|The American Presidency Project|
|• Barack Obama|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs|
|March 13, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:52 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Are we clear? Now that Chuck is done, we'll start with a couple of announcements. And I'm going to go ahead and do the week ahead beforehand, just to -- you know, it's a fun Friday here, the 13th.
The President is pleased to announce the appointment of Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow as the White House Advisor for the Summit of the Americas. As President Obama said on February 10th, he will attend the Summit of the Americas to be held in Trinidad and Tobago on April 17th through the 19th. The President is looking forward to discussions with the leaders of the summit and to promoting a partnership based on mutual respect that would be beneficial to the people of the Americas.
In addition, the President made some phone calls today with some foreign leaders that we'll have a readout on in a little bit: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Yudhoyono of Indonesia, and President Arroyo of the Philippines. So we'll have a little bit on that --
Q: Not much.
MR. GIBBS: That's why the readout is coming soon. I was not in there for the calls.
Let me quickly do the week ahead. On Saturday, President Obama will meet with President Lula of Brazil, at the White House. They will discuss a number of things, including the upcoming G20 meeting and the Summit of the Americas, as well as issues such as the global financial crisis, the environment, and energy.
On Monday the President will be in Washington, have an event here at the White House, and then travel later to mark the anniversary of the V.A.
As you know, on Tuesday is St. Patrick's Day, so we will have officials from Ireland here for a St. Patrick's Day event, a well as travel to Capitol Hill for Speaker Pelosi's St. Patrick's Day Lunch.
On Wednesday afternoon, the President will travel to southern California and hold a town hall meeting in Santa Ana. He will then travel to Los Angeles, and will spend the night in L.A., holding a couple of events in Los Angeles on Thursday, before returning quite late that evening to Washington.
On next Friday, the President will be at the White House and then later in the afternoon the President and the First Family will travel to Camp David for the beginning of -- I believe the beginning of the girls' spring break.
Q: What's the coverage for Saturday?
MR. GIBBS: I think we will do a pool spray on that, but we'll have something on that and we'll get you some information on radio address a little bit later on today.
So I assume Chuck is watching the ACC tournament -- (laughter) -- and fire away.
Q: Not anymore. (Laughter.)
Q: Chris Hill to Baghdad, there's some significant opposition from some Republicans, which could prevent you guys from getting 60 votes in the Senate for him. How serious do you think the problem is? And are you committed, no matter what, to standing behind him?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's talk a little bit about Chris Hill. Obviously, he is a very seasoned, accomplished -- seasoned and accomplished diplomat, somebody who has dealt with extraordinary challenges, and is uniquely qualified in a very tough political environment that remains in Iraq, to seek an end to some of the political disputes that are vexing to the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds.
The President has extraordinary respect for his ability. I think he's proven his ability to understand very complex political situations, to resolve those political situations. Obviously, Iraq is a very unique situation, and the President believes that Chris Hill is uniquely qualified to meet those challenges. And I think that that will be true going forward, and the President is fully confident.
Q: He does have a very lengthy background in, as you said, complex situations. But he doesn't have background in the Middle East, and that is the main reason for some of this opposition to his nomination.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again I would say that -- I mean, obviously, there are -- and the President has many people working on issues -- in order to resolve issues throughout the Middle East and the region. But I think the President believes quite strongly that the political disputes that stand in the way of continued progress in Iraq, many that have been outlined for years, call for somebody who has the unique ability to both understand and solve those challenges, and that we believe that Chris Hill possesses the skills to do exactly that.
Q: Why didn't he go to bat for Charles Freeman, who had great experience in the Middle East? He stood mute on the whole controversy.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we talked about Mr. Freeman a couple of days ago. He's somebody who's served the country greatly, but asked that his nomination not proceed, and the Director of National Intelligence accepted --
Q: Is it true that it's the Israeli lobby that killed --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a whole lot to add. I think that -- I've watched with great interest how people perceive different things about our policy and during the campaign, about whether we were too close to one group or too close to the other. So I don't give a lot of thought to those --
Q: Do you think it's their fault, the perception?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think a lot about it.
Q: I don't ask you to think about it. I asked for straight answers.
MR. GIBBS: And I gave you as straight of one as I can get.
