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Daily White House Press Briefing; Pink Slip Parties; Obama Vows That Missteps Will Be Made Public

Aired March 20, 2009 - 14:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Squandering the stimulus. President Obama says not on my watch.

And warnings to lobbyists. Assurances to states the president pledges accountability. But can he deliver? We're pushing forward.

Plus, saving money doesn't mean losing face or staying at home. Go on, get your hair done, have a little fun. We'll show you how on a budget.

Building bridges, easing stress, finding jobs. Today the "Road To Rescue" takes us from a stimulus session at the White House to discount days at your neighborhood hair salon, to a pink slip party in Pasadena. Don't forget our 30-second pitch today. One job seeker hits pay dirt.

Let's start with that bridge building meeting at the White House, President Obama reaching out to state lawmakers over how they plan to spend that stimulus money and how fast. Our Suzanne Malveaux has been watching.

So, what was the point of having this meeting with the state legislature members?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fred, it was a little built of convincing, cajoling, and perhaps even a little threatening these state lawmakers. These officials saying, look, you've got to use this money responsibly and wisely.

We heard from the vice president saying he's going to take a spotlight and a bullhorn to any project that does not pass muster. We also heard the president saying there's little room for error here. Obviously turning to state officials and saying, look, you have to be transparent, you have to be accountable to how this money is being spent. Obviously this administration knows that everybody is going to be watching what happens to taxpayer dollars.

I want you to take a listen to what the president said just moments ago.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No plan is perfect. And I can't stand here and promise you that not one single dollar will slip through the cracks. But what I can promise you is that we will do everything in our power to prevent that from happening, which is why we're building on the provisions in the Recovery Act to forbid the use of these funds to build things like dog parks.


MALVEAUX: Dog parks, Fred. He said he has nothing against dog parks, but obviously the economic stimulus package, the money for these state projects has to go to projects that create jobs, create them right away and are really worthy at this moment, at this economic crisis.

And it has come to the time when he's trying to sell his budget. The Congressional Budget Office coming out with a new budget deficit for 2009, $1.84 trillion. The Obama administration earlier had said it was about $1.7. That's what they had predicted. Clearly they're saying this is an economic mess, that this underscores what they have inherited. That is their message. But people are still going to be holding them responsible to make sure that taxpayer dollars get to appropriate funds, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Now, Suzanne, in the room mostly state lawmakers. Why were there also two state governors and at least one big city mayor?

MALVEAUX: Right. This goes across party lines here. He's also meeting with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, as you know. The two of them were together yesterday in California, on his trip, one of the few Republicans that backed the economic stimulus package; also the Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and New York City Michael Bloomberg, Independents.

You've got Republican, Democrat, Independent, all of them trying to bolster this president and his economic stimulus plan. He needs them, they need him. And obviously, the message today is they are all going to be depending on each other to make this thing work, to make sure it is transparent and accountable and that the money goes where it's supposed to go. This is a work in progress, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much, Suzanne Malveaux. The president also said there will be a website, once again, where everyone can watch and track the money. Thanks so much.

Spotlights and interviews are nothing new for any president, but Barack Obama now ranks as the first sitting president to appear on a late-night talk show. The show was Jay Leno's. The talk ranged from the economy, to AIG, to the presidency itself.


JAY LENO, HOST, TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO: Now, it's only, what, 59 days now, right?

OBAMA: Yes, 59 days.

LENO: And so much scrutiny. Is it fair to judge so quickly?

OBAMA: Well, look. We are going through a difficult time. I welcome the challenge. I ran for president because I thought we needed big changes. And I do think in Washington, it's a little bit like "American Idol," except everybody is Simon Cowell, you know?

LENO: Wow.


WHITFIELD: Oh, boy, so if only he had stopped right there. The conversation turned to bowling. The president announced that he not only not shut down the White House alley, he had been working on his game. He said he recently rolled a 129, which brought applause, and this self-deprecating remark.

Saying, quote, "It's like - it was like Special Olympics or something. I'm making progress on the bowling."

Well, before the show even aired, the president phoned the Special Olympics chairman to apologize. Today the group put out a statement saying in part, "We invite the president to take the lead and consider hiring a Special Olympics athlete to work in the White House. In so doing, he could help end misperceptions about the talents and abilities of people with intellectual disabilities and demonstrate their dignity and value to the world," end quote, that from Timothy Shriver with the Special Olympics.

