Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer had an offer Wednesday for congressional Republicans weighing legislation to renew long-term unemployment benefits: Pass a three-month extension now, and President Obama will negotiate ways to offset the costs of extending them for the full year.
The benefits for those who have been out of work for 26 weeks or more expired just after Christmas, and reviving them has been a top administration priority. But spokesman Jay Carney as recently as Tuesday refused to bite when asked if the White House might discuss “pay-fors” in an effort to win GOP support.
In an interview with USA TODAY’s Capital Download, Pfeiffer indicated a willingness to negotiate if the House and Senate would pass a three-month extension being considered without offsetting its $6.4 billion cost. “That will give us three months to work out how to do it for the whole year,” he said.
Including negotiating those budget offsets?
“We’re happy to engage in conversations about how to do it; there are lots of ways to do it,” he told USA TODAY’s weekly video newsmaker series. “We’re happy to talk to them to find a way to do it, because it’s important.”
Pfeiffer — one of just three White House officials who have worked for Obama ever since the first day of his 2008 presidential campaign — dismissed as unimportant the furor over a new memoir by former Defense secretary Robert Gates. In Duty, being published next Tuesday, Gates praises the president on some fronts but also writes that Obama went forward with the surge of U.S. troops in Afghanistan believing the policy would fail.
“That’s not true,” Pfeiffer said. He also disputed as inaccurate Gates’ description of Vice President Biden as someone who had “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” Pfeiffer said, “I fundamentally disagree with that assessment.”
He declined to criticize Gates for writing the book, a result of what he called the tempering experience of being in the White House for five years.
“It gives you some perspective,” he said. “You can separate the signal from the noise — what’s just Washington noise and what really matters — and that’s a great energy saver. You don’t get worked up about things that you know are going to be fleeting or aren’t going to matter in the long term.”
The reaction would have been different in, say, the second year of the administration: “There would have been people running around like chickens with their heads cut off or worried about what the press reaction is to such-and-such book, and now you understand these things are very fleeting.”
Looking ahead to the State of the Union Address on Jan. 28, Pfeiffer said Obama would vow to rely on his executive authority to get things done in the year ahead even if congressional Republicans block his legislative ambitions. “We’re going to continue to try to find places where we can work with them, and where we can’t work with them, the president is going to use what authority he has to move the ball forward,” he said.
“I wouldn’t tell you that executive action is a substitute for major bipartisan legislation; it’s not,” he went on. “But what we’re not going to do is wait around for Congress to act. We’re going to try every day to move the ball forward either with what executive authority the president has, and also the president using his office to mobilize the American people, American businesses, American workers to do things that help improve opportunity for all.”