Q: China's Premier said today that China is ready to expand its economic stimulus spending, but he also expressed concern about the safety of China's massive holdings of U.S. Treasuries. Does having China onboard for more economic stimulus give the administration any greater confidence in getting the Europeans in line behind that plan? And also, what, if anything, can the U.S. do to ease Chinese concerns about the safety of their investments in the U.S.?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the -- let me deal with the second part first. I think this President would say that he took office at a time of extraordinary economic crisis, and asked that we come together and pass into law a Recovery and Reinvestment Plan to stimulate and grow the economy, because the severe downturn that we would see would cause great job loss and great productivity loss. So money was certainly used, before that Recovery Act, to stimulate the economy.
I think the best thing we can do to assure anybody in Washington, America or throughout the world that we're serious is to pass the President's budget and put ourselves back on the path towards fiscal sustainability and fiscal responsibility. The President's budget will cut the deficit in half in four years, because the President understands that we cannot continue to do what we've been doing for years and years, and spending money that we don't have. Instead, we need to put ourselves back on that path in order to give everybody confidence that we're serious about not only dealing with those challenges but not wasting taxpayer money.
In terms of the first part, obviously the President is pleased that the Chinese are making a commitment to the same sort of recovery and reinvestment plan. Obviously it's an enormous economy.
The President has -- and I think we'll talk to leaders, other leaders in the G20, about continuing to observe what is happening to the world economy and to individual economies in the G20, and continually make those observations and see what best individual and collectively governments can do to stimulate the economy. That's certainly on the agenda for the President to discuss with the G20. Whether or not that spurs additional action in the short term is probably hard to say, but obviously a step in the right direction overall in seeing the decrease in demand met by a stimulus and a recovery plan that will hopefully fill that hole until the global economy starts working again.
Q: The Chinese Premier did say that he wants -- the Chinese want the U.S. government to provide them some kind of guarantees on the safety of their investments. Obviously pulling out those investments could do some damage to the --
MR. GIBBS: There's no safer investment in the world than in the United States. And I think further reassurance would be for leaders here to demonstrate their commitment to spending money wisely and to stop borrowing more of it in the future by putting us on that path to fiscal sustainability through passage of the President's budget to cut the deficit in half.
Q: The White House has been critical in the last day or so of -- President Obama yesterday, and Larry Summers today -- of trends of bubble and bust, bubble and bust. When do you guys see this having started? Did this start with the dot.com bubble in the '90s?
MR. GIBBS: I think, obviously, the tech bubble would certainly be part of that -- would be part of that model. But I think if you look more recently, with both housing and credit cards, what you saw was statistical economic growth. You saw big growth in the stock market, but at the same time the broad number -- a broad swath of the American public, their incomes actually decreased for the very first time in history during a "economic expansion." That's why the President believes that it's important to make investments in health care, energy independence and education in order to provide a foundation to grow our economy long term in a stable -- with a stable foundation, in a way that doesn't depend on the boom and the bust.
Q: Just as a quick follow-up, you guys have obviously started a campaign of trying to build more confidence in the economy and in the decisions that you guys have made. Can you just walk us through a little bit how this decision was made -- for the President's new language and Larry Summers' new language, talking about the economy and the investments you guys are making?
MR. GIBBS: I think it's important -- the President wanted to, as he I think has done in the beginning of his tenure here and certainly in the campaign, to explain to the American people the choices that we have and the decisions that are being made, where we've started, the challenges that we've gone through to get to the point we're at now, the very complicated and tough decisions that we have to make in order to create jobs, stabilize our financial system, prevent further erosion in the housing market and spread of the home foreclosure crisis.
Q: Right, but only in the last days has he said things aren't as bad -- things weren't as good as we thought they were a few years ago, and they're not as bad now as we think they are -- you know, which is kind of a change in tone from when he was warning of an economic catastrophe if the stimulus bill didn't pass.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think we've seen some glimmers of hope in terms, as I spoke yesterday, of retail sales. And I think Dr. Summers spoke of the notion that through the recovery we might see progress in terms of consumer spending -- the Recovery Act, I'm sorry. Look, as you note, the President is a -- is a very optimistic person by nature.
