in fact, certain areas of a city are growing, how do you make sure that it still has housing for longtime residents who may not be able to afford huge appreciation in property values?  How do you make sure that the businesses that have been there before are still able to prosper as an economy changes?

What we have done is try to refocus how the federal government assists cities.  The federal government provides help to cities through the Department of Transportation, though the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Obviously, Health and Human Services does a lot of stuff to manage services for low-income persons.  But sometimes the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  Sometimes there’s not enough coordination between various federal agencies when they go into a particular community.

So one of the things that we’ve been trying as part of a new approach to urban revitalization is sending one federal team to a particular city to gather all the federal agencies together and say, what’s working with the city; what’s the plan for this city, and how do we get all these pieces to fit together?  And so in a situation like you described, we might say how do we continue to foster growth but can we help some of those small businesses who feel like they’re getting pushed out so that they can stay and they can upgrade, and they can take advantage of these new opportunities.  And so far, we’re seeing some success in this new approach.

But, as I said, for a lot of cities right now, the big problem is not gentrification.  The big problem is property values have plummeted — you got a bunch of boarded-up buildings, a bunch of boarded-up stores.  And the question is how do you get economic activity going back in those communities again.

Even though I — Reggie said one more question, I’m actually going to call on Tom McMillen, just because he’s a friend of mine and he had his hand up earlier.  (Applause.)  And he was a pretty good ballplayer.  I mean, I’m not sure he was as good as Frank, but I hear he was pretty good.  (Laughter.)

Q    Well, thank you, Mr. President, for coming out to the University of Maryland.  You have an open invitation to Comcast Arena.  And Frank and I and a couple of us will be glad to set up a pick-up game if you want to —

THE PRESIDENT:  There you go.  (Laughter.)  There you go.

Q    But my serious question is the following:  You know, we’re focused so much on this debt right now and the debt limit, but this country could be sliding into another slowdown.  And how do we avoid what happened to President Roosevelt in the ’30s? Because we ought to be focusing on getting this economy going again.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Good.  For those of you who’ve studied economic history and the history of the Great Depression, what Tom is referring to is, Roosevelt comes in — FDR comes in, he tries all these things with the New Deal; but FDR, contrary to myth, was pretty fiscally conservative.  And so after the initial efforts of the New Deal and it looked like the economy was growing again, FDR then presented a very severe austerity budget. And suddenly, in 1937, the economy started going down again.  And, ultimately, what really pulled America out of the Great Depression was World War II.

And so some have said, I think rightly, that we’ve got to be careful that any efforts we have to reduce the deficit don’t hamper economic recovery, because the worst thing we can do for the deficit is continue to have really bad growth or another recession.

So what I’ve tried to emphasize in this balanced package that we’ve talked about is how do we make a serious down payment and commitment to deficit reduction but, as much as possible, focus on those structural long-term costs that gradually start coming down, as opposed to trying to lop off everything in the first year or two, and how do we make sure that as part of this package we include some things that would be good for economic growth right now.

So back in December we passed a payroll tax cut that has saved the typical family $1,000 this year.  That’s set to expire at the end of this year.  And what I’ve said is as part of this package we should renew that payroll tax cut so that consumers still have more in their pockets next year until the economy gets a little bit stronger.

I’ve said that we have to renew unemployment insurance for another year because obviously the economy is still not generating enough jobs and there are a lot of folks out there who are hugely reliant on this.  But it’s also unemployment insurance is probably the money that is most likely to be spent.  By definition, people need it, and so it re-circulates in the economy and it has an effect of boosting aggregate demand and helping the economy grow.

So as much as possible, what I’m trying to do is to make sure that we have elements in this package that focus on growth now.  And then I think it’s going to be important for us to, as soon as we get this debt limit done, to focus on some of the things that I mentioned at the top:  patent reform, getting these trade deals done, doing an infrastructure bank that would help to finance the rebuilding of America and putting a lot of workers who’ve been laid off back to work.  We don’t have time to wait when it comes to putting folks back to work.

Now, what you’ll hear from the other side is the most important thing for putting people back to work is simply cutting taxes or keeping taxes low.  And I have to remember — I have to remind them that we actually have sort of a comparison.  We have Bill Clinton, who created 22 million jobs during the eight years of his presidency, in which the tax rates were significantly higher than they are now and would be higher even if, for example, the tax breaks for the high-income Americans that I’ve called for taking back, even if those got taken back taxes would still be lower now than they were under Bill Clinton, but the economy did great; generated huge amounts of jobs.  And then we had the eight years before I was elected, in which taxes were very low, but there was tepid job growth.

Now, I’m not saying there’s an automatic correlation.  But what I am saying is that this theory that the only thing — the only answer to every economic problem we have, the only answer for job creation is to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and for corporations is not borne out by the evidence.  (Applause.)  And we should be a little more creative in how we think about it. (Applause.)

The last thing I’ll say, because we’ve got a lot of young people here, I know that sometimes things feel discouraging.  We’ve gone through two wars.  We’ve gone through the worst financial crisis in any of our memories.  We’ve got challenges environmentally.  We’ve got conflicts around the world that seem intractable.  We’ve got politicians who only seem to argue.  And so I know that there must be times where you kind of say to yourself, golly, can’t anybody get their act together around here?  And what’s the world that I’m starting off in, and how do I get my career on a sound foundation?  And you got debts you’ve got to worry about.

I just want all of you to remember, America has gone through tougher times before, and we have always come through.  We’ve always emerged on the other side stronger, more unified.  The trajectory of America has been to become more inclusive, more generous, more tolerant.

And so I want all of you to recognize that when I look out at each and every one of you, this diverse crowd that we have, you give me incredible hope.  You inspire me.  I am absolutely convinced that your generation will help us solve these problems. (Applause.)  And I don’t want you to ever get discouraged because we’re going to get through these tough times just like we have before, and America is going to be stronger, and it’s going to be more prosperous, and it’s going to be more unified than ever before, thanks to you.  (Applause.)

God bless you all.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

END 12:07 P.M. EDT

Political Buzz Debt Ceiling Showdown, July 21, 2011: President Obama & Speaker John Boehner Near $3 Trillion Debt Deal?


By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.


House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


President Obama USA Today Exclusive Op-ed: Go ‘big’ on debt deal: For years now, America has been spending more money than we take in. The result is that we have too much debt on our nation’s credit card — debt that will ultimately weaken our economy, lead to higher interest rates for all Americans, and leave us unable to invest in things like education, or protect vital programs like Medicare.
Neither party is blameless for the decisions that led to this debt, but both parties have a responsibility to come together and solve the problem. That’s what the American people expect of us. Every day, families are figuring out how to stretch their paychecks a little further, sacrifice what they can’t afford, and budget only for what’s truly important. It’s time for Washington to do the same…. – USA Today, 7-21-11

“In order for us to solve the debt and deficit problems, we’ve got to cut spending that we don’t need. We have to eliminate programs that may not be working. We’ve got to make some tough decisions around things like defense spending as well as domestic spending.
But we’re also going to have to have more revenues and we can do that in a way that is not hurting the economy — [and] in fact could potentially help the economy by closing up some loopholes that distort the economy.” — President Obama NPR’s Tell Me More

“There is no deal. We are not close to a deal.” — Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary

“While we are keeping the lines of communication open, there is no ‘deal’ and no progress to report.” — Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner

“Frankly, I think it would be irresponsible on behalf of the Congress and the president not to be looking at backup strategies for how to solve this problem. At the end of the day, we have a responsibility to act.” — Speaker John Boehner R-Ohio

“I only know what you know about the agreement — the potential agreement. What I have to say is this: The president always talked about balance. That there had to be some fairness in this. That this can’t be all cuts. There has to be a balance. There has to be some revenue.” — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

“In case Senator Reid didn’t notice, a bipartisan ‘Gang of 234’ just sent him the way forward. It’s called the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act. This is the only plan that can fundamentally solve our debt problem, and it is waiting for Senator Reid to bring up on the Senate floor for an up-or-down vote. The House made its position in the debt debate crystal clear. It’s Cut, Cap, and Balance. — Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Chairman of the House Republican Study Committee

Obama and Boehner Close to Major Budget Deal, Officials Say: The Obama administration has informed Democratic Congressional leaders that President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner were starting to close in on a major budget deal that would enact substantial spending cuts and seek future revenues through a tax overhaul, Congressional officials said Thursday.
With the government staring at a potential default in less than two weeks, the officials said the administration on Wednesday night notified top members of Congress that a bargain with Mr. Boehner could be imminent. The Congressional leaders, whose help Mr. Obama would need to bring a compromise forward, were told that the new revenue tied to the looming agreement to increase the debt limit by Aug. 2 would be produced in 2012 through a tax code rewrite that would lower individual and corporate rates, close loopholes, end tax breaks and make other adjustments to produce revenue gains.

