THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
9:45 A.M. EDT
Q Why was the 10:00 a.m. postponed?
MS. MYERS: Just due to scheduling conflicts. So as we put out, the President will meet with the leaders of the national police organizations at 2:00 p.m. in the Rose Garden, as opposed to 10:00 a.m. The only other things on his schedule today are: At 11:00 a.m. he'll meet with General Vessey, who, as you know, is on his way to Vietnam to continue working on the MIA-POW issue. At 12:30 p.m. he'll have lunch with the Vice President in the Oval Office. And at 2:00 p.m. he'll meet with the police organizations. Then from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. he'll do his weekly photos with the various groups.
Q A photo op with Vessey?
MS. MYERS: There's no coverage on the Vessey meeting.
MS. MYERS: Why? It's a closed meeting.
Q What about the lunch?
MS. MYERS: The lunch? No, there's no coverage.
Q Is he meeting with any congress people today?
MS. MYERS: Nothing scheduled.
Q There are no meetings --
MS. MYERS: There are no congressional meetings today, no.
Q Has the President been given any information by the Pentagon or reached any conclusion about the validity of this report from Hanoi? Any instructions to Vessey on how to deal with the Vietnamese on that subject?
MS. MYERS: Well, clearly, the report is the first order of business. It's high on the agenda on something that they'll discuss. I think the President and General Vessey will discuss the parameters of his visit to Vietnam today, but the President hasn't drawn any conclusions about the report yet. Certainly, it's something that he wants General Vessey to talk with the Vietnamese about first.
Q Did the President talk with any Republican senators yesterday about the stimulus package?
MS. MYERS: He spoke with Senator Dole.
Q How many times?
MS. MYERS: I believe once during the day and once last night.
Q What was the outcome of that?
MS. MYERS: They're continuing to work toward some kind of an agreement on a jobs package.
Q Is it your impression that Senator Dole is in any way flexible on this?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we're hopeful that we're going to get some kind of jobs package through the Senate, and we'll continue to work with Senator Dole and others until we reach some kind of an agreement.
Q Did they discuss the VAT tax?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if that came up.
Q Can you check that?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q So what are they -- is the President offering to scale down his program -- is that what he's trying to do, buy it down to where Dole will sign on?
MS. MYERS: Well, he's trying to protect as much of it as he can. But it's important to him to get some kind of a jobs package through the Senate and through Congress now. And as soon as we reach some conclusions on that, we'll let you know. But at the moment, he's continuing to consult with members of Congress including, obviously, Senator Dole.
Q Is he talking to anybody else?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe he talked to any other Republicans yesterday.
Q Is he talking to anybody today?
MS. MYERS: I don't think anything is scheduled, but I wouldn't rule it out.
Q We were led to believe that the President called Mr. Dole on the subject of Russian aid and that Bob Dole brought the conversation around to stimulus package. Is that correct?
MS. MYERS: I think the President has contacted several people on Russian aid. I think that it was always expected that the stimulus package or the jobs package will be part of any conversation he would have with Senator Dole. The primary objective of the conversation was Russian aid. That was the first order of business, but it was both.
Q In the President's mind, are they linked politically in that if the Republicans continue to reject the stimulus package, he thinks it will be harder to sell Russian aid to the American people? Has he made that argument?
MS. MYERS: I can't talk about specifically what arguments he might have made. The President is obviously committed to both. He liked to see a jobs package to the American people first. But as you know, we outlined the details of additional Russian aid last night in Tokyo.
Q But does the President believe that the stimulus package will make it more difficult to persuade Americans to vote for Russian -- to accept a vote for Russian aid?
MS. MYERS: I think that the President is going to continue to work to pass the stimulus package, to pass a jobs package, and we're still hopeful that we'll get some kind of jobs package through the Congress.
Q Is it fair to say that the President is negotiating now with Dole?
MS. MYERS: He's discussing options with him.
Q On the stimulus, is it your understanding that over the break some Democrats, themselves, have left the support that they had earlier for the package, the stimulus package?
MS. MYERS: I think we still have wide support in the Senate for the jobs package.
Q But specifically, that you've lost Democrats other than Shelby?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so. There hasn't been a vote.
Q What about Kohl?
Q Kohl and Feingold?
MS. MYERS: There hasn't been a vote yet. And we'll continue to work with senators to try to get a majority to try to bring the package to a vote, because we believe that a majority of the members of the United States Senate support the package.
Q If you're weren't worried about Kohl and Feingold, why did George mention Milwaukee projects the other day?
