THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Okay a few scheduling details. As you know, the President's going to Delaware tomorrow. The nonpool press will leave around 8:00 a.m.; the President will leave around 9:00 a.m. It will be a 10:15 a.m. event at the Sussex County Airport in Dover, Delaware. The President will tour some work stations there as part of a School to Work program. Then he'll give a speech. He'll be back in the White House by about 12:30 p.m., I believe -- 12:20 p.m. he arrives at the White House.
The weekend -- Saturday, he's in Washington. He'll give the radio address live at 10:06 a.m. He does not leave Washington until Sunday afternoon sometime, sort of early to midafternoon. He will go to Miami. There he will have private reception and have dinner privately. There will be no public events on Sunday. It looks like we'll be staying at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. I know that breaks a lot of hearts. And then there will be two events --
Q They have the "boom-boom room" --
MS. MYERS: The boom -- Andrea knows about the "boom boom room" at the Fontainebleau. (Laughter.) We won't ask for any details about how you know about it.
Q go-go --
Q I'm not going.
MS. MYERS: I'm going to lend you my go-go boots, Andrea.
Q I know about the barracuda room.
MS. MYERS: That's right. And then on Monday there will be two events. One will be a Hurricane Andrew-related, probably somewhere in the Homestead area, followed by a more traditional Labor Day event. We're still working on the details of those two, and returning to Washington sometime Monday evening.
Q About price controls in health care, as I understand it the President believes that profiteering can be prevented by using the bully pulpit of the White House -- jawboning. Does he really think that will prevent people from excessively profiting as this plan is put into effect?
MS. MYERS: We have, as the President said earlier today -- I mean, there are, first of all, there's a big difference between price controls and other measures to control overall cost of health care. The President never advocated, never discussed price controls, strict price controls. However, in the course of the health care debate, the drug companies have expressed a willingness to control costs of drug prices while the new health care plan is phased in. The President takes them at their word on that, as he said earlier today. And we'll see how that works out through the course of implementation.
Q And is that also his approach to doctors, hospitals, and other insurance companies?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think one of the things the President has said throughout this process is that we have to do more to control health care costs generally. And the health care program will include measures to control overall costs. And that's one of the things, the distinctions that he made, that there are ways to control over all costs.
Q Like what?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's something that we'll reveal in the course of unveiling the health care plan. And I'm not prepared to do that at this point.
Q But he does consider it a commitment on the part of the drug companies and providers to keep --
MS. MYERS: They, as you remember, --
Q I mean, is this a formal commitment or --
MS. MYERS: Yes. They made a formal -- well, I don't know how formal it was, but they made an announcement several months ago that they would be willing to control the cost of drug prices.
Q And they haven't done it so far, though.
MS. MYERS: Well, we haven't phased in the new health care plan.
Q How high do you think the cigarette tax would have to be to come up with --
MS. MYERS: No final decisions have been made on the cigarette tax, although as you know, it's something that the President has said is on the table.
Q Well, but according to the White House release this morning, it's very likely.
MS. MYERS: It's something that is likely, but again, the final decision as to the exact size of that had just not been made.
Q On these agreements Vice President Gore signed with the Russian Prime Minister, those agreements are going very, very, very far. May I raise -- (inaudible) -- what are you going to do if the democratization process in Russia is faltering? What are you going to do if you are having up there kind of a Russian/American space station and you are unable to get --
MS. MYERS: Well, I mean, that's a hypothetical. I think at this point the transition to democracy in Russia is moving along. The transition to a market economy is moving along. It is certainly not without it's pains and problems along the way, and we're going to continue to do all we can to support that transition as we did earlier this year and as we'll continue to do through these kinds of agreements.
This was something that was started at the summit with President Yeltsin and President Clinton earlier this year. This is the follow-on, the follow-through to that commitment, and we think it's a good step in the right direction. We expect to continue to work with Russia and to continue to help them in their transition through these measures and a number of other measures that will encourage -- pardon?
