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PRESS RELEASE: Remarks by the President in a Press Conference

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THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

For ImmediateRelease                                                             December19, 2012

 

 

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

IN A PRESS CONFERENCE

 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

 

 

 

12:02P.M. EST

 

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  It’s now been five dayssince the heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut; three days since wegathered as a nation to pray for the victims. And today, a few more of the 20small children and six educators who were taken from us will be laid to rest.

 

We may never know all the reasons why this tragedyhappened. We do know that every day since, more Americans have died of gunviolence.  We know such violence has terrible consequences for oursociety.  And if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any ofthese events, we have a deep obligation -- all of us -- to try.

 

Over these past five days, a discussion has reemerged asto what we might do not only to deter mass shootings in the future, but toreduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every singleday.  And it’s encouraging that people of all different backgrounds andbeliefs and political persuasions have been willing to challenge some oldassumptions and change longstanding positions. 

 

That conversation has to continue.  But this time,the words need to lead to action.

 

We know this is a complex issue that stirs deeply heldpassions and political divides.  And as I said on Sunday night, there’s nolaw or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence in oursociety.  We’re going to need to work on making access to mental healthcare at least as easy as access to a gun.  We’re going to need to lookmore closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence. And any actions we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.

 

But the fact that this problem is complex can no longerbe an excuse for doing nothing.  The fact that we can’t prevent every actof violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce the violence, and prevent thevery worst violence.

 

That’s why I’ve asked the Vice President to lead aneffort that includes members of my Cabinet and outside organizations to come upwith a set of concrete proposals no later than January -- proposals that I thenintend to push without delay.  This is not some Washingtoncommission.  This is not something where folks are going to be studyingthe issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushedaside.  This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull togetherreal reforms right now.  I asked Joe to lead this effort in part becausehe wrote the 1994 Crime Bill that helped law enforcement bring down the rate ofviolent crime in this country.  That plan -- that bill also included theassault weapons ban that was publicly supported at the time by formerPresidents including Ronald Reagan. 

 

The good news is there’s already a growing consensus forus to build from.  A majority of Americans support banning the sale ofmilitary-style assault weapons.  A majority of Americans support banningthe sale of high-capacity ammunition clips.  A majority of Americanssupport laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so thatcriminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody whowon’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all. 

 

I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these measuresnext year in a timely manner.  And considering Congress hasn’t confirmed adirector of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in six years -- theagency that works most closely with state and local law enforcement to keepillegal guns out of the hands of criminals -- I’d suggest that they make this apriority early in the year.

 

Look, like the majority of Americans, I believe that theSecond Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms.  Thiscountry has a strong tradition of gun ownership that’s been handed down fromgeneration to generation.  Obviously across the country there are regionaldifferences.  There are differences between how people feel in urban areasand rural areas.  And the fact is the vast majority of gun owners inAmerica are responsible -- they buy their guns legally and they use themsafely, whether for hunting or sport shooting, collection or protection.  

 

But you know what, I am also betting that the majority --the vast majority -- of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would be some ofthe first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breakingfew from buying a weapon of war.  I’m willing to bet that they don’t thinkthat using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas -- that anunbalanced man shouldn’t be able to get his hands on a military-style assaultrifle so easily; that in this age of technology, we should be able to checksomeone’s criminal records before he or she can check out at a gun show; thatif we work harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, therewould be fewer atrocities like the one in Newtown -- or any of the lesser-knowntragedies that visit small towns and big cities all across America every day.

 

Since Friday morning, a police officer was gunned down inMemphis, leaving four children without their mother.  Two officers werekilled outside a grocery store in Topeka.  A woman was shot and killedinside a Las Vegas casino.  Three people were shot inside an Alabamahospital.  A four-year-old was caught in a drive-by in Missouri, and takenoff life support just yesterday. Each one of these Americans was a victim ofthe everyday gun violence that takes the lives of more than 10,000 Americansevery year -- violence that we cannot accept as routine.

 

So I will use all the powers of this office to helpadvance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.  We won’tprevent them all -- but that can’t be an excuse not to try.  It won’t beeasy -- but that can't be an excuse not to try. 

 

And I'm not going to be able to do it by myself.  Ultimatelyif this effort is to succeed it’s going to require the help of the Americanpeople -- it’s going to require all of you.  If we're going to changethings, it’s going to take a wave of Americans -- mothers and fathers,daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals --and, yes, gun owners -- standing up and saying “enough” on behalf of ourkids. 

