THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS The Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello. As you know, the President's finished his meeting with the governors. He'll be working in his office this afternoon. And I'm ready to take questions.
Q George, you periodically say that everything is on the table as far as the economic package goes. Is the option of freezing COLAs for Social Security still on the table?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the most important thing right now is that no decisions have been made, and I don't know that it's very productive to go into what's on and what's off the table at any time. I mean, we've said it before and I don't think we need to go through a laundry list of everything that's being considered, but I can just say that no decisions have been made.
Q For example, increasing income tax breaks on the middle class -- you would say that's not on the table, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's incredibly unlikely, yes.
Q Okay. Can we put the COLAs for Social Security in the same category?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think right now we choose to say that no decisions have been made.
Q George, how close is the President to making a decision on a national vaccination/immunization program? And why would it be important for the federal government to be involved in that national program?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is looking hard at this issue. I think you should all know -- we want to make sure we do everything we can to give America's kids a healthy start in life. This is an investment. Every dollar we spend on immunization saves $10 in health care costs over the long term. And if we can give our kids a healthy start in life and make sure they start school protected from disease, protected from any kinds of infectious diseases, it's all to the good. So we're looking very hard at this, and we hope to have something.
Q What about the opposition from the pharmaceutical companies who say basically that would mean that the government would have a monopoly on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I don't know about that. We haven't developed any hard proposal yet. But as I said, this is an important investment in America's future, an important investment in our kids, and it will save money in the long run.
Q George, do you think the homosexual issue has passed now and the President has come to an agreement? Or do you think the storm is just starting again?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what the President's doing right now is focusing on health care and the important issues of the economy and that's what we're working on.
Q What's the agenda for the meeting with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, he's going to meet with the Prime Minister on Friday. I believe they'll be meeting around lunchtime. And they'll be discussing the range of bilateral issues of trade and investment between our two countries. I assume that they'll talk about the North American Free Trade Agreement and whatever else the Prime Minister and the President decide.
Q Can you discuss a little bit the substance of the meeting with the governors this morning? From what the President said afterwards, it appears that the principal topic was health care. Was he merely soliciting their suggestions? Did any of them come forward with proposals that he in any way seemed to adopt, or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think they had an awful lot to chew on. The overwhelming bulk of the meeting was on health care. They'll be having follow-up meetings tomorrow. One of the prime areas they talked about were the areas, the regulations that the President has issued today, but also the overall issue of how we're going to control health care costs for all Americans; how they're going to work together to get this done and then move towards providing access as well.
Q What message from the governors, if there was a message that he could take away from that, did he, indeed, take?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The message is that they understand the urgency of the situation, and they're ready to work with him after 12 years of neglect.
Q I understand the way they're going to be ready to work with him, but did he hear anything from them that he -- that constituted some kind of consensus view on anything other than the more liberal policy on waivers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if there is a consensus beyond that, but I think that there is -- they know that they have an overwhelming need to address the issue, that they've been burdened by the costs over the last 12 years, as Washington has pushed more and more responsibilities on them while taking away resources. But this is the kind of thing we want to be in constant dialogue with them as the President and the health care task force develop the national proposal. And as the President said, Mrs. Clinton will be meeting with the governors tomorrow.
Q Governor Campbell said out in the driveway that he heard some discussion in the meeting today in regard to the stimulus package, that it would be in the order of $30 billion split evenly between public sector and private sector. He had no more detail than that. Could you clarify what that reference was to?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that that's within the range that the President has been considering. And when we have the details, we'll announce them.
Q Earlier the range that was being discussed was $15.5 billion; now, you say $30 billion is within the range. Is there some reason that the range keeps --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know what the final number is going to be. I think the range is all within that. It's subject to negotiation. But we haven't had a set number. We don't have a set number yet. But I think that's all within the range.
Q At the U.N. today, is Secretary Christopher proposing support of a fast-track course and is he doing anything about --can you tell us what he's doing about Bosnia and the Middle East?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe the Secretary is making a proposal of that kind to Boutros-Ghali today. As you know, it's U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright's first day at the U.N. He'll be having a general meeting with Secretary General BoutrosGhali on Somalia, on Bosnia. He'll also be meeting with Mr. Vance and Lord Owen later in the evening to hear what they have to say about their efforts. And that's really all I have to say right now.
