Robert Gibbs was right on target when he told my colleagues and me Friday that “whatever I say is not going to make the news tonight.” Barack Obama himself had just concluded his surprise “cameo” at the White House Briefing Room in which he revealed he had called Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and discussed his comments earlier in the week about Crowley’s now-famous arrest of Obama’s personal friend, Harvard Professor Henry Gates, Jr.
Sure enough, Gibbs’ subsequent session with reporters dealt for the most part with the Cambridge arrest and the President’s new twist involving his call to Crowley and the suggestion that the lawman and the professor “have a beer” with Obama at the White House.
But there were questions about other topics and, on one, Gibbs may not have made the news Friday but he may in the near future: namely, whether the health care plan backed by the White House, as the President claimed at his news conference earlier last week, “will not add to the deficit” or whether the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is correct in saying it will increase the federal deficit by $239 billion by 2019.
In questioning Gibbs about this, I cited the letter from CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf to House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) on July 17 (six days before Obama’s news conference) in which he concludes that enactment of the Obama-backed H.R. 3200 (the formal bill number of the America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009) “would result in a net increase in the federal budget deficit of $239 billion over the 2010-2019 period [emphasis added].”
“What is the administration’s reaction to the CBO scoring?” I asked Gibbs.
“I don’t have anything specific on what they say happens in the 10th year of that 10-year window,” the President’s top spokesman replied. “I can simply reiterate for you what the President has now said on any number of occasions, that health care reform legislation that he signs will not add to the deficit and he means that.”
“So he disagrees with Director Elmendorf?” I asked.
“He’s not evaluated from a budgetary perspective H.R. 3200,” Gibbs told me. “That’s not his job.”
So Obama has claimed that legislation he supports “will not add to the deficit” but, after a nonpartisan government agency has assessed it, his spokesman says that evaluating that legislation from a “budgetary perspective” is “not his job.”
Surely we are going to hear more on this one.
Twice-A-Day Briefings Coming Back?
One of the complaints my colleagues and I have made is that the Obama Press Office holds only one briefing for us per day. In the past, there was a “gaggle” (early morning off-camera session for reporters) and an afternoon session that was televised. This made it easier for many of us who had earlier deadlines.
In the twilight days of the Bush administration, then-Press Secretary Dana Perino ended the practice of an early morning “gaggle” — in large part because so few were attending the lame-duck briefings. This, of course, is very different under the new administration, where it is often a struggle to find a seat.
On Friday, Robert Gibbs sent a signal that he was hearing the pleas of reporters for two briefings a day when he actually held a “gaggle” for twenty correspondents in his office, complete with coffee and doughnuts. Word spread fast that day and at the briefing, I asked Gibbs if he was going to restore the gaggle on a permanent basis.
“I look forward to and enjoy meeting with you all on an almost constant basis,” Gibbs told me amid laughter throughout the Briefing Room. “I hope so in a way that we can meet some of your earlier deadlines, talk about issues off camera, and hopefully Margaret [assistant press secretary] will continue to bring doughnuts.”
I’ll keep you posted on this one.