James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:52 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: All right. Just a couple of quick things before we get started. The President will make a couple of calls to foreign leaders later this afternoon: to Prime Minister Rudd in Australia and to President Uribe in Colombia. The President is also pleased that the House has passed the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Equity Bill, and we'll have some more information -- I'm finally prepared to do the week ahead schedule; better late than never, right? (Laughter.)
Q: Which week? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I can tell you the inaugural is the 20th. (Laughter.) We'll go back and do some of that toward the end of this.
Q: The bill signing -- you'll let us know when -- is what you're trying to say --
MR. GIBBS: You're getting a little ahead of me -- but (inaudible) said, thank you, yes.
I don't have any more announcements, so I'm happy to dive in and take some of your questions. Yes.
Q: A couple of different ways to get at these meetings today. Did the President come away with any specific reason to think that the Republicans will support the stimulus package? And the flip side of that, was there anything specific that he agreed to put in the bill to help bring along more support, or at the request of Republicans?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take the second part first. I know that throughout both meetings -- first on the House, and then on the Senate -- the Senate side -- the President listened to a number of proposals, members of Congress had envelopes with ideas in them that they talked about and gave to both the President and to Larry Summers, who was with us at the meetings.
I do think there is a genuine sense of cooperation that was involved in the meetings. I think we will have Republican support for this bill; I think you'll have some when the House passes this bill hopefully on Wednesday. But again, I think this is a process that will wind its way through. I don't think today was the beginning or the end, but just part of that process.
The message that the President brought today, and the same message I think that Republicans have when they met -- we all see the statistics that come out once a month about where the employment numbers are or consumer confidence which is low or housing numbers that while slightly better are still far different than they were just a year ago, and we can get caught up into acronyms and all that kind of stuff.
But I think yesterday was a day that crystallized how important this economic crisis is. Just yesterday, 20,000 people -- announced 20,000 layoffs at Caterpillar; 8,000 at Sprint Nextel; 8,000 at Microsoft; 8,000 as a result of the merger between Pfizer and Wyeth; 7,000 at Home Depot; 3,400 from Texas Instruments; and 2,000 from General Motors -- just yesterday. The President's message both yesterday and today is that we cannot sit idly by, we have to act, and that that action should not become part of what Washington always does best, which is play politics.
And the President asked each member of the House and the Senate caucus to simply evaluate his plan and his proposal not through a political lens, but simply through a "what works" economic lens. And I think as members look through that economic "what works" lens, they'll understand that this plan is unique among legislation that Congress considers, in terms of openness and transparency; spending projects will be on the -- on a website so people can evaluate what happening; that there is a mix, an appropriate mix of tax cuts that will put money back into people's pockets, into the pockets of small business owners, as well as direct federal spending that creates jobs; that all of those together, that the economic team and Congress has put together, a balanced package that will put people back to work.
Q: Let me just follow up, then. Based on the description you just gave of the discussion, it doesn't sound like a brass tacks discussion. It sounds like what the President was doing was making an argument for the existing bill, not making an argument for how can we change this bill.
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President started -- well, let me describe what actually happened. The President started each of the meetings by letting folks know the decisions that he'd gone through, the process that he'd gone through in talking to economists and economic thinkers, both left and right, both Democrat and Republican, both people that had supported him in the campaign and people who had supported his opponent, in putting together what he believed was not an ideologically driven package but a package that he and the economic team felt was best needed at this moment in time to put people back to work.
He wanted to start by that, and each one had a healthy Q&A back and forth about ideas that people had or criticisms that people had, and he still seeks their input. And this may be somewhat unique in this town to watch the President of the United States go up to Capitol Hill, but I don't -- it may be the first in our seven-day-old presidency, but I can assure you it won't be the last time the President goes up to talk to members of Congress and seek their input on something as important as getting our economy going.
Q: But what you're talking about, and what you say the President talked about, seems more aspirational. And to judge by the public --
MR. GIBBS: We do aspire to pass a strong bill. (Laughter.)