Q: I don't think I noted that. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will note in your absence -- (laughter) -- that he's a very optimistic person. I think he would tell you that there are many situations that probably -- where things might not always be as bad as they seem or not as good as they may seem. But I think that's why he's decided to make tough decisions, and that's why the argument that he's made over the last few days and Dr. Summers made -- the importance of making these investments.
Many people have asked, you know, well, why are you dealing with health care and energy when you should be working on the economy? And I think the President, through this argument, can very clearly demonstrate for people how dealing with many of these problems, including getting us back on that path toward fiscal sustainability, are important not just in the short-term recovery, but laying that foundation for long-term growth.
Q: Robert, just to kind of build on what Jake was just asking, Mr. Summers used language today when he was describing, you know, what businesses can do to help turn the economy around. He said that there are a large number of things on sale today, if you had sort of a long-term view. This is kind of similar to what we heard the President say last week about the stock market. So is there sort of this strategy to tell the American people that now might be the time to stop sitting on the sidelines, get back in the market, build that home that you need to build?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I'm going to say again, I don't think today's speech was designed to provide stock tips for the American people, but instead to demonstrate a road map forward that the administration and the economic team have developed to get our economy moving again.
The President believes that there -- as he said to Congress, through these tough decisions, we can see an outcome for brighter and stronger days for the country and for this economy that will create jobs, that will see long-term sustained economic growth that isn't predicated on an overheated, speculative housing market or families maxed out on multiple credit cards. I think that's what the President and Dr. Summers have most tried to convey in the past few days.
Obviously -- and again the numbers on consumer spending demonstrate some optimism and I think that it's important that the President, while setting forth the realistic challenges that we have, lay out for the American people the confidence he has in our ability to see the economy return to strength.
Q: On those numbers, those consumer spending numbers, I think Mr. Summers also went on to say that, you know, there are some indicators that things are starting to stabilize. Is there -- when you view what the administration has been doing with the stimulus plan, is there that sense that things are starting to stabilize?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we're hopeful that the pillars are beginning to be put in place to stop the downturn, to turn the economy around, to create jobs, put more money back in people's pockets, and provide that long-term economic growth. Obviously, you know, whether the trajectory is now completely on the upside is hard to tell at this point, but I think we've -- we've taken some very concrete steps to get the economy in a position to do that.
Many more remain. You'll -- the President will, as he said earlier in the Oval Office, soon talk about ways to help small businesses get more access to the money that they need to do their work, continue to work on financial stabilization, and continue good work in trying to bring housing prices down and stabilize and reduce the number of home foreclosures.
I think all of that working together the President believes demonstrates a strong start -- you know, important to stress that we've unfurled no "Mission Accomplished" banners and I think any suggestion of that would be quite premature.
Q: Thank you, Robert. I know your office has provided numbers that show this administration is moving more quickly on most categories of nominations than previous administrations. But, still, Treasury is so important and we've seen at least four people withdraw their own names from top -- consideration from top positions. Why is it so difficult to get those top positions filled at Treasury? And is the vetting process tougher now than it used to be -- is that one of the big reasons?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, obviously we're always looking for qualified people to serve in government and to serve the American public. I'll refer again to many of those statistics that demonstrate that we're ahead of the game in filling critical positions, in making progress in ensuring that there are people working on the critical functions of government. We're always looking for additional people and have positions to fill at Treasury. But I think it's important to understand that what's been done in a few short weeks with the Treasury Department exceeds anything that might have been imagined just a few years ago.
Again, to go through the litany, again, of a recovery -- work on a recovery plan, work on a home foreclosure plan, work on a business and lending initiative -- you'll again see progress on loans specifically designed for small businesses, a financial stability plan -- many of the things that we need to address the shortcomings in our economy. We're making progress on that. And we've got a good team, and obviously looking to add more.
In terms of the rigor of the process -- I mean, obviously there's a process that all nominees have to go through, but we feel like we're making strong progress.
Q: One particular element of the vetting process is stocks and bonuses. Are your rules tougher on requiring people to give up stock holdings and bonuses? And could that be part of the problem with Treasury?
MR. GIBBS: That's a question I honestly don't know the answer to. But I can certainly -- we can certainly check on that.
