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Barack Obama: Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
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Barack Obama
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
February 2, 2009
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James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:49 P.M. EST

MR. GIBBS: How are you guys? Happy Groundhog Day.

Q: Same to you.

MR. GIBBS: Let me make a couple of quick announcements and some stuff and then we'll take some of your questions.

At the invitation of Senator Dick Durbin, President Obama will travel to Springfield, Illinois, on Tuesday, February 12th, to attend the commemoration of Lincoln's 200th birthday. He will attend and speak at the banquet there -- for your travel planning purposes.

Secondly, the President spoke with -- and we'll have a readout shortly -- with Prime Minister Maliki and President Talabani in Iraq this morning. So we'll have some more information on that.

And then before I take questions, let me just go through -- obviously this is another important week for the economic recovery package as it winds it way now through the Senate. You saw the President met with NGA Vice Chair, Republican Governor Jim Douglas of Vermont, who I think spoke to the needs of the people that live in his state, in Vermont. They've seen the unemployment rate go from 3.9 percent one year ago to 6.4 percent last month. We'll get new economic and unemployment numbers, as you well know, on Friday.

But the President understands, and I think Congress does, too, that the American people are hurting and are in need of some help. Each and every day we hear and the American people hear the stats, the government statistics that underscore the challenges that we face as a people and that we face as a country.

The President is pleased with the package that passed the House. Undoubtedly that package will be strengthened and changed some through the process, but it meets the test that the President laid out originally to, first and foremost, create jobs immediately and to strengthen, for the long term, our economic growth. Again, first and foremost, the plan, the President believes, will save or create 3 to 4 million new jobs -- 3 to 4 million jobs, and put people immediately back to work, which is what's needed in this economy.

The plan also invests in the jobs of tomorrow through long-term investments, as I said, to help sustainable economic growth. One example is in alternative energy, doubling renewable energy generating capacity in just three years, and make ourselves less dependent on foreign oil. Secondly, the bill contains -- not just for a bill this size, but for any piece of legislation -- unprecedented accountability and transparency. There are no earmarks in this bill. The information on the projects that will be funded in this legislation will be available online, as you know, at www.recovery.gov. There will be an oversight board that will monitor the progress of each project and address any problems that are involved early and aggressively.

Third, as you know, there's a major investment in this plan in infrastructure. The Senate bill alone contains about $123 billion, again, that will create jobs not just immediately, but lay the foundation for more job growth in the future. Whether it's that new energy economy, whether we are building roads or bridges, or fixing waterways, or investing in long-delayed flood control projects, or creating 21st century classrooms in our schools, this plan makes those necessary and often ignored investments.

Next, this bill also puts needed money back into consumers' pockets, the consumers that need it the most -- middle class families that have seen their wages decline far longer than what the economists say this recession -- for the length of this recession.

So taken as a whole, this proposal will invest in America today by creating jobs, but it will pave the way for sustained economic growth through long-term investments that America and families all across the country so desperately need.

So I'll take a few questions. Ms. Loven.

Q: Thank you. On Tom Daschle -- I just want to step back just a minute -- I understand the President's remarks that he absolutely stands by him. But if you could just take a step back, you've got two nominees now who have had to pay more than $100,000 in back taxes. That's an awful lot of money. That's more than most people in the country make in a year, much less that they owe in taxes. What kind of a message does this send, do you think? How are people supposed to kind of get their heads around that and accept that as top people in your administration?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me also step back and say that no one in this building or in this administration is insensitive to the report that we were -- that was given this weekend about Senator Daschle. I think that includes Senator Daschle. He discovered a mistake, mistakes he'd made on his taxes, and he's paid now what he owed and paid interest on that.

As it relates to Senator Daschle -- and I know he's meeting with the Finance Committee now -- we believe that the committee and the Senate as a whole will examine not just one mistake in a career, but look at that longer, three-decade career of public service, serving this country, serving the constituents both in South Dakota and across America.

The President believes that Senator Daschle is the right person for the very important job of ensuring that we cut costs, reform our health care system, and finally give the American people in health care the outcomes that they deserve. We spend more money on health care than any other nation in the country [sic], but don't get the quality of care that many other countries get.

