|The American Presidency Project|
|• Robert Gibbs|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and the Vice President's Chief Economist Jared Bernstein|
|June 8, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:28 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Before we do our regularly scheduled programming -- I'll do this after Jared -- I've got an announcement before we do our regular questions. But before we get started Jared Bernstein, the Vice President's chief economist, will walk us through the roadmap to recovery that the President and the Vice President spoke about today.
He'll take a few of your questions and then back to me. Jared.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Thank you, Robert. This is different, I usually face you one at a time.
The President and the Vice President today outlined the roadmap to recovery, which spotlights some of the ways we're going to accelerate the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act during its second 100 days.
While there are some hopeful signs that the pace of the downturn has diminished, the nation's economy has yet to recover. You heard the President this morning acknowledge that we remain in the midst of a deep recession. Most importantly from the perspective of working families, the nation's employers are still shedding jobs on net.
As we've said many times, when the private sector economy is under-performing there's a critical role for the government to play in temporarily picking up the slack. The Recovery Act does that through a uniquely broad set of provisions designed to create or save millions of jobs over the life of the bill. We've talked about that extensively over the first hundred days. Now, thus far over that period we've created or saved over 150,000 jobs, cut taxes for 95 percent of working families, increased unemployment benefits for laid-off workers, provided fiscal stabilization relief -- that's particularly important, given states' fiscal conditions -- to 26 states, made funds available for over 4,000 transportation projects, projects that put people back to work.
In fact, we've obligated an average of over a billion dollars per day in Recovery Act funds, and we've done so with a level of oversight and accountability I don't believe any of us have ever seen before at any level of government.
In the second 100 days we plan to accelerate these activities in ways I'll describe in a moment. Our goal is to create or save 600,000 jobs over this next period. And now that we have laid the groundwork over the first 100 days, we could accelerate the implementation over the second.
It's important to remember while the Recovery Act is an integral part of our plan -- one that spurs new demand and puts people back to work during these hardest hit times -- it is but one part of our plan. It's one pillar. The financial stabilization plan, the housing plan, financial regulatory reform, a budget that makes historical investments in energy, health care and education, while cutting the deficit in half over our first term, remain other central pillars of our economic plan.
Now, at this point I'd like to briefly run through 10 new major projects that will define the next three months of the Recovery Act underway across the United States. This also reveals how we're addressing the economic downturns throughout all regions of the country in every state and all the territories. It's a pervasive recession geographically, and the Recovery Act is equally pervasive geographically.
Now is a test whether the system is truly idiot-proof. And there we go -- I don't think we've ever used this here before, so making history.
Q: Was that paper a stimulus -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: We cut newspapers. (Laughter.)
Q: Robert, in all seriousness, isn't there one behind there that we could have popped open --
MR. GIBBS: You want to move over here so you can see that?
Q: I mean, I have a print-out version of it.
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say, you can use my --
Q: That'll be great.
MR. BERNSTEIN: The first line, actually combines all of the activity from the next 10 slides, the 10 programs I'm going to articulate, and you get a sense I think from all those little dots across the nation how geographically extensive this is. The act -- so now we're going to go one through one by these 10 different pieces of -- parts of the plan we'll be ramping up and implementing over the next hundred days.
The act enabled over 1,100 health centers in 50 states and eight territories to provide extended, expanded service to approximately 300,000 patients of these health centers. The Health and Human Services program will create jobs and support health center efforts to improve access to quality, comprehensive, and affordable care. I view this as particularly important in a climate where job loss also means the loss of health insurance coverage through the job for so many hundreds of thousands of workers.
We'll begin work on rehabilitation and improvement projects at 98 airports and over 1,500 highway locations throughout the country. These projects include runway construction at selected airports to increase capacity, interstate repaving projects to reduce bottlenecks and congestion.
And by the way, I think this aspect of the plan is important in the sense that the plan ramps up, as you're seeing, as we're discussing, over the summer and then towards the end of next year the plan ramps down; it's a two-year plan. And in order to maintain the fiscal responsibility that's so important to this President and to our budget, the plan needs to get into and out of the system. But investments like these will continue to boost the quality of the nation's infrastructure and promote productive activity throughout our economy after the plan is over.
Over the second hundred days we'll fund 135,000 education jobs, including teachers, principals and support staff. The recovery funds will help to keep outstanding teachers in America's schools and help address several reforms to ensure that every child can receive a complete and competitive education.
Now, this, by the way, is one dimension of the -- we talk a lot about jobs created or saved -- this is an area where you see jobs saved, in many cases because of very tight and constrained state fiscal budgets, the help that the plan provides enables states and municipalities to avoid layoffs of workers, be they teachers, firefighters, police, and saving those jobs is critical to the provision of these essential services.
The plan over the next hundred days begins improvement at 90 veterans' medical centers across 38 states. It's going to help upgrade existing veterans' medical centers to increase the quality of the facilities to deliver the kind of care our soldiers deserve.
This is one that is particularly dear to my boss, the Vice President. The plan will hire or keep over the next 100 days on the job approximately 5,000 law enforcement officers. These funds are going to be used to hire new officers while also retaining our veteran force.
Start 200 new waste and water systems in rural America. Another dimension of this plan is to go beyond simply urban and suburban localities and to reach into rural America. These projects will replace outdated water mains and build waste-water treatment facilities for small communities.
This one I thought was particularly germane given summer vacation season: Begin work on 107 national parks. Through these projects we'll preserve the national park system, a true American treasure, and launch long overdue projects.
Begin or accelerate cleanup work at 20 super-fund sites from the national priority list. Super-fund work will boost local economies by creating and maintaining jobs, while also protecting human health and the environment.
Critical piece here: to create 125,000 summer youth jobs, very much part of the summer agenda here. Empowering our young people through meaningful summer employment, keep them off the streets, provide them with valuable work experience. Many of these plans have a very good track record in setting folks up for better careers when they become adults in the labor force.
