THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
The Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good afternoon. Let me start out first of all by announcing that the four federal bank and thrift regulatory agencies are taking their first action today to implement the President's program on alleviating the credit crunch.
The initiatives announced today by the Office of the Comptroller, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of Thrift Supervision will give the nation's strongest banks and thrifts increased flexibility to make loans to creditworthy customers by eliminating unnecessary documentation requirements.
Because these initiatives require no change in existing regulations, they are effective today. The banks and thrifts that are both highly rated and adequately capitalized will be able to devote a portion of their loan portfolios, based on the institution's capital, to making loans to small- and medium-sized businesses and farms, using their own best judgment as to the creditworthiness of the borrower and the necessary documentation.
These loans will be judged solely on the basis of performance and will not be subject to criticism by examiners on the basis of documentation. It is anticipated that approximately 10,000 banks and thrifts will be able to take advantage of this program. Accordingly, the maximum values of the loans that can be made under this program could aggregate to approximately $46 billion.
Q Can you put that out on a printed form? You're a little fast.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The agencies are able to handle questions as well.
Q Did you say character loans -- in other words --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if they're the character loans, but they're the ones for the -- we're just setting aside a portion of loans which won't have to go through the additional process of review, and it's for the good banks.
Q And there will be no new regulations --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They were issued today. The regulations are issued today and they go into effect immediately.
Q George, your move to lift the Hyde Amendment is in furtherance of a campaign promise. But can you tell us when the decision was made finally to go ahead with that, and how and what the circumstances were?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The decision will be official when the President's budget documents are submitted next week. I don't know the precise date when the budget documents are compiled -- and they're still frankly in the process of being finalized -- but the President is determined to follow through on this.
Q Would he veto any piece of legislation to which the Hyde Amendment was attached?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not going to get into that today. We're submitting a budget without the Hyde Amendment in it, and we're going to work with Congress and the states on the implementation.
Q With all that Congress has on its plate, why was it decided to pursue this now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the budget is being submitted now.
Q You could have stuck it on there. You could have just left it the way it was.
Q Yes, you could have left it the way it was. I mean, that's a serious question.
Q and avoided a fight at a time when you've got all this other stuff that you're trying to do. Why --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just think that the assumption of your question is not true. First of all, the President is committed to repealing the Hyde Amendment as he stated in the campaign. Secondly, to suggest that there wouldn't be a fight if he didn't include it is just wrong.
Q Well, is he willing to jeopardize --
Q George, in addition to repealing the amendment, this would open up the actual expenditure funds to support abortion decisions. Will the President include funds in the budget to pay for those expenses?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, I'm not certain that your assumption is correct, that there is any new funding needed. I don't think any of us know the real funding implications at this point of repealing the Hyde Amendment. But the budget will stand as the President presented it.
Q George, will federal funds be included -- be available, then, for all Medicaid abortions? Or will there be any restrictions at all?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, as you know, the states have varying laws on abortion funding and this is something that will come out over time.
Q But nothing from the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All this is, is a straight repeal of the Hyde Amendment. It strikes the language that was in the bill last year.
Q As a follow, will abortion or reproductive services be part of the minimal services required under the health care reforms?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As we've said time and time again, we're not going to comment on the President's package until it's announced.
Q But won't that make it more difficult to get health care through if abortion is included?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're not going to comment on the President's package.
Q George, forgive me if I forgot about this, but will women, spouses or active duty female military personnel be allowed to have abortions at military hospitals?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's already been done.
Q And will the federal government pay for abortions off base if they can't have -- if there are no military facilities available?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I, frankly, am not certain of the implications of that law. I know that it's -- it was repealed, that they are now allowed on military bases. I'm not familiar with the funding issues; I can get back to you.
Q Is the President going to be willing to jeopardize the possibility of health care reform by fighting for this -- the Hyde Amendment?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't except the assumption and the question. The President is calling now for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. He will announce a health care plan in a month.
Q A lot of polls show that while people support -- more people support a woman's right to have an abortion, the equation flips when you ask if taxpayers should pay for it. Why does the President believe that taxpayers should be paying for abortions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that this is just a matter of, for 16 years you've had the federal government flat out prohibiting states from spending the money to pay for abortions whether or not they're medically necessary, whether or not they result from a case of rape, whether or not they result from a case of incest, whether or not they threaten the life of the mother. The President feels that that goes too far. That's what the Hyde Amendment has done for the past 16 years; it simply goes too far.