Q Is there anything you can tell us about the talks on the Palestinian deportee compromise?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We continue to be in active discussions with all parties. And we continue to believe that a U.N. resolution at this time would not serve a constructive purpose.
Q Is there any prospect for a negotiated solution on Bosnia with the talks broken off now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, the Secretary is going to hear about how the talks have gone right now, and we continue to hope that the parties do -- are able to work out a settlement.
Q George, why aren't we taking a more activist role in this situation? It sounds like this is sort of a passive approach to the situation.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes this is a serious situation. He's taking it very seriously. We have an intensive review going on right now by the National Security Council and advisers, and we continue to review our options.
Q George, on the Medicaid waivers, some of the opposition all along has been from the Hill. Were congressional leaders consulted at all? Are they on board on this, on granting these waivers?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe there was some discussion. I don't know exactly who was consulted. But if we hear of anything, I'll get back to you.
Q George, Senator Moynihan says that Social Security is not an entitlement, that it's an insurance policy paid up by the American people, that it should not be under consideration. Does the President consider Social Security an entitlement program that is on the table?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I'm not going to get into a lengthy discussion of Social Security. The President is reviewing all of his options right now. When he has his program prepared he will announce it.
Q But given the opposition in Congress that's already been voiced, and the threat of serious challenge by the association for retired folks, is this politically viable? Is this something that he thinks that he could win?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, I don't know if this is something the President is eager to do. Right now we face tough choices. We face a difficult situation created by the rising deficit and slow job growth. This is not easy. This is not something he seeks. He simply wants to review every programming detail as we consider the economic package, the growth package, the jobs package. And that's really all I have to say.
Q This really is a follow-up with a slightly different tact. When a senior member of Congress like Senator Moynihan says something is a death wish and a land mine and publicly warns you to stay away from it, what does that mean to you? Does that mean that it's off the table, or does it mean you need to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We take that very seriously. The President has great respect for Senator Moynihan, has great respect for the work he's done on Social Security, the work he's done on a range of issues in his lifetime of service to the U.S. But again, the President is reviewing his plans right now.
Q Governor Cuomo and Governor Wilson and Governor Chiles, Ann Richards, maybe one other, sent to the President a letter asking for the federal government to pick up more of the share of cost associated with illegal immigration, the costs of uninsured medical costs, the costs of incarceration. It comes to several billions that is currently on state budgets. Given the constraints on the federal budget, is there any possibility that the President might be able to respond to that request from the governors, or is that something that's just out of the question?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we're going to review the letter carefully, review the proposal carefully. But again, I don't know that we have any final decision on how much can be devoted to that at this time.
Q On a related matter, various agencies are supposed to be submitting budget requests. Has the President given any particular guidance or has Panetta any particular guidance to the agencies about what range of numbers they should be looking at in these budget requests along the lines of what they were told last year about 10 percent below baseline, that sort of thing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I can't get into the details of the instructions, but the President wants an economic growth package, a jobs package and an investment package that's consistent with the proposals he talked about in the campaign. We won't necessarily be able to hit every goal or every dollar amount in exactly the same way, but again, that would be consistent with what the President said in his campaign where he said, if we face a difficult deficit situation, if we face a difficult economic situation first, he would seek to scale back unnecessary spending and other spending before he went on to other measures.
Q Will there be some sort of briefing?
Q Do you expect to have an attorney general nomination this week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know.
Q Is the President talking to anyone about it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's talking to a lot of people about it, and he continues to talk to people. I don't know if he has any interviews this afternoon specifically, but he continues to put in a lot of work on it, and we hope to have an announcement relatively soon.
Q Do you expect to have a briefing --
Q Do you also have a conclusion on the Sessions issue this week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure. We're continuing to review it. And when we have a conclusion, we'll let you know.
Q Do you expect to have a briefing before the visit by the President of Canada -- the National Security Advisor will brief --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President reviews daily issues with his national security advisors every day.
Q Will there be a briefing for the press before the meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we can look into that, sure.
Q George, did the President ask the governors for help in selling his deficit reduction plan to the American public?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They talked about a range of issues. But again, I don't know that I would characterize it that way. Reducing the deficit is a means to an end, not an end in itself. You reduce the deficit in order to create jobs, in order to get the economy growing for the American people. He will look for all the help he can get in developing that program for the American people. But they focus most of their energy today on health care.
