The White House briefing room is often known as the place where news goes to die. Reporters try hard to get the press secretary to “make news” – or say something useable for their television/radio/print/web stories of the day. They often fail, in part because the job of the press secretary, in many respects, is to avoid doing exactly what the reporters in the room are trying to get him to do – make news. Every once in a while, though, there is an exchange in the White House briefing room that provides clarity on a major issue of the day. This happened today in an exchange between NBC’s Chuck Todd and White House press secretary Jay Carney.
Todd asked Carney about the White House’s reluctance to release its plan to deal with the national debt and raising the debt ceiling. Carney acknowledged the White House was playing games. “We’re showing a lot of leg,” he said. When Todd pressed for details – “Why not just release it?” – Carney seemed surprised. “You need it written down?”
What a difference two years makes. In the spring of 2009, with Republicans in the minority in the House of Representatives, the White House and its Democratic allies were demanding specifics. The House GOP had to produce an alternative budget, the White House demanded, in order to show that they were serious about governing.
On March 24, President Obama complained that the White House and its friends “haven’t seen a budget from the Republicans.” Two days later, after the Republicans presented a 19-page budget framework, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, mocked the plan for its lack of specifics. CNN reported that Gibbs “laughed off the Republican's proposal, joking that their blueprint has more pictures of windmills than charts.”
“It's interesting to have a budget that doesn't contain any numbers. I think the 'party of no' has become the 'party of no new ideas,” Gibbs said at the same podium where Carney stands today.
So when the minority party in the lower chamber of Congress puts out a 19-page budget framework, the Obama White House derides it as unserious. But when the president of United States refuses to detail his plan to deal with the nation’s most pressing problem, and to avoid what he says would a global economic collapse, generalities are not only permitted, but preferable.
Here's video of the exchange, where Carney accuses Todd of repeating a "Republican talking point" for pointing out that the president doesn't have a plan: