THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
2:20 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: For those of you who have not already met the health care spokesman, this is Kevin Anderson, available to answer all of your questions on health care issues.
Q So what's in the package? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Almost all of your questions -- except for that.
Q How are you going to pay for it? (Laughter.)
Q What's it cost?
MS. MYERS: Sorry, Kevin.
Q Does it cover a haircut?
Q TV coverage -- whoa, whoa --
MS. MYERS: That's right. That leaves you two minutes left of TV time. Okay, any questions? No announcements.
Q How are you going to pay for it? No, how are you going to squeeze hundreds of billions of dollars out of Medicaid and Medicare over five years?
MS. MYERS: Well, through savings, but those savings will then be used for Medicare beneficiaries to pay for drugs and long-term care for Medicare beneficiaries, so those savings will be folded back into the system. And on Medicaid, savings will be folded back into the system to provide coverage for people who aren't currently covered.
Q Some people are concerned that the savings are not realistic and that it will be very difficult to achieve as much in those programs as you think.
MS. MYERS: Well, it is going to be difficult to achieve, but this is a massive health care overhaul that will achieve great savings over time. The President, as you know, is very committed to this, and we think that once the plan is finalized and revealed, that it will be serious and it will achieve the savings that it sets forth.
It's one of the themes that the President has talked about consistently throughout the campaign and throughout his presidency, that if we don't do something to control spiraling health care costs we can't control the budget deficit, we can't control the growth in spending. This is going to be a very serious proposal.
Q What, beyond the meeting that the President had with the bipartisan leadership today, what else is the administration planning on doing to try to generate bipartisan support for the legislative agenda in the fall?
MS. MYERS: Well, on health -- we'll be working very closely with Congress on all of the issues, the three main domestic issues as well as a variety of foreign policy issues. One of the things the President announced at the leadership meeting this morning was that we were beginning an intensive period of congressional consultation on health care, but we'll also be working closely with members of Congress on REGO and on NAFTA, as those things evolve, as well as on a variety of foreign policy issues. I think you can expect to see a lot of bipartisan cooperation on a number of issues across the board.
Q Can you tell us a little bit about the response of the White House to the GAO report on mismanagement over here and how you're going to make sure that doesn't happen again as you're trying to reorganize the rest of the government to be more efficient and well-run?
MS. MYERS: I think it's important to note that most of the problems pointed out in the GAO report happened very early in January and February. There were a couple of issues -- one was retroactive pay increases. Most of those were to meet commitments for people who had already been working who had either been working for no money or at a salary below the salary which their work entitled them. Most of those retroactive pay increases covered a single pay period. In other words, people were put on the payroll and were back-paid, and that makeup was done within one pay period. And most of it was done early on.
As for some of the other issues in there, they've been largely corrected. I think some of it was -- there were some oversights, which have largely been taken care of. But I think the most important issue is that Congress gives the White House broad authority in dealing with personnel issues. There was nothing in there that was illegal. Nobody is accusing us of doing anything illegal. I think the discrepancies that were outlined were minimal and have been largely corrected.
Q Well, David Watkins fired seven people essentially, he said, because they kept poor records. Now the GAO has reported that David Watkins kept poor records. How can you justify him keeping his job?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure that's what the GAO report says. I think there --
Q One of the things they said was there were no -- the paperwork was not done.
MS. MYERS: -- very limited number of cases -- I don't have the figures in front of me, but there were a limited number of cases, roughly 24 cases where people were -- where people were paid -- there were overlapping pay periods. It was very small amounts of money. I think the total was less than $10,000 over time. I don't think this was a -- this is a small administrative mistake, but one that we've acknowledged and one that we had already taken action toward correcting before the GAO report was even final.
Q Discipline's a matter of amount?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that -- without getting back into all of our favorite topic, that there was large sums of money over long periods of time in one instance, and some start-up problems which were largely corrected and systems put in place to guard against those kinds of problems occurring again before the GAO report was even completed. I think they are two very different situations.