Initiate 2,300 construction and rehabilitation projects at 359 military facilities across the nation. Department of Defense projects will improve personnel living quarters and install green technologies throughout the country for the United States military.
Today we also launched whitehouse.gov/recovery, a new Web page that allows the public to follow the progress on the road to recovery in their communities, and hear from folks whose lives are being influenced by the Recovery Act.
Thank you all. I'll turn things back to Mr. Gibbs.
MR. GIBBS: Jake, do you have a --
Q: Yes. In January you and Dr. Romer issued your recommendation for the stimulus. It turned out to be rather optimistic, I think it's fair to say. You said without the stimulus, the unemployment rate would be just over 8 percent. Obviously it's 9.4 percent. How do you explain that, and have you factored in whatever overly optimistic view you had then when you talk about 600,000 jobs now?
MR. BERNSTEIN: The answer to the second part of your question is yes, and I'll elaborate then in a second. On the first part of the question, when we made our initial estimates, that was before we had fourth-quarter results on GDP, which we later found out was contracting on an annual rate of 6 percent, far worse than we expected at that time.
To elaborate a bit on the second part of your question, the important thing to realize is that our estimate, whether it's 600,000 jobs over the second hundred days or 3.5 million over the life of the plan, that's the difference between what we believe would occur in the job market in the absence of this plan and what we actually observe in the job market. In the absence of the -- were this plan not to be implemented as I've described and as Dr. Romer and I articulated back then, in the absence of the plan, job losses would have been deeper from whatever level they started. Job losses would have been deeper, the unemployment rate would have been, by our estimate, by the end of next year would have been 1.5 and 2 points higher than it otherwise will be.
So those estimates that we are touting today and the estimates that you hear us talk about, that's the difference between what would have happened to the job market, the unemployment rate were this plan not in effect, and the actual outcomes of jobs. And that gap, that difference between actual and the expectation, absent the plan, that's where the estimates come from.
Q: Jared, can you give us a little better accounting on the 150,000 jobs that have been created or saved? And you guys -- it's a number I now have heard a couple of times. What is the accounting on that?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Just as I described. We know how fast the plan is spending out. We know which sectors -- and it's actually -- if you go back to the Romer-Bernstein report, you'll see that we actually have estimates by sector, by industry, but also by energy, construction, and infrastructure, tax cuts --
Q: So the 150,000 are just based on these estimates so far on what you guys projected out of how this money would be spent?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Correct.
Q: So we don't know exactly -- so you guys --
MR. BERNSTEIN: The 150,000 jobs is -- it comes precisely out of the methodology I was just describing; that is, we have -- we know spend-out, we know the types of spend-out, so therefore we can assign multipliers to different parts of the plan. For example, tax cuts generate a smaller multiplier than direct government spending. Once you know the spend-out and the type of spending that you're engaged in, then you can derive an estimate of how many jobs you believe you created relative to what would have occurred in the job market were you not doing that spending.
And let me just make one other point about this. This is -- I want to be very clear about this -- this is a absolute tried and true economic methodology. In fact, there's simply no other way to make this kind of estimate. You have to have an estimate of what would have occurred in the absence of your stimulus plan in order to come up with the jobs that you've created or saved. Every macro model, whether it's Federal Reserve or private forecasters, engages in these kinds of exercises.
Q: Can a estimate also -- you said that you've spent about a billion dollars a day, so obviously -- minus $800 billion, there's about $700 billion left to be spent of the stimulus. Is that a fair -- assume that it's --
MR. BERNSTEIN: Just to be precise, it's actually a matter of obligating about a billion dollars per day and we're up to about $135 billion in terms of obligations.
Q: Obligated, not necessarily spent yet.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Correct. Spend-out is closer to $44 billion.
Q: How much this summer are you obligating now for this specific 600,000 --
MR. BERNSTEIN: We're unable to make that estimate at this point.
Q: Those summer jobs, that 125,000, are you counting that towards the 600,000 jobs that you're going to be saving or creating?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Yes.
Q: Okay. Are you also going to be counting that towards the 3.5 total goal?
MR. BERNSTEIN: That is -- yes, the 3.5 is an estimate of jobs created or saved by the end of next year.
Q: What you're obviously acknowledging are temporary jobs over the summer, which will last three months of the summer --
MR. BERNSTEIN: Oh, it's a good question, you're right.
Q: -- how that's getting counted in the 3.5.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Thank you. That's a good question. The 3.5 million jobs are what economists call full-time equivalent jobs. So those 125,000 would not count as a full 125. Two part-time jobs count as one full-time equivalent job.
Q: Okay, but you are including that in the 600,000 number that you're saying that this accelerated spending will --
MR. BERNSTEIN: But not as 125. They would have -- it's 600,000 FTEs -- full-time equivalent -- so they would be in there, but they would be part of that.
Q: Jared, when you say "accelerated," are you talking -- are you saying accelerated from the pace of the first hundred days, or accelerated from your expected pace when the recovery plan was passed?
MR. BERNSTEIN: The former, accelerated from the first hundred days. We had a -- our plan was to get the foundation in place over the first hundred days in terms of getting contracts in the door, evaluating those contracts, putting in the kinds of oversight and accountability conditions that are so critical, getting the Web site up and running, starting to receive and approve state applications for fiscal stabilization. We've laid that foundation and our expectation is we would ramp the plan up during the second hundred days, but first we have to make sure we have the first hundred days in place and that's gone well from our perspective.
Q: I want to make sure I understand this. So you're actually on schedule. You're not changing the schedule spend-out?
MR. BERNSTEIN: The schedule, I would say we're slightly ahead of schedule, that we are -- that the acceleration that we're seeing in the second hundred days is a little better than we expected when we first sat down. But we certainly were expecting a ramp-up.
Q: So there was always supposed to be an acceleration; this isn't new --
MR. BERNSTEIN: Yes.
