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Obama's News Conference

June 30, 2011 — The New York Times   Bookmark and Share

The following is a transcript of President Obama's news conference in the East Wing, as provided by the White House.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good morning, everybody. Have a seat, please. I just want to say a few words about the economy before I take your questions.

There are a lot of folks out there who are still struggling with the effects of the recession. Many people are still looking for work or looking for a job that pays more. Families are wondering how they'd deal with a broken refrigerator or a busted transmission, or how they're going to finance their kids' college education, and they're also worrying about the possibility of layoffs.

The struggles of middle-class families were a big problem long before the recession hit in 2007. They weren't created overnight, and the truth is our economic challenges are not going to be solved overnight. But there are more steps that we can take right now that would help businesses create jobs here in America.

Today, our administration is trying to take those steps, so we're reviewing government regulations so that we can fix any rules in place that are an unnecessary burden on businesses. We're working with the private sector to get small businesses and start-ups the financing they need to grow and expand. And because of the partnership that we've launched with businesses and community colleges, 500,000 workers will be able to receive the right skills and training for manufacturing jobs in companies all across America -- jobs that companies are looking to fill.

In addition to the steps that my administration can take on our own, there are also things that Congress could do right now that will help create good jobs. Right now, Congress can send me a bill that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to patent a new product or idea - because we can't give innovators in other countries a big leg up when it comes to opening new businesses and creating new jobs. That's something Congress could do right now.

Right now, Congress could send me a bill that puts construction workers back on the job rebuilding roads and bridges - not by having government fund and pick every project, but by providing loans to private companies and states and local governments on the basis of merit and not politics. That's pending in Congress right now.

Right now, Congress can advance a set of trade agreements that would allow American businesses to sell more of their goods and services to countries in Asia and South America - agreements that would support tens of thousands of American jobs while helping those adversely affected by trade. That's pending before Congress right now.

And right now, we could give middle-class families the security of knowing that the tax cut I signed in December will be there for one more year.

So there are a number of steps that my administration is taking, but there are also a number of steps that Congress could be taking right now on items that historically have had bipartisan support and that would help put more Americans back to work.

Many of these ideas have been tied up in Congress for some time. But, as I said, all of them enjoy bipartisan support, and all of them would help grow the economy. So I urge Congress to act on these ideas now.

Of course, one of the most important and urgent things we can do for the economy is something that both parties are working on right now - and that's reducing our nation's deficit. Over the last few weeks, the Vice President has been leading negotiations with Democrats and Republicans on this issue, and they've made some real progress in narrowing down the differences. As of last week, both parties had identified more than $1 trillion worth of spending cuts already.

But everyone also knows that we'll need to do more to close the deficit. We can't get to the $4 trillion in savings that we need by just cutting the 12 percent of the budget that pays for things like medical research and education funding and food inspectors and the weather service. And we can't just do it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. So we're going to need to look at the whole budget, as I said several months ago. And we've got to eliminate waste wherever we find it and make some tough decisions about worthy priorities.

And that means trimming the defense budget, while still meeting our security needs. It means we'll have to tackle entitlements, as long as we keep faith with seniors and children with disabilities by maintaining the fundamental security that Medicare and Medicaid provide. And, yes, we're going to have to tackle spending in the tax code.

There's been a lot of discussion about revenues and raising taxes in recent weeks, so I want to be clear about what we're proposing here. I spent the last two years cutting taxes for ordinary Americans, and I want to extend those middle-class tax cuts. The tax cuts I'm proposing we get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires; tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.

It would be nice if we could keep every tax break there is, but we've got to make some tough choices here if we want to reduce our deficit. And if we choose to keep those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we've got to cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship. That means we've got to stop funding certain grants for medical research. That means that food safety may be compromised. That means that Medicare has to bear a greater part of the burden. Those are the choices we have to make.

So the bottom line is this: Any agreement to reduce our deficit is going to require tough decisions and balanced solutions. And before we ask our seniors to pay more for health care, before we cut our children's education, before we sacrifice our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs in the economy, I think it's only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys. I don't think that's real radical. I think the majority of Americans agree with that.

So the good news is, because of the work that's been done, I this we can actually bridge our differences. I think there is a conceptual framework that would allow us to make huge progress on our debt and deficit, and do so in a way that does not hurt our economy right here and right now.

And it's not often that Washington sees both parties agree on the scale and the urgency of the challenge at hand. Nobody wants to put the creditworthiness of the United States in jeopardy. Nobody wants to see the United States default. So we've got to seize this moment, and we have to seize it soon. The Vice President and I will continue these negotiations with both leaders of both parties in Congress for as long as it takes, and we will reach a deal that will require our government to live within its means and give our businesses confidence and get this economy moving.

So, with that, I will take your questions. I've got my list here. Starting off with Ben Feller, Associated Press.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I'd like to follow up on the comments you just made as you try to reach a deal to raise the debt limit and cut the deficit. You keep saying that there needs to be this balanced approach of spending cuts and taxes. But Republicans say flatly, they won't --

MR. OBAMA: That they don't want a balanced approach.