MS. MYERS: I think George pointed out a number of projects in a number of states that stand to be funded, or to lose funding if this jobs package doesn't pass.
Q No Democrats. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I'll let you draw your own conclusions.
Q Does he plan to talk to Dole again today or any other Republicans again today?
MS. MYERS: There's nothing specifically scheduled, but again, I wouldn't rule it out.
Q Does he plan to put out any more press releases to any other states today?
MS. MYERS: What we've done is we're in the process of breaking down the benefits of the jobs package state by state. I think it's entirely feasible that as we sort of are able to sum those up, we'll send out press releases to the various states that suggest how their states would benefit from this package.
Q Will you share those with us?
MS. MYERS: Sure. As we did yesterday.
Q Do you have copies of the ones you sent --
MS. MYERS: Yes, we made those available yesterday. And we certainly can continue to provide them today.
Q Dee Dee, since yesterday's questions and subsequent stories about the VAT, what further consideration of this issue has been given?
MS. MYERS: Nothing's changed since yesterday. I think the President commented on it this morning to say only that it was something he knew was being considered by the task force and that he has not made a decision on, and I don't think we have anything to add to that.
Q But he also said that business and labor groups are telling him they support it. Can you tell us --
MS. MYERS: I think that there has been -- I'm not going to speculate on who supports it. I think the President said that there has been some support among business and labor groups. I don't think he said he was directly contacted by them.
Q Are we to take that to mean that the administration has sounded out business and labor groups on this --
MS. MYERS: I think there's been plenty of public discourse on this over the years and even recently, but I don't think I want to add to that.
Q In February, though, the President said that this was something to be considered 10 or 15 years down the road. What has happened between then and now to cause this administration to change its mind?
MS. MYERS: I think as we said yesterday, it is something that the working groups are looking at. They're considering a wide variety of options on everything from funding to specific options that will be covered by the President's health care plan. The President has not taken it up yet, has not made a decision on it. And beyond that, I don't have anything to add.
Q You haven't answered the question. It wasn't being considered by anyone in the White House after the President's comments in February, and George reaffirmed that in a briefing.
Q And then suddenly --
Q What happened?
MS. MYERS: The working groups, as we have said throughout, we instructed to consider a wide variety of options across-the-board. And one of the things that has been talked about and that they are clearly considering is some kind of a value-added tax.
Q But the President himself took this off the table, Dee Dee, and suddenly it reappears. And this goes to the credibility of this administration in a way. What has happened in the meantime?
MS. MYERS: The President has not looked at this, it hasn't been presented to him, again, yet. The working groups are looking at it, as they're looking at a wide variety of options, and no decisions have been made.
Q And it raises the question of how independently the task force is working.
MS. MYERS: The task force was instructed to consider all options, and they've taken that mandate seriously and they're considering all options.
Q But that's not the impression that the President left in February. The impression he left was that this was something that was long-range, to be looked at 10, 15 years down the road. The clear implication of his remarks was that this was something that was not on the table, not an option.
Q "If it changes I'll tell you."
Q Bring him on.
Q And you repeatedly referred to the President's remarks, telling us that those were still in operation.
MS. MYERS: It's changed, and we told you. (Laughter.)
Q But that's what Alice Rivlin's comments and Donna Shalala comments were about. I mean, that seemed like an orchestrated effort because you have two independent Cabinet officers --
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't -- no, Alice Rivlin's not a Cabinet member, first of all. Second of all, it was not orchestrated, but clearly, they both said yesterday and in the last couple of days that it's something that's being looked at. We confirmed that yesterday. And I don't have anything to add to that.
Q Is it because he has very few options?
Q Is this something that it will be incumbent upon the task force to convince the President about? In other words, has the President himself personally ruled it out and it's now up to the task force to convince him to put it back on the table? Or is it, in fact, back on the table, having been placed there by discussions with the President?
MS. MYERS: It is not the working group's mission at this point to convince the President of anything. It is their mission to put before him his options and to explain the benefits and the costs and the basic pros and cons of each of those options. I think that they will certainly present the VAT to him in that context, and at this point he's not -- that presentation has not been made, but it's something that he will hear and he has not made a decision on.
Q They will present it to him as one of his options, though he specifically ruled it out?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q Dee Dee, is this more than a trial balloon? Is this a serious consideration that the working groups are giving to this form of taxation?
MS. MYERS: It's simply a statement of fact. The working groups are considering a wide variety of options on a number of issues relating to health care reform. One of the options that they're looking at is the VAT.