Q George, do you think there's any connection between Senator Moynihan's tough words about Social Security and the anonymous quote, I guess, in Time Magazine of some Clinton aide trashing Moynihan?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't think so. I mean, the President, as you know, talked to Senator Moynihan last week, and I don't know exactly what happened in the conversation, but I know that the Senator was gratified that the President was concerned about what had happened in the magazine and that that satisfied him. Because the President was taking matters into his own hands, and he was quite convinced, as you should be, that this did not represent the President's view.
Q George, what dictated your change in the coverage rules here today? You should also be aware that a number of radio networks have been carrying your briefings live. It probably sounded a bit awkward when the sound just went dead right --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sorry we weren't able to announce that earlier. The President did appear before the cameras today, and we'll be reviewing all this we hope to be meeting with the White House correspondents I hope within the next day or two to go over a range of these issues.
Q Can you give us a little more advanced notice on what --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely. I apologize --
Q -- the briefings you're going to make --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was a mistake, and I apologize.
Q Are you saying that if the President appears before the cameras you won't? Is that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying we're going to meet with the White House correspondents within a day or two to go over this.
Q Is the meeting with the White House correspondents or the network bureau chiefs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, we would like to meet with both.
Q George, in both the vaccine issue and the managed health care issue the President seems to be contemplating programs that would take -- the government take over payment for things some people already pay for themselves. Is that true, or would the payment be limited to those who could not afford to pay?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President was looking to find the best way to provide these services to all Americans, those in need. Again, we don't have the final details yet of how all the plans would work. But we want to make sure we have broad immunization. And we think that it will reduce costs in the long run for everyone.
Q That could possibly include doing it for everyone, in other words, rather than allowing those who now pay for it for themselves to continue doing so?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't have the details, but we'll have something relatively soon.
Q George, is that a program that you're considering as a stand-alone program outside of the broad health care reform because of its importance?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think this is something the President would like to move on very quickly, but again we have no final word yet.
Q If I could follow up. Tomorrow he's talking about welfare reform. What's he going to tell them about his pledge to end welfare as we know it? Is he going to ask them to develop programs, or is he going to create a task force the same way he did with health care?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President will have an announcement to make on that tomorrow. But I would just say he remains committed to reforming the welfare system and making it work.
Q Is he going to grant waivers on welfare programs the same way he did today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know.
Q Was the President given some advice by the governors today about tax increases or what sorts of taxes to increase? And is he considering a broad-based energy tax as part -- as one of his options?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No decisions have been made on the economic program. I think that's been well reported in the press, and there's no need to kick it around some more. But I think that he's had general discussions with as many governors as he could. Again, in the meeting itself it focused largely health care.
Q Can you characterize some of the advice he's been getting about perhaps raising taxes on the middle class, if he's been getting some?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President is, again, is not eager to raise taxes on anyone. He wants to make sure, though, that we have a good economic program that works to create jobs in the long run. And I think that that's the stance he takes into this discussion.
Q If I could just follow up on Jeff's question, did anyone in there give him advice on whether or not he should raise taxes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of.
Q On the U.N. resolution, you said it would not be constructive now. Is the Clinton administration ready to veto any resolution that would impose sanctions on Israel?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right now I believe there is no resolution tabled before the U.N. Security Council right now. So it's a purely hypothetical that I can't answer.
Q George, you said early that reducing the deficit is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and that the end is accelerated economic growth. Does that mean that if you could accelerate economic growth by perhaps a short-term increase in the deficit, the President is still open to that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as we said, the President is looking at a stimulus program in the very short run. But, again, I don't think there's any disagreement that in the long run you must reduce the deficit as a precondition to move forward on jobs and economic growth.
Q But in doing so for its own sake is not an objective of this administration, is that correct?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You would reduce the deficit so you can improve the economy for the American people.
Q George, one of the governors, I think it was Governor Campbell, when he threw out this $30-billion figure that supposedly came up at the meeting on an economic stimulus package, he then later said that half of it might have been from the private sector and half from the governmental sector. When you're talking about the private sector, what does that mean?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has always been for private sector incentives. The investment tax credit is one good example of how you can increase investment through the private sector to create jobs.
