THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
The Briefing Room
1:24 P.M. EST
Q What's the banking thing tomorrow? Can you explain more what he wants to do?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he's going to be issuing a series of new regulations which will hopefully ease up the ability of banks to lend to small businesses across the country who have been racked by the credit crunch. I will save the announcement of the specifics until tomorrow, but that's what we're going to be focusing on.
Q George, if there were such an emergency G-7 meeting of any kind, is -- and I understand the President's thinking is premature -- but do you think it would be at the head of state level? Is that what he has in his mind?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think we should limit it to that at this time. I think that -- it's conceivable, but I don't think that's necessarily the only way that this could be done.
Q How else?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you could meet at the level of finance ministers, foreign ministers, spokesmen -- (laughter).
Q Is the world ready for that, George?
Q He doesn't take this seriously, eh?
Q Can you explain how only a few weeks ago the President was talking about how difficult it was to come up with 150 specific cuts, and what a great achievement this was. And then, overnight, he can miraculously agree to $50 billion, $60 billion, $70 billion more -- $90 billion -- whatever it is -- and contend that this is not going to hurt anything that he's outlined, is not going to hurt --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's hardly overnight. This process has been going on for quite a long time. And for the last --
Q But if it was there before -- if it wasn't there before, why is it there now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: For the last three weeks, the President has been saying that he is looking for spending cuts and he's willing to look at any proposals coming from the Congress for real cuts. That's what the budget committees have done. He is pleased with the action. He thinks it's a very significant action over the last two days.
I think most importantly, the budget committees have both come forward with packages which are consistent with the President's proposal to maintain the basic integrity of the President's package, but still manage to reconcile themselves with the numbers set forth by the CBO. So he's been pleased by their actions.
Q But will he -- if they come back to him in the end with across-the-board cuts in domestic spending, would he accept that? And would he also accept new taxes that they might come up with?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the budget committees are doing their job, and they have called for specific reductions in each of the categories which they're responsible for. There's a long way to go in the process -- as we go through the reconciliation process, as we go through the appropriations process. The actual specific line by line cuts will continue to be discussed and will continue to be decided upon.
Q Is anything off limits?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, at this point, the President's got his -- the President has put forward his package. He has said quite clearly that he wants to do what he can to preserve the investments that he thinks are important and the initiatives that he called for in the State of the Union.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q Sasser said that the President put something -- I think he said 35 specific programs off limits, at least to budget freezes. Can you tell us what kinds of programs he's talking about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President believes, for instance, that we need to make sure that we preserve our increases in the Head Start program, which he believes will save money in the long run -- help make sure our kids get a healthy start. For the Women, Infants and Children Program -- again, he believes these must be provided for. Immunization programs have to be provided for. He's called for full funding of the ISTEA -- the Inner Surface and Transportation Act -- and wants to make sure that we do our best to provide real jobs in the constructing of roads and bridges and other elements of our infrastructure.
He outlined a series of those investments in yesterday's speech. I would point you to the National League of Cities. Those are the kinds of things that he believes we must have investments in.
Q Those are off limits, then?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, I don't --
Q Did he, or did he not --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't want to go into the word --
Q specifically tell members of Congress there are things he did not want touched?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He specifically told members of Congress that he believes that we must preserve the integrity of his package, preserve the balance of his package, and that we must do what we can to preserve the investments that he's called for.
Q Can he live with a $90-billion additional cut that Sasser is now talking about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think he's been pleased so far by the actions of both budget committees. They still have to go through their committee markups, they have to go through floor action, they have to go through conference. I don't want to get locked into any of the specifics in any of the resolutions, but he's generally pleased at the action they've taken and the direction they've taken.
Q Are you essentially saying you'll take any budget resolution you can get right now and worry about it in the next phase?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all, no. I mean, what pleases us most about these budget resolutions is that they maintain the commitments that the President called for in the State of the Union and he's called for and beyond. They basically follow the direction he's set. Obviously, there are some differences between both Houses, and those will be worked out in the conference. But so far, so good.