 

It will take commitment and compromise, and most of all,it will take courage.  But if those of us who were sent here to serve thepublic trust can summon even one tiny iota of the courage those teachers, thatprincipal in Newtown summoned on Friday -- if cooperation and common senseprevail -- then I’m convinced we can make a sensible, intelligent way to makethe United States of America a safer, stronger place for our children to learnand to grow. 

 

Thank you.  And now I'm going to let the VicePresident go and I'm going to take a few questions.  And I will start withBen Feller.

 

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I'dlike to ask you about the other serious issue consuming this town right now,the fiscal cliff.

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Right.

 

Q    Haven’t you betrayed some of thevoters who supported you in the election by changing your positions on whoshould get a tax increase and by including Social Security benefits now in thismix?  And more broadly, there seems to be a deepening sense thatnegotiations aren't going very well right now.  Can you give us a candidupdate?  Are we likely to go over the cliff?

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, there's no reason why we should. Remember what I said during the campaign.  I thought that it was importantfor us to reduce our deficit in a balanced and responsible way.  I said itwas important for us to make sure that millionaires and billionaires paid theirfair share.  I said that we were going to have to make some tough cuts,some tough decisions on the spending side, but what I wouldn't do was hurtvulnerable families only to pay for a tax cut for somebody like me.  Andwhat I said was that the ultimate package would involve a balance of spendingcuts and tax increases. 

 

That's exactly what I've put forward.  What I'vesaid is, is that in order to arrive at a compromise, I am prepared to do somevery tough things -- some things that some Democrats don't want to see andprobably there are a few Republicans who don't want to see either.  Butthe only way that we're going to be able to stabilize the economy, make surewe've got a platform for long-term economic growth, that we get our deficitsunder control and we make sure that middle-class families are protected is ifwe come up with something that members of both parties in Congress cansupport. 

 

And that's the plan that I've put forward.  I havegone at least halfway in meeting some of the Republicans' concerns, recognizingthat even though we campaigned on these issues, even though the majority ofAmericans agree with me that we should be raising taxes on the wealthiest fewas a means of reducing the deficit, I have also said that I'm willing toidentify some spending cuts that make sense.

 

And, frankly, up until about a couple of days ago, if youlooked at it, the Republicans in the House and Speaker Boehner I think were ina position to say, we've gotten a fair deal.  The fact that they haven'ttaken it yet is puzzling and I think a question that you're going to have toaddress to them. 

 

I remain optimistic, though, because if you look at whatthe Speaker has proposed, he's conceded that income tax rates should go up --except right now he only wants to have them go up for millionaires.  Ifyou're making $900,000, somehow he thinks that you can't afford to pay a littlemore in taxes.  But the principle that rates are going to need to go uphe's conceded.

 

I've said I'm willing to make some cuts.  Whatseparates us is probably a few hundred billion dollars.  The idea that wewould put our economy at risk because you can't bridge that gap doesn’t make alot of sense. 

 

So I'm going to continue to talk to the Speaker and theother leaders up in Congress.  But, ultimately, they've got to do theirjob.  Right now their job is to make sure that middle-class taxes do notgo up and that we have a balanced, responsible package of deficit reduction.

 

It is there for all to see.  It is a deal that canget done. But it is not going to be -- it cannot be done if every side wants100 percent.  And part of what voters were looking for is some compromiseup here.  That’s what folks want.  They understand that they're notgoing to get 100 percent of what they want.  And for some reason, thatmessage has not yet taken up on Capitol Hill.

 

And when you think about what we've gone through over thelast couple of months -- a devastating hurricane, and now one of the worsttragedies in our memory -- the country deserves folks to be willing tocompromise on behalf of the greater good, and not tangle themselves up in awhole bunch of ideological positions that don’t make much sense.

 

So I remain not only open to conversations, but I remaineager to get something done.  I'd like to get it done beforeChristmas.  There's been a lot of posturing up on Capitol Hill, instead ofjust going ahead and getting stuff done.  And we've been wasting a lot oftime.  It is the right thing to do.  I'm prepared to get itdone.  But they're going to have to go ahead and make some adjustments.

 

And I'll just give you one other example.  TheSpeaker now is proposing what he calls plan B.  So he says, well, thiswould raise taxes only on folks making a million dollars or more.  Whatthat means is an average of a $50,000 tax break for every millionaire outthere, at the same time as we're not providing unemployment insurance for 2million people who are still out there looking for work.  It actuallymeans a tax increase for millions of working families across the country at thesame time as folks like me would be getting a tax break.  That violatesthe core principles that were debated during the course of this election andthat the American people determined was the wrong way to go. 