Q Both governors were very pleased with the universal waiver proposal the President made. Can you give us some idea of what state programs he is thinking of that might fall under that category?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, you might have me there. I think this is just -- his waivers today were related to kind of simplifying the Medicaid system and the Medicaid application system having to do with the Health Care Financing Association. Right now, they can come back time and time again to states asking for more information, more clarification. This would limit their attempts to come back and get more information once, and right now there could be as many as years between their first and their last intervention. This would make sure they only would get one and would speed up the process. It would also help make sure that if different states learn from each other and learn how to do similar activities that they're not penalized.
Q I think that's what I'm talking about. The understanding I got -- it may be wrong -- was that the program works in one state that gets a waiver for it, other states --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't have to go through the whole process again. I mean, that's really important.
Q What purpose does he have in mind? Because it seemed this was -- some of the governors cheered -- that he must have some programs in mind that have worked in some states.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would have to get back to you on that. I think this is generally in the range of the Medicaid programs. They've had some bad experiences with not being able to get their programs reviewed quickly, but I don't have the specific programs.
Q The Haiti situation seems to have hit a new roadblock in negotiated solutions. Now there's talk of about 300 Haitians in Guantanamo Bay are going on a hunger strike, trying to get to the United States, many of them suffering from AIDS. What is the position of the White House on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's position remains the same. He wants to make sure that we continue to do everything we can to reach a negotiated settlement, to bring democracy back to Haiti. But if people leave, they will be returned.
Q How about the people already in Guantanamo that are trying to get to the United States?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, I believe that's going to be very difficult.
Q George, did he change anything today in terms of Medicaid reimbursement, federal government's reimbursement?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He said they would review it.
Q But, I mean -- review it, but I mean, did he take any -- I mean, there was no step to actually change it, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What he did was essentially open up the negotiations again so that they could have the discussions. I would just add that the President has done this with all regulations that were introduced by the Bush administration at the end of their term. And this is just a review, and he wants to make sure that the states and his administration get together on this.
Q Does he have an inclination here or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he's heard their concerns and wants to make sure they're dealt with in negotiations.
Q George, on that Haiti matter, the 271 Haitians who are at Guantanamo, at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, have all been screened in and authorized to come to the United States, but most of them are HIV positive, or relatives of HIV positive. The Bush administration's policy was to bar them from coming into the United States, even though INS said they qualified for political asylum status simply because they're HIV positive. What is the Clinton administration's policy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would refer you to the State Department.
Q Well, the State -- it's not a State Department issue.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it will be. They'll get you an answer. (Laughter.)
Q It's an INS issue.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll get back to you on it. I don't have an answer.
Q Does the President plan to change his policy on HIV positive admission to the U.S.?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to look at that.
Q On the attorney general, the President made it an issue during the campaign of his support for the death penalty. Does he consider that to be a prerequisite for whoever he might nominate for attorney general, that they share his view on that issue?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I don't think so. I don't know that it's come up.
Q President Bush, last year in an attempt at fiscal stimulus cut the withholding table, as you know. Does your administration plan to leave them where they are, to restore them, or perhaps cut them further?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think they automatically return to their previous levels. And at this point, the President's reviewing everything as he prepares his economic package.
Q By keeping them, freezing them would retain the same fiscal stimulus for this year if you chose to do that. Do you have any inclinations in that direction?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No decisions yet.
Q George, didn't the President, during the campaign say he would drop the restriction on HIV positive people coming -- wanting to immigrate?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he did, yes. And I just don't know the specific situation with these people in Guantanamo, and we'll be getting an answer.
Q There's no change as far as you know on his campaign promise?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q George, on health care, if the governors are going to be playing a formal role on some of these task force sub-groups, is the President going to be inviting other outside interest groups who are not administration officials to participate?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's going to be an awful lot of outreach by the task force. Again, I don't know what the formal structures will be or the formal methods of participation will be, but I'm certain we'll be contacting other groups as well.
Q Following up on David's question, you said it hasn't come up, the issue of attorney general candidate and where they stand on the death penalty. Is that because he's only looking at candidates --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I'm saying it hasn't come up as a prerequisite. I don't know.
Q He said during the campaign that he would choose nominees, for instance, for the Supreme Court who are on record in terms of abortion. Is he looking at candidates who have a public record of how they stand on the death penalty and abortion before he considers them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's going to consider all aspects of the potential nominees' background as he goes through his decision-making process. He will look at their administrative experience, their legal experience. He will look at their public statements. But I don't want to say that anything is a precondition to being selected.