Q: On the unemployment rate, you said that without the stimulus package you would expect it to be 1.5 to 2 percentage points higher by the end of next year. What is it that -- I mean, what is your forecast for the unemployment rate by the end of next year, and what would it have been without the stimulus package?
MR. BERNSTEIN: That's a fair question, but I'm not going to get ahead of -- we actually have a process in the White House wherein we release our next forecast I think sometime by the end of the summer.
Q: Jared, getting back to Jake's question. When you put together the report in January you projected with the stimulus an unemployment rate of about 8 percent right now. It's a percentage and a half point higher than that. Why did that happen, and what should the country conclude from the inability to be able to properly calculate in January, whatever it is that happened in the economy that made you miss the mark by 1.5 percentage points?
MR. BERNESTEIN: Well, first of all, let's be very clear about this point. Our forecast at that time was right in the middle of every other forecast, and in fact, if we had had a forecast that was much worse than that, we would have been an outlier. We also would have been correct, it turned out. But the point is that the contraction of the economy in the fourth quarter -- you should recall back then that was -- the magnitude of that contraction was far larger than was expected. And so at the time our forecast seemed reasonable. Now, looking back, it was clearly too optimistic.
What I will say, though, and I don't want to lose sight of this, is that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, in our view, according to our analysis, will lead to an unemployment rate by the end of next year of 1.5 to 2 points lower than would otherwise be the case. And that is the direct result of the kinds of programs and projects we're talking about today, putting literally millions of people back to work who in the absence of this program would not be getting fully employed.
Q: Do you think the unemployment rate has peaked already?
MR. BERNSTEIN: No, I don't.
Q: When do you think it will peak and at what level?
MR. BERNSTEIN: I'm not going to speculate on that. I think that's better to wait for the --
Q: You speculated in January.
Q: Yes, you speculated before.
MR. BERNSTEIN: We have a process by which we release these forecasts. It would be disruptive to the process for me to get out here and just sort of share my speculation. The budget director will be releasing those in late summer.
MR. GIBBS: But let's understand -- I know I'm not an economist, but we have said and I think I've said each and every month that we've been here that we expected many, many months of continued job loss in the hundreds of thousands. The reason that this wasn't a $787 billion hundred-day economic recovery plan, why it's a two-year recovery plan is because we never expected this all to be solved in a hundred days. Right?
That's why the spend-out is over a two-year plan. The obligation that we all talked about, that Jared talked about in terms of over $135 billion -- I've seen some of the reporting today -- this notion that we thought somehow a hundred and some days into the stimulus plan being law that our economy would be completely turned around is certainly not predicated on anything that we've talked about in here each and every day since the administration began.
Q: Jared, you guys said that at end of the 3rd quarter, I mean in that report, that that was --
MR. GIBBS: But again, I think it's important to understand -- and remember the type of questions that I got the day that the growth number came out that showed economic contraction that quarter, as Jared said, down negative-6 percent. Remember the rate of job decline in December and January changed dramatically. Something was happening in the economy in that time period and in those months that caused it to -- in a sense, caused the acceleration of the deterioration.
But I think the point that Jared is trying to make here is understand regardless of where that curve in the downturn was, or differently the curve in where the job percentage number was --
MR. BERNSTEIN: The unemployment --
MR. GIBBS: -- right -- you're still talking about -- as Jared said, you can shift that curve up to assume where we are now, but the plan was always predicated to have that number be, as Jared said, 1.5 to 2 percentage points less than in the absence of a recovery plan.
Q: So you're saying the 3.5 -- that is just not going to change. This plan, no matter what, because of the way you're statistically modeling this, it will be a minimum of 3.5 million, because there have been estimates that say 2.2 million.
MR. BERNSTEIN: Let me be clear. No, no, let me be clear. Every economic estimate has a confidence interval around it. And one of the things we're doing, as time goes on, and you'll see quarterly reports from the Council of Economic Advisors on this, we have real-time data that we add and factor into our estimates where recipients of Recovery Act dollars report job creation to us. Now, let me just say --
Q: The 150,000 jobs --
MR. BERNSTEIN: The response to that is often, well, why don't you just count those and stop there? But of course that's just one piece of the job creation pie. That's the jobs created directly through government spending through contracts -- we like to fix roads and repair bridges and so on. You don't get those jobs through -- you're not counting the tax cuts, the jobs created through the tax cuts. You're not counting the multiplier-effect jobs for people who, on those direct spending, go out to the lunch counter and create extra demand that would not have otherwise have been there.
MR. GIBBS: And I think you -- look, the Vice President had a good example today: window makers. This is a fairly, I think, good example, because there is a tax credit for energy-efficient windows that a taxpayer would use and apply for in next year's taxes. So there are going to be -- window makers are producing in anticipation of the tax credit causing, as Jared talked about, an economic multiplier effect. Window producers are making more windows. Somebody decides they're going to change the windows in their house to take advantage of the tax credit that will show up on next year's taxes. So there's a whole host of changes --
Q: Jared, can you give us a split --
Q: -- most of the jobs, the 150, were saved or most were created in that first hundred days?
MR. BERNSTEIN: I can't give you a split on that.
Q: A rough split at all? I mean, is there any way -- it's your accounting, it's your number, you came up with it through modeling or through some other mechanism. Clearly, some states have received money and that's patched up their budget deficits. That's helped them keep some people on --
MR. BERNSTEIN: I just don't want to try to -- you know, pretend to be able to give you a level of accuracy on that split that we simply consider --
Q: When are you going to be able to go beyond saying there's a mathematical formula or a tested methodology that gets this number, and actually go back and look and say, we were right, it was that number of jobs; or, we were grossly wrong?