Q: Are you satisfied with the speed with which the Finance Committee is handling these nominees?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think we're working well with them in order to get the people that we need in these jobs. Again --
Q: Would you like to see it be done faster?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President would like to have walked in on January 20th with a government completely filled. That hasn't happened for any of his predecessors, so I don't think he was under the illusion that it would happen with him.
But again -- I know I keep coming back to this, but let's look at what has been able -- what the Treasury Department and what the economic team, with which the Treasury Department is obviously a huge component, has been able to accomplish for the American people in a little over seven weeks' time.
Q: Mr. Volcker was a vocal critic -- he's been a vocal critic about the fact that it --
MR. GIBBS: I understand.
Q: Did he bring this up today?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if he talked to the President about that today. I think one thing you also -- Mr. Volcker would also reiterate what I've just told you -- that whether it's financial stability, home foreclosure, recovery and reinvestment, creating jobs, putting money into taxpayers' pockets -- all of those things the Treasury Department has been focused on over the past seven weeks of this administration. And I think what they've accomplished in such a short period of time exceeds what's been done to this financial system in terms of ensuring that we manage this crisis and that this crisis never happens again. I think the American people can be quite proud of what's been done on it in a very short period of time.
Q: And to follow-up on Jennifer's question, the criticisms that Senator McCain and Senator Graham, in particular, have been the highest profile against Christopher Hill -- do they have merit?
MR. GIBBS: No, I liked my answer to Jennifer's question.
Q: So it doesn't have merit, their criticisms?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the criticism is answered by the very qualifications that -- that Chris Hill brings to the job. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I certainly wouldn't say that -- I'm not going to judge their critique.
I would simply ask that all members judge the qualifications of somebody as accomplished and seasoned a diplomat as Chris Hill is, understanding the situations that -- the complex situations that he's been put in and the progress he's made in those, is exactly the type of person one would want dealing with the very vexing political problems that stand in the way of the continued stabilization and security of Iraq, between the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurd. And I think the President believes he's got the right man for the job.
Q: This morning Larry Summers said that "no substantially interconnected institution or market on which the system depends should be free from rigorous public scrutiny." I'm wondering if you could help out with understanding exactly what he meant by that, what he means by "no substantially interconnected institution or market on which the" --
MR. GIBBS: I will -- you'll be surprised to know that I've not yet finished my Ph.D work in economics --
Q: Well, his speech was meant for people who don't have Ph.Ds in economics.
MR. GIBBS: Maybe not in that particular section. (Laughter.)
Q: Well, one interpretation of that is that he was referring to hedge funds, that hedge funds who -- that currently are not subject to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me do this. I will ask them specifically what -- look, I -- without --
Q: I mean, I think he's trying to ask what --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I -- completely. I think it's fair to tell you I don't have a Ph.D in economics. But I think the -- and I'll see if there's a specific financial instrument that he's talking about. I do believe that what one of the things that he's alluding to is, through this notion of transparency, is -- and sort of the larger regulatory framework that has to be updated, I think we all understand that you certainly don't need a Ph.D in economics to understand that. The regulatory framework that we've had policing some of the decisions that have been made relating to the economy have not kept up with what has to happen to have a strong regulatory system and then to ensure that we don't find ourselves either over-leveraged or making decisions for a few that will affect the many.
Obviously on the agenda of G20 will be a continued discussion about how to update that regulatory framework. And underneath that there are obviously a number of different steps that can and must be taken in order to ensure that that framework provides all of us in this economy with the confidence and the protection that decisions are being watched and made in a way that are consistent with our values, and that we don't find our economy suffering from the types of problems that it does now.
Q: The other sort of nebulous piece -- this was the back half of that comment where he said -- (laughter) -- there are two nebulous pieces and just one --
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q: -- free from rigorous public scrutiny, which is -- it seems like another way of talking about transparency, and the need for transparency, as opposed perhaps to actual regulation. And I'm wondering if that was the message.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me -- let put in -- put that through the English meter and we'll spit something out.