Q: In the manner which you've just discussed. But the public comments we hear are quite predictable. Democrats are accused by Republicans of larding it up and ramming it down the throats of the Republicans. Republicans are concerned that there's far too much stimulus and not enough tax cut. And I don't hear -- I don't --
MR. GIBBS: I hope the problem we have is there's too much stimulus. I think there's a lot of people yesterday that got pink slips at companies that hope there's too much stimulus.
Q: I don't hear anything from either side which suggests that there is compromise in the works.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President listened to ideas. He's asked the economic team to evaluate them. I know in the Senate they talked about infrastructure spending, they talked about different things that the President wants to evaluate. Again, you know, this is -- the clock is not at zero, guys. This is the process that continues.
You know, I think the President went up there in a true spirit of bipartisanship to seek input. I'll leave it aside that some members of the leadership invited the President to come up and announced their position on the bill before he got there. But he was anxious to talk to members from across the country about what they see in their districts and what they are hearing from their constituents.
And I think that -- I think it's a process that we're happy to be part of and I think one that will result in a bill that's in the best interests of the American people.
Q: Are you hearing from members that they're willing to discuss this, to make concessions, to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President talked about some ideas today and he'll have the economic team evaluate them and we'll go through this, through the process.
Q: Robert, the President talked today on the Hill about his concerns, again, about banks' troubled assets and about the multi-legged stool. When will he decide what to do about those assets? Will he be asking Congress for more money? And he also said credit needs to get flowing again. What else does he believe, or does the White House believe needs to be done for that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it's a good question, Jeff, because the President said, and I think both members on the -- Republican members on the House and the Senate side -- talked about and understand that the stimulus or the economic recovery plan is just one part of a series of things that have to happen, a financial stability package, some regulation of the financial industry to ensure that this type of thing never happens again. And it was remarkable listening to that.
There is a consensus that one thing alone is certainly not going to do it, and if we don't begin to do these things in concert with each other -- meaning the proposals -- that we're not going to enjoy an economic recovery.
The President met with -- as part of his economic daily briefing -- with Secretary Geithner and Dr. Summers for about 50 minutes today in the Oval Office. They talked about economic news, they talked about the recovery, and I believe the economic team continues to be in the process of putting together some ideas. I know that Secretary Geithner today released some guidelines about the TARP and how lobbying relates to that.
This is a process that the economic team is working through. Like I said, it took up -- I think the meeting was on the schedule for 15 minutes, and the meeting went 50. So I know they are active discussions, because again, everybody understands that it's not just going to be one thing that fixes this economy or one thing that gets the economy growing and moving again, it's a series of things.
Q: But can we assume that that's going to mean asking for more money?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again I don't -- I think it would be unhelpful to assume based on the fact that the decisions haven't been made yet by the President. Again, I'll restate what I've said a number of times from here: The President will do what is necessary to ensure first and foremost that there's not an economic collapse. But I think everybody understands that we're going to have to do a lot to get the economy moving again.
I know the President -- and particularly on the Senate side, there was a lot of talk about financial stability and understanding that we're in a unique moment whereby it's not just one problem that confronts the economy, that it's a series of very complex but also interwoven problems that are going to all have to be dealt with in order to get the economy moving again.
Q: Robert, you mentioned that the President asked members to evaluate his plan and proposal. Where is that specific plan? We haven't actually seen a document that lays all of this out. It seems like it's sort of a provision --
MR. GIBBS: I think it's on the House side.
Q: -- provisions are coming in, coming out -- they're going to vote on it tomorrow. And you talked about posting it on the Internet so the American people can evaluate the whole -- when will that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, we talked in the campaign about once a bill had come through the process before he signed it that the bill would be put on the Internet in order for the American people to be able to evaluate it. I think -- I'm unfamiliar with how the House does this, but I know the -- I think the bill goes to the Rules Committee tomorrow, and there should be copies of that legislation there.
The President -- let me give you an example, going back to some of your earlier questions about cooperation with Republicans on the bill. One of the very first things that then-President-Elect Obama did when he went to Capitol Hill I think the 4th or 5th of January was sit down with the bipartisan leadership in the House and Senate and talk about ideas. One of the very first ideas that was given to him by the Whip in the House, Eric Cantor, was, let's put everything on the Internet so that people can see where this money is going for and how we do on these projects. And that's going to happen.
