Seamus, Medicare, and Chains - Today's Q's for O's WH - 8/16/2012

(NOTE: Earlier in the press briefing, White house press secretary Jay Carney said that "having covered a number of presidential campaigns myself, and other campaigns, that there is often a point at which one side begins to distract attention from the policy debates by suggesting, sometimes without foundation, that there is another story you all ought to pay attention to, and that is invariably because that side is losing the policy debates….We are focused on, the president is focused on the issues that matter to the American economy and the American people. I think Medicare is a perfect example. What we have seen since late last week, early this week, when the ticket was - for the other side was filled out, was this initial announcement that there was a desire for a substantive policy debate. And once that substantive policy debate focused on the critical issue of Medicare, there's been obviously a desire on the other side to change the subject.")

TAPPER: The president the other day made three allusions to Mitt Romney putting his dog on his roof. Is that part of this "important policy debate"?

CARNEY: I think he made one allusion in three different speeches that was a joke, just like I think the Romney campaign and others have joked about the fact that in the president's memoir, he talked about as a boy eating dog meat in Indonesia because that is something that's done there. You know, I think a little levity is a lot different from the kind of, you know, ridiculous charges that are being made here. The whole - but that - that's an interesting case in point. The president on that day spent a great deal of time talking about the importance of the wind energy tax credit -

TAPPER: Right.

CARNEY: - the importance to the renewable energy sector in this country, which has doubled its output, its production under this president because of the historic investments that this administration has made in that sector, and about the fact that extension of that tax credit is supported by both Democrats and Republicans, Republicans in the states that are principally affected, including governors and senators, but is opposed by Congress, Washington Republicans.

And that's an issue that affects the jobs and livelihood of up to 7,000 people in Iowa. It affects the jobs and livelihood of up to 37,000 people around the country in an industry that employs roughly 75,000 people in this country. And it's an industry that has been growing and will continue to grow if we make the kinds of wise investments that will ensure that as we move forward in this century, we rely less and less on foreign imports of energy and more and more on American energy. And that's - that is a substantive policy issue. And one joke as an aside should not become the focus of the campaign or the coverage of the campaign. I understand that Republicans don't want to talk about the wind energy tax credit, but that's -

TAPPER: OK, but I don't think you guys are so naive as to - as to think that the president talking about Mitt Romney putting a dog on his roof isn't going to elevate that and become what Chuck Todd might refer to as cable catnip, and that will step on - that will step on the president's own message on wind energy. I don't think you - I mean, especially considering it was obviously in his prepared remarks.

CARNEY: Well, let me make clear that the president's message that day was on wind energy. It was not on a joke. And maybe I am naive to think that a one-line joke about, you know, a dog would not then become the principle focus of the coverage of the president for the day. I know it wasn't, in Iowa, the principal focus of the coverage. The focus was on the importance of the wind energy tax credit. But you know, I take your point, and I'll be less naive in the future.

TAPPER: All right. I appreciate that. (Laughter.) Can we talk about Medicare for a second?

CARNEY: Please.

TAPPER: Does the president believe that Medicare is on a sustainable path right now?

CARNEY: The president believes that - and knows, and others have judged it so - that the Affordable Care Act that he fought hard for and that Congress passed and he signed into law extends the life of -

TAPPER: Right, but-

CARNEY: - now, wait, I'll get to you -


CARNEY: - I'll answer your question more fully - extends the life of Medicare by eight years, the solvency of Medicare by eight years. He knows that, as outside experts have made clear, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, as Republican leaders, the Republican nominee have ardently expressed their desire to do, Medicare's insolvency will come eight years sooner. That's an irrefutable fact. He knows that, as he said in the discussions and debates and the proposals about the steps we need to take to get our fiscal house in order through a balanced approach to reducing our deficit, that we need to make additional reforms that protect beneficiaries but ensure that Medicare remains in place as Medicare -

TAPPER: Right.

CARNEY: - not a voucher system for future generations.


CARNEY: So the fact is, he has, through his actions that - you know, despite great resistance from Republicans, extended the life of Medicare, and he -

TAPPER: But he knows much more needs to be done to keep it sustainable?

CARNEY: Well, there's no - there's no question that -


CARNEY: - we have serious fiscal challenges that we need to address, and we need to address them in a balanced way.

TAPPER: Right.

CARNEY: We don't need to do it in a way - I mean, one of the marvels of the marvelous, exciting Ryan budget is that despite claims to deficit hawkishness, is that budget makes no claims to balancing deficits or eliminating deficits until something like 30 years from now, because it's so preoccupied with giving and dominated by giving tax cuts to wealthy Americans.

TAPPER: So about a year ago, when the "Grand Bargain" talks were going on, I believe right before they fell apart, the president came into this room and I asked him what was one thing he was willing to concede on Medicare with all this negotiation. And he said that he would be - he wouldn't talk about the retirement age, he wouldn't touch it, but he did talk about how maybe further means testing would be something that he'd be willing to consider.

But since then, we haven't really seen any serious proposal to help the sustainability of Medicare. And say what you will about the Ryan plan, it does look forward. It does - it is a plan - or the Romney plan - there is an outline there for trying to change the system to preserve it. Again, I understand you disagree with that.

CARNEY: Mmm hmm.

