THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND THE VICE PRESIDENT IN PRESS AVAILABILITY WITH CEOs
The East Room
2:12 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for gathering here. What you see arrayed here is a very large, very influential, very impressive group of business leaders from across the United States calling upon our country to urge the Congress to pass President Clinton's economic plan.
The success at the G-7 summit was made possible by the economic leadership embodied in this plan. The sharp drop in longterm interest rates, which has stimulated a wave of refinancing -- pumping $100 billion into the economy this year -- is made possible by President Clinton's economic plan.
The new incentives to encourage investment in business will be made possible by this plan when it is passed. The tax cut for 96 percent of all small businesses in America will be made possible by this plan, for these and several other reasons: business leaders throughout American have joined their voices to those in our country who are urging change and growth instead of gridlock.
It my pleasure introduce one of these leaders who will then introduce another and in turn another and then the President will speak. But right now, I have the special privilege of introducing Felix Rohytan, Senior Partners of Lazard Freres. And, of course, he was Chairman of the Municipal Assistance Corporation in New York, the city's financial watchdog agency, at a time when under his leadership, MAC, as it was called, helped steer New York City away from bankruptcy and oversaw a massive surge in infrastructure, investment, and developed a reputation for innovative public financing and measures to spur economic growth. It's my pleasure now to introduce Felix Rohytan. (Applause.)
MR. ROHYTAN: Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, I'm privileged to be here today. And this is essentially a very easy statement for me to make because I believe that there's essentially no alternative.
We've had 12 years of runaway deficit spending. We've had 12 years of unsustainable increases in the national debt. And it's now critically important to change the direction of this country.
President Clinton's budget proposal is a vital first step -- and it's only a first step -- to bring America back to fiscal sanity and to create opportunities for future growth. Inevitably this will require sacrifice on the part of some. However, if the Congress doesn't pass the President's budget, we can expect very negative reactions from the financial markets, which in light of the frail state of the economy could very well push the country back into a recession with very detrimental results for all Americans.
While one can disagree with individual parts of this plan, there is really no responsible alternative to its adoption. For those members of the Congress whose priority it is to restore the economic health of the nation, the only responsible vote is in favor of the President's plan.
Bringing this plan down seems to me to be playing Russian roulette with the future of this economy. And as anybody who's ever played Russian roulette knows, if you lose you don't get a played Russian roulette knows, if you lose you don't get a second chance.
Thank you. I'd like now to introduce Mr. John Johnson, the Chairman and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company. (Applause.)
MR. JOHNSON: Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, I will address my remarks to Mr. Clinton, President Clinton. Your $500 billion deficit reduction proposal makes a strong statement as the largest such reduction in the history of our nation. You ought to be commended for your solid commitment to helping America put its house in order.
As a businessman operating with success in our great nation for over 50 years, I strongly believe that our country must come together to work on this program. Our combined cooperation is to reduce the federal deficit, and it will ultimately result in an improved quality of life for all of us. Not only will your plan make it easier for businesses to grow, but your new incentives targeted to encourage businesses will help to create jobs because deficit reduction and job creation go hand in hand.
Members of Congress should vote for this plan without hesitation. As the founder and publisher of Johnson Publishing Company, which reaches over 21 million readers each month through our three magazines -- Ebony, Jet, and EM -- I want you to know that we support your program and we will do all that we can to help appeal to the public and to Congress to do the same. Thank you. (Applause.)
And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Ron Hall, President and CEO of Citgo Petroleum Corporation. (Applause.)
MR. HALL: Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, I'm here today to express Citgo's support for the deficit reduction goals of the administration's economic plan now being debated in Congress. We share the administration's commitment to meaningful deficit reduction. The long-term health of our business and our company's ability to create high-paying jobs for American workers depends upon a strong U.S. economy.
Our capital investment program calls for investment of over $1.5 billion in new plant and equipment. It's helped meet our commitment to environmental protection, to produce fuels to heat our homes, and power the cars of the people of this country; and, also, to expand our capacity to meet the energy demands of the 21st century and to create more jobs for our employees.
A stable economic environment and low interest rates are essential to the success of that effort. The growing federal deficit threatens economic growth by sapping the economy of capital that could better be invested by the private sector in economic development that creates jobs.