MR. BERNSTEIN: I think I should refer -- to answer that question, let me refer you to two papers that I think, I believe -- I hope -- take you through this kind of methodology, this sort of an estimate in what's supposed to be reader-friendly language. They're both on recoveryact.gov and one of them is a more recent, and I think perhaps the more helpful one is the more recent one by the Council of Economic Advisers, precisely on how we're counting jobs.
Q: But at some point you're going to be able to actually add them up and actually look at them, right? When will you get to that point, you can get beyond just using a mathematical model?
MR. BERNSTEIN: Well, every quarter, and you're going to see these --
Q: When will it be?
MR. BERNSTEIN: -- every quarter and you're going to see actually under the act, the Council of Economic Advisors has the obligation to report job growth quarterly. And as I was just explaining, part of that calculation involves contract recipients telling us the jobs they created. But part of it is also going to be jobs saved. I mentioned the 150,000 schoolteachers across the land as part of the second hundred days -- teachers, principals, and support staff -- those are jobs saved.
So that's not something you're going to get from a contractor who says, I just added five people. That's something you're going to get by comparing the actual outcome relative to an expected outcome in the absence of your investments.
Q: Go to that split, to follow up on Chip's question, how much in the estimate of the 3.5 million is going to be direct government contract jobs, and how much is going to be --
MR. BERNSTEIN: That I know the answer to but I don't have it with me. It's actually in the Romer-Bernstein report, precisely that question.
Q: Is that where the 2.2 -- because I've seen that number --
MR. BERNSTEIN: I want to say it's something like 60/40 direct-indirect, but don't -- go to the report; it's right there.
MR. GIBBS: Thanks, Jared.
Q: Can I just ask one other question. On the Web site, on the new Web site, is this going to be a cheerleader rah-rah thing or do you get a whole slew of people -- you said you're going to hear from people. If you get a lot of people calling in and saying, hey, I'm not getting the job that I thought I was going to get out of this -- will they be on there too, or is it only going to be positive assessments?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, I assume as soon as you file that story they'll upload it up onto the Web site. (Laughter.)
All right, let me do one quick announcement before we start. President Obama will meet President Lee of South Korea at the White House on Tuesday, June 16. President Obama extended at the invitation at their last meeting on London on April 2 during the G20 summit. The Republic of Korea is a close friend and a key ally of the United States and the President looks forward to exploring ways in which the two countries can strengthen cooperation on the regional and global challenges of the 21st century. The two leaders will confer on North Korea and will consult on a range of bilateral and other issues.
Q: Thanks, Robert. Having listened to all that, I'm still trying to figure out one key point here. We knew from the White House weeks ago that the White House thought the stimulus would create or save 600,000 jobs this summer. We knew there was going to be a ramp up, an acceleration, and Jared just confirmed that, too. So what is the point of this big splash today with the President and the Vice President, and we just had that detailed briefing. Does the White House think that -- do you think that you're off message? Do you think that people are losing confidence in the stimulus? Why are you doing this?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think part of it, Ben, is to outline the exact details with which Jared just walked you through the 10 slides to talk about the projects that we are going to see created and what's going to be taking part in the next hundred days and the history of the Recovery Act. But I think it's a little incongruent to say -- it's hard to ask if we planned this. If all this stuff was planned, how can it be in response to criticism?
Q: No, I'm not suggesting --
MR. GIBBS: Are you inferring that on the 136th day or so we would have inferred criticism and then -- I don't know if it's 136; my pardons to Mark, I just guessed.
Q: No, there was no part in my question that talked about criticism. I'm just trying to figure out what the --
MR. GIBBS: I think the latter part of that question --
Q: No, what the strategy is when you talk about --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the strategy is to outline -- the President always talked about ensuring that people understood where we were on the road to economic recovery and the steps that this administration was going to take in order to improve the economic outlook of this country. And I think you heard the President talk about today, and others in the administration talk about on Friday, that we have seen the fewest number of lost jobs in about an eight-month period.
And while the number was less than what was estimated, the Vice President said on Friday and the President said again today that less bad is not good enough. These are the steps that the administration is outlining to ensure that the steps to recovery are taking place.
And some of the figures that Jared talked about, in the bill there's about $499 billion in spending, and as he talked about over $135 billion of that has been obligated. What's not included in the obligation number is some of the tax stuff. And this is part of the President's continuing to discuss the steps that we're taking with the American people.
Q: I have a follow on. As you know, part of the effort is not just to implement the Recovery Act successfully but to show the American people that it's working. You do have critics who are saying that either the money isn't being spent well or that today's event is a repackaging. My question is, do you feel that the White House is winning that battle, the battle for the message with the American people?
MR. GIBBS: I think the American people are not worried about the message battle that's going on in Washington; they're worried about whether or not we're taking concrete steps to fix our economy, to improve it for the future, to save and create jobs now. I can assure you they're not worried about a bunch of back and forth spin. They're concerned rightly about the steps that we're taking to improve it. And I think that's exactly what the President outlined today.
Q: I had two questions related to North Korea. First, about the journalists that have been imprisoned, is there any indication that North Korea intends to use these women as a bargaining chip in the nuclear standoff issue --
MR. GIBBS: This is not -- I think their detainment is not something that we've linked to other issues and we hope the North Koreans don't do that either. I think this is a humanitarian issue and these women are innocent and should be released to their family. And the administration is working to see that happen.
Q: So there's been no sign so far that they've been trying to link the two issues?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Anything on -- the second question has to do with Secretary Clinton's statement that the U.S. was considering putting North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. I just wondered where are things in that process?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's important to look at the question that Secretary Clinton got, which was -- was asked about a letter from senators about this topic, and obviously she's received the letter. We are working and continue to work with Congress to consider any and all ideas related to dealing with the situation with North Korea.
Obviously, the statute is clear and lays out a series of requirements, as she noted in the interview. And I think obviously the main focus for us is on what steps internationally can be taken and that we're working on in response to the North Koreans.
