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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 17, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:39 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: A few announcements for you, if you can bear with me on this Monday morning. The President will be home soon, and so I'm sure you'll all go out to welcome him back. This afternoon in the East Room, the President and Mrs. Bush will present the 2008 National Medals of Arts and National Humanities Awards. And we'll get a list of names for you later on that.
At 2:00 p.m., he will have the photo opportunity with the United States Ryder Cup team. I'm not sure if I have the timing on that right. Do you have the time? Sorry, but it's this afternoon after the Medals of Arts and National Humanities Medals -- 2:30 p.m., just so nobody panics.
A couple of announcements for you. One thing just to make sure that you're aware of, from the Department of Commerce: Today we are now just three months from the transition to digital television, which will take place on February 17th. Households watching TV over the air on analog sets will need to take action soon to ensure their sets don't go dark. The Department of Commerce has been working very hard to get word out to people, and they encourage Americans who will be impacted to go to a website that is www.dtv2009.gov before the end of the year, where they can get a coupon to get a converter box, buy a box and test it out and make sure that they're all set to watch their favorite programs on February 17th.
The White House and officials throughout the administration have been closely monitoring the situation in California for the last several days. Although the reports appear to look more favorable today, this is still a very dangerous situation and a lot of people are impacted. We ask that people remain vigilant and heed evacuation orders and other directions from their local authorities.
FEMA has granted three fire management assistance grants to help the state in their firefighting efforts. The grants have been for the Tea Fire, Sayre Fire, and a Triangle Complex fire. FEMA regional personnel are working hand in hand with the state to see if we need to help them meet any of their needs.
And finally, a preview for you for tomorrow. In his remarks tomorrow at the Department of Transportation, the President will discuss new and continuing efforts to make holiday travel as safe and hassle-free as possible for all Americans. Additionally, he will discuss the administration's record of improving safety and utilizing new ideas and advanced technology to have a more efficient and environmentally friendly transportation system.
As a reminder, last year the military opened its East Coast airspace to civilian flights to help alleviate delays and congestion during the holiday season, and he'll have more to say about that issue and other transportation initiatives tomorrow at the Department of Transportation.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q On the auto industry money, you all have talked about how what you want to do is pursue changes to the DOE loan program. What are you all doing to push that forward in terms of talks on the Hill or actively out lobbying?
MS. PERINO: We are talking with members of the Hill. Remember, a lot of them haven't been in town, but they're back today and I think that they will be having a lot of meetings both on the Republican side and Democratic side today. Hopefully they're talking to one another, as well. We have yet to see any proposal put forward by the Democrats and they will be back in session in just a couple of hours. So we are waiting to see that.
We want the automakers to succeed and we support using an existing program to help them do so. It's an important part of our manufacturing base. These are great, historical companies in the United States and they have a way to get back on a path to be better companies, more successful companies in the future. So what we have asked Congress to do is to look at the money that has already been provided through the DOE loan program -- it's $25 billion -- and to simply amend that bill so that they can get that money sooner, rather than wait for an application process just to go forward with the retooling.
But we only think taxpayer dollars should go to companies that can show viability and a willingness to make tough decisions to restructure themselves so that they can be successful for the long term. So we'll be continuing to work with members of Congress on this. It will be a short week but a very important week, so we can try to get a lot done in just a few days.
Q Are you guys putting your own legislative proposal forward?
MS. PERINO: I think we'll wait and see on that. We've been talking with Leader McConnell's office and they have some ideas of their own. And so we're trying to work with them on it.
Q Who determines viability?
MS. PERINO: There is a definition currently in the section 136 bill that had been put forward. Whether or not there would be any changes that Congress would make to that would remain to be seen.
Q You've repeated over the last 10 days your opposition to funding anything for the auto industry out of the TARP program. Are you opposed to Congress amending that so that monies in that program could go to the auto industry?
MS. PERINO: I don't think we think it would be necessary to do so when we already have a program with monies, $25 billion, appropriated specifically for the auto industry. The TARP funding is there for financial institutions. It was -- Congress never intended for individual industries to be able to come forward to --
Q And what if they change their mind?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that what they should be able to do is -- look, there's not an appetite in Congress, or in the administration, to open up the TARP funding for individual industries, because once you start down that road, it's a slippery slope to other industries that might say that they need help. But we do have an entire pot of money, $25 billion, that the auto -- that is specifically for the automakers. And we also know that opening up the TARP will not get through the Senate. Therefore, to avoid partisan gridlock, what we are recommending is to work hand in hand on a program that would simply amend the 136 program and help companies that can show long-term viability and a willingness to restructure.
Q Would you guys veto?
MS. PERINO: I think it's too early to say since we haven't even seen their legislation. It's too early to say.