The chairman is, by the way, Larry King's guest tonight at 9:00 Eastern. Talking about Tim Shriver only on CNN.

To your money right now, and the explosion in public anger over the AIG bonuses. This is just the latest challenge facing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. In an exclusive interview with our Ali Velshi, Geithner talked about the prospect for an economic recovery. He also explained how the AIG bonuses were folded into the stimulus bill.


ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Do we know who in Treasury had this conversation with whomever on the Banking Committee?

TIM GEITHNER, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: Treasury staff were working with Senator Dodd's staff throughout this process. Again, that's part of the legislative process.

VELSHI: But you weren't involved in that directly?

GEITHNER: I did have, with other officials, some conversations with Chairman Dodd, as he was going through this process, but about other provisions.

VELSHI: So, not about this particular one. It wasn't you telling Senator Dodd something --

GEITHNER: No, but I'm not sure that's relevant, because Treasury staff did express concern about whether this provision was vulnerable to legal challenge. VELSHI: And when do you think we'll start to see recovery?

GEITHNER: As we said, just talking earlier, most economists look at the path of this recession now and they expect to see the economy start to stabilize and growth start to come back later this year. Again, the important thing is the government does what's necessary to achieve that.


WHITFIELD: All right. We're digging deeper into the outrage over AIG. Our Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi hosts "AIG: Facts & Fury" a CNN special, Saturday and Sunday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN and

And speaking of fury, there's plenty of it on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are pushing through legislation to take a hefty bite out of those corporate bonuses. CNN's Stephanie Elam breaks it down.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, the legislation that's already passed the House targets companies who have received $5 billion or more in TARP money. For employees of these companies, who have a combined household income of $250,000 or more, or married person filing separately making $125,000 or more, any bonuses received would be taxed at 90 percent, would be retroactive to December 31st of last year. And would also apply to people who may have already left the company this year with a bonus.

In recent days, public anger about AIG's bonus payments of $165 million, 73 of which topped $1 million each, has forced Congress to backpedal to cover the bonus loophole left in the TARP bill. However, critics of this legislation say Congress would be better off limiting executive bonuses instead of affecting tax policy. Also after a nearly 1.5 percent tax for Medicare, plus regular state and local taxes, these individuals could end up owing more than the bonus that he or she received. The Senate is expected to take up the issue next week, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Thanks, Stephanie.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Stephanie.

Well, one of the most outspoken critics of the bonus tax bill, Republican congressman and former presidential candidate, Ron Paul. He tells CNN the legislation is misguided.


RON PAUL, (R) FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In Congress, they panic. They react minute-to-minute. Whether it's passing the Patriot Act, or doing all these things, they react in emotional ways. So when the begging crisis hit, instead of dealing with -- over the last decade, which I've been begging and pleading for them to do -- they wait, and oh, there's a financial crisis. Ooh, it came from too much spending, too much taxes and too much printing of money. So what do they do? They spend more. They blindly appropriate this money. I just think the whole process is outrageous. We're on the verge of a major crisis.


WHITFIELD: And guess who else is weighing in? Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. He says the AIG bonuses make us mad, yes, but that we're missing the big picture. Spitzer investigated AIG when he was New York's attorney general. In an exclusive chat with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, Spitzer says AIG is at the center of a web of questionable business deals, which drove it, and other firms, to virtual ruin.


ELIOT SPITZER, FMR. NEW YORK GOVERNOR: $80 billion, virtually all of it flowed out to counterparties $12.9 billion to Goldman Sachs. Why did that happen? What questions were asked? Why did we need to pay 100 cents on the dollar on those transactions, if we had to pay anything? What would have happened to the financial system had it not been paid? These are the questions that should be pursued.


WHITFIELD: AIG corporate crackdowns, even the prostitution scandal that cost him his job. You can see much more of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer this weekend on "Fareed Zakaria GPS", an exclusive interview, Sunday at 1:00 and 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

President Barack Obama's pick for U.S. trade representative is officially on the job. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk was sworn into office today by Vice President Biden. Kirk easily won Senate confirmation two days ago. He overcame revelations that he had failed to pay some federal income taxes on income related to speeches. And some deductions that he took for basketball tickets.

He's not letting these hard times get him down. We'll meet a young man who is racing against the recession and realizing his dream to drive for NASCAR.


WHITFIELD: In these tough times, no part of the economy is immune, that includes NASCAR. But that's not stopping one young driver from pursuing his NASCAR dream. Mark Davis hits the track tomorrow in Tennessee. And CNN's Joe Johns has his story.


