For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 22, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:38 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good morning. Two schedule updates for you. The President, this morning at 10:00 a.m., met with his economic advisors, including Secretary Paulson, to discuss the global financial markets and the economic growth package that Secretary Paulson is negotiating with Capitol Hill on behalf of the President.
Also, on Friday, the President is going to travel to White Silver* Springs, West Virginia, where he will make remarks at the 2008 Congress of Tomorrow Luncheon. This will be open for correspondents and pool for cameras. More details on that from our team later. This is organized by the House leaders. The President will be the final speaker and he will likely talk about the economic growth package there, as well as FISA and other legislative items that he thinks we can accomplish this final year of the administration.
Q Is the President open to the idea of giving some type of relief to people who don't pay income taxes? And also, what about the idea of extending -- coming up with more unemployment benefits and food stamps?
MS. PERINO: Those are some of the details that are going to be worked out in the negotiations that Secretary Paulson is handling for the President. The President set out his principles last Friday and a package needs to meet those principles, meaning that it needs to be swift, robust, broad-based, temporary and simple, among some other adjectives. But the President has those principles that he's laid out, and then there's lots of details that are going to go into this negotiation. And there are going to be some members on Capitol Hill that want to add in the items that you mentioned, and there's going to be a back-and-forth and a give-and-take, as there is in any negotiation.
But those discussions are going to be handled on Capitol Hill and in the privacy of those meetings, so I'm not going to comment on what will be in or out.
Q Does he not have an opinion and it's just completely up to Paulson, or can you just not --
MS. PERINO: Well, I wouldn't say the President doesn't have an opinion, but I would say that the President respects the process enough to give Secretary Paulson the leeway he needs so that people aren't negotiating outside of his process.
Q And is it possible that the package will grow larger than the 1 percent of GDP that the President was talking about?
MS. PERINO: Well, I should clarify from what I said earlier this morning that we would be open to that. Now, it is true that we're not closing any doors, but it's also true that when the President says that he's looking for a package of about 1 percent of GDP, that's about the largest package that's being talked about out there. So while the President is waiting to talk about more of the details, the size of the package is going to have to be worked out. But he does believe it has to be around 1 percent GDP in order to have an impact.
Q Does he remain open to some of these ideas which have been floated, which you say are going to be the subject of negotiation -- fine -- but is he open to them?
MS. PERINO: He's going to listen to members of Congress. He'll have a chance here in a couple of hours when the leaders, bicameral, bipartisan leaders, come and visit with him, where he's going to talk about his Middle East trip, as well as the economy. And I expect that they will bring up some of these issues. But the details will be negotiated, and yes, the President remains open and he is not going to close out any doors. What he did do on Friday was set out his principles and those are some of his red lines. One red line that the President set out, for example, is he will not accept tax increases in this proposal.
Q Well, what about ideas -- will he have any new ideas to present to the congressional negotiators?
MS. PERINO: Well, remember, Secretary Paulson has been talking with members of Congress over the past several weeks, as the President directed him to do. So I think they have a lot -- I think they have a pretty good idea of what the President thinks would be necessary for an economic package to have some impact. What the President wants is to make sure that we do something quickly enough so that we can have an impact this year. So that's going to include tax relief for consumers and incentives for businesses. At the end of the day, what all that looks like, we're going to have to just wait and see.
Q How soon does it have to be done to be effective?
MS. PERINO: Well, we need to finish the discussions about this quickly, and I think that the thing that the President will hear today is a chance for the members of Congress and for the President to recommit this bipartisanship that they started early on in the month when it became clear that the economic advisors were saying that we need to try to do something to avoid a potential downturn. And members of Congress and the White House agree, and so there's consensus that there needs to be a package and that it needs to be done swiftly. I don't have an exact time frame for you, but certainly we're talking about just a matter of a few weeks that it needs to be finalized and sent to the President so that it has an impact this year.
Q Since the President laid out his ideas there's been a lot of turmoil in global markets. Does that intensify the effort to get this done quickly? And does it make you even more open to consider a larger package?
MS. PERINO: Well, we don't comment on the daily fluctuation of the markets. And there's lots of reasons for those investments. And the purpose of the President's plan is to help Americans, not to just help the markets. But certainly the President is being made aware of the developments in the global markets; I'm sure members on Capitol Hill are. And that's certainly going to be on their minds as they meet today, so I would expect that they would talk about it, sure.