  • Latest developments in debt ceiling standoff: Congress has until Aug. 2 to raise the federal borrowing limit or the government will run out of money and possibly default on its debt. House Republicans say they won’t raise the debt limit without equal spending cuts. President Barack Obama and Democrats insist that higher revenues must be included.
    Thursday’s developments: House Speaker John Boehner predicted a majority of House Republicans will end up supporting some kind of compromise to avoid a government default. Democrats insisted higher tax revenue be part of a deal. And both sides disputed reports that Obama and Boehner were near an agreement on a grand bargain. Hopes for a compromise ran into renewed resistance from Republicans opposed to higher taxes and Democrats hesitant to cut Medicare and other benefit programs. A new backup plan that would cut spending by $1 trillion or slightly more immediately and raise the debt limit by a similar amount appeared to be gaining momentum…. – AP, 7-21-11
  • Administration, GOP downplay reports of deal: With time running short to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit, President Obama and congressional leaders worked through another tumultuous day of negotiations Thursday with little public progress for weeks of work to reach a compromise that would let the government to keep borrowing money while cutting spending and, perhaps, increasing taxes.
    Democratic sources close to the negotiations said the potential agreements discussed by the White House and Republicans include up to $3 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years and a tax code rewrite by the end of 2012 that would bring in up to $1 trillion, also over the course of a decade. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
    However, administration officials and congressional Republicans spent much of the day downplaying such reports.
    “There is no progress to report,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters just 12 days before the Aug. 2 deadline set by the Treasury Department to raise the debt limit or face a first-ever government default on its loans — and, economists and Obama have warned, economic catastrophe…. – USA Today, 7-21-11
  • Poll: Sharp Partisan Divide Over Debt Ceiling Deal: With the deadline to broker a debt ceiling deal fast approaching, Americans are craving a solution but remain strongly divided along party lines over how to achieve it, according to a CNN/ORC poll released today.
    The poll finds 64% of Americans want a package that includes both spending cuts and tax increases, although the partisan divide is clear: 83% of Democrats and nearly two-thirds of independents support this combined approach, while only 37% of Republicans say they agree. A majority of Republicans and self-described tea party supporters support a plan that only includes spending cuts…. – NY Daily News, 7-21-11
  • Obama, Boehner — Deal? No deal?: There’s a report that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are “close” to a debt deal, but the principals deny it.
    After The New York Times posted a headline that said “Obama and Boehner Close to Major Budget Deal, Congressional Leaders Are Told,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, tweeted: “False.”
    At the White House, Obama spokesman Jay Carney said bulletins are “incorrect — there is no deal, we are not close to a deal.”
    Carney said there are no meetings scheduled between Obama and any other congressional leaders, but that could change. “As you know,”‘ Carney said, “this is a fluid situation.”
    The Times reported that “the Obama administration has informed Democratic Congressional leaders that President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner were starting to close in on a major budget deal that would enact substantial spending cuts and seek future revenues through a tax overhaul, Congressional officials said Thursday.”
    White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted: “Anyone reporting a $3 trillion deal without revenues is incorrect. POTUS believes we need a balanced approach that includes revenues.”
    In his tweet, Boehner urged the Senate to sign off on the House Republican plan known as “cut, cap and balance.”… – USA Today, 7-21-11
  • Boehner and Obama Nearing Budget Deal, Leaders Told: The Obama administration has informed Democratic Congressional leaders that President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner were starting to close in on a major budget deal that would enact substantial spending cuts and seek future revenues through a tax overhaul, Congressional officials said Thursday.
    With the government staring at a potential default in less than two weeks, the officials said the administration on Wednesday night notified top members of Congress that an agreement between the president and Mr. Boehner could be imminent. The Congressional leaders, whose help Mr. Obama would need to bring a compromise forward, were told that the new revenue tied to the looming agreement to increase the debt limit by Aug. 2 would be produced in 2012 through a tax code rewrite that would lower individual and corporate rates, close loopholes, end tax breaks and make other adjustments to produce revenue gains.
    Officials knowledgeable about the conversations between the administration and Congressional leaders said the details of the potential package remained unknown but they presumed it would include cuts and adjustments in most federal programs, including Medicare.
    However, officials on all sides of the tense negotiations warned that no firm deal was in hand yet, and tried to play down the progress — if only to stave off attempts to block it or influence its shape by hardliners on both sides of the debate on taxes and spending.
    “While we are keeping the lines of communication open, there is no ‘deal’ and no progress to report,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.
    The White House denied that any deal is imminent. Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said that “there is no deal. We are not close to a deal.”… – NYT, 7-21-11
  • Obama: Time to do ‘something big and meaningful’: President Barack Obama insists the negotiations to raise the nation’s debt limit gives him and Congress “the opportunity to do something big and meaningful” to reduce the government’s long-term deficits.
    Obama says he is willing to cut “historic amounts of spending” and says that should be coupled with more revenue from “fundamental tax reform.” The president expressed himself in an opinion piece that appeared Thursday evening on USA Today’s website…. – AP, 7-21-11
  • No debt ceiling deal, White House says: Talks between President Obama and congressional leaders are focusing on a possible $3 trillion deficit reduction deal that would accompany a debt ceiling increase, congressional aides told CNN on Thursday.
    The aides, who spoke on condition of not being identified, said the possible deal remained in limbo over disagreement on whether to extend Bush-era tax cuts for families earning more than $250,000 a year, and nothing has been agreed to yet.
    The possible deal would include spending cuts expected to total $1 trillion or more that were agreed to in earlier negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden, the sources said. It also would reform entitlement programs by changing the eligibility age for Medicare over time and using a more restrictive inflation index for Social Security benefits, according to the sources.
    On taxes, it would permanently extend the Bush era tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 while allowing the cuts to expire at the end of 2012 for those earning more than that, the aides said. At the same time, the deal would include a commitment to reform the tax code next year, which is expected to lower all tax rates and eliminate loopholes and subsidies, the sources said…. – CNN, 7-21-11
  • White House and House Speaker shoot down report that debt deal reached: Both the White House and House Speaker John Boehner shot down a report from the New York Times today that lawmakers in Washington are close to reaching a significant deal for raising the debt ceiling and reducing the deficit.
    “There is no deal, we are not close to a deal,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said today. “The fact is there is no progress to report,” but President Obama and congressional leaders are still working on “getting the most significant deal possible.”
    Lawmakers have until August 2 to raise the legal limit the U.S. government is allowed to borrow — which currently stands at $14.3 trillion — before the U.S. risks defaulting on its loans.
    While he said they’re not close to a deal, Carney said the White House is “absolutely confident that the debt ceiling will be raised.”… – CBS News, 7-21-11
  • Boehner: House will compromise on debt limit: House Speaker John Boehner predicted Thursday that a majority of House Republicans will end up supporting some kind of compromise to avoid a government default. Democrats insisted that higher tax revenue be part of a deal.
    White House budget chief Jacob Lew told reporters at the Capitol that “I’m unaware of a deal” between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans and he repeated that “we’ve made clear revenues have to be included.”
    All sides pushed against media reports that Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, were near an agreement on a grand bargain trading $3 trillion or so in spending cuts and a promise of $1 trillion in tax revenues through a later overhaul of the tax code as part of a deal to extend the government’s borrowing authority…. – AP, 7-21-11
  • Obama, Boehner discuss possible $3 trillion in cuts: aide: President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are discussing a possible deal that would include $3 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years to avert an unprecedented U.S. default, a senior Democratic congressional aide said Thursday.
    Their potential agreement would include a promise of tax reform in 2012, the aide said…. – AP, 7-21-11
  • ‘Gang of Six’ Debt Ceiling Plan is DOA in House: The so-called “Gang of Six” plan has hit the U.S. House of Representatives with a resounding “thud.” There are a number of problems with it, the least of which is that it is not really a plan at all. Rather, it is an outline of a framework of a concept of a deal, one that would raise taxes considerably without doing very much, if anything, to bring spending under control.
    The problem with deals of this sort, and we’ve seen them before, is that the new taxes, new revenues, and new spending all seem to kick in right away while the promised spending cuts, which always are set to go into effect in the so-called “out years” never seem to go into effect at all. [Read the U.S. News debate: Should Congress raise the debt limit?]
    Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who really hasn’t proposed much of anything up to now, asked his colleagues in the U.S. House Wednesday to send him a “path forward” in the debt debate.
    Reid is playing political games—which he can do since he alone controls the Senate floor, where it is unlikely he will bring the Senate version of “Cut, Cap, and Balance” up for a vote, lest it pass…. – US News, 7-21-11
  • Obama’s birthday wish: ‘A debt ceiling deal’: President Obama, who will turn 50 on Aug. 4, says he wants a special birthday present: “a debt ceiling deal.”
    Obama told NPR’s Tell Me More program in an interview to be broadcast Friday that a proposal by the Senate’s “Gang of Six” underscores the value of a “balanced” approach to debt reduction.
    The $3.7 trillion deal features “Republican senators acknowledging that revenues need to be part of a balanced package,” Obama told NPR’s Michel Martin. “And you had Democratic senators acknowledge that we’re going to have to make some difficult spending cuts.”… – USA Today, 7-21-11
  • She’s b-a-a-c-k! GOP may need Nancy Pelosi to pass debt-ceiling deal: At times she has looked to be an afterthought, a relic of a bygone era. Republicans haven’t bothered to court her. And the White House, at times, has appeared to ignore her. But now they’re going to need Nancy Pelosi.
    As the clock ticks down toward a possible government default, it appears to be less and less likely that a package can be crafted that will appease the large bloc of House conservatives who either oppose raising the debt ceiling on principle or won’t vote to hike it without massive cuts in federal spending. That means that Pelosi, the former speaker who presides over a shrunken Democratic minority in the House, likely will come into play. Any plan that passes the Senate, be it the fallback option by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell or a more ambitious proposal like the one being crafted by the so-called Gang of Six, will only be able to pass the House if Democratic votes push it over the finish line.
    So there Pelosi was Thursday, at a news conference at the Capitol, taking questions, mixing it up, almost like the old days had returned. She seemed to be in good spirits and enjoying the moment, even taking a few cracks at the George W. Bush administration for good measure. “We all have an obligation to prevent our country from going into default,” Pelosi said.
    The Californian hasn’t been in this position very often this year. The Republican rout last November crippled Democrats in the House. She surprised many by deciding to stay on as minority leader, choosing to remain a lonely progressive voice in a chamber swept by “tea party” fever. The large GOP majority means that Democrats are rarely a legislative factor — and Pelosi has lost her status as conservatives’ Public Enemy No. 1.
    That also has meant that the White House hasn’t had much use for her either. Earlier this month, she appeared blindsided by reports that President Obama was considering tinkering with Medicare and Social Security as a means of reaching a deficit-reduction deal with Speaker John Boehner. But she quickly became a ringing voice on the left pushing back on the proposal.
    Most of the talks at the White House have been built around the dynamic between Obama and Boehner, with Senate leaders Harry Reid and McConnell serving in supporting roles. Pelosi, while present, didn’t seem to have a card to play.
    Now she does. The GOP holds 241 seats in the House; it takes 218 to pass a bill. Already, 80 or so Republicans have signed off on a letter condemning the McConnell plan, which employs a procedural maneuver that allows the debt ceiling to be raised while giving Republicans a chance to vote against it with no consequences…. – LAT, 7-21-11
  • Pressure mounts for debt deal, talk of progress: A possible deal was on the table to save the United States from an unprecedented debt default, congressional aides said on Thursday as Republicans came under mounting pressure to make concessions.
    Two senior Democratic congressional aides said President Barack Obama and the top Republican in Congress, John Boehner, were working on a deal that would include $3 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years but leave tax reform for later.
    Obama, in an interview with National Public Radio, said any deal must include some tax increases alongside defense and other spending cuts. “We’re also going to have to have more revenues and we can do that in a way that is not hurting the economy (and) in fact could potentially help the economy by closing up some loopholes that distort the economy,” Obama said in excerpts of the interview released by NPR…. – Reuters, 7-21-11
  • Debt talks have senators angry about being left out: The White House faced a near rebellion from senators who were blindsided by word of a possible deal between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, with Democrats worried the president would cave on taxes while Republicans complained about being left in the dark on a potentially historic deficit plan.
    Furious Democrats directed their ire squarely at Obama’s budget director, Jack Lew, at a closed-door lunch meeting, while Republicans peppered their leaders with questions about the possibility of being jammed into a multitrillion-dollar bill with virtually no time for review.
    The frustration was evident in virtually all corners of the Senate on Thursday as it became increasingly possible that the body where landmark deals are usually made could effectively be left out of this one…. – Politico, 7-21-11
  • President’s debt offer: risky but could be win-win: It’s hard to know which is more surprising: a Democratic president pushing historic cuts in spending, including Social Security and Medicare. Or a Republican-controlled House refusing to accept the deal and declare a huge victory for long-sought GOP goals.
    Political orthodoxy has been turned on its head ever since President Barack Obama stepped up his call for a bipartisan “grand bargain” to raise the national debt ceiling and avert a default on U.S. obligations. The deal would include $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, mainly through steep spending cuts but also including up to $1 trillion in new federal revenue.
    Those are far bigger targets than typical budget negotiations. And the spending cuts would seem more appropriate for a Republican president than a Democrat.
    Some pundits and political insiders say Republicans should leap at the offer. But there’s a hitch: The new revenue — mainly from overhauling the tax code and lowering rates by eliminating or limiting a broad swath of loopholes, deductions and tax breaks — presumably would violate a no-net-tax-hike pledge that scores of Republican lawmakers have signed.
    Mostly for that reason, House Republicans so far have rejected Obama’s overture, despite the interest shown by Speaker John Boehner. Some pro-Republican analysts seem bewildered.
    Obama’s offer of big spending cuts would have “brutally fractured the Democratic Party,” and congressional Republicans probably “will come to regret this missed opportunity,” wrote David Brooks, a moderate-to-conservative columnist for The New York Times…. – AP, 7-21-11