Q Yes, but states can pay for it; it's just the federal government --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What he's doing is removing the federal prohibition on that. The states will still have flexibility. We still don't know the full implications of the repeal over time. As you know, there are several states now which do have some restrictions on abortion funding; several others that don't. They will continue to maintain that flexibility. The President insures that states do have some flexibility by calling for the repeal.
Q Do you think there's been enough change on Capitol Hill that you can get this repeal through?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's probably a little bit too early to tell right now, but the President believes that this is the right thing to do, that the repeal of the Hyde Amendment is the right way to go and that's why he's not having it in his budget.
Q Are you saying, George, the decision is being made absent consideration of the financial implications?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I'm saying that the full financial implications are unclear. It's unclear whether it's going to cost money or we're just not sure yet.
Q No one's decided -- no one came up with an estimate of what this costs? Obviously if you're offering a government service that wasn't offered before, there will be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Frankly, I don't think it is that simple, but we just don't have a full accounting yet. We don't have an accounting. We're not certain that it's going to cost any money at all.
Q George, is the President considering sending Americans to Russia to supervise the implementation of some aspects of his aid program, such as the building of housing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, the President will be making the full announcement later in the week of how the program will work. I think that a number of Americans and others have made these kinds of suggestions, and we're taking these suggestions into account and considering them very closely as the President prepares his package; but there are no decisions yet.
Q Were they the officials, or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's just no decisions yet.
Q Let me go back to abortion for a second and ask if his proposal to repeal the Hyde Amendment means also that the President will accept the District of Columbia using its own funds for abortions.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have no decision on that yet. I would expect so, but we just don't have an announcement on it.
Q George, another budget issue. Senator Domenici said this morning that the White House has agreed to eliminate a $790-million budget assumption for grazing fees and mining. And I wanted to know: is that's true, why has the President reversed his course on that, and where is the money going to come from that was included in the budget?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll have to take the question. I haven't seen Senator Domenici's statement, but I'll take it and get back to you.
Q Did you say what the President will be discussing in his Saturday morning bilateral with the Canadian Prime Minister?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, he did meet with Prime Minister Mulroney when Mr. Mulroney was here in Washington last month. I expect that they will, first of all, be discussing the G-7 approach towards Russia and a range of other bilateral issues. I think it's conceivable they'll be talking about the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade issues.
Q Are you willing to cut more from your defense budget to meet Ron Dellums' objections -- again, at some of the weapon systems that may soon be eliminated anyway?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right now, the President has put forward his defense budget. We will continue to work with Congress as it goes through, but we're going to stand by our numbers at this point. But we'll obviously listen very closely to what the Chairman has to say.
Q What's the justification for standing by your numbers in a fight with Democrats in the Senate and House when you're essentially all on the same team, and it's likely these cuts will come anyway in the very near future?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that there's necessarily going to be a fight through the hearing process and the markup process of the defense authorization and appropriations bills. If there are reasonable suggestions, we'll certainly take a look at them. But the President has presented a budget which he believes meets the threats we face.
Q Can you project the week for us, now, and if the President comes back this afternoon --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is planning on coming back this afternoon. Frankly, Helen, beyond that we've tried to give you as much information as we can. The President expects to go to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on Thursday. He expects to go to the timber summit; but bear with us -- I mean, things could change.
Q You mean because of the illness?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Certainly, yes.
Q Do you have a time estimate now for when he's going back? Is he --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think in a few hours, but I'm not positive. He should be -- I think he's on his way to the airport now.
Q? The pool said 2:15 p.m. here. Does that make --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, it's close. I mean, I know he's on his way to the airport now.
Q Is there anything else on his schedule besides this -- back here today, besides the reception tonight?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Just some private meetings.
Q Do you know anything about the timing on --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me get Carl, then I'll come back.
Q What does the President have planned to try to educate the American people so that this aid to Russia is seen as, not a waste of money, but a good thing. You guys have talked about he isn't -- he's willing to take that on but what is -- do you know what he is planning to do, in order to make this case?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President has been speaking out on this issue for well over a year. And I expect that he will continue to tell the American people that helping fund and helping invest in the process of reform -- both market reform and democratic reform -- in Russia is important, not only for the security of the world, but also for the security and prosperity for the American people.
If we invest now in Russia we can save billions in the long run in lower defense expenditures, for instance, in the creation of new jobs and the opening up of new investment and trade opportunities for the American people. And I expect he will continue to speak out on that.
Q But is he planning to do a TV address, George? Has that been ruled out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It hasn't been ruled out, but there are no specific plans yet.
Q On Pickering -- is that on the fast track and do you have sort of a go-ahead now from the Foreign Relations Committee?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We sent it up to the Foreign Relations Committee and we hope they consider it as soon as possible. We hope he's confirmed quite quickly.