Q Where is the travel office situation now?
MS. MYERS: In terms of staffing?
Q The investigation.
MS. MYERS: There are a number of investigations. You'd have to contact the investigative agencies about them.
Q Like what? You mean the FBI?
MS. MYERS: Well, yes, you'd have to contact them. But, for example, I think the Justice Department said with reference to the Vince Foster letter that there was going to be an Office of Professional Responsibility investigation into the portion of that note dealing with the travel office. That was one. There was another investigation at the Justice Department dealing with other issues involved in the original travel office situation. And I would advise you to contact them for progress.
Q But you don't know if they're over?
MS. MYERS: I don't. I don't believe that they're over, but I don't know.
Q Have those people been given jobs yet?
MS. MYERS: I was supposed to check on the status of that. I have not. I don't believe that they've all been given jobs.
Q Dee Dee, there's a report you're about to name a new assistant attorney general for civil rights.
MS. MYERS: We're in the process of that. I think that that's -- we're making good progress on it. I don't have a hard time line on it.
Q Dee Dee, another German tourist was killed in Miami today in one of these rental cars --
Q Killed. Is there anything, any role for the federal government to step in to prevent this violence against foreigners in Florida?
MS. MYERS: I think, obviously, it's tragic -- violence against foreigners as well as violence against Americans. It's something that the President is very concerned about. It's why we're in the process of putting together a comprehensive crime bill that includes things like the Brady bill, which the President is committed to campaign for and will continue to fight for. But I think the President is deeply concerned about violence against all people in this country, whether they're visitors or residents or citizens. And we'll take action to do what he can to prevent it.
Q Well, that's not what I'm asking. Is there anything that he can do to prevent these things, or is there any role for the federal government in this?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that's what -- the comprehensive crime bill, and I think certainly the Brady bill, which would help take guns out of the hands of criminals by creating a waiting period. I think that's critically important. It's something the President is committed to, something that the American people are committed to. People would like to see the Brady bill enacted. The President's going to continue to fight for it, and I think we'll get it done.
Q Are you going to try to take it out of the crime bill so it's on a fast track?
MS. MYERS: We're still working out the strategy for the crime bill, including the Brady bill. But it's something that he's committed to getting passed.
Q On REGO, can you list for us some or all of the specific concrete steps that the President and the administration will be taking over the next period of time to implement some of the recommendations in the report?
MS. MYERS: Well, there will be a series of executive orders which we will announce as they become ready -- a series of administrative steps. I don't have a list in front of me now. And then there will be -- we'll work with Congress on a series of congressional action.
Q Will there be something that the American people are going to be able to see in the next week or month, or whatever, that's within the administration's ability to do on it's own? Can you just give us some examples of what those things are that can happen really quickly?
MS. MYERS: I don't know how -- I mean, there will be pieces that can happen quickly, and I will have to get from the REGO people a time -- I don't have a timetable in front of me. But there are certainly changes in procurement policy, changes in personnel policy, red tape that can be cut, some of the things that the President and Vice President talked about yesterday and again today. And I think you'll see the first of executive orders that deal with procurement and personnel in the next days, perhaps weeks.
I think -- this is both a short-term and a long-term measure. I don't think you can point to quantify the results on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, but over the long term this will both change the culture of government and save money.
Q Is tomorrow a REGO trip?
MS. MYERS: Tomorrow is a REGO trip to Cleveland, and it will focus on cutting red tape. There have been -- Mayor White and others in Cleveland have worked over the last few years to streamline some of their administrative processes to give the government more flexibility, particularly in -- what we're going to see has to do with real estate and allowing the government to -- the city -- to take real estate and turn it into more productive uses by --
Q This is something the city has already done?
MS. MYERS: This is something the city has done. It's an example of how red tape can be cut, bureaucracy can be streamlined. And you can see immediate -- not immediate results, but real results.
Q Is it fair to say that all these REGO trips are about success stories rather than putting out examples of waste?