Political Buzz Debt Ceiling Showdown, July 20, 2011: Obama Open to Short Term Debt Extension if Linked to Long Term Deal, Debt Cap Deal and Gang of Six Proposal


By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.


The president is pictured in debt talks with congressional leaders. | AP Photo


“The president has been clear that he will not support a short-term extension of the debt ceiling. What we mean by that is we would not support a short-term extension absent an agreement to a larger deal. That’s not acceptable. Obviously, if both sides agree to something significant, we will support the measures needed to finalize the details of that.” — White House spokesman Jay Carney

Washington Post-ABC News Poll: Obama and GOP (low) approval on economy, deficit and taxes: Obama’s ratings are slightly higher than Republicans – but by no means good – on each issue. He outpolls Republicans on handling the economy by 39 to 28 percent. He tops the Republicans on the deficit by 38 to 27 percent. And on perhaps the most contentious point in the debt ceiling negotiations, Obama’s approval on taxes is higher by a more significant 45 to 31 percent. – WaPo, 7-20-11

  • Is Obama winning over Americans in debt-ceiling standoff?: Recent polls show that Americans are coming to agree with Obama’s position: that Congress must raise the debt ceiling and reduce the deficit by a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts…. – CS Monitor, 7-20-11
  • Obama open to short-term deal on debt ceiling. Here are five ideas: The scramble on Capitol Hill to come up with a solution to the nation’s debt crisis produced a surprise announcement from the White House Wednesday: Contrary to previous statements, President Obama would support a short-term deal to raise the debt ceiling.
    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added an important caveat, however. The president would only sign the short-term deal if it was a means to buy time to finalize a longer-term deal without running afoul of the Aug. 2 deadline.
    Suddenly, Washington is awash in prospects for short term deals. Here are five…. – CS Monitor, 7-20-11
  • Latest developments in debt ceiling standoff: Congress has until Aug. 2 to raise the federal borrowing limit or the government will run out of money and possibly default on its debt. House Republicans say they won’t raise the debt limit without equal spending cuts. President Barack Obama and Democrats insist that higher revenues must be included.
    Wednesday’s developments: Obama signaled he might be open to a short-term debt solution if a larger, long-term deal was in place. The president called Democratic and Republican leaders back to the White House for separate negotiations. The key question with time running short: What will it take to muster enough votes from both parties to muscle legislation through the House and Senate and raise the national debt limit?… – AP, 7-20-11
  • If debt deal near, Obama would OK stopgap measure: Running out of time, President Barack Obama softened his stand and signaled Wednesday he would back a short-term deal to prevent a disastrous financial default on Aug. 2, but only if a larger and still elusive deficit-cutting agreement was essentially in place. He called lawmakers to the White House in a scramble to find enough votes from both Republicans and his own party.
    Obama met with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, and then separately with House Speaker John Boehner and his deputy, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, in hopes of cobbling together a big compromise. All signs pointed to a legislative fight that would play out to the end…. – AP, 7-20-11
  • Obama Open to Debt-Cap Deal: The White House encouraged congressional leaders to reach a major deficit-reduction deal by offering them a little more time, as they scrambled to find a way to prevent a government default in less than two weeks.
    President Barack Obama would accept a short-term increase in the federal government’s $14.29 trillion borrowing limit if congressional leaders reach agreement on a “significant” deficit-reduction plan before Aug. 2 but need more time to pass legislation, a White House spokesman said Wednesday.
    The move reflects Mr. Obama’s desire to keep alive hopes that Democrats and Republicans can achieve a far-reaching agreement. Mr. Obama has made clear his desire for the largest deal possible, perhaps along the lines of a new proposal to shrink the deficit by $3.7 trillion over 10 years that was unveiled this week by a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Six.”
    Mr. Obama’s willingness to entertain a short-term extension also suggests rising doubt in the White House that Democrats and Republicans can agree on and pass such a sweeping deficit-reduction plan by the Aug. 2 deadline.
    President Obama is open to a short-term deal to raise the debt ceiling, but only if it is used as a bridge to a larger agreement to cut the budget deficit. Jerry Seib has details from Washington.
    “If both sides agree to something concretely significant, we will support the measures needed to finalize the details,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said, later clarifying that he meant a “very” short-term extension, such as a few days. “We believe a short-term extension, absent an agreement to a larger deal, is unacceptable,” Mr. Carney said…. – WSJ, 7-20-11
  • Obama, lawmakers meet; president would OK short-term deal to avoid default if big pact close: Running out of time, President Barack Obama softened his stand and signaled Wednesday he would back a short-term deal to prevent a disastrous financial default on Aug. 2, but only if a larger and still elusive deficit-cutting agreement was essentially in place. He called lawmakers to the White House in a scramble to find enough votes from both Republicans and his own party.
    Obama met with the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, and then separately with House Speaker John Boehner and his deputy, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, in hopes of cobbling together a big compromise. All signs pointed to a legislative fight that would play out to the end…. – AP, 7-20-11
  • Obama: ‘Some progress’ being made in debt talks: President Barack Obama says there has been “some progress” in negotiations with bipartisan lawmakers over raising the nation’s debt ceiling.
    But Obama says lawmakers are nearing the “11th hour” as an Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling nears. He praised a proposal from leaders of the bipartisan “Gang of Six” who say they’re nearing agreement on a major plan to cut the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the coming decade.
    The president’s remarks come as House Republicans move toward a vote on legislation that would raise the nation’s debt limit in exchange for trillions of dollars in federal spending cuts and congressional approval of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. Democratic opposition means it has no chance of clearing the Senate, and even if it did, Obama has vowed a veto…. – Businessweek, 7-20-11
  • White House signals openness to short-term debt extension if tied to ‘larger deal’: President Obama would consider a short-term measure aimed at raising the nation’s debt ceiling and avoiding a default by Aug. 2 if Congress agrees to a larger, long-term deficit-reduction and debt-ceiling deal and needs “a few days” to finalize the legislation, his spokesman said Wednesday.
    With time running out for reaching such a deal, Obama called House and Senate Democratic leaders to a White House meeting Wednesday as he sought to shore up his party’s support for a compromise deficit-reduction plan that could help break a political impasse over the debt limit and avert a U.S. default.
    Later, Obama was scheduled to confer at the White House with the top two House Republicans: Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.)…. – WaPo, 7-20-11
  • Push for Broad Budget Deal Intensifies Among Leaders: With the clock ticking down, President Obama and Congressional leaders began a final effort to forge a broad deficit-reduction plan even as new cracks appeared among House Republicans over how to proceed.
    The White House suggested for the first time that Mr. Obama might be willing to agree to extend by a few days the Aug. 2 deadline for legislation to increase the government’s debt ceiling if a deal was in sight, stepping up the pressure on the two parties to come to terms.
    Mr. Obama met separately at the White House with Republican and Democratic leaders. But neither side reported any substantive progress as they searched for a formula that would include deep spending cuts, cost-saving changes to entitlement programs and an overhaul of the tax code that would increase revenues by closing certain tax breaks and eliminating deductions but also lower some tax rates.
    Politically, the main question remained whether House Republicans would be willing to negotiate over any package that could be construed as raising taxes, and throughout the day there were signs of internal debate among party leaders.
    Speaker John A. Boehner has shown continued interest in a deal if it can be done in a way that emphasizes lower tax rates…. – NYT, 7-20-11
  • Obama Backs Latest Bargain: President Barack Obama, in a last-ditch bid for a bipartisan “grand bargain” on the budget, threw his weight Tuesday behind a $3.7 trillion deficit-reduction plan unveiled by six Republican and Democratic senators.
    President Obama backed a $3.7 trillion deficit-reduction plan from the “Gang of Six” as “a very significant step” after it gained fresh momentum from a bipartisan group in the Senate. Nell Henderson has details from Washington.
    The plan, which would span a decade, has scant chance of passing intact as the solution to the current debate over raising the government’s borrowing limit. Some Republicans were wary of the plan’s changes in tax rules. Democrats said it would be near impossible to draft legislative language and pass it quickly.
    Still, some elements from the so-called Gang of Six senators could be incorporated into a final deal to shrink the deficit and raise the government’s $14.29 trillion debt cap by Aug. 2. That’s when the Treasury Department says the government will run out of cash to pay all its bills without an increase in borrowing authority.
    Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R.,Va.), one of the party’s most combative conservatives, didn’t dismiss the plan out of hand. “While there are still portions that are unclear and need more detail, this bipartisan plan does seem to include some constructive ideas to deal with our debt.”
    Mr. Obama and top congressional Democratic leaders were scheduled to meet at the White House Wednesday afternoon to discuss the path forward. It remains unclear how Mr. Obama and the congressional leaders will proceed on legislation to increase the statutory borrowing limit, although back-channel talks between leaders in the House and Senate are expected to accelerate in the coming days…. – WSJ, 7-20-11
  • ‘Cut, cap, and balance’ vs. ‘gang of six’ plan: Which for House GOP?: ‘Cut, cap, and balance’ legislation, which lays out a GOP plan to eliminate the US budget deficit, is set for a House vote late Tuesday. A symbolic move, the vote is nonetheless vital to Republicans. Here’s why…. – CS Monitor, 7-20-11
  • Obama to talk debt ceiling in TV interviews: President Barack Obama continues his push for an agreement to raise the debt ceiling by sitting down this morning for more broadcast interviews. He’ll talk with TV stations from Columbus, Ohio (WBNS), Los Angeles (KABC) and Kansas City, Mo. (KMBC).
    Yesterday, after a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Six” offered the framework of a deal that includes spending cuts and higher taxes, Obama said he hopes congressional leaders can now “start talking turkey.”
    Earlier Wednesday, the president and Vice President Joe Biden get their daily briefing, and Obama meets with senior advisers. In the afternoon, the president and vice president meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta…. – AP, 7-20-11
  • ‘Gang of Six’ plan takes center stage as debt deadline nears:

    President Obama, some conservative Republicans back the Gang of Six plan Sen. Reid says there isn’t time to pass the Gang of Six plan by August 2 The House votes 234-190 to approve the “cut, cap and balance” plan The United States must raise its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2 or risk a default

    Top administration and congressional officials continued focusing on a new bipartisan $3.7 trillion debt reduction plan Wednesday — the latest effort to avoid a potentially catastrophic default next month on the federal government’s financial obligations.
    President Barack Obama offered strong praise for the initiative on Tuesday, calling it “broadly consistent” with his own approach to the current debt ceiling crisis because it mixes tax changes, entitlement reforms and spending reductions.
    Senate Democratic leaders, however, expressed skepticism that they will be able to increase the debt limit and pass the plan — drafted by members of the chamber’s so-called “Gang of Six” — by the August 2 deadline…. – CNN, 7-20-11

  • The White House case against ‘Cut, Cap, Balance’: I just got off a conference call with White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer and deputy NEC director Jason Furman, in which they elaborated on the administration’s opposition to the “Cut, Cap, Balance” plan that the House is voting on Tuesday. The White House put out a statement Monday afternoon saying in no uncertain terms, “If the President were presented this bill for signature, he would veto it.”
    The rhetoric on the call was unusually heated. In a prepared statement, Furman called CCB a “extreme, radical, unprecedented” proposal, and Pfeiffer described it as “the Ryan plan on steroids”, noting that it would require much deeper cuts than Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. To be specific, Furman alleged that the balanced budget amendment included in the CCB plan would force $400 billion in yearly cuts on top of the cuts in Ryan’s budget. If defense spending is exempted, that amounts to a 12 percent across-the-board spending cut that includes Medicare and Social Security. It would involve a 70 percent reduction in clean energy funding, $6,000 in extra annual costs for the average senior due to Medicare and Social Security cuts, and a one third cut to infrastructure spending, he said. These cuts, Furman said, are “essentially historically unparalleled.”… – WaPo, 7-20-11
  • Debt ceiling stalemate is Tea Party’s fault: GOP base refuses to compromise: The possibility is more real than ever that Aug. 2 will come and go without a deal to extend the debt ceiling, unleashing potentially catastrophic economic consequences. If this comes to pass, the blame – all of it – will belong to one group: The rabidly anti-Obama Tea Partyers who make up the base of today’s Republican Party.
    It is because of this compromise-allergic base that the House spent yesterday debating a radical deficit reduction plan – “cut, cap and balance,” they call it – that has absolutely zero chance of moving through the Senate, much less earning President Obama’s signature. But conservative ideologues love it, so this is how Congress must spend its time as the default deadline draws nearer.
    In theory, there’s a purpose to this lunacy. GOP leaders in the House and Senate seem close to a deal with Obama that would permit the President to raise the ceiling three times in the next year in exchange for some substantial concessions. Right now, it has no chance of passing muster with the GOP purists in the House. But maybe they’ll be persuaded when they see the futility of “cut, cap and balance” – and when Wall Street sends out a few more frantic pleas to avoid a default. Or maybe they won’t be…. – NY Daily News, 7-20-11
  • House Republicans pass symbolic measure on debt ceiling: The legislation calls for a cap on spending and a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. It is likely to die in the Senate. President Obama says time is running out for ‘actually solving this problem.’… – LAT, 7-20-11
  • House OKs debt plan, defying Obama, Senate: Defying a veto threat, the Republican-controlled U.S. House voted Tuesday night to slice federal spending by $6 trillion and require a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget to be sent to the states in exchange for averting a threatened Aug. 2 government default.
    The 234-190 vote marked the power of deeply conservative first-term Republicans, and it stood in contrast to rising support at the White House and in the U.S. Senate for a late stab at bipartisanship to solve the nation’s looming debt crisis.
    President Barack Obama and a surprising number of Republican senators lauded a deficit-reduction plan put forward earlier in the day that would include $1 trillion in what sponsors delicately called “additional revenue” and some critics swiftly labeled as higher taxes.
    The president said he hoped congressional leaders would “start talking turkey” on a deal to reduce deficits and raise the $14.3-trillion debt limit as soon as Wednesday, using the plan by the so-called Gang of Six as a road map…. – AP, 7-20-11
  • Bachmann: ‘I Won’t Vote to Raise Debt Ceiling’: Rep. Michele Bachmann is doubling down on her position that the debt ceiling should not be raised — under any circumstances. Her stance, underscored in a new ad, comes even as polls show Americans want a debt-ceiling deal, and shows that the tea-party favorite is betting her presidential campaign entirely on the anti-big-government crowd.
    The Minnesota Republican who hopes to make a strong showing in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential nominating contest, went up with an ad Wednesday in the Hawkeye State, once again stating: “I will not vote to increase the debt ceiling.” An increase, she says, “goes completely contrary to common sense and how I grew up in Iowa.” Ms. Bachmann released a similar ad earlier this month.
    On Tuesday night, Ms. Bachmann was one of nine House Republicans to vote against a debt-ceiling package pushed by conservative Republicans. The measure, which passed the GOP-controlled House, would slash federal expenditures by more than $100 billion in fiscal 2012, limit federal spending to a percentage of GDP and start the process of passing a balanced budget amendment. The congresswoman’s take on the House bill: It’s not enough.
    “The motion does not go far enough in fundamentally restructuring the way Washington spends taxpayer dollars,” she said in a written statement Tuesday night. “Along with cutting spending, putting in place enforceable spending caps that put us on a path to balance and passing a balanced budget amendment, we must also repeal and defund ObamaCare.”… – WSJ, 7-20-11
  • Room for Debate: What Will the Debt Debate Mean for 2012?: The standoff on the debt crisis is being portrayed as mostly political, with attempts by Republicans and Democrats to position themselves for next year’s elections. The voters say they are fed up but at the same time confident — as are the players in Washington — that in the end some compromise will be reached. Indeed, for voters the debt standoff seems a sideshow to what they really care about: jobs.
    If the public is at best apathetic and at worst exasperated by the political gamesmanship in Washington, what are the risks to Republicans and to President Obama and the Democrats as they gear up for the campaign of 2012? Even if one party is blamed more than another for the impasse this summer, will it matter in November of next year? …

Blame to Go Around — Kristen Soltis, pollster
Voters Care About Jobs — Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary
Fighting the Real Crisis — Jamal Simmons, communications consultant
End-Game Negotiations Work — Norman J. Ornstein, American Enterprise Institute —

NYT, 7-19-11

Full Text Debt Ceiling Showdown, July 20, 2011: Press Secretary Jim Carney’s Speaks of President Obama’s Willingness to Accept Short Term Debt Deal



White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington Wednesday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 7/20/2011

Source: WH, 7-20-11

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:47 P.M. EDT

Q    No warm-up speaker today?

MR. CARNEY:  Not today.  Not today.

Okay, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being here, as ever, at the White House.  This is your daily briefing.  Before I take questions I have a brief readout.

Last night, the President called Senate Majority Leader Reid, Speaker Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch Mitchell, and House Minority Leader Pelosi to discuss progress we are making — Mitch McConnell, sorry — Mitch Mitchell, in addition to being a great drummer for Jimi Hendrix, is also a guitarist in Guided by Voices — (laughter) — a different Mitch Mitchell.  (Laughter.)

Q    Whoa!

MR. CARNEY:  It just — let’s motor on here.

Q    I didn’t know the President was a fan of Guided by Voices.

MR. CARNEY:  I’m working on him.  Anyway, sorry, the President spoke with Senators Reid and McConnell, Leader Pelosi and Speaker Boehner to discuss progress we are making in negotiations to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction.  The President will also hold a meeting at the White House today at 2:50 p.m. with House and Senate Democratic leadership.

Those are my announcements.

Q    All eight?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m sorry?

Q    All eight leaders?

MR. CARNEY:  No, sorry, House and Senate Democratic leadership.

Q    Democratic leadership.


Q    Not the Republicans?

MR. CARNEY:  As we have other meetings to announce, we will announce them.  But the meeting we have to announce for 2:50 p.m. today is with the Senate and House Democratic leadership.