Q Does he feel it's okay to ask candidates for attorney general their views on those two issues, abortion and the death penalty?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wouldn't be surprised if it came up, but again, it's not a precondition or something that is necessary.
Q Is the White House staff complete now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Complete?
Q Have the employees in the White House staff who are going to be hired, been hired?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think all the employees, no.
Q At what point will you put out who is on the staff and what their salaries are so we can make the comparison that President Clinton noted in the campaign?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know about the salaries or when we're going to have a full roster of staff. We expect to be making an announcement on the White House staff and the President's campaign commitments relatively soon.
Q Are you -- as a presidential assistant, can you tell us how much you make, so I can compare --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Less than my predecessor.
Q Who was your predecessor -- which predecessor?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: David Demarest.
Q He was making the same as Marlin.
Q Would you like to tell us how much -- public record -- we can then get an idea.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: When it's public record, we'll release them.
Q Is that a matter of ability or conscience, or policy, or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll let the numbers speak for themselves?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: When we have them.
Q But why are you getting less than the predecessor?
Q Surely you have the numbers already.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, not the final numbers for everything.
Q The pennies? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that generally, the President is going to try to maintain his commitments on the White House staff. And I think that he's trying to do -- show that if he's going to take responsibility, that he's going to take responsibility for his own staff and his own White House and make sure that he sets a good example.
Q Is that by salary or by numbers of people?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think generally we were looking at his numbers.
Q Numbers of people?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q George, is there a general policy about paying people less that their predecessors were earning?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think the scales are a little bit different, yes. But I wouldn't go to every individual and say, do a comparison like that. But there are general -- I think generally we've moved the scales down a little bit.
Q Because when the Bush administration came in, they made a point of saying that they'd moved the scale down from what the Reagan administration had been.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we've done it again. (Laughter.)
Q So there is a general policy about this, right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The scales are generally a little bit different.
Q Like what?
Q Is there a percentage that you're using?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know the percentage. We'll have it soon.
Q I just got this -- this just in -- a bulletin from AFP: Israel has decided to allow the return of about 100 of the 400 Palestinians deported to South Lebanon and to reduce the period of exile for the others, according to a minister. Do you know anything about that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it would be bad to get into the habit of responding to bulletins just in from the world, but I think that Secretary Christopher will have something to say on that later this afternoon.
Q Do you know about this? Is this true?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds -- it sounds like a step in the right direction. But Secretary Christopher will have something to say later on.
Q George, as part of the personnel process, a lot of these folks need to go through security clearances, and a lot of them haven't completed security clearances. Could you talk a little bit about how this complicates decision-making in some of the areas that you're dealing with, both domestic and foreign?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're trying to get through the security clearances as quickly as we can. And I believe we've made good progress. I don't know exactly what you're or who you're referring to.
Q Well, for example, some of the NSC folks that are newly on board but not have a clearance to deal with top secret material.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Those clearances always take several weeks to several months to complete. And this isn't out of the ordinary at all. We try to make sure we have the best information we can. And I think that the very top officials have their clearances completed, so it's not hampering us in any way.
Q George, as you know, this weekend has unleashed a rash of punditry about how the Clinton administration, albeit in its infancy, is doing, and so far it has not gotten very high marks.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it depends on who you read.
Q Who do you read? (Laughter.)
Q My question is, considering how sensitive the President to his imagery, to his public image, how is he taking it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think the President feels good about the direction we're moving and in the plans he's laid for the success of his administration.
I think when you look back over the first couple of weeks, you find, number one, that he had a successful inaugural; number two, that he had all but one of his Cabinet conferees confirmed and through the Senate in record time. He's appointed a health care task force to get to work on one of the most important issues facing the American people. He's spent hours and hours working on the economy and preparing his jobs program that will be presented to the Congress on February 17th. He's met with dozens of members of Congress and talked to others to make sure that we can do everything we can to break the gridlock and pass those important legislative proposals. He had an unprecedented meeting with his Cabinet members at Camp David this weekend, which again, lays the groundwork for building the kind of team and the kind of teamwork that it's going to take to get these important initiatives through.
I would also point you to the things that the Cabinet secretaries have done on their own: when you see Mike Espy freezing the employees at his department; when you see -- I know that over at the Department of Veterans Affairs they've closed down the executiving dining room. And we're trying to change the way we do business here in Washington. The President has done -- feels good about that, feels good about the progress that he's made. He hopes that we can continue to build on that progress this week by passing and signing the family leave act. Tomorrow he'll be meeting with the governors again and making some announcements on welfare reform, another one of his major priorities.