MS. MYERS: I think that they'll have -- there's some piece of both in them. They'll point out -- there will be a piece of a success story tomorrow as well as some suggestions of what the federal government can do to work more efficiently with local governments and to streamline its own bureaucracy.
On Friday we'll go to northern California to Sunnyvale. The focus there will be worker training.
Q Will Gore be on the card tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Gore will be with us Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Houston trip is still being worked out. It will also have a RICO focus.
Q What is the worker training in Sunnyvale?
MS. MYERS: We're still working out the details. Essentially, among other things, there are prohibitions currently that make it more complicated to use a variety of grants from different agencies and different government levels to fund worker training programs.
Q Similar to what the President was mentioning in his remarks yesterday?
MS. MYERS: Yes, along the same lines. And this is an example of a successful worker training program and one that -- we'll also talk about ways that we can streamline it to create more programs like this.
Q But it wasn't a federal facility, was it? It's private?
MS. MYERS: It's private, but it receives some federal money.
Q Is the Vice President traveling with the President, or is he traveling separately?
MS. MYERS: He's traveling with -- I mean, I assume -- separate planes?
Q It's the law.
MS. MYERS: But he's keeping the same schedule. He'll be at all the events with us.
Q Today there were workers bused in from all over Washington to be at this event for the President. Do you have any idea who paid for those buses and do you think that was a good way to use government resources for this kind of event?
MS. MYERS: I don't know who paid for the buses. I can certainly find out. But I think that one of the reasons that this effort will be successful is because it relied on federal workers. It didn't bring in outside experts to tell federal workers how they could do their jobs better. It said to federal workers, you have the most experience, you tell us things that don't work and how to do it more efficiently.
I think part of what we're doing is trying to empower workers not only to find the solutions but to implement them. And I think this is an example that we take them and their wisdom seriously.
Q You mean busing -- taking them out of their offices and --
MS. MYERS: I think many of them had some involvement in this process.
Q I talked to a lot of them who didn't -- they weren't, some of them weren't quite sure why they were there.
MS. MYERS: But I think many of them did have some involvement in the process. And others -- I'm not sure exactly how they were selected. I can certainly get back to you on that. But I do think it's important to involve the federal workers in this, to empower them and to let them know this is something that's going to affect them and that we have enough confidence and faith in their abilities to ask them their opinions.
Q Can you take that question and get back to us?
MS. MYERS: About who paid for it? Sure.
Q And what it cost.
Q On the same line of thought, is there -- do you see anything ironic in the fact that the first executive order the President will sign this week to streamline the government will involve the creation of yet another layer of government, the President's so-called new management council?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that anybody that's dealt with the relationships between management and labor in the federal government would suggest that there aren't ways to make that work better. I think overall people who have looked at the REGO report think it's serious, they think it's innovative, they think it was a serious attempt by this administration to change the culture of government, to make it work better and to save money; and that the involvement of the President and the Vice President on an ongoing basis will help make it effective.
But I certainly think there's room for improvement in the relationship between management and labor, and I think people on both sides of that relationship agree.
Q But what about the question?
MS. MYERS: Well, that was the answer.
Q No, but I mean the question was whether or not isn't this another layer of bureaucracy.
MS. MYERS: And my answer was that this is a way to make that relationship work better. And I think people on both sides of the relationship agree that that will help. It will help as we work to streamline the personnel process, to empower workers to work to achiever results and not just follow rules.
Q Does that mean it's not another layer or that it is another layer, but it will help, or what?
MS. MYERS: I'll let you be the judge of that. I think it's an improvement in an important relationship and one that will help make things work better.
Q Dee Dee, by the way, you're confusing the labormanagement partnership council with the management council, which is what I asked you about. The management council is not the partnership with labor, it's the one to take a look at the excellence and the performance and customer satisfaction and all of that. That's another layer of government.
Q Are you going to treat us like customers? (Laughter.)
Q Be careful.