QUESTION: They don't want any tax increases, as they put it. And the House Speaker says not only that he doesn't support that, but that plan won't -- will not pass the House. So my question is will you insist, ultimately, that a deal has to include those tax increases that you just laid out? Is that an absolute red line for you? And if it is, can you explain to us how that can possibly get through the Congress?

MR. OBAMA: Look, I think that what we've seen in negotiations here in Washington is a lot of people say a lot of things to satisfy their base or to get on cable news, but that hopefully, leaders at a certain point rise to the occasion and they do the right thing for the American people. And that's what I expect to happen this time. Call me naive, but my expectation is that leaders are going to lead.

Now, I just want to be clear about what's at stake here. The Republicans say they want to reduce the deficit. Every single observer who's not an elected official, who's not a politician, says we can't reduce our deficit in the scale and scope that we need to without having a balanced approach that looks at everything.

Democrats have to accept some painful spending cuts that hurt some of our constituencies and we may not like. And we've shown a willingness to do that for the greater good. To say, look, there are some things that are good programs that are nice to have; we can't afford them right now.

I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to have difficult conversations with the Pentagon saying, you know what, there's fat here; we're going to have to trim it out. And Bob Gates has already done a good job identifying $400 billion in cuts, but we're going to do more. And I promise you the preference of the Pentagon would not to cut any more, because they feel like they've already given.

So we're going to have to look at entitlements -- and that's always difficult politically. But I've been willing to say we need to see where we can reduce the cost of health care spending and Medicare and Medicaid in the out-years, not by shifting costs on to seniors, as some have proposed, but rather by actually reducing those costs. But even if we're doing it in a smart way, that's still tough politics. But it's the right thing to do.

So the question is, if everybody else is willing to take on their sacred cows and do tough things in order to achieve the goal of real deficit reduction, then I think it would be hard for the Republicans to stand there and say that the tax break for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we're not willing to come to the table and get a deal done. Or, we're so concerned about protecting oil and gas subsidies for oil companies that are making money hand over fist -- that's the reason we're not going to come to a deal.

I don't think that's a sustainable position. And the truth of the matter is, if you talk to Republicans who are not currently in office, like Alan Simpson who co-chaired my bipartisan commission, he doesn't think that's a sustainable position. Pete Domenici, Republican, co-chaired something with Alice Rivlin, the Democrat, says that's -- he doesn't think that's a sustainable position. You can't reduce the deficit to the levels that it needs to be reduced without having some revenue in the mix.

And the revenue we're talking about isn't coming out of the pockets of middle-class families that are struggling. It's coming out of folks who are doing extraordinarily well and are enjoying the lowest tax rates since before I was born.

If you are a wealthy CEO or a health -- hedge fund manager in America right now, your taxes are lower than they have ever been. They're lower than they've been since the 1950s. And you can afford it. You'll still be able to ride on your corporate jet; you're just going to have to pay a little more.

And if we -- I just want to emphasize what I said earlier. If we do not have revenues, that means there are a bunch of kids out there who are not getting college scholarships. If we do not have those revenues, then the kinds of cuts that would be required might compromise the National Weather Service. It means that we would not be funding critical medical research. It means that food inspection might be compromised. And I've said to some of the Republican leaders, you go talk to your constituents, the Republican constituents, and ask them are they willing to compromise their kids' safety so that some corporate jet owner continues to get a tax break. And I'm pretty sure what the answer would be.

So we're going to keep on having these conversations. And my belief is, is that the Republican leadership in Congress will, hopefully sooner rather than later, come to the conclusion that they need to make the right decisions for the country; that everybody else has been willing to move off their maximalist position -- they need to do the same.

...

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I only have a two-parter. (Laughter.)

MR. OBAMA: Thanks.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that the current debate over debt and deficits is preventing you from taking the kind of decisive and more balanced action needed to create jobs in this country, which is the number one concern for Americans?

And also, one of the impediments to job growth that the business community repeatedly cites is the regulatory environment. So do you think that the NLRB complaint against Boeing, that this has created some of the -- is an example of the kinds of regulations that chill job growth, and also that you yourself have called ''just plain dumb''?

MR. OBAMA: I think it's important to understand that deficit reduction, debt reduction, should be part of an overall package for job growth over the long term. It's not the only part of it, but it's an important part of it.

So as I mentioned at the top, I think it's important for us to look at rebuilding our transportation infrastructure in this country. That could put people back to work right now -- construction workers back to work right now. And it would get done work that America needs to get done. We used to have the best roads, the best bridges, the best airports. We don't anymore. And that's not good for our long-term competitiveness.

So we could put people to work right now and make sure that we're in a good position to win the future, as well. I think —

QUESTION: — spending and (inaudible.)