So I think this -- the notion that somehow there's one party only, one party involved, or people aren't working together to get this thing done, I don't think matches what's actually happening in this process. That's why we're happy to do it.
Q: The Congressional Budget Office has a new analysis out in the last 24 hours saying that about 66 percent of the current plan, it's current form, it's a moving target, would stimulate the economy within 18 months. You've said and vowed that it will be 75 percent. How do you square that circle? And secondly, CBO is saying that the real cost of this is not $825 billion; it's $1.1 to 1.2 trillion, they're telling Congressman Boehner, because of the interest costs. So what is the real price tag of this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the real price tag is how much the plan costs right now -- I think the plan is $825 billion.
Q: -- cost is really $1.1 to 1.2 trillion.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not an economist, and, I mean, when you bought your house, how much did you -- when the little piece of paper said your house was however much it was, I don't think they factored in the 30-year cost of your loan. But I'll leave that for mortgage brokers throughout the country to discuss.
Q: That's why we had the bailout. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I was going to say, if he wants to declare foreclosure we can deal with it just around the corner. (Laughter.)
So, you know --
Q: -- 66 percent, but you say 75 percent, so --
MR. GIBBS: First of all, let's mark some progress since the first time this question was asked a few days ago and I said that, one, if the CBO will take a wider scope of the bill you'd find a much larger and much faster payout of that money -- and that's now become evident and obvious. As you said in your question -- and I don't remember the exact phraseology -- but, again, they're evaluating this particular piece of legislation. I think the spend-out rates will be evaluated and the Senate bill will be even faster.
The President is committed to at least 75 percent of that money being spent out over 18 months, so that the money that is -- the taxpayer money that's spent gets quickly into this economy to create and save millions of jobs and get this place going again.
I think that's the test that will be met. I'm happy and we're happy that CBO, as I said, has widened its lens to look at not just one narrow aspect of a piece of legislation from a few days ago or at the beginning of the process -- but again, that wider lens and where it is now. I think we're making progress on that.
Q: At the meeting today Congressman Pence, among others, expressed concern that they had been shutout of this process when it comes to negotiation on Capitol Hill. Does the President think that Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey have been bipartisan the way he likes to hold out bipartisanship as a goal?
MR. GIBBS: You know, Dick, I have not been in meetings about the stimulus bill. I can only talk most substantively about the viewpoint of the President and his involvement in this. And I think on any number of occasions -- whether it's going up there when he was President-elect, whether it's bringing a group down here last week, whether it's going back up there today -- that the President believes honestly that we can put something together with input from both parties that will most benefit the American people.
Q: But is he, for want of a better word, leaning on Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Obey and others to be more bipartisan? You're probably not going to get more than a dozen Republican votes tomorrow -- that's hardly bipartisan.
MR. GIBBS: You know, I think we've all seen votes in this town where a few Republicans sometimes are hard to come by or a few Democrats are hard to come by. We'll take what we can get tomorrow. I think the most important thing about tomorrow is keeping this process going. Because again, the American people deserve a process that understands the severity of the crisis that they're involved in, not to get involved in some "Animal House"-type food fight on Capitol Hill about what's going to happen up there.
I think what's most important is that we move this process along. The President was willing to go up there today and do what he can to help move that process along and get something quickly for the American people.
Q: Robert, to the President's way of thinking, do the rhetoric and actions of Democrats and Republicans so far meet his idea of change, or would he like to see additional change?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I think he was -- I think he was heartened by a couple of particular things that happened in the meetings today. I don't remember the exact House member, but several said that they were appreciative of the tone that he had brought to Washington. Actually, one of them was Peter Roskam, a colleague of his from Springfield, who is now a member of Congress from Illinois -- and others who mentioned that they were appreciative of, as I said, the tone that he had brought to Washington, the willingness to seek their opinions and to listen to what they had to say. And Congressman Pence was -- ended the meeting by saying that the door to the Republican conference was always open if the President ever wanted to come talk to them again. I think that's something that he'll continue to do. Again, I don't -- this may be the first time in our illustrious seven-day presidency that we've traveled --
MR. GIBBS: Is it eight? (Laughter.) You know, I'm going to -- you need a sign, because I've now messed that up on three different days -- that we'll go back up there and seek their advice.
