THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
10:03 A.M. EST
MS. MYERS: As you know, the President is currently meeting with members of the Senate Budget Committee. At 10:35 a.m. he'll greet President Mitterrand. They'll proceed to the Oval Office. At roughly 12:15 p.m. they'll have press statements in the East Room. At 1:00 p.m. they'll have lunch in the Old Family Dining Room. At a little after 2:00 p.m., roughly 2:10 p.m., the President will escort President Mitterrand, and that will conclude their meeting for today.
The only other thing -- two things on the President's agenda are a 5:00 p.m. meeting in the Roosevelt Room with additional Democratic senators to discuss the ongoing budget resolution process, and at 6:45 p.m. he and Vice President Gore will attend a birthday party for Senator Strom Thurmond.
Q Who are the senators?
MS. MYERS: I don't have a list. There's about 15 or so.
Q Is there coverage of that 5:00 p.m.?
MS. MYERS: No, that's closed.
Q I think it was the Wall Street Journal, perhaps others, suggested that the President is -- will accept or is going for a discretionary -- an across-the-board cut in discretionary domestic spending. Is that the case?
MS. MYERS: With reference to the budget resolutions, what the President is working towards is he's working to accept additional cuts. He believes that no matter how this has worked out that the basic principles of this program will remain intact. So far that looks very good. There will be ongoing commitment to investment. But as for the specific details, something that he wants to let the House and Senate committees work out, and then they'll have to work it out in conference. So we want to give them as much latitude as he can to work out their differences.
Q Would you accept an across-the-board discretionary domestic spending cut as compared to individual cuts in individual programs?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, there are a number of proposals on the table. There are some differences between the House and Senate versions of this. He's willing to accept additional cuts. He wants something that maintains his commitment to fairness, that maintains the overall structure of the budget package he outlined last month, something that's credible and that can get through the full Congress.
Q Can I try this one more time?
MS. MYERS: You can ask it any way you want. He's --
Q Well, Panetta, the President, George, just about everybody in this administration called across-the-board cuts gimmicks, an unfair way of cutting domestic spending. They used a lot of language about how this was not a responsible way to make cuts. And what I'm asking is, would he accept domestic, across-theboard cuts except for individual programs?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think the President wants to work with members of the committees to work out the details and allow the committees as much flexibility as possible, the Congress as much flexibility as possible when they go back into conference committee to work out their ultimate differences.
I think he's made many things very clear. One is that in order to alleviate even the possibility of budget gimmicks, he's willing to work through these specific cuts. He's gone back to the CBO numbers and said he's willing to make deeper cuts in his own program in order to meet the CBO estimates. He's going to work with members of the House and Senate.
And the Senate -- the House Budget Committee has proposed cuts by category, which has eliminated certain -- or left certain things off the table. He's meeting with the Senate right now -- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. He's meeting with the Senate right now. We'll have more to say about that later. But, again, he wants to maintain some flexibility as the House and Senate goes into conference committee to work out their inevitable differences on this.
Q But basically, you're saying yes to her question?
MS. MYERS: Basically I'm saying that we're going to work with Congress. (Laughter.)
Q Just say no. (Laughter.)
Q Dee Dee, what happened to the President's "show me where" approach?
MS. MYERS: The Republicans have basically offered across-the-board cuts without any specific budget -- there's no budget presentation, okay. President Clinton has outlined 150 specific cuts. He's outlined new revenues -- investments. It's a specific program over five years with specific budget targets that will end up with $140 billion in deficit reduction over five years. Whether you use the CBO numbers, which we're working toward now, or our initial baseline, you still get $140 billion over five years with 150 specific cuts.
We have seen nothing like that from the Republicans. They keep talking about having alternative proposals; nobody's put one forward. The budget committees are now working on the plan that the President submitted. They're adding additional cuts, which the President always said he was interested in looking at. They're maintaining the integrity of his basic investment package, which is very important to him . There's been no talk about -- in these specific proposals -- about eliminating the stimulus package, which the President is committed to and is moving forward with. And so it's a very different situation.
Q How far is he willing to go? The Senate -- Sasser was saying yesterday the Senate was going to do 73, even higher than the House. Is that acceptable?
MS. MYERS: He's willing to look at additional cuts, which he said all along. Again, the House and the Senate are going to end up with different numbers which are going to go into conference and he's going to work with them -- continue to work with them to reach --
Q What would he be inclined to support? He's talking about over the next four years that cutting the budget is a continuing process. Does he, therefore, start from the philosophy that 73 is good if they can come up with those numbers?