MARC DAVIS, NASCAR DRIVER/OWNER: Look the car over and then we come back out.

It is the only thing I've ever known. I just love the speed and adrenaline and the competition.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Eighteen-year-old Marc Davis test drives his car at Tennessee's Bristol Motor Speedway. Davis has been competing in various race leagues since he was six years old. He worked his way up the NASCAR ranks, ultimately signing a six-year contract with the Joe Gibbs race team. But halfway into the deal, the economy tanked, and Davis was cut loose.

DAVIS: It's a victim of the economy, the economy's really rough nowadays and a lot of the drivers out here are in the same bed as me.

JOHNS: No hard feelings, says Davis. Who, with family funding and a few sponsors is now fielding a two-car team to compete in NASCAR's nationwide series with an eye toward the Sprint Cup Series. A two-car team is considered a bare-bones operation by NASCAR standards, when the average race team has between 8 and 12 cars at its disposable. But the Davis family is doing it the old-fashioned NASCAR way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as we get these tire pressures logged in, we'll be ready to roll.

HARRY DAVIS, MARC'S FATHER: Drivers driving their own cars. We're bringing it to the track themselves, we're working on it with a crew that supports the driver.

Marc is going to be an 18-year-old, old school driver.

JOHNS: Alex Beam echoes that statement. Beam owns a race car museum in North Carolina and knows the Davis family well.

ALEX BEAM, NASCAR HISTORIAN: It's very few people doing that today and I admire him for it.

JOHNS: Doing it on his own also gives Marc Davis the distinction of being NASCAR's only current African-American driver and owner. Davis says that's all nice and good, but he just wants to race and win.

DAVIS: That's the only thing important to me, winning and having fun. And I'm not having fun if I'm not winning.

JOHNS: Mike Herman has worked as Davis' coach for the last two years. He says Marc is coming along swiftly.

MIKE HERMAN, DAVIS' COACH: There's less for me to do at the racetrack now as his coach, because he's ready. He's ready to compete and he's ready to move up the ladder.

JOHNS: Davis realizes the recession has put many Americans in tough situations, and he says he knows he's fortunate to still be able to do something he loves. All the more reason, he says, to go after it full throttle.

DAVIS: It's all I've ever known. Racing is -I've been into it for so long, it's my whole life.

JOHNS: Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: No way he's taking a break.

All right, even when money is tight, you still want to take care of yourself, right? From high-end salons to walk-in chains, they're offering recession discounts. Make an appointment with our Lola Ogunnaike in just a minute.


WHITFIELD: This day and age we are all trying to save money. But how far are you willing to go? Six in 10 Americans say they've postponed a major purchase like furniture or appliances in the last six months. That number is up 10 points since the holiday shopping season.

What's really scary is one in three people say that they've had to cut back on things like food and medicine, hardly discretionary spending.

You know mostly everybody is trimming stuff from their budget these days. But if you just can't bear neglecting your hair, don't worry about your 'do. More than likely your salon just might be cutting the prices as well -- at least temporarily. Here is CNN's Lola Ogunnaike.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used to come every four weeks. I come every six to eight weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm probably going to do like a box dye, something cheaper, more inexpensive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have what you call the recession grow- out.

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Salon owners across the country have been hearing statements like this a lot lately, and they're not happy about it at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're stretching their services. They're getting their hair cut instead of four to six weeks, they will come every 10 to 12 weeks.

OGUNNAIKE: All that stretching is trimming many a salon's bottom line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The good news is I've not closed my door. I've been here in Beverly Hills for 30 years. Never felt it the way we're feeling it this time around.

OGUNNAIKE: They're noticed that customers are cutting back on everything. from blowouts and highlights to hair weaves and extensions.

YASMINE CUMBERBATCH, JUST BECAUSE HAIR THERAPY SALON: Some keep their extensions in a lot longer than 10 weeks. OGUNNAIKEL: Meanwhile, the do-it-yourself business is booming according to industry observers.

ALI DIBADJ, SANFORD C. BERNSTEIN: For most people, care coloring has become a necessity. How you do it is the variable. And people have decided that, you know what, going to a salon is the luxury, the necessity is just coloring my hair, so I can do it at home.

OGUNNAIKE: To pump up business, some high-end places, like the J Sisters Salon in Manhattan, are offering major discounts.

(On camera): So, you all decided that you were going to give your customers 10, 15, 20 percent off. What was the reaction?

