Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release February 13, 2009
1:37 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- before I take a few questions, obviously, let me just -- you all saw the President's statement on the tragedy in Buffalo. Secretary LaHood, obviously, has been involved in what's going on. I spoke about an hour ago with folks at NTSB and FAA. They have 18 people -- NTSB has 18 people on the ground investigating the situation. And as they told us on the call, that the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, as you know, have been recovered and are back in Washington.
The President learned of the accident last night after we returned from Springfield. So his thoughts and prayers are obviously with the families that have been affected by this. You saw the President's statement this morning about how fragile life is, based on one of the victims being at the White House just one week ago.
So with that, let me take a few questions. Yes, ma'am.
Q Thank you, Robert. I want to take just a quick look at the Gregg development yesterday. I understand that it was his decision, the position of the White House that he was not pushed from here to make a decision in any way --
MR. GIBBS: I think that's Gregg's position, too, to be fair to him.
Q But just taking a look at all this broadly, obviously all the circumstances of these personnel problems have been different in each case. But is there a sense that the White House is not thinking hard enough about each person and what the potential problems might be and how big those problems might get? I mean, what is -- what is the thinking here about how you could do these things better, so that you don't have people drop out and cause embarrassment?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think -- well, I guess without generalizing, I think you'd have to look at many individual situations. Taking, for instance, Senator Gregg, I think you saw President Obama's comments last night on Air Force One. He continues to have great respect and admiration for Senator Gregg. Clearly, he -- and I think he said this himself yesterday -- had a change of heart, a change of mind, that he's always been somebody known for independence and probably would have a hard time serving on any Cabinet.
But I guess it's hard to generalize about individual circumstances that lead people to make a decision, but then ultimately change their mind.
Q Well, clearly, you guys don't want these developments to happen and to keep happening. What can you do to --
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I think the President certainly was disappointed. But I think the President remains focused on the work that he has in front of him, which, as you guys know and as we discuss here each day, there's a lot on his plate. But I think the progress that we've shown on our agenda I think bodes well for getting our economy moving again and bodes well for the American people. I think ultimately the test of the American people is what are you doing to make our lives better.
I think we're on the cusp of some big developments as it relates to that -- a nearly $800 billion recovery plan that we think will save or create 3.5 million jobs and move the economy in the right direction; a tax cut for 95 percent of working families, which the President campaigned on; doubling our renewable energy generating capacity over the course of three years, doing it in a transparent way without pet projects. You can go on and on.
I think without sort of generalizing about individual cases, I think the -- I think people will take the long view and see that in a short period of time this administration has made great progress. Lots of work continues and lots of challenges are ahead, but that's what the President is focused on -- not looking backward, but looking forward.
Q Robert, I have a question about the plan to stem mortgage foreclosures. There are reports that you're working on a plan that would involve subsidizing distressed borrowers. Can you comment on any of those details? Like can you say when that plan is going to be ready? And I also wanted to ask about the bank rescue plan. There seems to be a belief on Wall Street that you're going to go back to the drawing board and maybe offer some more of the details that people felt weren't there in the original Geithner announcement.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take the first part. I should just start the week ahead, right, just at the beginning of these briefings, rather than --
MR. GIBBS: I can -- you all seem perched at the edge of your collective seats. The President --
Q It's Friday.
MR. GIBBS: Do what?
Q It's Friday.
MR. GIBBS: The President will travel on Wednesday. Let me start with Tuesday. The President will travel Tuesday to Denver to talk about the recovery plan. That afternoon we'll travel to Phoenix, Arizona, spend the night in Arizona that night, and then on Wednesday the President will give a speech and outline a plan to stem home foreclosures. So without getting into the details of what the President will say on Wednesday, I can tell you that that will happen next week.
In terms of the -- I'm having a little hard time understanding your question. Obviously the administration continues to work through issues related to the financial stability package. I don't -- that's not in -- that's not a direct relationship with Wall Street expectations. I just -- it's just part of the process.
Q It's not just Wall Street, though -- the lawmakers felt like the plan was short on details; you know, specifically on this public-private partnership. A lot of people have questions about how it would work and how it will get started.