Q: How does the President feel?
MR. GIBBS: The President feels like we're making progress. The President feels -- the President feels like we're -- we are on track to meet what he hopes is a President's Day deadline to get something moving. The President also feels, again, that yesterday's numbers make the job of members of Congress, of members of this administration, and of him, to act quickly; that we can't delay, that we need to get stimulus into this economy; that the more we delay, the more people are going to lose their jobs, the less impact that this is going to have quickly. He believes we're on track to do that. He's happy that the tone that has been set is the right one. I think he looks forward to continuing to work with members of both parties and looks forward to having everybody down here to sign an economic recovery plan when it happens.
Q: Robert, can you explain why the President made the decision to call Chairman Waxman to get the contraceptive thing yanked out of the stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: The President called Chairman Waxman yesterday and said that while he believed that the policy of increased funding for family planning was the right one, that he didn't believe that this bill was the vehicle to make that happen.
Q: And going back -- is the President concerned that he's being used as a political wedge? Because it was a parade of House Republicans that came out and said, you know, he's -- you know, Speaker Pelosi is not listening to us, he's listening to us. Is he concerned that he's being used as a political weapon?
MR. GIBBS: If the President becomes a walking comment box that gets an economic recovery plan faster into the American economic bloodstream, then my guess is they'll have to fill up the cars and we'll drive up there a lot more often.
Q: New subject?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q: Karl Rove's attorney wants to know what the White House Counsel thinks about whether Rove is still covered by executive privilege in a subpoena that he received yesterday from the House Judiciary Committee.
MR. GIBBS: Some of my staff has talked to the White House Counsel and the Office of White House Counsel is studying those issues and will advise us when they have a recommendation. I don't have anything, at this point, more than that.
Q: Robert, as you said, on the Senate side there was curiosity and dialogue with the President about the financial stability package. As you said, there will be many legs to the stool. I know it seems a bit tedious, but some of the senators came away with the impression there is going to be a second request, separate from TARP, for the financial industry. Are they mistaken in that impression? And is there any economic data that the economic team has brought to the President in the last week that would suggest there isn't a need for some kind of rescue?
MR. GIBBS: Good try -- (laughter) -- in asking me the same question for three days, but in a different way, to prove the other side.
The discussion and the dialogue with the Senate Republicans, again, I think centered around sort of two basic principles as it related to financial stability: less -- I don't remember a lot of specific discussion about exact funding levels, but two discussions that were had, one was, again, the need to -- primarily to make sure that this happened quickly. That -- look, I think everybody in that room --
Q: I'm missing the first two.
MR. GIBBS: Ideas on how to use the next money differently than the previous money. I think everybody in that room feels like what was brought to them last September and executed neither lived up to what the Treasury Department said they were going to try to do, and certainly didn't execute in any way progress that we've seen that's moved credit and lending along.
There was also discussion again of you have a little bit of a circular problem here. If you don't -- and the reason I think that they talked about this is you have to deal with both parts of these problem -- parts of this problem, and that is, if somebody doesn't have a job, they're not going to be borrowing money, right? So the lending that we have to have happened to get the economy moving is hard to do if somebody doesn't have a job. It's hard to make the decision to borrow $25,000 to send somebody to college if you don't have any hopes of ever paying that off.
So, again, this was discussed as it relates to ensuring that we have both a new way of spending the money that's been appropriated by the Senate -- and I think everyone is eager to see that that changes -- and secondly, to ensure that it works in concert with the reinvestment and recovery plan to get the economy moving again.
Q: Following up on the stimulus, clearly with the contraceptive decision the President is open to revising some component parts of the stimulus.
MR. GIBBS: I think that's accurate.
Q: And to pick up on the phrase you used before, look at the whole package through the lens of what's economically productive, does the President believe -- some other spending has been criticized: $200 million for the National Mall, $44 million to spruce up the exterior of the Agriculture Department.
MR. GIBBS: Let's talk about the Mall for a second.
MR. GIBBS: Let's talk about the Mall for a second.
Q: Are those things also economically stimulative?
