Press Briefing - 12 February 2009
[REPORTER]: The President had complained on the campaign trail about deals that get cut behind closed doors. Is he at all upset about the work of the conference committee or the negotiation, in general, that this didn't take place more publicly?
ROBERT GIBBS: I think the debate about this bill has taken place very publicly. We've all -- I've been asked about it for several weeks now. I think it's hard to imagine that people's opinions haven't been known. And I think the events of the last few days have shown that Democrats and Republicans can work together to get something done.
I think it looks as if we'll get a vote tomorrow. And I think we're on the cusp of something that's a very important first step in order to get our economy moving again. It's just one of the steps that we have to take, but it is a little more than three weeks into this administration. It will be an historic investment in creating jobs and putting people back to work, investing in many areas, like health care and energy independence, that we've neglected over the past many years. And I think it will put money into taxpayers' pockets that we think they'll spend to get the economy going.
[REPORTER]: During the campaign I'm pretty sure it was on your website that you said that all bills should have some kind of public comment period and they should be posted on the website for five days before the President signs it. What are you going to do about this one?
GIBBS: That included non-emergency legislation.
[REPORTER]: Ahhh -- the waiver. (Laughter.) There was a waiver.
GIBBS: It's not a waiver, it was written right there on the website. We are working out a series of procedures to ensure that -- for non-emergency legislation, that people do have five days to look at the legislation that's been passed by Congress before it's signed into law. There have been some -- we're working through the technicalities of how that happens and we'll get a process together. I know there's something up on the White House blog on this right now, or has been within the past few days.
Obviously, if we get this bill, this would certainly meet the President's test of emergency legislation. And if we're lucky enough to have it pass, we'll sign it rather quickly.
[REPORTER]: And I just have a question about that. What would be the point of the public only getting to look at it by the time it's been completely passed and the President is about to sign it? I mean, by then it's kind of all over.
GIBBS: Mara, I'm amazed at the number of differing hurdles that --
[REPORTER]: I'm just curious. You know, you didn't post it while it was in progress. In other words, you're just waiting until the very end --
GIBBS: Mara, people can go to the same website you go to when you read bills. There's congress.gov, there's the Library of Congress. There are any number of resources. I can only imagine that your reporting is informed by the careful examination of that very legislation throughout the process --
[REPORTER]: I'm just wondering why you wanted the five days in the first place.
GIBBS: It's important to put out -- for people to understand -- I think we've seen instances where legislation is done quickly and it's important for people to get a look at what's in those bills. And that's why the President outlined that policy.
[REPORTER]: What's the President's reaction to one change in particular, the reduction of the tax relief from -- down to $400, and $800 for couples? What does he think of that both in terms of the symbolic change or the substantive change that that would have?
GIBBS: Well, I think -- look, he understands -- and as I said this yesterday -- that my guess is that there are 536 people that might have written any number of things slightly differently. The President campaigned on a Make Work Pay tax cut for 95 percent of working families because he thought it was important that we get money back into their pockets directly.
Obviously, though, it's important, as I said, not to make the perfect the enemy of what's absolutely necessary. And we -- though we'd rather see some provisions slightly different, the broader plan we think will save or create 3 to 4 million jobs and put people back to work. And that's the ultimate test that the President has.
And certainly we'd like to see the most tax relief we can. I think you'll see a pretty -- contained within that, one of the most progressive and largest tax cuts that go directly to working families that any Congress has ever passed.
[REPORTER]: Christina Romer's hypothetical, when she came up with the 3 to 4 million jobs based on a stimulus package, this one still meets her criteria?
[REPORTER]: When the President signs this bill once its voted on, how long will it take for the money to actually get to the pipeline?
GIBBS: I can check exactly. I think within -- I think basically aid will start coming within a month. Let me get a more precise answer. Obviously there are certainly different ways, whether the money comes through state aid for particular projects, whether it comes through infrastructure.
I also think there will be -- and we'll see this this afternoon, I think, in Caterpillar -- you'll see, in some ways, people anticipating the benefits of a stimulus package and changing the business decisions that they make. We've got the CEO of Caterpillar, which we're going to go see today, that has told the White House that they would reevaluate decisions that they've made about hiring, based on the passage of this bill. So I think we'll get a chance, as we land in Peoria, to see how a package like this is playing in Peoria.
[REPORTER]: The CEO of Caterpillar also was worried about the "Buy American" provision. And is that something that could, in the end, hurt companies that you're -- that we're trying to help?
GIBBS: I think what the -- I think where we ended up with the "Buy American" provision is the right compromise that respects the "Buy American" laws that we have had on our books for many, many years, while also ensuring that the language doesn't create unnecessary trade disagreements in a time of economic crisis. I doubt he would -- I doubt he'd be making some of the positive comments about the bill if he thought that that was -- that legislative provision was a non-starter.
[REPORTER]: What does the President think about getting more Republican votes in the next 48 hours or so on this bill?