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think I'll just skip right over that one.
Q Is he going to sign either or both of these first couple of executive orders during these trips?
Q You betcha.
MS. MYERS: I think that's likely, but it's not completely worked out.
Q Tomorrow in Cleveland, is that a --
MS. MYERS: It's possible, but it's not completely worked out.
Q Now, this property, this real estate you're talking about there, is this formerly or currently owned public property?
MS. MYERS: The city played a role. I'm not sure who owns it, and we'll have more details on that for you tomorrow. The city was able by changing some of its rules, was able to take abandoned property and convert it to commercial use. I don't know whether they -- again, we'll have more details on this tomorrow, but I don't know whether they sold it or whether the city still owns it. But they built some commercial property on there that now has shops and has jobs and people --
Q And you envision doing that on a federal level?
MS. MYERS: Well, no. I think what we envision -- not specifically that, but streamlining -- changing the rules, eliminating useless red tape in order to make government work more productively. As opposed to having boarded-up buildings in downtown Cleveland, they now have productive commercial space. And it was achieved through a series of regulatory and red-tape reform. It's an example of the kind of things people can do when they work to achieve results and not just follow rules.
Q To sell NAFTA, you're still trying to meet with one or more former presidents, or what kind of events are planned for next week?
MS. MYERS: No. Again, that was something that was discussed but never decided on. I think that probably won't work out. We will have -- the President will sign the NAFTA side agreement sometime next week. We're looking at Tuesday. I think that's pretty likely, but we'll wait another day before we can actually confirm it.
Q What sort of events will you -- if any, will you put on to promote NAFTA?
MS. MYERS: Well, starting with Tuesday, the signing of the side agreements. And beyond that, we don't have any specifically on right now, although the President will certainly talk about it and do events around NAFTA over the course of the next few months. But for next week, the event we're looking at is the signing of the side agreements.
Q There won't be any travel while all the REGO --
MS. MYERS: No, there won't be any -- no travel next week.
Q Could I have just a follow on that? The President last week talked about retraining as being the magnet he'll use to attract support for -- after people who either wavering or don't have an opinion. Do you have any idea when we'll have some knowledge of what's going to be in that report? Will that retraining be part of the side agreements? Will that be incorporated into the enabling legislation? How will that --
MS. MYERS: I think that's something that the President has talked about all along, having some kind of retraining for displaced workers included in the implementing legislation. That's something that -- the hearings begin on that, I believe, next Tuesday. It's something that we'll work with Congress to achieve.
Q That will be part of what we'll see on Tuesday then, the retraining?
MS. MYERS: Yes, the President will sign -- again, sign the side agreements and then I think talk about the goals he'd like to see achieved through the implementing legislation, something that he's talked about before when he endorsed NAFTA and other times.
Q Will the Mexicans and Canadians be here for the signing agreement, too? Is that a three-way signing agreement?
MS. MYERS: I don't know who all will be here yet.
Q The fact is, Dee Dee, that the President came out with his reinventing government package, and now he's going to spend three days on the road pushing it. And he's going to sign these side agreements for NAFTA and apparently not going to do anything beyond that in terms of any kind of high profile public campaign. Doesn't that --
MS. MYERS: Well, not necessarily next week.
Q Okay, but doesn't it add to the perception out there that this President has not put as much stock or as much of his currency behind NAFTA as many people would like to see him do?
MS. MYERS: I think the President's been unequivocal in his support for NAFTA. He's talked about it over and over again. I think he'll continue to do that. We'll have a very high profile on that next week. That's the first -- not the last, it's the first of many events where the President will talk about elements of NAFTA.
Q in the past when the President's signed -- from the stimulus bill through the budget through health care, which is coming up, and he's clearly going to travel on behalf of REGO -- he has always done a big event. Your modus operandi has been to do a big event and then immediately to go on the road and sell it. Why is NAFTA different?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we've done that for some, but not all of our high-profile issues. We didn't do it for national service, for example. But we did travel repeatedly over a long period of time --
Q Yes, you did. New Jersey, New Orleans --
Q You went to Rutgers --
Q We went to New Orleans for national service.
Q Don't forget College Park.
MS. MYERS: No, but those events were spread out, if you recall, over a long period of time, which is exactly my point, which is that look for us to do NAFTA events spread out over the course of the next several months. We don't do every single event the same way. We often do -- hit the road to promote a particular event, but NAFTA's something the President's committed to, something that we'll continue to do events in support of, and something that he's going to work to pass.
Q be one of the three issues that's on the plate this month, which requires the most presidential muscle. And yet he appears to be giving it the least, at least, so far.
MS. MYERS: I think that there will be a lot of work done in Congress on this. I think the President talked with members of the leadership today about it some. There were meetings, as you know, at a staff level that started yesterday. Those will be ongoing. I think that we're going to work very aggressively with members of Congress. We're going to do a number of events over the course of the next couple of months to support NAFTA. I don't think there should be any question about the level of the President's support for this.
But we're also going to do reinventing government both to streamline government, make it work more effectively, restore people's confidence, and we're going to roll out a major health care proposal. And we're going to be -- I think we can do all these things. The President has talked about how important they all are to creating jobs, getting the economy going again, and look for us to do a lot of NAFTA events over the next few months.
Q Could you just to talk about this a little bit more? Could you tell us why perhaps NAFTA is a different kind of issue that maybe doesn't call for that many high profile public events; that it's not a matter of kind of whipping up public opinion to help you; that it's maybe something -- an inside game, something that you deal with inside the Beltway? Is that part of your thinking?
MS. MYERS: No. I mean, I think it clearly is something that we'll spend a lot of time dealing with Congress on. It's something that there's a lot of interest in, bipartisan support for, on the Hill. I think it's also something that people are increasingly aware of. And I think it's something the President is going to talk publicly about.
Q Right, but does he see public opinion and kind of mass -- and mass communications as part of his strategy for winning NAFTA, or is not as important as it is with health care and reinventing government?
MS. MYERS: No, I mean, it's important for winning NAFTA as well. And I'm not going to categorize what's more important than anything else. Clearly, the President's going to talk publicly about this. He thinks people ought to know the benefits of this. He believes over the long term it will create jobs and raise the standard of living for Americans as well as Mexicans and Canadians. And we're going to continue to make that point. We just aren't going to do it all next week.
Q Do you anticipate travel after the unveiling of the health care plan?
MS. MYERS: Yes, and I think Senator Mitchell or Congressman Foley said today that they would have -- issue an invitation tomorrow which will allow us to lock in the date for the address to the joint session.
Q Speaker Foley said yesterday on television it was going to be the 22nd.
MS. MYERS: They haven't -- I mean, procedurally they haven't issued a formal --
Q Probably lock in the dates based on that.
MS. MYERS: Well, they haven't issued a formal invitation so we haven't done what we do with the networks and others to lock this in. But I think you can look -- certainly look for it to be that week. And I do expect some travel following the unveiling of the health care plan.
Q To follow on that for a second. What is the President doing next week when he's not traveling to press NAFTA? Is it work on the health care plan or --
MS. MYERS: That will certainly be a lot of it. And next week -- one of the things that we're going to start doing next week is a daily briefing for you all on health care -- bring different people in here to talk about various elements. We'll be spending a lot of time on the Hill briefing members of Congress, working with them, getting their input. Also, speaking with interest groups. And we will initiate a daily health care briefing to talk in some detail about the details of this plan.
Q Can we have those on the record for camera and sound, please?
MS. MYERS: I'll take that, but I don't think all of them will be. I think many of them will not be for camera and sound.
Q Is the plan done? Is it all wrapped up?
MS. MYERS: No, it is not all wrapped up.
Q What has to be done? I mean, what are you briefing on?
MS. MYERS: It's a consultation process. We have preliminary decisions, but those are not final.
