THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT DURING PHOTO OPPORTUNITY AT BIPARTISAN LEADERSHIP MEETING The State Dining Room
11:00 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to say, in the presence here of the press, this is the last meeting I will have a chance to have with the large bipartisan leadership in Congress on health care issues.
But I do want to say a profound word of thanks on behalf of not only myself, but the entire administration, for the work that has been done by people in both parties in the Congress since the first bipartisan leadership meeting I had on January the 26th, when I asked that people be designated to work with us from both parties on this health care issue.
I'm not sure that any consultative process like this has ever been carried out before where there's been so much common work, not only between and among ourselves, but also with people in the country who are interested in this issue. We have met with over 1100 groups, with literally thousands of doctors, nurses and other affected folks in this process. But the most important thing to me has been the spirit of geniune searching and determination that I have seen from leaders in both parties on this issue.
I just want to say, as I prepare to give this speech tonight, how much I appreciate that and how much I look forward to continuing that process in the weeks and months ahead. I'm very grateful to you, and we're going to talk for about an hour here, and then the Senate has to go make a vote, I think. But we're going to have a chance to talk about health care one more time before I speak tonight.
Q Mr. President, you're about to start something tonight that has been tried and failed several times in recent years. Why is this --
THE PRESIDENT: Throughout the whole century.
Q Throughout the whole century. Why is this different?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, if you go back and look at the history of health care, I think there are two things that are different. One is, there is almost unanimous consensus that the cost of continuing on the present course is greater than the cost of change.
With health care costs rising at more than twice the rate of inflation and rising much faster than that for small businesses, with many people -- more people losing their coverage every month so that we're paying more for less health care, with the range of choices available for Americans dropping dramatically and the administrative cost to the system escalating at a breathtaking rate, that the cost of going on is greater than the cost of change. I don't think that there has ever been that much consensus before.
The second thing is, I think you've got all of the people trying to work together now. If you go back through the whole history of the 20th century, you can find times when Republicans wanted to do something about health care and Democrats didn't; some when presidents wanted to do something and the Congress didn't. There's one example when, early in this century when the American Medical Association wanted to have a national health care bill, and the labor movement didn't.
I mean, these things have been flip-flopped. If you read the history of health care, it's like people passing each other in the night. And I think now you've finally got everybody in the country focused on it. So I think we have a moment in history when we can seize it and move forward, if we can maintain this determination to stay in touch with the real problems of our people and with this sort of spirit that we have now of working together.
Q Can you tell us what the sin taxes are going to be for people to help pay for this?
THE PRESIDENT: Tonight.
Q Are you purposely avoiding that topic today?
THE PRESIDENT: No, no. Lord, no. (Laughter.)
Q Are you concerned about the story tomorrow --
THE PRESIDENT: No. There will be less than you think; I'll say that.
Q Mr. President, do you have anything on the situation in Russia? Are you more reassured now than --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, the situation is calm, and I am hopeful. You know what my position is on it, and I still think the United States has to be on the side of reform and democracy in Russia, and President Yeltsin represents that. But I know nothing more today than I knew last night when we talked, except that I've obviously gotten my morning briefing, and the situation is calm, and we're hopeful.
Q Are you trying to contact world leaders, sir, to encourage them to come out in support of him as well?
THE PRESIDENT: I called Mr. Kohl last night, and it was -- and we communicated in other ways with Prime Minister Major and President Mitterrand, Prime Minister Balladur in France and others, and I noted that Prime Minister Major came out today in support, and Chancellor Kohl issued a statement yesterday. So I very much appreciate that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END11:05 A.M. EDT