Q    How many?

Q    Four or eight or —

MR. CARNEY:  At least four.  We’ll see.  Haven’t — they’re still working on the manifest.

Q    Photo op?

MR. CARNEY:  I believe it’s four.  Let me get back to you on the coverage.

Q    Just to follow on that, why are the Republicans not involved, and how did the conversation go with Boehner?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m not going to read out the individual conversations, except to say that they were obviously useful and productive.

We have been having conversations and meetings with different groupings of leaders and rank-and-file members, and we will continue to do that at the presidential, vice presidential and staff levels.  This meeting is the next one up.  We will get back to you with announcements of other meetings as they happen.

Q    What’s the goal of today’s meeting?  What does he want to accomplish?

MR. CARNEY:  To discuss approaches for further deficit reduction, balanced approach.  Obviously the role that the Gang of Six is playing now in adding to the, we think, the momentum behind the principle that the best way to do this — the only way to do it, really, to do significant deficit reduction, is to do it in a balanced way; to do it so that we go after all the drivers of our long-term debt, including non-defense spending — discretionary spending — defense spending, entitlement spending and tax code spending — so to further those conversations.

We are, as the President said yesterday, in the 11th hour.  We need to meet, talk, consult, narrow down what our options are and figure out in fairly short order which train we’re riding into the station.  Right now there are multiple options being discussed, including the work that Senator McConnell is doing with Senator Reid and others.  There’s the Gang of Six proposal. There are obviously the President’s framework and other proposals out there.  And we need to do decide, through the course of these meetings and discussions, eventually what we’re going to do to ensure that, at the very least, as we’ve talked about, the United States does not, for the first time in its history, default on its obligations.

Q    A couple other quick ones.  Can you discuss the President’s challenge in swaying Democratic leaders to go along with changes in entitlements?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let’s not leave it at Democratic leaders.  I mean, I think it’s the Democrats —

Q    Well, for today — yes, today’s meeting.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think, as representatives of the Democrats in both the House and the Senate.  This is an important point that you raise, because while we have certainly spoken a lot about and made clear that we believe Republicans need to be willing to compromise, need to accept that they won’t get 100 percent of what they want, that this is a two-party system and a divided government and it requires compromise and bipartisan cooperation in order for big things to get done — the same is true for Democrats.  And the point the President has been making both in public, and in private in these meetings, is to take political heat in order to argue — successfully, he believes — to his fellow Democrats that we need to make some tough choices in order to ensure that we can reduce our deficits, get control over our debt — precisely because that is the best thing for our economy, and it allows us to continue to make the absolutely necessary investments we need to make in education, in research and development, and in infrastructure to allow the economy to continue to grow.

So that’s that case he has been making to Democrats and will continue to make.

Q    And lastly, I know that you’ve gone over this debate about the real deadline considering Congress’ timetable for legislation.  Can you explain how it’s possible — or when do you run out of time to get something as big as a Gang of Six piece of legislation through?  I mean, aren’t we there?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would point you to the comments that the OMB director made over the weekend that there is still time if everyone is serious and committed to achieving a big deal.

Obviously, time is running short.  And in terms of the deadlines we’ve talked about, August 2nd is a real and fast deadline.  We must take action to deal with our debt, raising the debt ceiling before then.  But there is still time to do something significant if all parties are willing to compromise — because the parameters of what that might look like are well known, especially to the participants in the negotiations the President oversaw last week.

And going back to — because I may get the question, is it July 22nd, is it the 23rd — this is, again, an estimate about what it takes to move something through Congress.  There is the almost — the sort of ineluctable modality of the way the Congress works that you have to accept that things can’t turn up and be voted on and reconciled and all the things that need to happen all in one day.  So you need to move back from August 2nd from there.  But it’s hard to guess, and we’d leave it up to the leaders of Congress to provide their best estimates rather than us.

Q    But to buy yourselves some time, are you going to have to go with the McConnell plan or a short-term deal, so you can take a little more time, negotiate the broader package?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we are, as you know, supportive of the efforts by Senators McConnell and Reid to craft a fallback provision, solution, that ensures that we take the necessary action on raising the debt ceiling.

And when I was talking about which train we’re going to ride into the station, right now there are multiple trains heading towards the station and we have to decide.  And some of them may continue up to the last moment, because we need to be sure that that failsafe option is there — even as we pursue, aggressively, the possibility of doing something bigger.

The President has been clear that he will not support a short-term extension of the debt ceiling.  There is no reason why we cannot come together now and get something significant done.  So what we mean by that is we would not support a short-term extension absent an agreement to a larger deal.  That’s not acceptable.  Obviously, if both sides agree to something significant, we will support the measures needed to finalize the details of that.

But as you saw — and I’ll go back to what I just said a minute ago — Jack Lew over the weekend made clear that because we know what we’re talking about here, if there’s a willingness  — and we believe there’s a growing willingness on Capitol Hill  — if there’s a willingness to do something significant and comprehensive and balanced, we can get that done within the time frame and by the deadline of August 2nd.

Q    Let me ask you briefly about Libya.  The French are saying that Qaddafi could stay in power — or could stay in Libya if he gives up power.  Is that something the U.S. would support?

MR. CARNEY:  The United States’ position has always been that Colonel Qaddafi lost his legitimacy to lead and that he needs to be removed from power, remove himself from power.  It is up to the Libyan people to decide what his future is beyond that. So it’s not for us to say.

The issue here is that he needs to step down.  He’s lost his legitimacy.  He is increasingly isolated not just from the world but from his own country.  The opposition has made significant progress.  The international community, together with the United States, is taking the steps necessary to recognize the TNC as the provisional government and, with the aid of doing that, freeing up funds for the opposition to use, the TNC to use.

In so many ways — the Qaddafi regime is running out of fuel and cash.  I mean, there are so many ways that he’s really running out of time.  So the issue here is removing himself from power, no longer being a threat to the people of Libya.  And then it’s up for the Libyan people to decide their own future, including what that means for Qaddafi if he’s not out of the country.

Q    But if he stays in the country, you’re not going to quibble with that is what I’m —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, this is for the Libyan people to decide.  Our position is quite clear about his retaining power and — or rather giving up power and no longer being a threat to his people.


Q    Does the White House have a position, now that you’ve had a chance to review it, on the Gang of Six plan beyond the general support for principle — its principles that the President discussed yesterday?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, what I would say is that again, as I said yesterday, it represents significant, broad support along the lines of the approach that the President took.  There are — as we look at the provisions within it — and as you know, there was some level of detail provided and more coming — it’s possible we may not agree with every aspect of their approach.  But the issue here isn’t which piece of paper will be the final piece of legislation because that’s going to be — if the decision is made that we’re going to take a bipartisan approach, that we’re going to take a balanced approach, the framework that the President put forward, that the Gang of Six has now put forward, that Simpson and Bowles Commission has put forward, and others, are all available to create a process that produces a piece of legislation that we believe a majority in Congress would support and certainly the American people would support, and the President would sign.

The details of that obviously would have to be worked out. But the frame here — savings out of the tax code, savings from entitlement reform, significantly reduced nondefense discretionary spending, reduced defense spending that’s done in a way that protects our national security — this is the way to go about it.  And that’s how you get to the $3.5 trillion and above savings over 10 years that we’ve talked about, and that the Gang of Six is talking about.

So as long as there’s political will, the details — there’s enough substance out there now for a package to be crafted.  And I think — I would note that one of the things that either Speaker Boehner or his spokesperson said last night was that there was some similarity between what the Gang of Six had put forward and what the President and the Speaker had been talking about when they were looking at the possibility of achieving a grand bargain.  So again, that’s the — we agree with that assessment.  And if the will is there, we can get down to negotiating the details.

Q    So you don’t — so there’s no change?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have a specific provision of the Gang of Six’s proposal to declare from here that we accept or reject. The overall approach we definitely accept.  And as you know, others, including the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States, have been having discussions about what a grand bargain would look like concretely.  So there is a framework with details that has already been worked on, that this helps propel the — or create momentum behind the possibility that we could actually move in that direction.  It may —

Q    If this were to become legislation, would the President sign it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I’m not going to make a declaration about the specifics of what the Gang of Six has put forward, in part because all the details aren’t even known yet.  This is not a piece of legislation — it’s not even written as a bill, so we would not issue a statement of administration policy or make a declaration about whether the President would sign it based on an outline.

What he does wholly support is the approach that they’ve taken because he believes it’s the right approach.  It’s the approach that overwhelmingly we’ve seen now the American people support — Americans who are both Democrats and Republicans and Americans who are independents — they all support this kind of approach.  So we find that very encouraging.

Q    What reason do you have or does the President have to be optimistic that the House Republicans or the House of Representatives in general can muster a majority vote for anything other than the cut, cap and balance bill?

MR. CARNEY:  The reason to be optimistic is that the members of the House of Representatives were elected by the American people, by their constituents in their districts.  And if they listen not just to the loudest voices, especially those in special interest groups, who argue that they should or shouldn’t do one thing, but take into account the views of all of their constituents, we believe that a majority in both houses would support a balanced approach.  And in the end, listening to the voices of the people who elected you, who sent you to Washington is really what you’re supposed to do and what this is all about.

And we believe that there are some signs that — certainly many signs of a growing willingness to consider this approach among Democrats and Republicans.  And that’s a positive thing.  So we obviously understand that the political dynamics in the Congress are pretty complicated, and we’re a step removed from it, but keen observers of it.  But we continue to make the case and work with the leaders of Congress and other willing participants among the rank and file that this is the approach that will best serve the American people, will best serve the economy, and will best serve the political interests of everyone because doing the right thing in this case is good politics.

Q    So just — faith in humanity is your answer.  (Laughter.)

MR. CARNEY:  Well, like I said, we’re said we’re keen observers of the dynamic up there and we think there is reason to be optimistic that something like this could be achieved.  Obviously, it takes a lot of work and willpower —

Q    Keen observers of what?  Are you watching —

MR. CARNEY:  Of the political dynamic in the Congress.

Q    What specifically is the political dynamic that you’re observing that gives you faith that they’re going to support anything that has tax increases in it?

