Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 12/14/2009
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
December 14, 2009
Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 12/14/2009
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:44 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Good afternoon. Before we -- well, let's just get started. I want to go through just a little bit of what the President -- feedback I got from the President on this afternoon's -- or this morning's meeting with bank executives.
The President believed that the meeting was positive and constructive. The President opened the meeting by wanting to talk about four specific areas: credit and lending was one, second was housing, the third was executive comp, and the fourth was financial reform.
The bankers all acknowledged that they could do more in these efforts. And one banker said, "You caused us to look more broadly" at our lending. All of the bankers -- (laughter) -- all of the bankers discussed the notion of instituting second looks at loans that had been turned down. And as I think you all have seen Bank of America discussing their desire to see $5 billion more in lending in 2010.
The bankers had good suggestions for streamlining the SBA loan process and paperwork requirements that come with those. The bankers acknowledged the compensation -- they had problems with compensation, that they were taking steps on say-on-pay and on long-term equity versus short-term cash. The President said that it is in this environment it wasn't just -- it wasn't simply the structure, but also the amount that strongly mattered to the American people.
Lastly, on financial reform, all of the executives discussed their support for the concept of financial reform. The President said clearly that he and the administration were hearing something markedly different from their lobbyists and from organizations that they funded to lobby on their behalf. The President reiterated that financial reform was a big priority to him and to the American people, to ensure that the crisis we saw never happens again, and he suggested that they find ways to be more vocal about the support that they discussed on financial reform.
So that is a quick rundown of notes from that meeting. And we'll start with Mr. Hurst.
Q Robert, moving off that topic to Afghanistan, General Rodriguez said today that it's now going to take nine to 11 months to move the 30,000 troops pulling into Afghanistan. And the impression I think left after the President's speech at West Point said this was something that was going to be happening within six months. What's happened there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would point you to the remarks that Secretary Gates and others made in testifying in front of Congress, that the bulk of our forces would be in by the beginning of the summer, and that the remainder would be in by the end of the summer.
Q Meaning almost the end of September, then?
MR. GIBBS: I think the end of August I think was the date that we had originally talked about. So I would point you to what Secretary Gates said, and if there are some internal discrepancies about that then best directed toward people in the Pentagon.
I think the President strongly believes and all those that participated in the meetings agreed that the President's proposal got more troops into Afghanistan faster than any other force option that he was presented with. And that's the policy he chose.
Q But if it should extend to 11 months -- that was the end point General Rodriguez put on it -- would that still be the fastest --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I would go back and ask Secretary Gates -- I don't want to contradict testimony he gave in front of the Senate and the House, which obviously put that on a different timeline.
Q Is this disturbing to the President then, this possible extension?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President believes we should get our troops in there by the end of the summer.
Q On the meeting with the bankers, did it become clear why they haven’t been lending as much as you would like them to do?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I'll let them discuss their business practices. And I think the President believes, as you heard him say after the meeting and as you heard him say throughout the weekend, and others in the administration -- that bankers have to play a constructive role in getting our economy moving again. I think the President took some heart that the bankers themselves said that this meeting and past meetings have caused them to look more closely at things like lending. And we certainly take them at their word on that.
Q And do you feel like you have a firm commitment from them to help spur more lending to small businesses?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we have a firm commitment from them -- they all mentioned, again, ensuring that second looks would be given to loans that had been turned down. You saw again a specific announcement by Bank of America on an increased amount of lending in 2010 to small and medium-sized business.
I think the President certainly believes that one of the important areas to get our economy moving again is to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses that are creditworthy -- you heard the President say nobody wants to go back to an era where people are making loans to individuals that shouldn’t have them -- but the President's feeling, and I think it sounded like the bankers as well, was that there are certainly people that are creditworthy and need help in getting our economy unstuck through more credit.
Q One other thing. He mentioned the CitiGroup payback. Do you expect -- you said you expect more institutions to follow up. How soon should we expect that? Is something imminent from some other banks?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to get ahead of their discussions with their different regulators. I think the President is -- continues to be pleased not simply that we're getting that money back from institutions, but more importantly, that the taxpayers are seeing that come back with interest. I think that's why you saw announcements last week that the amount that the administration believes is likely necessary from TARP shrank by $200 billion from last week to where the Midsession Review was at the end of the summer.