So again, I think the Senate will lay a serious but corrected mistake against that three-decade career in public service. And in the end, the Finance Committee and the Senate as a whole will vote to extend his career in public service so that he can take on the very important task to America to reform that health care system and cut our costs.

Q: Is the President at all embarrassed by this? And does he see that there's any problem in the vetting that you all do --

MR. GIBBS: I don't think that we believe there's any problem in the vetting. When I say that no one is insensitive to the report in this building, that includes the President of the United States. He understands that.

Yes, sir.

Q: The President is meeting with Secretary Gates today. Will they be discussing the Pentagon's recommendations for troop increases in Afghanistan? Any idea how long it will take for him to act on --

MR. GIBBS: I don't know exactly what is on the itinerary. This is part of what will be a standing meeting with the President and the Secretary of Defense. I'm a little leery of the some of the news reports about the President and the Secretary discussing an increase in 15,000 troops because I'm reminded that just four weeks ago, the then President-elect, without the constitutional authority to do so -- according to many of the newspapers I read and some of the cable television I watched -- approved 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. So I'm a tad leery to get ahead of --

Q: Well, which is right?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Helen, you appropriately ask and when the President stands up at a podium not unlike this one and announces the end of the administration's review of our policy in Afghanistan and our troop levels -- not just in Afghanistan, but as it relates to Iraq -- I think we'll have a more definitive answer that doesn't rely on what may not be decisions that are at this point fully made.

Q: Robert, this morning the President spoke about narrow differences with Republicans on the stimulus plan. When you hear some of the Republican senators on Sunday talk shows they sound like it's not a narrow difference, they want to chuck whole sections of the bill that's working through the Senate. Is there a gulf there between what the President is saying and what Republicans in the Senate are saying, number one? And number two, are there specific things you want out? You've previously been outspoken about removing provisions -- there's this STD prevention provision, for example, a lot of Republicans have been going after -- are there specific things you want to keep in there or take out?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's focus -- I watched -- I didn't watch many of the news shows; I read some transcripts; I read press releases from Senate Republicans, one last week about what they deemed unnecessary spending, which I think when you accumulated it up they added up to $699 million. The reason I'm here is because I'm not very good at math. But that amounts to 7/100ths of 1 percent of a piece of legislation that the American people desperately need to get back to work.

I know there's a tendency to focus on that 7/100ths of 1 percent.

Q: But when you have Democrats like Ben Nelson, for example, saying he wants to turn this into a jobs bill instead of a spending bill, it doesn't sound like that seven, you know, of 1 percent -- it sounds like a big, big difference.

MR. GIBBS: I think what the President would tell Senator Nelson, the President would tell any senator, and what he'll tell Democrats when they come down to the Hill -- come down to the White House later today, he's satisfied that we have the basis of a proposal that will save or create 3 to 4 million jobs, and that the American people can be confident of that. We've got an investment in infrastructure unlike we've seen since the 1950s in the institution of the Interstate Highway System under President Eisenhower. We're putting money back in people's pockets that need it the most and who are likely -- not simply because of their declining income, but their increasing bills -- they will spend that money and get the economy moving again.

Again, I think that what you are watching and what you see sometimes on the Sunday shows is an argument about a very small portion of a piece of legislation. I think the President believes, and his team believes, that if members will step back and look at not just 7/100ths of 1 percent -- you heard me say this last week -- but the 93/100ths of the 99 percent of the legislation, that you'll find -- somebody did the math for me -- (laughter) -- you'll find that this meets the President's standard of stimulating the economy, creating jobs, investing in our long-term economic growth through creating jobs in things like a new energy economy that will also make us less dependent on foreign oil; that we do so in a way that's accountable and transparent to taxpayers; and we do it in a way that gets that money quickly into this economy; that delaying is -- delay in this town may not mean much, but delay in America means that the help that the American people need right now won't get to them as quickly as they need it to.

