|The American Presidency Project|
|Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs; Deputy Assistant to the President on Economic Policy Dr. Jared Bernstein; and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes|
|October 19, 2009|
|James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:25 A.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Good after -- or good morning, I should say. Sorry, I'm used to doing this in the afternoon. Before we get started with our regularly scheduled programming, Jared Bernstein and Melody Barnes are here to discuss the report that released this morning on the jobs saved in the recovery plan by teachers. So I'm going to turn it over to Jared and Melody.
DR. BERNSTEIN: Hello. Preliminary reviews of recipient reporting data from state governments on educational spending through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act -- the Recovery Act -- show that at least 250,000 educational jobs have been saved or created thus far. Now, as I noted, these are preliminary data based off of reviews through the recipient reporting process.
As many of you probably know from some reports at the end of last week, we're engaged in what is clearly the most transparent and accountable treatment of a government program that really has ever I think been seen heretofore. These are recipient data coming in from the states, from Democrats and Republicans. It's truly a bipartisan report on the progress that the Recovery Act is making so far.
Now, before I turn the podium over to Melody to talk about the substance of the report, let me just say a word or two about how this recipient reporting fits into the larger context of jobs reported as created or saved.
These are direct jobs. Now, I think I've spoken to this group before about this point. Direct jobs are jobs that are directly created and funded through spending in the Recovery Act -- in this case, for example, think about a job of an educator saved because a state budget would have had to undergo cuts that would have enforced a layoff. That layoff has been avoided in these cases through Recovery Act spending.
Direct jobs are only part of the story. Indirect jobs occur when that teacher who otherwise would have been laid off goes shopping and is able to spend income earnings that she otherwise wouldn't have had. That creates more economic activity. The point is that these 250,000 jobs, preliminary reporting on these jobs saved or created, are a subset even of this part of the Recovery Act.
The law requires -- the Recovery Act requires that this more detailed reporting from recipients is made on about a third of the spending; it's about $276 billion of the $787 billion act. That's about $150 billion that's already been put to work through September 30, and subject to reporting this quarter. Now, the recipients are only asked to report the direct job impact, as I noted.
Let me finish off by just talking about how this maps onto the other work that, for example, our Council of Economic Advisers have done generating the estimate that we've saved or created about a million jobs so far. That estimate includes both direct and indirect jobs, and it includes not just a subset of the spending that has to be reported on through recipients, but the full set of Recovery Act activities that are out there in the field creating economic activity so far.
So just to be clear -- preliminary recipient data that's coming in to the independent Recovery Accountability -- the RAT Board -- Recovery Accountability and Transparency -- preliminary data coming into the board from recipients shows 250,000 education jobs saved or created. This is a subset of the 1 million jobs saved or created thus far through the act, leaving us solidly on track to accomplish our stated goal of saving or creating 3.5 million jobs by later next year.
I'll turn this over to Melody. Thank you.
MS. BARNES: Good morning, everyone. When we first started working on the Recovery Act last winter, we had two objectives in mind when it came to education. And the first one was to provide stability to state budgets and to prevent massive layoffs, while at the same time, trying to prevent a turn-back of the clock when it came to educational attainment for children and for adults; and secondly, to also try and use those funds to stimulate education reform.
We know that when it comes to education, particularly in the K through 12 context, that state dollars are very important. They account for about 90 percent of spending for education, and they account for about 40 percent of spending when it comes to higher education. And what we were getting back from states at that time was potentially devastating. We were hearing about 31 states that were predicting that they weren't going to be able to meet their budget in 2008-2009, and about 48 states that were predicting, looking forward, that they weren't going to be able to meet their budgets for 2009-2010.
What we know from the information we've received thus far is that the Recovery Act restored about 9 percent of the K through 12 dollars in California, Alabama, Indiana, and Oregon; about 12 percent of those dollars in Florida, Wisconsin, and South Carolina; and 23 percent of those dollars in Illinois. The implication is that we have been able to avert, for the reasons that Jared described, massive layoffs in -- and also created some jobs for pre-kindergarten, K through 12, and higher education -- both when we're looking at colleges and community colleges.
And the significant overall for education is something that -- or the impact on education has been significant. About $39.8 billion have gone through -- for K through 12 education, early ed and higher ed, and 73 percent of those dollars have already been obligated. And what we know when we start to look around the country is that we've been able to save about 4,000 jobs in New York City, for example; 242 jobs were saved in Indianapolis, Illinois -- Indiana -- sorry about that. Sounds like I need to go back through K through 12. (Laughter.) About 1,944 jobs were saved in Miami-Dade County, Florida; and 7 percent of the teaching staff in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska -- even though the number is small, when you think about 7 percent of their staff was able to be preserved.
It also means that we were able to avert massive class expansion, class size expansion, something that we've been concerned about in the educational context for quite some time; and also to provide needed services when it comes to math and literacy in those instances.