Q A year ago the President said that he thought Wall Street bankers should forego Christmas bonuses. Largely it did not. In January he called those bonuses shameful. In March he met with a bunch of bankers, some of the same ones. And they came out and said some of the same things: We've got to have this discussion; we're going to look at some of the things the President said. Since then the President has made it very clear that he's not happy with the way things are going, that the loans are not happening. You just said we're going to take the bankers at their word. Why would you take them at their word?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can only take at what they said, Jake. What the President is going to do is continue to ensure that we're making progress. I think the President would say, if you look at what is happening with -- again, I don't want to speak broadly for every banker, but I think if you look at -- I think the President would say that when an institution decides to forego a cash bonus in lieu of increased long-term equity in the company that does invest for a four-year period of time, that that was precisely the type of solution that he was talking about earlier this year -- that if we take the short-term cash out of this system that can be much more closely rigged toward risk and instead say your compensation should be termed -- should be attached to the long-term health and growth of your company, which is good for you and taxpayers, that represents the type of progress that the President would like to see.
Again, I think the bankers all acknowledged that they have work to do on this issue. The President reiterated that, and discussed again that it wasn't, as I said earlier, it wasn't just the -- it's not just the structure; it is also the amount. I think they all should be cognizant of that.
Q At what point should the American people hold the President responsible for the fact that the banks are not doing what the President keeps telling them to do?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Jake, I want to be clear that the President doesn't want to run a bank. The President believes that the American people took some extraordinary steps to ensure their financial stability, and ultimately the larger economy's financial stability.
The President will simply -- will hear what he -- will listen to what he hears in these meetings -- and he said at the beginning he wanted to listen more than he wanted to talk, and I think that was largely the case. He opened the meeting up with about 15 minutes that I walked you through. I think we'll continue to evaluate the progress that we make, whether it is taking a second look at these loans, whether it's making a specific recommendation to increase, by $5 billion, loans to small and medium-sized business, to take compensation issues seriously; and quite frankly, maybe most importantly, the House passed on Friday a very important financial reform bill out of the House, which now goes to the Senate.
The President and his team strongly believe that there are aspects that are crucial to ensuring the type of fiasco that we had happen in September of 2008 never happens again. If as the President heard around that table today, they're broadly supportive of financial reform, I think the President was pretty clear with them that that needs to be communicated from their lobbyists to the broader Senate, so that we can get something done and to ensure that that never happens again.
Q Let's take that housing program that the President unveiled in Mesa, Arizona in February. He said it was going to help -- one specific section of it, not the Fannie/Freddie part of it -- was going to help 3 to 4 million homes, help these mortgage holders renegotiate or refinance. About 760,000 Americans have applied, and the banks have given, like, 31,000 roughly Americans are enrolled in that -- 31,000 and the President had as a goal 3 to 4 million. Now, we talked to some of the bankers out there, and they --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me get some updated statistics. I'm not entirely --
Q Those are updated.
MR. GIBBS: -- not entirely sure that those are -- that's the number of people taking place in modifications.
Q Well, I'm right. (Laughter.) So in any case, moving on, the bankers -- I got them from Psaki, so --
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q The bankers said that the problem with the program is the paperwork, there's too much paperwork.
MR. GIBBS: And I -- look, that came up in the meeting. That's why I said that there was an acknowledgment that we would -- that the President and his team would look at the paperwork requirements in streamlining these type of things. They mentioned specifically both housing modifications and SBA loans. The President -- look, the President took notes throughout the meeting. And I can assure you that he'll discuss with his team -- in the event that the housing modification program is being held back because of onerous paperwork requirements, that we'll streamline those paperwork requirements.
Q Do you think that's what it is, and not the fact that the banks don't want to loan?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't want to speak broadly for all the banks. I know the President's position is it is far more preferable to keep somebody in a house and to figure out the best way for them to ultimately meet, through a modification, their mortgage and their loan requirements; that that is far preferable in any economic situation. Quite frankly, it's more beneficial for banks to have somebody paying that loan than to have a house that they can't put anybody in.
Again, we will work with anybody in terms of streamlining the number -- the paperwork requirements if there are those that believe that's the onerous part of this program.
Again, the President was very clear in that, again, housing was one of the main things that he wanted to discuss. Obviously there are some banks in there that don't do mortgages, but certainly there were some in there that do.
