James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:14 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: I have no preset announcements, so hopefully a voice that's been restored --
Q: It's getting better.
MR. GIBBS: One step at a time, right?
Q: That's very kind of you to bring it up again. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Helpful. It's a big topic this week.
Q: Senator Baucus is talking about remedying the tax-free status of job-based health insurance. I know that was something that the President as a candidate was critical of, may be more open to now. Can you talk about his position on whether that benefit should remain completely tax-free or not?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would, as part of your question, refer you to what the President said in the campaign about this issue. I think from a larger standpoint, I think you've seen this week the President focus, rightly, on cutting health care costs, getting an agreement with associations that are involved in this debate, and highlighting what companies have done proactively to cut health care costs -- and some of that savings, obviously, is passed on to their employees.
But I'm going to resist the temptation to comment on every machination of what happens in the committee on the Senate side.
Q: It's a very big philosophical question. I mean it's not just a day-to-day, everybody comes up with a new idea kind of a question. It's a philosophical question that this country --
MR. GIBBS: Well, my sense is you'll do more of the latter as we go on, but, yes.
Q: Sure, why not? But this is a philosophical debate that this country has had for a long time when it comes to health care, which is should it be an employer-based system or should it be something else? And so what does the President --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the reform contemplated by the President during the campaign and what I think is largely being discussed on Capitol Hill is a preservation of the employer-based health care system, but done in a way that, as you've seen again over the past couple of days, envisions significant reform in how we're spending money. And that's important for a couple of reasons, both of which I mentioned yesterday, one of which is we cannot continue to sustain the type of spending and the type of health care inflation that we're seeing, so we have to take steps to cut costs. That's true both on the private side and on the public side as it relates to expenditures for things like Medicare and Medicaid. I think --
Q: -- the bottom line here is that he wants to keep the system, but he's open to tinkering with it, maybe placing some limits on it --
MR. GIBBS: Limits on?
Q: -- employer-based system.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'm going to -- we'll wait and see sort of how the committee functions, what goes on. My sense is, again, this is a many weeks process. The President is focused, as he always has been on, in cutting costs for families and businesses, ensuring greater accessibility to -- and greater accessibility to health care.
Q: Question on General Motors. As it approaches its deadline for restructuring, you've got already low public confidence in the company, and now you -- suddenly GM executives are dumping stock, which has helped to send shares to a 76-year low. I'm just wondering, what does the administration think of this kind of action that further undercuts public confidence and at a time when the government is propping it up and considering further bailout measures?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know that, as you mentioned, the deadline is approaching for a restructuring deal that the President and the Auto Task Force believe puts General Motors on a sustainable and viable path without continued government involvement. That was the goal in the original iteration of this, as the original plan was looked at, as the Auto Task Force the President rejected as insufficient -- that plan -- and now back to the drawing board.
But again, I think in many ways -- I've talked about this over the course of the past several months -- that is it's not just General Motors, it's a lot of auto companies, foreign and domestic, that are seeing their sales slump significantly because of a downturn in the economy, which -- those sales figures not unexpected, given where we are.
So I think – twofold -- the task force will continue to work with GM to get a plan that they believes put it on a sustainable path while, at the same time, the President works to improve the economy, because the bottom line of this for the long term is going to be getting the company in a position to take advantage of an improved economy to sell cars to the American people and to sell cars abroad that those people want to buy. And that's the focus of the task force and my guess is the focus of all the executives at General Motors, as well.
Q: Is it an intelligent move for the executives at GM to start selling off their own personal holdings in a sensitive time like this?
MR. GIBBS: I think it's probably better that I resist the temptation to comment on individuals' personal stockholdings, except to say that the President and the Auto Task Force, again, want to ensure the continuation of General Motors and to do so in a way that puts it on that path that doesn't require continued government subsidies and government involvement. And that's the pathway for GM's future.
Q: Two questions, Robert. Thank you for calling on me. Vice President Cheney is continuing his media campaign, talking about how he feels that the Obama administration's policies make the country less safe. And I'm wondering if you could specifically address the substance of what he's saying in terms of changing the interrogation policies and changing the storage of detainees at Guantanamo. I understand that you feel that this was bad public relations, it inflamed people against the United States, but in addition to that, how do you know that Vice President Cheney is wrong?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there was -- without putting words in anyone's mouth, I think there's been some agreement across party lines that Guantanamo Bay has not made us a safer country. I've seen remarks in the past few days -- I read part of what Vice President Cheney said this weekend; I haven't seen updated comments. I don't know if that's what you're referring to.
