White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July, 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, July, 27, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)  

WH spokesman calls debt decisions ‘Sophie’s Choice,’ rejects questions on WH plan

Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

White House spokesman Jay Carney stirred the partisan pot today, telling a roomful of openly skeptical reporters that a debt-ceiling compromise is easy to reach, that Republicans are partisan time-wasters, and that post-Aug. 2 spending decisions would be similar to life-or-death decisions in a Nazi concentration camp.

Without ready cash to pay for every government program, he said at the White House’s daily press conference, “It’s a Sophie’s Choice. Who do you save? Who do you pay?”

‘Sophie’s Choice’ refers to a 1982 movie that depicts a Jewish mother being forced to choose which one of her two children should be saved from one of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist death-camps.

President Barack Obama has pushed GOP legislators to approve a ‘big’ debt ceiling deal that would fund the economy and showcase his claimed role as a bipartisan consensus-builder. But those talks fell apart Friday when Obama sought an additional $400 billion in new taxes over 10 years.

That compromise would be easy to reach, he said. “There’s not much work to do … All this requires is a willingness [for the GOP] to budge off [their] absolutist position,” he said.

A pugnacious Carney pushed back when reporters asked why the administration is demanding a deal large enough to continue current spending levels until after the 2012 election. A short-term deal, he said, increases investors’ uncertainty, and “only casts further doubt … on whether Washington can get its act together.”

He ridiculed House Speaker John Boehner’s effort to get a short-term extension through the House, in the face of objects from congressional Democrats. “Why are we voting on measures that have no chance of becoming law?”

Carney rejected a question by a Fox news report for details of the administration’s debt-ceiling priorities. The president stood before you and said in his negotiation with the Speaker of the House that they came to an agreement on $650 billion in entitlement savings,” he responded, before reiterating the administration’s preference for closed-door deal-making. “You agree on the tough choices, you come out together, and you announce them,” he said.

Another reporter quizzed Carney about the administration’s spending priorities if the debt-ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2, prompting him to repeat the ‘Sophie’s Choice’ comparison. However, he refused to describe spending priorities, saying “I would refer you to … the Treasury. They’re working on [what to do] if cooler and saner heads have not prevailed in Congress.”

But, he said, “the impact will be felt dramatically … if we lose our borrowing authority and risk [debt] default.”

“In the end, [the debt-ceiling] will get done,” Carney predicted. “Unfortunately, it’s going to require this sort of brinkmanship and running out the clock process.”