Subj: PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS The Briefing Room
12:37 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me start out. The President has declared major disasters in Louisiana and California, and has approved FEMA grants. Yesterday he declared that a major disaster exists in Louisiana as a result of severe storms and flooding from January 20th to January 25th. Today the President will declare that a major disaster exists in California as a result of a winter storm which struck California from January 5th to January 22, 1993. California will receive a grant of $1,867,500; and Louisiana received $1,041,875.
Q What's the money for?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The money will go -- Louisiana will receive individual assistance through FEMA for temporary housing, disaster unemployment assistance and the individual and family grant program. It will also receive some support through the Small Business Administration for the disaster loan program. Similar programs for California.
Q Does the President still want to reduce the deficit by $145 billion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As the President said this morning, he is committed both to increasing investment in job creation and in education and health care and in bringing the deficit down. He is working on that.
Q But is he committed to the figure of $145 billion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has said that he would like to get close to $145 billion. I believe that was the last time he spoke and gave a specific number, and that's the kind of plan he's directed towards right now. But we don't have the hard numbers right now. We will be working on that.
Q Do you see any way that that could be accomplished without a broad-based energy tax, and if so, how does that fit with his commitment today again not to hurt the working middle class?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President set out his principles very clearly today. He feels, one, that we must both increase investment and reduce the deficit; two, that we have to do it fairly and that those who benefited in the 1980s must first pay, which is why he's calling for an increase in the income tax on people earning over $200,000 -- probably from 31 to 36 percent. He also believes that we have to cut government. And he's taken action and will continue to take action to bring that down before he calls for any other programs.
But obviously, he's reviewing all of his options to make sure he can achieve both his goals to increase investment and bring the deficit down.
Q George, is he committed to two dollars of spending cuts for every dollar in taxes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know if we have any hard formulas, but he's committed to bringing -- to taking out the waste in any government spending, of cutting government spending, to controlling health care costs, and to doing it fairly.
Q Without a formula would spending cuts have to outweigh taxes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think his first commitment is what he said throughout the campaign and now as President, is to cut spending first. You have to cut government spending. You have to get the waste out of government. And he even said during the campaign that before he went to taxes he would also look at probably scaling back even some of the things that he cared about very deeply. You must cut spending first, absolutely.
Q Why is the President considering lifting the ban on hiring PATCO employees?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, he has not made any decision, that is a proposal that is being developed, I believe, in the Labor Department or being reviewed in the Labor Department, but the President has made no decision yet.
Q Understand no decision, but why is he looking at that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, this is something that happened under Reagan; he wants to take a look at the equities. But, again, I don't think I should comment further until he's made a decision.
Q George, what is this White House staff announcement that he talked about over there today? When is that planned and what is that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think we have a date set yet, but he intends to make an announcement in the relatively near future about the White House staff reductions.
Q Excuse me, follow-up. To what extent? Is he going to talk about numbers or just a philosophy that he talked about during the campaign? How far is this going to go?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think any announcement would include both.
Q So he's going to talk about reducing it by a certain size, a certain percentage?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so.
Q Has he already begun in practice implementing that by the number of people he's hired?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Clearly, everything that we're doing now will be consistent with the President's announcement.
Q George, will he also be asking Congress to make similar cuts as he said during the campaign?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he said that today.
Q He used the word budgetary in describing these cuts; he didn't talk about numerical cuts. Is that how this is going to be presented?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think we'll have the announcement relatively soon, but he is looking for reductions in the White House operations and will achieve that.
Q What is his timetable on campaign finance reform?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, he's meeting with congressional leaders on campaign finance today. He wants to move on it relatively quickly and that's one of the things that he looks forward to talking with the congressional leaders about today.
Q What do you mean by relatively quickly? They're talking about six months. A lot of people think if six months go by that's the end of it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no. The President is committed to getting this done, and I don't know that there's any time after which it just falls off. That won't happen. The President is committed to getting it done; he wants to get it done quickly. They'll be talking about timetables among other things, I suppose, when he meets with the congressional leaders today.
Q George, you didn't want to talk about PATCO specifically, but you mentioned inequities during the Reagan administration. I mean, how does the President -- how would he characterize the labor-White House relations during that period and how does he want to make that different?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President wants to certainly improve relations with labor and improve relations with workers across the country. He, as you know, pointed out he's very gratified about what the Secretary of Labor Bob Reich has already done over at the Labor Department with his employees in closing down the executive dining room. But he's looking forward to a better relationship and he wants to make sure that we're all working together to make this economy grow, to increase incomes, increase jobs.
Q On the White House staff, is he meeting his commitment to reduce the staff if he has the same number of people working here but they happen to work -- is he meeting his goal of reducing the White House staff if he has the same number of people or even more people working here, but they happen to work as detailees from the State Department or the Defense Department -- something that has been done by previous administrations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm not sure exactly how it's going to be structured, but those are the kinds of issues we're considering and we'll have a full announcement soon.
Q Is this commitment to have a net of fewer people working here or is he -- are we pushing paper around?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think he expects to bring the cost of the operations down and to bring the numbers down.