Q: Thank you, Robert. It's a serious question and it's an easier one. I don't know if you or the President saw the Jon Stewart piece last night with Cramer, but it was serious journalism. Does the White House believe that this is the obligation of journalists to call out lies, to warn the public that there are dangers ahead?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- the President and I talked earlier in the day yesterday about watching it. I forgot to email and remind him that it was on, so I don't know if he's seen it. I enjoyed it thoroughly -- (laughter) -- despite, even as Mr. Stewart said, that it may have been uncomfortable to conduct and uncomfortable to watch. I thought it was -- I thought somebody asked a lot of tough questions, and I am not surprised that the video of Mr. Cramer's appearance doesn't appear on CNBC's web site today.
Q: Robert, there was a piece this morning about the fact that same-sex spouses of federal employees are barred from health care coverage because -- by the Defense of Marriage Act. Since the President would like to see a legislative repeal of that law, what is he prepared to do about it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously I saw the story, and the President's position remains the same. The President would work with Congress in order to -- not just on this but on other ideas -- institute what he promised he'd do in the campaign.
I don't have a specific update on where the legislation is.
Q: Robert, a couple things the President said yesterday at the Business Roundtable I'd like to go over with you. He said --
MR. GIBBS: Hopefully not at quite the economic level that --
Q: No, since the President said it, it's probably maybe a little bit easier --
MR. GIBBS: He went to law school at Harvard, so I don't -- go ahead.
Q: He said, "Potentially lowering corporate rates in exchange for closing a lot of the loopholes that make the tax system so complex, that's a very appealing conversation to me --I'd like to pursue it." How rapidly would the President like to pursue, and does he see there any need to lower corporate tax rates in this current economic downturn?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- I think the comment that the President made regarding tax reform is an idea that he's expressed before. There's obviously a growing complexity with the tax code that enables a number of shelters and loopholes. And I think he would certainly be encouraged to work with business and others to see what common interest was able to be had to get rid of some of those loopholes and some of those shelters in order for a lower tax rate or less complexity, certainly, on the American people as we get closer to the 15th of April to fill out income tax returns.
Q: During the campaign, he often talked about the loophole aspect of it. Rarely do I remember him linking it with lower corporate tax rates. And I'm just wondering if that's a new, sort of, grand bargain on taxes he's now pursuing or more open to pursuing.
MR. GIBBS: Well, he's certainly open to pursuing it. I've heard him say that before. This room has mentioned we've got a lot on our plate. But obviously I think the President, as you saw throughout his answers yesterday, is interested in working with business on many common issues that they share, whether it's the rising cost of health care, ensuring that our children are educated for the 21st century jobs that we believe many of these businesses will be creating, as well as simplifying the tax code and lowering the tax rate.
I do think the President believes that if we do that hand in hand, that there's a possibility for reform.
Q: The second thing the President said is, "We don't anticipate that every piece of health care is done this year." What did he mean by that, and what parts do you think may not be done this year, and how would that fit within his very strong calls at the health care reform summit to get health care done "this year"?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously -- and this goes to some of the aspects of the budget, are not going to be -- you know, we'll pass a -- we're hopeful to pass a budget this year, but not all of what is contained in the budget goes into effect this year.
Q: So it's a timing, not a policy thing, he's referring to?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: The policy goal of health care --
MR. GIBBS: The policy goal is to finish health care reform, understanding that it might take some time in order to phase in different aspects of that reform, just as, you know, changing the tax rates back to the prosperous '90s isn't going to happen -- won't happen when the budget is passed, it's --
Q: He's not conceding any policy ground? This is all about timing and implementation?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: Robert, is the White House lowering its sights a little bit on coming out of the G20 with that 2 percent stimulus from especially European countries? You sound like you were kind of softening expectations a moment ago.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I think what -- I think it's consistent with what I said yesterday, that the President and the economic team believe that it's important that we monitor what will and has been done by different countries in order to make up for the projected downturn in GDP and how that affects the global economy.
But as I said yesterday, the President and his team don't go to Europe looking for everyone to sign on the dotted line and accept a certain percentage, but to evaluate continually what is suggested, what is being done, and to ensure that as our economies change, that we're continuing to evaluate whether additional steps -- if the 2 percent in some countries haven't been made, can be looked at.
So I think it's -- I think the President looks forward to working with countries in the G20 to ensure that we're making progress and continually evaluating what has to happen to address the economic challenges.