Q: Can you just clarify the jobs number, too -- last thing. You just said 3 to 4 million jobs. The President two weekends ago in his radio address used that figure. But this past weekend he said over 3 million jobs. He didn't say 3 to 4 [million jobs], number one. And number two, during the transition -- during the transition, he had said that the jobs number would be created over his first two years in office --

MR. GIBBS: This is a two-year bill. The bill that we're talking about is a two-year bill.

Q: In his radio address over the weekend, he said over the next few years. He didn't say over the next two years. Can you just clarify --

MR. GIBBS: I'll certainly go back and --

Q: -- what is the presidential promise to the American people about how many --

MR. GIBBS: I'll go back and look at it, Ed. For purposes of this event, 3 to 4 million jobs saved or created. Again --

Q: Over two years or --

MR. GIBBS: Yes. I mean, we -- I'll go back and we'll clarify what all the different numbers are, but the bottom line is this: You've got a piece of legislation that creates jobs. You know, we can -- and certainly there's going to be -- the process will go forward. This bill will go to the Senate. There will be amendments that will -- that may change this or that. We've already seen the -- probably the biggest amendment in either House so far was authored by a Republican to add tax cuts to the proposal. So I think the notion that somehow people -- Republicans aren't involved in this process is about $70 billion off.

Jake.

Q: Two questions. One, on Tom Daschle, is the President at all concerned that the continuing problem of members of your Cabinet, or aspiring members of your Cabinet, to pay their taxes according to the law will undercut either the President's rhetoric on an era or responsibility, or the fact that your health plan and your tax plans going forward are likely going to be asking American -- some Americans to pay more in taxes?

And then the second question, to follow up on one of Ed's things, what would the President like to see added to the stimulus package so as to attract Republican supporters, since obviously the leaders of the House and Senate -- Democratic leaders of the House and Senate aren't reaching out enough to do so.

MR. GIBBS: I think I'd dispute the -- at least the last phrase of that question. I mean, I think, unless I read Senator Schumer's remarks incorrectly in the paper today, I think there will be proposals voted on this week to increase the money that's involved for infrastructure despite the money that's already there. I think that's -- was certainly something Republicans mentioned when the President met last week. I think there's -- they may add money on a tax cut for home ownership that I think is offered by a Republican.

I would, first of all, I guess, begin by disputing the notion that somehow --

Q: Okay, forget the last clause. What do you want to see added to the bill?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- any idea that we think will help make this bill better.

Q: Robert, specifically what?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm going to leave the legislating to the legislators. The President believes the basis for what we have right now is quite good. Obviously this bill will go through the process and likely will be strengthened as we go forward. Whether that's adding money for homeowners, whether that's adding money for additional infrastructure, the President will certainly look at that. Obviously those are cares and concerns of his. But again, that's something that will happen up on Capitol Hill and the President looks forward to the process continuing in a timely way to get help to the American people.

Q: I had a question about Tom Daschle, too.

MR. GIBBS: Well, hit that again. I was just --

Q: Whether or not the President is at all concerned that with Geithner and now with Daschle, all these -- almost $200,000 in unpaid taxes, that this is going to undercut the President's cry for an era of responsibility, or the fact that he's --

MR. GIBBS: No, I mean --

Q: -- going to be asking for people to pay more in taxes.

MR. GIBBS: Well, let's not -- I don't want to get ahead of budget discussions or what have you --

Q: He said it on the campaign trail, that he's going to ask for some people to pay more in taxes.

MR. GIBBS: Right. The President, again, is not insensitive to -- at all -- to the reports that are out there, but believes that both Secretary Geithner and Secretary-designate Daschle are the right people for very important jobs, and he does not believe that that will undercut their ability to move forward on a agenda that makes sense for the American people.

Q: You said you're going to leave the legislating to the legislators. Is the President leaving the legislating to the legislators? Is he not getting -- are you suggesting that --

MR. GIBBS: No, I think he's going --

Q: -- he's not getting involved in specifics?

MR. GIBBS: No, I'm not going to get into amendment voting. I've received far fewer than the necessary number of votes to participate actively as a member of the United States Senate.