MR. GIBBS: Let's talk about the Mall for a second. When we met on the first day of our presidency, we were on the Mall, right? One point eight million people stood on the Mall, which happens to be the most visited national park that we have, right? I think that you can make a very credible case -- and the economic team has -- that reconditioning the National Mall will create jobs, probably through spending in small businesses. I saw editorials over the weekend, you know, "How is hiring cops stimulative?" Well, if you're about to fire cops, then hiring cops is stimulative. It's putting people back to work.
I think that -- forgetting for a second that you can look at 2/100ths of one percent of a piece of legislation and come up with some critique, leaving aside the other -- I can't even do the math that quickly -- 99-plus percent, the President believes that we have a package that is balanced, that puts people -- that puts money into people's pockets and create jobs. There's no doubt that in today's meetings there were members that simply don't want to spend any federal money -- none. Right? But I think you have a hard economic argument to make that paving a road or fixing a bridge or building a wind turbine or laying a power grid doesn't create jobs. I think you'd have a hard time arguing that. When we speed down the interstate and it says, "slow, workers ahead" -- those are jobs.
I think the spending in this bill will create jobs, it'll put people back to work, it'll get this economy moving again. Some people might not want to do that. The President believes we face an economic crisis that doesn't allow us the option to turn our back on that happening.
Q: Robert, the President today urged the Republicans on the Hill to put aside politics. And you repeated something like that earlier today, which I guess means potentially to support the program, despite the fact that it might have political implications that are bad for them or their own party. Is there anything in the bill, in the proposal, that is bad for the Democratic Party or bad for President Obama politically, that he will take a dose of his own medicine in a sense?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the way the President evaluates the bill is whether or not it's going to get this economy moving again. Look, we're all involved in what we hope is a process, and what we believe is a process that will get the economy moving again. We probably don't have many more shots at this. I think -- my hunch is you could find members of Congress that were not happy with the President's decision to call Congressman Waxman yesterday and ask that that money, albeit good policy, not be in this bill.
I don't doubt that there are things on each side of this that people might not altogether like. But again, instead of focusing on 2/100ths of one percent of a piece of legislation, let's look at the 98/100ths of the 99 percent of the legislation and understand that it's going to get this economy moving again.
And I think the President believes that we'll all be in political trouble if we don't get people back to work. We're all in a big boat, and we're all having to row. And if we don't get the boat safely to shore, we're all going to be in trouble. That's I think the evaluation that he hopes members of Congress make in looking at this -- again, not through a political lens, not through a philosophical lens, but instead through a lens at what will work and what will get this economy moving again.
Q: Robert, I'm wondering if the President came away with a different feeling from Senate Republicans than he came away with from House Republicans today. Does he feel that Senate Republicans are any more sympathetic to his point of view? And when you talk about moving the ball forward, is what you're really saying, let's get this bill into the Senate where there may be a little bit different dynamic?
MR. GIBBS: No, when I refer to that I just mean let's move this along in a legislative process. Again, I don't -- when it passes the House and when it passes the Senate it's not likely to be identical. So that's -- even those two acts aren't going to, in and of itself, be the end of the process.
I think in terms of the mood, I don't -- I didn't talk to him specifically, I don't believe he came away with markedly different impressions from the group. Again, I think the Senate discussion probably spent a lot -- probably spent more time on different legs of that three-legged stool than just the recovery. But I don't think he got any overall different vibe from what was going on.
Q: Robert, can you tell us about tomorrow's session at the Pentagon, whether this is for the Chiefs to brief the President or for the President to sort of chart the way ahead in terms of Iraq, Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, and I'll give some details when we go through the week ahead. But as I've said before, the President began on the 21st of January a process of a new mission in Iraq. And the Secretary of Defense and others laid out a process by which he would hear from all of those that were involved. In fact, the Secretary was very clear on this in the meeting, that his goal was to put him in front of all the people that are involved in these decisions and all the people that are involved in committing the lives of men and women in our uniform so that the President can get all this advice in an unvarnished way.
That process that started at the beginning of this administration continues tomorrow at the Pentagon. I think they'll talk about a number of issues. Obviously one of them will be Iraq and Afghanistan.