 

    And so my hope is, is that the Speaker and his caucus, in conjunction with theother legislative leaders up there, can find a way to make sure thatmiddle-class families don’t see their taxes go up on January 1st; that we makesure that those things that middle-class families count on like tax credits forcollege, or making sure that they’re getting some help when it comes to raisingtheir kids through things like the child tax credit, that that gets done; andthat we have a balanced package for deficit reduction, which is exactly whatI’ve put forward.

 

    Q    Will you give more ground if you need to, or are you done?

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  If you look at the package that I put forward, it is abalanced package by any definition.  We have put forward real cuts inspending that are hard to do, in every category.  And by any measure, byany traditional calculation, by the measures that Republicans themselves haveused in the past, this would be as large a piece of deficit reduction as we’veseen in the last 20 years.  And if you combine that with the increasedrevenue from the wealthy paying a little bit more, then you actually havesomething that would stabilize our deficit and debt for a decade -- for 10years. 

 

Now, the notion that we would not do that, but insteadthe Speaker would run a play that keeps tax cuts for folks making $500,000 or$700,000 or $800,000 or $900,000 a year, and gives more tax breaks tomillionaires and billionaires, and raises taxes on middle-class families, andthen has no cuts in it -- which is what he says he wants -- doesn’t make muchsense.

 

    I mean, let’s just think about the logic for a second.  They’re thinkingabout voting for raising taxes at least on folks over a million, which they saythey don’t want to do, but they’re going to reject spending cuts that they saythey do want to do.  That defies logic.  There’s no explanation forthat. 

 

I think that any objective person out there looking wouldsay that we’ve put forward a very balanced plan and it’s time for us to goahead and get it done.  That’s what the country needs right now. Because I think folks have been through some wrenching times, we’re stillrecovering from a very tough recession, and what they’re hoping for is a senseof stability, focus, compromise, common sense over the next couple ofyears.  And I think we can provide it.  But this is a good test forthem.

 

    Carol Lee.

 

    Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Just to follow on Ben'squestion, what is your next move?  Are we in a position now where you'rejust waiting for the Speaker to make a move?

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I'm going to reach out to all the leaders involvedover the next couple of days and find out what is it that's holding this thingup.  What is holding it up?  If the argument from Republicans is wehaven't done enough spending cuts, that argument is not going to fly becausewe've got close to a trillion dollars of spending cuts.  And when you addinterest, then it's more than a trillion dollars in spending cuts. 

 

    If the argument is that they can't do -- they can't increase tax rates on folksmaking $700,000 or $800,000 a year, that's not a persuasive argument to me andit's certainly not a persuasive argument to the American people. 

 

It may be that members of their caucus haven't looked atexactly what we've proposed.  It may be that if we provide moreinformation or there's greater specificity or we work through some of theirconcerns, that we can get some movement then. 

 

But the fact of the matter is, is that what would violatemy commitment to voters is if I ended up agreeing to a plan that put more ofthe burden on middle-class families and less of a burden on the wealthy in aneffort to reduce our deficit.  That's not something I'm going to do. What would violate my commitment to voters would be to put forward a plan thatmakes it harder for young people to go to college, that makes it harder for afamily with a disabled kid to care for that kid. 

 

And there's a threshold that you reach where the balancetips, even in making compromises that are required to get something done inthis town, where you are hurting people in order to give another advantage tofolks who don't need help.  And we had an extensive debate about this fora year.  And not only does the majority of the American people agree withme, about half of Republican voters agree with me on this. 

 

So at some point, there's got to be I think a recognitionon the part of my Republican friends that -- take the deal.  They will beable to claim that they have worked with me over the last two years to reducethe deficit more than any other deficit reduction package; that we will havestabilized it for 10 years. That is a significant achievement for them. They should be proud of it.  But they keep on finding ways to say no, asopposed to finding ways to say yes. 

 

And I don’t know how much of that just has to do with --it is very hard for them to say yes to me.  But at some point, they’ve gotto take me out of it and think about their voters, and think about what’s bestfor the country.  And if they do that -- if they’re not worried aboutwho’s winning and who’s losing, did they score a point on the President, didthey extract that last little concession, did they force him to do something hereally doesn’t want to do just for the heck of it, and they focus on actuallywhat’s good for the country, I actually think we can get this done.