Q Dana, on that viability point, regardless of where the money comes from, whether it's TARP or the Department of Energy, it's still taxpayer money. Is that a good investment? Are the automakers a good investment?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that's another thing to remember, which is that the TARP program was specifically designed to help taxpayers get a return on their investment. This is monies that we are investing into companies. We are providing capital. And it has to be paid back. There is no direct subsidy that we are suggesting in the TARP.
The Treasury Department has been making decisions based on what they think will at least make the taxpayers whole, if not help us get a return on that investment. When we're talking about the auto industry, and while we haven't seen the Democrats' proposal yet, it doesn't seem that would be the case, that the taxpayers would actually be paid back.
But when we're talking about viability, what we mean is that a company needs to be able to show that they have long-term plans, so that they will be on -- have sound financing, and not have a vicious cycle of getting back into this situation again. One of the reasons that we agreed to go forward with the 136 program was to allow the companies to have access to a stream of funds to help them retool their factories so that they could build more fuel-efficient cars, which is what consumers of today are looking for. But in addition to that, the automakers have over time made some decisions based on their needs for their employees, and some of those decisions might have to be reworked, going forward.
So they're going to have to be able to show how they can survive. If you look at their ability to compete worldwide -- we think that our companies can compete, but they're not going to be able to do so unless they make some of these really tough decisions.
Q So are you saying they should get rid of pensions or health care provisions?
MS. PERINO: It's going to be up to the companies to decide how best to -- how they can best compete in the world and show viability. We're not going to get into dictating that.
Q But are you willing to let one or all of these three big automakers go under?
MS. PERINO: Our position is that we want these companies to succeed. We have figured out a way to provide them funds so that they are able to do that. And we think that there is a bipartisan path that we could get this done very quickly this week and avoid that.
Q But at the same time that you say that, you also are saying that they don't measure up to the viability standard, which --
MS. PERINO: But they might, and they might -- and if they can show that they can have a long-term -- that they have a long-term plan so that they are viable, then that would be taken into consideration.
Q And so what is the next move for the administration to, you know, close the gap between you guys and the Democrats?
MS. PERINO: Well, we're waiting for them to get back in town. We're waiting -- we haven't even seen their proposal. They've talked sort of around a proposal this week, but until we see it, it's really hard to react to it. And then we'll continue to work with our Republican colleagues as well to see if we can forge an agreement and get something done early this week.
I'm going to go to Helen here. Go ahead.
Q What are the President's plans for the next 60 days as he eases out of the presidency? And what is his mood?
MS. PERINO: Well, I haven't seen him today, but he's usually in a mood -- a good mood. We're going to focus on the economy; that's our most important thing. Right now the priority is implementing the TARP program to make sure we can continue to loosen up the credit markets so that we can get people the credit that they need to be able to run their businesses so that they can be the consumers that they want to be, so they can go to get their college loans if they want to.
Then also we have to work on this lame-duck session to see if there's something that we can do to try to help the automakers since we put forward a proposal. We're going to follow through on that.
The President also next week will be going -- at the end of this week will be going to the APEC meeting. And just on Friday and Saturday he had 20 world leaders here.
So he remains pretty busy, and of course he'll have the holiday season. But I don't think that we'll let up at all in working to implement what we've tried to put forward to help the economy.
Q Does he have any final goals for --
MS. PERINO: Well, we have this lame duck session that we're focused on right now and trying to see if we can get legislation passed to help the automakers in the way that we have defined. So that's going to be one goal.
We have also asked Congress if they really want to help the economy and jumpstart jobs in our country to pass the free trade agreements that are in front of them -- Colombia free trade, in particular, is one that is ripe for the taking. But they also have South Korea and Panama that they're able to vote on, as well.
And hopefully -- maybe by the middle of -- maybe the beginning of December I'll be able to provide you some more about what the President is thinking towards the rest of the term. Right now we've been so focused on getting that G20 summit finished, and this lame duck finished, and the APEC meeting, and then of course there's Thanksgiving -- then after that I think we'll be able to work on closing it out.
Q Back on the autos for a second. Is there any room for negotiation over what constitutes viability for the auto companies?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, in the 136 program it's defined in that program. But if Congress were to move forward and try to change that, we would have to take a look at what they would propose. We just don't -- we haven't seen anything, so it's hard for me to react to what they might propose.
Q I think that there's a -- I could be wrong about this, but I think there's, like, a 10-year horizon for them to pay back those loans. Would you maybe consider extending that horizon?