MR. OBAMA: I'm going to get to it. I think that it's important for us to look at the tax code and figure out, are there ways that we can simplify it and also build on the work that we've already done, for example, saying to small businesses or start-up businesses, you don't have to pay capital gains when you're in start-up mode, because we want you to get out there and start a business. That's important. Making sure that SBA is helping to get financing to small businesses, that's important.

So there are a whole range of things that we can be doing. I think these trade deals will be important -- because right now South Korea, frankly, has a better deal when it comes to our trading relationship than we do. Part of the reason I want to pass this trade deal is you see a whole bunch of Korean cars here in the United States and you don't see any American cars in Korea. So let's rebalance that trading relationship. That's why we should get this passed.

So there are a range of things that we could be doing right now. Deficit and debt reduction should be seen as part of that overall process, because I think if businesses feel confident that we've got our act together here in Washington, that not only is the government not going to default but we're also preparing for a future in which the population is getting older and we're going to have more expenses on the Medicare side and Social Security, that businesses will feel more confident about investing here in the United States of America.

So I don't think they're contradictory. And as I've said before, certainly in my job, but I think Congress, as well, they've got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. So we can focus on jobs at the same time as we're focusing on debt and deficit reduction.

Now, one of the things that my administration has talked about is, is there, in fact, a bunch of -- a tangle of regulations out there that are preventing businesses from growing and expanding as quickly as they should. Keep in mind that the business community is always complaining about regulations. When unemployment is at 3 percent and they're making record profits, they're going to still complain about regulations because, frankly, they want to be able to do whatever they think is going to maximize their profits.

I've got an obligation to make sure that we're upholding smart regulations that protect our air and protect our water and protect our food. If you're flying on a plane, you want to make sure that there are some regulations in place to assure safety in air travel, right? So there are some core regulations that we've got to maintain.

But what I have done -- and this is unprecedented, by the way, no administration has done this before -- is I've said to each agency, don't just look at current regulations -- or don't just look at future regulations, regulations that we're proposing, let's go backwards and look at regulations that are already on the books, and if they don't make sense, let's get rid of them. And we are in the process of doing that, and we've already identified changes that could potentially save billions of dollars for companies over the next several years.

Now, you asked specifically about one decision that was made by the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB, and this relates to Boeing. Essentially, the NLRB made a finding that Boeing had not followed the law in making a decision to move a plant. And it's an independent agency. It's going before a judge. So I don't want to get into the details of the case. I don't know all the facts. That's going to be up to a judge to decide.

What I do know is this -- that as a general proposition, companies need to have the freedom to relocate. They have to follow the law, but that's part of our system. And if they're choosing to relocate here in the United States, that's a good thing. And what it doesn't make -- what I think defies common sense would be a notion that we would be shutting down a plant or laying off workers because labor and management can't come to a sensible agreement.

So my hope is, is that even as this thing is working its way through, everybody steps back for a second and says, look, if jobs are being created here in the United States, let's make sure that we're encouraging that. And we can't afford to have labor and management fighting all the time, at a time when we're competing against Germany and China and other countries that want to sell goods all around the world. And obviously, the airplane industry is an area where we still have a huge advantage, and I want to make sure that we keep it.

...

Laura Meckler.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. In these debt talks, would you accept -- would you like to see some sort of tax breaks aimed at stimulating the economy, even though that would of course add to the deficit itself?...

MR. OBAMA: ...With respect to the deficit and debt talks and where we need to go, I do think it's important, since we're looking at how do we reduce the debt and deficit both in a 10-year window as well as beyond a 10-year window, to understand that one of the most important things we can do for debt and deficit reduction is to grow the economy.

And so if there are steps that in the short term may reduce the amount of cash in the treasury but in the long term mean that we're growing at 3.5 percent instead of 2.5 percent, then those ideas are worth exploring.

Obviously that was what we did in December during the lame duck session, when Democrats and Republicans came together and we said, you know what, a payroll tax cut makes sense in order to boost the economy; unemployment insurance makes sense in order to boost the economy. All that stuff puts money in people's pockets at a time when they're still struggling to dig themselves out of this recession. And so the American people have an extra thousand dollars, on average, in their pockets because of the tax cuts that we initiated. And that has helped cushion some of the tough stuff that happened in the first six months of this year, including the effects on oil prices as a consequence of what happened in the Middle East as well as what happened in Japan.

I think that it makes perfect sense for us to take a look at can we extend the payroll tax, for example, an additional year, and other tax breaks for business investment that could make a big difference in terms of creating more jobs right now.

What we need to do is to restore business confidence and the confidence of the American people that we're on track — that we're not going to get there right away, that this is a tough slog, but that we still are moving forward. And I think that it makes sense, as we're looking at an overall package, to see, are there some things that we can do to sustain the recovery, so long as the overall package achieves our goals — the goals that I set out, which is $4 trillion within a 10-to 12-year window, and making sure that we're bending the costs of things like health care over the long term.