He'll also, again, at some point have a meeting similar to the one we had on the 21st with -- that will involve General McKiernan, to talk specifically about Afghanistan. But throughout this process, the President has laid down the test of ensuring that he hears specifically from both those on the ground and in the region before he makes decisions on our force posture going forward.
Q: The way you describe it, it sounds like he's expecting a fair amount of skepticism tomorrow.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I don't think that's true. I mean, I think -- I think he's -- I think he looks forward to hearing their opinions. I think he -- he's laid out that there will be a new mission in Iraq. He said it throughout the campaign and he said it the -- on the 21st of January in the Situation Room here. We are now going to go through a process to make a decision to responsibly remove those combat troops, to protect the soldiers that we have there, to provide more -- to give the opportunity for more responsibility for the Iraqi government and to listen to all those involved as we do it.
I think he looks forward to going over there and to listening to what they have to say.
Q: Robert, thank you. Last night the President talked in his interview with Al Arabiya about the Israelis and the Palestinians having to make hard choices. Can you elaborate on what some of those hard choices are for each side? And for the President's part -- I know you went over this a day or so ago -- is he going to have to really deal with the reality on the ground that either he or, through Senator Mitchell, is actually going to have to talk to Hamas?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me not get too far ahead of where Senator Mitchell is on his trip. I think the President during the campaign and throughout the transition has talked about what's required of everybody involved. Obviously -- I think many of us know, without enumerating the individual choices, what issues lay before us.
But let me -- I want to talk for a second -- step back a little bit and talk about the interview itself. I think the President believed that this was an opportunity to show the world that he would be personally involved and engaged in seeking long-lasting peace in the Middle East. I think he used the opportunity to discuss with a broad section of the world, the Muslim world, that the United States is not its enemy, that the aspirations that we all have for our children are likely the same aspirations that they have for their children in seeking opportunity and a better way of life.
And I think it was an important message that the world receive as Senator Mitchell was embarking on his first trip, and what we assume will be one of many in a very, very long process -- but it was important for the President, as he said during the transition, to become involved and engaged in this from the very first day of his presidency, as he did in making calls to foreign leaders in the region. And he'll be actively involved as we go forward.
Q: To follow up, does that mean he is going to be talking to other media like Al Jazeera and other -- I mean, it's self-serving perhaps, because it's where I'm from -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Perhaps.
Q: But I want to know.
MR. GIBBS: Listen, let me do this. Let me make sure that the rest of -- what remains of my briefing doesn't turn into an individual interview request, because I can only imagine I'm going to need someone to get a spreadsheet and we'll go from there.
So I think what people can take from that interview is that you have a President that is willing to reach out and talk to the Muslim world to ensure that they know that the aspirations that he has for them are what they have for themselves and what they have for their children. I think that's important.
Q: Robert, in addition to asking the Democrats in Congress to drop the family planning money, has the President or the White House asked them to drop anything else from this proposal as it moves past the House?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know of any other calls that the President has made about that today, no.
Q: Several House Republicans said that in the meeting President Obama said he was not inclined to compromise any further on the tax cuts, is that correct? And also --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I saw -- go ahead, give me the second one.
Q: Yes, the second one is also, did he hear any ideas from any -- either of the meetings, that was something that he would want to incorporate --
MR. GIBBS: Well --
Q: And then the third is just who -- what Republicans are coming up to see Rahm tonight?
MR. GIBBS: I can get a list of that. I know he has got some guys coming over to talk. Let me see, I got to keep making sure I can remember all three parts.
Q: About not compromising on the tax cuts.
MR. GIBBS: That's not what the President said. The President listened to a number of ideas. The President has asked Larry and others to evaluate some of those ideas. I think the member or members that said that were mistaken about, again, they renewed a debate that was being had, that was had here at the White House about the "Make Work Pay" provisions that the President campaigned on that provide a refundability for those that pay the payroll tax. And the President said, again, that people that pay payroll tax are taxpayers.
Q: It's the same conversation about the same specific tax cut. It wasn't about the tax cuts in general.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes. He also talked -- I think this is an illuminating example, because he said to the members, he asked how many members probably in their office had a picture of Ronald Reagan. You could see hands go up, you could see heads nod. And he just mentioned the notion that refundability of tax credits for those that don't make a lot of money was a principle that not only he holds but one that Ronald Reagan held with the Earned Income Tax credit in the '80s.