Q I guess I just wonder if there are citizens watching this and they see the President for the last year say he's going to give stern talk, going to give tough talk to bankers; meanwhile, taxpayers are giving them hundreds of billions of dollars, and nothing changes. The housing modification program is only helping 31,000 Americans, not the 3 to 4 million. What do you say to Americans who say this just seems like kabuki theater, this --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say that the President didn't have this meeting on accident. The President is as frustrated as the American people are. I think you heard -- I don't know if you guys use video from other networks -- I think the tone and the tenor of his remarks in the interview that we taped last week and that was broadcast yesterday night -- last evening -- was pretty clear. I don't think the President minced words.
I think the President is serious and frustrated, on behalf of the American people, that, as we have all said, the taxpayers ensured the financial stability of many of the people that were in that room and that we should expect that those banks do the same in being part of a positive economic recovery that helps people stay in their homes, which loosens credit for medium and small businesses, which addresses egregious executive comp issues -- and again, maybe the most pressing legislative issue doesn't stand in the way of very important financial regulatory reform.
Again, they all said that. The President was clear. If that's what you believe, it should be communicated from those that represent your interests on Capitol Hill.
Q When you talk about the tone and tenor of the comments of "60 Minutes" where he called the bankers "fat cats," he said they don't get it -- then you come out today and say the President feels the meeting was constructive, it was positive. Were those comments on "60 Minutes" more about beating his chest and kind of tapping a populist rage, or does he want to hold the bankers accountable?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the President -- the President was clear. Ed, we could -- I don't think that begins to enumerate the President's frustration. And I think you could be --
Q But then where's his frustration today? You're saying it was positive, constructive; bankers came out, positive, constructive.
MR. GIBBS: I think the meeting was positive. I think the President -- positive in the sense that the President laid out and enumerated quite specifically the concerns that he directly had on four areas. I think the President said the meeting was also quite frank. The President didn’t hand out awards.
The President talked directly to each and every one of those members about the need to increase lending to small and medium-sized businesses. The President talked directly about increasing the volume of loan modifications to keep people in their homes. The President discussed quite clearly the very real concerns that he has and he enumerated last evening, and has for quite some time, about executive compensation -- which is why a say-on-pay is in the financial reform legislation that passed the House last Friday, which the President believes in very important.
And finally, again largely -- the larger issue of financial regulatory reform, ensuring that steps are in place that make sure what we dealt with which required this extraordinary response from taxpayers never happens again. That is one of the single most important things that we can do going forward, again, to ensure that we're never in this position again.
Q Another financial issue -- the Senate just passed the $447 billion omnibus spending bill, and it's got thousands of earmarks, more than 5,000 earmarks; double-digit increases for various Cabinet departments. Is the President contemplating vetoing this to send a signal to his fellow Democrats that it's time to cut the spending?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I've not talked specifically with the President about whether he's going to sign the bill or not. I think the likelihood is that keeping the government running is an important thing. I think you see within the legislation that there are -- the number of earmarks is down. We've made progress on that. There's no doubt we've still got a long way to go, but I think one of the goals obviously is to keep the government functioning.
Q When he signed the omnibus in March he called -- and you called it here last year's business that was left over, and he said it was a "departure point for more far-reaching change."
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say that again.
Q He said that there was a departure point, that omnibus, all of the spending that was left over from the Bush years, was a departure point for real change. So where's the change? I mean, now that Democrats have their chance to govern --
MR. GIBBS: No, I just mentioned that we have seen a decrease by almost 15 percent in the number of earmarks. Again -- and it's not perfect. The President will continue to make and try to make progress on those issues. The President would like to see Congress get to the point where we're doing appropriations bills, not omnibus bills.
Q Would a veto bring that kind of change?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can certainly talk to him about it. I think right now that the --
Q He's going to sign it, right?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I haven't talked to him specifically. That's where I'm led to believe, yes.
Q But he's encouraged by the decrease in --
MR. GIBBS: He's glad we're not doing -- we don't have the same levels as we had in there before, yes.
Q Why didn't the President get a firm commitment from the banks? He got, I assume, smiles and, yes, we agree -- when he gave all this taxpayer money to them? And why did he have to identify the problem on the small loans?
MR. GIBBS: Helen, again, the TARP plan, the piece of legislation, is something that -- the requirements of that legislation this President is bound by, passed in a different time. The President believes -- I think clearly, and as I've restated here -- that banks have an obligation to take responsibility for what was caused for their role in that, and to step up to the plate now and be part of positive economic reform and positive economic recovery.
