THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
The Briefing Room
12:10 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good afternoon. I know we're briefing you to death today, so --
Q Death by briefing.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's right.
The President had a very good visit with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior officers at the Pentagon today. He was at the -- with the Joint Chiefs from 8:30 a.m. to about 10:30 a.m. this morning. The meeting went about an hour longer than it was scheduled. He met with all the Joint Chiefs -- Colin Powell, David Jeremiah, the Vice Chair, General Sullivan of the Army, and Admiral Kelso of the Navy, General McPeak of the Air Force, and General Mundy, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Secretary Aspin and much of his senior staff also participated, as did National Security Adviser Tony Lake and his Deputy, Sandy Berger, and Bob Bell, who can answer any questions on background as well.
General Powell reviewed the commands and the post-Cold War challenges facing the United States, including our force commitments in NATO and Asia; the status of the no-fly zone enforcement in Bosnia and Iraq; the status of our troops in Somalia; the airdrops in Bosnia; the status of our counternarcotics efforts in Latin America; and even including the hurricane response in the United States. Each Chief also gave a status report on their services, talked about how they were managing the drawdown in forces over the last five years. And they also pointed out that now 95 percent of the people in the United States Armed Forces have graduated high school. And we still maintain the best fighting forces in the world.
There was also a lengthy discussion of global issues, including Bosnia, the professionalizing of the army in Haiti, the military systems and acquisitions reform, and issues of intervention, including internal conflicts in nations. Finally, the President also met with the senior noncommissioned officers of each service.
And I'd be happy to take any questions.
Q Did he change his mind on anything that he -- I mean, did he learn anything that really changed his mind in terms of Bosnia, for example -- a possible intervention?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I don't know that that was the purpose. He certainly had a full briefing on how the no-fly zone was being enforced and how the airdrops were going. In fact, General McPeak of the Air Force showed the President a film of how the airdrops have changed due to some ingenuity on the part of our forces on the ground in Bosnia. Apparently they've been able to change the system of dropping the pallets. And we've shifted from pallets to what is called a triad system, which is -- it's quite ingenious, actually. They've taken huge cardboard boxes and cut off the -- what holds them together and put it back together by tape. And when the box leaves the airplane, they pull a string, the box flies apart, and the MREs, the meals, just float to the ground so nobody has any chance of being hurt. And that was developed, apparently, on the ground in Bosnia.
Q George, did anyone raise any questions or complaints about the defense cuts in the new budget and how difficult it is for them to manage that kind of draw down?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They talk how they have been managing the draw down over the last five years, something that has been going on. I don't know about complaints, but there certainly was a full discussion about how the forces would be effected, and about how the draw down would occur, but I wouldn't say it was complaints at all, it was just a good discussion. And the generals talked about how to manage this process.
Q But except that his budget goes beyond the Bush budget. Did any of them say they are having difficulties managing the process?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know that there was any specific comparison of budgets, but there was no complaints; they just talked about how they were doing it.
Q Concerns, is that a better word?
Q Apparently, the U.N. announced moments ago it will start enforcing the no-fly zone on Monday. Any reaction?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, obviously, we are pleased by this. We believe the no-fly zone -- I assume you are talking about Bosnia.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We support the U.N. resolution. We support the enforcement of the no-fly zone. And we believe the Serbs should comply and stop the aggression and come to the negotiating table.
Q George, I'm just a little stumped on that imaginative air drop thing. The MRIs --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: MREs.
Q MREs. How are they floating down? -- little miniparachutes ?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I asked the same question when I found -- I asked the same question.
Q They must still be under a parachute --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, no, they are very light. They are freeze-dried, so they are just these very light little packets that float to the ground.
Q Are they on little mini-mini parachutes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, (Laughter.) They don't need them. They are so light they float at about the same speed as everything else. That is what they tell me.
Q George, are you sure you've got this right? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I'm positive. I asked all those same questions, believe me.