Q Dee Dee, when the working groups were examining this possibility, was this on the table during the same time period that you were telling us that it was not?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the specific timing of their drafting of options is. I don't know.
Q Who was telling you that it was not under consideration?
MS. MYERS: I was referring back to the President's comments.
Q Have they discovered that the sin taxes won't raise enough money to fund the core benefit package?
MS. MYERS: No, there's no decisions that have been made on how to pay for the health care plan.
Q I'm asking whether the projections --
MS. MYERS: There's a number of options depending on how the plan is structured. You can't decide how much the plan is going to cost until you decide what the plan is going to look like. And so you can't discuss what financing options have been ruled in our out until you know.
Q Dee Dee, we've been told that they have a computer models on a number of possible packages.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q The question is whether they have now determined whether sin taxes would not produce enough money for even the barest minimum package. That is not a very difficult computation.
MS. MYERS: It is a question that you know that we're not going to answer until -- there's a number of options being considered. It depends on how the package is structured. The exact details of the package and the financing mechanisms used to pay for them are all among the decisions that have yet to be made.
Q And when the President has been meeting with health care -- his health care advisors, which we are told he has been doing --
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q they have never once said to him, these are your funding options, including the VAT? He has never heard the word VAT in his --
MS. MYERS: I am not going to comment on the specific nature of the daily -- they're not daily, but the quasi-regular briefings.
Q Well, you have.
MS. MYERS: I have not, other than to say that he's not considered the VAT. And I think that is a true statement.
Q No, but you said that it has not been presented to him as an option.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q That doesn't mean he hasn't heard about it.
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into the details of what's discussed. I think that statement stands for itself.
Q specific, Dee Dee. When you say he hasn't looked at it, do you mean that he hasn't looked at it in terms of paying for medical coverage, or hasn't looked at it in general? Because back in Chilicothe he was very specific in defining how it works, what the advantages are, the whole thing. It sounds like --
MS. MYERS: But that was -- I think in Chilicothe, if you go back to his remarks there, it was a broader philosophical discussion of the tax structure. And I think the comments were generally in reference to the overall economic plan. But clearly, it's something that he's thought about in the broad context. I mean, that was clear in Chilicothe. What I'm saying is that in the process of the working groups it's something that he hasn't considered yet. It's something that the working groups will present to him among the number of options, and that no decisions have been made. And I'm not going to comment any further on the details of the meetings where health care issues are being discussed.
Q It's your statement from this podium that no discussion of this has taken place. You say that no option -- that the option has not been presented to him.
MS. MYERS: That is correct.
Q Do you stand by -- does the White House still stand by George's statement in March that this will not be in the proposal?
MS. MYERS: No decisions have been made. We have nothing to add to what's already been said.
Q Let me follow up here. Do you stand by what Rivlin said yesterday, that if any kind of VAT were to be used or considered, that other changes to the tax code would have to be made so that it would be less regressive?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment any further on what might happen if.
Q But do you stand by the previous conversations in February that if there were to be a VAT, I think the President said you'd exclude food and energy --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on the specific structure of a decision that hasn't been made.
Q Was the President aware prior to Donna Shalala's comments yesterday that this was under consideration by the working groups?
MS. MYERS: I don't know specifically what --
Q Could you check for us, because that's a real important credibility question?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q Since the task force was brought together this issue has been discussed, at the beginning and throughout, as one fairly painless way to raise a lot of money. Were you all kept in the dark? Was the Press Office kept in the dark over the past month and a half when you've been denying that a VAT tax would be considered that it was actually on the table over there as an option?
MS. MYERS: I think we've said all that we have to say. It is something the working groups are looking at. The President has not made a decision about it yet. And beyond that, I have nothing to add.
Q Well, sorry, Dee Dee, there are still a couple of questions that we are going to have to ask because we have a problem with credibility here -- yours primarily. What we're asking is, if you all were not told at all that this thing was being considered while you were coming out here and telling us that it was not, or if it's a case that you were coming out here and deliberately misleading us.
MS. MYERS: I don't believe that anyone has ever come out here and deliberately misled you from this podium -- ever --ever.
Q Has anyone tried to shade it a little bit to indicate something -- has anybody told anybody to come out --
MS. MYERS: We're not trying to shade answers or deliberately mislead anybody. I've said what I have to say about this issue.
Q All we were trying to find out --
MS. MYERS: I understand what you're trying to find out and I've given you the answers, Helen.