The President has taken action, long needed, to address our fundamental threat throughout the globe, and that is in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- to put a renewed focus on the exact location of where extremists have targeted this country. They targeted it in 2001 in operations there. And we have no reason to believe, or no intelligence to suggest, that that planning doesn't continue in both of those countries.
That's why the President throughout the campaign discussed the importance of focusing on those two countries. And that's why you've seen his actions in moving more of our precious resources and troops to Afghanistan to address al Qaeda, the Taliban, and its extremist allies. I think that's -- the best way to keep this country safe is to go at the terrorist threat, something that the previous administration didn't do.
Q: Okay. And the second question on a completely different topic -- the President opposes same-sex marriage, but he supports giving same-sex couples the same rights as married people.
MR. GIBBS: And benefits.
Q: Same rights and benefits. What's your response to critics of his policy who say this is exactly separate but equal?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would point you to the any number of times that he was asked this during the campaign and addressed it.
Q: I don't think he was ever asked is this separate but equal.
MR. GIBBS: No. In fact, it was asked on multiple occasions, and I can pull you something on that. It's the President's belief -- he strongly supports civil unions, and supports ensuring that they have access to the rights and benefits, such as hospital visitation and things like that, that are enjoyed by others.
Q: Robert, answer two questions if you could. One is on the reports that are coming out today on Social Security and Medicare. We don't know the details, but experts certainly are predicting, and it's rational, that the economic downturn is having an effect on both of those plans, and that in essence they could go bankrupt or be out of money more quickly because of this economic downturn than we believed even a year ago. Do you know how bad it is? Have you defined how bad it is? And what, if anything, is the President planning at this stage to do about that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you likely address the leading cause for any change in the life of -- the lifespan of either Social Security or Medicare trust funds is a change in our economy and in a recession. I think, first and foremost, it is to address this exactly how the President has addressed our economic problems, and that is to focus intently on them, to create jobs, to get our economy moving again, to lay the foundation for long-term economic growth, and through that economic growth we'll see a stronger position for both Medicare and Social Security.
Obviously also the President has, as we talked about the last few days and, quite frankly, many days in this administration, that addressing health care reform is addressing the very same -- one of the very same entitlements that we're talking about here in Medicare. I think previous reports have suggested that Medicare was in a more immediate danger than was Social Security. The President believes that we have to cut costs for Medicare; we have to put it back on a more sustainable path. That's exactly why he believes that we need fundamental health care reform, which he's pursuing; that we need to take steps, as we demonstrated yesterday, to change the trajectory of health care spending both publicly and privately, and ensure that we extend the lifespan of those trust funds through some cost reforms, but that we have to do that as part of fundamental health care reform.
And lastly, I think the President has sought to cut waste from Medicare by eliminating the subsidies for insurance middlemen to provide largely the same services that Medicare already does.
I think all of those things are efforts that he's undertaking to shore up the stability of these important programs.
Q: And a question on another subject. Even some of the President's friends are now saying that he is hedging on his promises on "don't ask, don't tell." He said he would overturn it, and now -- and you're saying, you have said, the President will keep his promise. But we heard from General Jones saying that "I don't know" when he was asked when it would be overturned. And some people feel that it's really on the back burner.
And also, cases of people -- there's a group now of people who were in the military who are gay who have come out, who are -- we're doing a profile on one who's a linguist, Arabic linguist, who's been kicked out because -- precisely of that.
MR. GIBBS: I think that case, in fact, shows why the President, why former members of the Joint Chiefs, and why the administration believe that the policy isn’t working for our national interests.
Now, in terms of keeping his promise, I would note that many of the questions that have been asked here require more than the snapping of one's fingers. To get fundamental reform in this instance requires a legislative vehicle. The President made a promise to change this policy; he will work with the Joints Chiefs of Staff, the administration and with Congress to ensure that we have a policy that works for our national interests.
Q: On Guantanamo, there's been a lot of concern lately about the lack of details -- a concern about what the administration is planning. Senator Kyl took it to the floor today and said there should be more openness about which communities are being considered to take detainees, saying that these people that live there want to know if they would be affected by the arrival of terrorists. So I guess my question is do you believe there should be more openness about these communities that are being considered, and if not, why not?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think I don't have much to add to what we've said before, which is the process was started in the very beginning of this administration to review our detainee policy and to make recommendations to the President to keep a promise to close Guantanamo Bay in a year, and that's a process that is ongoing.