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the Secretary is in Rome, dealing with the G7 and his counterparts there. But obviously he continues to move forward to put a plan in place that will stabilize our financial system. I mean, that certainly -- that work continues, that work was ongoing all of last week and all this week, and I assume will continue for many weeks, as this is not going to be solved overnight. I think you've seen developments in the last only few hours relating to banks and foreclosures. That is something the President spoke about throughout last fall. But I don't think this is -- I think this is the continued moving forward of a policy, not necessarily in relation to particular criticism.
Q I just wanted to give you guys an opportunity to respond to two things from yesterday involving Caterpillar. One is the CEO of Caterpillar, after the President left the event, said that he did not think the stimulus package in and of itself would be able to enable him to rehire workers -- certainly not in the short term. He put out a statement today saying that: the stimulus package combined with other significant stimulus packages abroad would help move the global economy towards recovery and if these packages are enacted quickly they could stimulate demand for our products, and that would likely over time provide Caterpillar the opportunity to recall employees who had been laid off -- certainly not exactly what President Obama said he had said and I wanted to know what he said to begin with.
But if you clarify that, and also --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me take a stab at that one. I think what the President said that -- the Chairman and the CEO said if the recovery plan is passed, the company would be able to rehire some of those employees. And as you just read, he said that "if these packages are enacted quickly, that could stimulate demand for our products that would likely over time provide Caterpillar the opportunity to recall employees that had been laid off during this downturn." I think the statement that you just read and the statement of the President are very consistent.
Q I don't even know how to respond to that. It seems to me like what the President -- well, it just, I mean -- the President was clearly giving the impression -- this is before the stimulus package had passed -- that the CEO of Caterpillar, who just announced layoffs in January, said that he would be able to rehire some of those workers if this stimulus package passed -- the one stimulus package that the Senate was considering at the time. And what the CEO of Caterpillar said today -- and again, I don't know what he said in private to anybody in your administration -- what he said today was, this one plus other ones worldwide over a period of time, that could enable them to rehire some of those workers.
MR. GIBBS: "It would likely over time provide Caterpillar the opportunity to recall employees who have been laid off during this downturn."
Q All right, I'm not going to belabor it. The other thing is, Congressman Ed Schock yesterday, who President Obama urged Caterpillar employees --
MR. GIBBS: Aaron Schock, I think.
Q What did I say? Oh, I'm sorry, Aaron Schock -- President Obama urged him -- Caterpillar employees to lobby him -- went to the floor of the House today and said that he had stayed around for half an hour and not one Caterpillar employee came to him and urged him to vote for the stimulus package, and, in fact, over the course of time, 1,400 Caterpillar employees have urged him to oppose the stimulus package. And I was just wondering what you think that indicates if the President comes to a factory, heralds what this bill will do for these employees, urges them to lobby a congressman, and, according to the congressman, not one of them does so.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I haven't -- I haven't seen what the congressman said. I think --
Q That's exactly what he said.
MR. GIBBS: Right. I think that -- I think the President and the CEO have laid out the benefits of this bill, what it would do -- I think it's obvious, an infrastructure investment that is greater than any infrastructure investment since the beginning of the Interstate Highway System is going to spur demand for construction equipment and put people back to work and will have a positive benefit in East Peoria, where we were, and throughout downstate Illinois and throughout the country.
I think if the congressman goes back and evaluates the plan, lobbying or not, I think he'll see that it saves or creates millions of jobs, puts people back to work, would put people -- would put money directly into employees at Caterpillar's pockets, as well as people throughout his district. It marks a landmark achievement in terms of renewable energy, which having spent time in Peoria and downstate Illinois is a big deal for them. It will create -- refurbish schools and create 21st century classrooms.
I think if the congressman goes and looks at the bill through an economic lens, not just one -- not just through a political one, I think he'll see benefits not just for his district and his state, but for the entire country.
Q I'm not questioning that, but it seems to me like there's some sort of disconnect between the President urging constituents to lobby their congressmen -- this has been one of the problems that --
MR. GIBBS: I can't speak to -- I can't speak to what the congressman said or saw from different employees because I didn't hang out with him yesterday. I can simply speak to the benefits that economists that aren't affiliated with this White House say the bill will do. Maybe some of those guys should call him, too.