I'll close just by touching on reform. As I said, in addition to stabilizing the economy and preventing layoffs, we also wanted to attach reform to those dollars, to start to move the clock forward. And we included four assurances from the beginning in our state fiscal stabilization fund all the way through the Race to the Top dollars and the innovation and school improvement grant dollars that we're starting to put in place going forward.
So, for example, when it comes to standards and assessments, making sure that kids are college-ready and career-ready, in St. Paul, Minnesota, they were able to work on literacy and math interventions. For teacher effectiveness in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they're able to focus on teacher training. And then also help for low-performing schools, Lafeyette, Indiana, for example, they were able to extend the school day, and in fact the school year, for two of the most struggling schools.
We're also able to provide more information for teachers as well as parents so that they could track student progress and that would inform their instruction. And then as I said, the Race to the Top and that pool of dollars and the innovation fund are two ways that we're even trying to push the ball forward even further and go down the field when it comes to education reform.
So I'll leave it with that.
MR. GIBBS: Chuck.
Q: Can you discuss new -- how many of these 250,000 jobs were new jobs that -- in the education field that were offerings that public school systems didn't have before, and how many of these were just about saving -- preventing layoffs?
DR. BERNSTEIN: We don't have a breakdown that would separate jobs saved or jobs created. What we know from the recipient reporting are state governments talking to school administrators who are telling them, as instructed by OMB, that in the absence of these funds they would have had to, for example, lay off teachers who now are in the classroom -- that's a job saved. Beyond that, when there's a new hire, they're obviously reporting that, as well, but those are not broken out separately.
Q: I understand that, but Melody was just talking about -- you were talking about some of these new programs that you guys were funding as sort of a way to push reform. So you must have some idea of the chunk of new positions, not necessarily -- new positions that were created out of this, no?
MS. BARNES: Well, what states have been telling us, that they have been able to put some of these new programs in place. As Jared said, we don't have the breakdown, but what we are aware of is the impact that we're having on education. So by extending the school day that may mean that they were able to keep teachers on board who are able to provide those services, or able to hire teachers.
In the early education, one of the things that's covered is Early Head Start as well as Head Start. And we wanted to make sure that we weren't ramping up too fast and too far in terms of stimulus dollars, but at the same time to make sure that children at the very beginning of their educational experience were going to have access to those kinds of programs.
MR. GIBBS: But just to reiterate, I mean, obviously we've talked about this, but we understand just with the sheer size of these numbers what educational systems throughout the country would be experiencing --
Q: Use the mic, please.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry. The magnitude of this number demonstrates what we would be dealing with without the help of the recovery plan in ensuring that these teachers were in the classroom.
Q: Okay, well, take Miami-Dade. So how many -- you talked a specific number of jobs. How many of those were new positions in Miami-Dade versus saved --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think they said they don't --
Q: But you do have some number?
MR. GIBBS: Well, based on these reports -- again, they're the direct reporting jobs -- but understanding again that I think it's fair to say that a lot of these jobs were -- and we've seen these stories throughout the country -- states that faced tremendous budget pressures, not unlike the federal government, based on the dramatic downturn in our economy, led to having to take some serious action to fill that hole in to some degree and ensure that when these schools opened they didn't open to, quite frankly, as Melody said, class sizes that were much, much bigger. And we know, too, that the problem would be exponentially bigger if it weren't the case.
DR. BERNSTEIN: And, Chuck, I can add one thing, is if you -- I can add one thing. The recipient reports tell us a few facts. They tell us the allocations. They tell us the jobs saved or created, and we can't separate those. The state governments themselves have often released some numbers that are more in the spirit of what you're asking about. So, for example, if memory serves, California had a press release wherein they said we saved over 60,000 teacher jobs. And that's them telling you from their records, stuff that they have in those records that we don't have in the recipient reporting.
MR. GIBBS: Jake.
Q: So these 250,000, these are auditable jobs? These are directly created, all of them?
DR. BERNSTEIN: Directly created and I'm not exactly sure what you mean by auditable, but I think what you mean is that these are directly reported from recipients.
I want to stress that those of us who have been Keynesian economists throughout our lifetimes have never contemplated this level of transparency in a government stimulus program. We've never seen anything like this, where recipients are telling you precisely how taxpayer dollars are at work preserving and creating jobs. And I think it's particularly germane in the education sector from the perspective that Melody Barnes was talking about -- teachers, students, parents are walking into classrooms that would been twice as large in the absence of these funds.
Q: That's the other point -- I'm sorry, if I could just -- these are teachers? This is -- none of these 250,000 are employees of the Department of Education or anything else?
DR. BERNSTEIN: None of them are employed -- well, they're not employees of the U.S. Department of Education, but they're not just teachers. They're education jobs. So there could be --
MS. BARNES: Support staff.
DR. BERNSTEIN: Yes, do you want to speak to that?
MS. BARNES: We're talking teachers, support personnel, the same thing in the higher education context. But these are people who are teaching students or working in the support of teaching students are the operations of the educational facilities.
Q: Do you know how many are teachers versus how many are secretaries or people who work for the local boards of education?