MR. CARNEY:  We have — we believe there has been significant — as more and more attention has been paid to this issue, there has been a significant amount of acceptance, broadly, by Democrats, independents, and Republicans, including elected officials, that a balanced approach that requires compromise on all sides is the right way to go.

Now, we continue to push for the biggest deal possible, and that would include a balanced approach.  We are also pragmatic and realistic and committed to the notion that we absolutely must take action before August 2nd in order to not create a situation where the United States could default on its obligations.  Therefore, we are pursuing, as well — even as we pursue the bigger prize, we are working with Congress to ensure that there is a mechanism by which we simply raise the debt ceiling, or raise the debt ceiling and do something much smaller than the grand bargain.

But I think it’s important to note that the members of the Gang of Six represent in many ways progressive Democrats and very conservative Republicans.  It is —

Q    I’m not talking about the Senate.

MR. CARNEY:  I know you’re not, but these are not a distinct — this is not a distinct species even within the political categories that we’re talking about.  And we have a little faith in the capacity of our elected leaders in Congress to hear what the American people are telling them, hear what their colleagues are telling them, and hopefully create majorities within both houses to do the right thing.

Q    Just to try to be a little more specific, after the President made his statement praising the Gang of Six yesterday, Senators Reid and Durbin came out saying there’s not enough time and this would probably have to start in the House, where its path to passage is more tricky.  McConnell was noticeably, decidedly silent.  And Leader Cantor was critical of its revenue component — very critical.  So you keep saying, if there’s the will.  Does the White House think there is the will to pass this in the Senate — in Congress?

MR. CARNEY:  We think there should be, and there could be.  But I’m not laying bets that it’s going to happen.  But we would be — it would be a failure of leadership to simply give up because the odds aren’t overwhelmingly in our favor.  And that would be true if it were the right thing to do even if the majority of the American people didn’t think it were the right thing to do if we firmly believed it was.

In fact, the President firmly believes it’s the right thing to do, and the majority of the public believes the same thing.  So we believe that — we continue to make the argument, we continue to negotiate, we continue to look at the avenues available to us to make something bigger happen, even as we, very pragmatically, negotiate and try to work out something small.

Q    Given that the clock is ticking and that there is this McConnell-Reid plan that seems maybe the likeliest path to get the debt ceiling raised, mechanically, what is the advantage of pushing something that seems more like a Hail Mary pass?  Mechanically, what do you think can get done by pushing the Gang of Six?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think it’s important to note, and I tried to make this clear yesterday, we’re not — the President has not endorsed the specifics of the Gang of Six.  The President was involved in negotiations on a grand bargain with his own proposals and his own ideas that mirror broadly what the Gang of Six is doing.  So it’s not like we’re — we’re not saying that it’s Gang of Six and their plan or bust, first of all.

Second of all, we have the capacity to do two things at once, which is negotiate the smaller deal and negotiate the potential for a bigger deal.  It would be — we would be failing in our responsibilities not to do that, because we believe that a bigger deal remains possible.  And we’re not alone.  There are a number of members of Congress who believe that.  And while you did point out that there were some cold water poured on this idea by some folks, overwhelmingly, the reaction I think was notably positive in Congress yesterday — in the Senate.  And even some of the leaders, some of the things they said, I would point to you and note that there were some positive statements said by leaders in both houses of both parties about the work of the Gang of Six.

So we press on.  And we acknowledge that we have to be sure that there is a backup plan, because the United States will not default.  The United States President, working with Congress, will take the action necessary to ensure that we raise the debt ceiling, we pay our bills, bills that were rung up in the past and need to be paid.  And we continue to fight for something bigger and better that addresses the big problem here, which are the sizeable deficits that we confront and the drag that the long-term debt problem creates for our economy, and address it in a way that’s balanced so that we don’t do something that actually contracts the economy or slows it down or reduces job creation, but enhances it.

Q    Any hindsight concern that he was a little too enthusiastic in his embrace of the Gang of Six and that as a negotiating —

MR. CARNEY:  Hindsight?  This was 24 hours ago.  Absolutely not.  We are immensely enthusiastic about the fact that yesterday six members of the Senate — three Republicans, three Democrats, progressive and conservatives — came together and put forward a proposal that’s balanced, that deals in a significant way with our deficit problem and our long-term debt problem.  That is a significant deal and it is worth being enthusiastic about.

And it happens — one of the reasons why we’re so enthusiastic about it is because it mirrors the approach the President has been pushing for some time now.  It mirrors the approach that Simpson and Bowles, that their commission put forward and that Domenici and Rivlin put forward in those two bipartisan commissions.

And we think it further — one of the headwinds we’ve been dealing with in talking about this, as we’ve made the case that the President is pushing for a bigger deal and a balanced approach, is that, well, we know that Republicans who aren’t in Congress are arguing increasingly that we should do this, but what about elected members of Congress?  Well, what the Gang of Six put forward yesterday, and the support they got after they put it forward from their colleagues of both parties I think is an indication that that headwind is dissipating.

Yes, Norah.

Q    You mentioned that the President was immensely enthusiastic about the Gang of Six plan.  Does the President believe that the Democratic leadership in the Senate is also enthusiastic about it?

MR. CARNEY:  I will go right back to the question that Ben asked, which is that it is — the President feels it is his responsibility and it’s the responsibility he takes on willingly to make the case to Democrats, rank-and-file Democrats and members of leadership, about why a significant balanced deficit reduction package is the right way to go.

I would remind you, of course, that Senator Durbin is a member of leadership and he’s a member of the Gang of Six as well.  Senator Alexander, while not a member of the original Gang of Six, is a supporter of it and is a member of the Republican leadership.

Q    So is part of the meeting today, first with Democrats and alone with Democrats, to make the case to them to move forward on this?

MR. CARNEY:  Look, there are — they will have a discussion about the potential for a big deal, the potential for a medium-size deal, and the work that’s being done to ensure that there is a failsafe, fallback alternative if we are not able to reach agreement — regrettably not able to reach an agreement on a more significant deficit reduction package.

So I’m sure everybody will have important things to add to that conversation.  The President will continue to argue that — with both sides — that since none of this is easy, none of these votes are going to be easy for members of either party, that this is an opportunity, then, to go ahead and think big and try to get something significant done that actually has long-term positive impact on the economy.

Q    All right, but if you look at the whole Gang of Six deficit reduction plan, it’s not a plan to raise the debt ceiling.  That would take an enormous amount of time to do all of that, even get a bill put forward.  So the President would accept a short-term extension alongside an agreement for larger deficit reduction with some triggers?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me turn it around a little bit.  If both sides agree to something significant, we will support the measures needed to finalize details.  But there is no extension without an agreement on something big — a firm, committed agreement on something big.

And so the point — we are not wavering on the President’s absolute assertion that he won’t sign a series of ill-defined — a sort of tollbooth kind of series of provisions that temporarily or in a limited fashion raise the debt ceiling, and we have to relitigate this again and again and again — not just because it’s unpleasant — in fact, not principally because it’s unpleasant for everyone involved, but because that’s bad for the economy.  It sends the wrong signal to everyone around the globe about Washington’s capacity to deal with its fiscal issues.

And one of the things that I think is quite clear is that if we send a signal from Washington that Washington works, that Washington can tackle big problems, that that will have a significantly positive impact around the globe.  And it will remind people about why the United States is the best country to invest in; why we are, as we have always been, a safe harbor in terms of the security of your investments.  And that’s an important signal to send.  So we look forward to doing that.

Yes, Wendell.

Q    There are only six or seven Republicans in the House that haven’t signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge.  As you understand the Gang of Six proposal, is it possible to support that and not violate the pledge?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I used to be someone who analyzed Republican Party politics for a living; I am no longer.  I would simply say that what’s needed here is the political will to get outside of one’s comfort zone, and that’s true for Democrats as it is for Republicans.  And that would be required for anything that is significant in size in terms of the deficit reduction packages that we’re talking about.

I would note, however, that there are — there have been some important voices who have pointed out — and some of them are elected officials in the Republican Party — who have pointed out that no one here is talking about raising — and certainly not the President of the United States, who has lowered taxes for working and middle-class Americans ever since he took office — about raising taxes on those people.

What we’re talking about at the minimum is closing loopholes, ending subsidies that give unfair advantages to industries or simply aren’t justifiable in a time where we all need to tighten our belts in order to reduce the deficit and get our fiscal house in order.

So I don’t want to give political advice to either — the members of either party, but I think there is — it is certainly a worthwhile argument to make that closing a loophole is not raising an average American’s taxes.  It’s simply not.  When you end an unfair advantage that the makers of private jets enjoy — tax advantage — or the subsidies that the oil and gas companies enjoy, you’re actually — and by using that money to reduce the deficit and allow for a balanced package, a more balanced package, that therefore does not require as much burden on middle-class Americans, you’re doing everyone — you’re doing the broad swath of the American people a favor and doing it right in a balanced way.

So that would be the argument that I would make and others who I’m sure have more swack within the GOP have been making.

Q    One of the elements of the Gang of Six proposal is a 29 percent top income tax rate.  Could the President live with that?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I’m not going to get into the itemized specifics of the proposal and what we can and cannot support.  What the President has said is that he does support tax reform, and it has, I think, been reported that what a broad compromise might look like would involve some tax reform.  So beyond that, I’ll leave it to the folks who are actually negotiating a deal.

Q    Has Budget Director Lew advised the President how long it would take to score this proposal?  Whether or not you will tell us that number, has the President asked him how long it would it take to score it?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, CBO does the scoring, and not the OMB.  But the — I would just point you to what Jack Lew said over the weekend — that was just three days ago — but that he believes, based on what he knew — and he knows quite a lot, having been around this block a number of times in his career — that there is time in Congress to get a big deal done, and that would include everything necessary to write and pass legislation.

And I would remind you about Jack Lew.  This is an important — this is somebody who was with Tip O’Neill when Tip O’Neill did those compromises with President Ronald Reagan.  He was with President Clinton when President Clinton had those compromises with Speaker Gingrich.  And he’s here today.  And this is somebody who knows how this works and how bipartisan compromise can work with people who are viewed as staunch progressives and staunch conservatives:  Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan; Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich.  There’s ample precedent for why this should work, and plenty of historical precedent for members of Congress to look to and say, I did what Ronald Reagan would have done, or I did what Tip O’Neill or Bill Clinton would have done.