And I would say, lastly, this is also a very big issue about their actions. There are, and I've said this, I think, probably each and every day in here that we've done this, the actions that they've taken have further isolated themselves from the world. They're the ones that are stepping away from their own rights and responsibilities. I would also underscore that the responsibilities and the accountability that they have do not necessarily -- don't fall under necessarily the provisions of the law that she was talking about. We were talking about U.N. Security Council resolutions and agreements that they've made as part of the negotiating team.
Q: A couple questions. One, last week -- I assume you weren't here in D.C. for this --
MR. GIBBS: I think I saw you in France.
Q: Yes. (Laughter.) It was lovely. The Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics testified before Congress, and he was asked about the 450,000 claim. Can you substantiate --
MR. GIBBS: The 450?
Q: The 150,000 job claim.
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q: And he was asked if he could substantiate the claim, and he called the Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner, who said, no, that will be a very difficult thing for anybody to substantiate. He was asked again, "So you're saying you can't verify that these administration's policies have created an additional 150,000 jobs?" They said, no, we're busy just counting jobs. Is it fair for the administration to use this statistic like 150,000 jobs saved or created when the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not stand by the number?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to what Jared talked about in the two reports that are on the Internet. I do think it's fair. And I haven't seen the report, having been overseas, but yes, we continue to think it's fair.
Q: Okay, and the other question I had is, ABC interviewed Lakhdar Boumediene, the former Guantanamo detainee who is now free in France. He spent seven and a half years in Guantanamo, or almost all of them at that time in Guantanamo, and he is considering suing the United States government for that time. Does the Obama administration think that people who have been freed from Guantanamo deserve any compensation?
MR. GIBBS: I would have to ask somebody at NSC what that involves. I don't think that's been part of any of the discussions that have taken place here as it relates to the many issues around the closure of Guantanamo.
Q: Back on North Korea, has President Obama or anybody in the administration been in touch with former Vice President Gore about possibly taking a role in helping to try to secure the release of --
MR. GIBBS: I can check. I've seen, certainly, discussion about -- news reports, I should say, about different people that may or may not go, but I don't have anything to add to what I've seen in the news.
Q: Has President Obama talked to -- on a different topic now -- Judge Sotomayor? How is she doing?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think he has talked to her. I know that she, as a result of, I think, a trip -- a tripping at LaGuardia, broke a small bone in her ankle. She flew to D.C. I think it was looked at when she got here and she was advised to go get x-rays, which she did. I think she spent a couple of hours getting a cast and is, the last time I saw video up on Capitol Hill, continuing to meet with senators as part of her meetings surrounding her nomination. I think she has six meetings scheduled today and she'll make all six of those meetings.
Q: You're not going to sign the cast? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q: You're not going to sign the cast?
MR. GIBBS: If she comes by maybe we will.
Q: She gets 70 signatures on the cast. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Maybe we should get senators to sign the -- (laughter.)
Yes, ma'am. He's reading the --
Q: Now that the President's speech -- his definitive speech on the Middle East, what's his follow-up to it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, Helen, I think we said this throughout the past several days, I don't look at the President's outreach as having started in the speech and it's not going to end as part of that speech. I think going all the way back to the very beginning of the administration and ensuring that this administration was involved early on in the Middle East peace process, the President talked about that as being a high priority -- interviews that he's done, his speech to the parliament in Turkey and a town hall meeting there, as well as that speech. And I think he outlined a series of things that the administration will focus on in terms of democracy. I think --
Q: I'm not talking about speeches. What's his next step?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me finish and I'll give you some action. Obviously the President is continuing to work on the peace process -- and we'll have some readouts probably a little bit later for you today on some of that. The President, again as I've said, will be engaged in dealing with the parties there, obviously working on the Iranian issue as it relates to their nuclear program.
So I think there are a number of things that are ongoing, and I think the President is also, I think it is safe to say, heartened by the turnout in Lebanon and the results that demonstrate a win for democracy and a win for a sovereign and independent Lebanon.
Q: If I could get back to something Jared was asked about, the idea that you're accelerating the pace now. I think that just gives the people -- it automatically implied that, well, it must be bogged down. Can you verify that this is not in response to this program bogging down?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I'd go back to the -- if the acceleration was planned, then how can it be bogged down?
Q: But when was it planned? I mean, was this --
MR. GIBBS: Chip, obviously spending $787 billion over a two-year period of time takes some groundwork to be laid in order to begin to move that money from individual departments -- obviously it took some time to get the legislation passed. But we don't feel that in any way the recovery is bogged down. I think you heard -- or the recovery efforts are bogged down. I think you heard Jared say that by his estimation he believed we were slightly ahead of where we were going to be; $135 billion of $499 billion in spending has been obligated. Beginning April 1, 95 percent of working Americans saw an increase in their paycheck. They'll see that at a sustained level as part of the Make Work Pay tax cut happen over the course of two years.
So this is a sustained effort over the course of two years to jumpstart the economy, to make critical investments in many of the projects that Jared pointed out, and to create -- to both spur short-term job savings and job creation as well as to begin to lay the foundation for long-term economic growth.
Q: In the session in there today the President said, knock on wood, there haven't been the kind of scandals here that some predicted.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, and I think in many ways that's because you want to lay the foundation for how this money is going to move out; ensure that you have steps in place, protocols in place to deal with an evaluation of contracts and moving this money to the places that need them. I think this is -- the notion that the first day of the bill passage we were going to move $787 billion out certainly wasn't ever the case. In fact, you guys asked me about the spend-out rate as part of the lead-up to the debate. So the notion that this is going to be done as a phase certainly wasn't a surprise to you several months ago.
Q: Is there a sense that the effort to make sure there isn't fraud, waste, scandals -- is there a sense that that is slowing down getting money out the door and how --
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't think so. I don't think we see it as slowing it down, but I think it's important -- and the President underscored this well back into December in meetings with the economic team, which was it was important to ensure that -- and you saw this throughout the debate on the bill and the early implementation of the bill that the President was very concerned and rightly concerned that we do this in a way that gives the American people confidence about the way this money is being spent.