MS. PERINO: That could be something that they could consider as we -- what we would like to do is allow for those funds to be able to be used not just for retooling the factories, but for actually helping them get through this rough patch that they're in. And then in the future, if Congress wants to appropriate more money to the auto industry to replace those funds, then that would be their prerogative. What we're trying to do is staunch the bleeding, and we need Congress's help to be able to do that.
Q Are there any plans being pursued by the administration for a kind of Bear Stearns-type solution to the auto situation, where kind of a government-sponsored combination kind of absorbs Chrysler or GM, or just some kind of government takeover?
MS. PERINO: Not that I've heard of, no; not at all.
Q Has the administration done the math on what bankruptcy or collapse of an automaker or automakers would mean to the economy? And is that an acceptable path?
MS. PERINO: What we have -- sure, we've done a lot of analysis and research, and you hear from a lot of different -- from the automakers; you hear from the environmentalists; you hear from members of Congress, and a lot of people are looking at this situation. What the President has said is that we want to try to help these companies, we want them to succeed, and that's why we've provided a bipartisan way to do it -- to get there.
There is not going to be a path for them to be able to reopen up the TARP fund. There are not the votes in the Senate to be able to do that. Therefore, if they only have three or four days in session, why not choose the path that we can all agree on, which is that the 136 loans have already been agreed to. We have $25 billion for the -- specifically for the automakers; it's there for the taking. And we hope that they would take us up on our offer to be able to work with us.
Q If that doesn't happen, is bankruptcy an acceptable alternative?
MS. PERINO: We're not going to say what -- that will be a company's decision. If they decide to move forward in that -- on that path, that will be their decision. We're not going to dictate it.
Q What does the administration's math say that would mean in terms of job losses?
MS. PERINO: I don't have it off the top of my head, I don't know.
Mike, did you have one?
Q A couple days after the economic summit, I'm wondering if you feel like or the President feels like it was a productive session, that it really helped the economic crisis that we're in, and does he wish that perhaps the next meeting could be sooner?
MS. PERINO: Well, we put this G20 meeting together in 23 days. I think it was quite remarkable to get 20 leaders here. We think that it was the first time that many leaders had all gathered in the White House at one time for that -- when we had them here for the dinner on Friday night.
We think it was a very successful summit. We accomplished a lot in a short period of time. The declaration addresses President Bush's priorities and it has 47 specific concrete actions that the countries agreed to take together. I think that having the meeting on March 31st of 2009* is actually very ambitious and it will require people to work very hard to dot the I's and cross the T's and work out how they will address these measures on accounting and transparency, on the college of supervisors, et cetera.
So we are very pleased with the summit. We believe that there was a common understanding that all of us shared there, that the free market is the best way to lift people out of poverty, to provide for a path of prosperity. And there was a strong commitment to capitalism in the room, as well, sometimes from people that you wouldn't necessarily think would have that type of feeling. So we think it was a successful summit, but we have a long way to go. Now that that part is over, implementation is even more important.
I'm going to go to John.
Q Thank you, Dana. Two questions. On the G20 summit, President Sarkozy seemed almost ubiquitous in his comments about the measures that he was pushing, notably that there would be more oversight over excessive executive pay. And I wondered, he himself commented this is the first time in the history of Anglo-Saxon capitalism that there would be such oversight on what individual private businesses do that have international markets. Did the U.S. object to that in any terms?
MS. PERINO: Well, I don't actually think that that's in the declaration, but we can go back and look for you.** I think there's -- there's 47 points, and I'm not remembering off the top of my head what the result was. But a lot of countries came forward and have individual ideas for how they think they would like to move forward. But not every country was expected to adopt every path. And so I think I'll just have to get back to you on the other piece.
Q Okay. And just on a matter on domestic politics, the President's appointed Republican National Chairman, Mike Duncan, has now filed a lawsuit against the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation that President Bush signed at the White House in '01. Does he have an opinion on that?
MS. PERINO: No. We're going to let the RNC go forward with their lawsuit and not comment on it.
Q Dana, back on the automakers situation, it seems definitions seem to be a big thing as far as trying to negotiate this deal -- you talked about viable, but there's also definitions that lingering, the word "fail." You say that, you know, the President doesn't want the automakers to fail. What is your definition of "fail" when many in the auto industry are saying they are failing right now, especially when their stocks are so low, too? Ford last week, a dollar and some change; GM, three dollars and some change.
MS. PERINO: I don't think any of the companies themselves have yet said that they have failed. They might feel like they are failing. And one of the reasons that we're trying to help them is so that we can reverse those trends.
Q But what is the definition of failure? You say the President doesn't want them to fail. I mean, that not wanting them to fail, when would he step in? When --
MS. PERINO: We are stepping in, April. We are trying to help them. We have provided a path forward, a bipartisan path to provide $25 billion to the automakers, so that they can put themselves -- get themselves through this rough patch and provide for long-term viability, so that they can be on sound financial footing and be the productive companies that they've been in the past. That's what we're trying to help them to do. And we're going to try to get this legislation done in the next couple of days.
