THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
9:44 A.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Let's talk about the schedule.
Q No. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Two things. The President's meeting right now with Senator Mitchell and Congressman Foley and Congressman Gephardt. They will talk about a number of issues.
The President will leave here at 11:15 a.m. for his 11:30 a.m. speech before the National Realtors Association. He'll be back here at 12:30 p.m.
George is scheduled to brief at 1:00 p.m. And then at 4:30 p.m., the President will have a photo op with the national champion University of North Carolina Men's Basketball Team and Texas Tech Women's Basketball Team.
At 6:30 p.m. he will drop by a salute to Joe Moakley reception, and then to the National Endowment for Democracy reception at the Capital Hilton.
Q How come this wasn't on the schedule?
MS. MYERS: This meeting? I mentioned it yesterday. But it wasn't on -- it's not on the public schedule.
Q And will they be coming out?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I'm sure they will. The meeting is scheduled to last about an hour. They're in there now.
Q What time do you think they'll be out?
MS. MYERS: Ten thirty a.m., 10:45 a.m.
MS. MYERS: I think it's a variety of things, including jobs package, health care.
Q Does he believe the advice that he's getting -- is he getting the advice from Panetta that Panetta mentioned yesterday in terms of how difficult it's going to be to get particularly the funding out of Congress?
MS. MYERS: I think he certainly takes Director Panetta's comments seriously. Nobody believed that this would be easy. The reconciliation package will be tough, getting the whole budget through Congress will be tough. But we knew it wouldn't be easy when we started this process. The President's budget is basically a reorienting of funding priorities in this country. But we did get the resolution passed through Congress in record time, and we're going to fight like crazy to get the other elements of the President's package passed.
Q Had he heard in private those same sentiments from Panetta before the Director made them public?
MS. MYERS: Panetta gives his advice to the President regularly. They meet and talk regularly. And I can't discuss --
Q The President wasn't surprised by -- his comment this morning was --
MS. MYERS: I think Mr. Panetta has a well-deserved reputation for candor, and he always speaks his mind.
Q Is the President considering holding back on his health care package, delaying the health care package, as Panetta and Foley both recommend?
MS. MYERS: At this point, everything is moving forward on schedule. We're still making good progress on the development of the health care plan. Obviously, we'll work with Congress on the specific legislative strategy, but the President is committed to getting a health care plan through Congress this year.
Q Is he going to go ahead with his plans to unveil it in May?
MS. MYERS: We're still moving forward on the same time line.
Q Does the President agree with Panetta that NAFTA is dead?
MS. MYERS: No, and I'm not sure that's what Panetta said. I think he said if it went up to the Hill now it would be dead. But the President wouldn't send it up to the Hill now. He has said repeatedly that he wouldn't send it up unless we had the supplemental agreements to protect labor standards and the environment.
Q Would you say NAFTA is alive and well?
MS. MYERS: I think NAFTA is alive and well. I think that there's a lot of work that needs to be done on it, and I think Ambassador Kantor is working hard to negotiate those supplemental agreements. The President believes if we get good supplemental agreements and good implementing legislation, that NAFTA will be good, it will create a lot of jobs on both sides of both borders. And he's going to push very hard to see it passed. He'd like to see it passed this year. But again, not without the supplemental agreements and the implementing legislation.
Q Did the President talk to Panetta today? His whole interview was a real downer in terms of practically everything going down the drain. Is that the attitude -- are you guys being spooked by the Republicans?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think that's it at all.
Q The President is not unhappy with his public remarks?
MS. MYERS: No, he's really -- I mean, he hasn't spoken to Panetta this morning -- I don't believe he has. And Panetta was at the morning meeting this morning, as he always is.
Q Panetta was at the meeting with McLarty?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q But the President doesn't participate in it?
MS. MYERS: No. But as I said, I don't believe that the President has spoken to him.
Q Did Panetta explained his --
MS. MYERS: His opinions are his opinions. I think that he believes that the President can get his budget package through Congress, believes that we can pass meaningful health care reform, believes that we can pass Russian aid. I think he believes that these are difficult, complicated issues. But I think that he's ready for the fight.
Q Was he apologetic today, or was he astounded of the way it came out?
MS. MYERS: I think he was a little surprised by the placement in some of the papers.
Q You mean front page?
MS. MYERS: Front page, lead story in certain papers. You know it was played in different places in different papers. I don't know what he expected.
Q What do you expect?