Q Does he have any reaction to Harry Reid's comment that Harry Reid thinks that the economy is sliding into recession?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President's advisors are advising him that they are not forecasting a recession. But certainly there's been a slowdown in the economy. And I'll remind you -- and we've had 52 months of consecutive job growth. That's the longest stretch of job growth in the history of our country, and we want to be able to keep that going. And the President believes that a short-term stimulus package like the one we're talking about will be able to give that shot in the arm, that boost to the economy, so that we can keep the economy and jobs growing.
And that's also another thing that we can do in order to help lower-income people who are facing higher energy prices and possible foreclosure. There's different measures that we're doing on parallel tracks. This particular measure is narrow in order to help continue to spur job creation. So that's what the President will talk about with him.
Q Dana, does the President regret not backing or officially backing an economic stimulus package sooner?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President's advisors advised him along the way. They get all sorts of incoming economic data. And at the appropriate time, they told the President they thought that was when action needed to be taken, and the President wasted no time in saying, well, then, let's move forward. And he empowered Secretary Paulson to make those -- to have those discussions with members of Capitol Hill. Now what we need to see, and thankfully there's consensus on it, is that we need to move quickly within a matter of just a few weeks, I would say, to get something finished and to the President's desk so that it has an impact this year.
Q I'm wondering what the response is to some folks out there who are concerned, or say that this may be too late by the time, for instance, tax rebate checks are rolled out.
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm sure there's a lot of people that have opinions out there from all different perspectives, but the distribution of the stimulus is going to be something that's discussed within the negotiation, as well. So we'll let you know on that.
Q I don't have an economic --
MS. PERINO: Okay, can I come back to you then, if there's any more economics?
April, welcome back.
Q Thank you. Dana, how can the President give a great financial boost to help the ailing economy when it's being held down by $9 billion a month to pay for the Iraq war? How is he going to really bring that together?
MS. PERINO: You know, we've been at war, as you know, since September 11th -- the day after September 11th, when the President decided we were going to take the fight to the enemy. And during the past several years, both in Afghanistan and Iraq, during all -- during those years that we've been at war, this economy has been very strong. We've had 52 consecutive months of job growth, and the fighting -- the war and making sure our troops have what they need is going to be imperative to the safety of this nation. The President does not apologize for spending money on national security. Going forward, what the President wants to do in this short-term package is to make sure that we get enough money moving in the economy so that we can avoid the potential risks of a downturn.
Q I'm not saying apologize, but that is a fact, that on your books, if you're saying -- you have a checkbook, you're writing out your checks for the $9 billion a month -- I mean, you still have other things -- when you say you want to give incentives to businesses, financially I guess, and tax relief to consumers -- how do you balance those books out to get this shot in the arm?
MS. PERINO: I think I would flip it around and say, I think that members of Congress might be able to find some of their pet projects and their earmarks that they could eliminate that could help with this package. We're talking about 1 percent of GDP that's going to be robust enough to be able to have an impact. But the President is certainly not going to short-change our troops. One of the most important things he can do is make sure that the economy stays strong.
That supports all Americans, and it certainly supports the troops, and it supports these economies overseas, as well, in terms -- if you look at places like Iraq, we've been able to help them over the past several years as they're getting their democracy underway, but their economy is starting to improve, as well. And so we can start transferring over to the Iraqis more of that responsibility. And the Iraqis right now, at this -- I think today are talking through their budget for 2009, and they're moving forward in a way that we would want them to. And they are going to take up a lot more responsibility, to pay for their own security and their roads and bridges and their schools, all the things that we pay for here.
Q In terms of the meeting this morning, was there any discussion about fixed income, Social Security, people on disability, and what might add to that stimulus for them?
MS. PERINO: There wasn't a discussion in that level of detail in this morning's meeting, no.
Q Has there been any discussion about that?
MS. PERINO: Certainly they are looking at all aspects of a package.
Go ahead, Bret.
Q The description, Dana -- about this economy, is again what from the economic advisors?
MS. PERINO: The economic advisors believe that the fundamentals of the economy are healthy, but that in the short run we were facing a potential downturn. And so in order to avoid that potential downturn in the short-term, this is why the President wants to do a growth economic package, or an economic growth package. And the members of Capitol Hill are certainly hearing the same from their advisors, which is why I believe there's consensus to get something done.
Q What's the White House thought on the Fed move today?
MS. PERINO: We don't comment on the Fed's moves.
Q I know, I thought I'd try.
MS. PERINO: Nice try, though.
Go ahead, Steve.