 

    Q    You mentioned the $700,000 and $800,000.  Are youwilling to move on income level and are there specific things that you would do--

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  I’m not going to get into specific negotiationshere.  My point is simple, Carol, that if you look at Speaker Boehner’sproposal and you look at my proposal, they’re actually pretty close.  Theykeep on saying that somehow we haven’t put forward real spending cuts. Actually, there was I think a graph in The New York Times today that showed --they’re the same categories, right?  There’s a little bit of tweaks here andthere; there are a few differences, but we’re right there. 

 

    And on the revenue side, there’s a difference in terms of them wanting topreserve tax breaks for folks between $250,000 and a million that we just can’tafford.  I mean, keep in mind I’m in that income category; I’d love to notpay as much in taxes.  But I also think it’s the right thing to do for usto make sure that people who have less -- people who are working, people whoare striving, people who are hoping for their kids -- that they haveopportunity.  That’s what we campaigned about.  That’s what we talkedabout. 

 

    And this is not a situation where I’m unwilling to compromise.  This isnot a situation where I’m trying to rub their face in anything.  I thinkanybody who looks at this objectively would say that coming off my election, Ihave met them at least halfway in order to get something done for thecountry. 

 

    And so I noticed that there were a couple of headlines out there saying, oh,we’re now in the land of political posturing, and it’s the usual he said-hesaid atmosphere.  But look at the facts.  Look at where we started;look at where they started.  My proposal is right there in themiddle. 

 

We should be able to get this done.  Let’s get itdone.  We don’t have a lot of time.

 

    Carrie.  Where’s -- there you are. 

 

    Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

 

    Q    What is your level of confidence that if you are able toreach a comprehensive deal with the Speaker, that he will be able to bring hismembers onboard and get it passed?  Essentially, do you still trustSpeaker Boehner in this process?

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  There is no doubt that the Speaker has challenges in hiscaucus, and I recognize that.  I’m often reminded when I speak to theRepublican leadership that the majority of their caucus’s membership come fromdistricts that I lost.  And so sometimes they may not see an incentive incooperating with me, in part because they’re more concerned about challengesfrom a tea party candidate, or challenges from the right, and cooperating withme may make them vulnerable.  I recognize that.

 

    But, goodness, if this past week has done anything, it should just give us someperspective.  If there’s one thing we should have after this week, itshould be a sense of perspective about what’s important.  And I would liketo think that members of that caucus would say to themselves:  You knowwhat, we disagree with the President on a whole bunch of things.  We wishthe other guy had won.  We’re going to fight him on a whole range ofissues over the next four years.  We think his philosophy is all screwedup.  But right now, what the country needs is for us to compromise, get adeficit reduction deal in place; make sure middle class taxes don’t go up; makesure that we’re laying the foundations for growth; give certainty to businesseslarge and small; not put ourselves through some sort of self-inflicted crisisevery six months; allow ourselves time to focus on things like preventing thetragedy in Newtown from happening again; focus on issues like energy andimmigration reform and all the things that will really make a determination asto whether our country grows over the next four years, 10 years, 40 years. 

 

And if you just pull back from the immediate politicalbattles, if you kind of peel off the partisan war paint, then we should be ableto get something done. 

 

And I think the Speaker would like to get thatdone.  I think an environment needs to be created within not just theHouse Republican caucus, but also among Senate Republicans that say, thecampaign is over and let’s see if we can do what’s right for the country -- atleast for the next month.  And then we can reengage in all the other battlesthat they’ll want to fight.

 

    Q    If you don’t get it done, Republicans have said they’ll tryto use the debt limit as a next pressure point.  Would you negotiate withthem in that context?

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  No.  And I’ve been very clear about this.  Thisis the United States of America, the greatest country on Earth, the world’seconomic superpower.  And the idea that we lurch from crisis to crisis,and every six months, or every nine months, that we threaten not to pay ourbills on stuff we’ve already bought, and default, and ruin the full faith andcredit of the United States of America -- that’s not how you run a greatcountry. 

 

So I’ve put forward a very clear principle:  I willnot negotiate around the debt ceiling.  We’re not going to play the samegame that we saw happen in 2011 -- which was hugely destructive; hurt oureconomy; provided more uncertainty to the business community than anything elsethat happened. 

 

And I'm not alone in this.  If you go to WallStreet, including talking to a whole bunch of folks who spent a lot of moneytrying to beat me, they would say it would be disastrous for us to use the debtceiling as a cudgel to try to win political points on Capitol Hill. 