Q Well, why aren't they giving these loans? I mean, what is their problem? Paperwork -- that doesn't --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, that's what the President wanted to push on. That's why the President had them down, and I think that's why you see when they come out and talk about taking different -- taking more looks at these loans, some banks lending out -- and not just Bank of America, but others in previous weeks have talked about specific amounts that they see in the next year that can be lent to small and medium businesses. I think the --
Q So he's convinced now that --
MR. GIBBS: I think the President believes that's a positive step. Again, the President will continue to -- this is -- this wasn't the first meeting, this is at least the second meeting that has been had.
Q But why does he have to tell the bankers what the problem was?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry?
Q Why did he have to convince the bankers that they weren't giving loans?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- I don't know why he had to do that, but the President was happy to let them know what their responsibilities are.
Q It sill doesn't sound like he got any kind of commitment for greater loans to small businesses.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I will let them make their own individual announcements.
Q They all had media training, they get out there and babbled and said nothing. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm supposed to respond to their media training? I appreciate the opportunity to --
Q I'm asking you whether they made a commitment to the President.
MR. GIBBS: They made a commitment to, again, take second looks, to hire more people to process loans -- which, in many cases, they've done -- again, to take those second looks. And I've already mentioned at least one today and others in the previous couple of weeks that have announced a greater commitment in the next year in their financial plan to small business loans.
Q You made quite a point of one -- of the foregoing of cash for stock, but that's only one institution.
MR. GIBBS: Look, Bill, did all the world's problems get solved today? I can tell you guys, no. The President believes, again, that this isn’t going to be solved overnight. We didn't get into the problem that caused a financial collapse in September of 2008 by something that happened earlier in September of 2008. This was going on for quite sometime, making loans to people that should never have had loans. That's why the President has put in financial reform and called for a very strong consumer protection agency, the likes of which right now the responsibility is spread out over 10 to 12 different agencies to ensure that people aren't taken advantage of in terms of teaser loans.
Q Did they say that they'd call off the dogs lobbying against financial reform?
MR. GIBBS: The President mentioned to them on several occasions that he appreciated that all of them around the table were able to tell the President of the United States they supported financial reform. What he expected them to do was now go tell their lobbyists, and to go tell the agencies and groups that they helped fund that they just told the President they're for financial reform.
I can assure you this, Bill, the President is going to get financial reform. It's through the House. He will see it through the Senate. And we will lay the framework for ensuring that the type of thing that the taxpayers had to make up for as a result of risk-taking that culminated in what happened in September of 2008, that that never happens again. That's what the President will do.
Q Robert, given the President's displeasure with lobbyists, would he be willing to issue a moratorium on political contributions from the financial services industry for himself and encourage fellow Democrats to do the same?
MR. GIBBS: We don't take contributions from lobbyists.
Q I'm not talking about lobbyists, I'm talking directly from the financial service companies, their executives --
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, I thought you said lobbyists.
Q Well, I mean, that was the predicate, but just from the companies.
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to the President about that. Again, I think the President was -- has been pretty clear both in how he financed his campaign in 2008 -- we don't take money from political action committees. The President didn't take money from registered federal lobbyists. When he became the nominee, the DNC didn't do that either.
Q Could he go even further and shun all contributions from Wall Street, and encourage his fellow Democrats --
MR. GIBBS: I think -- well, look, it's not -- I think the people that are taking contributions -- most of the people that seem to be taking contributions are the lobbyists that are standing in the way of financial reform. I read -- what was it I read last week, that hundreds of lobbyists were called to Capitol Hill to put the quash by the Republicans on financial reform? That's a great question. The next time there's a "Today Show" exclusive with Michael Steele like this morning, it's a good question to pose to him. (Laughter.)
Q But the President could set an example.
MR. GIBBS: He did. He doesn't take money from lobbyists. He doesn't take money from PACs.
Q Okay, the last thing. Is there something inconsistent or incongruous at all about the fact that the President is encouraging more lending, banks are reluctant, not -- they're concerned about the creditworthiness of these small businesses or these individuals, considering the loose lending practices that led us to this crisis?
MR. GIBBS: Look, the President I think was clear in the statement that he made after the meeting and he was clear in the meeting. We're not looking for -- the solution to this problem is not to give out loans to people that can't pay them back. That's in many ways what got us into the problem that we're dealing with, certainly on the home side, and on credit cards as well.