GIBBS: We'd welcome it. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: How good are the prospects?
GIBBS: You know, I think some of that depends on -- I think some of that obviously depends on individual lawmakers looking at the plan. But, you know, many of them wanted a package that wasn't too big. Many of them wanted a package that included more tax cuts. Many of them wanted a package that spent the money in a spend-out rate that would stimulate the economy quickly. I don't think there's any doubt that the test that had been laid out by many of the critics of this package are met by the final package.
And look, you know, I've seen people argue on the floor the definition of bipartisan doesn't include three Republicans being part of a solution. That's, as best I can tell, a pretty good chunk of the U.S. Senate, and we're happy to have their support, and happy to have any Republican support.
I also would say there's -- I think there are a lot of Republicans around the country -- there's certainly Republican mayors that don't want to lay off police officers and teachers, there's Republican governors that don't want to cut health care for working families that are supportive of this bill. There are Republicans outside of the friendly confines of Washington, D.C., that understand the importance of getting something done to help the people of their locality or their state and certainly of their country.
[REPORTER]: Secretary Geithner is going to the G7 to meet with his G7 counterparts this weekend. What are -- now that this stimulus is almost done, what are you going to be looking for from the other G7 partners?
GIBBS: Well, the President talked about this as far back as September during the campaign at the -- right after the economic -- right after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which was that the G7, and particularly the G20, all had to work in concert together, because if one entity -- if one country or one group of countries move without the world moving together, it's likely that the impact of some of this would be mitigated.
So obviously, Secretary Geithner I think will be talking about how we can coordinate our activities so that we can all stimulate our respective economies. Obviously, financial stability will be something that is on the agenda. And I think also -- and this will be -- play a bigger role as we get closer to the April G20 meeting, which is financial regulatory reform to ensure that what got us here doesn't happen again.
So I think just as the President has talked about a series of steps that have to happen to see an economic recovery in full, I think that those are all true internationally, as well. And I think the Secretary will be working with his counterparts to ensure that we take collective global and international action to ensure greater growth and stability.
[REPORTER]: Robert, a question about Caterpillar. The company has said that they --
GIBBS: Hope his flight to Italy will be smoother than this. (Laughter.)
[REPORTER]: They pay -- they say they pay like a $100,000 in tariffs to export to Colombia on a single piece of heavy equipment. Where is the President on the implementation -- the re-implementation of the free trade agreement, and how does that apply?
GIBBS: Well, his position on Colombia is unchanged from the campaign. Obviously, the -- both as it relates to labor and environmental regulations, as well as some human rights violations regarding labor leaders in Colombia, the President has concerns with the way the agreement is written.
But I think that is -- the President and Mr. Owens are certainly in accord on the importance of getting this recovery plan done in a timely way to help the people that we're about to go see, and help the rest of the country.
[REPORTER]: And have they also talked about this agreement?
GIBBS: I don't know if they've talked about it today. I can certainly talk to the President, and see if he's -- if they've -- it's come up today.
[REPORTER]: Any members on board?
GIBBS: I know we have Congressman Schock, who represents the area. I'll check on others who might be.
[REPORTER]: A quick question. CNN is doing a little video where they morph the Lincoln image into the Obama image, or maybe it's the other way around. Have we reached the point now where you think maybe we might be going a little too far with the Lincoln parallels, or not?
GIBBS: I mean, I --
[REPORTER]: I mean, I know you didn't, obviously, put that together. But you guys do --
GIBBS: I'd love editorial control of one of the cable networks, if that's -- (laughter.) No, look, I -- look, I think as the President said today, we're all -- we all each day live with -- in a society because of many of the tough and courageous decisions that President Lincoln had to make a long time ago. But this President isn't seeking to compare himself with I think what many believe is one of the two or three greatest Presidents that this country has ever had. There are decisions and stresses that President Lincoln faced that I think many would hope aren't faced by many of our Presidents as we go forward.
I mean, there are parallels I think that make it hard for some to ignore: the Illinois factor, spending roughly the same amount of time in Springfield and the same amount of time in Congress. But I don't -- I think the parallels don't go a whole lot beyond that.
Obviously, we're tremendously grateful to be able to come here and celebrate, at the second event, the life of somebody who had such a tremendous impact. And his impacts we feel even today. Plus, I got this spiffy new penny for my son.
[REPORTER]: How much did that cost you?
GIBBS: The President gave it to me. So I guess I owe him a penny.
[REPORTER]: What's that on the back? Is that like a commemorative penny or something?
GIBBS: Yes, it's the -- I guess they released four today. And this has the log cabin. And my son is fairly obsessed now with -- they studied the Presidents around the election. And when we walked into the President's -- when we walked into the Oval Office when he was in the White House about a week and a half ago, we were looking into the President's study and he says, "Dad, that's John Quincy Adams." And I said, "Are you sure?" And he says, "Dad, he was the sixth President of the United States." So he's ahead of me on the President's stuff. (Laughter.)
So, thanks guys.