Q What is going to happen if --
MS. MYERS: Well, that's a hypothetical question. Again, I think what we're going to do is continue to work with them to make sure that their transition to democracy does not stumble, and that they continue to move towards market economics and become more integrated into the world economy.
Q Dee Dee, when the President said he'll do everything he can to try and get the Bosnia peace talks going again, what is he talking about? What can the U.S. do?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the kinds of things that we've been doing along. As you know, Ambassador Redman is there now working with the parties. We've done a number of things over the course of the last several months from enforcing the no-fly zone to strengthening sanctions to continue to work with the parties, threatening air strikes if the strangulation of Sarajevo were to resume, more humanitarian aid were to be disrupted. And I think we're going to continue on that track and continue to talk with the parties and encourage them back to the negotiating table.
I think the President made clear we see this as a break as opposed to a collapse of the process and we hope the parties will return to the table shortly.
Q Does that mean that the U.S. does not blame the Muslims for walking away from the peace talks?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that there is, there have been some problems. We've, I think, made it clear that we'd like to see the Serbs and the Croats be a little more flexible on territorial questions. And what we're looking for is the most equitable agreement we can reach, something that's both fair and enforceable. We'll continue to press for a good agreement.
Q Well, does the U.S. -- does the Clinton administration agree with the Muslims then, that the current formula does not give the Muslims a viable state in which to live?
MS. MYERS: Well, discussions about the specific map clearly have not reached a consensus. There is no agreement on that. And again, we've urged the Serbs and the Croats to be more flexible on territorial questions. We hope that the parties will get back to the table and work out a mutually acceptable agreement, but one that is fair and enforceable.
Q Is the United States going to accept any agreement that the Muslims and the other parties accept, or will you make your own independent judgement based on the criteria the President mentioned the other day -- fair, enforceable, and there was a third one.
MS. MYERS: I think that we're going to continue to work with the parties to get an agreement that we think -- obviously something that they have to agree on. The parties themselves have to reach an agreement. We're going to continue to press for something that is fair and enforceable, so I think that in the process of the negotiations agreement will produce, will meet those criteria. However, the President said the other day that he will review and be briefed on the final details before he makes a final determination about it.
Q Were you acknowledging -- I might have missed something in the translation -- that there will be a cigarette tax to pay for the health care?
MS. MYERS: I said that -- what I said was that no final decisions have been made. I think Andrea pointed out that the little Q & A that we released earlier said that that was likely. I think it is likely, however, final decisions on exactly what and how much have not yet been made.
Q What about on liquor?
Q inclusion of the cigarette tax makes it harder to pass to the Congress -- health care plan?
MS. MYERS: Not necessarily. I think that it's going to be an overall comprehensive and good package and one that we'll be able to pass.
Q Is there any discussion in the White House about including it or not including it or what level to include it -- based on politics and how hard it will be to get through?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that there have been -- that discussion has taken place specifically. Obviously there are interests lining up to oppose any number of measure within the President's proposal. It's something that we're aware of, but the President is going to push for the best plan he can.
Q Dee Dee, what's the difference between beer and wine on the one hand and liquor on the other?
Q You get drunk faster.
MS. MYERS: Did you go to high school? (Laughter.)
Q Did you? (Laughter.)
Q From the standpoint of -- (laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I think that there is a long tradition of taxing spirits separately from beer and wine.
Q And there's also a political tradition, given Anheuser-Busch's locale and California's political cloud --
MS. MYERS: Right. Well, no, I mean that I think there's a long tradition and beyond that I have no comment.
Q Can I just follow up?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q Are taxes on liquor likely as cigarette taxes are?
MS. MYERS: I think that, again, the President said early on that those were on the table but no final decisions have been made about sin taxes. We're just not prepared to say at this point what it will look like.
Q But are you prepared to say as far as liquor and cigarettes, are they in the same category, or is there one category for cigarette taxes that are likely, as opposed to --
MS. MYERS: Well, I mean, cigarette -- the cigarette tax is certainly separate than a -- I mean, those are three separate kinds of taxes that are usually sort of considered separately. There's spirits, beer and wine, cigarettes. Again, I'm not prepared at this point to say, since the final decisions haven't been made, which of those sins we might be willing to tax. Although, again, I would point out that it's likely that a cigarette tax would be included.
Q another tax area --
MS. MYERS: Not prepared to say yet.
Q The President had said that he was unable to fulfill his campaign pledge to consider a middle class tax cut because the deficit turned out to be estimated much higher than he had estimated during the campaign. With these new deficit estimates, which are, at for the years he estimated, in line with his estimates, is he going to revisit that subject --
MS. MYERS: I don't think we're going reopen the budget package that we just passed, but the President said -- has said several times in the early months of his administration that sometime in the course of his first term, he'd like to revisit that.
Q Will you have a press briefing tonight after these meetings? I understand the President has two more night meetings on health.
MS. MYERS: No, he had a meeting this morning on health, and I don't expect that we'll do anything briefings after those meetings.
Q Are you just going to keep on letting it leak to various and sundry papers?
MS. MYERS: Well, I would just caution people about leaks. I think that the health care plan is complicated. Things are moving pretty quickly. And that things that you read in the paper aren't necessarily accurate.
Q But sometimes they are.
MS. MYERS: Sometimes they are, but sometimes they're not.
Q What's the purpose in giving it just to one paper --
MS. MYERS: We don't give it just --
Q and not giving it out to everybody?
MS. MYERS: I think that some reporters are very enterprising, but I caution all of you, who are a very good bunch of reporters, to be careful.
Q That's no way to deal --
MS. MYERS: We don't --
Q That's no way to deal with the public.
MS. MYERS: Sarah, we don't deal that way.
Q No, you don't. No, you don't.
MS. MYERS: We don't -- I think, you know, if people go out and get stories, all's I can say about it is be careful. This is moving very quickly.
Q Who was at today's meeting? What level was it?
MS. MYERS: It was a pretty broad group, Cabinet on down.
Q economic advisers?
MS. MYERS: The economic advisers.
Q And the Cabinet --
MS. MYERS: Yes, I don't have a list, but it's --
Q Well, who will be at the meeting tonight?
MS. MYERS: I don't think there is a meeting tonight, Sarah.
Q There's supposed to be two more meetings.
MS. MYERS: There's a number of meetings today, but I think the health care meeting, again, was this morning.
Q When do you expect the package to be ready?
Q list of the people who were there?
MS. MYERS: No, we're not planning to provide a list of the people. It was a fairly broad meeting. It's the usual group, the group that's been working within the White House on health care.
Q And this was with the President, right?
MS. MYERS: This was with the President, correct, and the First Lady.
Q How far along are they on this now?
MS. MYERS: Making good progress. But there's a number of decisions that have to be made and then consultations that will take place.
Q Do you have a date yet for the speech?
MS. MYERS: The week of the 20th, I think, is looking extremely likely, but we haven't nailed it down. There's a couple "i's" that need to be dotted and "t's" that need to be crossed before we have a final date. I expect it in the next day or two.
Q Is he going to Texas next week?
MS. MYERS: It's possible, as part of the reinventing government --
Q Where will he go?
MS. MYERS: We're still working on it. We'll let you know as we have -- as soon as we -- it will be probably one city, and as soon as we have details, we'll let you know.
Q You can't tell us now?
MS. MYERS: It's just not -- it's not confirmed yet.
Q Dee Dee, do you see the speech to Congress as the announcement of all the details, or do you expect the details to be announced before the speech?
MS. MYERS: No, it's -- I mean, -- I think it's the economic plan announcement, I think, is the sort of the model where I think a lot of information was known beforehand, but the speech to Congress was the unveiling of the broad principles.
Q So how will you --
MS. MYERS: Well, some of it.
Q How will you put out the nuts and bolts of the plan? How will that be disclosed in advance of the speech?
MS. MYERS: What, because of deadlines? Yes, you just read --
Q No, I mean, is it just --
MS. MYERS: -- the morning papers. (Laughter.)
Q that same day or is it in the days leading up to it?
MS. MYERS: I don't think we've made all the decisions on that yet. I think it would certainly be our goal, given that this will be something we'll do in the evening to provide as much information as we can that day, so probably embargoed briefings, things like we did when we unveiled the economic plan. And maybe we might even have a text of the speech, but I --
Q No. (Laughter.)
Q Do you think they'll write it in the backseat of the car as they drive up?
Q It wouldn't mean --
MS. MYERS: Yes, right. (Laughter.) Just sort of, this is what we thought we might want to say before we started speaking.
Q teleprompter people --
Q Dee Dee, getting back to cigarette tax in considering a level, how likely is it the President would want to set it at a level that's high enough to inhibit smoking?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that's certainly one of the factors. It has a serious consequence, health consequence and health cost. But I'm not sure that that's -- that may be one of the side benefits. I think that it will be looked at more in terms of a revenue measure. If it discourages smoking, that's probably another benefit.
Q Yes, you need another tax to pay for health care then.
Q That's right.
MS. MYERS: But you might have fewer health problems, so it's --
Q Not in the short-term.
Q When you were talking about price controls, you're saying that the President wants to give these pharmaceutical companies and others a chance to demonstrate they're adhering to their commitment to keep the prices down below inflation. Are you leaving the way open by saying that if they should somehow fail to meet that commitment that this is still something that you might come back to?
MS. MYERS: Well, the President has never advocated price controls. And there is a difference between the sort of Nixon era price controls and then other types of cost controls. And price controls is not something that he ever advocated, so I wouldn't even put that on the table. But I think he is going to give the pharmaceutical companies an opportunity to sort of demonstrate their commitment and I think we'll hope that it works.
Q Are you trying to figure something to do in case it doesn't work?
MS. MYERS: I think we'll cross that bridge when we get there. I mean, we'll certainly take -- I think we would certainly consider a variety of actions should that not work. But I think, again, I would not -- price controls is not something that's on the table.
Q You said a minute ago --
Q Could you tell us a little bit about the preparation of the job summit? Are you still interested in it?
MS. MYERS: Yes, we're -- I'm sorry, in the jobs summit?
Q We don't have a jobs summit.
MS. MYERS: The one we talked about in San Francisco? Yes, we're still interested in that.
Q not San Francisco.
MS. MYERS: Are you talking about the structural unemployment?
Q The one designed --
MS. MYERS: Yes, that was talked about in San Francisco. Yes, we're still moving forward. I don't think we have a firm date on it now, but it's something that we're moving forward and talking about and we expect to have.
Q A few minutes ago you said there are some decisions to make and then consultations to hold before you announce the health care package.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q Does that mean that you're not changing the method of operations that seems to have gotten you in trouble on the economics package by going to Congress, for example, with a finished package and leaving members in a position where they can't really have an impact on it and maybe feel they can't support it?
MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, I think members of Congress and their staffs have had tremendous input in this process -- meetings with everyone from the President to Mrs. Clinton to members of the working groups that have put together the various proposals. I think there has been broad participation in this process from the beginning. I think the consultations with members is ongoing and certainly we'll listen to -- this is not an informing process, it will be a consulting process, which I think leaves open the opportunity for members to have input and to make changes that reflect their experience and their expertise.
Q Dee Dee, can you lay out a little bit of what the President plans to do on reinventing government? Does he plan a speech to the nation? Does he plan to do town hall meetings? I know that Gore plans to go apparently on the Letterman Show. What are some of the things that are planned -- (laughter) -- what are some of the things that -- plan to do specifically?
MS. MYERS: Well, we'll do an event to unveil the reinventing government on Tuesday and --
Q Here at the White House?
MS. MYERS: Here at the White House. I think -- we're still working on the details, but the President will travel to talk about various aspects of the program, about some of the savings and recommendations included in the program over the course of that week. And the Vice President will do the same. I think that both of them will travel and talk about it extensively both in the week immediately following and I think quite a bit thereafter.
We don't have all the specific details, but I think this is something that the President and the Vice President are both very committed to, something that they've done a lot of work on and something that you all can look forward to hearing a lot about over the next few months.