MS. MYERS: I didn't ask what he expected.
Q There was never any question that he was speaking on the record. I mean, he didn't say that he --
MS. MYERS: No, he's not denied anything that's in the article. I think the characterizations are those of the various reporters. But, basically, again, you all know Leon -- he's a very straight forward guy and he speaks his mind. But I also want to point out that he's working very hard -- there's a bug on the podium -- he's working very hard --
Q It's the CIA. (Laughter.)
Q What kind of bug?
MS. MYERS: It's a -- I don't know -- it's like a little flake fly. He's working hard to pass this package. He believes that we can make good progress on all these issues this year and he's in there fighting just as hard as everybody else. And I don't think he's -- I don't think that he's downbeat. I think that it's hard, but I think everybody's ready for the fight.
Q People typically make these comments to newspapers when their voice haven't been listened to in the administration, and when they feel frustrated this is often what happens. Did he have anything to say along those lines this morning?
MS. MYERS: No. Again, I think that he's a very direct -- in fact, I think maybe --
Q He's also usually a team player who wouldn't go out and say these kind of things unless there was something else --
MS. MYERS: He's absolutely a team player -- no, I think exactly the opposite. I mean, he is a team player. He's somebody who is greatly respected within the administration, somebody whose opinions --
Q Has he been taken to the woodshed?
MS. MYERS: No. He is somebody whose opinions and advice are listened to and taken very seriously by everybody in the administration.
Q If he's that much of a team player, are you hinting then that other members of the team feel the same way?
MS. MYERS: About?
Q They would concur with his assessment of the President's legislative prospects.
MS. MYERS: I don't know, other than -- I mean, they'll speak for themselves.
Q What's the President's reaction? We've been talking about the Budget Director; is the President also surprised at the placement of the article?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q Is the President also --
MS. MYERS: He didn't have a lot to say about it.
Q I'm still not sure whether I understand whether these sentiments come as a surprise to the White House, or whether Mr. Panetta has been voicing these same concerns in the regular meetings you've been having.
MS. MYERS: I think that, again, Leon Panetta is somebody who is a key player on this team whose opinions are wellknown. But I also think -- that's why I'm saying that I think that he believes, as a number of people do, that this will not be easy, but he believes that it's possible and will continue to fight for it.
Q He didn't sound like that. He sounded like everything has gone down the drain.
Q The word dead usually connotes --
MS. MYERS: But put it in context. If it went up to the Hill this week -- I agree with him -- if it went up to the Hill this week, it would be dead. We're not going to send it up to the Hill right now. We're not going to send it up to the Hill until there is the supplemental --
Q What are you talking about?
MS. MYERS: This is NAFTA -- until there are supplemental agreements that the President talked about to protect labor standards, to protect the environment. And then there has to be the five points in the implementing legislation that the President's talked about. In its current form, I don't think there's any question that without those supplemental agreements, NAFTA would never pass. And the President doesn't want it without the supplemental agreements.
Q What is the President's strategy for overcoming this roadblock that he now perceives on the Hill? There's no question they're feeling their strength, and the President looks weak.
MS. MYERS: I think that the President has already achieved a great legislative success on the Hill with the passage of the budget resolution. We're going to continue to work with Congress on both sides of the aisle to get the other elements of his legislative agenda passed. I don't think the Republicans want to be responsible for holding up every element of the President's package. I don't think that they want to be perceived as the guardians of gridlock, to use a phrase.
Q Panetta, if I understand, he was not just talking about Republicans, he's talking about Democrats as well.
MS. MYERS: And as I said, we will continue to work with members on both sides of the aisle. We believe that we can get the reconciliation package through. The President's committed to getting health care reform this year, we're going to continue to fight. I think the American people are on the President's side on this. They want new spending priorities, they continue to support the President's economic plan. They're certainly for health care reform. They want change. They voted overwhelmingly for change in November, and they continue to support it. And I think that that's -- you can't underestimate the importance of that. I mean, there are a number of members of Congress, both in the Senate and the House, who are sensitive to the urgency that people want change.
Q Dee Dee, is there any concern that this kind of public candor by a high administration official, though, is counterproductive?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to comment much more than what I've already said. Again, I think Leon Panetta is a well-respected person, both inside and outside this administration.
Q He's not speaking for the administration but for himself?
MS. MYERS: I think he was making his opinions clear, but again, I also think that he is going to continue to fight and believes that we can make good progress this year.
