For Immediate Release
September 5, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:11 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good morning. I have a few announcements for you. You saw the employment report released this morning, the loss of 84,000 jobs and an increase in the unemployment rate to 6.1 percent. There's no question that the labor market is not as strong as we'd like and these were disappointing numbers. We want to see the economy return to job growth and we understand that this is a difficult time for many Americans. We want everyone who wants to work to be able to find a job.
It's important for Americans also to know that in addition to these numbers, there are other numbers that show that the economy is starting to show some signs of growth. For example, the growth rate from last week, and also on productivity and exports, those numbers have been positive, which show that our economy is quite resilient even in spite of the high energy prices and the housing crunch and the credit market issues that are impacting our economy.
We also believe that the economic stimulus plan is continuing to have the effects that we wanted it to have, and that combined with monetary policy will continue to generate growth through this difficult period.
Also, President Bush will welcome President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia to the White House on September 20, 2008. Colombia is a strategic ally of the United States, and this visit underscores the deep friendship and extensive cooperation between the United States and Colombia.
Also, on hurricane issues, the federal government continues to assist state and local governments to help them respond to Hurricane Gustav. The job is not over and the federal government continues to help them, especially in regard to the power situation. We're doing what we can, but we want to help those families get back to their homes and those businesses get reopened.
The main priorities of state and local officials are power restoration and reentry of those who evacuated. There are roughly 900,000 Gulf Coast residents that still remain without power, and a majority of these are in Louisiana. Full restoration is expected to take weeks in some areas, especially in the coastal areas. We have moved federal resources into that area and FEMA could provide you more.
In addition, we are also carefully watching and preparing for Tropical Storm Hanna. This time of year is the peak of hurricane season, and so we're seeing lots of activity in that area. This morning President Bush called the governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia to discuss preparations for Hanna.
FEMA Administrator Paulison has also reached out to several east coast governors, since the storm is predicted to come up the coast and even our way here in Washington, D.C., just to make sure that they have what they need and if they need help with plans as they prepare. So Secretary -- let's see -- FEMA Administrator Paulison will have a conference call for the media at 3:00 p.m. today for anybody that wants updates from him there.
Finally, in the President's radio address he will discuss the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Gustav and preparations for the upcoming storms in the Southeast. He will also address the fact that after the past four weeks of a break, Congress returns to Washington for a short time before they leave again for the campaign trail. He would like to reach out and let them know that we want to work together on bipartisan measures to help strengthen America's economy.
For example, we have the Colombian and Korean free trade agreements, which are important. If you look at those productivity and export numbers, it underscores the importance of trying to get these free trade agreements done when Congress comes back. We also want to extend relief from the alternative minimum tax and obviously deal with energy, which is America's biggest concern right now, the high price of gasoline. So that will be in the radio address.
Q Since the President has the troop level recommendations before him for Iraq, can you explain to us a little bit about how he is approaching the process? Is this a -- is this a situation like we experienced a year ago, where he sort of brings in a whole lot of people in addition to his military advisors to talk about what he should do? Or is he going to take them and think about it, and have a relatively short consideration process? How might this work?
MS. PERINO: I think you might be comparing the surge process to the -- I'm not -- the surge process, in terms of the policy process --
Q I'm not saying it's apples to apples, I'm just trying to understand the --
MS. PERINO: I don't recall in the last few times when President Bush has worked with, or has gotten recommendations from General Petraeus, that we have gone too far outside. Of course we -- the President gets an update, as he did on Wednesday evening from Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates.
They took Secretary -- I'm sorry -- General Petraeus' recommendation and ran that through the chain of command. And then they presented it to the President. He's obviously talking to his national security team, and we'll be consulting with members of Congress before we move forward.
Q And what sort of time line are we looking at here?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would think that it shouldn't take too much longer. Obviously, he gets updates regularly, so he's well-informed as to the state of affairs in Iraq.
And because he has that regular -- those regular updates, it shouldn't take too long to be able to make a decision, especially since we're on the trajectory of success that we've been on. The question on the President's mind has been how do we make sure that we cement those gains, and not jeopardize those gains and be able to continue the process of return on success.
Q Do you think it's fair to assume he's likely to accept the recommendation?
MS. PERINO: I don't want to put -- I'll let the President make his announcement next week. But he obviously listens to the commanders on the ground and to his military advisors.
And certainly there is something to be considered here when you look at the economic, political and diplomatic aspects of this, how many troops do you need to be able to help support some of those diplomatic efforts. So that's why Secretary Rice's involvement is very important too.
Q Dana, you painted a fairly upbeat picture of the economy despite the job losses, and yet most economists say that the kinds of job losses that were reported today tend to be the kind we see in the early stages of a recession. What would it take for the President and the administration to begin considering a second stimulus package?
MS. PERINO: Look, we've gone through the recession thing before. I just told you that the last two quarters showed growth. There's plenty of economists out there and they have -- they're very -- I'm sure they're very intelligent and they have a lot of resources at their fingertips, but I just haven't heard anybody talking necessarily about a recession.