Q travel separately?
MS. MYERS: Mostly, yes.
Q They will not be appearing together in any of these --
MS. MYERS: They will, I think, on Tuesday and probably on Wednesday. And after that I think they'll probably split up.
Q How will we --
MS. MYERS: I think you're so resourceful.
Q To reinvent government.
MS. MYERS: No.
Q does he want to have a speech to the nation, or is that --
MS. MYERS: We're not planning any kind of formal address to the nation, no. I think we'll save that for health care. But I think that there will be a number of events where the President will make that point. This is an important and significant program, something that the President thinks is important, that the American people will support. And he wants them to know about it.
Q Does he plan a town meeting type thing? There is some talk of --
MS. MYERS: I think there will be events like that. I don't think -- I'm not sure that it will be a sort of televised, local affiliate hookup that we've done in the past, but I wouldn't rule it out.
Q How does the White House go about convincing people in Congress that this effort is different from efforts that past administrations have done with reports and so on? Why is this reinventing government different than the vast variety of reinventing governments we've had in the past?
MS. MYERS: Because this one is much more specific, the numbers are real, and the results I think will be tangible right away. I think people will look at it and say, yes, there are ways that we can do things differently that will save money. There are places we can cut, there are places we can trim, and I think that the specificity of the program will speak for itself. This is an extraordinary effort.
Q sort of a framework in place to make sure that whatever recommendations get made are then acted upon, or is there anything formal planned along that line?
MS. MYERS: I think there's a whole program to get the recommendations passed. And I think the Vice President's going to continue to work as energetically on it as he has putting it together.
Q Is he really going to go for the Reaganesque -- permitting the plants and companies to police themselves on health and safety?
MS. MYERS: I think we'll have to wait until Tuesday to get the final details on the RIGO program.
Q Dee Dee, can you tell me how soon after the President's speech, whenever it's held, will the health care plan be presented in legislative language?
MS. MYERS: I think that depends on how we work with Congress. I don't think we have a formal timeline on it.
Q Will it be before the Christmas recess?
MS. MYERS: I think it depends on how things go. They would like to see it move as quickly as possible. But there's a lot of committees and a lot of members of Congress that need to participate, and we'll move it as quickly as we can. We don't have a firm time line.
Q And, therefore, no commitment at this point to get it done this year?
MS. MYERS: We'd like to get as much of it done this year as we can. We're going to move it as quickly as we can. But it's complicated, and I think we're painfully aware of that.
Q Two questions, unrelated. First of all, on Sunday, is this a fundraiser in Miami?
MS. MYERS: No, no. It would be a reception with supporters -- people, friends. It'll be a closed event. But it's sort of a small get-together.
Q Social event?
MS. MYERS: Yes, social.
Q The other question, unrelated. How could any program be more specific than the Grace Commission was with almost 2,500 proposals for saving money?
MS. MYERS: Stay tuned. This is --
Q You would have more than 2,500, is that what you're saying?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the number is, but I think these will be specific, verifiable, hard, concrete numbers, cost reductions.
Q But do you see my point, that the Grace Commission was also very -- very, very specific. How is this different from the Grace Commission?
MS. MYERS: Again, you'll have to wait until Tuesday. But I think this is a specific. It takes on big problems within government, it makes some very significant changes, and it's going to save the American taxpayers a lot of money.
MS. MYERS: We'll let you know on Tuesday.
Q Do you expect that it will include things such as proposed mergers -- DEA, FBI -- or is that a separate track?
MS. MYERS: Again, I'm not going to get into commenting too much on the details of it at this point.
Q I'm sorry, I didn't hear that question.
MS. MYERS: The question was, is it going to include things like mergers of DEA and FBI.
Q Can we have this report early on Tuesday so that we can know what we're writing about and study it?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think that's probably possible. I think the event will be fairly early in the day. We'll get you the information as early as we can.
Q At what point is he going to start bringing in people from Congress, especially Republicans on health care reform -- and in the interest groups, senior citizens and some of these other groups that are scared to death about what the impact of this is going to be?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think fairly soon.