Q: Robert, following up on an earlier question, there are some veterans of past Democratic administrations who believe that the President is simply overloading the political circuitry in pursuing an agenda as multi-pronged as he is. Is there not an argument for just pushing on one issue, given the White House's limited time and resources -- say, economic recovery -- letting other -- leaving other issues for later in the term?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, Peter, as I've said here multiple times, I think that -- a couple of different things. One, these challenges -- many of these challenges are interconnected, right. We talked a little bit about the deficit -- and I said this a few days ago -- if you're concerned about the deficit and the debt that we are potentially passing on to our children, the amount of money that we spend on Medicare and Medicaid and the tremendous growth that we see in the cost of health care each year is a particular driver of the deficit and the debt.
So to assume that you can look at one without understanding that it affects the other, that's exactly the decision that has been made in the past to simply kick many of these problems down the road and hope that you can address part of it but not all of it and see continued progress and growth. The President in this case simply doesn't believe that's true. The same I think is true for energy independence. You know, when gas is -- when gas is $3 -- $2 or $3 or $4 -- and when I say $2 I mean, you know, 10 years ago when it hit $2 everybody called for important steps for energy independence; that we've had Presidents, dating back to I think Nixon, mention that we're dependent upon foreign oil and have to take steps to lessen our economies dependence on that oil in order to not be trapped when it comes to economic growth.
Every President since Nixon has made those claims. But we haven't taken concrete steps, as our dependence on foreign oil has actually only increased since President Nixon said that.
The President and this country face a number of challenges. And I think, as he said yesterday, it would certainly be convenient to only have to deal with one thing. Regrettably, there are enough challenges that face the American people and our future economic growth, that it demands focusing on all of them at the same time.
Q: Robert, assuming that your fine staff could handle all these many major proposals at the same time, what makes you think Congress could handle it? Just this week, they just turned in the appropriations -- the omnibus thing -- six months after the fiscal year started, then took a long weekend off.
MR. GIBBS: I'm jealous. (Laughter.) Because I think that -- to borrow some of what I said to Peter -- I think there -- these are not -- the times that we face are unusually uncommon, that the challenges that we have -- let's take it -- for instance health care. In the intervening sort of 15 or 16 years since health care was -- the last real major reform of health care was attempted, the problem has only gotten worse. More people are paying more for less health care than ever before. It's crushing businesses. It's crushing families. It's crushing state budgets. Our dependence on foreign oil has increased. All of these problems have only gotten worse, and if we don't deal with them now, they're only going to get worse in four years. The President isn't interested in turning over the challenges that he faces to the next administration or the next President, without trying to address them.
Q: But what's changed in Congress, the committee structure, the fact that all this still has to work through the same system in Congress. What makes you think you can still get more than one thing through at a time when it's been hard to get one thing through at a time?
MR. GIBBS: An energetic President.
Q: One of the other things that Larry Summers said that I thought was pretty interesting, he --
Q: Uh-oh. (Laughter.)
Q: -- when he talked about --
MR. GIBBS: Uh oh. (Laughter.) No, sorry, I was --
Q: Were you making a face or what?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, I just -- somebody at my alma mater is going to take my minor in economics away from me.
Q: Was this basketball?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, go ahead.
Q: Which is -- by the way, when is the bracket coming out? This isn't my question, but when is the President's bracket going to come out?
MR. GIBBS: We will, in a transparent White House -- (laughter) -- release the President's bracket next week.
Q: Next week. Okay, now, so my question is, one of the things that Larry Summers did talk about in his speech today is how greed gives way to fear, and this fear begets fear, and that's the paradox at the heart of this crisis. But I don't know if he meant this more as a macro. Why wouldn't a prudent person be acting, you know, with fear? Because things might turn around, but they haven't yet.
And I know that Summers also said that every crisis eventually ends. It's just if you're an individual, you don't know when.
MR. GIBBS: Right. Well, and I think -- look, I think for individuals in this country, nobody would be surprised at all of the concern that millions face -- or millions have about the challenges that we face in the economy that we have.
We'd hope that they become more confident as the administration, as the President talked about, puts in place the pillars that are needed to turn our economy around, that we addressed those short-term challenges and long-term problems.