MAGGIE SANTOS, GENERAL MANAGER, J SISTERS: Oh, some of the clients that we have, I've got to tell you, they cried. They couldn't believe it.

OGUNNAIKE: At the Ted Gibson Salon, a hair cut can cost as much as $950. But on Recessionista Tuesdays, cuts and dye jobs are only $75.

TED GIBSON, TED GIBSON SALON: It gives the opportunity for women and men to come into the Ted Gibson Salon and have the five-star luxury experience, but not necessarily not having to pay a lot for it.

OGUNNAIKE: The New York chair, Dramatics, recently introduced a $10 hair cut. And bargain hunters have been trouping in ever since.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've received about 500 to 600 new clients over the past two months that we started our special. Hopefully when the economy gets back rolling again, these clients will stick around.


WHITFIELD: All right. So if your favorite hairdresser or manicurist isn't advertising any discounts, go right ahead and ask for one, they just might knock a little something off your bill to keep you happy and make sure you keep coming back.

So, you have questions. We have the experts and the answers. Everyone can use a little good advice. Gerri Willis and the Help Desk tackle your money problems.


"Pushing Forward", we're answering your money questions to help get you on the "Road To Rescue". Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis, will be with us in a moment with some advice. Meantime, we want to take you straight to the White House, and there is Robert Gibbs.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Wow, that's quite a lead-in. Sorry. I had to come out here and save you from your 12- minute stand-up there. QUESTION: Thank you.

GIBBS: I'd like to extend my offer to do that for any of you at -- at your request. Just kidding.

QUESTION: Which game were you trying to watch?

GIBBS: Well, I -- I should start by apologizing that I've severely cut into your last three minutes of the -- Friday's first- round games.

Major, I don't know if you have an announcement later on as to who's doing how in the pool...

QUESTION: It'll be out.

GIBBS: ... but it's certainly not me.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) president do on his pool?

GIBBS: I haven't checked his -- he picked a couple of upsets last night, but...

QUESTION: Eleven of sixteen last night.

GIBBS: Oh, 11 of 16? It's good in baseball and probably not so good in the NCAA pool.


Let me start out with a little -- giving you a little bit of a sense of the week ahead and an announcement on some commencements that the president has accepted for May.

The president will travel to Camp David tomorrow morning and return to Washington mid-morning on Monday. When he returns, he'll have an event here at the White House to discuss innovation, clean energy, and his budget.

A couple of events on Tuesday. The president will meet with Australian Prime Minister Rudd during the day. And as you all know, later that evening, we'll have a news conference in the East Room.

QUESTION: Do you have a time on that?

GIBBS: Eight p.m. Eastern time. On Wednesday, the president will have events at the -- have an event at the White House, as well as deliver remarks to the Senate Democratic Caucus in the afternoon.


GIBBS: Yes. I believe that -- yes, that's -- that's correct. In the evening, he will attend a fund-raiser on behalf of the Democratic National Committee.

On Thursday, the president will... QUESTION: Is that open?

GIBBS: I believe we'll have pool coverage. On Thursday, the president will attend meetings here and have an event at the White House, and the same for Friday, before traveling to Camp David next Friday evening. Obviously, the focus -- a lot of the focus next week will be the run-up to the budget.

In terms of commencements -- excuse me -- on May the 13th, the president will give the commencement address at Arizona State University. On May 17th, the president will give the commencement address at Notre Dame. And on May 22nd, he will speak to graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Let me get slightly more organized.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Thanks, Robert. The new CBO numbers out today indicate that the deficit will be much larger than expected and that the White House had anticipated and that, over the course of time, it would be four percent to five percent of GDP.

So at this point, is four percent to five percent sustainable? And does this give the White House an inclination to consider raising taxes or scaling back the agenda?

GIBBS: Well, the premise by which the president constructed the budget sent to Capitol Hill was, as I've said repeatedly from here, to cut in half the inherited budget deficit over the course of his first term and to make critical investments in health care, energy independence, and education reform in order to make critical investments in our long-term economic growth.

None of the numbers today changed the president's either objectives or his ability to achieve that deficit reduction.

The main change in the outlook from CBO is a change or a difference in what they see in terms of long-term economic growth largely in the out-years of the budget.

The Fed sees in that long-term outlook between 2.5 percent and 2.7 percent economic growth. The Blue Chip forecast is 2.6 percent, and the government's forecast is 2.6 percent.