Q George, Senator Mitchell had thought of the idea of combining the health care and the economic stimulus package together. Is that idea still being floated? Do you support it, or is it pretty much killed?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's still under discussion. As you know, the President has said consistently that he wants to get reelection on health care reform as quickly as possible, and we're still committed to that.
Q But from a political standpoint, do you think that Congress would go along with combining both into some sort of a super package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's still something that has to be determined. I mean, clearly, Senator Mitchell has spoken out on that issue, and he makes some very strong points. This is something that's under discussion now, and all I can say is that we're going to do what we can to make sure that health care is done as quickly as possible and that we have a successful economic package.
Q George, can I ask you about the meeting last night with President Nixon?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President said it was a fascinating meeting. He was very pleased to hear what former President Nixon had to say about the situation in Russia, and thought he had a lot of good ideas that he wants to continue to ponder.
Q Like what?
Q How long was it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it was about an hour. I just have to confess, we haven't had a lot of time. It's been a very busy morning. We haven't had a lot of time to discuss it, but he was --
Q Anything else besides Russia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it was largely on Russia, almost exclusively.
Q Could I get back to health care for just a minute?
Q Can I follow up on that subject? Can you tell me, does he really want -- does the President really want to mobilize a G-7 meeting, summit meeting before the July economic summit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President said he thought it would be useful. But we're following --
Q He sounded reluctant this morning, and then the press conference he was a little more amendable.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He had more time to talk about it at the press conference. But I think that he does think it would be useful. I wouldn't want to go beyond what he said. And we'll continue to explore this.
Q Another follow on that. Are we just talking about -- as far as G-7, Russia; but in terms of amending the strictures of the financial institutions, finding other creative ways to get aid to -- aid over there, are we talking about only Russia, or are you expanding that to other former states of the Soviet Union?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've been focusing right now on Russia. I don't think that it's come up beyond that at this point.
Q Do you think that there is a need to do that at this point? Kissinger has been arguing very strongly that that's the case.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's certainly something that we have to look at, but the President has been discussing Russia.
Q On the budget resolutions, which come up in both Houses tomorrow and their committees, do you expect to hold all of the Democratic votes on the committee? It seems like you've got pretty much a united front and --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as far as I know the vote last night was unanimous among the Democrats.
Q But tomorrow, do you think both of them or do you think the Democratic -- the party is going to really taking a united front on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'd like to make sure that it gets through, but, obviously, if we can have an absolutely united Democratic Party, that's also the good.
Q Also, specifically, has the White House sounded out about Sam Nunn, about whether this additional hit that the Pentagon will take is something that he could live with?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if there has been any specific discussion. I assume that there have been some discussions on the Senate side between Senator Sasser, other members of the committee and Senator Nunn. But I don't know if there's been any specific discussion about the House budget resolution.
Q But, you know, Nunn has given you some trouble in the past and I wonder if you see a need to kind of cultivate his support at this stage before --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President talks to Senator Nunn very often. I mean, I wouldn't say daily, but they talk fairly often and they've had some good discussions over the last several days and will continue to talk to him.
Q George, could you expand on some of the comments he made about Airbus today when he talked about -- the U.S. has the opportunity to do some of the same things. Is he talking about recreating Airbus or what kind of --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I don't know necessarily that, but we do have -- can provide funding through the Ex-Im Bank, for example, for the airline industry. Obviously, we want to do what we can to spur research and development, the R & D tax credit. I don't know of any specific proposals that he has on the table right now. As he said, the commission that the Congress is now voting on will be coming back with specific ideas in six months.
Q What is the timetable that the Health Care Task Force is operating under in terms of when Americans can expect this plan to cover all Americans?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's one of the issues under discussion right now, is how quickly the phase-in is to be completed. The goal --
Q Is the goal to have it in place by the end of the term, to have coverage in place for everyone by the end of the term?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I mean, I think we want to make sure that the coverage is phased in as quickly as possible, but it's one of the factors that are under discussion right now.
