Today's Q for O's WH -- 1/28/2009

In the name of transparency, here are the questions I asked at today's White House briefing.

TAPPER:  Robert, on the stimulus package, the president yesterday told a closed-door meeting of House Republicans that there was spending in the bill that he didn't like.  And, obviously, he took action calling Congressman Waxman to remove the part having to do with the birth control. Now, there is a $335 million provision about education for sexually transmitted diseases.  There still is in the bill $50 million funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. And that's the House, and I understand your emphasis is in the Senate, but in the Senate there are earmarked projects as well:  $70 million for a supercomputer for NOAA, $75 million for education for smoking cessation. President Obama can tell these Democratic senators and members of the House, "Take this stuff out of the bill."  He obviously did so with Congressman Waxman.  Why doesn't he do it for all these earmarks?

GIBBS:  Well, let me -- let me talk a little bit about what he said yesterday at -- at these meetings, because he said that there's -- there's no doubt this will produce a process whereby every person does not like 100 percent of every part of the bill, that that would be true whether Democrats were writing the bill or Republicans were writing the bill.  And he said that to two rooms full of Republicans, of which I think there was pretty broad agreement.This is a process based on a series of principles and framework that -- that our economic team and the president sent to Capitol Hill to create a plan that we believe will move this economy along. I -- I know there is a tendency -- and there always will be -- to focus on, as I mentioned yesterday, 0.02 percent of a piece of legislation.  I have a hard time believing that the 0.98 percent of the other 99 percent aren't the large focus of members of Congress that are going to vote both today and over the course of the next few weeks.     TAPPER:  President Obama had no problem calling for Chairman Waxman and telling him to remove a 0.02 percent from the bill when he saw that it was a hurdle.

GIBBS:  But, again, let's focus on the larger picture.  Let's focus on the fact that we have $275 billion in tax cuts to put money directly into the pockets of hard-working Americans that will spend that money and get our economy moving again.  Let's focus on the fact that there's $550 billion in spending that will put people back to work. But as we get focused on this number and that number, and 0.02 percent, and all this kind of stuff, understand what we've seen in just the last 48 hours:  70,000 people, since Monday, have gotten pink slips from the companies that they work for, right? The unemployment figures that came out just yesterday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found every state in the countries -- every state in the country saw job loss, every state in the country.  The layoffs continue today with Boeing announcing an additional 10,000 jobs that will be shed over the course of the year.     TAPPER:  But that's precisely my point.  Wouldn't it better to take that $75 million, instead of sending it to a smoking cessation program, to send it to these people that are out of work?

GIBBS:  Well, I -- I think the vast majority, the great bulk of that bill does exactly that.  We hope that Republicans and Democrats alike look at not just whatever page you're focusing on, but whatever other pages they've decided not to focus on, and understand that the program that is being crafted -- and it will change. This is -- there's a great tendency -- and we've done this over the last few days in this room -- to try to figure out what the score of the baseball game is after the third inning, OK?  My team would probably be great if we stopped doing that. This is a long process that we hope is concluded by Presidents Day recess, because -- and the president heard this from CEOs today -- we can't afford to wait.  We have to act. Tonight, the House, we believe, will take an important step.  We think if members focus on this bill, they'll see that it moves the economy forward, that money will be spent in this economy, 75 percent of it in the first 18 months, that jobs will be created, jobs will be saved, money will get put back into people's pockets. This, along with the financial stability package, re-regulation, and a plan to deal with home foreclosures, will push this economy forward and put people back to work. And hopefully one day we can come up here, and I won't have to answer a question based on the fact that another company's decided to lay off 2,000 or 10,000 or 20,000 people.


Also Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined us at the top of the briefing. Here's what I asked him.

TAPPER:  Mr. Secretary, during the transition, the co-chair of the transition for Mr. -- President Obama, John Podesta, said that the president would be overturning some of the executives orders and presidential orders President Bush had put in place about oil and gas exploration on federal lands. We have not seen any executive orders or presidential orders overturning them.  And I'm wondering if they're pending and if you think it's wise to limit where the United States is able to explore for energy during a time of energy crisis where we're getting all our oil from abroad.

SALAZAR:  The answer to that question is that there are a number of different regulations and actions that were taken by the Bush administration, some of them in the midnight hour as their term expired here, and we have all of those on the table, and we're taking a look at them. There are some which are bad and which need a new direction. There are probably some which will be kept in place.  And so we are now in the process -- having now been in the Department of Interior's position, really, for only about a week -- taking a look at all of these regulations. On the more fundamental issue, which I think you're addressing, which is the approach to oil and gas development, it has to be done in the context of a comprehensive energy plan, and it also has to be done with the right kind of balance. There are places where it is appropriate to explore and to develop oil and gas resources, and there are places that are not appropriate.  And so that's part of what we'll move forward with in the agenda of the Department of Interior.

-- jpt

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