Q We're trying to find out what changed -- what made it an option again. That's the --
MS. MYERS: The working groups were given a broad mandate to investigate all options, and they are doing that.
Q Yes, but it wasn't an option before. How can you investigate it if the President has taken it off the table?
MS. MYERS: It is something that they're obviously considering and the President has not made a decision on.
Q Yes, but he took it off the table in February.
MS. MYERS: Working groups are considering it. They'll present it to the President at some point and he'll make a decision.
Q Why would they consider it if he has taken it off the table?
MS. MYERS: It's clearly on the table.
Q Yes, but he took it off the table. Did he change his mind?
MS. MYERS: It's back on the table, Bill.
Q Did he change his mind?
MS. MYERS: He said this morning that he hasn't made a decision about it. He obviously knows that it's on the table. It's something that he will look at at some and when we have a decision on this we'll let you know.
Q So he must have changed his mind, right?
MS. MYERS: At some point it will be looked at. I mean, --
Q Dee Dee, there's like two options -- either he changed his mind or the working groups think they're authority exceeds the President's.
MS. MYERS: The working groups were given a broad mandate to look at all options; they've done that.
Q Are you going to put out his income tax?
MS. MYERS: Yes, there will be something available on his income tax probably later this afternoon. His return will be available.
Q Will there be any kind of briefing to go through it?
MS. MYERS: No, nothing's planned. I think someone will be available, probably not in a briefing setting, but to walk you through the questions.
Q We're used to be walked line-by-line through the presidential tax forms.
MS. MYERS: I've seen those briefings. (Laughter.)
Q Could we have one?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think there will be any kind of a formal briefing, but there will be somebody available to answer your questions about it.
Q Did they file a joint form?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q When did he file it?
MS. MYERS: I believe it's being filed today.
Q Dee Dee, is there going to be a backgrounder for Miyazawa?
MS. MYERS: No, there will be a readout after the meeting.
Q No backgrounder today?
MS. MYERS: No backgrounder today.
Q This is complicated stuff. We need help. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We can't give you taxes and Miyazawa all in one day, it's too confusing. (Laughter.)
Q Vance and Owen have opened the doors on the use of force in Bosnia. They've both said that, A, they never ruled it out, and B, it might be necessary now. Does that influence your thinking on whether or not to change your approach?
MS. MYERS: There's been no change in our policy towards Bosnia. We have always said that we'd consider --
Q But does that impact upon your decision? Are they people whose opinions would carry weight with you?
MS. MYERS: They're people whose opinions carry weight certainly. I mean, the President supports the process that they've initiated. But there's been no change in our policy for Bosnia, although we're considering a number of options right now. If the Serbs don't come back to the negotiating table, if they don't sign on to some kind of an agreement, we will consider additional options, which we've been saying regularly.
Q One follow-up question then? We cannot get a straight answer from anyone in the administration. Why do you not set a deadline for the Serbs? Can you tell us the strategic or tactical reasons for not giving them a deadline to come to the table?
MS. MYERS: We're continuing to put pressure on them every day.
Q Which doesn't work so --
MS. MYERS: Well, we think it is having some effect. We're going to continue to tighten sanctions. As you know, we support the omnibus resolution. We expect that to come to a vote on the 26th.
Q You say it's having an effect -- can you give us any documentation?
MS. MYERS: I'd be happy to provide somebody to talk to you about the impact of the sanctions and things like that.
Q There's been no -- you have not been able to provide anybody who can tell us that the sanctions have had any effect in Bosnia. Serbia, yes; in Bosnia, no.
MS. MYERS: I think that they've had effect in Serbia and we think they've had some effect in Bosnia. And again, I'll be happy to provide somebody to walk you through the details of that, if you'd like.
Q We would like to hear from someone who can show us what the effect has been in Bosnia. We had the briefing on all of the terrible things that are happening in Belgrade, but we haven't seen anything that indicates an impact on the fighting. Can you provide something along those lines?
MS. MYERS: I will see what I can get you.
Q On the extra Russian aid that Christopher announced this morning -- where is that money coming from?
MS. MYERS: We'll have to work with Congress on the details of that package.
Q So that would be new money that you would hope to get?
MS. MYERS: Yes, that's new money, in addition to the $1.6 billion announced in Vancouver. So I assume that you all have seen the $1.8-billion package that was announced this morning in Tokyo by Secretary Christopher.
Q Isn't there a concern, though, about offering something which you have to get in Congress? I mean, that was the concern with Vancouver; you didn't want to do that.