So I think when you put this in context and look at what's gotten done and the groundwork we've laid for future progress, we feel good about it.
Q George, can you explain to us in the dark what you've done today vis a vis live broadcast and why?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me?
Q Can you explain to us what you've done today, vis a vis, live broadcast and why?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Today the President was before the cameras. We had the governors as well. And we felt that was plenty of television for the day.
Q Did they not want you on TV tonight?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, and I would also -- not at all.
Q It's not quantity, George. (Laughter).
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to be meeting with the bureau chiefs, and we're going to be meeting with the White House correspondents.
Q Is that the way you prefer it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This is fine. I like them both ways.
Q George, can you tell us what happened this weekend and give us a little background on the meeting that the President had with the Cabinet secretaries?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President was very excited by the meeting. He invited, as you know, the Cabinet members down for his first weekend at Camp David. They spent Saturday discussing his goals for the presidency, his legislative initiatives, the major initiatives and how they are going to work together to meet those goals. Yesterday we added more White House staff and continued that discussion, and it was all very positive.
Q George, you've mentioned Espy's freezing of hiring and the work he's doing on some of the Washington staff. Did he clear that through the White House first, or how is this process working? Can Cabinet secretaries take these steps and then you read about them in the paper, or is there some clearance process --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, we talked to him this weekend, but we're --
Q No, he did this before this weekend.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're not -- again, if the Cabinet secretaries are going to carry out the President's mandate, which he said very clearly in the campaign, and they take their own initiative to get this done, we're thrilled.
Q I know you're thrilled. (Laughter.) What I'm asking is did you know about -- and I know the President's excited -- did Espy call the the Cabinet Secretary, you, someone --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe the Cabinet Secretary knew. I did not know. But again, I don't want to say that there has to be this kind of pre-clearance on an announcement like that. But I think we're generally moving in lockstep.
Q George, getting back to Israel, three American citizens were detained last week in Israel occupied territories. Is there any truth in the allegations by Israel that the common structure of Hamas is now in this country, in the United States?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would refer you to the State Department and the FBI. They've been talking to Israel and they're looking into this.
Q George, earlier you said that the President wasn't eager to raise taxes on anyone. As I remember during the campaign he said that he would not raise taxes on the middle class to pay for his programs. Does he still intend to keep that commitment?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's put that in context, first of all. He does -- the President did say that. He also said you can't say "Read my lips," and that that would be irresponsible, especially if we faced economic difficulties or new economic situations. Add he was very clear about that, both during the debate, after the debate and the days following the debate. But the President is working on his economic program right now. He's looking to create the best program he can to create jobs and increase incomes.
Q Does that mean that a tax increase for the middle class is on the table?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What that means is that the President has not made any decisions. He is looking at every option at this point. He is trying to put together the best program he can to create jobs.
Q Several of the governors lauded President Clinton's commitment to reducing the deficit. But several also expressed concern that what they've been hearing so far is that all efforts would be aimed at the revenue side and not the spending side. What is the President's commitment to reducing spending? Is it still that $2.00 of spending for every one of revenue formula?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if we have a specific formula that's set in stone, but the President knows that we have to get wasteful spending down, that we have to control spending. One of the keys to that is controlling health care costs which eats up an ever-increasing amount of the federal budget. But, of course, he's committed to cutting spending and getting the waste out of government. He said throughout the campaign he wants to reduce administrative costs in the government by three percent, he wants to cut out all the fat. We can and he must do that before you go to revenues.
Q But if your just cutting out fat that two-to-one formula seems unattainable. Does he think the two-to-one formula is realistic?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we don't have a formula set in stone right now, but he's going to go after spending and do everything he can to control it.
Q George, on a totally unrelated subject, do you have any thoughts on how the CIA, the U.S. intelligence community and the Clinton administration will operate differently than it did in previous administrations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that Secretary -- Mr. Woolsey is up before the Senate today, where I think tomorrow addressing that but the President has talked about trying to make the CIA relevant to the new world and the new kinds of technology that we have right now, and secondly, to focus more on economic interests and economic intelligence which is were the real competition is now.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you.
END 2:23 P.M. EST