TAPPER: Law enforcement authorities are telling multiple media outlets that more than a dozen schoolchildren have been killed in this incident and more than 20 people have been killed. You seem shaken. A lot of us here feel shaken. Certainly there’s something from the president’s response to this news that doesn’t confirm any details specifically but just news reports –
CARNEY: Well, again, I –
TAPPER : — that you could share with us that would allow us to understand his personal human reaction to what happened.
MR. CARNEY: Sure. No, I appreciate the question, and I would just say that those news reports have come since I’ve come out here, so I can’t confirm victims, and therefore, not able to confirm victims, it’s hard for me to give you a reaction of the president to reports of victims, especially children. I can just tell you that as a father, incidents like these weigh heavily on him, and I think everyone who has children and can imagine the enormous suffering that accompanies an event like this if what you say is true. But I prefer to provide you more information once I have it and once we have confirmed some of the reports that you mention.
And this exchange occurred earlier in the briefing:
TAPPER: I hear what you’re saying about the events today. But I’m going to ask a question about entitlements now, if that’s OK.
CARNEY: Well, sure.
TAPPER: OK. So does the president think that the entitlement spending, or social welfare spending, whatever you want to call it, is on a sustainable path as it exists right now?
CARNEY: The president believes that Medicare in particular, and more broadly, our health care entitlements, Medicare and Medicaid, need to be adjusted in ways that protect beneficiaries and protect the integrity of the programs but bring about savings. He achieved that significantly in the Affordable Care Act and seeks to achieve additional savings in a compromise deal with Congress that would reduce our deficits on the order of $4 trillion over 10 years. So absolutely, he recognizes that health care entitlements are significant drivers of our deficits.
TAPPER: The answer is no, he does not think they’re on a sustainable path right now without any changes?
CARNEY: Well, it depends on what you mean by “sustainable.” But certainly the numbers show that — for example, because of the president’s action, Medicare’s, you know, sustainability was advanced by a number of years. But more action needs to be taken. He absolutely agrees with that premise.
TAPPER: Does he think that the changes he proposes in his budget make it sustainable? Is it enough? What the — what the president has suggested doing in his — in his budget — would that be enough to make Medicare and other health care programs sustainable?
CARNEY: He believes that, in combination with the health cost savings brought about by — according to the CBO — the Affordable Care Act and the deficit reduction brought about by the Affordable Care Act, that the reforms that he has proposed would significantly expand the sustainability of these programs and that, obviously, down the road more work will be done. But there has been no proposal that solves for time immemorial the challenge faced by, you know, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in perpetuity.
But the president believes we need to take significant action to rein in our deficits, bring down our deficits as a percentage of the economy to a level that is sustainable and that would give a boost to our economy and, through other measures that invest in the economy, help the economy grow and create jobs; that would put us in an even better position as we move along to continue to address these challenges.
So he is, again, the only member of this debate — participant in this debate who’s put forward specific spending cuts of any kind and specific spending cuts garnered from our health care entitlements. I mean, this is one of the — I think it’s — people are beginning to notice this. I noticed in the press this morning that our counterparts here have yet to put or mention a single cut. I mean, they spend — they — speaker says the spending is the problem. But I think none of you have been able to elicit from him or other Republican leaders exactly what it is they want to do, what it is they propose.
TAPPER: Well, in their letter, they talked about raising the eligibility age for Medicare. That would — that would be a cut or an adjustment — (inaudible) -
CARNEY: I think you’re referring to comments made by Senator McConnell. There has been no proposal of any specificity from Republicans to us about what they would do to –
TAPPER: In the letter from Boehner to Secretary Geithner, to the original Geithner proposal, there was no –
CARNEY: I don’t believe –
TAPPER: – mention of the eligibility age of Medicare from 55 to 57 and –
CARNEY: I’ll look at that again, but there –
TAPPER: – and the CPI? That wasn’t — that wasn’t in the –
CARNEY: There was — there was no — there have been no specific proposal from the Republicans. Ideas have been bandied about in the press, but again, we look for — if the Republicans want to put forward specific proposals to us that either build on or replace the cuts the president has proposed, you know, we would like to see them. But you haven’t seen that, and I — you know, I haven’t seen the speaker mention any in any of his press conferences or other public presentations.
TAPPER: His — sorry, last question. Is the president — what reforms to entitlement programs, for want of a better term, is the president willing to make beyond the ones that he has proposed in his budget?
CARNEY: Well, as enticing –
TAPPER: Not for the sake of — not for the sake of negotiations from the podium –
CARNEY: Sure, but as enticing as –
TAPPER: – but the — for the sake of the solvency of the programs.
CARNEY: Well, sure, but that would be negotiation with ourselves and basically saying what we’re willing to do, and the Republicans haven’t demonstrated a willingness to do anything when it comes to revenue or, for that matter, spending cuts. The president’s put forward very specific spending cuts, including in entitlements, including some structural reforms to entitlements, and is willing to discuss and entertain other cuts that make sense and would work as part of a broader package for deficit reduction.
But thus far the Republican position, you know, which goes against vast public opinion, goes against what we learned in the election, goes against, you know, everything that was debated for the past 12 months, is that they demand permanent extension of the Bush high-end tax cuts for the wealthy. That’s just not going to happen.
And I think it’s important that we reiterate that the president will not sign a bill that extends those tax rates for millionaires and billionaires and everyone making over $250,000. It’s bad economic policy. And I had a little fun yesterday talking about — you know, we had a little recent history to compare which kinds of economic plans work and the impact of various tax rates on economic growth. And contrary to everything they say about the calamity that would befall America if the wealthy were asked to pay a little bit more, the evidence decisively proves otherwise.