So we support the administration's effort to achieve this $500 billion in deficit reduction in the pending budget reconciliation bill. Although the full details of that bill have not worked out by the conferees, we are optimistic in our hope that the conference will resolve the difficult deficit reduction issues in favor of economic growth.
As a businessman, I would probably differ with the President and with the Congress over where and how much spending to cut. But we recognize at this critical time disagreements over details of which programs to cut and by how much must be set aside so that the commitment to deficit reduction can take priority.
None of us enjoys the prospect of higher taxes, yet we also recognize that meaningful deficit reduction cannot be achieved by spending cuts alone. New revenues committed to deficit reduction are essential if we are to create a economic environment that is conducive to growth.
One of the most controversial aspects of the President's economic plan is the new energy tax. Citgo is a major producer and marketer of transportation fuels, including gasoline, diesel, and aviation jet fuel. Thus, the burden of a transportation fuels or a gasoline tax will fall on our products, placing a potential squeeze on our margins. Nevertheless, Citgo supports a modest fuel tax, such as that that is in the Senate bill if the revenues are contributed to deficit reduction.
Everyone should recognize that the pump price of gasoline fluctuates by more than 5 cents per gallon from season to season. Real gasoline prices, adjusted for inflation, are the lowest that they've been in 30 years. We must pay a nickel a gallon more for gasoline to help plug the deficit. Perhaps that gives honorable meaning to the phrase "a plug nickel." (Laughter.)
I'm pleased to introduce Harry Buckley, the CEO and President of H &R Block Tax Services, Inc. (Applause.)
MR. BUCKLEY: Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, as President and Chief Executive Officer of H & R Block Tax Services, the nation's largest tax preparation firm, I am familiar with the American taxpayer's concerns and believe strongly that the income tax reforms included in your economic package are important steps towards restoring equity in our tax system.
The majority of H & R Block's clients are middle and lower income taxpayers, many of whom would benefit from the President's plan to expand and simplify the earned income tax credit and distribute the tax burden more fairly throughout all income brackets.
Based on our evaluation, alternative tax plans, which would reduce in the increase in the earned income tax credit, will reduce the benefits to middle and lower income groups. An independent study commissioned by H & R Block last year investigated the shifting of the tax burden during the past decade in the United States. It showed significant reductions in total tax rates for the wealthy, matched by substantial increases for middle class taxpayers.
The President's plan attempts to restore fairness to the tax system by placing 75 percent of the tax increases on the top six percent of Americans. Furthermore, the proposed earned income tax credit increases will help 10 million working families. I believe adoption of the President's plan is the only responsible course for the Congress.
And now I would like to introduce Mike Walsh, Chairman and CEO of Tenneco, Incorporated. (Applause.)
MR. WALSH: Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, ladies and gentlemen. All of us who care deeply about the economy and its health -- and that includes everyone in this room -- should have a simple and compelling message for the Congress of the United States. And that message is: Quit fooling around. Pass the President's economic program now. Why? Because the economy needs this plan. America can no longer afford delays and excuses; and the time for gridlock and deficits and deferral is simply over with; and our patience is wearing thin.
The plan reduces the deficit by slowing spending, perhaps at a lower -- not as aggressive as a rate of some of us would like, but in a very significant way -- and by increasing revenues in a fair and equitable way. And the fact is, we need these changes in order to reduce the burden of accumulated debt on the economy, which is simply staggering, as we all know. The United States simply cannot afford to continue to live on borrowed time and borrowed money, and that's why all of us need to support the President and start attacking the deficit.
The opponents of this plan should be under no illusions. They are hurting the economy and they are hurting the nation's prospects for long-term growth by standing against the plan. As we say in business, that's the bottom line no matter how you cut it, so let's just get on and do it.
The real question before the country and the Congress is whether we will be passive and allow the continued erosion of our will to act, or are we going to get with it and seize control of our own economic destiny before it gets out of our control?