Q Quickly, was the President disappointed that after his remarks yesterday the CEO came out and said he might actually lay people off first?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think the President is obviously, as you heard him speak, and heard him speak today, that he's always concerned about the job situation.
Q But there just seemed to be a disconnect between what he was saying to the people and then all of a sudden --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think the -- I think you've heard the President enumerate many times that the economy is likely to get worse before it gets better. Again, I think that's why today could begin a monumental step forward in getting that economy moving again. The nearly $800 billion stimulus package will have a huge impact, we believe, on getting the economy kick-started and moving forward.
Q Anything about Afghanistan on the week ahead that we should know about? Are you guys going to make -- I mean, if you make a decision to deploy troops in the next day or so -- the Pentagon, your counterpart at the Pentagon today in his press briefing said that it could happen, he's still saying, this week. He was asked specifically next week or this week; he still said this week. Obviously today is the end of the week. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I was going to say -- maybe I should send him my week ahead. (Laughter.)
Q So is there anything we should know today or tomorrow about an announcement about Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Nothing that -- nothing is on my schedule for this week. Obviously the President and the Secretary of Defense have both said the decision is likely to come soon. Without enumerating exactly when "soon" might arrive on one's calendar, I wouldn't dispute the notion --
Q Do you guys have a glossary of how these timing terms work -- "soon"? A couple of days was what the Secretary of Defense said on Tuesday.
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q "A couple" is usually two, maybe three.
MR. GIBBS: And here we are on Friday. (Laughter.)
Q Yes. I mean --
MR. GIBBS: I would tell you that the President hasn't made a decision on augmenting our force structure in Afghanistan.
Q But if he does, he will tell the American people.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, obviously --
Q Can we definitely see that from the White House? Would he definitely do it from the White House or --
MR. GIBBS: I think he -- I think you'd hear the President -- you would hear the President talk about this. I don't think there's any doubt there is -- obviously, once this happens, there are a number of things that have to happen: You notify units, you notify families, you'll notify Congress. I have every faith that when that decision is made, you, too, will be notified by either me or somebody who appears like me in a different capacity. (Laughter.)
Q If this bill is -- if this stimulus is passed today and tonight by the Senate, why is he waiting until Monday to sign it? And do you have any details on the signing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think, as I understand it -- and I can make sure this is true -- I think it will physically -- to get the paperwork done and get down to receive the -- I think we're likely to receive the bill no earlier than Monday, as I understand it. You know, I -- knock on wood -- don't want to jinx anything. Obviously, if we receive that bill in time, to do something on either Monday or Tuesday, obviously the President believes it's a huge priority and would sign that quite quickly.
Q So he did away with the prime time, five minute speech.
MR. GIBBS: We're not --
Q -- is there going to be something? "We're not" what?
MR. GIBBS: I think you will -- if we are fortunate enough to be able to sign a bill Monday or Tuesday, we'll have a signing ceremony and talk about the positive impacts of this legislation. I think he'll do that as well in Denver, on Tuesday. And I think he'll also, as he talks about this, will also talk about not just the foreclosure crisis and policy to address that also next week.
But the White House continues to work on financial stability, regulatory reform, and the other aspects of the policy that have to move forward for the President to -- as the President has said, for the economy to fully recover.
Q Can I follow up one thought, or try Jennifer's question one more time --
MR. GIBBS: Sure. It's allowed. (Laughter.)
Q -- looking forward on the Gregg nomination. What can you do differently to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. Does it -- does the White House Counsel's Office need to be more deeply involved? Do they need to ask more questions? I mean, you know, the --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I just -- I'm not entirely sure. You guys ask questions for a living. What might we pose that --
Q Yes, that would be an excellent idea. Get us involved. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: "Are you likely within a seven-day period to come to a different conclusion than the one which you're giving the President?" (Laughter.) You know, I don't --
Q Well, most of us thought he might. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I don't know -- I don't know, maybe --
Q "Are you aware the President is a Democrat?" (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: You know, the ten best questions I'll certainly get from you all over e-mail, I'll pass on to the Counsel's Office to expand our process.
