For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 16, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:06 A.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. A couple of announcements. The President is currently attending meetings at the State Department. He is getting several briefings from State Department staff, including efforts in the war of ideas to combat extremist ideology. This is headed up by Jim Glassman, who used to be headed up by Karen Hughes. He will also get an update on actions promoting the freedom agenda, as well as update on non-proliferation activities worldwide.
Today's visit is one in a series that the President has had when he goes to visit the State Department. It follows on the Tank visit that he had earlier this week and provides him a good opportunity to hear from people that are at the agencies doing good work, and then he can also thank them.
I also expect that, like he did at the CIA, he'll spend a little bit of time with the younger employees. He enjoys doing that, and so I will get you more after that meeting.
Also, at the moment, Mrs. Bush is at the Iraqi Embassy. And she is launching the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project. So I'll let her provide you the details. But it's basically part of our longstanding interest and commitment on behalf of our country to help Iraq preserve its heritage and rebuild its cultural institutions after decades of cultural -- I'm sorry, decades of neglect. And the State Department will have more on that.
Last night on the schedule, we announced that the President will tomorrow morning go to the Chamber of Commerce, where he will make remarks on the economy, here in Washington. He will discuss the rescue and recovery package and the temporary investment that's been designed to, first and foremost, protect all Americans from suffering because of the frozen credit markets, and second, to get taxpayers a return on their money, since they're going to be investing as temporary investors in many banks across America as we get liquidity back into the system.
Also, finally today, as you know, many Americans that are dealing with the weak economy and have anxiety about their futures are thinking about what they're going to do immediately. We announced this morning the release of $5.1 billion from the Low-Income Home Energy Assistant Program, also known as LIHEAP. This will be for the fiscal year 2009 continuing resolution; comes out of that -- those funds. And it will help Americans deal with their energy needs coming up this winter, especially those who need heating oil.
Of the $5.1 billion, $4.5 billion is allocated by block grant funds, and then $590 million is allocated by contingency funds. The states that will get $100 million to share are Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. And the remaining $490 million will help the rest of the states as they need it.
And also this morning, the Social Security Administration announced that Social Security and supplemental security income benefits will increase by 5.8 percent coming up in January of 2009. This is the largest percentage increase since 1982. Increased benefits will help beneficiaries deal with increased costs for food and fuel. The cost-of-living adjustment is based on the Consumer Price Index and is calculated from the third quarter of the prior year to the corresponding third quarter of this year. This increase will affect more than 55 million Americans. And while we're not pleased with the elevated inflation number, we believe that the Federal Reserve is focused on keeping prices stable. We're trying to tame inflation, and also energy prices that have come down recently should help people as they head into this winter.
And with that, I'll go to questions.
Q Dana, since October 2007, when the Dow topped 14,000, investors have lost $8.3 trillion in pension funds, college savings plans, 401 and other investments -- 401(k)s. What does the President tell the people who are looking at these statements and have real needs now? He's been saying, you know, things will be fine in the long run. But what about now?
MS. PERINO: Well, I just gave you two examples of what we are doing now. So you can have that.
Q Right, a little LIHEAP and then --
MS. PERINO: Well, yes, look, it is going to take a while. We live in -- we have a market system where sometimes the market is up and sometimes it's down. And right now it is way down. The President is very concerned about retirees, especially those who are looking to retire soon -- those baby boomers that are about his age -- and also families that are trying to save for college educations and have watched a lot of those gains disappear over the past few weeks.
So what the President is focused on is implementing the rescue package that we got from Congress so that we can get the whole system moving again. And it's just going to take a little bit of time, and unfortunately, he doesn't have a magic wand that he could wave or he would have done it long ago.
Q When you say "a little bit of time," what are you talking about? What's a reasonable -- if people are sitting out there -- when is this coming back?
MS. PERINO: I'd like nothing more than to be able to tell you, but I don't know. So there's nothing else I can do.