Again, if -- the President said if there are ideas, if there are tax cuts that stimulate the economy, he's happy to listen. But the notion that somehow -- it would be fairly counterproductive to have gone all the way up there and said, I appreciate all the cameras as I went in, and the smell of the food as I went out, but we're not going to compromise -- that's not the way the President went up there and that's not the mission that was involved.
Q: But he did hear ideas that he thought were good and --
MR. GIBBS: He heard ideas that he's asked Larry and others to look into, that he -- like I said, he took envelopes from members that brought specific suggestions, some of whom, during the Q&A, audible-ized their suggestions and others who simply wanted to hand them off.
Q: On tax cuts, it's been argued, though, that the "Making Work Pay" tax credit is less stimulative than actually reducing the tax rates for the lowest two brackets. And also, Grassley has also said that if you were to just pass the minimum -- alternative minimum tax, that would reach more of your lower-end taxpayers. So are either of those --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the largest -- the largest part of the AMT patch is for middle- and upper middle-class taxpayers. Obviously it's a proposal that the President has supported in the past and is going to wind its way through Congress.
The President believes that particularly those that have seen their pay and their wages either flat-line or decrease over the past few years, and that have the least buffer in what they make and what their bills are, those are exactly the type of people that we should be giving tax cuts to, because those are the very people that are likely to turn around and spend that money. He used himself as an example. You know, you give a tax break to Barack Obama, who's got a pretty -- he's got pretty good digs, right? He's probably not going to spend his tax cut. But if you give it to somebody who's making $25,000 or $30,000 a year, with a couple of children, that's a person that doesn't have a lot of buffer between, again, what they make and what their obligations are, and that's money that's likely to be spent.
Q: -- you don't argue --
Q: -- in the stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on one second. Go ahead.
Q: You're not arguing the AMT shouldn't be patched, that --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. I think I said very specifically that this was a -- this is a proposal that in the past the President has supported and voted for.
I'm not going to -- I'm not a member of the Senate Finance Committee, for many obvious and probably good reasons. I'll let a lot of that wind its way through Congress and we'll go through a process that gets us a bill.
Q: To back up a moment. You talked a little bit about the Senate, and their -- the meeting with the senators, you talked about the three-legged stool approach. Is that to say that the House meeting -- the questions were sharper, they were more pointed?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: And could you draw distinctions between how the two --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, I meant -- I guess -- which is always the danger of reading out said conversations. No, no, I don't want to -- again, the House was where members stood up and said -- and thanked him for the tone that he used, members again, that he had worked with in Springfield, and served with in Washington, and now work with as President and Republican members of Congress.
The questions -- the tone was very cordial. The tone was very polite. I mean, again I -- maybe it's news that nobody threw anything at anybody. And like I said, there weren't any -- nobody yelled "food fight." But there was a discussion about ideas of how we can move this process forward. And again, the process doesn't end today, it won't end tomorrow, it continues. And we look forward to ways that we can improve that legislation.
Q: Speaking of readouts, apparently a House member and an aide were emailing reports on the meeting while it was going on to a television network. What's your reaction to that?
MR. GIBBS: An excellent way to replace the pool. (Laughter.) Ed, no follow ups to that. No, no, we're -- no, I'm kidding. It's -- look, I --
Q: It could be Twitter. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I know. I've -- can we excise that from the -- no, I -- look, there wasn't anything said in that meeting that -- again, going back to my non-food fight analogy, I mean, there wasn't anything said in that meeting. I don't think that you've heard the President say, or that you've heard Republican members of Congress say. And --
Q: It wasn't open --
MR. GIBBS: I knew that was coming. And we will -- in a way of not going through the pool question, we won't open that up for greater debate. But again, it was cordial. It was -- maybe it's rare, but I think it was helpful in the process. I think it's something the President likes to do. And again, nothing that -- you wouldn't have heard anything that was altogether surprising. Again, and he said, look, you can -- I understand that some of you aren't going to vote for this and some of you are going to go on television and some of you are going to tell everybody why you didn't vote for it. That's fine. But what he wants people to do is have an exchange of those ideas.