I believe the average -- I don't have the number in front of me -- the average for CBO is lower, which is why the out-year numbers are different. Obviously, as you get farther out, the numbers change, but it doesn't change what the president's focus is, in terms of his objectives in making critical investments, and doesn't change his ability to halve the deficit in four years.

QUESTION: But I go back. Is four percent to five percent of GDP sustainable?

GIBBS: Well, you know, I think the president's budget presents a number that is less than that. Again, there's -- and you all have covered this over the years -- the pretty large difference on occasion between CBO and OMB.

I believe that, just in looking at the growth numbers and the GDP, you have basically a plus or minus $900 billion swing, because the numbers that CBO -- represent about a 50 percent -- there's a 50 percent likelihood that they'll be different up or down, so they don't change the president's long-term objectives.

And, most importantly, the president has outlined a plan to bring fiscal responsibility and fiscal sustainability to a town that hasn't seen it for quite some time.

The president looks forward to working with members of Congress throughout the next few weeks to get that budget passed in a timely way, make those critical investments, and put ourselves on that fiscal responsibility path that will cut the deficit in half in four years.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: Robert, the president has made the latest in a series of public overtures to Iran. And I would guess that a lot of thought went into the timing and the format for how he did this. And I'm just wondering if you could maybe go into why it was decided to do it in this way, at this particular time? And do you expect this effort to show results anytime soon?

GIBBS: Well, let me -- obviously, the message is -- follows the Persian new year. The president believed that the new year marks -- marked a good time for us to demonstrate the tone for the type of respectful engagement that we believe can be had with the people of Iran, and we also believe it gives Iran the opportunity for a similar new beginning, again -- and I'd quote the president's message -- as a way of reaching out to the people, but understanding that there are rights and responsibilities.

In terms of reaction or what we hope to get out of it, I think in many ways that's up to Iran.

QUESTION: Now, there's an offer on the table for Iran to attend the conference at the end of the month on Afghanistan. Is it the president's hope that, in making this gesture, that that will encourage them to attend that conference? And is -- is the timing in any way (INAUDIBLE) that into consideration?

GIBBS: No, I think the invitation that went out previously we hope is accepted, because the conference is -- is intended to -- the conference is intended to bring about Afghanistan's neighbors in that troubled region of the world, and obviously Iran is one of those neighbors and -- and we believe, if it wants to, can work constructively with the international community to help the country of Afghanistan.

But, again, I think it's important that the president wanted to deliver this unique message directly to the people and to the leaders to understand that there's a rightful place in the community of nations with -- there's a rightful place in that community without terror or arms or violence, and that, through peaceful actions, the two countries can work together towards their mutual ends.

QUESTION: Doesn't the fact that the CBO projects an additional $2.3 trillion long-term deficit negate the fact that the president is talking about being able to cut $2 trillion? I mean, it's basically there it went, and now here's another $300 billion.

GIBBS: I -- I have -- I have not seen the final report, and I know Director Orszag will have a call not long after this, and he'll have a better sense of some of the numbers, in terms of the savings.

But I think, again, the -- the numbers that you're talking about in many ways accumulate, again, farther down the road, based on a change in their assumption about long-term economic growth.

But the president remains confident that he has put forward a budget that meets the critical investments that he -- he thinks America must be making in order to move past the bubble-and-bust economic era into some sustained economic growth, while cutting that deficit in half in four years. The president remains confident that he can do so.

QUESTION: What would your message to the American people be when they hear about the CBO projecting this much larger deficit, $400 billion additional this year, $400 billion next year? Do you think their numbers are -- I know you said there are other numbers that are -- that are more optimistic, in terms of growth. Do you think -- do you reject the CBO numbers?

GIBBS: No, no. I think, again, I think there are a series of numbers, opinions that range, as I said, economically -- in terms of economic growth, from the Fed to Blue Chip indicators, growth forecasts, to the -- to the federal government and to the Congressional Budget Office.

Look, I think what the American people should understand is that, for quite some time, we have -- we've had budget deficits and an accumulation of budget debt that the president believes is unsustainable, that his budget takes actions to cut the deficit in half in just four years, and believes that the steps that his administration is taking as it relates to recovery and financial stability will put us -- as well as the investments in the budget -- will put us on a more robust and sustained path towards that economic growth that will help the deficit in many of those out-years.

Obviously, it is exceedingly hard to project 7 or 10 years into the future. The president remains confident that the forecast, though, demonstrates that he can cut the budget deficit in half by the end of his first term.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Robert, every time when the president talks about health care, education, he always frames it as part of -- being part of the economy, the economic recovery, investment in the future. What does he actually mean by that, I mean, in terms of, you know, the actual amount of dollars that this will, you know, present to turning the economy around?

GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously, a business's ability to grow is impacted by their health care bill. A business's ability to grow is impacted by the growth rate in their health care spending. A business's ability to grow is, in many ways, dependent upon having a workforce that is well-trained and well-educated in order to do the jobs of the future that the president hopes to create.

And, obviously, on energy independence, we all understand what $4-a-gallon gasoline can do to stifle the economic growth of a small business, a large business, or impede the budget of a family of four.

There's no doubt that the budget and the investments contained in the president's budgets are inextricably linked to our long-term economic growth.

We cannot sustain the jobs of the future that help us compete with -- on a global economic stage, with countries throughout the world, unless we bring our health care costs under control, unless we educate our children for a 21st-century global economy, and if we don't get ourselves out of a cycle of dependence on foreign fuel sources, that all of those play a huge part in our ability to govern our own path for economic growth.

QUESTION: On Iran, is the videotape sort of the beginning of what this administration hopes will be an ongoing dialogue, and sort of the next step is perhaps a face-to-face meeting at high levels?

GIBBS: Let me -- I mean, I -- I think, without getting into what next, obviously, there's an evaluation overall of our policy as it relates to Iran.

But the president believed that today marked an appropriate time with which to seek a different relationship with a country, if that country is willing to accept responsibilities to become part of a greater community of nations.

QUESTION: So there's not a step two paper at this point?

GIBBS: Well, there is, but -- and there are many more, but none of which I'm going to get into today.

QUESTION: A pretty tough week for the president this week. He seemed to be losing the message war almost every day. Every day, he had some economic plan out there, and every day it was AIG or Geithner or the comments on Leno. Are you worried that this may be kind of a watershed week when he's losing control of the message?



QUESTION: Do you want to elaborate? How's he going to get back on? How's he going to get back on track here?

GIBBS: You know, I -- I'm going to hesitate to rant on my good friends on cable, which will be...




GIBBS: ... which is ironic. He has those radios that I was given. You know, I -- I think on the -- I think on the president's trip to California, I think there is rightly concern and outrage for the events of the past week, and there's rightly concern and frustration about the economic challenges that this country faces.

You heard from teachers that are doing a good job, but face the prospect that they won't have their job for the next school year. You have, I think, all sorts of economic stories that denote the great challenges with which this president was -- was presented when he first walked into this White House.

The -- the president is, as you've heard him say before and you've certainly heard me say before, less interested in the day-to- day scorekeeping, which has always counted him down and counted him out. We've been called idiots before; we understand that.

But the president isn't focused on -- isn't focused on that. The president's focused on the decisions that he has to make to get the pillars for economic progress in place, whether it's insuring that the recovery act is done in a way that gives people confidence about the money that's being spent to create jobs and put money back in their pockets, that -- that we're taking steps through the budget to make those critical investments.

The president isn't focused on the ups and downs of day-to-day scorekeeping. He's focused on looking ahead.

QUESTION: So he's not really feeling frustrated that this week the message kept slipping away, getting overshadowed?

GIBBS: You know, I didn't -- I didn't go to California, but it looked like he was -- looked like he was having a good time.

QUESTION: On Geithner, is the administration sticking to -- are you sticking to this March 10th date for when he found out about this? Because he was asked about it in Congress a week before that.

QUESTION: That was March 9th.

QUESTION: March 9th. He was asked a week before specifically.

GIBBS: Well, and I think that the Treasury Department addressed that in the -- in the newspaper this morning. Look, I think there's -- there has been -- obviously, Treasury has talked about taking responsibility for knowing more about the timeline. QUESTION: Well, they have, but when Secretary Geithner talked about that yesterday, he really parsed words. He said, on Tuesday, March 10th, "I was informed about the full scale and scope of these specific bonuses." He's not saying that was the first time he learned about it, very carefully parsing of words here, suggesting he did know about it before then.

GIBBS: No, I -- I think, if you read carefully the report you're discussing, the treasury secretary takes responsibility, as the president does.

QUESTION: But he's sticking by that October 10th date -- March -- excuse me, March 10th date...

GIBBS: Right, I understand.

QUESTION: ... even though he clearly knew about it before then. He was asked about it in Congress...