It's crucially important that we lay in, like I said, the steps and the protocols that are necessary to happen in order to ensure that this is done both as quickly as possible, but is done without the waste and abuse that sometimes can be associated with these types of deals.
Q: Just a few follow-ups. The 150,000 job figure, should we be identifying that as a projection, since it seems like Jared himself -- there is no hard evidence yet of this number, correct?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, again, I would point you back to his answer about the reports and the economic formulation --
Q: But he said it was based on multipliers and an economic formula and that we don't have the facts yet of how many hard jobs.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Chuck, I think -- and I hate to paraphrase what Jared said, but again, if I move you money because you have a window business, just like the example I was using, or some economic stimulus, you are going to -- you're going to buy supplies from somebody else who is going to create --
Q: But you don't know if that's going to create one job or two jobs --
MR. GIBBS: No, but --
Q: You don't know that it's going to -- so it's a projection.
MR. GIBBS: Based on a tried and true, as he said, economic formula on how to do that. Projections are --
Q: Jobs trickling down the window pane -- I mean, why is that not trickle-down economics when you guys are talking about tax cuts and how --
MR. GIBBS: Are you suggesting that the multiplier effect of job creation is part of trickle-down economics?
Q: I'm suggesting that you guys are saying --
Q: Sure, they're jobs --
MR. GIBBS: Point out for me how, if somebody builds a windmill -- right -- and needs --
Q: You guys are saying that unmeasured jobs -- and they're out there -- and you're saying it's a result of tax cuts.
MR. GIBBS: No -- in the example of window panes, absolutely. But what I'm talking about -- you don't make window panes out of papier-mâché, right? You're going to have to buy aluminum; you're going to have to buy glass. Does the production of aluminum and glass for the purchase of making windows in order to increase the production so that the tax credit can be fully taken advantage of -- are window producers doing that? Yes. Is the sale of aluminum for windows and glass creating jobs? Ask some of the readers of Bloomberg when they make investments in resources --
Q: But you're not going to provide numbers on total jobs that have been created or saved through this window pane example.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, there's multipliers and there are formulas, as Jared talked about, in order to make determinations as to what that number is.
Q: Well, it did sound like you are going to provide a hard number on direct government contracts. Every quarter we will get a hard number.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that's what Jared talked about as part of the obligation of those reports.
Q: So far we have none, because there hasn't been any --
MR. GIBBS: Right. But again, just to build off your examples, Hans, you can't build a window out of nothing. You can't build a wind turbine out of nothing. The purchase of resources to build a wind turbine so that a wind company can take advantage of a tax credit is a multiplier effect that creates jobs based on the purchase of resources to construct that turbine -- right?
Q: Will you concede that the wind is free? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I will concede that the wind is free. And some of it is blowing hot in my direction.
Q: Ooh! (Laughter.)
Q: There are a lot of numbers being thrown around here, and you guys are claiming credit for -- earlier you were claiming credit for summer jobs that won't be there in three years --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no --
Q: -- and that will be --
MR. GIBBS: Hans, I appreciate you asking -- you should ask as many questions as you want, but if Jared gives you an answer about how two part-time jobs equals one full-time employment job, don't act like the question didn't get answered, because --
Q: I'm not.
MR. GIBBS: -- and he's not trying to say that -- he didn't tell you that 125,000 was immediately being factored in. He gave you the formula for part-time and full-time jobs.
Q: I'm not saying -- I'm just -- I guess what you -- would you then concede that that job won't be there in three years when the stimulus --
MR. GIBBS: Will I concede that a summer job won't be there in the fall? Yes, I will concede that.
Q: You guys are counting this towards the 3.5.
MR. GIBBS: I think Jared answered your question. Send a transcript to --
Q: Following up on the North Korea question, you said, we hope that North Korea doesn't use -- attempt to use the journalists as leverage in the nuclear situation. Does that mean that's a red line, if they attempt to do this, then -- I mean --
MR. GIBBS: I think it's important not for me to get into -- I'm not part of the negotiating team up here.
Q: Lebanon, you said you were heartened by turnout. I've heard some whispers that some believe that maybe the President's speech on Thursday could help things. Is that the way you guys see it, that the President's speech might have had some influence in Lebanon?
MR. GIBBS: I will say this, I think the President was pretty clear in Cairo about the importance of elections. I think people can be heartened that turnout far exceeded the last election; again, that those -- there was a shared commitment to democracy and a sovereign and independent Lebanon. I think that's certainly important.
I think if you look at most predictions about the election, leading up to the actual election having taken place, most people believed that the March 14 coalition was not going to be successful. I would say that I don't think the President was one of those people. And I think just as the President talked about in Cairo, the Lebanese people are more interested in a government that builds things up rather than one whose main job is to tear things down.
Q: Should Iran's elections this week be viewed in that same prism? If so, do you think that the speech will have some influence there?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I think it's hard to -- let me also say this. As I said, the President talked about the importance of elections. The importance of elections can't simply be measured by the fact that you have an election. The importance is not simply on the fact that you have an election; the importance is on what -- of the actions of which that government takes. So let's not get ahead of where we are.
Q: Well, we had it with Hamas. They had a fair election and you cut off the relations immediately.
MR. GIBBS: As I believe the government said they were going to do if Hamas was elected.
Q: No, that isn't true. They didn't say that; they did it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think pretty clearly the previous -- I mean, again, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of being the Bush administration spokesperson. I think it was pretty clear that if you go back and look at what was going to happen to U.S. aid were Hamas to win in those elections --
Q: So we don't believe in fair elections?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, again, Helen, I think you -- before I can even answer, you continue to ratchet the bar up. I think if you look at exactly what was said prior to the election and what was implemented as a direct relationship to that result, you'll see that that was --
Q: But isn't that blackmail, really? What did we do on Lebanon? Did we -- the Vice President went there and sort of said, if you vote this way then it won't --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can't say that people around the world don't listen to news.