The economic stimulus plan that we put in place is having the strong impact that we wanted it to have. One of the keys of that stimulus package was that it be stimulative, and we don't think that we need to consider a second stimulus right now.
One of the things we were concerned about and we warned about in the last supplemental, where we extended unemployment benefits -- which was not our preference, and we actually were able to shave back from 16 weeks back to eight weeks* how much longer those benefits would be allowed -- part of what we were concerned about is that it lengthens the amount of time that people would be out of work.
And I think we're seeing that reflected in some of those numbers today. So we would want to approach any next steps very carefully. We need to do a couple of things in the meantime. One is continue to work through the housing crunch, through FHA Secure, or trying to help people stay in their homes through HOPE NOW. In addition to that, there's the credit market issues, and also the high energy prices.
But there are other things that we can do, which is to -- if we were to be able to work with Congress in a bipartisan way to push forward on these free trade agreements, we could increase the amount of exports that we are -- that are leaving this country and that are really helping us -- helping fuel the economic growth that we have.
But there's no question that a 6.1 percent unemployment rate is absolutely unwelcome. It is too high in the President's mind. Compared to other countries it's relatively good, but when it comes to America, that's never good enough for us. We want to make sure that anybody who wants to find work can find work. And so we'll continue to work with Congress. We'd like to work with them in a bipartisan way. They've got three weeks to do something before they leave for the campaign trail, so we hope we can get something done.
Q You pointed -- one of the positive numbers that you're pointing to is the growth rate for the last quarter, but it's widely accepted by a lot of economists that it was the economic stimulus checks that went out that was responsible for that. I mean, isn't that maybe pointing to an artificially inflated number to say there are some strong areas of the economy?
MS. PERINO: No, that is precisely the reason that we did the economic stimulus package is so that we could get our country back on a footing of growth so that it could help get us through an economic downturn. So that's exactly why we did it.
And it's having the intended impact. The job growth has not caught up to that though, and we hope to see that towards the end of the year. That was what -- you know, we always said when we did the economic stimulus package in January/February, when it was signed, that it was going to take awhile, maybe through the end of the year, before we started seeing turnaround on the job number situation.
Q Some people say that pointing to that number isn't actually showing that the economy is strong.
MS. PERINO: Okay, you know what, as I said, there are so many economists all over this country that will have lots of different opinions. I'm sure CNN has lots of different economists; you can look towards them.
But what I can point to you is the numbers that we have on -- that this country's economic growth rate over the past two quarters has been strong. And a lot of that is due to the economic stimulus package, which is what we acted on, because we recognized that we were going to be on an economic downturn.
I think you could flip the question on them and say, well, what if we hadn't had the economic stimulus package -- then where would we be? So I don't think it's false. The numbers are real. The numbers have come in. So if they want to argue the numbers, I guess they can do that amongst themselves.
Q Dana, to the Woodward book, if you have any comments on the Woodward book in general? And particularly, the allegations of spying on the Iraqi government? The Iraqi government spokesman said today, "If it is true, it casts a shadow on the future relations with such institutions," referring to the CIA and others. And your concerns about whether this might slow down any sort of strategic forces agreement?
MS. PERINO: Okay. I haven't -- I don't have a copy of the book yet. We did receive one or two at the White House late yesterday evening, and they are working through it. So all I know is the coverage of the book that I've seen, and that I've read in news reports of it.
I would say that in general, the President of the United States, any President of the United States is criticized for lots of different things. I think the results of the surge are undeniable. And in Washington, sometimes you see that the process has been -- comes under extra scrutiny, and can be picked apart in ways that aren't reflective of the end result.
This President, it seems to me that he gets criticism that if he's perceived to be careful or deliberative, he's accused of being slow. And if he is decisive, he is accused of being impulsive and rash.
So with that said, I would just point to the fact that we would not comment on any of the assertions in the book regarding the allegation that you brought up. What I can tell you is we have extensive cooperation with Prime Minister Maliki. Our ambassador sees him almost daily. President Bush speaks to him by secure video teleconference at least every other week, if not more. And we have a good idea of what Prime Minister Maliki is thinking, because he tells us very frankly and very candidly, as often as he can.
And that's one of the reasons we've been able to succeed in a lot of these different areas, especially in the economic, diplomatic and security areas.
Q But are you concerned, given the statements that are coming out of Iraq today about that they want an explanation? If this is true it could hurt relations. Are you concerned about statements like that?
MS. PERINO: As I said, I would not comment on it. To the extent that they have any concerns, because we have the relationship that we have with them, which is one that's very frank, open and candid and we have contact with them every single day, I'm sure that they'll be talking about it.
Q To follow up on that Dana, why are you not simply denying the allegations in Woodward's book?
MS. PERINO: Why am I not denying what allegations?
Q Denying that there is -- that spying --
MS. PERINO: I didn't deny it. I said I declined to comment on it. And I will decline to comment on it.