You know, again, I think that -- you know, like I said, it's hard to generalize over individual instances. You know, I mean, there's been a lot of discussion about, even in today's papers, about what does this mean for bipartisanship; is bipartisanship dead; isn't it just futile or silly for the President to reach out to the other side of the aisle? You know, it all seems somewhat silly to me, the arguments.
I think if you look at the four -- the almost four weeks of this administration, and even a little bit beforehand because the President had to be -- was involved in talking to senators, including working with Senator Gregg on approving the money for -- the additional $350 billion for financial stability. That was done with Democrats and Republicans. The legislation the President signed to ensure that if a woman works in a factory all her life and is paid less than a man, that that won't stand in a court of law in this country. And that was done with Democrats and Republicans working together, and the President's signature.
The expansion of children's health insurance, a very successful program that will now cover an additional 4 million people, was done with bipartisan support, and the President's signature.
And I think when the dust finally settles today, whatever time that is, I think you'll see an economic recovery plan that moves forward because Democrats and Republicans worked together in order to get it to the President's desk -- something, as I've said, he'll sign quickly. And then we'll look forward and continue to reach out to Republicans in a way that moves an agenda forward that works best for the American people.
The President is not going to -- the President is not going to stop reaching out to Republicans because one Republican he respects decided to change his mind and continue to serve and represent his state in the U.S. Senate. The President will continue to work and reach out to folks to move the agenda of this country forward.
Q On a related outreach issue, is the White House doing anything to address the concerns of House Republicans who fear the White House is trying to control the Census Bureau and the 2010 census?
MR. GIBBS: Well, as you know, and I think as they know, the census is a department -- or an entity within the Department of Commerce that will administer the census. The Commerce Secretary will oversee that, and obviously in consultation with Congress and the White House. The President understands the benefit of an accurate and independent census count, and I think the American people can be assured that's what they'll get.
Q Why in consultation with the White House?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that the -- historically the White House, as well as Congress, has been involved in these issues. But, again, the census count will be done out of the Census Bureau within the Department of Commerce.
Q The stimulus package includes some new limits on executive compensation that arguably go much further than the limits that you put down, and they apply to all recipients of bailout funds going forward. Are -- is the White House concerned about these elements, and specifically are you worried that people won't come -- banks won't come forward to seek aid?
MR. GIBBS: Let me check with NEC and the Treasury on whether they've made any conclusions based on the final language of the bill. I don't have anything on that. Obviously, we want to get something that ensures the -- ensures that compensation isn't excessive but also is -- I think we structured a package that allows banks to participate. Let me check particularly on that.
Q All right. Since you didn't answer that one, can I -- let me try a different one. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: All right. If I don't -- well, let's not go back and --
Q All right. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: That might be a tough standard to meet. (Laughter.)
Q On Wednesday's housing announcement, should we expect more detail than we saw on the previous announcement regarding the financial --
MR. GIBBS: Do you have a mortgage that currently exceeds the value of your home? (Laughter.)
I will tell you that the plan that the President and his team are working on is not -- like the financial stability plan -- is not intended to be measured by one day's market score-keeping, but instead to ensure that the 10,000 Americans each day that have their homes foreclosed on, and the millions more that are barely getting by, are protected. That's what the White House is going to do, and I think that's what the American people demand.
Q Just an outline? Is that what we should basically expect, or is it going to be deeper?
MR. GIBBS: I think that travel sign up will go around for Phoenix. It's lovely this time of year and I think you'll have a good story to write on Thursday. I don't know if I answered your question, but I'm going to go to somebody else. (Laughter.)
Q Same topic, Robert. Are you still talking about $50 billion to $100 billion for that housing --
MR. GIBBS: Those are the numbers --
Q -- is that still in play?
MR. GIBBS: I think some manner of that. Again, I don't want to get ahead of where the team is. I don't want to get ahead of where the President is. My admonition to you would be not dissimilar to the one I gave the other day about whether -- some things may come out that aren't in the plan, as happened extensively with the financial stability package, based on somebody's hope that it would be. So without -- I mean, I was trying not to be too sarcastic, but I would wait until Wednesday to see what the President offers, and be careful that we don't set an unreasonable series of expectations based on leaks from God only knows where.
