I interjected in an exchange between White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and another reporter today, so I’ve included their exchange (with my interruption) as well as my own.
JENNIFER LOVEN, AP: The $100 million target figure that the president talked about today with the Cabinet, can you explain why so small? I know he talked about — you know, you add up 100 million and 100 million, and eventually, you get somewhere, but it would take an awfully long time to add up hundred million (inaudible) in the deficit. Why not target a bigger number?
GIBBS: (Smiling) Well, I think only in Washington, D.C. is a hundred million dollars…
LOVEN: The deficit’s very large. It’s not a joke.
GIBBS: No, I’m…
LOVEN: The deficit’s giant. $100 million really is only a step.
GIBBS: But no joke.
LOVEN: You sound like you’re joking about it, but it’s not funny.
GIBBS: I’m not making jokes about it. I’m being completely sincere that only in Washington, D.C. is $100 million not a lot of money. It is where I’m from. It is where I grew up. And I think it is for hundreds of millions of Americans.
LOVEN: The point is it’s not a very big portion of the deficit.
TAPPER: You were talking about an appropriations bill a few weeks ago about $8 billion being minuscule — $8 billion in earmarks. We were talking about that and you said that that…
GIBBS: Well, in terms of — in…(CROSSTALK)
TAPPER: …$100 million is a lot but $8 billion is small?
GIBBS: Well, what I’m saying is I think it all adds up just as the president said, just as Jennifer was good enough to do in her question. If you think we’re going to get rid of $1.3 trillion deficit by eliminating one thing, I’d be — and the administration would be innumerably happy for you to let us know what that is.
LOVEN: Why not try to get a bigger number so you can get a…
GIBBS: Well, let me explain sort of what has happened. Let’s walk through this so that everybody understands this. The president has laid out cuts, large and small, in both the administrative costs and in the program costs of the federal budget. Some of the examples that we were — we provided you all will add up. For instance, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs either cancels or delays 26 conferences that can be better or more effectively and more cost effectively done by video conferencing that saves almost $18 million.
A lot of these administrative things will add up. This is a short-term goal to come back with over the course of the next few weeks to identify further administrative savings that secretaries haven’t already both identified and eliminated.
The president has also proposed savings on a much larger scale. The president has proposed ending the bank middle man for college loans, saving $94 billion over a ten-year period of time. The president has attacked, in his budget, the subsidies that we provide insurance companies to provide the same Medicare coverage — private insurance companies the same type of Medicare coverage that’s already being offered at a savings of over $200 billion.
Jennifer, the reason that the president can stand up with the backing of the Congressional Budget Office and talk about cutting the deficit in half over the course of four year’s time is because there are cuts that are large, student loans and Medicare Advantage, as well as small. This is the part of the president’s promise and proposal to go line by line through the federal budget deficit. Will we enumerate programs that don’t work that we’re going to eliminate in the future? Yes. Some of those cuts will be large. Some of those cuts will be small.
But we’re not going to put ourselves back on a path toward fiscal sustainability if we don’t look at each and every item in this federal budget and make some of the cuts that are necessary to get us on that path.
TAPPER: On Friday, the Obama administration was dealt a — a legal setback in another case in which it was arguing the state secrets argument, even though the judge was asking the administration to comply with his order that only under very tight, regulated way would — would these documents be able to be shared with the plaintiff’s attorneys.
I guess my question is, this is now the third time the administration has invoked state secrets, even though still on the campaign Web site and on the campaign trail the president criticized the Bush administration for invoking it too often.
What do you say to the people who voted for President Obama, expecting a different take on the state secret argument, based on what President Obama said on the campaign trail, who are disappointed with the fact that you guys keep invoking the same argument, in fact, in some cases, even taking it a step further?
GIBBS: How taking it a step further?
TAPPER: My understanding is in — not the case with the Islamic charity, but in one of the other cases, there was — the administration was asking for more blanket authorization to invoke what they believe to be state secrets than…
GIBBS: Well, I — I should familiarize myself with that particular instance that I’m not aware of. The president and the legal team here have and will continue to evaluate and use in a judicious way the notion of protecting state secrets and ensuring that we balance the necessary need for transparency, but also understanding that there are things that can and should be protected for national security reasons…
TAPPER: We’re talking about a FISA judge, though. I mean, we’re not talking about sharing it with — with, you know, the front row here. We’re talking about sharing it with a foreign intelligence judge.
REPORTER FROM THIRD ROW: Or the third row.
TAPPER: Or the third row, right.
GIBBS: Once you get much past the third, it’s definitely downhill from there.
GIBBS: Come on, guys. It’s Monday. You guys are a little (inaudible) today? It’s just a joke, all right?
REPORTER IN SECOND ROW: Let the record show the second row has not been mentioned.
GIBBS: Just you wait.
GIBBS: All right, let’s…
TAPPER: This is the FISA judge we’re talking about sharing it with.
GIBBS: Right. Well, look, again, we’re — in each of these cases, the — the — the team and the president have to make a judgment based on — based on national security. And let’s build a little — I want to bring in these OLC (Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department) memos. The president, as you guys have heard and read, the president thought about and struggled with this decision for quite some time, many weeks. As the litigation worked its way through the process, as extensions were needed and granted, the president weighed this argument of national security.
The — one of the determinations that was made, as you heard the chief of staff make just this weekend, that many of the techniques described in these memos have been widely written about. They were fairly — fairly detailed in their description in a recent New York Review of Books article. And, in fact, in some of these instances, the Bush administration declassified portions of these techniques for transparency reasons.
But, in each of these situations, the legal team wi
ll weigh what is in the best interest of the national — national security of the United States and balance it that — with that needed transparency. I would — what I would tell either our supporters or our detractors that the president understands the seriousness of both of those arguments and will weigh each to ensure that we’re upholding what protects this country with what also underscores our values.