Q: But he is getting in there and telling them what he likes in terms of particular programs and proposals, right?

MR. GIBBS: The President is going to meet with -- you know, obviously the President had members of Congress over last night for the Super Bowl. The President will meet with leaders from -- Democratic leaders from the House and the Senate later this afternoon here at the White House. I think the first message he have -- will have for them is thanking them for their speedy work on getting this process -- this important process for the American people started. The House and the Senate thus far have -- the House has moved forward on an economic recovery plan. We've got a fair pay piece of legislation that's made it through both chambers and landed on the President's desk, that he signed. We anticipate, with some work this week, that additional legislation covering 4 to 5 million more children that currently lack health care will be up for the President's signature.

So there's a lot to thank Congress for already in just the first two weeks of this administration. They will talk about how to move forward on the recovery plan. No doubt they'll talk about ways to strengthen the bill as we go forward. The President is actively involved in the discussions on how to get this passed. You saw it today with the Republican governor here from Vermont.

Q: But is he getting down in the weeds? Is he really getting down to the level of specific programs?

MR. GIBBS: Let's hope not. (Laughter.) I think that's some of what we have staff for --

Q: On Daschle, one question. Some of his defenders on the Hill and in the administration are calling this a bump in the road. Does the President consider failure to pay over $100,000 in taxes a bump in the road?

MR. GIBBS: The President understands that the report that we saw this weekend is very serious, that Senator Daschle is going to meet with the committee and talk with them about the concerns that they have. The President also believes that Senator Daschle continues to be the right person for the job of -- the very big job of making sure our health care system works for everyday Americans.

Chuck.

Q: I was struck by your opening statement in that it seemed to be a reiteration of talking points that you've used on the stimulus before, rather than some sort of new --

MR. GIBBS: That seemed a bit gratuitous -- (laughter.)

Q: Do you feel like you were losing -- that basically the Republicans have done a better job of framing your bill?

MR. GIBBS: No, I -- if I can be equally gratuitous, I think there's a tendency in this town, as I said, to cover 7/100ths of 1 percent of a piece of legislation.

Q: And by focusing on that it seems like you are acknowledging that --

MR. GIBBS: Where I'm focusing is --

Q: -- that having to answer for 7/100ths of 1 percent that somebody else is --

MR. GIBBS: They've clearly gotten you to do that.

Q: I don't know if I speak for --

MR. GIBBS: But again, let's step back and understand what the basis of this legislation is and what it does. That's why economists from Democrats and Republicans, liberal and conservative, believe that this is a good bill; that it will move this economy forward, put people back to work, make the investments that we've ignored for years and years and years, do so in a way that is accountable and transparent to the American taxpayers, and will put money back in middle-class pockets.

Q: And on the -- Senator Daschle, is the President concerned -- you've written the executive order about lobbying and the administration, Congress has passed laws about former members -- but is the President concerned of how easily -- how easy it is for former members to essentially cash in and make seven-figure salaries so quickly? Yes, they're not registering to lobby, and you went through this very meticulously last week. You were asked a question about George Mitchell, well, he doesn't technically lobby. Well, somebody is paying Senator Daschle a lot of money to advise them maybe on how to lobby or something. Does that concern the President that it's so easy in this town, that the way Washington works --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- Chuck, I think that the American people voted to change the way Washington works, and that's what the President is working on doing. Whether it's in how government conducts its business, or in how we get a recovery plan to put people back to work; whether it's restoring our image and respect in the world; whether it's making the investments in energy and health care and education that we for so long neglected, I think all of that is --

Q: Going to Jake's question, don't you worry that Senator Daschle getting there -- essentially undercuts --

MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- my answer to Jake's question is the same --

Q: -- but actually undercuts the image that you're trying to --

MR. GIBBS: No, I don't believe it does. Nobody is perfect. It was a serious mistake, one that he caught and remedied. We think he is still the best person to do health care reform and shepherd that very complicated process through Congress to achieve savings and cut costs for the American people.

Jon.