Q Is it a deliberate strategy to lower expectations?
MS. MYERS: No, no.
Q Is it possible to get Mr. Panetta to come down and talk to us and tell us exactly --
Q In your dreams. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: No, I'm not suggesting -- with the exception of the NAFTA quote, that it was necessarily taken out of context. All I'm saying is that Panetta, in spite of him recognizing this is a tough fight, is going to continue to work with us to get this package passed.
Q Given the fact, though, that this is the week where the 100-day marker falls, don't you think it's kind of bad timing that he would just grant this kind of high-profile interview in the first place?
MS. MYERS: Well, it wasn't an interview, it was a lunch.
Q Lunch, interview.
MS. MYERS: Well, I mean --
Q I think it's bad timing he had lunch. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Right.
Q Did he pay for his own lunch or was he allowed to accept -- (laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Boy, I'll get right back to you on that. (Laughter.)
Q Did the President have that specific --
MS. MYERS: I mean, you can't control the timing of everything that happens. I think there are a number of things about which we would have changed the timing in the last couple of weeks if we had our druthers.
Q We're trying to find out if this is the attitude in the White House, that there is the gloom and doom.
MS. MYERS: No, absolutely not. I think the attitude in the White House has been -- it is that this has been a very productive 100 days. Not everything has gone exactly according to script, but overall we've made good progress on the President's priorities, which are the economy, health care, campaign finance reform, and national service. We'll continue to fight to get those -- his priorities passed through Congress. We'll continue to work with Congress to get it done. I think that the attitude in the White House right now is pretty upbeat. I think people feel like we've had our good days and our bad days, but overall we've made good progress.
Q Dee Dee, if the attitude in the White House is pretty upbeat, aren't you and the President distressed that a leading official would give such a downbeat interview? And if not, what's going on here?
MS. MYERS: Well, I mean, I think that there is room for people to speak their minds. I think the Budget Director is a very forthright guy, and someone who is respected both, again, inside and outside the administration.
Q But, Dee Dee, if the White House feels things are going pretty well, is the White House not distressed that such a senior official would give an interview suggesting that things are on a down-down spiral?
MS. MYERS: That's just not our opinion, no.
Q So in other words he's -- what he said differs from what the rest of the White House thinks?
MS. MYERS: I think that what he said is that it's not going to be easy. I think that that is clearly true, but we expect to keep fighting.
Q Do the President's senior advisors disagree with Panetta's assertion that the President should have a more clearly defined message and that he should take his message to the public?
MS. MYERS: I think that that is something that we always try to do. We always try to have a clear message and we --
Q No, no, the question is are there advisors that disagree with that?
MS. MYERS: That we ought to have a clear message? I don't think so. I think that's one of the things that we've done throughout the campaign and in the beginning of the administration pretty well -- we can always do better. We can always have a more clearly defined message. And I think it's very important that we continue to take that message to the American people. And I think that's something that we'll continue to do.
Q What's going to be his message to the realtors today? On the economy?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he'll talk about the economy, primarily; a little bit, again, reflecting -- continuing to reflect on the first 100 days.
Q Given what you acknowledge as the difficulty of doing the things that are on the Hill already, what is the thinking in the next week introducing legislation on campaign finance reform and national service? I realize these are priorities, but one observation has been that this is sort of on overload already. Why would you pursue this now, along with all this other stuff that's so hard?
MS. MYERS: Again, the President did outline priorities. Campaign finance reform and national service were among those. I think he can do more than one thing at a time and I think that campaign finance reform and national service reenforce the message, and I think in many ways help move things along. The President said that part of it in the sort of overall message of change was that every American ought to have a chance to go to college. That is widely supported, something the President believes deeply in, something we're going to move forward with.
Campaign finance reform I think underscores his commitment to change the way we do business in this country, the way we do politics. And he believes that is something that is supported by the people and the people need to know that we're committed to change, and this will help, I think, on a number of fronts. It won't be easy, but --
Q Is that tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: It may come out sometime this week. We're still working on the final details.
Q On the campaign finance reform?
MS. MYERS: Campaign finance reform. National service will definitely happen on Friday.
Q But he's also going to be introducing legislation presumably recommending legislation eventually on health care reform and on welfare reform and on taxes, all this other stuff that's going to --
MS. MYERS: Well, the tax is part of the reconciliation package.
Q But all this are his priorities. It seems that there are so many major priorities right now that this focusing in like a laser beam is looking a little more scattered.