MS. MYERS: He's willing to look at it. But we're not locked into any particular cap. The budget resolution is going to have the specific targets in it. In the meantime, we're going to work with the House and Senate to reach a compromise on this. But the President is willing to look at a number of additional spending cuts, which he did yesterday with the House Democrats, which he's doing now with the Senate Budget Committee folks.
Q When you say he's looking into additional cuts, you're saying beyond the $55 billion that he agreed to yesterday?
MS. MYERS: Well, the House is looking at additional cuts beyond the $55 -- Budget Committee.
Q And the Senate is, too.
MS. MYERS: And the Senate is, too.
Q So I'm asking -- when you say additional budget cuts are you referring to the $55 billion that you referred to yesterday or are you saying he'd be willing to go beyond that, too?
MS. MYERS: He's willing to work with the House and the Senate to find some compromise that is credible, that can pass, that maintains his commitment to new investments and that's ultimately fair. And we'll work with the committees and with the full House and Senate to find that solution.
Q So he's open to beyond 55?
MS. MYERS: He's going to continue to work with the Congress to reach some kind of resolution that will no doubt include additional cuts from his original proposal. And when we get to a resolution on this, we'll have some specific number. In the meantime, we're continuing to look at a variety of different cuts.
Q Dee Dee, is he willing to offer specific additional cuts, or is he willing to let Congress lay those out?
MS. MYERS: I think that we're waiting to see what Congress offers in terms of specific cuts at this time. We've made 150 specific recommendations. I think we're looking for them for specifics coming back.
Q So at this point, he has no specifics in mind in terms of these additional cuts?
MS. MYERS: Not at this time.
Q Dee Dee, when you look at these additional cuts, whether it's $55 billion or $63 billion or $73 billion, do you think of this as a major compromise on the part of the White House, or is this really fiddling on the margins of the President's plan -- only really a minor adjustment?
MS. MYERS: We see it as building on the President's plan. Again, this maintains the integrity of his overall package, it maintains significant new investments, new revenue, deficit reduction, and overall it's fair. He's very committed to maintaining the fairness in the package. But again, it's building on the concepts that he believes are important.
Q It's on the margins, it's not really a major compromise that goes to the heart of the President's program?
MS. MYERS: No, it doesn't compromise the integrity of the President's program, no.
Q If I could follow that, you're talking about the integrity of the President's program, and you suggest, if I'm reading you right, that the reason the President is going to accept less specificity from Democrats on the cuts that he's demanding of Republicans is that he trusts the Democrats to maintain the integrity of the program.
MS. MYERS: Democrats are suggesting changes that build on the structure outlined by the President in his budget address, in the State of the Union.
Q Give me an example, would you? In what way are they not affecting the central tenets of the program where the Republicans appear to be lacking?
MS. MYERS: The Republicans have suggested things like eliminating all of the President's investment, eliminating all of the new revenues, completely changing the direction in which the President intends to take the country with this budget package. The President, again, set out to do a couple of things: One, to increase investment in things that were important; two, to reduce the deficit over five years; and, three, to make sure that the package was fair. All of those things are maintained in the House and Senate Budget Committee proposals to build on the President's package. They don't go back and completely wipe out one aspect of that plan. They don't, for example, eliminate corporate taxes, they don't increase loopholes for the rich.
Now, there will be some negotiating that's going to need to go on as we move toward a specific resolution, and then beyond that, to the ultimate package that will be adopted at some point in this process. But the President believes that the direction that the Congress is moving in now, the budget committees, builds on his package and maintains the integrity of the direction that he set out in the beginning.
Q Why does the White House now accept the goal of meeting the CBO numbers, whereas just last week you all were saying that these things vary and it wasn't all that significant?
MS. MYERS: We believe that the baseline we started from was good, and there are definitely some different procedures that we use and that CBO used. But to eliminate even the appearance of budget gimmickry, we're willing to go with more conservative estimates.
Q Why weren't you interested in eliminating that appearance last week?
MS. MYERS: We believe our numbers are sound. But we're willing to work with Congress to get this passed in a way that's credible. We believe that if we can eliminate even the appearance of budget gimmickry after 12 years of magic asterisks and black boxes, we're willing to do it to take the extra step.
Q In order to maintain the integrity of your package, are you thinking about new user fees or new taxes?
MS. MYERS: Again, I'm not going to comment on the specifics, other than to say that we'll continue to work with Congress toward the specifics in a way that we think is complementary with the President's goals.