Q: Do you know when you might have some more concrete plans, presumably -- I know you have a year, but obviously you won't be deciding the night before. So I just wonder what the time --
MR. GIBBS: Presumably. (Laughter.)
Q: Right -- what the time would be and when we might --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any updates on timing, except to say that it's an issue that is obviously active here as there are a number of reviews ongoing relating to that executive order.
Q: And just real quick -- I know you're meeting -- the President is meeting with the Senate about the Supreme Court nominee tomorrow. Do you have a sense of timing there? I mean, there's --
MR. GIBBS: There will be an update tomorrow.
Q: Yes, thanks -- (laughter) -- I'm clear on that one -- in terms of when we might hear about a nominee, and specifically if the President has a position about whether he’d like the confirmation hearings before August recess or after.
MR. GIBBS: Well, in terms of timing for confirmation hearings, I think, first and foremost, the President strongly believes that, as I've said repeatedly, we have to have somebody in place when the Court next hears fresh business in October. I think the best way to ensure that that's the case would be to get this done before the lengthy August recess. That's presumably the best way to ensure that we have somebody in place for the Court's opening in October.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q: Were you saying to Jill that you believe the accelerating train on the entitlement trust funds is an argument for the President's health care reform plan?
MR. GIBBS: Absolutely. I didn't just say that today; I've said that repeatedly. Look -- without having that fancy graph behind me again -- if we don't take action to slow the growth in health care spending, both publicly and privately, we are going to find ourselves in a simply unsustainable position; that unless or until we address those rising costs through health care reform, we're risking the solvency of these programs in the future. That's why the President has taken steps to address both the public and the private side of our health care system.
Q: And on Cheney, has a decision been made on whether to release the memos he talked about again?
MR. GIBBS: I'm trying to find out where all that lays, and hopefully, can clear that up in the next few hours. I'm trying to find where that is.
Q: The President is going to be making his commencement speech tomorrow, as President, and it's going to be delivered well past a lot of our deadlines on the East Coast. So I wonder if you have any kind of theme that you want to release now, any hint on what he's going to be talking about --
Q: The whole speech --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know there's a healthy draft of that speech, and will endeavor to get that to you well in advance of your East Coast deadline, even as you're near the West Coast. Obviously, I think he will, through the course of several of these commencements -- at Arizona State, at Notre Dame, and then, finally, at the Naval Academy -- discuss the amazing opportunity that graduates have, the challenging world that they enter into, and as he's done in many commencements before, talk about the fact that the choices that you make leaving college about being involved in your community and serving a purpose higher than yourself is tremendously important. But we'll get you something in advance so that you don't have to guess.
Q: And do you have any comments about this OMB memo regarding a cap and trade system and its impact on small businesses, and the methodology used by the EPA to determine the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- the memo that's on regulations.gov?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it is, as I understand it, is not an analysis of cap and trade. I think -- let me make sure that you understand that, as part of the premise of your question, that it is a series of departmental reviews on a command-and-control policy relating to the regulation of greenhouse gases in accordance with the EPA versus Massachusetts if one went through regulating this via the Clean Air Act.
As you know, Jonathan, the President has on many occasions discussed the strong desire to, instead, seek a legislative solution for dangerous greenhouse gases. And the House is working on that as we speak and hopefully will begin to put in place a process that can be considered by both the House and the Senate to put ourselves on a path toward energy independence while decreasing the level of harmful greenhouse gases that are emitted each day.
Q: Steny Hoyer said this morning that he thought that taxing employee health benefits ought to be one of the elements on the table for debate during the health care debate. And I take it from the response to Jennifer's question that the President does not think that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I guess I'd reiterate what I said to Jennifer, and you can pass that to whomever.
Q: So he does not think it should be --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think the President was fairly clear on that during the campaign.
Q: Okay, and that was he was opposed to it?
MR. GIBBS: That was the case, yes. I can get you the commercial if you'd like to see that.
Q: Robert, Senators Graham and Lieberman have written the President a letter about pending release of the photographs of the treatment of detainees, and they would like the President to consider reversing that decision made by the Justice Department and the Department of Defense. And in their letter, they say the release of these old photographs of past behavior --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- the decision made by the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice relating to a series of court cases dating back to September of 2008, as well as an appeals case dating back to March 11.