Q Is it White House, or is it agency-wide? Is it executive --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Those are the kind of definitions we're working through. We're trying to get that straight. And when the President has his announcement, we'll let you know.
Q Is this going to actually reduce the number of people physically working here, or is it simply going to reduce the number of people who are on the actual White House payroll as opposed to agency payroll on loan?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, this is the kind -- these are the kinds of questions that will be involved in the announcement. We're working through that right now. I believe it will reduce the number of people working here, but I don't have a firm formula or anything like that.
Q He said 25 percent during the campaign. Does he still stand by that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is working on his reduction plan right now and we'll announce it soon.
Q George, can you outline the President's reservations about the Vance-Owen plan on Bosnia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President and his advisors, want, are supporting the diplomatic initiatives to bring the parties together. He continues to do that and we continue to work on it. I think Secretary Vance spoke with -- I'm sorry -- Secretary Christopher spoke with Mr. Vance this morning. We just continue to want a solution that brings all the parties together.
Q They say that they virtually have that, but that it's -- that the U.S. is not supporting this plan and that's keeping the Muslims out. Is that the situation as you understand it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President continues to work for a diplomatic solution and continues to support a diplomatic solution. He does not specifically embrace or reject the Vance plan.
Q But what do you think of the accusation by Owen, which was direct and very straight, against Washington, saying that you are blocking an agreement by encouraging the Bosnians and the Muslims to refuse to refuse the plan?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President continues to support these diplomatic efforts, but he does not have any specific support or rejection of this plan.
Q Don't you think that he has a problem by saying that -- by taking so much time to define your policy, you're, in fact, encouraging the Muslims just to wait to see what's going to happen, hoping that you are going to come to their rescue? He does have a point here.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We are very appreciative of the efforts of Lord Owen and former Secretary Vance. We continue to support the diplomatic initiatives to bring the people together in Bosnia. We are working on our own policy. We take it very seriously. We're undergoing review right now.
Q How much time will you need just to finish this -- how many weeks are you going to take?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if it will take weeks. I think that the President and his advisors are working on it now.
Q George, what are your allies telling you on Capitol Hill about the Republicans trying to put a rider on the family home leave?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have an up to the minute report, but we feel confident we're going to be able to get this bill through. And if we can't, the American people will know who to blame.
Q And to follow up, if you'll be so kind. Last week I asked you has the administration chosen somebody for Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not yet.
Q George, can we assume that the President's campaign finance proposal will include the elements he endorsed and put forward in the campaign -- all of them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think the President's proposal will be consistent with what he said in the campaign. I don't know about every line of the plan, but I believe it will be consistent, yes.
Q Well, does he still support the PAC limits he talked about? Does he still support cutting off the soft money spigot that he talked about? Does he still support overall spending limits? Does he still support an aggregate on the amount of money that each candidate can raise in PAC money as compared to others?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President still supports limits and he still supports significant reform; but he's going to be discussing all of this with the congressional leaders this afternoon.
Q On the Hill they're saying that the President suggested he'd have legislation by March 15th. Is that right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's not out of the question. I mean, we're working on it right now. We want to move as quickly as we can, but I don't know if we have any hard deadline.
Q Is he backing away from his -- what he said about soft money?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is developing his proposal right now.
Q What has -- U.N. Secretary Boutros-Ghali has said that Israel's plan to return 100 of the deported Palestinians does meet U.N. demands. Will this cause you to go back to Israel? Do you think you'll be able to block any kind of effort from the U.N. --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We believe this is a significant step and we believe it's generally consistent with Resolution 799. And we would just urge all parties now to move forward on the overall peace process. And we want to reinvigorate that peace process.
Q Do you intend to go back to Boutros-Ghali and try to convince him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to do everything we can right now to get the overall peace process reinvigorated and started up again.
Q Have you had any indication from Arab leaders that they will do that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to continue to talk to all sides and do what we can to get the process started.
Q How are you going to get consistent with 799 if that requires all of the people, all of the deportees to be returned and the offer is only for 100?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It sets up a process for all the deportees to be returned by December.
Q Is the President sending Warren Christopher to the Middle East?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's been under discussion, but the President's made no decision yet.
Q Again, what I asked yesterday, if the Hamas people just stay up there for the rest of the year or two years do you proceed as though they're not there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to do everything we can to resolve the situation and to get the peace process started.
Q George, when would you like to see the next round of Middle East talks convened?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I'd refer you to the State Department for any details, but we want to get them started as soon as possible.
Q Well, I ask you because you say this process could get the deportees back by December. Is the administration willing to wait until next January to restart --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to get he process started right away.
Q George, on campaign finance reform, could you discuss a little bit the problem of asking Congress to change the way it raises money, the way that it's lobbied at the same time you're asking it to pass innovative legislative initiatives on the economy and other areas. Is this a difficult balancing act for you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has an ambitious legislative agenda. But he thinks that they are all responding to needs that the people expressed and the things that people wanted addressed when they voted last November. The people said they wanted to get the economy moving, wanted a jobs program, and they said they wanted real political reform. And he feels we have to move on both fronts.