What the President gets in talking with people and in the letters that he reads each day are millions -- not millions -- dozens and dozens of letters that I assume represent millions of people -- small businesses that tell the President that they've always been able to get a loan, that they're creditworthy and that they ought to be able to now get a loan even as the economy starts to make progress.
I think what he wanted to do was to ensure that bankers heard that message on behalf of the small business owners throughout this country, some of whom used to be able to get loans and now can't.
But, Savannah, there's no doubt that -- the President does not wish to meet the irresponsibility of what led us into that with future irresponsibility with giving loans to people either to pay credit card debt, to buy a house, or any other type of loan of which they don't have the wherewithal to pay back. That doesn’t make sense for the economy, it doesn’t make sense, quite frankly, for anybody taking those loans, and it doesn’t make sense for anybody.
Q But he's met for an hour except to jawbone them. I mean, he can't force them to do anything when they're not under TARP, so all you can do is jawbone. What does that get?
MR. GIBBS: Well, it gets specific amounts that banks say they're going to lend small businesses next year. I think $5 billion is -- we will watch them to ensure that they come through in their commitment. That's something I think the President would believe is important. I think when somebody -- when one of the bankers says to the President that you caused us all to have to take a look at how we lend money and who we lend money to, the President thinks that's a positive thing.
Q So does President Obama now believe that these banking executives get it, when he said on "60 Minutes" that they didn’t?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President, again, believes that the meeting was positive, that it was constructive. The important thing is not what somebody says in a meeting but the actions that follow, and that's what the President --
Q So it remains to be seen whether they get it?
MR. GIBBS: Well, the President will evaluate their actions going forward.
Q One on one other subject, how big an increase in the debt limit does the President want?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen what has been specifically called for. I can certainly get from Legislative Affairs if there's more information on it.
Q Robert, you said the President doesn’t want to run banks, but did he in this meeting talk specifically about some increase in loans, whether by percentage or by a certain deadline? Did he set any benchmarks?
MR. GIBBS: Look, I think it's important that the President -- the President doesn’t also want to be the loan officer either. I think each of these institutions understands -- or should understand from the President what increased lending means. But the President did not lay out a specific benchmark.
Q Are there any legal or regulatory remedies for the White House in case, down the road, you're just not satisfied with the improvement in loans?
MR. GIBBS: I'd certainly have to talk to the lawyers and stuff about that. I don't know on the lending side. Obviously there are specific legal things that we think can be done on financial reform that the President is in the process of getting through Capitol Hill.
Q Just a minor question about the President's -- the President in his meetings, you mentioned he took notes throughout. What formal way -- are there not note-takers in the meetings who then maybe put these discussions in a memo that goes to the President?
MR. GIBBS: Oh, no, there's -- there were at least four of us that were sitting -- were not sitting at the table, all taking copious notes, from NEC, from Treasury, from OPE, and as well as the President, along with Secretary Geithner, Larry Summers, Dr. Romer. I don't doubt that there's a long list of what was talked about in very specific terms.
Q Robert, why does the President believe the banks haven't been lending?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think that's what he wanted to hear from them.
Q Did he give you a conclusion on that?
MR. GIBBS: Say again?
Q Did he give a conclusion on that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't think he's -- I think there's probably a number of different things. What he hears certainly from some is that -- what was mentioned before, capital requirements, which -- look, I think the President understands, again, we have to take steps to ensure that what happened never happens again. But I think the President also believes that the letters that he gets -- they're certainly people that -- people that have traditionally gotten those loans before that ought to be -- that ought to have the same access to the capital that they had when all they've done is play by the rules.
Q In other rules, capital requirements is not a sufficient explanation?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think in and of itself, no.
Q Is the words from regulators that it's important to have very strong, very defensible loans on your books now a sufficient explanation?
MR. GIBBS: Again, Major, I don't make --
Q That's what the bankers cited to us outside --
MR. GIBBS: Look, I don't think he --
Q -- and I want to know if the President evaluates that as a reasonable explanation.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I don't think the President -- the President certainly does not want to see coming from this meeting a series of loans to people that can't pay them back. I think what the President strongly believes is the letters that he gets and the discussions that he had with small business owners, that there is some happy medium that can be reached where you meet your capital requirements, where you're making loans to those that have strong credit histories; yet at the same time there are those that can and should be getting loans that for whatever reason they're not. And that was the purpose of -- one of the purposes, as I said, of today's meeting.
Q Is the recession over?
MR. GIBBS: According to who?
