Aboard Air Force One
En Route New York, New York
1:57 P.M. EDT
MR. BURTON: So I don't have anything to announce that you don't already know. Phil, your tape recorder is backwards. Oh, it's not.
All right. I'll take your questions.
Q: Tell us a little bit about what he wants to say to the NAACP tonight.
MR. BURTON: Well, the speech he's been working on for about two weeks, and it's about, in large part, the courage that it took to start the NAACP 100 years ago, and some of the things that they've gone through in the organization and in the community and what the next 100 years looks like.
He'll look at the next -- the way forward as -- you know, in terms of the government will have a role, but also individuals will have to take responsibility as it relates to education, economic opportunity, and he'll also talk a lot about issues like health care.
Q: On health care, Senator Baucus said a couple hours ago that Obama is "making it difficult" in his opposition to taxing benefits; it's "not helping us." Can we get the White House official response from Bill Burton?
MR. BURTON: Well, we certainly appreciate working with Chairman Baucus and the Democrats and Republicans that we've been working so hard with on health care reform. Nobody said it was going to be easy. And there are obviously bumps along the way to getting to final passage of legislation in both the House and the Senate. But we think that we've been able to make a lot of progress. And those comments notwithstanding, this week has been a very great week, if you consider that the House bill and the bill that passed through the HELP Committee are very, very similar. They're about 80 percent exactly the same. And we think that, you know, we're making good progress with the Republicans who have come down to the White House to talk about the different issues that they have, and we're going to keep doing it.
Q: Does that mean that the President favors, and the White House favors, the HELP bill and the House bill and not what's going to come out of Finance?
MR. BURTON: No, it doesn't mean that. It just means that the House and the Senate and the different stakeholders working together are able to make some progress.
Q: Does this mean, though, that the President is getting more comfortable with the idea of having this with Democratic votes only? Because that's what Baucus is talking about. It's harder for him to get a bipartisan bill if the President rules out these revenue sources.
MR. BURTON: Well, keep in mind that the President met with five Republican senators over the course of the last two days, so he's still very committed to a bipartisan result to this process and he's hopeful that we're going to be able to get one.
Q: What was the outcome of the talk with the Republicans that he's had up?
MR. BURTON: They were productive. They were able to share some of the things that they were concerned about, some of the issues they had about moving forward. And the President heard them out, and hopefully we're getting closer to some more common ground to get the kind of comprehensive health reform that we so desperately need right now.
Q: At the White House today, Senator Snowe came out afterwards and said that a Senate vote before the August recess is "overly ambitious." Is the President opening up any leeway -- does he still want to see a Senate bill passed before the August recess?
MR. BURTON: Well, this isn't the first time the President and his priorities have been accused of being ambitious. The President is still committed to trying to get a bill out of the House and the Senate by the time that we get to August and he's still working to that end.
Q: Bill, will there be an advance text or excerpts from the speech in advance?
MR. BURTON: Yes, hopefully middle to late afternoon we'll be able to send you something.
Q: Switching gears off health care real quick. RealtyTrac has a report out that says 1.5 million homes face foreclosure in the first half of this year; that's 15 percent of homes. The White House has invested about $50 billion to subsidize home loans. Is more money needed?
MR. BURTON: Well, I think the President's view is we have to let the programs that we've put in place have their full impact before we talk about spending any more money to shore up the problems that there are with foreclosure.
Q: Bill, any update with the situation involving CIT? Has the government ruled out assistance for it?
MR. BURTON: Well, the President, when he came into office, was clear that he would have a very high standard for what companies received assistance from the federal government, from American taxpayers, and a lot of that had to do with whether or not they could show themselves to be sustainable in the long term. I don't want to get too much into the specific aspects of one particular company, and I would encourage you to go to the Treasury Department to get more particulars. But the President is doing everything that he can to open up credit markets, to make sure that folks are loaning to businesses large and small. And we've seen some of that impact and some of the credit move forward.
Q: Did the President make the decision, though? Did it rise to his level on not to bail out CIT?
MR. BURTON: No, he's been up to date on the developments as they've proceeded, but --
Q: But that wasn't -- it wasn't his call. He didn't -- he wasn't the decider on this one.
MR. BURTON: That's right. Ultimately he's responsible for the decisions that happen in his administration, but, no, he didn't make that final call himself.
Q: Who did make the final -- who did make the final call?
MR. BURTON: I don't know. Al Hunt. I'm just kidding. That's off the record. I know he can't do that.
Q: Why is the Democrat -- the DNC fundraiser closed?
MR. BURTON: Oh, that's a small dinner. The President won't be making remarks.
Q: The Corzine one is open for remarks?
MR. BURTON: Yes.
Q: Why is the President speaking so late in the day, and not doing a mid-day speech as his predecessors have done?
MR. BURTON: Well, the schedule today -- he was at the White House meeting with Senator Nelson, Senator Snowe, did the economic daily brief and some other things. So there were just some other things in the morning that he was doing.
Q: Do you know what he said to Major Grieves, the pilot, Marine One pilot?
MR. BURTON: I sure don't. I'll see if I can -- I'll see if I can get more on that for you, though. But I don't know what he said.
Q: What is the President doing to reassure moderate Democrats today as Republicans on the Hill are just screaming about this CBO testimony of Elmendorf?
MR. BURTON: Well, I would say that -- and I haven't seen the testimony myself; it came out sort of as I was en route. But something to consider is that the HELP bill doesn't have all of the -- all the cost-saving measures in it. They don't have jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid. And so we'll take a look as we go down the road at how they score the different proposals that come out.
But I would say the President has been committed to getting stakeholders to the table, finding different ways to save money and produce the revenue that we need for comprehensive health care reform.
Q: Can I just go back to Baucus's comments earlier real quick, if the White House disagrees with Baucus's characterization that the President is making it difficult, that his opposition to taxing -- to ending the exclusion for tax on benefits is not helping?
MR. BURTON: Well, I would say that the President is committed to a bipartisan result, and he's done a lot to sit down with and listen to Democrats and Republicans about the different methods that they think that we can use to save money and find revenue to pay for our health care reform. If that's disagreeing with Baucus, somebody else will have to make that determination. But he feels very good about the progress that we've been able to make.
There's still a long way to go. We're only about midway through this. But he feels very positive about the progress we've been able to make.
Q: That comment of Baucus's does create the impression that the White House is comfortable with the House bill as a kind of road map for how you pay for health care.
MR. BURTON: I wouldn't go that far. I would say that the House bill and the HELP bill and the different proposals out there are positive steps forward; that we've been able to get a lot of people to the table and get actual proposals out. And once we get something through the House and through the Senate, we'll be able to go to conference and really put the rubber to the road and get something done.
But I wouldn't say that it means that he favors one thing or another. You'd have to talk to Senator Baucus about what it means.
Q: Getting something from the Senate is exactly what Baucus is struggling mightily to do, because you need Republican votes to do that.
MR. BURTON: Look, this is a -- this is a tough road. Health care reform is something that people have tried to do for the last 60 years, and nobody thought that this was going to be easy. This is one of many issues that we're going to have to contend with as we move forward. But we feel like we're continuing to move our feet. The President is optimistic. He's energetic about how this is going. And we're moving forward.
Q: Bill, what does he think about the surtax on millionaires?
MR. BURTON: Well, like I said, this is just one idea that folks have about creating revenue for health care reform. He's listening to everybody's ideas. And he hasn't come down on what the best ideas are yet on final passage.
Q: Thank you.
MR. BURTON: Thank you.
END 2:06 P.M. EDT