Q And a follow-up to that. Is there going to be any thought given as part of this package next Wednesday allowing judges to alter the terms of a mortgage? Is that in the mix at all, or is that a creature of Congress?
MR. GIBBS: That's a good question that I think we can -- we'll address Wednesday.
Q Okay. And did he have a comment on JPMorgan or Citigroup this morning -- their three-week --
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I think that the President, throughout the fall, campaigned on the idea of a moratorium on foreclosures in order to ensure that a policy could be put in place to help people in the interim. And obviously I think what they've done is consistent with what the President believes is at least part of something that would be likely seen in a housing policy that protects the American people.
Q Robert, I want to go back to the issue that's been raised about jobs being created under the stimulus bill. Is the President being overly optimistic about how many jobs will be created? And also, what exactly is that number? I mean, we -- I think he used yesterday 3.5 million -- I don't know if it was this morning, 3.5 million; we've heard up to 4 million; 3 million; 3 to 4 million.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think some of that's dependent, obviously, on the size of the package that's been involved. I think the newspapers today looked at different statistics, but you're also looking at statistics at different points in the legislative process. We've talked about spend-out rates at different points in the legislative process.
Q But in light of what we're hearing, these stories where -- like at Caterpillar, where they're saying, you know, we'll have to lay off more people before we can even see that benefit of rehiring some of those people -- is he being overly optimistic that these jobs can be created and created within this time period of 18 months or so?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President believes that the framework and the principles that are contained in the recovery plan do what is needed to save or create 3.5 million jobs, that -- that's a number that the economic team and he feel comfortable with.
I think that's going to be done in any number of different ways. Obviously there's going to be direct state aid that will likely help a governor not have to lay off teachers or cops. Obviously that would be part of the bill. I think an investment in alternative energy that will spur renewed development -- whether it's solar or wind projects or fuel projects -- I think it's likely to increase the number of people employed in those industries.
I think the President optimistic, while at the same time understanding, as he's said many times, that the economy is bad and getting worse. As I talked about a week ago, the rate in which we've seen unemployment, over just the three months, is equal to roughly what we saw over the last -- the previous nine months. So obviously that job loss is accelerating.
I think that's why it's important that something get through Congress and to the President quickly. The President is confident that this is a plan that will save or create those jobs. But obviously I don't think there's any doubt that with the simple passage of this plan, the bad news isn't going to be over. I think that we'll -- there are going to be continued hard times, and it's going to take a while to get out of this mess because it took us a while, regrettably, to get into it.
And again -- and on that, and I've said this before, you know, we are working on the process, along with Capitol Hill, on financial regulatory reform to ensure that the conditions that allowed some of the things to happen that have us where we are now don't happen again -- the foreclosures, financial stability, the -- really all of that has to happen; that not one -- any one single thing is going to solve a series of problems, but instead a series of things will address a series of other challenges.
Q And just to go back again to Senator Gregg, if he would not perhaps have been, you know, a good Secretary in any kind of administration, would not have been comfortable doing that, did the President sit back and say, okay, there's probably a chance this won't work but I'm going to gamble that it will? I mean, was this a gamble that didn't pay off?
MR. GIBBS: No, I mean, I would address, largely address the question to Senator Gregg because those were his comments, not mine or anybody else at the White House. I mean, I think the statement that I released yesterday -- this was something that Senator Gregg wanted to do. The President believed he would be a good addition to the Cabinet. The senator, obviously, over the course of the past several days, changed his mind and communicated that.
But I don't -- I think there will be bumps along the road to changing the way this town works, and to work in a way that's cooperative and bipartisan. I don't think that those bumps will end after four weeks, and may not end after several years, but the President remains committed to ensuring that he reaches out to other Democrats and Republicans to get things done. Maybe he's just stubborn like that, but that's what he's going to continue to do. That's really what he's always done.
Q Robert, let me ask about the satellite collision. Are there national security implications here? This is a very popular earth orbit that has had debris spewed in it. You've got a former NASA official calling this a catastrophic event.