MS. BARNES: I don't know that we have that breakdown.
Q: Jared, you said that this tells you precisely how federal tax dollars are being used to save or create jobs. Can you tell us precisely how many federal dollars per job?
DR. BERNSTEIN: No, we cannot at this point tell federal dollars per job, for a couple of reasons. One is that it's kind of the nature of the timing of the thing. We're getting data in in September and that includes, for example, summer months when teachers are typically not working -- not all of them, some of them are, and some of the support staff are, some of them aren't. So it's difficult at this point to report actual dollars per job.
We'll know more about that as we get closer to the endgame in terms of this recipient reporting. We should be able to get that number out when we have more data.
It's also the case, by the way, that some of these dollars don't pay -- are not directly going into labor costs. Some of them may be spent on technology, on building materials, on school materials. So it would be a mistake to take this, divide it -- to take the expenditures, divide them by the number of jobs and think you have cost per job. That would result in a cost per job that was too high.
Q: Are these all full-time jobs, or are some of them part-time equivalents that --
DR. BERNSTEIN: No, these are all FTEs -- full-time equivalent positions. Two part-time jobs would count as one full.
Q: Okay. So within the 250,000 jobs you could have a couple summer employments that you guys stacked together and then got to the 250?
DR. BERNSTEIN: Not that we stacked together, but that the recipients -- recipients were asked to report full-time equivalent jobs. So they would have combined them that way.
Q: But the 250,000 does include some temporary summer employment?
DR. BERNSTEIN: The 250,000 definitely includes temporary employment. But remember, if there are two part-time -- two half-time jobs, they're not reported as two jobs, they're reported as one full-time equivalent job.
Q: When you're talking about how much money has been spent per job, I thought it required $92,000 to create one job here.
DR. BERNSTEIN: Okay, this is a good question and it's one that kind of takes us from recipient reporting world to the modeling that the Council of Economic Advisers has done that I spoke about in my opening statement. In that exercise, we look at the full expenditures thus far from the act -- not just this subset that we're reporting on today, not just -- which is the education spending; not the subset that we were talking about toward the end of last week, which was the federal contracting for private sector employment through federal contracts. The $92,000 per job looks at the full spending, looks at direct and indirect jobs. These are, again, just direct jobs.
So it ends up a much larger universe than the recipient reporting jobs we're talking about today.
Q: Since this is all based on recipient reporting, are you confident, have you verified these numbers, that these numbers are real in terms of these jobs?
DR. BERNSTEIN: I can speak to that. Yes, we're confident that the 250,000 jobs saved or created through the education spending is a good, solid number coming in from recipient reports. The Recovery Board, the Recovery Accountability Transparency Board will have a full accounting including the actual reports that you can point and click to and see them for yourself by October 30th, I believe. And in fact, they have some of the reports I was discussing at the end of last week on the federal contracts to private sector employers, those are up there right now. And you can go in and look and see those actual jobs.
So, yes, we're very confident in the quality of these data.
MR. GIBBS: And remember, this is -- these are reporting requirements that were instituted within the Recovery Act as signed into law. And the board that Jared and Melody have talked about is an independent board that solicits and reviews such data.
DR. BERNSTEIN: And let me just add one point; very confident in the quality -- these are preliminary data that we have gone through with great care to emphasize particularly -- to try to bolster particularly the type of confidence you were referring to and I was alluding to.
Q: Dr. Bernstein, following up on something that Vice President -- a comment that Vice President Biden made in the event about green jobs a little while ago, he said that there are a number of people in this country still suffering in an economic depression. How many people would you put in that category?
DR. BERNSTEIN: I don't have any kind of an accurate count. I'm sure -- I think the Vice President was expressing the very accurate view that in an economy with over 15 million people unemployed, there's a lot of folks out there that are facing deep economic struggles. Many of our economic actions, our interventions, whether it's housing, financial markets, certainly the Recovery Act as we're talking about today, along with actions of the Fed, have certainly helped to pull the economy back from the brink, such that the macro-economy is in a much better place than it was.
But until we start bringing down the unemployment rate, until we start chipping away at those millions of unemployed people, until we start providing them with the jobs, the wages, the incomes, the hope, the opportunity that the Vice President had in his mind when he was referring to that dynamic, our work is far from done.
Q: You talked about how you're on track for the 1 million total, direct and indirect. But this is only direct, and this is a subset of it, so can you make it apples and apples, and say the 250,000 plus whatever indirect -- I mean, how much of a subset is it?
DR. BERNSTEIN: I think the best way to do that would be -- and by the way, just to be clear, 1 million saved or created through September of this year, and 3.5 million we believe will be saved or created by the last quarter of next year.
I think the answer to your question really is the 1 million that the Council of Economic Advisers reported on in their September 10th report. I refer you to that report, because that does capture direct and indirect, and it captures the full spate. Now, if you're asking me -- which I kind of think you are -- take that 200,000 and multiply that up to take count of the multiplier effects, yes, that we have not done.