Q: The most concrete achievement that came out of the London summit or the G20 was greatly increased lending authority by the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. portion of that is now hung up in Congress because Republicans are calling it a global bailout and won't vote on a war spending bill that has that IMF money in it. What does the White House want to do to unstick this? And are you willing to have the IMF money separated from the war spending and see if you can get it passed that way?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the administration believes that we can work with Congress to ensure the necessary and important funding is there for our missions in Afghanistan and Iraq; that money and funding will be there for the important and critical needs of what is being done in Pakistan, as well as the commitments that were made internationally relating to the IMF. I think this is a process that is ongoing and we're going to work with Congress to ensure that we get all of those priorities passed.
Q: And are you confident that when the President goes to the G8 summit in just four weeks, he's going to be able to have that money in hand?
MR. GIBBS: That's what we're working on right now.
Q: Robert, does the President believe his health care -- the health care plan he wants from Congress is in trouble?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: Is he stepping up his efforts to get it done by August?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President is going to spend a decent amount of time over the next few weeks and months working on the priorities that he laid out, one of the most important of which is health care. I think that is definitely very true.
Q: Is that the subject of the town meeting on Thursday?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: I have two questions. Jared --
MR. GIBBS: Two more? (Laughter.) Speaking of the multiplier effect -- (laughter.) Go ahead.
Q: Jared -- Kenneth Bernstein [sic] for pay czar, do you have anything on that?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: Okay. So we're in the second phase of the stimulus now, the first phase was the 100 day. How many more phases do we have and will the burn rate continue to accelerate or increase, or will it decrease?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we -- I think we talked about over the course of two fiscal years, so through roughly September 30, 2010 -- about 70 percent of the money, I think, was the final figure. About 70 percent of that $787 billion will be spent through that two-year fiscal period.
Q: All right, I'll just come back to it.
Q: I'll get back to you, Robert.
Q: While you're asking.
Q: Why does the government need a compensation czar?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get ahead of personnel announcements.
Q: So at this point it doesn't, until we're told it does.
MR. GIBBS: Something like that, yes.
Q: Very good. You mentioned the saved jobs relate to states in budget crisis that have been at least temporarily rescued by recovery dollars. According to estimates put together by the state budget officers, for the next two years, states are already booking $230 billion in projected deficits. The Recovery Act is going to provide for them, if I understand the estimates, about $100 billion, leaving a $130 billion gap. How concerned is the administration about this gap that's already on the books in whatever jobs it has been able to temporarily save, not being able to save in the future? And what policy response is made after that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think, Major, the most important policy response we can have is the one that we're in the midst of implementing now, and that is to get the economy moving again. Obviously tax receipts for states are going to be determined by the health and well-being of the economy that we have today. The President is working to ensure that we get it moving as quickly as we can, and hopefully we can put a different trajectory on some of those numbers.
Q: So that'll be the principal response, not a third or second -- depending on how people count it -- stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: A third?
Q: Well, people -- some people count the first -- there was a Bush stimulus, and then you guys came along -- that would be the second -- in the course of the recession.
MR. GIBBS: Oh, I see, in terms of economic --
Q: I'm not subscribing to you two -- one that you didn't already know about.
MR. GIBBS: -- in terms of -- I was going to say, you've -- I know I was out last week, but I had no idea. (Laughter.) Again, at this point, our focus far and away is ensuring that the implementation of this legislation is done in both a timely fashion but also one that ensures that it is done in a way that is not wasteful.
Q: Speaking of while you were away, the Senate questionnaire revealed that at least four times, possibly five times, Judge Sotomayor used a variation of the idea that a Latina could come to a better or more informed conclusion than a white male about some various aspect. The White House has said that was a poor choice of words in one instance. I'm wondering if it's willing to say it's a poor choice of words in multiple incidents. And if so, does that poor choice of words denote a pattern of her thinking that is somehow troubling to the White House, as it is to the critics?
MR. GIBBS: I think if you -- as we have said here many times, the overall theme of her comments were that her experiences matter, just as they did for and just as they have for, in the quotes of Judge Sandra Day O'Connor -- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Alito. I think Judge Sotomayor has said in her visits that the speech that you're referring to was a poor choice of words. But that --
Q: He's actually referring to five or six different speeches.
Q: Four or five.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but I --
Q: And I'm wondering, if it was poor choice of words, it would suggest, if it was said once, it might have been an error. If it was said multiple times, it was part of a -- an approach or a pattern.
MR. GIBBS: I think if you go back and look at each of the instances, I think the overall theme is that experiences and background matter, and that what we've talked about in 2001 was a poor choice of words.
Q: The confirmation is not about the overall but it's about the specific meaning of specific words and specific utterances. And since we have a pattern here now, I'm just wondering why critics would not be valid in saying there appears to be a pattern here that may be inconsistent with application --
MR. GIBBS: Except, Major, what people -- what your unnamed critics don't seem to subscribe to is any pattern that is in the hundreds of opinions that she's written.
Q: So the pattern there trumps the pattern of the words, is that --
MR. GIBBS: I think if you want to know what a -- how a judge is going to rule, I'm under the impression that how they've ruled is a good indication of how they're going to do, and what they're going to -- the notion that she's talked about, the impartiality of how she looks at these issues, and I think that's been borne out by much news reporting over the past many days of the way in which she --
Q: So study the opinions, not the speeches.
MR. GIBBS: I think we would expect friend and foe alike to judge here on her full body of work.
Q: Robert, can I follow on that?
Q: How much of this back-and-forth about Sotomayor's words do you think is really a question about the value of diversity and sort of the debate about affirmative action sort of cloaked in something else?