MR. GIBBS: I can get someone on the science and technology -- I think that, as I understood it, at least, that the capabilities could be taken, using the additional satellites that are already in place. I don't think there are grave national security implications, but I will certainly check and see if there are other aspects of that that I don't have now. I know we talked last night about the fact that you think it's a big place, but apparently it is quite crowded up there.
Q Is the -- post-Gregg, is the President still considering Republicans for the Cabinet? Is he considering any Republican replacements for Gregg at Commerce?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't seen particular lists for Commerce going forward. I don't think -- I don't know, in particular, if there are Republicans on that list. I don't think that Senator Gregg changing his mind would preclude him from picking a Republican in the future.
Q Okay. And there was some concern about --
MR. GIBBS: Wait, if I answered your question, do you get another? (Laughter.)
Q What's that?
MR. GIBBS: I'm kidding. (Laughter.)
Q There was some concern among supporters of the President that he had chosen someone, in Gregg, who was too opposed to many of the President's views, and I wonder, does the President agree with that, or is he going to consider that as he goes forward, that maybe he was a little bit too far to the right, in making this choice?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President was -- you saw the President was quite comfortable with his selection. The President and Senator Gregg had a discussion about the agenda moving forward, and obviously the agenda that's going to move forward is the President's agenda. Whether or not -- what role that played in some of Senator Gregg's ultimate decision-making in the last few days I'll let him address. But it won't preclude him from looking at other Republicans or other people that may disagree with certain aspects of his agenda.
I don't -- there are probably few, if any, people here that agree a hundred percent with the President, including his wife.
Q Given the accelerating job losses you just described, is there any concern in the administration that even whatever the size, at $787 billion, the stimulus plan may not be big enough?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think economists have certainly said that. And you saw the President at the beginning of this discuss that economists had given out a range for a recovery plan. The President believes that the recovery plan -- I think the original estimates of what we were talking about was a range of $675 billion to $775 billion. So I think where this package landed, some of the composition obviously is different, but I think the range that we landed in is quite consistent with meetings that the economic team started out having.
Look, I think it remains to be seen whether the economy needs more. I don't think there's any doubt, as I've said, that the economy is going to need a financial stability plan that moves lending forward for other banks, for small businesses, for families, and the regulation efforts that this White House is working through. So I think the President is hopeful and optimistic that the plan that is going through Congress will be one that works for the American people and works for the economy.
Q Robert, your office said last week on the census bill that -- the census, there's historic precedent for the director to work closely with White House senior management, who plan to return to that model. The President said he wants to reevaluate the process. Can you offer more detail for both of those statements?
MR. GIBBS: No, I -- I mean, I think I would go back to the answer that I gave Mark, that the census is run and directed by the Census Bureau within the Department of Commerce; obviously because that will be overseen by whomever the Secretary is, and that the American people will be able to depend on an independent and accurate census count for 2010.
Q Both of those statements, however, suggest changes. And the Republicans have made a big deal of that. Are they -- are they making a political fight? Is there nothing to their arguments? Is this just something -- an issue that they have found --
MR. GIBBS: I can't really speak to what drives their decisions on that. They can probably better speak for themselves than I can.
Q Thank you, Mr. Gibbs. Two questions, please. One, yesterday Secretary Clinton at the State Department, she had a reception for the delegation visiting India to mark the 50th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King historic visit. You think President Obama will make a visit to India? Indians are waiting to welcome him.
MR. GIBBS: It's not on my week ahead. (Laughter.)
No, I think that it's -- the President doesn't have travel scheduled to India in the next -- certainly in the next few months.
Obviously on Thursday we're going to go to Canada. Obviously the beginning of April -- what was --
Q You said overseas. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Oh, did I say overseas? Oh, sorry.
Q Over lakes.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I was going to say -- (laughter.) If you live in Chicago and look over that lake, it seems overseas.
In April, the President will make stops in Europe around both the NATO conference, secondly, and the G20, first. So I don't -- the President has no scheduled travel yet to India.
Q And second, as far as this package is concerned, small businesses have been losing workers and business since last year. What do you think President has for the small business so they can hire workers again?