Q: So it's a subset of the 1 million? You don't really know how big of a subset this is because --
DR. BERNSTEIN: Correct.
Q: -- it's not just 250,000? It would be more because of indirect jobs, right?
DR. BERNSTEIN: Right. I can tell you that 250,000 is a quarter of a million.
Q: I'm trying to make it apples and apples.
DR. BERNSTEIN: No, we don't have a multiplier that takes you from that number to that number -- that direct plus indirect.
Q: You've emphasized several times that this is preliminary data, and you used another term -- "endgame." This is a little bit confusing. Are you saying that this number will grow by the time we reach the endgame? And when is the endgame?
DR. BERNSTEIN: Sorry, I don't mean to be confusing. There are a lot of numbers and a lot of timing issues here. I'm not sure precisely the context I used the word "endgame," but what I believe I was talking about was by the time the Recovery Act is between 70 and 80 percent spent out -- that's sometime around the 4th quarter of next year -- and at that point, we believe we'll have saved or created 3.5 million jobs.
Now, the other sort of speaking -- when these preliminary data become no longer preliminary, and when they're posted on recovery.gov -- that's the Web site of the independent recovery board -- that's October 30th, and so that's when these preliminary data are no longer preliminary.
Q: Does preliminary also mean that you don't have the complete data so you're projecting based on what you have already? Or does it mean you have all the complete data, but you haven't had time to put it up --
DR. BERNSTEIN: It means the latter.
Q: Thank you, Robert. A question for either Jared or Melody. When this money, the federal dollars from the Reinvestment and Recovery Act, run out, will it then be up to the states to come up with the revenue to keep these jobs in operation?
MS. BARNES: That's something that we were quite cognizant of when we were putting the Recovery Act together. We wanted to make sure that we were stimulating the economy, and at the same time, that we would be able to sustain the increases that were on track. I mean, all of this, remember, is to be put in the context of the economy starting to come back, for states to be able to support these jobs and to support the increases that have been put on the table. So the idea was to provide that shot, as I also mentioned, to start to provide and to incentivize the kinds of reforms that we wanted to see moving forward, but not to fall off a cliff when the two-year period was over.
Q: So it's an unfunded mandate, then? (Laughter.)
MS. BARNES: No.
MR. GIBBS: Understand, again, these were jobs -- when you save a job, that's what 50 states and others have determined were the teacher jobs that they needed in these classrooms. And I'm happy to have human events editorialize for extending the very positive aspects of jobs saved and created as part of the recovery funding.
We'll take one more from Mike, and then let these guys go back to work.
Q: As you may be aware, Washington, D.C., recently let go 200-plus teachers. Is that a sign that Washington, D.C.'s school system is in that much of a financial hole that they couldn't be saved through the Recovery Act? And we've heard from a couple teachers perhaps suggesting that they were told by the chancellor that the money couldn't be used for salaries, it had to be used for one-time expenditures. So are the rules different for D.C.?
MS. BARNES: No, I think Washington, D.C., as we've all been reading, they have been making decisions based on a range of different factors. But these dollars were intended to go out and to provide the kind of support nationwide that would allow the kind of recovery that we're -- or stability that we've been talking about today, the creation or the saving of jobs, in addition to the appropriate kind of educational environment for students, to make sure that our kids weren't sliding backwards as we were also trying to bring the economy back.
MR. GIBBS: And, Mike, as we've talked about, look, we've never described in here the recovery plan as something that was going to match job for job, or dollar for dollar. We understand, as I've talked about, there's roughly a $2 trillion gap in economic output over a two-year period of time. This plan, the recovery plan obviously covers a little less than $800 billion of that $2 trillion.
So as much as you would love to see none of this, obviously states, as I've said, because of experiencing the same dramatic economic downturn that the federal government is, has had to make budget choices.
I have no announcements that I can remember, so we'll just start from there.
Q: On Afghanistan, it looks increasingly likely that there is going to have to be a runoff election. What is the -- A, just what is the White House reaction to that? And more importantly, how does it affect the sort of timing and calculation that's going on into the war strategy --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me give a broad answer here, because obviously the assessment that was done and the review that the President asked to happen was something that we understood would take in many ways an election into account -- the first election conducted by the Afghans. And I would obviously point you to comments that were made this weekend about the responsibility that all Afghans are going to have in both putting forward and -- putting forward a government that is viewed as, in the eyes of both, importantly, the Afghan people as well as the international community, as truly legitimate.
Q: Well, that's partly why I'm asking that, because the calculation that you can't make a decision without understanding whether you have a credible partner or not -- obviously this poll -- these developments feed into that. So do you need for all these to play out before you could make a decision?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, we've -- in some ways, understanding that we've had a sizeable troop commitment there and this isn't in some ways a new problem -- in other words, we've got a sizeable force there now and regardless of additional resource requests or grants by the Commander-in-Chief, we're still going to have a sizeable force there that is going to need a credible partner.
