For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 20, 2008
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:05 A.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Hello, everyone. A special day here because our very own Terry Hunt came back for his last briefing, thankfully. We miss you very much. I'm glad you're here. Now that you're a big economic expert, I'm sure I'm in for a grilling -- (laughter) -- on that topic.
But before we get there, a couple of comments. The President today is doing a couple of pre-trip interviews with -- one with a Japanese television station, one with a Peruvian television station, and one Peruvian print journalist. And we'll get those for you later today.
Also a scheduling update: President Bush will host Israeli Prime Minister Olmert at the White House on Monday, November 24th. The President looks forward to discussing with the Prime Minister the strong bilateral relationship between our two countries, the continuing efforts to bring peace to the Middle East, and a wide range of regional and international issues.
Also today, you've already seen we got the unemployment figures. And the recent financial and credit crisis has slowed our economy dramatically. It's having an impact on job creation. The President is very concerned anytime somebody loses a job, and he wants an economy where anybody who wants to find a job can find employment.
Because of the tight job market, the President believes it would be appropriate to further extend unemployment benefits and he would sign legislation that is now in front of Congress. We hope that they will be able to pass that before they leave for their recess. And we will continue to aggressively implement the rescue package that's being implemented by Secretary Paulson so that we can improve the job market, improve our economy, and get everyone back on a path to prosperity.
One other thing. As I mentioned yesterday, HUD announced new changes to the FHA program called Hope for Homeowners. This program was designed and implemented on October 1, 2008, to help seriously delinquent borrowers who wouldn't have previously qualified for a HUD-backed mortgage, FHA-backed mortgage. Lender participation was not as high as we had hoped, so we had flexibility in the legislation, in the rescue package legislation, that allowed us to make some changes to make the program less cumbersome for borrowers and for lenders.
Among other things, the changes require less of a writedown by the lender, and loosened some underwriting criteria to let in more borrowers. So we hope that people who are in a position where they need a little bit of help would find that they could find help in that program.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
Q As you look at the increase in jobless claims and the prospect that General Motors is in trouble and could go bankrupt, is the economy prepared to deal with the possibility of three million more people being added to the unemployment ranks?
MS. PERINO: I wouldn't speculate on what the future employment numbers will be. What I can tell you is that the program that we're -- the plan we would support right now would be seven weeks in additional unemployment insurance. That's on top of the 13 that you already get, plus an additional 13 weeks for states that have high unemployment.
Our position on the auto companies has been very clear. We want to find a solution, and we put forward one. We think it's a very sensible solution that could get bipartisan support if the Senator would just -- Senator Reid would allow it to come up for a vote. Senators Bond and Voinovich have been working very hard on legislation that would use monies that were already authorized and appropriated for the auto industry, and they simply would be able to take that money that we can't use now without a change in the law to help them through this rough patch.
We would hope that they would allow that to come up for a vote, but unfortunately, it looks like Senator Reid just wants to pick up his ball and go home for the next two weeks -- two months for vacation. And if that is the case, then one can only deduct that the Democrats don't believe that the auto industry really needs help, and really needs help now. We disagree. We think they need help. We have heard their calls for help, and we have designed a plan in order to get it to them.
Q Well, if Congress does leave town without passing anything for the auto industry, what's the -- is the administration going to do anything, can it do anything, or where does it go from here?
MS. PERINO: Well, the intention of the rescue package that was passed for the Treasury Department was to help financial institutions. There's a law that was passed that would allow for the automakers to have access to funds that was specifically for retooling their companies. What we're suggesting is just a reasonable amendment that would change that and allow that money to be used for other purposes for now.
That doesn't mean we're going to change the standards. We do think that the automakers need to become more fuel-efficient and more modern. But we also have a condition on our bill, which is that we require that the company prove viability. We think the taxpayers should not be asked to throw good money after bad. They should be -- if we are going to help them get through this rough patch, it should be a loan, but it should only go to companies that are viable. We think this is a reasonable path forward and we hope that they would take us up on it.
Q But my question is, if Congress does not act this week, is the administration just going to watch GM sink?
MS. PERINO: If the Congress doesn't act this week and one of the companies is in imminent danger of insolvency, we would suspect that they would want to come back and finish the work that they didn't get done this week.
Q You would anticipate that Congress would come back?
MS. PERINO: We would -- I can't imagine a scenario where they wouldn't come back, unless the answer is that they just don't care. And if that's the case, then the American people ought to know that and hear it from them.
Q What are the chances that something is going to get done this week?
MS. PERINO: Well, we always remain hopeful. We believe the path that we've set forward could get bipartisan support if it was allowed to come for a vote. And so we would ask them to just think about taking a step back from partisan politics and throwing up obstacles for the sake of throwing up obstacles, and consider our proposal, and the one that Senators Bond and Voinovich have put forward, because we do think that they would be able to get help for the automakers in a way that would help them get through this rough patch, but also help them restructure, make the hard decisions necessary to restructure.