GIBBS: But again -- but again...

QUESTION: ... and he was overseeing the AIG bailout.

GIBBS: Right.

QUESTION: I mean, is it...


QUESTION: It just doesn't seem credible.

GIBBS: Well, what committee was that? That was Ways and Means? That was Ways and Means?

QUESTION: Yes, but he was specifically asked the question.

GIBBS: No, I understand. I understand. I think he's addressed that. And I think -- I think that's addressed in both the reports today and -- and what he said yesterday.

We're -- we understand, and -- and the president shares the outrage and the frustration that everybody has. The administration is taking steps to recoup money that's gone out, as well as to put in place a financial stability plan and to seek progress on getting our economy moving again.

QUESTION: Let me just ask you specifically. When he says on March 10th he was informed about the full scale and scope, is he saying that's the first he learned about it at all?

GIBBS: The question is predicated on the report in the paper, and I think the report in the paper answers your question.

QUESTION: So he did know about it before then?

GIBBS: I will -- can somebody go get a dollar and I'll buy Chip a newspaper so that he can read the report? Again, I think it's pretty clear...


GIBBS: Excellent. Then I -- I believe it's been answered.

QUESTION: Well, then can I follow on that real quick? Why did you tell us that it was March 10th, then, that he found out? You had -- the statement from the White House was very specific. He found out March 10th.

GIBBS: Again, I would point you to the report that the secretary of treasury takes responsibility, as does the administration, with knowledges about the structure and the scope of those bonuses.

QUESTION: But we were accidentally or however misinformed about the date that he found out.

GIBBS: Well, let's -- let's not -- I'm just going to leave it at that. I think the report is pretty clear and so are the answers.

QUESTION: Did he inform the White House about when he found out?

QUESTION: Well, I do watch cable TV. And apparently Congresswoman Maxine Waters had a question, and I'll let you answer her question. What took place between Treasury and Senator Dodd? What do you guys now know that took place between Treasury and Senator Dodd?

GIBBS: Well, again, I would point you to exactly what the treasury secretary said on CNN yesterday, that the Treasury Department had concerns about lawsuits involved in the provisions.

The provision that ultimately passed provides a clawback and recoupment look to bonuses through the TARP at the discretion of -- an investigation by the secretary of the treasury. Again, I think the treasury secretary has answered this and has the confidence of the president.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) interview or...

GIBBS: I would point you to that interview and -- and...

QUESTION: Well, I'm asking her question, so that means...


GIBBS: I appreciate that you're now doing this on behalf of members of Congress.

QUESTION: She seemed to be concerned. Let me follow up on -- on something that the president said last night on "Leno." He said -- he talked about -- about this issue of the bonuses, that they were looking at it from a legal term, but that Treasury wasn't looking at it from a moral or ethical -- sort of through a moral or ethical lens. I think the exact quote, from a moral and ethical aspect. So that -- does the president believe Treasury was wrong not to think about the moral and ethical consequences?

GIBBS: Well, I -- I think the president would say that to everybody involved. I think the president would say that you have a financial company that entered into contracts in April of 2008 that also didn't understand, as taxpayers have been outraged, as he's been outraged, about the lack of common sense and the sheer breadth of -- the sheer breadth of understanding that bonuses generally reward success, not failure, that the...

QUESTION: Does the president believe he can legislate this compensation issue or that ultimately...


GIBBS: Well, let me finish this. The president understands that, again, the frustration of the American taxpayer, as we watch -- the fact that we have -- as he said on the "Tonight Show," that there's -- that executive compensation and bonuses and the thinking around a lot of that over the past few years has gotten wildly out of control.

QUESTION: Does he think he can legislate it?

GIBBS: Executive compensation? Well, I think, you know, you stood here and -- and -- in this room and heard the president in the Oval Office talk quite clearly and convincingly about proposals that were the strongest in American history to put limits on executive compensation for firms that are receiving extraordinary assistance under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, that...

QUESTION: But he seems to talk about the whole moral climate outside of this. Does he think companies outside the TARP should be...


GIBBS: Well, absolutely. Absolutely. The president -- the president in his -- has long been a supporter of, and it's contained in this proposal, that shareholders should have a non-binding vote, that through the power of their opinion can demonstrate, for whatever company they're a shareholder in, that the compensation that's involved matches the success of the company, the success for shareholders, and that all of this has to be in some line with reasonable expectations.