So, if we want a future of jobs and growth and of economic opportunity and we want to be proud of our democratic system, what we need to do is to take bold action now and quit letting rhetoric obscure the reality of what needs to be done. We need to seize the day and approve the plan and get on with the fundamental business of reviving our standard of living and reducing this burden that we have inexplicably put on our children. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Now, what I'm really up here for. Ladies and gentlemen, it's my privilege to introduce the President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Please be seated. First let me thank all the business leaders who are here: Felix Rohytan, John Johnson, Ron Hall, Harry Buckley, and Mike Walsh for the fine words that they said, but all those who are also on this platform behind me today. They represent companies of all sizes and shapes from Main Street to Wall Street.
They're here united in an unwavering desire and commitment to the health of the American economy, over continued political rhetoric, to productivity over politics, to action over gridlock. They are here, just as I am, not because anyone agrees with every last line and jot and tiddle of this economic program as it will doubtless come out of the conference, but because of what it does and because it does far more good then harm; because it brings down the deficit by $500 billion; because it has an equal apportionment of cuts and new revenues; because the revenues are fairly apportioned. And I was very proud of the speakers because the people who are up here with me are the ones who are really going to pay all the revenues that others are complaining about. And they have determined that they will do it to bring the deficit down, to keep interest rates down, to restore the stability and health of the American economy.
We talked a lot today about a few other issues at lunch, and I just would emphasize what I have tried to emphasize before, which is that over 90 percent of the small businesses in this country will be eligible for a tax cut if this plan passes; that working families with incomes under $30,000 will be held harmless. The working poor with children in their homes who spend 40 hours a week on the job will, for the first time, be able to work themselves out of poverty; that we have new and important incentives for high tech companies, extension of the incentives for research and development, and a real commitment to grow this economy.
I want to say again, as I have on so many other occasions, that for every $10 of deficit reduction, $5 is in spending cuts; $4 in new revenues from the upper six percent of the American work force; and $1 from middle class families with incomes of between $30,000 and $140,000.
The people on this platform today represent what makes America work -- the fact that they have become more involved in this, that they are willing to put their own names on the line. And many of them are Republicans; some are Democrats; some are Independents. They're all united here because they're Americans and they know that we've neglected our problems long enough.
I thank them for their presence here, for their willingness to lobby the Congress. And I assure them that together our best efforts, I believe, will produce a victory in this economic battle.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Q Mr. President, if I could turn your attention to the situation in Bosnia. The United States has long promised to provide air support if U.N. peacekeepers are threatened. French peacekeepers have now been fired on for two days in a row. Are you now prepared to deliver your air power, and would that alone be enough to deter Serbian aggression?
THE PRESIDENT: We are prepared to fulfill our commitments, yes. The procedure is as follows: The United Nations forces in Bosnia must ask the Secretary General of the United Nations for assistance. He will then relay that request to NATO, and we would act through NATO. And the answer to your question is, we are prepared to move if we are asked to provide that assistance by the Secretary General.
Will it be enough to deter aggression, to stop the shelling of Sarajevo, to bring the parties to the peace table? I don't know. But we are prepared to do our part.
Q Mr. President, do you feel that the United States and its NATO allies already have the assets in place, the air power and the air traffic controllers to go ahead with these kinds of air strikes? And what does your gut tell you? Do you think the U.S. and its allies will be bombing Serbian targets in Bosnia within the next few days?
THE PRESIDENT: There are a few questions on which a president's conversation with his gut should not be made public until the facts present themselves. (Laughter.) Let me say this: If the request comes, we certainly can be prepared. NATO can be prepared within a very brief time span.
Q bombing -- near silence of the United States during this fourth day of bombardment of Lebanon -- the civilians being driven from -- is being interpreted in the Middle East as supportive of these assaults. What are you going to do to stop the bombing, and would Christopher really be welcome in these outraged capitals?
THE PRESIDENT: The reason I asked -- well, I didn't ask. Secretary Christopher and I had a conversation and we agreed that he should come home -- is because we are so concerned about what is going on in the Middle East. I think Hezbollah should stop its attacks, and I think Israel should stop the bombardments. I think that Syria should go from showing restraint to being an active participant to try to stop the fighting. And we ought to do whatever we can to stop the fighting as quickly as possible.