Q: In both those cases, the Geithner case and the Daschle case, you've had that line. You said that Tim Geithner was the perfect and only candidate who could handle that job at this time. You're now saying that Tom Daschle --

MR. GIBBS: I don't think I said he was the only one. I think he was the best suited.

Q: But -- and Tom Daschle now is the best suited for this particular job. But when does President Obama say, look, I campaigned against the ways of Washington and it's time to take a stand. And we are -- we're seeing information coming out about -- about Senator Daschle that you were privy to, that the Obama transition office was privy to, for quite some time. You pushed ahead; so it wasn't a question of vetting. It was a question of you deciding that these -- the infraction was not worth pulling the name. And I'm wondering when -- what would be worth pulling the name?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I -- we could get into all sorts of hypotheticals. But I think the last part that you touched on is a reiteration of what I've said earlier. It's a serious mistake, but laying that mistake next to a three decade career in public service, the President believes that Senator Daschle is still the best suited to shepherd health care reform through Congress and get something to the President's desk that will save the American people money and make the quality of health care far better. That's the -- that's what he -- that's what he sought when he looked for people to enter this administration, and we believe that the team that we've assembled and that is being approved by the Senate meets that test and will improve the lives of the American people.

Yes, sir.

Q: When was the last time the President spoke to Senator Daschle about this serious but corrected mistake?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that.

Q: Do you know when the last time he spoke to him about anything was?

MR. GIBBS: No, I just said I don't know the answer to when --

Q: Has he spoken to him specifically about this?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know if he has or not.

Yes.

Q: Robert, you've used the word "strengthen" on the stimulus package several times today. What things would be deemed to be strengthening in this legislation, and will that be a topic of the meeting later this afternoon?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as I said, I -- it will be a topic of the meeting, along with -- well, again, I'm going to do this and do this in a way not different than the way I did it with Jake when he asked largely an analogous question without using the word I used. They're going to discuss what's in the bill, how the process is likely to change. Obviously you've got -- how the process is likely to change -- yes, and I mean, there's no question that you've got -- you've already got a different bill in the Senate than you did in the House. I think today also begins the process that is going to be -- going to have to undertake in order to reconcile those two bills and meet the President's deadline of getting something quickly to the American people.

Q: Can you say, does it mean a bit more tax cuts, for example, more green projects? Give us --

MR. GIBBS: Again, there's proposals in the Senate to change and alter parts of the bill, whether it's infrastructure or tax cuts. We'll let the Senate work its will as it relates to this, as long as it meets the test that the President believes the legislation thus far meets, which is how do we save or create 3 to 4 million jobs? How do we put people back to work? How do we make the investments that we need to make right now, not just for the jobs -- for jobs to be created tomorrow, but for that sustained, long-term economic growth? All of those things are part of the bill, and all of those things will be topics of, I presume, of this meeting this afternoon.

Helen.

Q: How far is the President willing to go to appease the Republicans in terms of home owners? He doesn't seem to be worried about foreclosures.

MR. GIBBS: Oh, I don't think that's true. I think you've not only seen the President talk about this throughout the transition and the campaign, also make commitments about how money would be spent in the future to ensure that home foreclosure is addressed. Again, the President said this more often and more eloquently than I have, that home foreclosure is not simply a problem for the person that lives in that home that's being foreclosed --

Q: But he's going to drop it from the bill.

MR. GIBBS: Drop?

Q: From the stimulus bill.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there's different proposals both in this bill and other vehicles that are moving in Congress to address different aspects of home foreclosure, be it bankruptcy provisions or homeownership rates or mortgage rates. This isn't, as the President has said, as I've said last week, this isn't the only thing that has to happen to this economy in order for it to get better. There's a financial stability package that will likely include some aspects to address homes and home foreclosures. There's a significant reregulation that needs to happen to ensure that the irresponsibilities that caused where we are now don't happen again. That's a meeting the President is going to have with bipartisan congressional leaders at the White House later this week.

So this isn't the only piece of legislation that will be moving, and it's not the only vehicle that the President strongly believes Congress must address to get the economy moving again.

Q: But it won't be in this package.