Q Dana, President Sarkozy yesterday said that he would like to see the G8 leaders meeting held in New York in November. Do you think that that is likely -- the venue and the time?
MS. PERINO: We will have to see. I don't know where it will be held. They did agree that there would be a head of state meeting. The President had been open to it, and yesterday the G8 leaders all came together in that joint statement to say there will be one in the near future. I think one of the reasons it says "near future" is because we don't know exactly when it would be, and we don't know where it would be held. But we'll let you know as soon as we know.
Q A follow-up on that? Is the visit from President Sarkozy to Camp David connected to that?
MS. PERINO: No, President Sarkozy and European President Barroso are going to be up in Canada this weekend, and the President invited them down since they're in the neighborhood.
Q There will not be a discussion of this particular issue?
MS. PERINO: Well, yes, of course, they'll talk about this issue.
Q Who is in the lead on arranging the G7 summit?
MS. PERINO: Who is in the lead?
Q The French?
MS. PERINO: The French has the EU presidency this year. I don't know exactly how it will all work out, but we all work together.
Q The Japanese are the chairs.
MS. PERINO: We'll have to see, Andre. I don't have any specifics for you.
Q Can I follow on Terry's question?
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q What role, if any, is there for Senators Obama and McCain in terms of a leaders' summit on the economy? Is there any --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I think right now --
Q Would you like to -- look, you just announced a big transition team; I guess they met for the first time yesterday. You're making sure that they are involved in briefings on national security and other policy issues --
MS. PERINO: And on the economy.
Q -- and so I think a logical follow-up --
MS. PERINO: One of the briefings they got yesterday was on the economy by Keith Hennessey.
Q So is it -- so what you're saying, though, today is that it's too soon to say what place they would have in an eventual --
MS. PERINO: Too soon.
Q I'm sorry, is that --
MS. PERINO: Right.
MS. PERINO: It's too soon to say and -- if there would be any involvement at all. But I can tell you that at that first transition meeting yesterday one of the main topics on the agenda was the economy. And President Bush has tasked all of us with making sure that we do everything that we can so that the next President comes into the presidency with tools that he needs in order to get this economy back up and running again, and hopefully have it turned around and on a path to growth. So that's what we're all working towards.
Q Dana, in terms of this weekend, what can we expect out of it? I mean, I know they're somewhat in the neighborhood, but it's still a pretty far trip. Is there any big purpose to this --
MS. PERINO: It's four hours -- it's like going to Florida from here. So, look, they're around, they're here. This is something that the President wanted to do to have them -- to come on down, and I wouldn't expect a lot out of it. I think that -- I don't expect any new policy announcements. I don't expect dates for meetings to be announced. I think that it will just be a chance for them to continue the discussions that they've been having since the beginning of this situation, following on the G7 action plan from last Friday, the G20 meeting that they had Saturday, and then this statement that they had yesterday. So I don't anticipate any new policy announcements coming out of this weekend's conversations.
Q Dana, two questions. First of all, did the President watch the debate last night? What did he think?
MS. PERINO: I don't know, I haven't had a chance to see him. I haven't had a chance to see him, so I don't know if he saw it or not.
Q Okay. Well, obviously, if you watched it, you noticed both candidates said there was a need to trim --
MS. PERINO: I didn't get a chance --
Q -- the federal budget. There was talk about a freeze in federal spending, but I know the President himself, as many Presidents are, is an advocate of a line-item veto. Does the President have any thoughts that he would pass on to his successor on whether that could be trimmed from the federal budget right now?
MS. PERINO: Well, we've proposed budgets for the last seven and a half years, and showed where cuts could be made. And I don't think that will necessarily change coming into next year. But as tempting as it is to get involved in the politics, I'm just going to have to refrain.
Q Dana, yesterday when the markets slumped after Ben Bernanke made his statement, is there ever any thought -- or what's the calculus when you're deciding whether the President is going to say something or not say something in a given day? Is there ever too much -- is there ever thought given that maybe too much is said sometimes, on a daily basis with the news cycle, and it creates some of the wild swing?