MR. GIBBS: You know, look, I think it would be not a good thing for me to infer what or why certain people who are seemingly opposed to her nomination characterize it different ways. I've said I think it's important that we watch the use of what we say, but other than that, I can't -- and I wouldn't begin to peer into the motivations.
Q: Robert, the President said today that he would suggest people who don't believe the Recovery Act is working talk to some of the company who have hired back workers that they would have laid off. Is the White House keeping a list of those companies somewhere? Are you going to post that on recovery.gov?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know if the news articles that denote people saying that are going to be put up on the Web site or not.
Q: But I guess what I'm wondering is, do we know what -- how many such companies there are, and --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I've read in a number of publications, some of whom occupy seats in this room, that people have hired some people back --
Q: You're not keeping a list?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a list with me, no. I don't -- I assume there are people who are writing down what they see in the newspaper -- because we said there are quarterly reports on the direct impacts of this, but again, I think if you read a fair number of articles, as I'm sure most people here do, they understand and see clean energy companies talk about their increased investment. I think you see -- there was an article over the weekend of tax incentives on clean-energy buses that have allowed companies to keep the employees that they had on to ensure that they can meet the growing demand.
Q: And just a matter of housekeeping. I don't think I've seen a week ahead. Maybe I missed it. Can you talk to us --
MR. GIBBS: You haven't, and I don't have it, and --
Q: -- about what else the President is doing this week, besides going to Green Bay?
Q: Particularly tomorrow?
MR. GIBBS: I will endeavor to get a week ahead. We did not do it before I came out here today.
Q: And any more detail on the Green Bay visit? Will he be -- he's talked a lot in the past about people who need health care, but he seems to be now trying to make an economic case and a case that some hospitals have delivered health care, say, more efficiently and in a low-cost way. Will that be the emphasis in Green Bay?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that that will be the specific emphasis, but I think the President has always talked about health care as a very concrete matter of economics. The rising cost of health care certainly is for families and small businesses.
But I think also think, in order to -- well, to go back to the Recovery Act, certainly the delivery of health care in a more economical and efficient way through investments in health IT and computer technology as a delivery is something that the President I think will at least touch upon. Whether or not it's the focus, I'm not sure. But again, I think when we're talking about health care writ large, there are -- there isn't one thing or only one thing that you can focus on. Obviously there are the incredible proliferation of costs, as I've said, for families and small businesses, but also, how are we going to change the way and make the delivery of health care more efficient so that a country that spends more per capita on health care doesn't find itself lagging in the ways that it does.
Q: Do we know what the venue is in Green Bay?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have it. I think the advisory, if it hasn't gone out, is in the process of getting out.
Q: Town hall?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. But I don't know which building.
Q: Robert, when you and the President said that Sotomayor used a poor choice of words, were you aware of the other times she had similar utterances, or only that one, the Berkeley speech?
MR. GIBBS: Mara, I got to tell you, a lot of life in here blurs together, so I don't entirely recall what -- all that I have been briefed on.
Q: At the time, people were focusing on one speech, but I'm just wondering if you were aware that she'd said it more than once.
MR. GIBBS: In all honesty, I honestly don't remember.
Q: Just to follow up on that, now that you're aware that she said it more than once, do you think they all were poor choices of words?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think I answered that question just a few minutes ago.
Q: Well, no, you said that we should look at the whole context. I'm wondering, just in terms of these statements, do you think they were all -- she regrets saying them in that way?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think I've -- I think I've said, I think the President said, and I think she said this was a poor choice of words.
Q: I wanted to get your response to Republicans who say that with a trillion-dollar deficit and $11 trillion debt, that we should -- if the economy is beginning to show green sprouts, we should take some of the stimulus money and not spend it and reduce the deficit.
But I also wanted to go back to what Ben and Chip were getting at about the momentum thing, I guess. Regardless of the reason for why you did this event today, do you feel like with the too-optimistic projection, the disputes about these --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take these one at a time. Understand that --
Q: Which one are you going to take, then?
MR. GIBBS: The one you -- the one I just interrupted you on.
Q: Well, I'm not done.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I know you're not. (Laughter.) But I want to do these one by one. The notion that a report was prepared based on the best available economic data that was had, and that a severe downturn in fourth-quarter growth and a job loss that was far greater than anybody had expected, both in December and January, I don't find surprising that the overall number is different than it was when we sat here in December. It certainly wasn't when you all asked me in January and February about those statistics.
Again, these numbers change, just as you all ask me if we think -- if you think we're all on the recovery, just as you all ask me if the economy has bottomed out, right? So I think it's -- if you're asking me if in December you can make all the accurate projections in terms of what the numbers are going to look like in February without having the data for January, I'd say that's pretty hard to do.
Q: Okay, but you're taking questions from us and heat from critics about the jobs that are being created or saved, and there's a new Gallup poll I don't think which has been mentioned yet today about -- they say that the President's numbers on the economy are slipping. I think the disapproval rating on the economy has gone up 12 points since February. Do you think that there's a danger here of a credibility deficit developing on the issue of the economy in particular?
MR. GIBBS: Again, this is -- we're focused on the implementation of the recovery plan. We're not focused on the latest polling.
Q: Can you just respond to Republicans who say that we should take some of the stimulus money and not spend it if the economy is starting to show signs of progress?
MR. GIBBS: Well, is that what they're saying? Do they think the economy is showing signs of progress?
Q: Jim DeMint said that if there is recovery happening, if we're coming out of the worst of things, as the President said I think two weeks ago, then --
MR. GIBBS: I'll do this. I'll answer that tomorrow if you'll get me the answer as to whether you think Senator DeMint is seeing an improvement in the economy.
END 3:34 P.M. EDT
|Citation: Robert Gibbs: "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and the Vice President's Chief Economist Jared Bernstein", June 8, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86272.|
© 1999-2011 - Gerhard Peters - The American Presidency Project