I think that's why the onus is clearly on this to be legitimate in the eyes of the Afghan people, because there's nobody involved in this process in this building or another -- in the Pentagon or in the State Department or quite frankly I think any credible person in this country would make a case that all the troops in the world will not solve a problem without a partner that is there ultimately to help. It's not just a military problem -- there's a civilian and economic development side of this.
But also taking into account the military aspect of it, we've -- the object eventually, obviously, is to train Afghan national -- an Afghan national security force, army, and police, in order to ultimately transfer control to someone. So this is a complicated process and one that we're going to be watching.
Q: It sounds like what you're saying is, no, you don't really need for this to play out to its bitter end before you could make a decision.
MR. GIBBS: In some ways it's hard to -- I don't want to get ahead of the process in terms of important decisions that Afghan leaders are going to have make over the next several days about how to step forward, understanding that none of this is going to work without credible partners. We certainly understand that in this entire process.
Q: A couple questions on Iran. Iran said that it would not hesitate to enrich uranium to a higher level if no deal is reached in the talks in Vienna that start today to get -- that would get a third country to do that enrichment. Is there any concern that this is -- this defiant tone will complicate or pose an obstacle to the talks? They've already ruled out France as one of those countries --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'm not sure I'm going to spend a lot of time on pre-talk posturing. I think it's -- I think the actions of the Iranians within the scope of the actual talks will speak volumes to whether or not they're going to live up to their responsibilities. The important thing here is that in this technical meeting the Iranians have an opportunity, again, to demonstrate for the world what the purpose of a nuclear program is. Our object is to get a sizable amount of low-enriched uranium out of the country of Iran, making the world more secure.
Q: And one other on that. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the administration is encouraging Arab oil-producing countries to boost their oil supplies to China so that China would be less reliant on Iranian supplies -- the hope then being that China would be more cooperative on any push -- U.S. push for new sanctions, should that be decided.
MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look at NSC for guidance on that, and I don't have that.
Q: Following up on Jennifer's question, what is the administration doing in terms of putting pressure on Hamid Karzai, if in fact the U.N.-led audit says we need to take another look at this election?
MR. GIBBS: Look, let me -- I don't want to characterize -- first and foremost, this is -- nothing is going to be imposed by us or anybody else that will ultimately be seen as legitimate without the legitimation of those leaders, right? So obviously our Ambassador Karl Eikenberry is -- has been very involved in all aspects of the civilian situation on the ground. He has been a big player in the meetings that the President has had on this subject and is very engaged with all of the parties in order to create a situation that, again, can be seen as legitimate -- most importantly, legitimate by the Afghan people.
Q: Well, what if Karzai doesn't cooperate?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it's -- I'm not going to get too far down the hypothetical highway.
Q: If Karzai refuses to participate in a runoff, as he's signaled and -- he has signaled this, this is not a hypothetical -- and refuses to engage in any sort of unity government, will he be seen as a credible leader?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don't -- I'm going to let not just words speak, but I think ultimately actions are going to have to speak in many cases louder than words. I'm not going to get ahead of this process. Obviously determinations are going to be made by the ECC, by the IEC, and then it's going to be incredibly important, Jake, for the world to see that Afghan leaders are willing to make this process legitimate, and that's the process that we're encouraging.
Q: The IEC is refusing to accept the ECC's results.
MR. GIBBS: Right. And I think it's now up to the Afghans to make this legitimate.
Q: Will President Obama -- will he get involved? Will he go ahead and approach Karzai if necessary?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm not going to get ahead of that. Again, we've got one of the best in the business right now on the ground and have been -- has been for a long time in Karl Eikenberry, who is working through obviously a delicate but extremely important situation as it relates to our posture in Afghanistan.
Q: Can I just ask a question on health care? During the campaign President Obama often talked about the importance of not -- this is a quote -- "not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN." Do you think President Obama and those who are negotiating health care right now are living up to that promise?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake, I think I've seen a number of clips from footage from the very beginning of meetings that were held, some of which were aired on C-SPAN, as a health care proposal was developed, understanding that their merging of two committee bills is just one step along a long process. And I think the American people have gotten quite a bit of news coverage on this topic.
Q: But you're talking about the health care forum you guys had here?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q: But that was, what, March or April?
MR. GIBBS: The beginning of the process of putting together health care reform.
Q: But since then there have been significant negotiations both on Capitol Hill -- you have White House representatives on Capitol Hill right now. You have deals that were cut with Big Pharma, with the hospitals, with the doctors. Do you think that that has upheld his promise of transparency?
MR. GIBBS: I do think the administration has been transparent. I think the process, again, is ongoing. Trust me, I'd love to declare that the process is over -- it's not. It's ongoing and I think transparency will be continued.
Q: Two things. First on Sudan, how does the administration justify working more closely with someone who is charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity and war crimes and whose nation is on the state sponsor of terrorism list?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Chip, I take a bit of an issue with your characterization of this. There are hefty sanctions in place against Sudan. The President in his statement today mentioned that. There are -- this is a comprehensive policy that will not just deal with one aspect of the process, but will deal with both the humanitarian crisis that we face in Darfur as well as continuing the progress toward a comprehensive North-South peace agreement.
