Making the President’s Position on Entitlements Public, and McConnell’s Complaint: Today’s Qs for O’s WH – 7/13/2011

Jul 13, 2011 2:37pm

TAPPER: Congressman Cantor, the majority leader, is suggesting that President Obama should make the changes he's willing to make to entitlement spending public; that the Republicans voted for the Paul Ryan plan, which is a very public way to get — to express what they think should be done for Medicare, and that the suggestions he made, Cantor made, were released earlier this week; and that it would help Republicans understand what a deal would look like if the president publicly came forward with an explanation of what he wanted to do — what he was willing to do. 

CARNEY:  Mm-hmm.

TAPPER: Do you –

CARNEY:  Is there a question? 

TAPPER:  — disagree?  (Laughter.) Well, do you disagree — do you disagree with that idea?

CARNEY:  I think we have made clear in the negotiations and the conversations what we are willing to do and the significant compromises the president is willing to make, the cuts he's willing to accept in discretionary spending, for example, as well as the reforms he's willing to consider in entitlement programs as part of a balanced package. 

If you're telling me that some people would want us to say, you know, we'll do all this; and they say, great, let's just do that, and by the way, we don't need a balanced package, you've already agreed to these cuts and compromises and reforms — that's not how negotiations should work.  We believe that in order to achieve balance, you need to sit around a table and work out a balanced package. 

And as — going back to Senator Dole, but as many have said, that the way to do this is everybody gets in the boat together at one time so it doesn't tip over.  And the president's made clear that he's willing to accept measures that won't necessarily be popular with all Democrats; and certainly we believe that it is the responsibility of Republicans to be leaders and to be willing to accept measures and compromises that won't be necessarily popular with all Republicans. 

But you know, there is a growing chorus out here of Republicans and conservatives who acknowledge that we need to do this in a balanced way.  I think you interviewed Senator Simpson, who made that quite clear.  I think Bill O'Reilly on Fox News expressed that sentiment last night.  Numerous members of Congress — Senator Lindsey Graham yesterday has said this. 

This is not — you know, it seems self-evident that the leaders in Washington should, in a situation like this, where the problems are recognized by everyone, the need for solutions — and the urgent need for solutions — are recognized by everyone, that then we should come together and compromise, not say:  No way, no how on every absolutist position that you might hold.

TAPPER:  OK.  I'm trying to address this, the entitlement component of it, and what

CARNEY:  What I'm not going to do, Jake, is publicly say, you know, what all of our positions are on these issues, because that's stuff that's happening in a negotiating room. 

TAPPER:  Well, Republicans are saying that they can't get commitments. I'm not in the room; I don't know what the truth is, but Republicans are saying that they can't get commitments.  And Mitch McConnell said that an administration official,* which I believe is budget Director Jack Lew — he asked him how much would there be in entitlement cuts next year, and Lew said — and Mitch McConnell did not identify him, but it was Lew — and Lew said — (laughter) — $2 billion.  Lew said $2 billion, which is –


CARNEY:  I don't — and I'm not going to — actually, that's not talking about entitlement cuts; that's — and that is just a false moving of the chains here when we — you know, we are — we — you got to compare apples to apples.  The president has already committed to significant nondefense discretionary cuts that were embodied in the CR compromise, that fulfill the fiscal-year funding of 2011.

And what the president is seeking and the commitments he's made in terms of the spending he likes — he would accept and seeks, in terms of nondefense discretionary spending, to lock in the savings represented over — from last year, represented in the CR, and to take them even further and not just to have savings in one year. 

But one of the reasons why he wants a big deal is because you can get a medium-sized deal or a smaller deal, but that doesn't deal with your long-term problem.  Only a significantly sized deal, in the

trillions of dollars, you know, between three (trillion dollars) or four (trillion dollars) is what we've mostly talked about over 10 to 12 years — that's the only way to really get at the problem of debt-to-GDP ratio, to bring those costs in line so that we can get our fiscal house in order.

That's what the president wants.  And he is willing to cut deeply in discretionary spending, carefully; he is willing to cut significantly in defense spending, if you do it carefully and maintain our national security interests.  He's willing to reform entitlements and find savings there.  And he's absolutely willing, of course, to make sure that it's balanced and that we find savings in our tax code. I think that –

TAPPER:  Then what is McConnell referring to with $2 billion?  Because he's –

CARNEY:  He's — it's apples to oranges here.  He's measuring — you know, he's taking one standard and applying another to get a figure for — to make a political point.  And that's — look, the budgeteers understand how this works and what you measure against.   

And the savings the president is willing to find and accept are significant.  Everybody who has been a part of this process knows that.  People who were in the budget negotiations with — I mean, in the negotiations led by the vice president, you know, and everybody knows for a fact, because we all lived through it, the negotiations that led to the compromise that forestall — you know, that prevented a government shutdown for fiscal-year 2011 spending represent the largest and most significant cuts in spending that we've seen. So this is real money and real reduction in spending the president has been committed to and he remains committed to.

*Note: McConnell today said: ““Earlier this week, I asked an administration official point blank what the cuts they were proposing as part of their so-called bipartisan deal would amount to next year. He said they amounted to about $2 billion, total. Washington will borrow $4 billion dollars today alone. Two billion dollars when Washington borrows more than that every day. This is what they were planning to spin as more than $1 trillion over 10 years. It was at that point that I realized the White House simply was not serious about cutting spending or debt. The only thing they were serious about was putting together a plan that appeared serious but wasn’t.”

-Jake Tapper

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