Q    And you say there’s time to get this through if there’s political will.  Are you particularly looking at the Senate, where one member has the power to at least slow things down?

MR. CARNEY:  We’re looking at both houses.  We’re not direct participants but keen and close observers of what happens in Congress and we’re aware of how it works and its modality.  And so we’re looking at all of these factors.

Q    So the White House disagrees with Harry Reid?  Harry Reid said there was no time to do — to get Gang of Six as the vehicle to raise the debt ceiling; that maybe if they move it concurrently, you get debt ceiling raised with it — I mean, is that — that’s what I’m trying to understand.

MR. CARNEY:  I mean, there are — again, the legislative components of this or tactics of it I will leave to — or the President rather — I will leave to the President and the leaders of Congress to work out, as long as we — with the understanding, obviously, that we are pursuing the biggest deal possible, as well as ensuring that there is a fallback provision.

Q    There’s a two-step process here, that you’re going to get the debt ceiling raised and you’re pursuing this big deal, and they don’t necessarily have to happen on the same day, right?

MR. CARNEY:  You mean that they don’t necessarily have to happen as part of one bill?

Q    One legislation, assuming —

MR. CARNEY:  As I understand it, no, but there is a deadline of August 2nd for raising the debt ceiling.  And the dynamic that’s created here that, for better or worse, and we think now for better, that has linked these two has focused attention and focused people’s minds on the need to do something significant around deficit reduction as we deal with what is, while not always pleasant, a very routine thing that Congress has done every couple of years for as long as you and I have been in Washington, which is raise the debt ceiling.  So we think that this is a unique opportunity, and we ought to seize it.

Q    Are you concerned actually if somehow Gang of Six is used sort of — gets some — enough senators, folks excited that this could get done, it gets debt ceiling raised, and then everybody backs off?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would simply say that if — these are hypotheticals, so I — but we are committed to trying to get a big deal done.  We have laid down some of the markers, the President has, about what he will or won’t do in terms of raising the debt ceiling.  We recognize the McConnell proposal as a potential fallback option — not a preferred option, but a fallback option — simply to get that done.  And then whether things are attached to it or run parallel to it, these are all things that I’m sure are being studied by the leadership and the staff.

Q    While I know you’re not endorsing I guess all components of Gang of Six, is it fair to say he’s more supportive of this Gang of Six proposal that he was Bowles-Simpson?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I would simply say that he’s supportive of the approach taken by both.  And what is significant about —

Q    He’s more — he’s been more enthusiastic about Gang of Six than Bowles-Simpson —

MR. CARNEY:  We made clear at the time that the President agreed with many of the proposals put forward by Simpson-Bowles, disagreed with some.  We embraced some of the proposals in his — in the President’s own legislative proposals, the ones that have emanated from Simpson-Bowles, including corporate tax reform, allowing the 2001 and 2003 high-income and estate tax cuts expire, fully paying for the alternative minimum tax patch for three years, strengthening Social Security for the future.  I mean, that’s are all elements that were part of Simpson-Bowles that the President endorsed right away and at the time.

Q    So no difference?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, in terms of enthusiasm?  I think we’re at different — we’re in a different period now in terms of where we are legislatively.  And the introduction by the Gang of Six of a concrete proposal put forward by six members of the Senate — three Republicans, three Democrats, representing a broad ideological spectrum in American politics — I think is a welcome development.

Q    Is the President concerned that a majority of the Democratic leaders he’s going to meet with are going to be against these entitlement reforms that he is putting on the table?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the President has made clear when he’s come, as he has frequently, to speak with you here that he understands he has a responsibility and a challenge in persuading Democrats that they need to join him in making tough choices in the name of a broad, balanced approach to deficit reduction; that some of the measures he is willing to consider in terms of entitlement reform will strengthen those programs; and that in the name of a broader goal here, we need to make some tough choices and that includes setting aside entitlements.  That includes some very tough choices in domestic discretionary spending.

As the President has made clear, and he did during the CR, there are cuts that are going to be required in discretionary spending that he would not otherwise want to make, and he understands that Democrats would not otherwise want to make.  There are some programs out there that are going to be trimmed, if there’s a deal, or cut significantly that have merit.  But in a time when we’re tightening our belts and we need to get our fiscal house in order, the standards are very high for what qualifies as absolutely necessary spending.

And in order to allow the government to have the capacity to make the kind of necessary — absolutely necessary investments in education, technology, innovation, infrastructure, you need to cut back as much as you can in the areas where you can.


Q    I just wanted to clarify, are you saying that the President would sign a temporary debt ceiling increase if it was to allow the legislative process a little bit more time to get a deal that leaders have already agreed to?

MR. CARNEY:  What I’m saying is that the President will not sign just a temporary measure that requires a repetitive process where we cast doubt on the capacity of Washington to deal with raising its debt ceiling, cast doubt on whether or not it’s going to honor its obligations in a repetitive way.

What I will say, to be clear, is that we believe a short-term extension absent an agreement to a larger deal is unacceptable.  Obviously, if both sides agree to something significant, we will support the measures needed to finalize details.  But as you saw Jack Lew say over the weekend, there is something — there is still time to get something big done, and members of both parties and the American people agree.

So we continue to press for getting a big deal.  We believe that there is time to get it done.  And the answer to your question is that if both sides agree to something concretely significant, we will support the measures needed to finalize the details.

Q    Sort of like what he did with the shutdown, the CR?  They agreed to a deal, it was a temporary thing.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, rather than make an analogy, I’ll just stick with the language I used.

Q    Okay.  And then, so the President’s meeting today and these other meetings and discussions that he’s having are to figure out, as you said, which train is going to leave the station and whether it’s a big deal, or a little deal or —

MR. CARNEY:  No, the trains — several trains have left the station.  It’s a decision about which train we’ll be riding when we get to the next station.

Q    — like baseball.

Q    Will they be serving turkey and peas on the train?

Q    Jell-o?

MR. CARNEY:  Jell-O and peas.  (Laughter.)

Q    Layer cake.

Q    How many stops are they trying to take?

MR. CARNEY:  Too many stops on the way.


Q    Wasn’t that — wasn’t his goal to decide on Friday and then to decide by Saturday which horse they were going to ride, trains **leaving the station —

MR. CARNEY:  What the President said on Friday is that we need to understand what people’s bottom lines are.  And we have been in basically a non-stop process of having conversations, negotiations, meetings to find out what — I think Jake was talking about it — this is — the way that Congress works is not — it’s just not that simple.  And we have to not just come up with proposals that everybody in the room likes, but proposals that we can be confident will garner majorities in both houses. And that includes both a possible bigger deal, a mid-size deal and the fallback measure that we’ve talked about, that Senator McConnell and Senator Reid are working on.  So those are the conversations that we’re having and continue to have.

Q    So at what point do you — does the President believe that you guys have to settle on — zero in on one train?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that in terms of what point we have to — the process of legislating has to be engaged in order to ensure on the debt ceiling issue we get it done, I would point you to Capitol Hill, since they know much better than I and they know even better than anyone here how much time they need to make that happen.  But we’re obviously working with them to ensure that, at the very least, we have a train to ride that gets to the station by August 2nd with legislation that allows for the debt ceiling to be raised.

Q    So you guys think that we could go up to August 1st?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I just said by August 2nd.  That’s the deadline.  If you say by August 1st for something to be ready to be signed, that’s a long — that doesn’t mean that you start — you make the decision on August 1st of what you’re going to do because you have to back up from there because you have to pass bills through both houses of Congress, potentially reconcile them.

And I don’t have a deadline for when that process starts, and it could be that there are two vehicles that are still being put forward maybe legislatively, even beyond that window as long as we know that the failsafe measure is moving along and has the support necessary to ensure that the debt ceiling gets raised.

Q    And then, just lastly, a procedural matter.  Has Treasury and OMB decided which payments to prioritize?

MR. CARNEY:  You’d have to ask them.  I don’t know.

Q    Jay, was the phone call to Speaker Boehner last evening after the vote on cut, cap and balance?


Q    Can you read out that —

MR. CARNEY:  No.  No readouts, especially of phone calls, to all four.

Q    Is the President of the opinion the House wasted its time yesterday?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think the President spoke to this yesterday when he said he recognized what they were doing and perhaps the need for doing it, but that it was time to move past symbolic votes and — because the clock is ticking and we need to get something done that can be supported by both houses and the President.  Obviously that measure does not have the support necessary to become law and everyone is aware of that.  So we need to move on.

Q    Does it look to you as though any measure has the support to become law?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that’s what I think a lot of members of Congress and members of this administration are working on now to ensure that there are measures that emerge from this process that can become law.


Q    Jay, in the House it’s all about getting 218 votes.  I was just wondering, what is the White House doing —

MR. CARNEY:  We’d take more than 218 if we could get them.

Q    All right.  What are you doing to get those 218 votes, at least on the Republican side?  Or is that maybe up for discussion this afternoon?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think what we’ve been doing has been pretty clear.  We’ve had a lot of public activity to argue the merits of, A, why there is no alternative to making sure the United States has the capacity to pay its bills; B, that we should be pushing for a broad, bipartisan, balanced deficit reduction bill that allows us to put our fiscal house in order and sends the right signals to the economy, that allows the economy to grow and create jobs.

Now, we obviously have a lot of people who work with and pay attention to Congress, but in the end, it’s members of Congress who have to vote, and their leaders who will take their temperature and measure the support that may or may not be there for different proposals that are put forward.

Q    When do you think you have Mr. Boehner down?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any announcements to make on other meetings right now.  We have the meeting scheduled for 2:50 p.m. today with House and Senate Democratic leaders.  But I would remind you he spoke with the Speaker just last night, as well as the Senate Minority Leader.

Q    Another topic — the trade package.  That hasn’t been sent up yet, as far as I know.  Are you — is the White House still going to send the package up yet — I mean, through August, or do you think it might be slipping towards September?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t have any updates for you.  We still firmly believe that it is time to move forward with these agreements and with TAA and get it done now, because these agreements have broad bipartisan support and there is broad recognition that they will support — either create or support up to 70,000 American jobs.  So we ought to move quickly on them.  But I don’t have any update on the legislative minutiae of how that process is going to work.