Our policy includes pressure on the Sudanese government and incentives. And if the government doesn't act in a way that helps bring about this comprehensive strategy, sanctions can be ratcheted up, pressure can be added. If they do take steps to address components of this, there are incentives.
Q: But we will be working more closely with somebody the President believes committed genocide, will we not?
MR. GIBBS: And the President still believes that. But what we're trying to do is seek a comprehensive solution to this problem that, again, addresses both the humanitarian crisis that has happened and is ongoing in Darfur as well as a comprehensive peace between the North and the South.
Q: On another topic, Somali rebels claim that they've shot down a U.S. drone. Do you know anything about that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have any information on that, but I can see if there is any information on that.
Q: Following up on the various Afghanistan questions, specifically the Karzai campaign is calling the election commission "foreign interference." Do you -- is that helpful rhetoric right now coming from the Karzai campaign officials?
MR. GIBBS: I think it has been obvious and apparent to the world that allegations of fraud had to be investigated. We have said that repeatedly through this process, believe that all votes should be counted, those that were submitted fraudulently should be thrown out. We're certainly supportive and I think everyone in the international community is supportive of getting a process that's legitimate. I think it's now up to the Afghans to demonstrate that they're -- they believe in that legitimacy, as well.
Q: Is that rhetoric helpful or unhelpful?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think it's -- I don't think in any way it comports with what's going on on the ground.
Q: On health care, I know you don't want to negotiate here, but do you guys want to see the public -- some form of the public option in the initial Senate bill that hits the floor, or are you willing to wait for it to be a debate on amendments?
MR. GIBBS: I, shockingly, don't have a lot new on this, Chuck. We want to see legislation that goes throughout this process that ensures choice and competition.
Q: But there's a big difference between the public option being in the initial bill that hits the Senate floor, that gets amendmented -- you know, when they start debating --
MR. GIBBS: Is that a word?
Q: Pardon my -- I don't know. (Laughter.) Wait a minute, you made up a word earlier. What was it?
Q: "Legitimation", yes, so we're all about --
Q: I didn't make that up.
Q: No, no, that's what I mean. (Laughter.) No, you did. I'm just saying we're all --
MR. GIBBS: Awkward after we just announced 250,000 teachers -- (laughter.) Go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q: But there's a big difference between the public option being in the merged bill and not in the merged bill. Do you guys -- obviously you have a position on this, and this goes to the whole transparency question that Jake asked.
MR. GIBBS: Look, Chuck, I think what's important for all of this process and for the end of this process is ensuring that at the end of this is we have in insurance markets the ability for people to have choice and competition. Obviously the merging process continues, and I don't have anything new on that.
Q: It just seems to me that you have a lot of supporters who are spending a lot of money on the public option, advertising about it and all these things. They'd like to hear something from you guys about whether you want it or not, and if we want it in the final Senate bill or not.
MR. GIBBS: And I think the President was pretty clear in front of Congress on this, and we'll evaluate proposals as they happen to see whether they meet choice or competition.
Q: In the current financial news cycle of last week and this week, there's a lot of focus on the dollar. You see headlines, traders are bearish on the dollar, gold is rising, the dollar is weaker -- and yet the administration keeps on saying that they have a strong dollar policy. I'm wondering if you could give us one or two examples.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I am going to point you over to Treasury who deals with this, and not get into trouble on this question.
Q: On the medical marijuana policy, as you probably know, 14 states allow the medical use of marijuana now. This policy that the Justice Department is enacting now, is that -- should that be taken as a signal that the administration would like more states to allow this?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I'm not going to get into what states should do. This is -- the memo that was sent out today to U.S. attorneys simply adds guidelines to a decision that Attorney General Holder talked about in mid-March, and has been administration policy since the beginning of this administration in January.
Q: And course the President talked about it a lot during the campaign, or several times during the campaign, it came up. How much did -- how much was he involved directly in this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, this is, as you mentioned, something I think he was asked about at town meetings in 2007. It was his policy and has been since the beginning of his term the policy of this administration.
Q: Does he know someone -- does he know people besides those he might have encountered during the campaign --
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of. Not that I'm aware of.
Q: We heard some strong language from -- you know, on the Sunday shows about Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Has there been any private conversations? In the interest of transparency, has the White House spoken to those banks about what they're doing with their bonuses, about where they're putting their profits?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to who has talked to whom on this, Hans. Let me reiterate, though, what has been said and, as you said, was said on the Sunday shows. The American people went to extraordinary lengths a little more than a year ago to ensure that our financial system didn't collapse. They have borne great responsibility in doing so. And I would simply reiterate what you heard senior administration officials yesterday -- that there are equal responsibilities on the other side of this not to go back to the type of behavior that got us into this mess; to ensure that what the taxpayers have done is met by the banks with increase lending to small businesses and others that need access to much needed capital.