MS. PERINO: It's not an exact science when it comes to communicating about the situation. I think it's important that leaders be out there talking about what they're going to be doing. And I -- as we all are watching the daily movements in the market, we can't peg our policy decisions exactly to those daily fluctuations. We have to focus on getting out that information.
I would submit to you that if we weren't talking and the market had still gone down yesterday, the questions I'd be answering today would be very different, and did we make a calculation on the wrong end and not have people out talking yesterday.
So we do our best to make sure that the American people have the information that they need. We've asked a lot of them, a $700 billion rescue package, plus they've seen, as Terry said, the gains that they've made over the past several years erased in just about -- well, a year's period, but certainly in the last couple of weeks, increasingly so.
Because of that, I do think that it's important that the American people know that this President -- what he's doing on a daily basis to try to fix the situation, what the Secretary of the Treasury is going to do precisely with those funds -- and that's what we had on Tuesday, as part of that announcement. I just don't know when we're actually going to reach the bottom of these problems. But we're going to have to keep communicating while we work through it.
Q Does the communication team factor that in when deciding whether or not the President will say something on a given day?
MS. PERINO: No. I mean -- I would say not necessarily. But sometimes we do think about when should the President speak. So, for example, tomorrow morning he will speak before the markets open at 8:40 a.m. So we make a little bit of calculation on that regard, but we don't try to peg the President's statements or Ben Bernanke's to affect daily market movements.
Q Dana, can I follow up? In terms of what the President will say tomorrow, is it a matter of fine-tuning his message to find out what resonates with the American people or is it a matter of repeating over and over again the steps the government has taken so far so that the message sinks in? Because clearly something is not getting through and Americans remain very anxious.
MS. PERINO: I think what's happened is it's not just the President's words that are affecting the markets. We have real -- a real systemic problem in that the banks haven't wanted to lend to one another; therefore, the credit market freezes up; that hurts small businesses; its hurts other -- it hurts all the people in the food chain that come -- that are going to and from work, that are working on their -- possibly trading if they're at home and they're thinking about maybe buying stock or not buying stock.
It affects everybody, and so we've had some earnings reports come out that were not great. We had retail sales numbers that were down 1.2 percent. There's a lot of news coming into the market that the market is trying to digest. Again, I am not a market expert. The Treasury Department has a lot of those over there. I'd have to refer you to them.
But as for the President tomorrow -- he's going to talk to the Chamber of Commerce, as you know. All across America, there are Chambers of Commerce, and this is where people go to be -- from small businesses to large businesses alike, all across villages and towns across America, people know what their Chamber of Commerce is. It's a gold standard, people trust it, and the President will talk tomorrow to our Chamber of Commerce here, but he'll be really talking to people all across America so that they know that the government is committed to making sure that we help solve this problem.
It has only been 13 days -- I think, Mark -- since we passed the legislation on that Friday two weeks ago. And it takes a while to make sure that they -- Treasury Department can do the due diligence that it needs in order to have an effect. The Fed's announcement on commercial paper -- they announced that, but it takes a while to do the due diligence to make sure they have everything in place before it can actually take place -- before they can actually start buying up that paper or doing more of the loans. The FDIC has to have rules in place.
So some of these things can't happen immediately, but it's important that we let people know that, one, that they're coming; and two, what effect it will have on them; and three, that the government is committed to making sure that we help solve this problem; and four, that in the long run, we make sure we have regulations in place -- because they are going to change -- to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Q Can I follow?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to John real. John had a follow-up.
Q So the broad idea is to reassure, you know, ordinary Americans about the fundamentals of the markets and the economy?
MS. PERINO: For tomorrow's speech? Let me take a look at the draft, it's coming around. But, yes, that's always one of the President's goals is to reassure the American people, try to return confidence and strength to the markets, and to let people know that we're not going to let the system fail.
Q And is it fair to think that the market's behavior yesterday was a factor in your decision?