Go ahead, Laurent.
Q Dana, I would like to ask about Iraq. The President has said for months that he opposed any timetable and that any decision should be based on conditions on the ground. How much is the latest agreement a departure --
MS. PERINO: As we've been saying since July, when we said that we would work with the Iraqis to establish a date that we would aspire to -- we just keep getting success after success on the security front in Iraq. And when you work with a partner on a negotiation, you have to concede some points. One of the points that we conceded was that we would establish these aspirational dates. We're only able to do this because of the progress that's been made by the great work of our forces, and by the Iraqi security forces as well. They, every day, gain in number, confidence and competence. And we are going to continue to work with the Iraqis, because while we did have a good step with the council of ministers approving the agreement, and then our ambassador and their foreign minister signing it today, there are still several steps left to go.
The council of representatives has to take it up. There will be a reading of the agreement. Then there will be debate about it. And then a vote after that. So we have about another week or so to go. So I don't think I'll say any more here, except to say that we have been able to reach this point because of the vision that the President had in sending more troops to Iraq, which was one of the most unpopular decisions that any President could have made if you think about what we were going through at the time in Iraq.
But it has worked. And the Iraqis are now able to see a path where they can govern, sustain and defend themselves, which is -- which was our test for them. Going back a couple of years ago, we said that that's what we wanted Iraq to be able to do: to govern, sustain and defend itself. And now, they are almost ready to do that on their own. They're not quite there yet, which is why we think we need to be there for a while.
This doesn't mean -- this agreement doesn't mean that a future President, the President-elect, would not be able to change this agreement later on if he saw fit or if the Iraqis saw fit. But right now we are very comfortable knowing that we are able to bring -- already announced that we are going from 20 brigades down to 14 brigades. This is sooner than we thought we would be able to bring troops home, and we're going to continue to bring them home. And then we'll have more to say once it passes that final hurdle.
Q There is no doubt in your mind that this agreement will be adopted by the Iraqi government?
MS. PERINO: No, I didn't say that. I think that we're nearly there, but there are a couple more hurdles that we have to get through, and that is through the council of representatives. There is a reading of it, there's then a debate of it, and then a vote. And so I think we have yet another seven days, a process that they need to go through before we could say that we are final.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q Do you support Hamid Karzai's move to negotiate with Mullah Omar?
MS. PERINO: We support Hamid Karzai. We think that he is a leader that has only the best interests of his country in mind. What we have seen from the Taliban, however, and from Mullah Omar, who we haven't heard from in some time, is an unwillingness to renounce violence. Just last week, little girls who were on their way to school were disfigured when acid was thrown in their faces, and this was done by the Taliban.
So we are skeptical about what the Taliban's ultimate intentions are, which is why we are working with our NATO partners to continue to put the pressure on them. But we recognize that at some point there might be some Taliban that are willing to reconcile and to renounce violence and to be productive members of the Afghanistan society. But right now, we just don't think that that's in the cards.
Q On the automaker's idea, Barney Frank says that he has a proposal that would protect taxpayers. It would put a ban on compensation -- highly paid compensation, have a strong oversight board, and also a ban on dividends. If there's a proposal out there to protect taxpayers, would the White House be willing to support it?
MS. PERINO: Well, one, we haven't seen the proposal, Paula, so I think the best thing for you all to do is to go back and ask the Democrats for their proposal so we actually have something to react to, because right now we're just basically thinking -- responding to what has been said in the press and we really need to see it on paper. And I think that when they meet today that they'll probably be able to come forward with something sooner than later.
But one point about protecting taxpayers. Those provisions may be something that they decide to put forward in their proposal. We think one of the best ways to protect taxpayers is to require that any of these changes have the companies putting forward a plan that shows long-term viability, a willingness to restructure, and a path that puts them on a road to success -- sustainable success over the long term. We don't think that putting taxpayer money into a company that isn't willing to make those changes is smart, no matter how many other protections they might put forward.
Q So if there's taxpayer protections, though, and a way of having a long-term plan included in this, then the White House might be willing to --
MS. PERINO: I'm just not going to speculate.
Q Thank you.
END 11:01 A.M. EST
* The next Summit meeting has not yet been scheduled, but leaders agreed that it will occur before the end of April 2009.
** The Summit declaration calls on the IMF, expanded FSF, and other regulators and bodies to develop recommendations to mitigate pro-cyclicality, including the review of how valuation and leverage, bank capital, executive compensation, and provisioning practices may exacerbate cyclical trends.