For Immediate Release
October 3, 2008
Press Briefing by Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:34 A.M. EDT
MR. FRATTO: Good morning, everyone. I'll try to do a quick briefing today, does that sound good?
MR. FRATTO: All right. Very quickly, saw the jobs report this morning, the payroll data. Obviously this is a very disappointing report. We're dealing with a number of shocks to our economy and have been for some time -- still elevated energy prices, the housing correction, and obviously the credit crisis that we're dealing with now. We think that one of the most important things we can do right now -- and of course it's on the floor of the House of Representatives this morning -- is to pass this emergency legislation to deal with the problem in our credit markets. We're watching the debate and look forward to the vote coming up in a little more than an hour.
Just to let you know for your planning, you can expect to hear from the President at some point after the vote. We'll try to give you details on that as we can.
Let me give you a little bit on the schedule and then we can go into some questions.
This afternoon the President will attend a Hulshof for Governor Dinner in St. Louis, Missouri, and then he'll spend the weekend in Crawford. On Saturday, the President and Mrs. Bush will attend a Congressional Trust 2008 fundraiser in Midland, Texas. On Monday, the President and Mrs. Bush attend a Congressional Trust 2008 reception in San Antonio, Texas. And then the President will make remarks on judicial accomplishments and philosophy in Cincinnati, Ohio.
On Tuesday the President will participate in a photo opportunity and make remarks to the members of the 2008 United States Summer Olympic and Paralympic teams here at the White House. And we hear we should have a pretty impressive turnout for that, so we look forward to that.
And I'll go to questions.
Q In your conversations with people on the Hill, how quickly do they tell you that they'll get the bill here, assuming that it passes today?
MR. FRATTO: We're hearing that they could get it here fairly quickly, and we hope they will. Obviously, we've had -- talked about the great urgency of getting this legislation passed. I know the House Clerk's Office is working to try to get -- should the bill pass -- to get it here as quickly as possible. We're hopeful that they'll be able to do that.
Q And is it your anticipation that the President would sign it today before he leaves?
MR. FRATTO: Let's see what happens with the vote first, and then -- (laughter) -- should they -- but it's in the House's -- it's in the hands of the House of Representatives. And if we get to that point, I know that they will -- that they understand the urgency also, and I know they'll be trying to get it to us as quickly as possible.
Q Do you want to sign it today?
MR. FRATTO: We'd like to sign it as -- if the bill passes, we'd like to sign it as quickly as possible, as soon as they get it to us.
Q Yes, and if it does pass, but they don't get it to you in time, is there a way the President can sign it? Would he sign it while out of town?
MR. FRATTO: Yes. He could sign -- the President can sign -- we've done that before. The President can sign the bill whenever it gets to him.
Q And could you talk to us a little bit about his lobbying efforts today, lobbying efforts of others in the administration, how many lawmakers they've contacted and the responses?
MR. FRATTO: Sure. I think in terms of the President, himself, I'd still keep it in the range of about three dozen calls over the last -- about three dozen members over the last couple of days. I know that -- actually I was just with him, and a member had called in to say that he was switching his vote and was going to vote in favor of the legislation. So that was obviously welcome news to hear this morning.
The President's team, obviously led by Dan Meyer, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, has been -- has organized outreach to House members. And so Dan and his legislative team -- Josh Bolten, Joel Kaplan, Ed Gillespie, the Vice President -- have all been in contact with various members. And I don't think I can change our expectations more than what I said yesterday, that we're optimistic that the bill has a chance of passing.
Q In light of the latest economic data, there is some concern that even if the rescue bill does pass, that that won't be enough to give the economy the kind of boost that it needs. Is there any greater willingness on the part of the administration to consider -- to begin considering a second stimulus package, or at least going along with efforts on the Hill to further extend unemployment benefits?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I just want to -- I want to be clear on what our expectations have been, and no one should be over-promising what this legislation will do. This legislation is to fix a problem in our financial markets. It's not sold as giving a boost to the economy, but rather preventing a crisis in our economy. And like I said earlier, we're -- the economy has been hit by a number of very real shocks.
Now, we have had a number of programs in recent months, some which are just now getting underway. We talked about the housing legislation, which is just being implemented and should have an impact. This bill will have an impact in supporting the economy and stabilizing markets. And once -- if it works as we hope it will, credit will be able to begin flowing again. And so the private sector will -- if we're stabilized, the private sector will be able to help to support growth in the economy again, also.
