TAPPER: More broadly, a lot of people are leaving. Orszag left, Romer left, Larry's leaving, Rahm is leaving. There are reports about General Jones. Secretary Gates has said 2011 is a good time for him to leave. There are a lot of people, key members of the national security team, key members of the economic team. Could you just comment on that?
GIBBS: Yes. And I've — I've — I've said this a number of times. Look, I think — I think two years in — if you look back historically is a time in which people have — have come into government service at the beginning of an administration and leave to go back to academia or business or to retire or go into other pursuits. And I think it is in many ways the normal rhythm of an administration to do. We have — I think I've said this to a number of you all — the folks that have — have worked in here for the last two years have managed to pack four or six or eight or 10 years' worth of work into those two. We've — the economic team has dealt with the type of — a series of crises, from housing to financial stability to the Recovery Act to unemployment, I would point out, done so in a way, if you look at the news today on — on AIG, we are — if — if — if the common stock that the American government holds in AIG were sold today, that investment would net the federal government $20 billion. As probably as late as a year ago, most people presumed that AIG would be $180 billion loss and the financial sector would cost the government a great deal of money. The financial sector, as the — as a portion of TARP, is likely to provide a profit for — for the government, in terms of its investments. So I think, in many ways, it is the natural course of the way this town works and — and — and that administrations work. People have given of their time and of their lives. They've been away from their loved ones, their families. A number of people that you mentioned — I know, you know, Larry moved here while his family stayed in Massachusetts. And I think, in many ways, again, it's the normal cycle and course of doing business….
TAPPER: David Axelrod said something that the president has been saying for a long time, which is that Republicans are holding the middle-class tax cuts hostage. I understand it, Democrats haven't introduced a bill in the Senate, and the Republicans have. Wouldn't there have to be a bill that Republicans are threatening to block or blocking before anything is being held hostage?
GIBBS: I don't know what bills have been introduced in the Senate. Obviously, I think the — the posture of — I don't think the bill would have to be the existence of — I mean, I think their rhetoric alone, from Senator McConnell and others, have been that the price of — there's a $700 billion price tag on moving forward on the tax cuts for the middle class. That's the tax cuts for the wealthy.
TAPPER: So there doesn't have to be an actual…
GIBBS: Well, absolutely. And, you know, look, we — I've said this — it's now been a couple of weeks, obviously, but, you know, we — we — we agree on — we agree on the middle-class part of this, or so they say. Their price tag for the middle class was the $700 billion. We could have passed the middle class alone, provided some much needed certainty to — to the economy and to middle-class families, and had — still had plenty of time to debate the $700 billion price tag for — for the other cuts.
TAPPER: Why not do that? Why not introduce the bill…
REPORTER: Why not get Republicans on the record?
TAPPER: … and — and force Republicans to filibuster that?
GIBBS: They were unwilling to do that. They were unwilling to…
REPORTER: But who has the power to introduce the bill?
GIBBS: No, no, guys, what I'm — my original answer was, I don't think the bill is the existence of the — of the fight. It is that — look, John Boehner said…
TAPPER: But you're not — you're not even fighting –
GIBBS: But — but John Boehner said quite clearly on Sunday that he would go along with the middle-class stuff, right? Then fury rained down, and quickly we crawfished back over to, well, well, wait,
middle- class, it's going to — the price for doing middle-class is tax cuts for the wealthy. And — and we could have done middle-class.
TAPPER: Isn't the real problem the fact that there are Democrats who agree with the Republicans on the issue? There are 47 –
GIBBS: I think we could have done middle class, but the Republicans weren't interested.
TAPPER: Yeah, but –
REPORTERS: But the Democrats –
TAPPER: — you don't need the support of the Republicans in the House to pass anything.
GIBBS: No, but to play along with your — if a bill has to become — you've got to pass them in both houses. And you were not going to get 60 votes to go and just do middle-class tax cuts, were
TAPPER: Yeah, but I guess my question is, why not try? If you actually think that this is a winning campaign issue –
GIBBS: It wasn't — because the Republicans were — the Republicans said they weren't going to do it.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: You don't know unless you –
GIBBS: No, you — come on, Chuck. (Laughs.)
GIBBS: You're under the impression there are like six Republicans that –
GIBBS: I — the existence of the bill isn't the — isn't some great starting line for this debate. We've been debating tax cuts without — I mean, I don't — a bill you could write on the back of a napkin. We could get the — that's not the — the notion that you didn't have a vehicle to do this is –
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Do you think it's responsible to wait until the lame-duck session to do this?
GIBBS: Do I think it's responsible to wait for the lame-duck session to pass the middle-class tax cuts? No, I thought the Republicans were irresponsible and held the middle-class tax cuts hostage
TAPPER: So all they need to do is issue a press release and you guys will back off any fight?
GIBBS: I don't understand your question.
TAPPER: All they have to do is say, "The Republican Caucus is not going to support this," and Democrats will just say, "Oh, okay. Well, then we're not even going to try."
GIBBS: No. Again, Jake, I'd — you're making the existence of one piece of legislation the beginning or the end of this entire fight. I think that's kind of a silly concept.
TAPPER: You're talking about the bill being held hostage. It hasn't even been written, as far as anybody knows.
GIBBS: Okay, the concept of tax relief for the middle class — does that make it any less of a hostage because I didn't say it is a bill?
TAPPER: Yeah, it does make it less of a hostage, because there isn't an actual piece of legislation that anybody's trying to push.
GIBBS: (Calling on someone else) Mara.