Q You said this delivery mechanism was devised through the ingenuity of our forces on the ground. Are we using pathfinders or special forces troops of some kind?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, not that I -- I was using the - - troops in and around Bosnia in Europe. These are people who are working on the air drops and they just came up with this new system. I wasn't meaning to use a technical term or a term of art.
Q Ground controllers calling in these air drops?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q Can you give us the President's schedule for the next few days in terms of what you foresee happening?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have anything definite. I know that they are planning on a memorial service in Little Rock, and then the family will travel to Scranton for the funeral. I don't know how long they are going to stay in Scranton. I believe that the memorial service will be tomorrow in Little Rock. I don't have a time yet. And then the funeral will be Saturday in Scranton. I just don't know how long the family is going to remain in Scranton.
Q At this meeting, did gays in the military come up at all?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it came up once. There was a short discussion.
Q of the discussion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was just -- I think it was an update on the status of where the reviews are. But it was very brief.
Q What is the status? Where are the reviews? Because it was a matter of concern --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The reviews have started in the Pentagon and the President's looking forward to the report on July 15th.
Q What about --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think it came up.
Q Was he told that he could expect a report on gays in the military on schedule?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q Since the actual study --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that it came up in that direct a manner, but the President fully expects to receive the report on schedule.
Q Got underway a little late, as you know.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it got underway when we thought it was going to get underway.
Q George, do you know if Mrs. Rodham is going to be living here at the White House?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I have no idea.
Q Can you talk about the budget in terms of the deficit? How does the President feel about the amount of deficit reduction, given the fact that the deficit has even gotten larger -- at least the estimates have gotten larger in the last two months -- because of changes in estimates and changes in congressional --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. I think you can also look at changes in estimates and, in fact, in the assumptions we're going on -- I believe, as Ms. Tyson pointed out, we're going with very conservative interest rate assumptions which could lead to far lower estimates of the deficit in the future. At the same time, I would still point out that, as they pointed out at the briefing, we cut the deficit in half as a percent of gross domestic product over the course of this budget. Now we're concerned about it and we've come up with a serious plan that, when you consider what the Congress has done, reduces the deficit by $514 million.
Q Do you want to say that again? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Mark, you can ask --
Q budget earlier, Panetta talked about the importance of the line-item veto as part of the overall package. There was no discussion of that today and I haven't heard any administration official talk about it lately as part of the overall package to reduce the deficit. Why isn't the administration --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We continue to press for it. In fact, I think there's been action in the House on the significant enhanced rescission proposal, and we will continue to seek a proposal out of both the House and the Senate.
Q A proposal that would do what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A proposal that would provide for the authority to take items out of the budget.
Q George, why is the President getting involved in a discussion about swimming pools? Isn't that a symbolic -- whether he thinks it's pork or not, isn't that symbolically -- make it sound like he's fighting for pork projects when it really, in fact, is behind the scenes? People are telling us he's willing to negotiate on the project.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, the President believes that this package is an important job creating package. It creates jobs in highways, it creates 700,000 summer jobs for kids this summer to get to work, it creates important programs in immunization and Head Start. And he believes that we need a package to create jobs now. We saw the unemployment numbers come out again just today on the weekly jobless claims. We're still moving -- we're still trying -- not doing enough to create jobs in this economy.
Q So have you given up the strategy of trying to work with the Republicans to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. We're going to continue to look for the kinds of adjustments we need to get this package through. But as the President has said, he's going to fight for as much of this package as he can get. A majority in the House and Senate support this jobs bill. Simply because a minority chooses to obstruct consideration and a vote on this bill, he will look at possible adjustments in order to release it. But he believes that this package is important.
Q But it sounds like he's fighting for very elements that other people in your administration agree are the things that we have to make sure are not there.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's simply not true.