I understand the House is going to take up legislation to extend unemployment insurance again today. The Senate is not here to take up that legislation and we'll see what the Senate's intentions are for that legislation when they return in November.
Q Tony, listening to the debate on the House floor, many of the opponents were quite alarmed by what they described as a "pork-laden, earmark-laden bill." They talked about tax breaks for rum producers in Puerto Rico, arrow -- wooden arrow makers in Oregon for Hollywood producers --
MR. FRATTO: I think you should look for --
Q How do you answer that?
MR. FRATTO: Well, the ranking member, ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee just put out a very long statement addressing some of those things. And as he pointed out, this was the same package that was promoted by Republicans not too long ago. I think Representative Camp had sent it up as -- or put it forth on their motion to recommit, same exact package. There are -- the rum provision, it's not a tax break for rum producers. These are excise taxes that actually go back to the government of Puerto Rico. Some of these things have sort of interesting headline-making characteristics to them, but when you look deeper at them, they make a lot of sense. I mean, I didn't know anything about children's arrows, but I've learned a lot over the last 24 hours, and it turns out that the --
Q Did you get the point? (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: You hit the bulls-eye with that one, Mark. (Laughter.) It turns out that the excise tax is -- would be 39 cents an arrow, but it only costs about 30 cents an arrow to make, so there are very real reasons why you wouldn't want to have that kind of tax on that kind of product.
So I would point you to what Representative McCrery put out. He has a document that explains each one of these provisions. And the entire package of extenders is something that we are very, very comfortable supporting.
I'll get to you, Adam. I'll get to you now, actually.
Q Secretary Paulson has reportedly sent a letter outlining some assurances as to how the program will work to Roy Blunt. Has he shared that with the administration? And is there a timetable by --
MR. FRATTO: Hank Paulson actually is part of the administration, so, yes, didn't require much sharing. (Laughter.) We're aware of his letter. I haven't seen it myself. I'm aware of it, and I know --
Q What I'm asking is, what's the timetable we can expect, based on what the Secretary is saying, as to when we'll start to see credit markets begin to unfreeze?
MR. FRATTO: You know what, I would leave those kinds of predictions to Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke. I mean, they're going to have a better feel for that. We know it's going to take a little bit of time to implement the program, and they're still working out how exactly that will happen. Clearly it will give a boost -- it should give a boost of confidence to a very uncertain market right now. The market has been wondering for a number of weeks now just what the federal policy response would be. Should this legislation pass, they'll have a good sense of that and that can help to anchor their expectations.
And so hopefully that will contribute to stability in the markets, just having had the legislation passed and then we'll learn from Secretary Paulson and his team what the timetable is for implementation.
Q Can we get a copy of the letter? (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: You can check with the Treasury Secretary. I don't have a copy of the letter myself.
Q On the issue of kitchen table issues, as you know, the unemployment -- even though it's not for everybody -- it will when it runs out in October, mid-October, will affect some people who have been unemployed for 38 weeks. Congress -- Senate doesn't come back until mid-November; that means these people will be unemployed an additional four weeks, along with others. So why wouldn't there be some interest in extending it for people that haven't found jobs in that meantime, because that's your argument, if you extend it they won't look for jobs.
MR. FRATTO: Well, actually, I mean, I think the previous extension did extend it for 13 weeks and extended it for an additional 13 weeks in high unemployment rate states. So you're right, it's not -- that the extensions aren't for everyone, but there is an additional extension for those in states having exceptionally high unemployment.
But it sounds like your question is actually for the Senate, and not for me, because the question --
Q Well, the timing, because they're not coming back, even if the House votes in favor of this, as you said yourself, the Senate can't take it up. And they can't take it up until November 17th.
MR. FRATTO: Right. So I think the bigger question is actually for the Senate.
Q No, but you basically said you won't support this. So what --
MR. FRATTO: No, I said -- what I actually said was that we will see how the Senate decides to go forward with the legislation. So like I said, I think your question is for the Senate as to what their next step will be with the House-passed legislation, should the House pass it.
Q With all due respect, your argument has been that if you extend it an additional number of weeks then those people will have no incentive to look for a job.
MR. FRATTO: Paula, I think with all due respect, your argument seems to be that if there is anyone unemployed that we should perpetually extend unemployment benefits. Now we have already extended -- in some cases doubled the length of the original program, and a 25 percent increase in length for the general program. So, I mean, that is a very substantial increase in the extension of unemployment benefits. And as I said, we'll see what the House does with this current proposal to further extend unemployment benefits, but we can't do anything with it until the Senate acts.