You know, study after study denotes the huge increases in where we were just a few decades ago with what a worker made in relation to a CEO and where we are now. Obviously, we have seen outsized compensation, and bonuses, and salaries that have long gotten out of whack.

QUESTION: On a related issue, Robert, does President Obama believe that the bill passed by the House yesterday to tax the bonus money is constitutional?

GIBBS: I have not asked the president about the constitutionality of the bill. I read in the papers that some experts believe the bill to be constitutional.


GIBBS: I don't know that -- I don't know that constitutionality has specifically been looked at here. I know that the White House is evaluating legislation from the House and whatever legislation might come from the Senate in order to look at two objectives.

The first is understanding that taxpayer anger and frustration that I talked about with Chuck, understanding, as the president has talked about, that this -- the way this system has gotten completely out of whack, that it lacks common sense, that we are rewarding not success, but, in some ways, failure, but also looking at whatever legislation comes out of this process, to ensure that our ability to stabilize the financial system and ensure that credit flows from banks and lending institutions to families and small businesses and big businesses through capital and what they need to run their business.

So there's -- there is the dual objective that the White House will evaluate.

QUESTION: Well, if the House bill were to reach his desk, would he sign it?

GIBBS: Well, that's the evaluation that's -- that is being undertaken here. I do believe the president and the White House have concern -- we have to ensure, again, that both of these objectives are met, that the frustration -- the real frustration that taxpayers and the president have about the situation that we've seen with AIG, but also ensure, for instance, that a -- a community bank that took some TARP funding not because it was necessarily in trouble, but because we all understand that additional capital through something like that can help their balance sheets, and that families and small businesses can see the return of flow of capital to ensure that there is enough for housing loans and auto loans and college loans, and that all of that will be evaluated throughout the process when a bill gets to his desk.

QUESTION: Robert, how concerned is the White House that the new deficit numbers today might further erode support on Capitol Hill for the budget, for the president's other initiatives?

WHITFIELD: The press briefing at the White House. A little bit of everything reporters asking the secretary there, Robert Gibbs. Everything from Iran to Afghanistan, stimulus spending, the president's meeting with state legislators about the latter.

We'll continue to watch this. You can continue to watch it on Meantime we're going to take a short break here in the NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: Kimberly Thomas is one of millions of Americans down on their luck in the recession. If you were with us earlier this week, we introduced you to her. She's got all sorts of degrees and experience, but can't find a job.

We gave her 30 seconds to pitch her skills.


KIMBERLY THOMAS, JOB SEEKER: Very hard working, very passionate, personable, likable, and I will give 100 percent, 110 percent. And I'm very dedicated. And I'll just try to do a good job. And I'm thankful every employee in the work force since the age of 16 has a positive to say something good about me. I've always left on good terms. I have recommendations from my employers.


WHITFIELD: So guess what, good news for Kimberly. A potential employer actually saw Kimberly Thomas' pitch right here on CNN and wants to offer her a job. We'll keep you posted on how it all goes.

It used to be you'd hear about people partying their way out of a job. Not into one. But if you're tired of e-mailing your resumes off and standing in line at job fairs, maybe it's time for a pink slip mixer.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is live in Pasadena with more on this - Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, they're partying in the afternoon. It's the "Pink Slip Party" here.

We're at the Barcelona Bar and Restaurant in Pasadena, California. All of these folks have lost their jobs. And rather than sit around miserably, they have united.

The idea of a pink slip party is not to commiserate and be miserable, but instead of going forward looking for a job on your own, the idea is to connect with other people in the same boat. Everybody looking for jobs, they can think back and think, I met a guy that would be good for this job. If you met Bob the accountant and you're looking for a job in marketing, but there's a job opening at a place, you can contact Bob.

If it really does work and helps emotionally to talk with others.

One of the folks that we've been talking to here, is a sad story. Iris Tran was working for Guess Jeans. A couple weeks, I guess, before she was laid off. She was offered a great job and turned that job down and got canned.

Iris, what does this sort of party do for you?

IRIS TRAN, PINK SLIP PARTYGOER: It's just fun to reach out to people who are going through the same thing. You have a sob story, have a drink together, and connect with each other.

ROWLANDS: "Pink Slip Party," Fredricka. It's a party. The goal is to have some fun, but also make some connections and get a job.

WHITFIELD: I know they're not happy to be laid off, but they have a sense of humor about all of it.

Rick Sanchez in the NEWSROOM is coming up right now.