Q So you're still getting changes? You're making changes in the plan?
MS. MYERS: We're getting inputs from both interest groups and members of Congress -- certainly open to making the plan better in the course of the next couple of weeks before it's formally unveiled.
Q Could you talk a little bit about this 5:00 p.m. meeting the President is having with the President of Bosnia?
MS. MYERS: President Clinton will meet with President Izetbegovic at 5:15 p.m. It was requested by President Izetbegovic. I think he's going to come and give a progress report on the situation in Bosnia in the ground. As you know, President Clinton has continued to urge all parties back to the negotiating table in Geneva. He's urged particularly the Serbs and the Croats to be more flexible in meeting some of the objectives outlined by the Bosnian government. I think they'll certainly talk some about that and perhaps about implementation of a peace agreement, should one that is both fair and enforceable be reached in good faith by all the parties.
We'll have some kind of a readout, whether it's just a couple of paragraphs on paper or something more -- I don't think we know yet. But we'll have some more details on what happens at the meeting later.
Q Will there be a photo op?
MS. MYERS: I think there is a photo op, yes. It's not on your schedule, but it's on ours.
Q Can you give us a readout of the congressional meeting? I mean, we know what the Vice President did, but what were the President's points and what kind of reactions did he get?
MS. MYERS: As you know, the Vice President went through -- and the President both went through the reinventing government -- some more specifics on the plan. Then the President talked about where they were on health care and said we'll be up on the Hill to consult. He said, I want to make sure that we all are singing from the same hymn book in terms of the facts.
We want to make sure that you all know what is in the proposals that we can discuss, any disagreements or differences in perspective that we might have. He talked about NAFTA and said he was hoping to build a good base of bipartisan support with both, obviously House and Senate members, that he was interested in working out a side agreement, implementing legislation that would protect workers and other things. They talked some about foreign policy, they talked about the situation in the Middle East; they talked some about Bosnia, some about Somalia.
Q Did Bonior say anything when NAFTA came up?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q And did anyone react to what he said about health care? Did Bob Dole or anyone say that they're -- give any response?
MS. MYERS: No. I mean, there was some conversation about how you score budgets, but it was pretty much the President made a presentation, and then he took some comments on the end. I was gone for about the last 10 minutes of it, but I think most of the conversation at that point was foreign policy.
The leadership was grateful that the administration would be up there briefing them, that they would have additional opportunities for input. But, mostly, the President made a presentation and then the members commented mostly on foreign policy toward the end of the --
Q And the First Lady didn't participate at any point?
MS. MYERS: No, she was not there.
Q Senator Dole or anybody else to express to the President directly what they have expressed to us or in other forums about that United States policy towards Somalia should change?
MS. MYERS: No, they didn't. I think there was some mention of the amendment, the Byrd Amendment today, which the President clearly does not support. I think the President made the point to the leaders that we went there because it was a dire situation, because of the warlords and the anarchy in Somalia, people were starving. Literally hundreds of thousands of people were in grave danger of starving to death, and that if we were to leave now without reaching our objectives or the U.N.'s objectives, that the situation could deteriorate quickly into chaos again, and that's something he doesn't want to see happen.
Q If Izetbegovic asks the President for help in obtaining the concessions he wants at the bargaining table from Serbia and Croatia, what's the President going to tell him?
MS. MYERS: I think we'll have to wait and see. Again, we'll have some readout on that. I think the President's been -- clearly, he's again asked the Serbs and the Croats to be more flexible in meeting some of the concerns outlined by the Bosnian government, but we'll have a little more information about the meeting after it's over.
Q Is there any thought of the U.S. taking any kind of a more active role in the Bosnian situation at this point? Do you think that there's going to be any news out of this meeting?
MS. MYERS: No. We've said all along we don't have a preferred solution, other than we think the only means to lasting peace is through negotiated settlement.
Q Dee Dee, does the White House now accept the judgment of both Foley and Mitchell that you're not going to get health care passed this year? Is that now a given?