Q And also, what is the latest on the negotiations with the Iraqi government on the strategic framework agreement? Is there a possibility that any announcement on this will be coupled with an announcement on the troop --
MS. PERINO: I don't believe so. I don't think that they're going to be coupled. We still have some things to work out with them. And our negotiators had a little bit of a break over the past week and I'm sure they'll be starting that up again early next week and let me give you an update when we -- when they get back. But I don't think that that announcement would be coupled. If that changes I'll let you know.
Q Secretary Rice's trip to Libya today -- what should Iran and North Korea take from that? Is there a parallel that could be applied to Iran and North Korea?
MS. PERINO: Well, we take our relationships with countries on a case by case basis. We have had a long and bad history with Libya, and that began to turn around when they turned away from nuclear weapons and terrorism. That country has radically changed its behavior. And Secretary Rice's trip signifies a new chapter in U.S.-Libya bilateral relations. What we want is to establish full relations with Libya, including hopefully being able to announce a U.S. ambassador soon. It's a symbol of the evolution of our relationship with Libya, that we are working on evolving a relationship that could be built on trust and mutual interest and mutual benefit.
Q There are a lot of comments being attributed to senior administration officials about Libya's help in going after terror suspects. Can you talk about that at all?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would say that we are increasing our cooperation where we can with any country that is willing to work with us to fight against terrorism. And Libya has certainly changed its behavior when it came down to the -- their weapons of mass destruction and their capability of producing weapons of mass destruction, and also their pledge to work with countries on matters of the global war on terror. And I'll let Secretary Rice read out her meeting after she's able to attend and meet with the officials there.
Q Two quick questions. One, is President aware of secretive letter was written by the State Department to the Congress about the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, that if India tests any nuclear weapons, nuclear test, that the fuel will be stopped now? The government in India, Mr. Singh's government in trouble again about this agreement because they were about to ratify that agreement but now, again, because of this letter.
MS. PERINO: Let me just reiterate something that the State Department has said the past couple of days, which is that questions for the record -- they're also called QFRs -- that are asked for, from Congress to the administration, often are not made public. Congress usually treats those as a direct communication between the executive branch and the legislative branch. The QFRs that were made public reiterated our longstanding position and we hope that this -- we could put this behind us and be able to move forward and get this agreement done.
Q And second, as far as cross-border terrorism and Afghanistan situation and the attacks in Pakistan is concerned, now Zardari, Mr. Zardari will be the next President of Pakistan, replacing Musharraf. My question is that, let's say, if the -- if U.S. gets Osama bin Laden, do you think the violence will go down -- or Osama bin Laden is the central figure point on this war, global war on terrorism?
MS. PERINO: I'm not sure which question you want me to answer, but let me take --
Q If we catch, let's say, Osama bin Laden, that now like I think we are after Osama bin Laden dead or alive -- let's say if we bring him to justice, do you think violence will go down as far as terrorism is concerned?
MS. PERINO: I think that would remain to be seen. The President has asked his intelligence community every week -- every day that he sees them, but I know that he has threat assessment every week at his intel briefing and he wants to know where we are in the process of tracking him down and bringing him to justice.
Violence will go down once people renounce terrorism and that's why we're working with countries like Pakistan. We respect Pakistan's sovereignty. We are working to cooperate with this new civilian government. You said that Zardari will be the next President -- we'll see what happens in tomorrow's elections, although I think that you're probably on the right track there.
And we'll continue to work with them. We need to have their cooperation. One of the reasons that they're -- that Zardari will become the President is because, unfortunately, his wife was killed by terrorists, so they have a mutual interest in trying to go after terrorists, and that's what we're going to continue to do with them.
Q On the energy bill, the President, you said, wants Congress to finish work on that, but doesn't the President intend to veto that bill if it's paid for by getting rid of certain oil and gas tax breaks?
MS. PERINO: Look, let's just see if they can even get a bill to our desk and then we'll -- or a bill out to the floor and then we'll do a statement of administration policy. But I think a clean bill that would allow for exploration of more resources here in our own country offshore; also here -- in the West for oil shale; and also extending renewable energy tax credits. Those are the three main components of an energy bill that we would like to see.
We don't think it should become a Christmas tree that's just brought down of its own weight, because we won't be able to support it. If they're serious about trying to work on an energy bill that would help this economy, then they should go ahead and pass a clean bill. We've given them the road map to do so.
Q By "clean bill," then you're saying it shouldn't be paid for by oil and gas --
MS. PERINO: As I said, let's just see -- let's see what kind of bill that they can put forward and we'll take it from there.
Q I'm sorry, one more question on those economic growth numbers or the job loss numbers -- you did point to productivity being higher, but isn't that a two-edged sword in that sometimes you accomplish higher productivity by needing less workers to do more work?
MS. PERINO: You know what, Paula, as I said, when it comes to economics, what I can do is point you to the numbers, which is that productivity was at 3.4 percent, which was considered a good number by the economists that look at this from our perspective. And we're going to continue to work with Congress. What we'd like to see is everybody who wants to have a job in America should be able to have a job.
Q Thank you.
END 11:29 A.M. EDT
*It was shaved back from 26 weeks down to 13 weeks.