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Jay Carney on the lack of an Obama debt plan: 'Leadership is not proposing a plan'

July 19, 2011 |  3:56 pm

Obama News Conference on Debt talks Leaving 7-19-11

President Obama, who didn't hold a news conference for months, has now had several recently, including today.

The country's attention is now riveted on the nation's staggering $14.2 trillion credit card balance and the crucial debate on whether voting to increase the debt limit will allow time to get it under control or merely allow more profligate spending.

Yes, there have been a ton of fundraising speeches about protecting the most vulnerable in our society, even though in the last 30 months most everyone in this society has come to feel more vulnerable.

After months of calling on someone to do something about creating new jobs, the Democrat's focus now seems to be on calling on others to do something about the debt problem: Republicans and Democrats must get together. I've said before what I will and won't do.

Key point is both Democrats, lead by Obama, and Republicans are trying to set the other up for.... year's more important presidential campaign debate on spending. So who's going to lead in this political dance dangereux? Whatever either side says/does now will be thrown back at them next year.

Any president can control the Washington discussion agenda with his utterances. Today, as the White House intended, the news that the media drew from the president's six minutes of words (scroll down for full transcript) was that the so-called Gang of Six's Senate proposals has some compromise possibilities in the chief executive's views. Yada-yada details here.jay Carney, file

There will be more of these ideas floating by before the administration's latest deadline of Aug. 2. And the beauty of this debate, from the Real Good Talker's point of view, is that he can sound in charge by talking real good.

And as long as everyone is talking deficit argument, they are not talking 9.2% unemployment, 17% real unemployment, Obama's crummy approval ratings and the upcoming fifth month of the war in Libya that was supposed to last days not weeks.

However, largely overlooked in today's news flow, was a Jay Carney remark after the president's brief remarks, a remark that may be more revealing than he or his boss intended.

During the regular news briefing ABC News' vigilant Jake Tapper asked Carney, with all this Obama talk about the minuses of other peoples' debt reduction plans, where's Obama's plan?

Carney's stunning reply: Leadership is not proposing a plan. If he did, it likely would be voted down.

Here's that full exchange:

Q: The House is passing something that many observers feel would never pass the Senate and the President has said he would veto. The Senate is passing -- the McConnell-Reid plan, it’s not clear that that could pass the House. The Gang of Seven plan, it’s not clear that that could pass the House. Would this not be an opportune time for a President to lead and say, “This specifically....” --

MR. CARNEY: Leadership is not proposing a plan for the sake of having it voted up or down, and likely voted down, because it is -- look, you know how this town works and how Congress works. If an individual, whether a Democrat or Republic leader, steps forward and says, “This is my plan and solely my plan,” it makes it a lot harder for that plan to be the basis for a bipartisan compromise.

So, as we near what he says is a looming crisis to believe in two weeks from today, don't look for this leader of the United States to be doing anything more than react to the ideas of others.


Deficit deal: Boehner asks Obama: Where's your plan?

Americans to Obama on his government shutdown threat: OK

Obama on deficit talks: 'I have bent over backward for Republicans'

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Obama News Conferece on Debt talks 7-19-11


President Obama's remarks on deficit reduction talks, as provided by the White House

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  I wanted to give folks a quick update on the progress that we're making on the debt ceiling discussions.

I was in contact with all the leadership over the course of the weekend and continued to urge both Democrats and Republicans to come together around an approach that not only lifts the debt ceiling but also solves the underlying challenges that we face when it comes to debt and deficits. 

Some progress was made in some of the discussions, some narrowing of the issues.  Speaker Boehner and the Republican House caucus felt it necessary to put forward the plan that they're going to be voting on today.  I think everyone's estimation is, is that that is not an approach that could pass both chambers, it's not an approach that I would sign and it's not balanced.  But I understand the need for them to test that proposition.