Q How is he going to come up with $5 million more this year to meet the congressional caps and $13 billion we're told now it is for next year? How is he going to find --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're entering into the reconciliation process now, and we'll enter into negotiations with the Congress, and we'll come up with the cuts. We came -- as you know, we went from 150 cuts in the President's initial presentation to over 200 cuts in the current budget released today. And I think we'll be able to get there.
Q Yes, but you are faced with a situation where the deficit estimates have gotten larger, and you are $5.4 billion away from -- over the caps.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're going to work with the Congress to come up with the cuts that are necessary.
Q Despite those cuts, your budget actually increased -- the outlays increased by a very small amount -- only one-tenth of a percent -- $2 billion, which went straight to the deficit. Why did he allow that to happen? It's larger than it was on February 17th by --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, when you count what the Congress has done, it's actually we've come up with more deficit reduction over the course. I'm not familiar with --
Q The deficit in the budget that he put out -- revisions for change was $262 billion projected for 1994. And this one's $264 billion. Small, I agree; it's just symbolically though it grew. Why did he allow that to happen?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I think that there were some technical adjustments. You'd have to ask the OMB for the exact reason.
Q Was this a Social Security problem, or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I simply don't know, but we can check with the OMB.
Q Dole apparently took some offense to Gore's comments earlier. He said that if Gore keeps talking like this it'll be less than likely -- less and less likely that there will be a compromise on the jobs plan. Are you concerned that Republicans are going to hunker down after getting bombarded here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I certainly hope they won't because this package -- this jobs package is important to the American people and it's needed right now. And we're going to continue to talk, we're going to continue to look for the kinds of adjustments it would take to get this package through.
Q Why don't you think there's been a public outcry in support of the stimulus package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the public supports the jobs package. And I think that we expect support, we are hearing support from the country, and we will continue to make clear the real benefits that this package presents to the American people and the specific job creating investments in each state. But I think that any time you -- any poll you look at shows the American people want action on the economy, they want the President to pay attention to jobs and they want the Congress to get to work.
Q Any firm or tentative decisions on having the President go out next week and travel to try to sell his --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing that -- I think a little bit depends on when he gets back. But, again, I don't know that we're necessarily going to have him go out into the country, but he'll certainly be talking about the importance of the jobs package.
Q How many jobs will it create in Kansas?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know, but we can try and find out.
Q Do you expect he'll be here for Easter then, or back in Little Rock after Scranton?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't know.
Q? Do you have anything on a draft indictment in Miami accusing the Cubans of drug racketeering?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't comment on any ongoing investigations, but I can say that there is -- no indictment has been officially put forward.
Q Has the Justice Department reviewed it or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not -- again, I can't comment on any investigation, but there is no indictment.
Q George, do you have any word or any indication when the President will make up his mind on the FCC chairmanship? And is there concern -- because Tony Cook's name has been mentioned - - concern about in '88 when she received a half million dollars to withdraw a bid on a radio station in D.C. --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President hasn't made any decisions on that, has not made any appointments and I don't think I should comment on it until he does.
Q Do you have idea when he plans to make a decision on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q Secretary Bentsen said today at the briefing that the American public can be confident that their tax bill won't go up through 1997. How can the administration make a blanket statement like that at this point? What if there are unforeseen circumstances. You're saying you would take other measures and you will not raise taxes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm not sure that's exactly what he said. But if you just look at the budget, it's plain that the President is not calling for any increase in income tax rates.
Q He said there are no plans to --
Q Did he say "read my lips"?
Q that for individual tax rates to go up in '94, '95, '96 and '97?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That is a factual statement.
Q It sounded like a promise. Was that a promise?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The budget does not have an increase in income tax rates over the next four years.
Q? Does that mean "read my lips"?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course not. The President's never said read my lips; he's castigated people who do.
Q Well, George, what's the difference then? If it's not an iron-clad promise, what does it mean?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It is a sentence. It is a sentence that says there are no plans to increase income tax rates. That's a true sentence.
Q The logistics on the radio address and the topic?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that the President probably will not have a radio address this week because of the funeral.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END12:25 P.M. EDT