MS. MYERS: I think that we hope to make some progress on health care this year. I'm not sure that anybody thinks --
Q And Mrs. Clinton's idea of a Christmas present is not going to happen this year?
MS. MYERS: I think that that would be difficult to achieve.
Q On reports of the guaranteed benefits package in health care, the details of that coming out this weekend, is that still subject to change or is that pretty much set in stone?
MS. MYERS: No, I mean, I think that the decisions that have been made are, in many ways, preliminary in that we're going to go up on the Hill, we're going to consult with Congress, we're going to consult with interest groups. And I think the goals of the President's plan are becoming quite clear. Some of the details may change.
Q The idea, though, of employees having to pay a tax on anything, any health benefits above what's in that package, is that pretty much agreed upon by the administration?
MS. MYERS: What we've said all along -- and I don't know that we've changed our position so much as some people have changed the way they've interpreted it, is that we don't want people to pay more taxes on benefits they currently receive.
Q But anything beyond what is currently received, i.e., whatever is in your guaranteed benefits package you will expect employees to pay?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on that, other than to say people won't pay additional taxes on benefits they already receive.
Q What is the White House view now of the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian signing here next week as has been suggested?
MS. MYERS: We just don't have any firm details on it. I think the State Department said today they've made some contingency plans. But it's something that the parties would have to work out before we could talk about specifics.
Q And what is the status of your consultations with Hill leaders and interest groups on resuming the U.S. dialogue with the Palestinians?
MS. MYERS: There's been no change in our position, vis a vis, dialogue with the PLO. But it's a very dynamic situation and one that we're watching.
Q Has the President himself been involved in the effort to conclude Middle East agreements during the past week?
MS. MYERS: The President's certainly been -- well, in terms of the framework, yes. As you know, he wrote a letter to nine Middle Eastern leaders urging them to accept the agreement and to support it. And he'll continue to do that -- he talked both to Kohl and to Yeltsin yesterday about it, urging them to support it. So he's certainly been actively encouraging support. He thinks it's an important breakthrough and wants to see it succeed.
Q But is he playing a role as a mediator or offering suggestions or passing information or anything like that?
MS. MYERS: No. I mean, the PLO and the Israelis have to work out the specifics for mutual recognition between themselves. And obviously most of the credit belongs to the parties for that.
Q What did he tell members of Congress about it? Did he tell them to expect something or not to expect something, ask them to help in some way?
MS. MYERS: I think he just talked about how -- it was encouraging, that it was something that this administration set out to achieve a real breakthrough in 1993, that -- if you look at some of the situations that have arisen, I think they talked a little bit about that. There were at one point 400 refugees in the no man's land expelled from Israel. There was shelling just a few weeks ago. And yet out of that we -- the parties have achieved a major breakthrough. And that is clearly something the President is gratified about and very hopeful about. And so that was the sort of attitude that he took.
Q When you said that people would not have to pay taxes on benefits that they now receive, after a grandfather period of eight or 10 years, they would have to pay taxes on benefits they now receive if those benefits exceed the standard benefits package. Is that not correct?
MS. MYERS: I'm just not going to comment on that now.
Q That came out the White House briefing this weekend.
MS. MYERS: I understand that, but the -- because the health program would be instituted by that time and people will be receiving benefits through reduced costs and increased benefits, there will be a lot of changes. But I would just refer you to --
Q But if it goes beyond the standard benefits package, which by then -- let's say for arguing -- for the point of argument -- would be a very expanded, totally phased-in package, but on anything beyond that standard benefits package, they would after the grandfather period pay higher taxes.
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment -- I mean, you can talk to some of the health care people, but I'm not going to comment on that.
Q I mean, you were on the record just now with a comment that might be misleading on that issue.
MS. MYERS: No, I mean --
Q Unless you were trying to tell me the policy has changed in the last --
MS. MYERS: No, I'm just saying -- I'm not saying it's changed or that it hasn't change. I just said simply that I'm not going to comment on that other than to say that people will not pay additional taxes on benefits they currently receive.