MR. GIBBS: Well, when you say "this," there's a lot of different home foreclosure things that this administration and members on Capitol Hill are working on, a lot moving forward.

Yes, sir.

Q: A couple on Daschle and a follow-up on a separate topic, if I may. When --

MR. GIBBS: Haven't you already asked, like, four questions -- (laughter.)

Q: I want to get to Jonathan's question -- (laughter.)

Is there an amount of money in unpaid back taxes for any nominee to the President's Cabinet that would be considered disqualifying?

MR. GIBBS: As I said to Jonathan, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals as it relates to that.

Q: Is there anything that you could tell the American public to make them as comfortable as the President is with the fact that after he left Congress, Senator Daschle gave speeches and at times received income from some of the very same industries in health care that he would be taking a large role in supervising and regulating as Secretary of Health and Human Services

MR. GIBBS: Well, I can tell the American people that Senator Daschle, our Secretary-designate, when he's approved by the committee and by the full Senate, will follow closely the ethical guidelines and rules of this administration, and won't deal specifically with those entities.

Q: Okay. Why is Judd Gregg at the top of the list for Commerce? And just as a general principle, does the President believe the Democratic Party -- the Democratic governor should fill vacancies created in the Senate with Democrats?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not going to get ahead of the President on making personnel announcements. We hope to announce a --

Q: The White House said this weekend he's the leading candidate. I'm just curious why.

MR. GIBBS: I read those articles. (Laughter.) I'm not going to get into -- obviously the President has great respect for Senator Gregg. I'm not going to get into personnel announcements before we are there. And as it relates to picking senators in states that need new senators, I think you can rest reasonably assured that this administration has had nothing and wants nothing to do with that going forward. (Laughter.) And I would bold and underline that.

Q: What specifically is the President doing to ensure that the Finance Committee and members of the Senate are comfortable with the Tom Daschle position? Is he reaching out to them by phone? Is he involved in personally lobbying for his future?

MR. GIBBS: I don't believe he's made calls. I know staff probably has, and I think you've seen -- I think the most vocal advocate right now for Senator Daschle is Senator Daschle. And I think you've seen the letter that was released this morning that was sent to the committee last night, and I think you've seen the chair of the committee, who's very important in this process and very interested in health care reform moving forward in this session of Congress, come out in support of Senator Daschle.

Yes, sir. Did you just trade seats to get at a better --

Q: I did. (Laughter.) How do you know the bill will save or create 3 to 4 million jobs?

MR. GIBBS: That's what the Council on Economic Advisors has told the President based on estimates of what's in the proposal that they came up with and forwarded to Congress, based on direct spending, putting people -- putting money in people's pockets, and making the long-term investments that I've talked about.

Q: Can you ever measure that? I mean, are you ever --

MR. GIBBS: Sure.

Q: -- are you ever retrospectively able to know that a job has been saved?

MR. GIBBS: Sure. There was a report -- Columbus, Ohio: "Columbus police recruits are laid off before being sworn in. Columbus Police Academy recruits were told they would be laid off Tuesday, three days before their scheduled graduation. City officials said the layoffs were due to budget reasons."

I think it's safe to assume that if the President's package, which addresses the need to ensure that public safety isn't threatened in a recession, and money specifically for police officers -- my sense is that Columbus, Ohio is probably going to get some of that money. And if one of the 27 would-be graduates that were laid off before they got their would-be diplomas, I think that would count as a saved job.

Again, the analysis that the CEA did was what would happen to the economy without a significant economic stimulus. A similar study in recognition of these facts were done by the Congressional Budget Office, which showed a far deeper recession without some recovery and reinvestment plan. You can see what the arc of those jobs numbers would be without a stimulus, and what our economic team believes that arc would be with a stimulus.