Q: That's the legal foundation, yes. And in their letter, they say this will "serve no public good" -- I'm quoting now -- "but will empower al Qaeda propaganda operations, hurt our country's image, and endanger our men and women in uniform." Is this something that is being considered by the President for reversal or is this a policy that will go forward? And does he have any anxiety about the potential consequences of the release of these photographs?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the President has great concern about any impact that pictures of detainee -- potential detainee abuse in the past could have on the present-day service members that are protecting our freedom either in Iraq, Afghanistan, or throughout the world. That's something the President is very cognizant of, and we are working to -- we are working currently to figure out what the process is moving forward.
Q: Does this mean -- does that mean the decision could be reversed?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get into that right now.
Q: So you can't commit either way?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to add much to that right now.
Q: Okay. Along health care lines -- there is a request from Congress to seek information -- Congressional Budget Office -- on what a soda pop tax would raise in the form of financing health care -- $24 billion over a certain number of years. Is that something that the White House would encourage Congress to investigate more, or would you like to tell them that it's not a good idea and the President opposes raising taxes on soda pop to finance health care reform?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen the CBO report. I ingested a Diet Coke not long before coming out here. (Laughter.) I don't think those are in any way linked.
Q: That's not a policy pronouncement you're making with that ingestion of the Diet Coke?
MR. GIBBS: No, an individual selection on a carbonated beverage. (Laughter.) You know, I don't have any response to the report. And obviously -- and I would point to you what I did to Jennifer -- obviously a number of things are going to be considered, and the administration will look at that as they're considered, but I'm not going to get into scoring that each and every day.
Q: What about Fresca? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Is this a personal thing that --
MR. GIBBS: There you go, all right. At least you owned up to it. Kidding.
Q: Does he really have no opinion on whether it's a good idea, with the GM situation, that executives would be selling stock, that that would not send a signal --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look -- no, no, I --
Q: -- to consumers and folks who are looking at the situation while the task force is trying to come up with a plan?
MR. GIBBS: What I'm hesitating to do is get involved in people's personal financial decisions.
Q: But wouldn’t that send a signal out there that some people would -- might feel justifiably alarmed about?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there's enough with a company that is -- that has to come up in a few weeks with a deadline -- facing a deadline to restructure, that there's plenty in GM to worry about.
Q: But you said that's to keep it alive. And if the top executives are selling stock, that signals that they think it's going to die.
Q: Spending our money.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will take a closer look at the report. I have not seen it.
Q: Throughout the presidential campaign, certainly the vice presidential selection process, secrecy was a big sort of hallmark of the process of --
MR. GIBBS: I'd say privacy -- but, yes.
Q: Okay, privacy -- on how you all went along toward picking Vice President Biden; the same with the Cabinet. Do you believe that you will be able to maintain the same privacy in this selection of a Supreme Court Justice, and is that the President's wish and desire?
MR. GIBBS: Look, obviously, I think the way the President conducted his vice presidential search, and the way he conducted a search for a Cabinet was his strong desire not to drag names through and vet names through the public. The President obviously, based on his understanding of the law, his understanding and teaching of the Constitution, and his studying of the Court, I think he has a pretty firm understanding of what he's looking for -- somebody who understands and can apply the rule of law, but also understand how the law applies to individuals' everyday lives.
I think he will be -- I think this is a decision that he alone will make. I don't think that the lobbying of interest groups will help. I think in many ways lobbying can and will be counterproductive. The President does take some heart in knowing that in all of the lists that have been seen and produced, there hasn't yet been one produced with the totality of names under which are being considered.
Q: So in these meetings, like the one tomorrow with Senate leaders, how do those go in a general sense, since he already has an idea? Is he running some names past people, or is he mainly listening to what they're saying? And if he is running names past people, doesn't he run the risk of this being not a private situation, since the Hill is more involved in this than --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think not knowing exactly whether the President will, as you mentioned, run or vet names through the senators that will visit tomorrow -- I mean, obviously -- there was a previous question about the importance of the process and the timing, I think something that the President will want to discuss with the leadership and the member and ranking -- the chair and the ranking member of the relevant committee that will hear the confirmation hearings of a nominee. So I think there's a healthy amount of process. And I think the President does want to pick the brain of these senators and others. As I've mentioned before in some of the conversations he's had, they have sent -- some have sent names over to him to consider, and he's certainly happy to look at that.