Q Back on jobless numbers, what is this administration doing in the last few months to stimulate the job growth? You know, the manufacturing sector in this country has been hit pretty hard, and what are you --
MR. FRATTO: Well, we've actually -- the stimulus plan we put in place earlier in the year carried through the second quarter, is still having benefits in this quarter. The business tax deduction part of it is still having an impact. You've also seen the housing legislation that is also -- would also support growth and support the greatest single weakness in our economy, which is in the housing sector. And I'd also point to what the Federal Reserve [has] done, which is a very substantial easing of monetary policy, which, you know, from well over 5 percent down to 2 percent on rates for lending. That is a great deal of monetary stimulus and I wouldn't ignore that.
Q Okay, but getting back to my original point, this has been an administration that has touted, you know, a while ago that, you know, we were an administration that had 32 consecutive months of job growth, and now there is a downturn. And as you're walking out of this building in a couple of months, what -- is there going to be any kind of push, an initiative to start to stimulate job growth, and particularly in the manufacturing sector?
MR. FRATTO: Yes, I think that's actually what we're doing, and it's actually what we have been doing throughout this whole year, is to deal with the weaknesses in our economy. I know we've addressed every one of them head on working with Congress, from the very quickly passed stimulus plan at the beginning of the year to all the work that went into housing legislation to energy legislation. This legislation has extensions of tax relief that support growth. We had tax relief in the stimulus plan, as I mentioned, to allow businesses to invest in equipment.
So there has been a lot. I'm sure there will continue to be a lot, and this piece of legislation today will also support the economy and support growth.
Q Tony, any world leader calls on the economic crisis in the last 48 hours?
MR. FRATTO: No.
Q And last night in a debate in Canada, Prime Minister Harper did a 180 on the Iraq war, now says it was a -- absolutely an error, basically repudiated it entirely. Do you have any reaction to that? Are you disappointed to see that?
MR. FRATTO: I actually did not see it, so I don't have a reaction on that.
Q I wanted to follow up on a question about what the President is doing. You said yesterday that he called about three dozen --
MR. FRATTO: No, I think what I said is that over -- from the day before yesterday until this morning he will have called about three dozen members.
Q Is he calling them today also?
MR. FRATTO: He has heard from members today, yes.
Q He's not calling them, he's hearing --
MR. FRATTO: Some calls are calls back.
Q Will calls continue up to the vote, Tony, or is he basically done?
MR. FRATTO: I'll have to let you know. I'm not sure if he has more calls left between now and then.
Q Did the President watch the Palin-Biden debate last night?
MR. FRATTO: He did. He saw about -- probably about the first half of it. He thought it was a good debate. He thought Governor Palin did very well.
Q Does he think she's qualified to be Vice President?
MR. FRATTO: He does, absolutely.
Q Two questions, Tony. One, yesterday, October 2nd, was the International Non-Violence Day, declared by the United Nations to honor Mahatma Gandhi last year. Yesterday at the World Bank, they celebrated it. What President think today as far as non-violence is concerned, and today, where the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi stands?
MR. FRATTO: Well, obviously the President has -- the President spends a lot of time talking about the leaders of freedom. And so I don't know whether he did anything special to recognize the day yesterday, but he has spoken of Gandhi in the past and -- but I can check in and see if he had any particular thoughts, Goyal, and get back to you.
Q And second, as far as -- I'm sorry.
Q Go ahead.
MR. FRATTO: Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Okay. As far as global war on terrorism is concerned, bombings are still going in the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And now the general on the ground in Afghanistan is asking at the Pentagon more troops. Where do we stand as far as ongoing violence in Afghanistan?
MR. FRATTO: Well, I know that they're in a review right now regarding troops, and as you know, the President -- it was a couple weeks ago -- announced additional troops for Afghanistan. And our forces there are working with the Afghan forces and NATO forces and Pakistani military to deal with that region and to bring security.
I don't have anything new beyond that, but you know that those discussions have been ongoing, and General McKiernan was here also talking about it just in recent days.
Q Tony, what did the President think about the portion of the debate when Sarah Palin did not want to look backwards, but wanted to move forward -- she did not want to look at this past administration?
MR. FRATTO: I didn't get his specific reaction to that particular moment in the debate, April.
Q Do you think he was offended?
MR. FRATTO: No, I don't.
Q Thank you.
MR. FRATTO: Thank you.
END 11:51 A.M. EDT