Q Are you saying now, though, that the specifics that he outlined in the campaign -- the $1,000, I think it was, PAC limit for Congress and ending soft money -- that's now open to discussion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is going to come forward with a plan that is consistent with the plans he said in the campaign. He wants real reform; and he will get real reform. He is now meeting with the congressional leaders, those who have been involved. And he wants to talk with them first before we release all the details to the press.
Q Does he support public financing of campaigns? Has he taken a position on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's something we want to look at. But as he's said in the past in the campaign, he wanted to open up the airwaves. And you could say that that would lead -- it's conceivable that's one of the things that could happen.
Q Does he support ending the deduction for lobbying?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, that's something he talked about in the campaign, but he's working on this proposal right now.
Q George, Dee Dee said this morning that it was possible that not all of the legislation for the economic plan would be ready when the President makes his address on February 17th. Does this mean that probably we will just get an outline of his proposals with legislation to follow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's probably likely to be a very detailed outline, but as you know, the budget isn't submitted until March.
Q March 23rd?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the exact date, but it's sometime in March.
Q And is it then more likely that we will just get the stimulus part of it on the 17th, with things like an energy tax or taxes for the wealthy to follow only in March?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's much more likely, obviously, that the stimulus package, which has to move quite quickly, would come before the budget, yes.
Q Can I follow up? Does that mean that you want to have a separate short-term tax bill and a separate short-term spending bill moving on a fast track before the larger process, which you've already said would probably end up in a reconciliation bill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily. The short-term stimulus package could move on a separate track. But there are different ways to do the reconciliation.
Q During the campaign, as I recall, the President talked about linking deficit reduction with economic revitalization. Director Panetta has talked about it. Now you're saying the shortterm stimulus would move on a separate track. How are you going to convince people that you're serious about deficit reduction if you do the short-term stimulus first?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It will all be getting done at the same time. I mean, you just -- the legislative system just works differently. You have a stimulus package which will largely take effect in Fiscal Year 1993, a budget which starts in Fiscal Year 1994. But they're just separate legislative vehicles. It doesn't mean that the entire package is necessarily separate. The entire package calls for short-term stimulus, calls for long-term investment, calls for long-term deficit reduction, all serving the goal of creating jobs.
Q Are you looking at a $50-billion tax increase? Is that the number?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know where you get that number. We're looking at --
Q That's what we're getting from Congress.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have no hard numbers yet.
Q What kind of a range are you looking at?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have numbers on that.
Q When you say that people earning over $200,000 a year are probably going to have their tax rate increased from 31 percent to 36 percent, do you have any decision --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President said in the campaign, right.
Q But you're now suggesting that he's going to do that by at least your earlier remarks. Do you have any number -- tax increases for people earning less than $200,000 a year; in other words, somebody earning between $100,000 and $200,000, will that person's tax rate go up as well?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the President has not made all the decisions yet. He said in the campaign that he was going to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and he's going to raise taxes on those who benefited in the 1980s, and that's what he intends to do.
Q Can I ask one more campaign finance question? During the campaign I believe the President endorsed the Senate legislation. Why can't you just take that rather than start all over?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to make sure we get this done in the right way --
Q What's he whispering about? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Campaign finance and whether or not the President's support for S-3, the Senate bill. Speak up. (Laughter.)
Q I missed the answer now.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He put forward a campaign finance proposal in the campaign; he'll be developing a proposal now, but he'll be working with the Senate.
Q Never mind -- (laughter.)
Q After Bush vetoed the campaign finance bill, he, in fact as I remember, urged them to come back at the President with something even stronger.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And it didn't happen.
Q And it didn't happen. So we could expect something even stronger?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We can expect a good campaign finance bill that is real reform. And we can expect that if he proposes it and the Senate and the Congress accept it, he'll sign it into law.
Q They'll accept it; they'll love it. (Laughter.)
Q George, there are a lot of Democrats on the Hill that are a little nervous about all of this campaign finance reform, thinking it will hurt the incumbents --
Q Tell them not to worry. (Laughter.)
Q Speaker Foley and others seem to want this to go into effect after the next cycle so as to protect the Democrats in '94. How does the President feel about that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, this is one of the issues they're going to discuss. Today I would just remind you that all of the proposals last time and generally have -- usually take effect the election after, and you usually allow a cycle to go through. But the President is committed to real reform and we expect to get it.
Q So are you suggesting now that the President proposals, whatever they are, whenever they come through --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm suggesting the President has not made any proposals yet, I'm simply pointing out that the proposals in the past have done that.
Q Do you think the President's proposal will do that as well?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what the President's proposal will do on that.
Q But, George, to follow-up on Ann's and Wolf's question, he was pretty detailed about campaign finance reform during the campaign. Why is he just developing the proposal now? Why isn't the proposal just what he said during the campaign?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he wants to sit down with the congressional leaders and see what they have to say about it. He's in the process now of developing a proposal that he intends to introduce.
Q But is that because he's concerned that what he proposed during the campaign wouldn't get passed by Congress?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily. He just wants to go through it again, make sure that he's got it right and introduces a proposal that will both produce real reform and be turned into law.
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