Q Mr. President, on the subject of the budget, at least eight Democratic senators, possibly as many as 10 or 12, have said that they are leaning against voting for it. And five Democratic Senators have written to the conference committee chairman and have said that they do not want the gasoline tax or any form of energy tax. Do you believe you will have to make major compromises, such as eliminating the gasoline tax entirely, in order to get it pass the Senate? How do you propose to get Senator --
THE PRESIDENT: I don't --
Q Boren and Senator Nunn --
THE PRESIDENT: I don't, because I haven't -- no one's answered the question that -- almost all the ones who say that also say I want $500 billion in deficit reduction and, by the way, put all the economic incentives for growth in. It becomes an arithmetic problem at some point. And that's really basically what it is. The fuel tax that's in there now is modest. It will not promote a great deal of energy conservation. It has very little environmental significance. The real question is, is it necessary to get $500 billion in deficit reduction to have real tax fairness in terms of what's provided in terms of the earned income tax credit and to have the economic incentives. And no one so far has been able to give a credible alternative. So I would say to you I think our plan is still the best one on the table.
Q You've been meeting one-on-one with them. Have you been able to persuade any of the opponents to switch?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say this: The atmosphere and discussions here is not as bad as -- if anything, it's a little better than it was before the initial votes were taken in the Senate and the House. We'll just have to see. I mean, I think in the end a lot of them, whatever the situation is, they're going to have to make up their minds whether the consequences of voting no for the country are graver than the consequences of voting yes. If that's the question, they'll all vote yes.
Q Mr. President, I just want to clarify on the Bosnia situation. Is it your interpretation that if we do engage in air strikes there, that we will go not after the source of fire if it can be identified, but also, if necessary, against other Serbian targets, headquarters or logistical sites? And just as a follow-up to that, if I could, are you concerned, that in doing this that we'll send a signal possibly to the Muslims that it could be overinterpreted by them that the cavalry is coming and maybe now they should hang back a little bit?
THE PRESIDENT: Let me try to answer both questions. First of all, I have not yet had a meeting with the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I have not been briefed on our options. And I don't think I should comment on that at this time.
Secondly, we have, at the request of President Izetbegovic, agreed to have Reg Bartholomew go and participate in the discussions about whether a peace agreement can be reached. We have made it clear to all the parties all along that we would never seek to impose an agreement on the Bosnian government. We've also made it clear to the Bosnian government that we think that they should always be willing to talk, but we're not going to try to impose a settlement on them. I think that they know that our position would be that we should continue to discuss a peaceful resolution to this.
Q Do I detect correctly, sir, a slight shift in your attitude towards Syria, which you commended yesterday for its role in the current trouble in the Middle East? And do you think you might have been too hasty yesterday and have you changed your mind?
THE PRESIDENT: No. I don't think anybody thought that Syria was exactly behind Hezbollah. I just believe that they could do more. I think the time now is -- it's now time for all the players to do more to bring an end to the fighting. I think Syria and Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians, and the Lebanese, everybody who -- except these political groups that make their living from the continued misery of the Palestinians, everybody else has a vested interest in continuing the Middle East peace process, and I hope that we can get it going again.
Q On the free trade agreement, you are coming to the end of the collateral negotiation with Canada and Mexico. I understand they'll be meeting here tomorrow -- country are talking about -- deficit reduction. What new facts are you getting from them on the free trade agreement -- on that?
THE PRESIDENT: I think most of them are for it. I certainly hope they are and I believe they are.
Q Mr. President, Boutros-Ghali has said in the last few hours that he thinks the NATO air cover should be able to start early next week. Based on what you know about it now, and this plan has been around since May, how do you calculate the risk? Do you feel like you have any obligation to go to Congress before that first plane takes off or to go to the public with this?
THE PRESIDENT: I think I should wait. I asked the Secretary of State to come home to discuss the Middle East. He is now home. I want to talk about Bosnia with him, with the Secretary of Defense, with some others, before I decide on what next has to be done. I think that the commitment that we have had all along to defend the United Nations forces there if they were attacked is, I think, fairly clear and has been highly publicized. But, of course, if we have to take any action, I will have appropriate consultations with Congress and appropriate conversations with the American people.
Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:40 P.M. EDT