Q Dana, can you talk a little bit more about this meeting this morning? Was it regularly scheduled? What was the purpose of the meeting today?
MS. PERINO: Well, it was not regularly scheduled, but the President does meet with his advisors often. As I mentioned yesterday, the President talked by phone with Secretary Paulson at about 3:15 p.m., so that he could get an update from Secretary Paulson's considerable experience and expertise in the area of global markets. So the President got an update then, and then the President is going to be meeting with members of Congress in just a couple of hours, so he got -- continues to get an update, and to talk about how we move forward, so that we can achieve the goal of getting something done quickly.
Q Can you talk a little bit more about this afternoon's meeting? Will it amount to a negotiating session at this point? We're not very far along in the process.
MS. PERINO: No. No, this will not be a negotiating session. First of all, remember that this meeting has two purposes. Its original purpose was for the President to be able to talk to members of Congress about his trip to the Middle East. It was planned long ago, and today is the first day that we could have that meeting, because it's the first day that both the House and the Senate are back in session and you have members here in town. So the President will talk to them about his trip, including the issues of foreign investment that came up while he was there.
But in addition, the President will take the opportunity, since we have bicameral, bipartisan leaders in this meeting in addition to the foreign policy chairmen, to talk about the economic growth package. And I don't expect this to be a negotiation. I do expect the President to be open to hearing their ideas. But he's been very clear that Secretary Paulson is the one that he has designated and empowered to negotiate the details on his behalf.
Q And also -- I'm sorry -- one criticism that's being leveled is that -- or question at least, that's being leveled is that Americans may just end up saving this money rather than spending it. There's some that say that in the past that that's what happened. How does the President know that that's not what's going to happen?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'd refer you to the briefing that Secretary Paulson and the CEA Chairman Eddie Lazear did from this podium on Friday, in which they said that we have a lot of experience in this area. We know that in 2001, for instance, that that money was spent and it was spent over time -- some of it spent relatively quickly. And so that's why they've proposed this idea to the President.
I will assure you that these economic advisors would not assure -- would not tell the President that they thought this was the best course of action if they didn't think it would be effective.
Q This morning Americans woke up to hear the news about the foreign markets reeling. By breakfast time, the Fed had made a very dramatic cut in interest rates. By the end of the day, will Americans see any progress on the kind of stimulus package that the President is talking about?
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't know how you will see that reflected in the markets, or not, because we don't comment on market fluctuations. There's lots of ways that that's decided. I understand your question is whether or not there will be movement. And that could be; I don't know. I think we have to see what the -- how the meeting goes. I don't expect that they will walk out and say, we have a deal on all these final issues, because, as mentioned before, there's issues that we're going to want to talk about and they're going to want to talk about, and in a negotiation, there is a back-and-forth. And that's what Secretary Paulson will be doing when he's meeting with members of Capitol Hill and of Congress in those private sessions.
So I don't expect at the end of the day today they'll have a final package, but I do expect there to be a chance for the members and the President to recommit to one another to getting something done quickly and in a bipartisan fashion. And I think that should give people encouragement that Washington, D.C. is listening and being responsive.
Q Are you confident the Democrats are committed to working in a bipartisan fashion on this and are serious about getting this done quickly?
MS. PERINO: I heard nothing that would indicate otherwise.
Q Dana, do the negotiations really begin in earnest after this afternoon's meeting -- that is, with Secretary Paulson?
MS. PERINO: I'll have to refer you to the Treasury Department and Secretary Paulson on how he wants to characterize it, but he's certainly been in contact and in communication with those members, as he talked to the President today about.
Okay, anyone else on this? John.
Q Dana, this has already been asked, but do the events in the markets around the world over the last few days -- do they add to the urgency of getting something done quickly? Do they add to your sense of --
MS. PERINO: Well, the President was already there, in terms of he had already made the decision that something needed to be done and needed to be done quickly, and there was consensus by members of Congress on that very issue, as well. I think everybody is agreed that we need to get something done and we need to get it done quickly. Whether or not the events of the past couple of days in the markets has an impact, we'll have to see. But I think that the most important thing is that for the first time since the middle of December, members of Congress are finally back in town and can actually get some business done.
Q Dana, is there any talk of speeding up the IRS process of this? If you get an economic stimulus package passed and signed in the next few weeks, particularly, it usually takes the IRS two to three months to get those checks out. Has there been any discussion --
MS. PERINO: Disbursement of how we get the money out, in which form it's -- in whichever form it's going to take will be a part of the negotiation. But I think that people are mindful that the money has to get to the consumers and the businesses quickly.