Q    Just to clarify the point you’re making, the point that you have written down there about the short-term extension absent a significant agreement is not acceptable — I mean, you’re trying to be really precise about that.

MR. CARNEY:  You want me to try synonyms maybe?

Q    No, I just want to make sure I understand.  When you say a short-term extension absent something more significant, are you talking about the McConnell fallback?  Because that’s short term; those are three chunks.

MR. CARNEY:  I think I have addressed — I’m not sure if you were here.  There is a significant difference.  What the McConnell bill does is allow for the extension of the debt ceiling into 2013.  That is obviously what the President —

Q    You don’t consider that short term.  Okay.

MR. CARNEY:  — has insisted be done.  There are some mechanisms for political cover that allow — require votes that will be foregone conclusions.  But the debt ceiling — it will — because the whole point about extending the debt ceiling for a relatively significant amount of time is to create the kind of certainty that we need to ensure that the domestic and global economy understands that we’re functioning appropriately.  So the McConnell provision extends the debt ceiling into 2013.

Q    Even though you have the three separate chunks?

MR. CARNEY:  Correct, but those are designed in a way that makes them a foregone conclusion.

Q    Okay.  But what is your thinking about what pieces of the Gang of Six could be attached to some kind of a short-term deal that would make it acceptable?  I mean, how does that work? If you can’t — you can’t just draft the whole thing onto it, because it takes time to get this done.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, let me remind you that the Gang of Six is an entrant — an important entrant into the field here of proposals that broadly mirror what is a growing consensus and mirror what the President supports, which is taking a balanced approach.

The Vice President, in the negotiations he led — I mean, there has already been — there is a lot of road that has been traveled already in terms of identifying acceptable discretionary cuts.  There’s a lot of road that has already been traveled in terms of identifying cuts that can still be negotiated in defense discretionary spending, in savings that can be gleaned from entitlement reform, and obviously savings that can be garnered dealing with the tax code and ending loopholes and other measures that we can take, and also then broadly dealing with tax reform.

So it is not a question of Gang of Six, whole or in part, being grafted onto something.  There are — we know what these proposals look like.  And there could be good ideas within the Gang of Six proposal that can be incorporated into the stuff that has already been negotiated between Democrats and Republicans in the administration and that could build — I mean, we have talked about for a long time now the building blocks and what we need to — what needs to be done to get us beyond, say, $1.5 trillion up to $1.7 trillion, up to $2.4 trillion, into the threes and beyond.  Every participant in the negotiations that were held here is aware of what is required to get there and the compromises and tough choices that need to be made to get there.

So the Gang of Six will be another example with some explicit ideas about how you do that and really you’re looking at a menu of options.  And if there is the political will to do this in a balanced way, we believe it can be done.

Q    On the question about both sides’ bottom lines, which the President has been asking them to tell him — today, when he meets with Democrats, one of their bottom lines all along has been no cuts in Medicare benefits.  They said they would be willing to do something to the programs.  And the President is fond of pointing to polls that show that his balanced approach is very popular.  One thing that’s not popular is any changes in benefits to either Social Security or Medicare, which he’s discussed with the Speaker, that’s in the Gang of Six, that that’s a constant in this — either raising the eligibility —

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would make two points.  One, I’m not going to negotiate the details that they’re going to negotiate with you.  And then secondly — and that’s even if we are able to achieve something significant that would have as a component of it entitlement reform; B, I think the President has also been very clear in stating that if we go in this direction, it requires some hard choices.  I mean, I don’t think he could have been more clear about that.  And I think that’s part of the discussion that needs to be had.

Q    And do you have a sense yet of the Republicans’ bottom line?  Because this — Gang of Six requires $1.7 trillion in net revenue increases, and that seems to violate one of their bottom lines.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I think there was a lot of positive response to what the Gang of Six put forward.  And you’re talking — you’re thinking about this again as if this is the only way to get a grand bargain, if you will, is in every element and detail of what the Gang of Six put forward.  I remind you that —

Q    — talking about the net $1 trillion then.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, you said in that $1.7 trillion, didn’t you?  I mean, there’s —

Q    All right.  Well, I mean —

MR. CARNEY:  But what I’m saying is that there are — well, I mean, that’s a perfect example of what would remain to be negotiated about how you get revenue and how much revenue, which affects, obviously, the size of the package.  And that’s for them to negotiate.  If there is the will and the decision made that we should go there, we should try to get the biggest possible deficit reduction package because that’s the best thing for the economy, it’s what the American people want, it’s what the Republicans want, it’s what the Democrats want, it’s what the independents want, it’s what you and I want — well, at least it’s what I want.


Q    It was reported last week that the President told Majority Leader Cantor that he would be willing to take this debate to the American people.  And today, in an ABC/Washington Post poll, it found that six out of 10 Americans did not think the President was doing enough to reach across the aisle to find a compromise here.  I’m wondering, regardless of what the poll found about views on Republicans, doesn’t that show that the President is losing this debate as well?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I would — I certainly disagree with the assessment that he’s losing this debate.  I think there’s overwhelming evidence that the American people prefer a pragmatic, balanced, bipartisan and significant deficit reduction package.

The President made clear when he’s come out and spoken to you all here that the choices that would be involved in creating such a grand bargain would need to be explained and sold to Democrats and Republicans.  And he has — I think you’ve seen the President spend a lot of time discussing his views on this in public because he understands that this is complex and arcane stuff in many ways, especially when you throw in phrases like “raise the debt ceiling,” and that it needs — that it’s important that he does his job to help explain to the American people what’s going on in Washington and why he’s taking the positions he’s taking.

So he feels that that is absolutely his responsibility, and he takes it seriously.  He believes that there is growing evidence that the American people broadly support the approach that he’s taking, and thinks that that fact, coupled with increasing willingness by members of both parties on Capitol Hill to think big and to think about this in terms of a balanced bipartisan deal, is encouraging.

Q    May I just follow up?  I think the poll also found that his approval rating was at 47 percent, which is one of the lowest that this particular poll has found since he’s taken office.  Does that show that this is dragging the President down as well? I mean this whole debate —

MR. CARNEY:  I honestly can tell you that this is about making hard choices that are the right choices to ensure that the American economy is where it needs to be.  And, I mean, there’s no question that even though the economy has been growing now for some time, even though we’ve created more than 2.1 million private sector jobs over the last however many months, we are nowhere near close to where we need to be, and that the anxiety that that creates is real and justifiable.

And this President is totally focused on making sure that he does everything he can to ensure that every American who is looking for a job can get a job.  And he will not rest until we get to that point.  I mean, that’s the way he looks at it — not in terms of what his job approval rating is.


Q    Given, though, that these polls are showing that so many Americans seem pretty fed up with the whole process, is the President —

MR. CARNEY:  Understandably.

Q    Is the President — he, yesterday, to be pretty — he seemed optimistic yesterday.  Behind closed doors, though, is he showing any frustration?  Is he fed up with this?

MR. CARNEY:  I think to the extent that we had some questions about this with regard to one of the meetings last week — I mean, to the extent that the President is ever frustrated, he’s frustrated, or has been, when he sees the potential for something historic to be achieved that’s right there and everybody understands what it would take, and it’s not that hard — because the beauty of a balanced approach is that it doesn’t require draconian sacrifices by either party.  It just requires a willingness to be reasonable.  And his frustration with the way the process works sometimes is when he sees that possibility right there and doesn’t see everybody reaching to grab it.

His optimism, which is perpetual, is that he has great faith in the American people to understand what’s happening and to send — to convey to their elected officials what they think ought to be done.  And he’s seeing that now.  And we’ve seen some movement in Congress in terms of an appreciation and understanding about what we believe broadly the American people expect their leaders in Washington to do.

But I think some of the reporting about — one of the times when he expressed that frustration is when he said, look, some of what’s happening here is exactly why people get frustrated with Washington; it’s exactly why Americans get fed up — to use your words.  And here’s an opportunity to show the opposite; to show that leaders can lead, that the folks — I mean, the people who are sent to Congress are the leaders of their communities.  They’re the ones that were chosen through the ballot box to work for them in Washington to get things done.  Well, this is a huge opportunity to do that if the political will exists.

Q    At the risk of belaboring the train analogy, I know you said you wanted to be pushing on the various different tracks.  You want the push on the Gang of Six —

MR. CARNEY:  I can say with absolute confidence that none of the trains is a high-speed train in this.  (Laughter.)  No high-speed rail here.

Q    And that’s not in the budget —

MR. CARNEY:  These are slow-moving trains.

Yes, sir.  Sorry.

Q    Is the danger that if you decide that, at least for now, you need to go to plan B, you need to get something in place to eliminate — to get past the absolute deadline of August 2nd, that that will inevitably result in the derailing of the grand bargain train because there is no more forcing event?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that would be a shame.  But let me be clear that the United States Congress will take the measures necessary to ensure that we can continue to honor our obligations and pay our bills after August 2nd.  We are absolutely confident of that.  Leaders of Congress have expressed the same confidence.

We believe that we can get more than that, something much more significant than that within the time frame.  If we do not, we are going to continue to fight for that, because we have to deal with our deficits, we have to deal with our debt, and we have to do it in a balanced way.

We do believe a unique opportunity has been created here that allows for action to be taken all at once, if you will, for Congress to make some very important, hard votes that will, we believe, end up paying off for the economy, for the American people.  But we’ll keep fighting.  I mean, no matter how grand the bargain, if we achieve one, there will still be work to be done.  There will still be work to be done to create jobs, to grow the economy.  And that will continue on August 3rd and for the rest of the time that this President is in office.

Q    Thank you, Jay.

MR. CARNEY:  Christi, I’ll take you, and then I apologize that I spent probably a little too much time on the front two rows, and I will remedy that next time.


Q    Not to belabor this point, but when you’re talking short-term measures to finalize the details, are you talking hours or days, a week?  Are we potentially talking about weeks?

MR. CARNEY:  I’m just not going to go beyond the language.

Q    And also, do you want to go beyond the language on what constitutes significant?  I mean, is it a trillion dollars in cuts.  Does that count as significant?

MR. CARNEY:  No, I don’t want to be any more specific.

Thanks very much.

END 1:44 P.M. EDT

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