And I think most importantly we are involved now in a debate about what the regulatory landscape is going to look, going forward, to ensure that we never repeat again what happened last September. And I think it is the actions of many banks, in working actively against consumer protections, is not what the American people expected or expect out of these institutions.
Q: But again -- on back to the lending aspect, is there anything you guys can do to force them to lend, other than kind of jawboning for public --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, look, there are obviously constraints in the law. And just in terms of executive compensation, as we've said before, we're not -- we don't want to be in the business of deciding executive compensation. I think people know excessive when they see it. I think the President, as you mentioned, has extremely strong views on this topic, on the topic of lending. And I think we hope that the actions of the bank will be demonstrative.
Q: But that's my question. Is it more than just hope? I mean, Axelrod said bonuses are offensive; more offensive is that they're not lending. Is there anything that you feel is in your power that you can do?
MR. GIBBS: I can certainly check additionally with the economic team. But this is not hope, this is more. This is -- the reason it's asked is -- the reason you're asking is because you and others have taken notice of both their behavior and the consequences of it.
Q: We know that hundreds of banks are on the FDIC watch list. Their reserve fund is way too low. There are concerns about commercial real estate loans in the years to come. And there's also pressure on the banks to basically acknowledge their losses and make their balance sheets right. So is there a little bit of a -- are they caught in the middle, if you will, between the White House saying you should lend more, and the regulators saying, maybe you shouldn't lend more?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't think anybody would suggest that we return to lending to consumers or anybody else that doesn't have the wherewithal to borrow and ultimately pay back the money. But nobody in this administration is suggesting that.
I think the administration is simply suggesting that with the responsibility borne by the taxpayer, responsibility is also borne by those recipients and others that were beneficiaries of the type of assistance that allowed those banks to continue, even though they had made record profits off of tremendously bad decision-making.
This is not something that's going to be solved overnight, and the President and his team will continue to watch over it to ensure that lending is taking place and that as we move forward we'll get some rules on the road, and won't let this be repeated again.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what the Afghanistan -- what the delay does to your war council meetings? Are there more? Are you going to add more to the schedule now?
MR. GIBBS: I don't have -- what we'll -- I think they're working this week on some additional stuff that won't include the full meetings, because we have Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen on travel this week, which makes some of those meetings harder. But the review continues, and as I said last week, this is a decision that will be made in the coming weeks. So obviously work continues at many levels to get this done.
Q: Let me turn to politics for a second. Now that we have a date on the calendar for the President to campaign for Creigh Deeds, can you talk about what he sees his prospects as being? Does he see any chance of his doing better in the polls than he has been? And in all the three elections, I guess, that are taking place --
MR. GIBBS: Should I judge the power of The Washington Post editorial board's -- (laughter.) Look, I'm not going to get into the political prognostication game. Obviously I think the President believes, if you look at the Democrats that he's been supportive of that are on the ballot, that they have plans and proposals that move their states and their districts forward in a way that comports with his vision. And I think -- I anticipate we'll do quite well in November.
Q: Robert, I wanted to ask you about Iran. We've heard different public statements from the Russians in the last few weeks about whether they'll be amenable to sanctions against Iran if these talks in Vienna don't come up with anything. You saw what Medvedev said when he was standing next to President Obama at the U.N., and then last week the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seemed to indicate that they weren't going to be going ahead -- that Russia didn't support sanctions. Who do you listen to? Who do -- do you guys think that --
MR. GIBBS: I tend to listen to the guy who was sitting next to the President. I think Medvedev was quite clear and I think we believe the actions of the P5-plus-1 in the meetings that are, as you mentioned, currently going on in Vienna, and others, are important to getting a comprehensive solution to a problem that is of concern to the entire international community.
Q: Robert, tomorrow in New York is the President going to visit the Joint Terrorism Task Force?
MR. GIBBS: I believe that was on the schedule when I came out here, but I will double-check to make sure it's on it when I go back.
Q: Can I assume that this has to do with the investigation that's ongoing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think it's -- as the President did when he went to the National Counterterrorism Center, this is an ongoing thing. The professionalism of those that keep a watch over our country the President thinks is something we should continually log and he looks forward to visiting with, as he did NCTC, as well as he had a phone call with a number of the Joint Task Force folks in recent weeks.
Q: Just trying to get -- put the jobs -- education jobs thing in context in my own head. The metric of jobs saved or created has been debated pretty hotly in the last several months, which I think you would agree -- I mean, we've gone back and forth in this room. The announcement today --
MR. GIBBS: I haven't, but go ahead.
Q: Maybe it was just Jared, I don't know. But it seems like today's announcement is an attempt on your guys' part to bolster that metric because the education jobs are some of the most solid of those sorts of saved or created. There's a lot less graspable examples of the jobs saved or created.
MR. GIBBS: I'm not sure I would agree with the premise of the last part. I think a teacher that was teaching kids last year and wasn't going to be teaching kids this year is a pretty easy example to understand. I think that's the case if your company was going to lay you off because of a downturn in output in producing components for clean energy jobs. This is data that the bill requires be reported to an independent board, and I think it demonstrates that actions had to be taken to help bolster state and local governments on jobs that obviously go to -- directly to building and strengthening our economic foundation to create jobs for the future. It would be short-sighted in an economic recovery to watch 250,000 educators walk out of school buildings even as we were trying to train a workforce for tomorrow.