I think the key point is that the American taxpayer should only be asked to help these companies if they're willing to make the hard decisions necessary to be viable in the long run.
Q But why do you remain hopeful? I mean, are you hearing anything in the --
MS. PERINO: Well, they haven't left town yet. The gavel hasn't come down. And presumably, given the rhetoric that they've used over the past week, the Democrats believe that the automakers need help. Well, if that's the case, then they should allow us to move forward to have a vote on something that we think could get passed.
The truth is Senator Reid's idea could not get enough votes in the Senate to get through the process. So the alternative would be to, well, could we think of another way, a bipartisan way where we could get the automakers help? Instead, he just wants to pull the plug and leave town. And we don't think that that is a good way to help the auto industry, and we certainly don't think it's a good signal for the bipartisanship that everyone pledged over the past year.
Q Can I just ask you about Citicorps? They're obviously financially strapped. They're going to lay off 50,000 people. Is there any work being done for TARP funds to be used to help Citi?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I'd have to refer you to the Treasury Department for that.
Q I have a different subject.
MS. PERINO: Anybody else on this one?
Q Is there a thought in this White House that the economy can bounce back shortly after the new President takes office? I mean, is that the going thought, that this -- that there would be a turnaround in the first few months?
MS. PERINO: I think it's impossible for us to say exactly when it will turn around. We do believe that the actions that we're taking now will have an impact sometime in the future. But it could be a while before we see that. And what the President has asked us to do is to work to do everything we possibly can to promote pro-growth policies so that when the next President takes over they won't have to be dealing with the crisis situation, they can be dealing with an economy that's on the road to recovery.
Q I have a different subject.
MS. PERINO: Okay, we'll stay on this.
Q On unemployment benefits, the extension. Before you had said that this was something that had already been extended before, when you were asked about this issue, and that you wanted to wait and see what Congress did. Why now the change to say that -- a call for the extension yourself, or the White House, and to say the President will sign it?
MS. PERINO: So in June of 2008, our unemployment rate in our country was 5.5 percent. And that is historically low for an unemployment rate. Just five months later, the whole world has changed, and the President adapts to conditions on the ground. And unemployment is now at 6.5 percent, and we think the responsible thing to do is to try to help job seekers over this hump until they -- we can get the country creating jobs again and get them back to work. So that's why we changed the position.
Q Back on the automakers. Do you think that your insistence on the viability of the companies that receive funds, is that really the sticking point for a lot of the Democrats in the Senate?
MS. PERINO: It's hard to say. I actually think that a lot of their disagreement has to do with environmental issues, that the monies that we're suggesting be allowed to be freed up so that the auto companies could use it is specifically meant for retooling factories so that they can be -- produce more fuel-efficient vehicles.
What I have understood, some of the concern up on the Hill is that if you divert any of those funds to deal with the immediate crisis at hand, that they won't become more fuel-efficient in the future. I don't think that that's true. We're not going to relax the standards. In fact, the President called for the standards, and it took a while for Congress to actually pass them, and we're in the process of implementing them. These companies need to make the hard choices necessary to become more viable in the future. Part of that has to do with the management of the companies, but another part is, how do they become the company that will produce vehicles that people want to buy in the energy environment that we're in.
So I think that has to do with it. And on viability, it would be hard for me to believe that people would not support -- they would support taxpayer dollars going to a company that could not prove viability. But in the legislation that Senator Reid put forward they do not call for a company to have to be viable, which doesn't make sense to any of us.
So we're going to continue to push for the support that we think that we can get the auto companies, to get it to them quickly, not play a game of chicken with the Congress. We proposed something that is bipartisan. We think it could get the votes if they just would let us have a vote on it.
I'm sorry, if I could just mention one thing, John, on the unemployment numbers. We did sign an extension, also, in August of 2008. So as conditions have changed, the President has been willing to address that. And in addition, I believe that UI extensions in the past, when I've been asked about it multiple times every week, they weren't always in a clean bill. This is a clean bill.
Mark, did you have one? No. In the back, go ahead.
Q Dana, thank you. You have said that the TARP program should only be for helping out financial companies, and yet Secretary Paulson has shifted direction on what he thinks the TARP should be used for. Is it possible that the White House can also shift direction and say, well, maybe using some of the TARP funds for the automakers isn't such a bad idea, after all? Are you still sticking to your guns that TARP is not to be used --
MS. PERINO: Especially when it comes to the capital injections, that's exactly what the TARP was designed for, was financial institutions. So there was never an intent of Congress to help a specific industry or a specific company, and that hasn't changed -- unless Congress decides to change it, which it doesn't seem like they're going to get anything done this week.
Q Well, in a way, the automakers are big financial institutions -- I mean, their financing arms are a big portion of the company.
MS. PERINO: They're a portion of it, but they're not the full company. And any company -- if one of those financing arms of one of those companies wants to apply as a bank-holding company for capital injections, they would go the Fed or to the Treasury Department, depending on what they're seeking.
Q So you're saying a portion of those companies, a portion of GM or Ford in fact could apply for TARP money then?