Q Not necessarily the case, then?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'd like to get it as quickly as possible.
Q Clinton made a distinction today between the unemployed uninsured and the other uninsured. Is that because his immediate goal is to take care of the unemployed uninsured?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily. That's a distinction that is a factual distinction. There are some people who work, but are not provided health care by their employers. There are others who simply don't receive health care because they don't work. I think one of the principles that we're focused on is to make sure that you don't lose your health care simply because you lose your job. It's one of the goals we want to move to fix.
Q George, several times in the last few days, President Clinton was referred -- to an innovative approach to deal with Russia more to an aggressive approach in dealings with Russia. Will he be more specific than that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He will as we get closer to the summit date.
Q Was there any specifics discussed this morning with President Mitterrand how to aid --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sure there were, but I don't think I should get into the announcement until the President is ready to make it.
Q George, are you concerned that the leadership on the budget cutting -- on the deficit cutting issue is coming out of the Hill now instead of out of the White House, that it's moving on the Hill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. I mean, the goal --
Q Are you shocked?
Q Are you thrilled?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we're thrilled.
Q But, I mean, it was Congress that demanded more budget cuts.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President put forward a budget. He said it was supposed to deal with both our investment deficit and the budget deficit. He is thrilled that the gridlock is breaking and that the Congress is acting on his proposals.
Q But last night, he said -- or, Dee Dee said that he had agreed to $55 billion more in cuts, and now it looks like it might even be more than that, although you're not committing to any number. Is that correct?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's unclear, exactly. He, again, supports the general action in both committees. We still have a ways to go in the process.
Q I wonder if you think it's remarkable that what the Democrats are now fighting over so much to cut rather than so much more to spend, I mean, it seems like kind of a turnaround of the traditional Democratic --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We always said Bill Clinton was a different kind of Democrat, and I think what we're seeing now is that his leadership is working through the Congress.
Q The Wall Street Journal says this whole new cut -- all these new cuts were cooked up in the White House -- by your own economists and somehow you got the Hill to pose them.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things we've been most pleased with is the cooperation between the White House and the Congress throughout this whole process. But the budget committee came forward with this resolution --
Q So you guys -- you instigated the new cuts?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I didn't say that. I said there has been close cooperation and we hope there's continued close cooperation throughout the President's term. But these are actions by the budget committees. I think the fact that the Senate Budget Committee is different in many respects from the House Budget Committee. I would caution you against going too far with that suggestion.
Q It's not mine. It's in The Wall Street Journal. And you gave them a week to study the process every day, every minute.
Q George, Senator Sasser said today that $90 billion more in cuts is about as far as he thinks that they can prudently go without jeopardizing economic recovery. He said the President had warned them he doesn't want to jeopardize that. The President then indicated to us in the press conference that he doesn't want to jeopardize the economic recovery. Is $90 billion, then, that magic number of additional cuts?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President generally -- is, again, generally pleased with the actions of the committee so far, but he did caution the committees that we have to make sure that we don't go too far, that we have to make sure this economy continues to grow, that the economy continues to create jobs and you don't want to do anything that would slow down the recovery. He is quite concerned about that.
Q George, if his programs that you outlined in the beginning are left intact, and what you're talking about now -- some of the investment and stimulus programs -- can he live with that $90 billion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't want to get into any of the hard specifics right now. We support what the committees have done. We expect that we will support what the conference committee comes up with if it continues to go in the direction it's going in right now.
Q George, wouldn't $90 billion necessarily jeopardize both the space station and/or the collider? And did the President express views on those two projects in the meeting this morning?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There weren't any discussions of specifics beyond the investments that he wants to protect this morning. I don't know that it would necessarily entail that at all. I can't say that. We have a long way to go in the process. But the President is pleased with the direction it's taking.
Q George, has there been some six month suspension of ethics restrictions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Six month suspension of ethics --
Q Any kind of a suspension of ethics restrictions to allow people --
Q Yes, yes.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: On what? (Laughter.)