As he said during the campaign, we can disagree without finding ourselves being disagreeable. We can get a piece of legislation that works best for -- not for one political party and not -- the wisdom of each idea shouldn't just be that of one political party, but instead something that works for the American people and, most importantly, something that puts the American people back to work.
Q: On the question of tone, after you had this wonderful love-fest, and the Republicans came out and said how much they're appreciative of the President's listening skills, Eric Cantor came out and released a statement about the bill going through the House. And he said, this bill will do very little for small businesses, and is unlikely to help working families struggling today. And he called it a "partisan" bill.
Now, would you and the President say that that was helpful, or not so hopeful, as you move ahead?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President would say that that is an opinion of one of 535 members of Congress who has decided, for whatever reason, not to support the bill. I think -- I don't know when the statement went out. The report that we read before we left was that Congressman Boehner and Congressman Cantor had delivered their remarks about supporting the bill prior to the President coming to Capitol Hill to a meeting they invited him to, to listen what they were doing on the bill.
The President strongly believes, as I've said repeatedly today, that we have a balanced approach that puts money into the pockets of small business -- small businesses and struggling families -- exactly what Congressman Cantor was talking about -- that will help grow the economy, that will put people back to work, and that if we do this in a way that's respectful, that we can get something quickly for the American people and get the economy moving again.
Q: But if this is the type of statements that the Republican leadership is putting out, is there any way at the end of the day to avoid just a partisan battle --
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: -- to get it passed?
MR. GIBBS: I think at the end of the day we'll have a bill that a lot of people support and a lot of people are proud of. We understand that this is a long process. It doesn't dampen or diminish the President's willingness to seek those opinions and to go out and talk to different people. I think that's what he'll continue to do.
Q: Robert, this morning Secretary Clinton emphasized the need to use the six-party talks to engage in negotiations with North Korea. Does the President feel any sense of urgency in restarting those right now?
MR. GIBBS: I was involved in these meetings and didn't see in particular what she said. I do believe that the President, regardless of what country or what group we're talking about, believes that urgency in dealing with the very important issues of nuclear proliferation are important and must be done quickly, must be done with the diplomacy of other countries and, when it's necessary, through direct diplomacy of the United States.
Q: How about our week ahead?
MR. GIBBS: Let's go through the week ahead. Where did I put the week ahead?
Q: One more, sir?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on -- I promise tomorrow I'll get you. How about that?
Q: Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: All right. Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., the President will meet with, in the Roosevelt Room, meet with some CEOs on the economic recovery and reinvestment plan. At 11:15 a.m., open to the --
MR. GIBBS: Pool spray in the Roosevelt Room. At 11:15 a.m., the President will make remarks to the full assembled press corps in the East Room. At 3:30 p.m., the President will travel to the Pentagon and meet with Secretary Gates and service chiefs; and that will be a pool spray as well.
Thursday at 10:00 a.m., the President looks forward to signing the bill that passed the House today named after Lilly Ledbetter on pay equity; that will be open to the full press corps in the East Room, and Mrs. Obama will attend that event.
At 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, the President will meet with the Treasury Secretary -- I believe that meeting is in the Oval Office -- and we'll have a pool for that. I do not have anything yet for Friday or Saturday.
So those are the somewhat abbreviated, late --
Q: The remarks in the East Room tomorrow, those are concerning the stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir. Those will be about the recovery and reinvestment plan.
Q: Followed by questions?
MR. GIBBS: No. (Laughter.) Soon, Major, soon. So keep writing down your good questions.
I'll get you -- I'll get a list of --
Q: What about Rahm? You said he's having Republicans here tonight?
MR. GIBBS: Rahm is hosting some Republicans, and I will try to get those names for you right now.
Q: Robert, Reuters is reporting John Thompson, Chairman and CEO of software company Symantec, top choice for Commerce Secretary. True?
MR. GIBBS: To the best of my knowledge, no decisions have been made about a Commerce Secretary.
Q: Is he the top choice?
MR. GIBBS: I believe his name has been out there as among the candidates that the administration has thought about. But according to the latest thinking that I had, no decision on that had been made. We'll get you a list of those CEOs and we'll see you tomorrow. Thanks.
END 4:43 P.M. EST