MS. PERINO: No, we've had this on -- in the plans for a little while. We were just confirming the venue, and oftentimes we don't announce these until we have it nailed down.
Q A growing number of analysts are saying that the recession train has left the station; it's going to be a long and deep one. Is there any contact between the White House and Congress on a second stimulus package?
MS. PERINO: Well, obviously Congress isn't here, but we try to keep in touch with them on a range of issues. A lot of the conversations about a second stimulus took place just last month before they left. The proposals that were put forward we did not think would actually stimulate the economy. There might have been some meritorious proposals on various issues, but we don't necessarily think that they would help bring money into the economy. So Congress isn't even going to be back here until about November 17th. We're focused on the immediate issues at hand. But of course, we continue to talk to Congress and we'll listen to any of their ideas that they want to put forward.
Q They still have a lot of hearings and other things going on. Are there just no staff contact? I mean, is it total silence?
MS. PERINO: No, absolutely not. No, of course, our leg affairs team and their team are in regular and constant contact on a range of issues. It doesn't matter if they're here or not, but I'm saying that they're -- in terms of a debate or them actually putting concrete ideas on the table that we could look at and digest, I don't think we've seen any.
Q Dana, can I follow up on Ann's question and do so against the background of the reports that you spoke of, and the market plunge of earlier this week? Is the -- does the administration agree with those who now say that, yes, we are in a recession and that it is going to be long and deep?
MS. PERINO: I'm not -- I don't make those kind of forecasts, and they come out from other people, and I -- what we know is that we're going to have some tough economic times ahead. But I don't know what the numbers are going to be, Mark.
Q Dana, two questions, quick. One, if President believes that the economy is bad, like many Americans do, you think this helping Barack Obama, Senator --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that, Goyal.
Toby, go ahead.
Q It's a follow-up on that question on the economic numbers. What's your reaction to the numbers that came out today showing CPI essentially flat and industrial production down? What does that say about the inflation?
MS. PERINO: I'm just not a market economist. I don't know enough about it. I think -- as I said, we're trying to keep inflation tamed. The Federal Reserve has made good decisions; they've been independent decisions. One of the things, Ann, that we would -- when we talk about stimulating the economy, one of the best things that the Federal Reserve can do is to lower the rate, which they did -- I think it was just last week -- by a half percentage point. So the Federal Reserve has that well in hand, and I think Ben Bernanke -- maybe you've had a chance to get to know him a little bit -- I mean, this is one of the things that he keeps on the forefront of his mind.
Q One more --
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go back here. Go ahead, Mike.
Q Dana, about a possible second stimulus package, Senator Reid, among the things he called for was money for infrastructure projects. Is it the White House's opinion that that would help the economy by putting people to work in terms of roads and bridges, or is that more of a long-term project?
MS. PERINO: Infrastructure projects by themselves don't necessarily stimulate the economy. And the Secretary of the Transportation Department has put out information that says that only about 24 percent of any project's funds actually get out into the economy within the first year. So we don't necessarily think that it's a good idea to try to put taxpayer dollar towards specific projects in specific districts. That doesn't mean that those aren't meritorious projects. There could be roads and bridges that need to be built or need to be repaired. But there is a process to go through, and Congress should do that when they get back if they think that that's what they should do.
We are going to be looking very carefully, though, to make sure that anything we do that's in the form of a stimulus package will stimulate the economy.
Q Thank you.
Q Dana --
MS. PERINO: Mark.
Q What is your response to the House -- sit down -- House Oversight -- (laughter) -- the House Oversight Committee report that accused the administration of using public funds to influence elections during the midterms in '06, accused the administration of a gross abuse of the public trust?
MS. PERINO: Well, this is Congressman Waxman, who I think took a moment of -- a target of opportunity, three weeks before an election, to say, wow, there's a Office of Political Affairs at the White House. We weren't the ones that created it; that office has been here for decades. And it should come as no surprise to people that the administration seeks to promote its agenda, and we do so within the rules.
END 11:23 A.M. EDT