But again, not knowing exactly what he'll say or do tomorrow, it's hard to say whether tomorrow will be him washing names through them. But I think there's enough consultation that the President desires to have happen and certainly a process that's going to govern this confirmation, that he looks forward to the views of Democrats and Republicans.
Q: Yes, Robert. Speaking of consultation, and back on health care, I know you've talked about this some before, but now the stuff is actually on the Hill I guess I ought to ask it again -- has the President, has he made a strategic decision to leave the details such as the employer deduction to senators, let them work their will, and then come in at the end and --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Mark, I think there's -- I think you're going to see over the course of many weeks legislation move through multiple committees, both Houses of Congress; proposals will be floated; proposals will be voted on, accepted, not accepted. I think, obviously, the President will remain involved and engaged, but we're not going to get into a daily score-keeping of each idea and proposal.
Q: Is that a reaction to what happened to the Clintons when they last tried it?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it's a formula that hasn't worked too badly in the past hundred or so days. I think obviously this is a subject that has been much touched upon and people have a pretty good understanding of where the President is.
I do think the process is -- I think the environment with which this process is being undertaken is obviously different than it was the last time significant health care reform was tried. And I think that's the -- the example of that is yesterday, that instead of having groups and trade associations spending money to defeat a proposal for health care reform, they're now working and looking to spend less money on the health care they deliver so that health care reform is less expensive. I think that's a pretty big environmental shift that makes health care reform more attainable.
Q: It's been suggested that one reason they're not doing that is because the President's specifics aren’t on the table for them to fight; when they see that sort of stuff, they will come in.
MR. GIBBS: Well, but, I think the difference -- the difference in a lot of this, Mark, is that there's going to be -- are you going to have this fight on the airwaves, as you did 15 or 16 years ago? Or are you going to have a discussion with all of those involved at the table in order to come up with a solution? I think the President has picked the latter, and I think the process thus far has denoted that.
Q: Back on the economy. This morning an economist with Schwab and, separately, one from Barclays declared the recession is over. In fact, they each said that they're quite sure it was over in April. Has anybody at the President's morning economic -- raised the possibility that you're at what they're calling a sweet spot that's turning?
MR. GIBBS: I have -- I did not see that report, and I can report nobody has intoned that message in either of the economic daily briefings this week. And I'm pretty sure I didn't miss a meeting over the weekend on that.
No, I think, as the President talked just last Friday about the report that showed albeit fewer jobs lost in the previous month than in the five or six before it, that unless or until we're at a position where this economy is growing or this economy is creating jobs, then the President will continue to be focused on ensuring that we're doing all that we can to lay the new foundation, to address the many pillars that have to be addressed from recovery to financial stability to lending to reform and re-regulation -- that until this happens there's much work to be done.
Q: And real quickly, on next Sunday. Apparently, some seniors at Notre Dame have decided they will not go to their commencement -- to the commencement ceremony because the President is speaking. Will he have anything in his commencement address that even those who disagree with him on issues would find objectionable?
MR. GIBBS: That those that disagree will find objectionable?
Q: Will he address some of the most sensitive issues that have caused --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he will address writ large the notion, as he has, I think, throughout his campaign, that we can disagree on issues without having to be disagreeable.
I would point out, Ann, that I think there is one group organizing a boycott, and as I best I can understand it, there are 23 groups that have formed in support of the President's invitation. The Valedictorian is supportive of the invitation. Polling -- public polling done by Pew shows a majority of Catholics are in support of the invitation to speak at the commencement at Notre Dame, and that -- I think I saw a figure that 97 percent of the students are supportive.
The President understands the right of anybody in this country to disagree and to exercise their disagreement in that way. I think it's important to understand it appears as if the vast majority of students and the majority of Catholics are supportive of the invitation the President accepted and I know he's greatly looking forward to it.
Q: Robert, the Obama administration has cautioned that it may rescind stimulus money from California over a dispute involving wage cuts for home health care workers. Is this likely to happen?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I asked specifically about that this morning. No decision has been made. I think the process and the issue are being reviewed by OMB, but no -- OMB and HHS -- but no final decision has been made.