Q: On a separate topic -- on your guys' doubling down in your attacks on FOX News, there was one comment by Axelrod yesterday where he said that FOX is a network that is trying to make money -- something to that effect. Does the White House think that FOX --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that's news.
Q: Well, I mean, does the White House --
MR. GIBBS: I assume all of you are trying to make money, but maybe I --
Q: Well, he was putting it in a --
MR. GIBBS: -- I misinterpreted your otherwise altruistic ventures. (Laughter.)
Q: But he was putting it in a context that made it sound like that was evidence of them not being a news organization. And I just wanted to --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I don't think David would tell you that all of you aren't in the business of making money. I would say sometimes programming can be tilted toward accentuating those profits.
Q: Could I follow up, Robert, on Sudan? Two things. The President in his statement said that he would sign the emergency declaration later this week. Why the gap between the time he announced it and the time he signs it? Does that suggest some deadline, that there's some -- a few days for the Sudan to respond?
MR. GIBBS: I will check and see what scheduling prevented that from -- or whether that's to be read into something more.
Q: You talk about incentives. What incentives is the administration offering?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q: What incentives are you offering? What's the carrot?
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- again, let me point you to the State Department briefing, which is much more -- has a much more detailed layout of that, of some of these aspects as well as -- look, I think some of this is going to be decided in negotiations as we seek incentives and pressure.
Q: Robert, does the White House believe that it would be possible to hold a runoff election in Afghanistan on such short notice that would produce a legitimate government, given the constraints of the weather, the fact that many of the people officiating would be the same people that officiated in the first election?
MR. GIBBS: Stephen, I think that if the ultimate outcome is that -- and again, I hesitate to get too far ahead of this. I don't know what the timing is, but I think that the international community and the Afghans all have equities in ensuring legitimacy to the outcome of this process. Whether or not that happens in the next few weeks I think will bear watching as we go forward.
Q: Can I just follow? Robert, as far as this election is concerned, the longer it's taking, don't you think people are losing interest and also it's going to hurt the international community's war on terrorism in Afghanistan? And also, several months ago people were trusting in President Karzai and now they have lost the trust. Does President have a trust and faith in President Karzai?
MR. GIBBS: We are obviously continuing to deal with the government of Afghanistan. We don't have a candidate in this election. The Afghans have to pick their leaders. And we have to ensure that whatever leaders are chosen are capable of assisting, as they will need to, in a policy that makes their country more secure. I don't think delay -- again, we've got a sizeable force on the ground and continue to implement a policy that the President announced in March.
Q: It's my big chance here. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You should borrow his microphone.
Q: Yes, I know. I might do the two questions routine, too. Tomorrow's fundraiser in New York, are you expecting Wall Street executives to be in attendance?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to the DNC to -- it's a DNC fundraiser and they probably have better attendance figures.
Q: Assuming they are, there are some present, will the President -- would he use the opportunity to make the same kind of remarks the officials are making?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President won't hesitate whether or not they're there to reiterate the responsibility that Wall Street and everybody in the financial industry has to ensure that the type of behavior that got us into the problems that we faced a year -- little more than a year ago are never repeated.
Q: Assuming then that these Wall Street executives are present, and I think there's some reporting that they may be, is there anything unseemly about the President going to a $30,000 --
MR. GIBBS: I don't have a roster as to who is going to be there and, again, I'd point you to DNC.
I got to get Sam since I went to Alabama this weekend to watch his Kentucky team beat my team and I should have called on him earlier because -- I'm going to face up to it, I'm just -- trust me, I sat in 43-degree weather and watched it, so it's even easier now.
Q: -- since 1966. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: We discussed that late into the night.
Q: I wanted to ask about Senator Conrad's meeting here today. The senator yesterday reaffirmed his support for a health insurance co-op. Is the President trying to change his mind today, or is he trying to get more information about this co-op?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the meeting will span a number of different topics. Senator Conrad obviously -- on the Budget Committee, is important to the process of putting together a budget for the next fiscal year, as well as an important player on health care reform. I think both of those topics will be discussed, and I'm sure the President will ask him about his ideas for ensuring choice and competition.
Q: Is the President aware of the Republicans on Capitol Hill that are calling for an investigation, saying that there have been Muslim spies planted as interns on Capitol Hill, and obviously they have not produced any proof of this, but this has been an issue that's gaining some traction on the Republican side --
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard the President talk about this, nor have I discussed it with him.
Q: -- White House at all?
MR. GIBBS: I have not heard anybody here talking about it.
END 12:28 P.M. EDT
|Citation: : "Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs; Deputy Assistant to the President on Economic Policy Dr. Jared Bernstein; and Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes", October 19, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=86778.|
© 1999-2011 - Gerhard Peters - The American Presidency Project