Q Will that start next week --
MS. MYERS: Hopefully.
Q on the days -- obviously on the days when he's not traveling?
MS. MYERS: Yes, hopefully. I mean, we're going to be traveling a lot next week, so that may be difficult, but I think there will be some conversations. And if not with the President, directly with other people.
Q Do you still have a certain number of Republicans who are targeted on this?
MS. MYERS: There are a number of Republicans who we think are interested in health care reform and have expressed interest in this and who we think share some of the President's goals. Sure, we have some people that we hope to work with a lot.
Q You've told us what the President is going to do with the health plan and on reinventing government. How about NAFTA? What are the plans for him to get directly involved, speak to Congress or speak to the nation?
MS. MYERS: Again, I mean, I don't think -- you don't have that many opportunities to address the nation directly. But there will be -- actually, there may be an event tomorrow afternoon, a brief one, on NAFTA.
MS. MYERS: Here, just announcing a -- perhaps a --
Q Bill Frenzel?
MS. MYERS: Yes, probably tomorrow afternoon. It will be very similar to what it was with Bill Daley -- something in the Oval Office.
Q I'm sorry, probably announcing what?
MS. MYERS: Bill Frenzel.
MS. MYERS: Yes. Well, it's not -- we don't have a time for it yet, but I think the target is tomorrow afternoon, and I think it's very likely that it will happen.
Then next week is reinventing government. The following week I think we'll have an announcement on NAFTA and do some events around that. It won't be an address to the nation specifically, but the President will do several events, I think, reaffirming his commitment to it and emphasizing this is something that will create jobs on both sides of the border and boost the standard of living on both sides -- or all three sides of the border.
Q With former presidents involved?
MS. MYERS: No decision on that. As I said yesterday, it was something that was considered, but no invitations have been issued.
Q No invitations --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q But they're still discussing the possibility?
MS. MYERS: Yes. We haven't worked out all the details. That's still -- geez, that's 10 days away. We're still working on tomorrow. (Laughter.)
Q The way you describe it makes it sound as though he's going to be spending half of his time next week traveling on behalf of RIGO and the other half on behalf of NAFTA. Does that sound about right?
MS. MYERS: No. NAFTA is the following week.
Q I'm sorry, NAFTA's the following week.
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q How many days out of town next week?
MS. MYERS: Probably two.
Q Dee Dee, back on reinventing government, once that report is out, what is Vice President Gore's role going to be?
MS. MYERS: I think, among other -- I mean, he has a number of things he does in addition to reinventing government, but I think he's going to continue -- he's going to work with Congress to get the specific initiative passed and to see that the plan is followed through on.
Q So he's going to kind of be chief advocate --
MS. MYERS: Oh, I think he'll continue to play a very central role in this. It's something that he's, as you know, worked very hard on.
? Q Dee Dee, about a month ago when the FBI seemed to clear the allegations over the Travel Office five, you said that the White House and the personnel office is going to try to work hard to get these guys jobs. They haven't heard boo from the White House or anyone from the administration in the past month. Do you have any what's going on?
MS. MYERS: No. I think that that's not -- I don't know what conversations they've had. The last time we sort of talked about this, they had been in contact with somebody from OMB who's handling it and had conversations about appropriate employment. As we said, the obstacles to full-time employment had been removed and we were moving forward trying to find them jobs.
I'll take the question and see what progress has been made. I don't know independently.
Q You don't know what hang-up or --
MS. MYERS: As far as I know, there's no specific hangups other than maybe finding something that is suitable and available. But we're still -- I mean, we're committed to getting them into comparable full-time jobs -- permanent jobs.
Q Dee Dee, in the week after the Gore unveiling, how many executive orders are you expecting the President --
MS. MYERS: I don't have the specific number.
Q Like a handful, maybe?
MS. MYERS: You know, I don't know. I don't know that we've made a final decision on that. And I don't know that we'll say ahead of time exactly what they are. We're still working on it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:40 P.M. EDT