Q: On the Middle East, Robert, why is the President optimistic at this time that there can be a return to the peace process, given the fact that Netanyahu still uses some hard-line rhetoric and the inability to rein in Hamas, which of course controls the Gaza Strip?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President obviously, Ken, by nature, is a fairly optimistic individual. I think one of the things that he believes that has been missing from this debate is our continued high-level engagement in working to ensure progress to bring about that long-term peace. I think we announced earlier today that Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mr. Mubarak, and Mr. Abbas will visit the White House over the course of the next few weeks. The President will get an opportunity to reiterate to all of them the importance of this, to continue to be engaged in the search for long-term peace that he started the day he walked into the Oval Office by talking to several of these leaders and the leaders that at that time represented their country, and to look for and push for a two-state solution that we believe is strongly in our interest, in the interest of the Israeli people, and in the interest of the Palestinians.
Q: King Abdullah is quoted today in a British newspaper saying that if there isn't a return to the peace process that there will be some kind of bloodshed or potentially another intifada. Is that something that was discussed when he was here, and does the President believe that we're on the eve of renewed violence?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't know exactly if that exact point was brought up. I know that the President believes without our involvement, without our sustained involvement, long-term peace will be hard to achieve. I think that's why he's -- that's why he worked on it from the beginning of walking into the Oval Office, and he'll continue to keep that commitment, understanding that it's the first step in that process.
Q: Will the President campaign against Governor Charlie Crist, who is one of the only Republican governors who supported his stimulus plan, but is he going to support --
MR. GIBBS: I've got a way to go before we get into the schedule of the fall elections.
Q: Is he going to support the Democratic nominee in that race?
MR. GIBBS: We generally support Democratic nominees -- I'll say that tongue in cheek. And I think you have a sense of where the President's party allegiance lies.
Q: Robert, back to "don't ask, don't tell," you indicated that the President wants to change the policy, but that some legislative vehicle would be necessary. He is the Commander-in-Chief. I mean, if the President and the Secretary of Defense can bring about a new leadership in Afghanistan, replace the commanding general there, couldn't the President and the Secretary of Defense delay any more people getting fired under "don't ask, don't tell"?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there have been discussions about the best way to move forward, and the only sustainable way to do that is through -- sustainable and durable way -- is through legislation, which the President has promised and has continued to work for.
Q: Is he willing to let other men and women in uniform, then, be dishonorably discharged simply because they're gay and lesbian while he's waiting for legislation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Bill, as I said a few minutes ago, I think the President believes now, as he believed -- has believed for quite some time, that the process does not serve our national interest. You've seen many speak out in opposition to it, and the President is working with the Joint Chiefs and members of Capitol Hill to come to a durable legislative solution.
Q: Back to the Middle East. Where do these meetings, the upcoming meetings with Middle Eastern leaders fit into the preparation for his speech in Egypt? And is it safe to assume that the President will unveil after these consultations his vision or plan for how to achieve the two-state solution, either in the speech or --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the President -- I don't want to get ahead of the diplomacy, and certainly don't want to do it from up here. I think the President believes there is a constructive role for America to play. But as we've said, there are also some big and lasting decisions that each of the individuals as a group are going to have to make by themselves.
The best way for the President and this country to be involved is to continue to push that engagement in a sustained way, to ensure that we're making progress. I think that's the best way of moving forward.
Q: You keep talking, in terms of health care reform, you stress savings and efficiencies, but do you think that this can be done without any increase in taxation?
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- well, the President discussed in the campaign certain ways to pay for health care reform that included an increase in taxes on the very wealthy. Do I think we can make sustainable progress in cutting the cost of health care without raising taxes? Absolutely. I think there are trillions of dollars, as we talked about yesterday, that can and will be saved if we take the necessary steps and make some important decisions to address the rising cost of health care.
Understand -- and I made this point several times yesterday -- unless or until we do something about the cost of health care, we are going to face increasing deficits for a long, long time. If we don't do anything to address Medicare and Medicaid, we are on an unsustainable path. And I think all you have to do is ask small businesses and families throughout the country whether this health care system is working -- whether the health care system is working as best as it could be.
We invest as a nation a lot of money and our outcomes trail many other countries around the world. The rising cost of premiums and deductibles are something that even in good economic times have caused significant financial hardship. That's why the President decided early on that reforming health care and making it more affordable was one of his top priorities.
Q: Are you going to brief tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma'am.
END 1:56 P.M. EDT