Q You're not ruling that out?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to rule it in or out.
Q Do you have any readout on the Nixon meeting last night?
MS. MYERS: It was a good meeting. I don't know how long it lasted. They talked about Russia. And I don't have any more specifics on it at this point.
Q Any other subjects?
Q There was a report that former President Nixon is strongly proposing or suggesting a G-7 meeting before the full G-7 meeting to deal with the Russian situation. Does the President, the White House have any reaction to that? Are they totally opposed, considering --
MS. MYERS: I think, without commenting on the specifics of the meeting, I think that the President -- President Clinton is considering a number of things with reference to both the summit and the G-7.
Q Including an early G-7?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to comment on that at this point.
Q Dee Dee, did Mrs. Clinton meet President Nixon?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so, no.
Q Dee Dee, is the President willing to see the stimulus package trimmed back as some Democrats like Charlie Stenholm want?
MS. MYERS: No, the President still is committed to the stimulus package. He believes that we need investment now to create jobs and he's committed to moving that package through as it is now.
Q Dee Dee, do you have any more on the credit crunch thing you're going to do tomorrow, where, when, how?
MS. MYERS: It will be here at the White House. I don't have the time. There will be a group of small business people here and the President will present his specific changes in regulation that will hopefully ease the credit crunch, make credit more available, particularly to small businesses.
Q The stimulus package seems to be everything you have out there, the Holy Grail, the one untouchable. You're compromising now or making changes on spending cuts. And all along the President has been extremely flexible in his programming as budget and financial conditions change. As the economy continues to improve, don't you see any reason to at least modify the stimulus package, especially since it's not likely to be passed for some months? Is there any chance that the economy could improve enough to make certain parts of it unnecessary? Are you willing to look at that?
MS. MYERS: First of all, I'm not sure I agree with your premise that it's not likely to be passed for several months. Second of all, the President continues to believe that there is a need for stimulus; that there has not been job growth to go along with economic recovery; that while last month's figures were encouraging, it was largely in the sector of part-time jobs. And the President wants to do everything he can to avoid a triple dip in this recession. It's not enough to have one good month and throw up your hands and say we're done, we don't need to do anything to help this economy stay on course.
Q I'm not framing it as a choice of doing nothing. I'm talking about modifying --
MS. MYERS: We believe there's a modest stimulus package now, that it's a lean stimulus package, but one that is specifically targeted to create jobs in important sectors. And he maintains his commitment to that package.
Q Are you afraid that if you open it up for any discussion at all the whole thing will unravel?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure that's the fear. But I think the President believes it's a modest package, but one that is still necessary and will have an impact and create roughly half a million jobs over the next two years. And that's important.
Q Dee Dee, how close are you to an announcement on the Pacific Northwest timber summit?
MS. MYERS: Close.
Q Which means what?
MS. MYERS: I can't say specifically, but I would stay tuned.
Q This month?
MS. MYERS: I think that the announcement will certainly be this month.
Q Dee Dee, speaking of dates, do you have a date for the resumption of Middle East peace talks? Israeli Radio is saying April 19th.
MS. MYERS: No, I don't. I'll get back to you --
Q You don't know when the invitations are going out?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't. You can check with State, or I'll get back to you.
Q You just reminded me, I want to get a clarification from you on some numbers that seem to be getting thrown around here a lot. You say 500,000 jobs. Panetta said in his briefing opening up this package that 150,000 of them or something like that would be summer jobs. The President is talking about 700,000 summer jobs.
MS. MYERS: That's not just stimulus.
Q How many summer jobs are we talking about? Aren't we talking about a number of summer jobs created under past programs that are already in place, including the Bush plan from last year?
MS. MYERS: There are a number of programs dealing with summer jobs. The stimulus -- there are roughly 700,000, 150,000 of which would be created by the stimulus package this year.
Q Well, the President seems to be taking credit for creating 700,000 summer jobs this year. I want to know how much could we --
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the specific reference you're talking to is.
Q About every speech he makes. I mean, I'd like to find out how many -- you're going to take -- you say 150,000 jobs.
MS. MYERS: I think I disagree with your premise that he's taking credit for creating 700,000 summer jobs.
Q Well, it's almost an exact quote that he said if we pass this package, we will create 700,000 summer jobs.
MS. MYERS: But 700,000 summer jobs over the course of the package. I'll have to get back to you on the specific arithmetic, but I think the numbers definitely add up.
Q Thank you.
END10:18 A.M. EST