 

So we're not going to do that -- which is why I think thatpart of what I hope over the next couple of days we see is a recognition thatthere is a way to go ahead and get what it is that you've been fightingfor.  These guys have been fighting for spending cuts.  They can getsome very meaningful spending cuts. This would amount to $2 trillion -- $2trillion -- in spending cuts over the last couple of years.  And inexchange, they're getting a little over a trillion dollars in revenue. And that meets the pledge that I made during the campaign, which was $2 to$2.50 of spending cuts for every revenue increase.  And that's an approachthat I think most Americans think is appropriate.

 

But I will not negotiate around the debt ceiling. We're not going to do that again.

 

Q    Sir, may I ask a question about Newtown,please?

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, I've got David Jackson. 

 

Q    Thank you, Mr. President. Getting back to the gun issue, you alluded to the fact that Washingtoncommissions don't have the greatest reputation in the world.  What makesyou think this one is going to be different given the passage of time and thepolitical power of gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association?

 

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, this is not going to be acommission. Joe is going to gather up some key Cabinet members who have aninterest in this issue.  We're going to reach out to a bunch ofstakeholders.  We're going to be reaching out to members of Congress whohave an interest in this issue.  It's not as if we have to start fromscratch.  There are a whole bunch of proposals that have been thoughtabout, debated, but hopefully also some new ideas in terms of how we deal withthis issue.

 

Their task is going to be to sift through every good ideathat's out there, and even take a look at some bad ideas before disposing ofthem, and come up with a concrete set of recommendations in about amonth.  And I would hope that our memories aren't so short that what wesaw in Newtown isn't lingering with us, that we don't remain passionate aboutit only a month later. 

 

And as soon as we get those recommendations, I will beputting forward very specific proposals.  I will be talking about them inmy State of The Union and we will be working with interested members ofCongress to try to get some of them done. 

 

And the idea that we would say this is terrible, this isa tragedy, never again, and we don’t have the sustained attention span to beable to get this done over the next several months doesn’t make sense.  Ihave more confidence in the American people than that.  I have moreconfidence in the parents, the mothers and fathers that I’ve been meeting overthe last several days all across the country from all political persuasions,including a lot of gun owners, who say, you know what, this time we’ve got todo things differently.

 

    Q    What about the NRA?

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the NRA is an organization that has members who aremothers and fathers.  And I would expect that they’ve been impacted bythis as well.  And hopefully they’ll do some self-reflection. 

 

And here’s what we know -- that any single gun law can’tsolve all these problems.  We’re going to have to look at mental healthissues.  We’re going to have to look at schools.  There are going tobe a whole range of things that Joe’s group looks at.  We know that issuesof gun safety will be an element of it. And what we’ve seen over the last 20years, 15 years, is the sense that anything related to guns is somehow anencroachment on the Second Amendment.  What we’re looking for here is athoughtful approach that says we can preserve our Second Amendment, we can makesure that responsible gun owners are able to carry out their activities, butthat we’re going to actually be serious about the safety side of this; thatwe’re going to be serious about making sure that something like Newtown orAurora doesn’t happen again.

 

    And there is a big chunk of space between what the Second Amendment means andhaving no rules at all.  And that space is what Joe is going to be workingon to try to identify where we can find some common ground.

 

    So I’ve got -- I’m going to take one last question.

 

    Go ahead, Jake.

 

    Q    It seems to a lot of observers that you made the politicalcalculation in 2008 in your first term and in 2012 not to talk about gunviolence.  You had your position on renewing the ban on semiautomaticrifles that then-Senator Biden put into place, but you didn’t do much aboutit.  This is not the first issue -- the first incident of horrific gunviolence of your four years.  Where have you been?

 

    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, here’s where I’ve been, Jake.  I’ve beenPresident of the United States dealing with the worst economic crisis since theGreat Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars.  Idon’t think I’ve been on vacation. 

 

And so I think all of us have to do some reflection onhow we prioritize what we do here in Washington.  And as I said on Sunday,this should be a wake-up call for all of us to say that if we are not gettingright the need to keep our children safe, then nothing else matters.  Andit’s my commitment to make sure that we do everything we can to keep our childrensafe. 

 

A lot of things go in -- are involved in that,Jake.  So making sure they’ve got decent health care and making surethey’ve got a good education, making sure that their parents have jobs -- thoseare all relevant as well.  Those aren’t just sort of side issues. But there’s no doubt that this has to be a central issue.  And that’sexactly why I’m confident that Joe is going to take this so seriously over thenext couple months.

 

    All right.  Thank you, everybody.

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