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously there are tax provisions that are involved. I think one of the things that the President certainly campaigned on and believes will help small businesses is getting money back into the pockets of American families so that they can spend that money. I think -- obviously consumer spending drives the vast majority of economic growth and I think that creating jobs, putting money back directly into people's pockets will certainly help drive small businesses and not only hire more people, but hopefully also through financial stability, get lending so that they can add to it and get the economy going.
Q I just wanted to try again on the issue of the open conference committee question. We just didn't really resolve it the other day. I mean, on the transition website it said explicitly that the President wanted the conference committee process to be open to the public. In light of that, how does he feel about the conference committee process this week on the stimulus which was, even to apparently some members of the conference committee, not open? And going forward, does he intend to fulfill that promise?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I haven't seen the particular comments. Obviously the President hopes for greater openness and transparency in government. Whether it's the transparency that's part of this bill or transparency that's part of conference committees, whether that transparency -- obviously there's a lot of things that he believes can be improved. And I think that's something that we'd like to continue to see.
We talked about -- and something that we're struggling to implement that we talked about during the campaign, which was putting legislation on the web -- non-emergency legislation on the web for five days before it's signed. The White House is struggling with trying to figure out how to do that in a way -- when do you do it, how do you do it, what do you put up.
So I think all this is a work in progress. And as I said, it will take probably longer than a few weeks to change how this place works.
Q Was he satisfied with the process this week?
MR. GIBBS: Ask me that when the Senate finishes and we have something.
Q I mean the conference --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I think the President is happy with the product that Democrats and Republicans put together.
Q The process, not the product.
MR. GIBBS: The process and the product.
Q Robert, some White House aides participated in that conference committee process, meeting, negotiating behind closed doors, in some sense, I guess, validating that process. I mean, could they not have been insisting upon a more open process where C-SPAN cameras come in and record that, as the President promised to do on health care negotiations?
MR. GIBBS: Unclear if Rahm could satisfy some FCC requirements. (Laughter.) But I think the President is, as I said, pleased with the --
Q Cable. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Yes, the FX channel, unfortunately, is what we're going to do. (Laughter.)
He's pleased with the process and the product that has come out. And I think when the process is done, I think the American people will be proud of the product that we believe and we hope will begin to stimulate the economy, get people hired, back to work, and moving things forward, and putting people -- putting money back in their pockets.
Q I have a quick follow-up on the foreclosure announcement for next week, and then an economic stimulus question. Next week, should we expect for his remarks on foreclosure to be just one part of what will become a series of foreclosure plans? Or should we expect it to be kind of the broad strokes, the full outlines --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me wait and we'll have more on that as we get closer to Wednesday. But, you know, I think you'll see the President take a big step forward in dealing with the crisis that faces 10,000 people every day.
Q My question on the economic stimulus is that, it will include some health care provisions, health information technology and comparative research effectiveness the Republicans have suggested are not just about creating jobs, but leading us toward a European health care system that would including rationing. Do you think that's just entirely political rhetoric on their part or --
MR. GIBBS: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q -- or to some extent, is -- okay, if you put the --
MR. GIBBS: I think it's exceedingly similar to what we've heard for going on the last two decades.
Q If we could set the buzzword of "European system" aside, to some extent --
MR. GIBBS: Or Canada. (Laughter.) We're going Thursday. (Laughter.)
Q Is President Obama seeking -- with the economic stimulus plan, with the health care provisions -- to at least begin making policy moves while working on job creation?
MR. GIBBS: I think we've heard a lot of concern in this process for spending. And I think whether it is the spending that is in this bill to create jobs through alternative energy, whether that's through creating jobs to implement health care technology, whether that is creating jobs to improve schools and build 21st century classrooms and laboratories, that all of those will have a lasting impact and save the taxpayers money.
Each -- you saw the President I think do this in both town hall meetings this week. If you go to the bank on your way home and take our your ATM card and get $25 out of your account to use this weekend, it's a transaction that costs the bank, I think in many cases, half of a penny to do. A medical transaction, moving your records from your doctor in Bethesda to an emergency room in Washington costs $10. The President believes that by implementing health care technology, we can save billions of dollars in health care costs that we see skyrocketing every year, that we see putting more and more businesses out of business, and is blamed repeatedly for patient safety and patient death.