But I think also what Dr. Summers was talking about is the tremendous amount of entrepreneurship and innovation that this country has always seen; that because that we've seen a, quite frankly, very damaged financial system, that we've seen growth deteriorate so, that we've seen such job loss, that through entrepreneurship and innovation, we have the potential to see the economy grow, and grow in a strong way in the future; that in order to move past that bubble to bubble, the American people need to understand that they can have confidence and that brighter days are ahead in order to get past that to sustain long-term economic growth. I think that's what Dr. Summers and that's what the President have talked about over the past few days.
Obviously, the statistics that we see and the stories that the President reads demonstrate that we have a long way to go. But the President is confident that we're taking the steps that we need to turn the economy around.
MR. GIBBS: April.
Q: Thank you. Piggy-backing on Lynne's question and somewhat on the economic situation, Geithner said there's an excess of fear; the President agreed there is incredible pain and hardship out there. But yesterday at the Business Roundtable he said things are never as bad as they seem and never as good as they are. Now, could you tell me exactly where the needle lies on the spectrum, because we're hearing things are going to get better, you know, they're not as bad. I mean, where is the needle right now?
MR. GIBBS: Somewhere between "not as bad as they could be" and "not as good as they need to be."
Q: But, you know -- okay, as you were saying --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a special instrument with said needle, April. (Laughter.)
Q: I understand, but I mean, you work in these --
MR. GIBBS: It's 7.5. (Laughter.) It's at 7, it's 7.
Q: Okay, all right. Now, I'm --
MR. GIBBS: Help me give you an answer to your question.
Q: I'm trying to help you. The reason why I'm asking that is because, you know, you still have some economists out there saying the needle is lying between recession and depression. And the President tried to have this tone of optimism, but yet saying that there is incredible pain. And people really want to know where -- you know, you keep saying it might get worse before it gets better --
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: -- but how much worse? Where are we right now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let's understand -- well, where we are right now is we saw revised growth estimates in the fourth quarter, far greater than most predicted. What the President believes his job is in discussing the economy is to be very honest with the American people about where we are. But also he believes that the administration is taking steps to instill the confidence that Americans need, to put in place the pillars for continued -- or renewed economic growth.
And I think the President -- the President wouldn't just give you one of those; the President would give you both of those. The President would give the American people both a realistic assessment of where we are as well as the path for where we have to go in order to see that growth. But I don't think the President would give you one without the other.
Q: But beyond hope and optimism, there's reality, and is 7.5 the reality -- out of 10 --
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- hold on, I've got to look at my gizmo.
Again, I think the exact example that you just -- minus the 7.5 -- the exact example you just gave me is exactly the way the President frames things. We are living in the here and now reality of many challenges economically. The President also believes that this administration and Congress are taking steps to address where we are and get us on a path to where we need to go. Again, I think the President has been very -- very forthright with this because he believes that in order to -- in order to be believed about where we are economically, we have to be honest about where we are. I don't think the President would stand up in front of you, or a group of Americans, and say things are great. I don't think they would have a lot of confidence that they were listening to somebody who truly understood exactly where we are.
So when he explains our economic problems, he'll do it in a very realistic way. But the President is also confident and hopeful that the steps that we're taking will move us down that path. Again, I think you have to do both, and certainly the President believes that.
Q: A quick follow-up to that. Does the President still believe that things could get worse before they get better?
MR. GIBBS: Well, sure. Well -- 7.8. (Laughter.)
Q: On the --
MR. GIBBS: Seven point eight. (Laughter.)
Q: But it's true.
MR. GIBBS: I understand. But I mean, look, there's -- are there -- is there reason to be hopeful? Yes. I don't think if you -- in October of 2007, when the stock market was at 14,000, did people think that two months from then there would be the beginning of an economic recession? I don't know.
But what's important -- whether things get a little bit worse or a little bit better, the President is taking steps to put us on a path towards job creation, economic growth, income growth -- and more importantly, to address the long-term challenges that we've faced for so long, that have been ignored administration after administration, in order to ensure that long-term we have that foundation -- not for bubble-to-bubble economic growth, but sustained, solid, long-term economic growth.
See you guys tomorrow -- or next week. Tomorrow -- yikes. See you tomorrow -- ha. No. (Laughter.)
END 2:40 P.M. EDT
|Citation: Barack Obama: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs", March 13, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85861.|
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