Q: I guess I understand that example, but I'm wondering if just -- you're setting off something that -- you're talking about hundreds of thousands of jobs. Are you ever going to be able to measure that this bill succeeded in saving those jobs? I mean, who can tell exactly why some people are let go and exactly what the process -- it's so complicated.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, I don't doubt that it's complicated. But again, people far better at math and carrying numbers are working on what happens without a stimulus and what happens with a stimulus. And I think there are very real-world examples of what happens when states and cities have budget pressures related to a significant downturn in the economy, and how that affects their ability -- whether its police officers or teachers -- I think the difference between laying those off and keeping them on the job is the definition of a saved job.

I think that's one of the reasons why Governor Douglas was here, and Governor Douglas has a different perspective on a stimulus and a recovery plan than some people on Capitol Hill. He doesn't have the luxury of running up a $1.2 trillion debt every year, and going home. He is accountable for public safety and health care in a way unlike many people are. I think that's why he walked in here today and was happy to support the President's plan to ensure that we have a recovery plan that saves or creates 3 to 4 million jobs.

Q: Can you look in the bill and see if any of our jobs are saved and can you just help us out? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: No, I'm --

Q: I'm wondering whether we should come back tomorrow.

MR. GIBBS: I have some very bad news. (Laughter.)

Q: Nothing could save our jobs. (Laughter.)

Q: Robert, I wonder if the President thinks that all jobs are created equal, and by that I mean -- (laughter) -- you talked a lot about public sector jobs -- police officers, teachers -- if, at the end of the day, a lot of public sector jobs are created on the public payroll, as opposed to private sector jobs, is that okay?

MR. GIBBS: First of all, I believe that if -- the latest statistics based on the economic reports show that 90 percent of these jobs are private-sector jobs. No doubt there are public sector jobs, whether it's police officers or teachers, that are important to our long-term economic growth, that actions that we take or don't take will have a negative impact on whether or not those jobs continue. But obviously, and you saw last week with the CEOs that met with the President, that -- or small business owners -- those are the jobs that are going to fuel an economic recovery, not public sector jobs.

And that's why the President believes, as the CEOs said, as small business owners across this country have said, we need to get a series of things in place -- not just a recovery plan. Again, I think many business owners would and have talked to the President about a stability package that ensures that lending and credit are available to meet payrolls and to expand those businesses. The President visited the wind turbine business in Ohio, I think as an example. Certainly the new energy jobs of the future are just one fairly poignant example of jobs that would be created throughout the public -- I'm sorry, throughout the private sector in order to ensure immediate as well as sustained job growth.

Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you, Robert. One of the things when you talk about that 7/100s of a percent in the package -- that figure is right, isn't it?

MR. GIBBS: If my math is right, yes. Shaky at best, but I did it twice on my computer calculator.

Q: Okay. Would that mean that some of the more controversial items as far as Republicans, such as the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, would be on the table then for discussion?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- you know, I don't want to prejudge what is or isn't on the table for the President to discuss with either leaders of the Democrat Party, as he will later today, or also with leaders of the Republican Party in any dealings that he may have with them. My point on this is just that we can focus on a very narrow definition of what this proposal does to help the economy, or we can focus on the vast majority of what this legislation and proposal does to get the economy moving again.

Q: The other thing was that in his first interview as Republican National Chairman, Mr. Michael Steele said that one should also consider in a stimulus package suspending or abolishing outright the capital gains tax for two years to free up the private sector. Is that something that's ever been discussed in any of the meetings on the stimulus package?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I know of. I think you've seen -- I think we know where business investment is right now, and I think you know where the capital gains tax rate is now as it -- relating to where it was several years ago. And I would I guess posit that the economy isn't altogether markedly more healthy.

Margaret. Go ahead, choose amongst yourselves.

Q: The Republican Senate Leader, Mitch McConnell, said earlier today talking about President Obama and the stimulus plan, I think I know where he wants it to go. He said, it appears the Democratic leadership has not gotten the memo -- or the message if you will. I hope he is going to be able to put the Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate in line.

And I guess I was just wondering, walking up to today's meeting, is he planning on putting them in line when they get together?

MR. GIBBS: It depends on if he gets the memo.