Q Your economic advisors.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think if you look at -- look, there's -- there's a technical --
Q Dr. Romer said no; Larry Summers said yes.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, Dr. Romer said: You know the official definition that talks about just when do you turn the corner, when do you go from plummeting to finally starting to go back up? I think we have at least in terms of GDP reached that point. Then she went on to say: What I think the President said, and what I firmly believe, we've not -- we're not recovered until all those people that want to work are back at work.
Christy would know, because she sat on the board before coming to the administration, which as you know dates the official beginning and end to economic downturns.
So what Christy talked about in this answer was there are -- and I think what any economist -- I'm sure there are many on your network that would tell you it's likely the next time this board meets that they'll affix a date to the end of a recession from a statistical economic viewpoint that they're charged to do. In the President's mind, in Dr. Romer's mind, in Dr. Summers' mind, has all that needs to happen happened in order for the American people to bask in the glow of recovery? Obviously not. That's why Dr. Romer, Dr. Summers, and others followed up both of those questions by discussing what the administration was doing directly in order to address the job situation.
I think it's safe to say that if we believed all was good in America, we wouldn't be talking about increased ways to bring about an environment for the private sector to begin hiring more.
Q The Senate has now said that it would like to expand access to Medicare of those aged 55 and above. That is an alternative approach that the House is taking. Which does the President think is better?
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, say it one more time.
Q The Senate bill on health care wants to provide access to those on Medicare down to age 55. That is a different -- different approach to expanding coverage under the rubric of public option than the House has taken. Which of these two approaches does the President believe is better?
MR. GIBBS: I'm --
Q Does he have an opinion? If not, why not?
MR. GIBBS: What the President wants to do is see the process through the Senate, continue to make progress, and that's what the administration is working toward.
Q But I mean, that's a rather large systemic change to Medicare, and many budget analysts who are not opposed to health care reform as principle, have said this is --
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me interrupt --
Q -- a potentially large financial --
MR. GIBBS: -- because I don't want to get ahead of the CBO, because I know the CBO is working on just that, just as the CBO had told you all before that legislation bends the cost curve, that legislation would slow the growth rate in health care spending, that health care legislation wouldn’t add to the deficit, but it would in fact help our fiscal situation. And you've seen the CBO talk about the extended life to the Medicare trust fund that legislation that the Senate is currently debating would have in terms of the specific policy. Again, that's what the CBO is evaluating, and I think many on Capitol Hill await what they have to say.
Q Is the White House agnostic on which approach to a public option is better?
MR. GIBBS: The President is not agnostic to continue to making progress on health care reform and we're trying to get it through the Senate.
Q Thanks, Robert. A quick question on compensation. You phrased it that the bank executives acknowledged they have a problem with compensation. How did the President understand that? That these bank executives haven't come up with an effective way to pay their people, or --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no. I'm sorry --
Q -- is it a public perception?
MR. GIBBS: They understand that given what the taxpayers have done, the extraordinary steps that they've taken, that compensation in that environment is out of step with any notion of common sense. That's what the President has talked about before, and that's what the President reiterated -- again, not just in structure -- the President was clear and picked up on what another of the bankers said. It wasn't -- it's not just about ensuring that there is -- that any compensation should be more directly tied to long-term equity versus short-term cash, but you have to make a strong evaluation about the sheer level and size of your compensation in the environment in which we exist.
Q And so the President believes that the bankers understand that it's beyond just a public perception they have -- they believe they have a problem with their compensation systems, right?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes. And I think -- again, I think there are those that are taking steps -- again, this is something that we'll be able to -- as they institute different types of reforms, we'll be able to evaluate whether they adopt say-on-pay. Again, that's part of financial reform that's moving its way through Capitol Hill. Again, whether they're tying much more of their compensation, again, to long-term equity that does invest immediately instead of to short-term cash.
Q Robert, is there any concern about a shift in leverage from Washington back to the banks now that so many of them are exiting the TARP?
MR. GIBBS: Leverage, how so?
Q Well, we couldn't get them to free up lending back when we were bailing them out with money. How are we going to do that now that they're not so dependent on the TARP?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think -- I think they are dependent upon -- they have been dependent upon the goodwill of the American people, and the President wanted to voice his concern and frustration with inability to match what the people and the public had done with what their actions are. I think that the bully pulpit can be a powerful thing.
Q So that's it? That's pretty much that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, the next time the President jawbones you, you'll I guess get the same feeling that they have. I don't know if he'll do it in quite the form he did it on "60 Minutes," but I think the President -- I think the American people understand that the President was clear.