So I think that if I was for saving money, saving lives, creating jobs, providing less bureaucracy, I think I'd support an increased investment in health care technology that would likely do all those things. We have to move our health care system into the 21st century. If I was for saving small businesses money on their health care, I'd be for an increased investment in health care IT.
I think many of the complaints that you've heard from different people about this bill -- if you look through the lens of particularly the health IT projects, I think many of those questions are answered for those individual critics. Whether they like the answer is an interesting thing to ask them.
Q Robert, the initial visit to Canada by a new President has traditionally been little more than a celebration of continental solidarity. Does the current --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, that's -- I was going to read that for Thursday. (Laughter.)
Q Does the current economic crisis and the job situation and the linkage of the two economies elevate this at all over the boiler plate, or make it anything more than these visits usually are?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that -- we'll have a longer briefing for you on the Canada trip, but I think there are any number of topics -- obviously the economy will be the most primary -- the primary topic that you hear discussed. I think you'll hear -- obviously trade will be a part of that discussion. Obviously I'd put that under the economic umbrella. Obviously I think security, international security will come up. I think you'll hear a discussion on energy, as the President talked about when meeting with regional reporters earlier in the week.
So I think -- I think the agenda, which we'll have more on, will be robust and include any number of topics ranging from economic security to international security.
Q Week ahead?
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. GIBBS: You want to do the week ahead?
Q And on the plane crash, please?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, go ahead.
Q Thank you. On this tragic plane crash, is there any consideration on the part of the government to giving greater warning to the flying public not to get on a plane if it's excessively windy or icy or snow -- (inaudible) situation?
MR. GIBBS: I would -- as it -- I mean, I think if you -- I would direct that to FAA and NTSB -- particularly FAA. I think they've got stuff on their website particularly about that.
Q Can I try one on the stimulus bill?
MR. GIBBS: Let me go back to -- let me just do this quickly, the draft week ahead. I've got to get on a plane not too long from now.
Q Will you celebrate Valentine's?
MR. GIBBS: In Chicago, I'm celebrating Valentine's.
The President and the First Family will fly to Chicago this evening and return to Washington on Monday afternoon. There are no public events scheduled for this weekend. The President will attend meetings at the White House on Monday afternoon when he returns.
As I mentioned earlier, on Tuesday the President will travel to Denver, Colorado, where we'll hold an event on the economic recovery plan. We'll travel then to Phoenix that evening --
Q And is it a town hall or -- town hall?
MR. GIBBS: I don't believe it's a town hall. Travel to Phoenix that evening -- we'll stay overnight there -- and talk about home foreclosures Wednesday morning in Phoenix. He'll return that evening to Washington.
On Thursday, to celebrate continental brotherhood, the President will travel to Ottawa, Canada, meet with Prime Minister Harper and other Canadian officials before returning to Washington that night. The President will have meetings in Washington next Friday. And I do not have anything beyond that or guidance for what next weekend looks like.
But I hope you guys have a good weekend.
Q --background on Thursday --
Q Yes, background briefing, Canada?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes, we will --
Q Can we have it on the record? When is --
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to answer the on-the-record question versus background -- why would we take up the first two minutes of -- why would we not take up the first two minutes of that without a discussion on that?
Q When will the briefing be, though?
MR. GIBBS: We will send that out to you a little bit later this afternoon.
Q What about on housing --
Q On housing --
Q Will we get a similar background --
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes. (Laughter.)
Q Will the briefing be there or here?
MR. GIBBS: The briefing on housing will likely be --
Q Not a background briefing. On-the-record briefing.
Q On-the-record briefing.
Q Vote: 246/183, one present, not a single Republican vote in the House.
MR. GIBBS: 3.5 million jobs that we look forward to saving or creating through the implementation of a robust recovery and reinvestment plan. Have a good weekend.
Q Is the briefing --
MR. GIBBS: Probably happen there.
END 2:27 P.M. EST
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