The problem we have now is we're in the 11th hour and we don't have a lot more time left. The good news is that today a group of senators, the Gang of Six, Democrats and Republicans -- I guess now Gang of Seven, because one additional Republican senator added on -- put forward a proposal that is broadly consistent with the approach that I've urged.  What it says is we've got to be serious about reducing discretionary spending both in domestic spending and defense; we've got to be serious about tackling health care spending and entitlements in a serious way; and we've got to have some additional revenue so that we have an approach in which there is shared sacrifice and everybody is giving up something.

And so, for us to see Democratic senators acknowledge that we've got to deal with our long-term debt problems that arise out of our various entitlement programs, and for Republican senators to acknowledge that revenues will have to be part of a balanced package that makes sure that nobody is disproportionately hurt from us making progress on the debt and deficits I think is a very significant step.  And as I said, the framework that they put forward is broadly consistent with what we've been working on here in the White House and with the presentations that I've made to the leadership when they've come over here.

So here's where we stand.  We have a Democratic President and administration that is prepared to sign a tough package that includes both spending cuts, modifications to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare that would strengthen those systems and allow them to move forward, and would include a revenue component.  We now have a bipartisan group of senators who agree with that balanced approach.  And we’ve got the American people who agree with that balanced approach. 

My hope, and what I will be urging Speaker Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, as well as Leader Reid and....

Obama News Conference on Debt talks 7-19-11

....Mitch McConnell, is that they, tomorrow, are prepared to start talking turkey and actually getting down to the hard business of crafting a plan that can move this forward in time for the August 2nd deadline that we’ve set forward.

Just a couple of other points I will make.  Some of you may ask, what does it mean for the plan that Senator McConnell and Senator Reid had been working on?  Our attitude is, is that that continues to be a necessary approach to put forward.  In the event that we don’t get an agreement, at minimum, we’ve got to raise the debt ceiling.  So that’s the bare minimum that has to be achieved, but we continue to believe that we can achieve more.

And so I want to congratulate the Gang of Six for coming up with a plan that I think is balanced.  We just received it, so we haven’t reviewed all the details of it.  It would not match perfectly with some of the approaches that we’ve taken, but I think that we’re in the same playing field.  And my hope is, is that we can start gathering everybody over the next couple of days to choose a clear direction and to get this issue resolved. 

So far, at least, the markets have shown confidence that leadership here in Washington are not going to send the economy over a cliff.  But if we continue to go through a lot of political posturing, if both sides continue to be dug in, if we don’t have a basic spirit of cooperation that allows us to rise above immediate election-year politics and actually solve problems, then I think markets here, the American people, and the international community are going to start reacting adversely fairly quickly.

So I think it’s very important for in these next couple of days to understand we don’t have any more time to engage in symbolic gestures; we don’t have any more time to posture.  It’s time to get down to the business of actually solving this problem.  And I think we now are seeing the potential for a bipartisan consensus around what that would take.

It will be hard.  It will be tough.  There are still going to be a lot of difficult negotiations that have to take place in order for us to actually get something done.  And as I said, we have to have that failsafe that Senator McConnell and Senator Reid are working on.  But the hope is, is that everybody seizes this opportunity.

All right?  Okay, guys, I’m going to let Jay answer questions today.  I think I’ve been pretty good to you guys.  (Laughter.)  But after the votes today in the House, I’ll call up Speaker Boehner and the other leadership and we’ll arrange for times where we bring folks back here, and hopefully we’ll be able to report on some additional progress over the next few days. All right?  Thank you very much, guys.

Q    When will you announce whether you will be supporting the Gang of Six plan?  Would that be in the next day?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, as I said, I think what you’re going to be seeing is an evaluation of that plan versus the things that we’ve been looking at.  I think what you’re going to see is some significant overlap.  But obviously just because we might agree in principle with a range of issues with six senators or seven senators, that doesn’t get us out of the House of Representatives; that doesn’t get us out of the Senate.  There’s going to have to be a broader agreement on the part of all the leadership that we’re going to get this done in a serious way, and we’ve got a tight deadline to do it.  All right?  Thanks, guys.    ####

Photos: Jason Reed / Reuters (Obama news conference, July 19); Jewel Samada / AFP / Getty Images (Carney, file); Win McNamee / Getty Images.