MS. MYERS: The concern with Vancouver was to do something immediately, which required money that was already approved in the Fiscal '93 budget. What we're looking at now is a little bit longer-term plan to build on top of the $1.6 billion that we announced in Vancouver. This clearly will require congressional approval, or some of it will anyway, and we're going to continue to work with Congress to make that happen.
Q To what extent has that been vetted or agreed to by Congress?
MS. MYERS: The President has had a number of conversations with members and will continue to work with them as this process moves forward.
Q Was Christopher able to put this package out with a fair degree of understanding that you will be able to get it through Congress?
MS. MYERS: It was created in consultation with Congress.
Q In meeting with the law enforcement officials, is that -- does that have a set speech and a goal? A direction?
MS. MYERS: Yes, the President will talk about -- and the law enforcement organizations are endorsing the President's jobs package. They believe particularly the summer jobs package will help give kids something to do.
Q Who are they?
MS. MYERS: It's members or leadership from three organizations: NAPO, which is the National Association of Police Organizations; IBPO, which is the International Brotherhood of Police Organizations, I believe; and IUPA, which is the International Union of Police Associations.
Q Will the FBI chief be there?
MS. MYERS: The FBI chief? No.
Q Or any other federal law enforcement officials?
MS. MYERS: No, it will be the President and these national law enforcement organization leaders.
Q Does the $1.8 billion announced today include the $400 million that's in the FY '94 budget for disarmament?
MS. MYERS: No. The Nunn-Lugar money is separate.
Q So this would be the $700 million that's in the budget already, plus another $1.1 billion?
MS. MYERS: I believe all of this is on top of the $700 million already in the budget.
Q Is this going to be part of the supplemental or Fiscal '94 --
MS. MYERS: We'll work with Congress on the exact funding mechanism -- on exactly how this will be paid for.
Q This $1.8 billion on top of --
MS. MYERS: On top of $700 million -- on top of the $400 million Nunn-Lugar money we announced earlier.
Q And this is what prompted the President to call Bob Dole -- it was on this tranche, not on the previous money he was calling Bob Dole?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q Is there a briefing on Miyazawa?
MS. MYERS: There will be a readout after the meeting with Miyazawa. Tomorrow.
Q Dee Dee, on a totally unrelated matter, some Republicans who are active in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are complaining about this new cozy relationship between the White House and the Chamber of Commerce. There are -- the town hall meeting the other night, the satellite and all of this relationship. Does the White House feel that you're getting too close to these Chambers of Commerce?
MS. MYERS: That's an interesting charge. (Laughter.) After how many years of Democrats being accused of not paying any attention to the Chambers, now there are those who would accuse us of being too close. I think that's interesting. But no, we're thrilled by the support we've received from the national Chamber and local Chambers across the country and we'll continue to work with them on this and other initiatives.
Q What's the status of the President thinking about going to this Democratic retreat?
MS. MYERS: It's on his calendar. I think he'll almost certainly go.
Q All three days?
MS. MYERS: We haven't figured out exactly when he'll be there yet.
Q Is it open to coverage?
MS. MYERS: No, I believe the whole thing is closed.
Q Is he going to have any kind of address, statement, anything at all on the gay rights march on the 25th?
MS. MYERS: We're still looking at that. We haven't made a final decision about how we'll -- who will make a statement or what --
Q Any meetings scheduled with any of the leaders?
MS. MYERS: Nothing is scheduled, but I wouldn't rule it out.
Q What about an AIDS czar?
MS. MYERS: It's coming.
Q Anything on the weekend?
Q There's been a suggestion that he's going to this retreat to avoid having to participate in the gay rights -- or appear or have any involvement in the gay rights march.
MS. MYERS: No, I think this is something he's been discussing for a long time -- appearing at the Senate Democratic retreat.
Q The weekend?
MS. MYERS: Weekend? Don't know -- the only thing on right now is the radio address on Saturday.
Q Any travel plans?
MS. MYERS: If it changes -- none right now.
Q He's not going to be off campaigning for his stimulus package?
MS. MYERS: No specific plans right now.
Q What about mid-week? Anything likely?
MS. MYERS: It's possible. Yes, I think it's likely that we'll travel next week -- certainly the weekend.
Q Has he called Thurmond about his daughter?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I'll check.
Q Going to name a drug czar this weekend?
MS. MYERS: This weekend? I don't believe so.
Q And the radio address on Saturday -- is that going to be focused on the stimulus package?
MS. MYERS: I'm sure it will.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END10:10 A.M. EDT