Q Can I ask about Copenhagen, Robert? Three days now from when the President is going to be flying out there. By all accounts, most of the major issues are still outstanding. There was a boycott today led by developing countries. Is there going to be something for him to sign when he gets there?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the President is committed to pursuing an accord that requires countries to take meaningful steps to address the climate change problem. I don't think there's any doubt that there are still -- there will be issues left to resolve when he lands -- that developing nations are going to have to do their part; they're going to have to recognize the part that they have to do; that we have worked strongly and diplomatically to bring countries like India and China along to the point where it's possible to get some type of agreement; that the President will continue to work throughout this week to see -- to make sure that that happens.
But there's no doubt there are issues that will remain outstanding for quite some time.
Q Is he working -- you said he'll work this week. Is he working the phones on this?
MR. GIBBS: He has made at least one call this morning and I think will wrap up some this afternoon, and we'll give you guys a readout. We'll get some of that later on today.
Q Specifically on Copenhagen -- we'd be interested in knowing who he's called -- but Prime Minister Gordon Brown apparently is flying in there two days early to try and take a more personal role in the negotiations. Any thought given to that here?
MR. GIBBS: I think when the President picks up the phone and calls world leaders, I would define that as personally involved.
Q Robert, has the President picked up the phone and called Joe Lieberman about health care reform?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q Would he consider that? Is the report true that's published on Politico that the White House is encouraging Senator Reid to sit down and make a deal with Lieberman and give up on the Medicare expansion?
MR. GIBBS: I can only say this, Ann: The President is anxious to see progress and will continue to work with Democrats and Republicans --
Q And independents.
MR. GIBBS: -- and independents, and everyone in between to make that progress, to take those steps.
Q Is this a serious problem with Senator Lieberman? Would the President get involved?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Ann, the President has been involved. We wouldn't be -- we wouldn't be sitting here, the 14th of December, when you'd much rather be Christmas shopping, discussing the Senate being in on the weekends if the President wasn't involved. The President has been involved the whole time.
Q Robert, merry Christmas, merry Christmas. One -- just two.
MR. GIBBS: Merry and Mara somewhat rhyme, so I'm going to go with Mara real fast.
Q Thank you. I have a quick question on health care and then one on banks. What day did he record "60 Minutes"?
MR. GIBBS: I think that would have been a week ago, so it would be last Monday.
Q Okay, Monday. So on Monday, he was very -- or he expressed optimism that it would be passed by Christmas, health care. This weekend we heard some crucial senators like Lieberman and Nelson saying that they couldn't vote for it, even this latest compromise. I'm wondering, was that an expression of just general kind of failure-is-not-an-option optimism, or did he know something that we don't know --
MR. GIBBS: Look -- no, he hasn't changed his view. And, look, we've heard causes and concerns for months. The President still believes the Senate is going to act.
Q Does he believe -- just to follow up on Ed, does he believe that Lieberman is negotiating in good faith or that he is just being a spoiler?
MR. GIBBS: I haven't asked him specifically about that. I don't know why the President would try to get into the head and speak for the motivations of somebody in any political party. I think the President believes that it's incumbent upon all of those in the executive and the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to address the concerns of the American people.
We know that they're struggling with the high costs and the rising costs of health insurance; that we have to do something about affordability and something about insurance reform. That's what the President believes the Senate is involved in right now.
Q Wait -- to follow up Ed and Helene's question about what kind of leverage he has, you said the bully pulpit can be a powerful thing. What results do you feel he's gotten so far with the use of the bully pulpit admonishing the banks? Because he's used it quite a bit.
MR. GIBBS: Financial reform through the House of Representatives.
Q Well, in terms of lending, I mean.
MR. GIBBS: Well, if we thought all was good with lending we wouldn't have had the meeting today.
Q I know, but I mean --
MR. GIBBS: The President heard from bankers today. They heard directly his concern about lending. And we'll evaluate going forward whether their acknowledgement that more can be done, that their acknowledgement that the President's meetings themselves have caused them to look more closely at their lending practices.
Q And if they don't, what happens next?
MR. GIBBS: Well, we'll evaluate that and ensure that steps are being taken in order to make sure that creditworthy businesses, small and medium-size, are getting access to the capital that they need to grow, to make their payrolls, and to see our economy through this dark night and into longer economic recovery.
2:29 P.M. EST
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