TAPPER: Where is the president's plan?

CARNEY: Well, I think the president - what he said to you in this briefing room remains true today. And it's reflected in - the budget proposal he put forward, both for the supercommittee and again this year, has additional reforms and savings from - out of federal health care spending.

But what it does not do is attempt to get our fiscal house in order by placing the entire burden on seniors and families with disabled children or other low-income Americans who depend on these health care programs literally for in some - in some cases for their survival. That's just not - we - and you know what? The thing is, we don't have to do that. The president's plan, other balanced plans that have been put forward demonstrate that you do not have to do that.

You do not have to voucherize Medicare, basically eliminate Medicare and turn it into a voucher system, if you're willing to on the other side make some compromises, on the principle that everyone ought to pay their fair share, that we need revenue to be part of the package when we address our fiscal challenge.

It never - it's a complete inside-baseball, inside-the-Beltway conversation, but I am constantly amazed at the willingness of Republicans who in one breath will say absolutely no revenue, absolutely no defense cuts - in fact, I want defense increases - but I love the Simpson-Bowles plan.

And you know, because you know what's in the Simpson-Bowles plan, that they don't know what they're talking about. Maybe they haven't read it. Maybe they've deliberately, you know, put their fingers in their ears when there are reports on it, but the Simpson-Bowles plan has more tax revenue than what the president called for, has far deeper defense cuts than what the president has called for. But it has similar discretionary cuts that the president has already signed into law and pledged.

So you know, there has to be - and I'll end here, I know I'm testing your patience - but there has to be some - you know, you can't blithely say, as Governor Romney has and Lindsey Graham and others - you know, my plan, says Romney, is very similar to Simpson-Bowles. Well, I think Erskine Bowles made clear that that's laughable. It's simply not because if you stand up on stage and say I won't ask the wealthiest - I won't ask for one dollar of revenue for every $10 in spending cuts, you don't know what you're talking about when you say your plan is very similar to Simpson-Bowles.

TAPPER: So you're saying the president's Medicare plan is contained within his budget?

CARNEY: Look, the president has put forward in his budget proposal additional savings in our health care programs, not through - you know, not by cuts in benefits, but by, you know, savings from providers and insurance companies, which is the kinds of savings he achieved in the Affordable Care Act -

TAPPER: It's not really in itself a solution to Medicare.

CARNEY: But I'm not saying that - I'm not saying that ends, you know, the discussion about the kinds of further challenges we face in our fiscal future, but it is - it does achieve the $4 trillion in deficit reduction that we need and it does achieve it in a balanced way that includes saving -

TAPPER: I'm talking about Medicare and -

CARNEY: No, and - but it achieves it in a balanced way that includes savings in health care reform - I mean, savings in health care which, by the way, demonstrates the approach he took during deficit reduction talks and the debt ceiling talks, which was one of a willingness to compromise and make tough choices, sometimes against the wishes of some of his fellow Democrats, because he knew that in order to achieve this, you need to do it in a bipartisan way, and you needed to reach a compromise.

But instead, there was an absolute refusal to accept the notion that we needed revenue, and there was a - you know, a role played in the failure of those discussions, the failure of Simpson-Bowles and the failure of the grand bargain talks, you know, by the guy who's now running for vice president.

TAPPER: Thank you.

Get more pure politics at and a lighter take on the news at



CARNEY: Brianna (Keilar from CNN), the vice president's intention was clear. What he was talking about was clear.

TAPPER: Obviously not.

CARNEY: Well -

TAPPER: It was obviously not clear.

CARNEY: It is not clear to you? Was he not talking about Wall Street reform?

TAPPER: I thought, well, personally, I think when you use the word "chains" in a crowd with many African Americans, you'd better be careful of what you're talking about.

CARNEY: I think the - I think the vice president at a later event made clear that, you know, his word choice was off, that he had been using similar phrases , you know, similar - you know, saying similar things with slightly different phrasing. But the purpose of that section of his comments was to talk about the absolute need to ensure that Wall Street reform is not repealed. And you know that that's not like - that this is not what the campaign's about. The campaign is about do we repeal Wall Street reform or do we continue to implement it? Do we turn Medicare into a voucher system or do we ensure that we take steps to strengthen it and preserve it for America's seniors?

Do we pass $5 trillion in tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy? Think about the size of that, 5 trillion (dollars). (Chuckles.) That's $500 billion a year. That's real money. And do we do that and, you know, doing incredible damage to our deficits, devastating investments in education, innovation, research and development, infrastructure spending, roads, bridges, highways, schools, or do we take a balanced approach to our fiscal challenges that, in addition to the substantial spending cuts the president has signed into law, the substantial savings he has put forward in his budget proposal, we ask millionaires and billionaires to pay a little bit more, to go back to, when it comes to the Bush tax cuts, the top marginal rate that was in place when Bill Clinton was president?

And, you know, I never cease to marvel at the rhetoric about, you know, the doom and gloom that Republicans promise if this - if this rate was reinstated because it's eerily similar to the doom and gloom that they promised would occur in this country the first time around, when the Clinton budget passed in the spring of 1993. And what we saw instead was the opposite of what was predicted and promised by Republican leaders, including the current speaker of the House. We saw record economic growth, record expansion and record job creation.

-Jake Tapper