Q Not all ethics, just --
Q call McLarty's office. You'll find out.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that we've been working closely with the White House, with the Gridiron and others just to try to figure out the best way to have participation, White House participation in the press dinners.
Q And that's -- is it limited --
Q So we just spend it only as far as these dinners go?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so, sure. I don't know that I would call it -- we're just trying to work out the best way to make these dinners a success for the press corps. (Laughter.)
Q That's the only part of the ethics rule that's been waived for six months?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm quite certain that if there's been any waiver at all, that would be the only conceivable -- yes.
Q We need a flat statement, really.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The blanket statement I can give you is that you will have the participation you need at the dinners.
Q That isn't -- we want to know if they've been waived for six months because -- then we can go back and assure our members that that's the case.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You can assure your members that there will be full participation at the dinner.
Q No, that isn't what we want.
Q There was some question about whether reporters were considered lobbyists? Has that been resolved, that question?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All I can say is there will be full participation at dinners, and you can report that faithfully to your members.
Q No. What I want you to come out and say is that for six months, consideration --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I realize you want me to -- (laughter.)
Q consideration of this particular aspect of the ethics rules has been waived. That's what we need.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What I will tell you is that there will be full participation at the dinners, and there's no problem with that.
Q broader than that, George?
Q George, has there been any difficulty in the President accepting donations for his running track? Has there been any ethics -- is there any waiver, or -- how, under the ethics provisions, does he accept donations for the running track?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to check that. I don't know what it is -- I know we've said it was special fund.
Q Yes, you set up a special fund, but isn't it still people who potentially could influence, or seek influence, who are donating to the running track?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I suppose there is a potential there, but we set it up with all the protections. I'd have to get you the specifics on how the fund's been set up.
Q What is the status of approval of investment by British Air in U.S. Air?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe that there will be an announcement by the Secretary of Transportation this week.
Q You mean -- is it likely to be approved, I mean, can you say?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the Secretary's been reviewing that. He'll have an announcement this week.
Q When? What day?
Q George, what's the chance -- how would you rate the chances of the President approving the use of American troops with an international force to get President Aristide back to Haiti and to make sure he stays there and stays alive?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, that is in our discussion right now. Right now, we're focusing on tightening up the sanctions, getting the monitors in place in Haiti so that we can -- and hopefully working towards the return of President Aristide.
Q George, can you clarify the Bosnia troop situation, in terms of American involvement? Because I'm unclear about the distinction in your mind between peacemaking and peacekeeping. Is it your position that the United States will contribute troops to a peacekeeping force in Bosnia after a peace settlement and on the assumption that the lamb has lied down with the lion? Or is it your assumption that you are ready to put American troops into Bosnia knowing that they may be involved in ground combat to enforce a peace settlement, even though the parties have agreed to it on the table?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's more the former than the later. I think we're trying to move towards a situation where if all the parties agree on a settlement, we will be willing to participate in a multilateral force to enforce that settlement. We don't foresee going in to create any kind of a settlement.
Q George, assuming that Janet Reno is confirmed by the Senate does Stu Gerson stay on for any transition, or is he out immediately?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Once Janet Reno is confirmed, she'll be the Attorney General.
Q I know. But will he stay on for any period of time or will he be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wouldn't want to rule it out, but I don't know that there's been any definite discussion of that.
Q How about Webb Hubbell?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would expect that he would stay on.
Q As what? His 120 days have come to an end.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right, and if -- then we'll consider it after that. If the President sees fit to make another appointment I would expect and would hope that Webb would accept.
Q We can't hear you in the back of the room. Did you say that the present acting Attorney General would stay on?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I said if Janet Reno were confirmed, she would become the Attorney General and she would serve. And I don't know if there's been any discussions of having Mr. Gerson stay on in another capacity.
Q Then why in the name of God would you have that Republican stay on when he's trying to fight you right now? The question of the files of Richard -- of George Bush --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's serving the President well right now. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:42 P.M. EST #33-03/09