Q In connection with the NAFTA sales effort, there was a report in a news magazine this weekend that one of the things that you planned to do was to go to Dallas to do a NAFTA event to, in effect, answer some of the criticism from Perot. Was that ever something that was alive and considered --
MS. MYERS: No. This trip has always been a REGO trip.
Q That was the Dallas --
MS. MYERS: Well, it was Texas. We talked about a number of cities in Texas.
Q But there was never a Dallas NAFTA event?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q I believe the President has some out-of-town travel schedule to support health care reform scheduled as late as the middle of October. Are there any dates that are even tentatively scheduled for a NAFTA trip at this point?
MS. MYERS: There are a lot of things that are tentatively on the calendar. We will certainly do NAFTA events.
Q Well, is it a fair inference that either the health care itself is more important than NAFTA or traveling in support of health care is more important?
MS. MYERS: We're not going to treat -- we don't have exactly the same strategy for every issue. And I think if you look back over the course of the last several months, that's clear.
Q Is there any comment from the President about Mandela's call for a lifting of the remaining sanctions against South Africa this morning?
MS. MYERS: We'll have a statement on sort of recognizing the agreement later. I don't have anything on Mandela's comments.
Q Dee Dee, when you folks decided to reinvent the travel office, you and McLarty and others made promises that the travel would become less costly. This does not seem to be borne out by the latest batch of bills.
MS. MYERS: I think it's borne out --
Q Can you tell us what happened?
MS. MYERS: We're looking at that now. It's something that we'll talk to the correspondents about and we've talked to some of the network people about. But I think if you look back over all of the -- collectively, all of the trips, that, yes, I think that that has been borne out, with the exception of the Tokyo trip. I think that the domestic trips have all been on average 20 to 25 percent less expensive than they were before.
Q What about the Tokyo trip?
MS. MYERS: As I just said, it's something that we're working -- we're looking at, and we'll talk to the White House correspondents as well as representatives from the network about.
Q Dee Dee, on health care the President over the last couple of days has been saying he needs to restore the trust in government from the American people in order to advance on his agenda. Why is it so important to establish trust in government as he embarks on a health care overhaul? Can you articulate that a little bit?
MS. MYERS: I think it's not just the health care overhaul, although that's certainly important. I think it's government in general. I think over the period of the past couple of decades, in particular, there has been an erosion in people's confidence in government. People aren't convinced that government is spending taxpayer money as wisely and as prudently as it should. And this is an attempt to say that government does understand people work hard for their money and wants to make sure that we spend it as wisely as possible. But that's important across-the-board. That's important as we try to build -- restore trust between people and their government to create jobs, to get the economy moving again, to make a number of the changes that the President has talked about.
Q Is it important as you prepare to intervene in the health care system, though?
MS. MYERS: The health care is certainly an issue where that helps, but it's not -- this isn't specific to health care. It's across-the-board.
Q Dee Dee, earlier you said that there were no allegations of illegality in White House management, yet the government operations committee is alleging that in the phone contract, you all have violated the competition in contracts.
MS. MYERS: I was talking about the GAO report on personnel issues.
Q How are you all responding to the government operations committee's allegations that there have perhaps been some violation of the competition in contracting Act on the phone system, because you limited it to three vendors?
MS. MYERS: I don't know specifically where that is in the process. We're working with them to try to resolve it. We're cooperating fully, providing as much information as we can. I'll have to get back to you. I don't have the details on that.
Q Dee Dee, can I ask you something about the exPresidents ?
Q Can I go? (Laughter.)
Q You said it didn't work out scheduling the exPresidents on the NAFTA thing. Has President Clinton spoke to any of them? I know he met with President Ford.
MS. MYERS: He spoke with President Ford about NAFTA when they were in Colorado, but he has not spoken with any of the others.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:56 P.M. EDT