MS. MYERS: No, I think that the priorities that he outlined at the beginning of his term are still his priorities. Welfare reform is something that he's worked on, as you know, throughout his career in public service. We're working on that. We don't have a specific time line on it. It's something that I think we'll get to, something that's high up on the priority list. But I think we're focused on those top four priorities now. He said he'd --
Q Is welfare reform a priority for this year?
MS. MYERS: I think it's something we'll definitely get to this year.
Q Where is he going Friday?
MS. MYERS: We're still working on it. Somewhere probably again in the Eastern time zone. It will definitely be a day trip. We'll probably leave the first thing in the morning and come back in the late afternoon.
Q What area code? (Laughter.)
Q Bosnia status.
MS. MYERS: Bosnia status. The President is still considering his options, still consulting with the allies, and we hope to have more to say about that soon.
Q Has he talked with anyone?
Q Is Warren Christopher going to shop something around Europe?
MS. MYERS: No, there's no plans right now for Christopher to travel to Europe.
Q Did he ever get through to President Mitterrand yesterday?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so. I think he's going to try him again today.
Q What about Major?
Q The President said the next several days. Is that --
Q Is Mitterrand avoiding him?
MS. MYERS: I just don't have a specific time line. We don't have a particular date. I think he's working on it. He's obviously going to continue to consult with Congress a little bit, but we don't have a hard and fast day.
Q Did he say yesterday the next few days, though?
MS. MYERS: It could be -- yes, the next several days. It's sort of an elastic term. But I think soon being the favorite --
Q That's stretching it. (Laughter.)
Q Will you let us know when you have something to announce?
MS. MYERS: Yes. (Laughter.) You can count on us.
Q Milan Panic said last night said that he wants to meet with the President -- the former prime minister of the former Yugoslavia.
MS. MYERS: Californian.
Q Yes. Is the President planning a meeting with Mr. Panic?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe we've received a request, but --
Q Would the President be interested in a meeting?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I'll have to get back to you on that.
Q This health care review panel -- do you know yet when they are going to meet to review the task force program or has that started?
MS. MYERS: Bob --
MR. BOORSTIN: They've already started to meet. They'll continue to meet.
Q When did they have their first meeting?
MR. BOORSTIN: Oh, God, about a month ago. They met for the first time for an orientation session.
Q But have they started actually reviewing the proposals?
MR. BOORSTIN: Yes, they've reviewed several pieces of the plan.
Q Okay. And when did that start?
MR. BOORSTIN: That really was intensive over the last few days.
Q And you're still shooting for mid-May?
MS. MYERS: We're still on track.
MR. BOORSTIN: Stick with what Dee Dee says. She's my boss.
Q What is the theory behind -- what is the reason for that timetable, since there are reasons -- obvious reasons to not do it at that time?
MS. MYERS: On health care? Well, as you know, we originally intended to get it done within the first 100 days and for -- due to unforeseen circumstances, we pushed it back some. The reason is because the President believes it's critically important; it's something that he talked about a lot during the campaign and because he believed so strongly that unless you can control health care costs, you can't reduce the deficit, plus the human concerns.
Q This was a campaign promise-driven timetable as opposed to a legislative strategy thing?
MS. MYERS: Well, no, it's both, though. It's a campaign promise-driven timetable. It's important to do it soon because it's important to get it done. He believes that you need to get it done. And it's something he's willing to take on early in his administration, to use his capital to get it passed. And he's very committed to it. He doesn't want to wait. He believes that it's important both to the long-term fiscal health of the country as well as to the health and well-being of the American people.
Q Have you done any estimates on the effect on his economic program if it does not pass this year?
MS. MYERS: If health care -- well, if you look at the different graphs and charts and budget estimates, the deficit goes down through 1997 as a result of health care without reform, because we didn't factor in any cost savings for health care into the budget plan. It goes right back up.
Q There are some holes in the budget that are supposedly going to be filled in by health care. How much does that change your forecast in terms of --
MS. MYERS: There are no cost savings from health care factored into the budget.
Q Not necessarily cost savings, but outlays in terms of Medicare, Medicaid, things that were left out of -- there were no reforms done or changes made because that was going to be part of the health care.
MS. MYERS: I don't whether the specific calculations have done based on if health care passed in 1994 as opposed to 1993. I don't know. I can check.
MS. MYERS: Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END10:04 A.M. EDT