Q: Does Mitch McConnell have it right, or not exactly?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think -- again I would, as I've said here, I think what Senator McConnell should do is look at the whole bill. I think what Senator McConnell and others should do is talk to their constituents about what's needed to get the economy moving again. Many of them will tell you it's a blend of spending that will create jobs immediately, spending that will ensure investments for long-term economic growth, as well as some mix of tax cuts to put money back in the pockets of middle-class families and small business owners, and that a correct blend of that will get the economy moving again.

And I think that's exactly the proposal that the President and his team put together, and exactly the proposal that we've seen pass the House of Representatives thus far. And we're encouraged -- this week it will be debated on in the Senate, and we'll move forward from there.

Q: So just quickly, you don't think that Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership team is closer to what the President would like to see than the Democrats obviously are?

MR. GIBBS: Well, if I read most of the comments -- I mean, Senator McConnell believed that -- if I've read the AP story correctly, he didn't think the piece of legislation would pass the Senate. I think the President believes it will not only pass the Senate, but the Senate proposal is a good plan. I think his members want infrastructure spending, and this bill contains $123 billion in infrastructure spending. His members want tax cuts, and the bill contains more than a third of the money involved is in tax cuts. I think that the proposal that we have is a strong one, and it will create the jobs necessary to get Americans back to work.

April.

Q: Two questions. One, there's a group of Democrats that desperately wants to meet with the President, members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Are they on the President's agenda? They want to talk to him about the stimulus package, issues of education, issues of unemployment benefit extensions, Pell grants, things that are in the stimulus package.

MR. GIBBS: I don't have the full list in front of me, the President's schedule. I am sure he'll meet with -- throughout the rest of this week and this month -- Democrats and Republicans on any number of those issues, including how to get more unemployment benefits out to the states, how to create jobs, and all the things that you speak about.

Q: And also one more question.

MR. GIBBS: Oh, I'm sorry.

Q: Michael Steele, you guys didn't come out with a statement on Michael Steele. Why? What is -- has the President reached out to Michael Steele? He has made several comments about the President, to include: "How do you like me now?" He is the other African American now heading a major party in this country.

MR. GIBBS: I would direct him to somebody over at the DNC.

Michael.

Q: You said that the President was pleased with the House bill as it was passed. It's a very different bill, though, than what the transition talked about in early January. Back then you were talking about $300 billion in tax cuts, 40 percent of the stimulus. According to CBO score on Friday, it was a $182 billion that passed, 22 percent of the stimulus. What does it say about Obama's influence with Congress if they end up passing something very different than what he asked for in January, and is the President still happy?

MR. GIBBS: I don't think what ultimately passed was markedly different than what the President proposed. The figures I saw today are different than what you mentioned in CBO. That's not surprising -- we've kind of a had a little bit of a running debate with some of the figures that have been birthed by the CBO.

But, again, the basis for the legislation that we have now, the basis for the proposal that the President and his economic team developed fundamentally contain what's necessary through spending and tax cuts -- what's necessary to get the economy moving to create long-term economic growth; to do so in a way that's accountable and transparent to the American taxpayers; that invests in infrastructure and creates jobs and things like the new energy economy; and cuts taxes.

I think all of those were the basis for the President's proposal. He likes what he's seen thus far in the House proposal. Again, the test is, what can we do to get the economy moving and get people back to work. And I think he believes that the House bill passes that test.

Q: But that -- is the White House still thinking about that 40 percent figure? I mean, is that still something that you guys would like to --

MR. GIBBS: I would point you to Congress and the people that might be able to tell you what the legislative process is -- what is going to happen this week, again, as I said earlier, the proposal in the Senate has already been added to significantly with an increase in tax cuts and making it different than what's in the House. And we'll see -- hopefully sometime next week after this bill passes the Senate and we can begin to reconcile the House and the Senate proposal -- what the final outlines of a deal will be.

But I believe, and the President strongly believes, that the outlines of that deal will largely mirror the proposal that he sent up that creates jobs. And I think that members of Congress in both parties, if they take a clear-eyed look at this proposal, will understand that that test is met in this proposal and that it will help put America back to work.

Thanks, guys.

END 2:35 P.M. EST



Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs," February 2, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85706.
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