Q I know you can't disclose specific measures, but Secretary Paulson this morning said that he was confident that Congress agrees that this package, any terms of -- long-term issues, such a making the tax cuts permanent, entitlement reform -- he's confident the Congress agrees that that will be taken separately. So is it -- are you confirming that that already has been settled? He has been, as he said, in contact with Congress, and this morning he said he's confident that Congress agrees to take up those issues separately.
MS. PERINO: I have no reason to contradict Secretary Paulson.
Q Two questions, please, one on the economy. Dana, what message do you think President will have for especially for small investors and small businesses, because they are the one who are really fearing what will happen to the economy, and especially people who want to sell and buy homes? So what -- where do you stand?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President said that part of his package, when he says "broad-based," it has to include consumers as well as businesses, and he wants the businesses to be able to have these investments, especially small businesses because they really do create most of the jobs in our economy. They are the backbone of the economy, as the President said. So he will encourage them that they will be a part of the package that he will sign, and he'll encourage them to continue to invest because America -- as I said, the long-term fundamental health of our economy is very strong.
Q And second, yesterday, the President also spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King. Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King both stood for nonviolence throughout their life, and today we see violence and violence everywhere. So where do we go? What President think today on the world here today?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would refer you to the President's comments yesterday. He said the best thing we can do is to follow in their footsteps and to love your neighbor.
Helen, did you want to go?
Q Yes. On Saturday, I read in the Post that Canadians have a training manual which lists the United States as a torture nation.
MS. PERINO: Actually, I think that article said that they were -- I think that article said that Canada had just changed their manual and had removed the United States from the list.
Q -- they said they were not talking about policy, but it's in the manual.
MS. PERINO: But they had just revised their manual. That's what that article was about.
Q Because of our pressure?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- I'm sure we had discussions with them.
Q Well, what does the President think of that?
MS. PERINO: Well, the President thinks that it's a matter that's been solved because the Canadians changed their manual.
Q Dana, the ongoing discussion of the situation in Gaza at the U.N. Security Council today -- it looks like there's a resolution being floated that condemns Israel for collective punishment of the Palestinians who live in Gaza. This morning you said that the Israelis' blockade was actually a self-defense move. What would you like to see come out of the Security Council today?
MS. PERINO: Well, these Security Council resolutions come up regularly, and I'm not going to comment as to what they may or may not say. But what I will say is that certainly when 150 rockets -- upwards of 150 rockets a day are landing on your territory and injuring or potentially injuring your citizens, you have a right to defend yourself. Imagine if that was happening here. We would certainly defend ourselves.
And what the Palestinians and the Israelis need to do at the leadership level is to continue to push forward to try to reach a peace agreement, as they have pledged to do, to try to define what a Palestinian state would look like by the end of 2008. And then the Palestinians and those currently living under Hamas rule in Gaza will see that they have a choice to make: They can either live in a state that's democratic and secure, that can sustain and defend itself, or they could live in this near chaos that they are living in in Gaza. And that's the contrast, that's the decision that they're going to have to make.
Q What choice do Palestinians living under Hamas rule in Gaza have?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that they'll have to decide what they want to support. And President Abbas, who represents all Palestinians, is the one who has said that he supports the peace process, and he is committed, along with Prime Minister Olmert, to try to reach an agreement on what that Palestinian state would look like before the President leaves office.
Q He didn't seem to represent them all.
MS. PERINO: He was elected by all of them.
Q Not in Gaza.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Les.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. As our nation's elected leader, the President believes he should speak out against any nationally reported expression of racism or anti-Semitism, doesn't he?
MS. PERINO: Nice try. What's the follow-up?
Q Well, don't you want to answer that question? He does believe that, doesn't he?
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, what's your second question?
Q The Washington Post's Richard Cohen writes that in view of Senator Obama's pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, widely reported and extensive praise of anti-Semitic demagogue Louis Farrakhan, the obligation for candidate Obama to speak out is all the greater. Does the President agree or disagree, or not care about this?
MS. PERINO: See, that's why I didn't answer the first one, because you're trying to get me to comment on 2008 politics, and I'm not going to do it.
Q No, no, he certainly does oppose what this man has said, doesn't he?
MS. PERINO: I'm just not going to comment on 2008 politics.
Q No comment -- in other words, he doesn't care?
MS. PERINO: No, that's not true.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thank you.
END 1:00 P.M. EST