Q So that he can go to the summit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That would be ideal. It's not inconceivable that he could go to the summit without being confirmed.
Q Can you say now why his nomination was held up so long?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, it's been sent up now and we expect it will be speedily confirmed. We just did a full background check.
Q Do you have anything on timing for appointments for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q AIDS czar?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: National Endowment for the Arts and the AIDS czar. Nothing on timing.
Q At Thursday's event, is he going to take questions?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd expect so.
Q Have you got a date on the budget yet?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know it's -- we hope by the end of next week. I don't have an exact date.
Q Are you still planning to provide the budgets to the individual committees ahead of time on computer disks, as you promised? And what would that ETA be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would hope so. I would assume it's all within the same day, though.
Q But you already gave the military budget up there in that forum. Do you have -- you're not going to give others --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not going to rule it out. I just don't know the exact day as when they're going to be put forward.
Q Do you expect the Senate to pass the short-term stimulus package before the Easter recess?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Certainly hope so. The President would like his package passed as quickly as possible.
Q Can you say why you didn't support the Brown amendment?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Because the President's package provides for the important investments that we need. He has made several assurances that there will not be any funding for projects that do not -- that are not productive investments. And beyond that, he just wouldn't want to restrict the flexibility of states and localities.
Q George, since the First Lady has spent so many days in Little Rock because of her father's health, can this cause a delay in the final publication of the report on health --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. The Health Care Task Force had a good hearing yesterday -- a full public hearing, and the meetings are proceeding.
Q You don't expect that will delay the report?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so.
Q What is the President doing tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, it's -- we're not exactly sure. We hope that he's going to be in Washington. We hope that there is the possibility of a Cabinet meeting and other private meetings here in the White House. But as I said earlier, everything is subject to change.
Q No tentative plans for any sort of public events?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at this point.
Q Is there a subject for the Cabinet meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They have a range of issues to go over, including the reconciliation process.
Q Do you have a time for a background briefing on Russia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No time yet, but we hope it will happen tomorrow.
Q If I can take you to the Middle East --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd love to.
Q the Foreign Ministers, when they met in Damascus, they issued a statement that they are declining the invitation to the 20th of April conference, attending to hear more explanations from the administration toward the requests or the explanations that are asking the Palestinians -- the six points and other things.
A couple of questions. Can you address now the escalating violence in the Middle East to the point that now Gaza Strip and West Bank will be closed at midnight Middle East Time, 5:00 p.m. this afternoon our time, indefinitely? And there is no recourse. And the second question, can you address the agreement between Mr. Christopher and the Palestinians over the six points that was at the point of going ahead and holding the conference on the 20th of April instead of --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I haven't seen any reports on the first thing you mentioned. But all I would say is that Secretary Christopher intends to continue to work with the Palestinians and all the Arab states to get their acceptance of his invitation to come to Washington on the 20th and to make progress on the peace talks. We will continue to press for that. We will continue to stay in discussions.
Q Do you have a different venue for the meeting or the conference? Because the first venue was the February 1st agreement between Mr. Christopher and Mr. Rabin, which the Palestinians had rejected and the Arab countries had rejected.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just know we would like it in Washington on the 20th. I don't know the exact place.
Q Can you address the violence now? Can you express your --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I have not seen that report, but I'll try and get a handle on it.
Q express your concern -- statement of concern by the administration about what is happening now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're obviously concerned by the escalating violence on all sides. We continue to be concerned by that. But I haven't seen the specific report you mention.
Q George, are any Cabinet members besides the Secretary of State going to Vancouver?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's likely that the Secretary of Treasury will go.
Q Is the Vice President going?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure yet. We're still working out the final lists.
Q George, the Base Closing Commission voted yesterday to add a couple of California bases to the list, and those are bases that Aspin specifically omitted at the urging or prodding of the President. If the Commission were to final vote to also recommend their closing, would the President then be inclined to send the full list back to the Commission to press them not to do that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think we're going to comment on every particular action by the Commission until they submit their full list to the President. In July he'll make his decisions and review all of their recommendations at that time. But as the President has said many, many times, he wants to make sure that economic impact is taken into account as these decisions are made.
Q Well, if it would appear at the end of the commission process that economic impact has not been sufficiently taken into account, would he, then, take appropriate action?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President would certainly take that into account, and I'm certain it would affect his decision.
Q When is the President going to have his next press conference?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let's see, he had one on Friday. We'll have to wait to see when he returns to Washington. I expect that he'll have a press conference after the summit with Mr. Yeltsin on Sunday, though.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:52 P.M. EST #47-03/30