MS. PERINO: They could apply to see if they would qualify as a bank-holding company. I don't know if they would qualify. That's not a decision we make here.
Q A clarification on the unemployment extension. Is it a possible total of 13 additional or 20 additional?
MS. PERINO: Let me just read what I have here. So it's seven weeks on top of 13 that you already get, plus an additional 13 weeks for high unemployment states.
Q So it's not seven plus another six; it's seven plus another 13 --
MS. PERINO: Right.
Q -- a potential total of 20.
MS. PERINO: It's 13 plus seven, is the way I would look at it.
Q What's the cut-off on high unemployment states?
MS. PERINO: Is that right?
MR. FRATTO: Seven on top of the existing 13, and it's -- in high unemployment states, it's 13 on top of the existing 13.
Q And what's the state cut-off -- like 6 percent, 7?
MS. PERINO: I think it depends on the state.
Q Okay, so it's not a potential 20 on top of the 13, but a potential 13 --
MS. PERINO: What he said is you get 13 -- so it's an additional seven on top of that, and then if you're in a high unemployment state -- it's 13, you could get another 13. We'll get the details for you, but obviously that's not my strong suit.
Q One other thing. How do the automakers demonstrate viability? Can you just review that?
MS. PERINO: If you go to the 136 regulations that we put out that govern the program, it has -- the viability definition is in that for you.
Q Can you -- are you able to hit sort of --
MS. PERINO: I don't have it with me and a lot of details went into that.
Is this still on the economy?
MS. PERINO: Okay, and then I'll come to you, Elaine.
Q Back on your previous answer to my previous question -- (laughter) -- would the White House be willing to support adding more money now that would provide funds for retooling? Or do you really just want to --
MS. PERINO: Well, one way that you might be able to do it is -- that they're working on on Capitol Hill -- is can you -- when the money -- since it would be a loan, when it is paid back, instead of going to the general fund in the Treasury, could it go back into the program to help with the retooling. That would be one way that it could be fashioned that we could possibly support.
Q Dana, do you know what the extra benefits will cost?
MS. PERINO: Which benefits -- the UI benefits? I don't, but we'll get them for you.
Q I have two topics.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q The first one is the Endangered Species Act. Could you just clarify what the administration is seeking by way of a rule change? Would it, in fact, eliminate the requirement that agencies consult with independent scientists before moving forward with --
MS. PERINO: I don't have it with me, Elaine. I mean, I know conceptually what we support, and I know that the Endangered Species Act is a tangled web that doesn't actually help support any species, including our own. So I'll refer you to Interior Department for that. (Laughter.)
Q So you're proposing eliminating the agency? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: No.
Q All right. And I know this was touched on yesterday in the briefing about APEC, but if you could just talk about the idea that APEC, this tour of the President, is it sort of a -- is there a farewell component to it in any way, shape, or form? I know there's serious business that's being dealt with.
MS. PERINO: Every meeting or foreign trip the President has gone on this year has been called his farewell tour. And some people thought they would never see him again and then look what happened at the G20 -- we had everybody here where the President saw all those leaders again. So we've long -- the President's gone to APEC every year. He thinks it's a very important meeting, that we continue to be engaged with all those Asian Pacific countries. And so he's looking forward to the meeting. It's a quick trip. We leave tomorrow morning and we're back Sunday night so that we can get ready for another week here.
Q Member of Congress are talking about the CIA Inspector General report that has been finished, about an incident in April 2001, where a plane was shot down in Peru because it was suspected of being drug traffickers; instead, it was a family of missionaries inside that plane. And the Inspector General's report said that CIA personnel misled and even lied to Congress about what happened. Do you have anything on this?
MS. PERINO: I don't. I'd have to refer you to the CIA. I'm aware of the report, that it was coming out and aware of the issue, but I'd have to refer you to them for comment.
Q Back to APEC, did you say the transcripts from the interviews today were going to be available later today?
MS. PERINO: They will be -- well, it depends on, as soon as they -- as soon as those outlets can get -- can use them first, and then we'll put them out. So that's usually the way it works.
Q So it may or may not --
MS. PERINO: It depends on when they use them, and as soon as they do, we'll get them to you.
Q Are there any -- I didn't see any press avails at APEC at all.
MS. PERINO: No, there's a couple of bilats that the President has and a trilat here and there.
Q All closed press --
MS. PERINO: No, some of them are pool.
Q One is Peru and that's at the bottom.
MS. PERINO: Yes, I think that's the only one at the bottom, and I think he has pool at the top with China. But I wouldn't expect a lot of news to be made on this trip, but the President is going to continue to talk about the economy. They just -- a lot -- several of the leaders were here just last week for the G20 summit. He'll be able to follow up on that, but expand that conversation with many other countries who are not part of the G20.
Q Would you expect any readouts from the bilats?
MS. PERINO: Yes, sure. I'll be there and be able to provide that.
Q Thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thank you. Good job, Terry. (Laughter.)
END 11:24 A.M. EST