THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY LLOYD BENTSEN The Briefing Room
2:48 P.M. EST
Q Happy anniversary.
Q What is it -- 50?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Fifty. A kid like me.
Q you're a very lucky man.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: That is true. I had six dates with her before she'd say yes. (Laughter.) It looks like it's going to work out.
Q Yes to what? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I have courted some of these congressmen longer than I courted my wife. (Laughter).
Q And what do you think the result will be, Mr. Secretary? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think the result is going to be that we're going to win it, but it's a cliffhanger. And it will be one right up to the end. And we shouldn't take anything for granted in it. And then, of course, we have to look at the Senate and the work that has to be done there.
But I was looking at some of these new housing figures and what's come out there, and with housing starts up 2.7 percent, that's over 13 percent more than it has been just three months ago. And I think that's a payoff with what we did on the budget and getting the cuts in that deficit and now getting the long-term low interest rates taking place.
And what we look at with NAFTA is a continuation of that, of the kind of sustainable growth that this country needs in the way of jobs and the improvement of the economy. In turn, having the President go on to APEC and having that as a positive, I think adds to his position substantially in the negotiating that will take place there.
As I look at this situation and what the President has been able to do, I can think of how some of the press was questioning his commitment just this summer. I can think of the times when he could have cut out on the deal and could have said that, well, the side agreements are just not strong enough. But he stayed in there and fought it. Or he could have cut out on it when the new government was elected in Canada where they were questioning the agreement. But he stayed in there and fought the issue and fought it passionately and well. And he, I think, has made considerable headway.
As I think back to the trade bills that I have managed in the United States Senate, I can't recall of one where we started with a lower number of commitments in the House to go on and, I think, eventually win this one tonight. So he has been a very strong leader in that regard. And that will stand him in good stead as he goes on to APEC and the GATT negotiations.
Q Mr. Secretary, all day long members of Congress have been standing up and saying the President bought this vote.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: That he did what?
Q That he bought this vote; that he gave --
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I don't agree with that.
Q special benefits to people.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I don't agree with that at all. What you have seen is a strengthening of the agreement, and that's as it should be. And we've been able to get some additional concessions out of Mexico, and that's a positive. So those things, just as you see amendments taking place --
Q Airplanes, bridges?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I'll be through in just a minute. And just as you see those things taking place on the floor with amendments to bills, you have seen that happen in this agreement with Mexico. I think that's quite positive.
Q Mr. Secretary, most of the experts, the head counters now suggest that you're well over 218 votes committed hard in the House -- 223, 224, 225. Does that correlate with what you have already?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: No, I'll believe that when I see it. You got some leaners in that one. So I want to be sure that they walk right up there and make their vote. You're going to see quite a bit of milling around right at the last, I'll bet, as they look at that count. So I think we're going to win it, but I think it's going to be very close.
Q To follow up that last question, I mean, things like trade centers, are those clarifications --
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Let's take a situation like the North American Development Bank. We've been working for months on that one. I have been working myself with the Mexican government in that regard. And that was not a new idea. That's one where we're talking about what had to be done to help clean up that environment; where we were talking about equal capitalization between the Mexicans and us; where in the beginning we were talking about 85 percent of it for us and 15 percent of the capitalization from them because of the difference in the size of the economies.
But Congress told us that they felt it had to be 50-50, and we did that one. But we also structured it, and it took some time to do it, where we could have a relatively small capitalization, half of it by each country, and then to use that as leverage to develop revenue bonds where the polluters, in effect, would be paying for it. I think that's a good structure and made a major contribution, and we've heard at least 12 to 14 congressmen that felt that was critical, and that helped.
Q How much do you think will actually have to be paid out for all of these agreements, though? How much do you think it will actually cost the budget?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think when you're talking about the lowering of taxes that we did insofar as the tariffs, that will be made up for with far fewer taxes than will be cut; that the vast majority of that's going to be made up by the electronic transfer of funds that we've had pilot plants on now for some time in the IRS. That will cut down the paper transactions on the part of business and, by the same token, it will have taxpayers paying their money to the government on time, just as banks require those of us that owe mortgages to banks to pay on time.
Q You don't think there's any net cost to the Treasury for any of these last-minute agreements?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think when we end up there is no net cost to the Treasury on the overall costs.
Q Mr. Secretary, supposing the Free Trade Agreement is approved tonight, what's the time frame for GATT?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, the time frame for GATT is the date we've set for December the 15th to culminate some seven years of negotiations. And I would anticipate and hope that we hold to that, because if we extend that period of time, why, you won't get your serious offers made on the table.
Q Mr. Secretary, there are these persistent questions about whatever concessions the President made or sought. Are you saying that in the end it just turned out that he didn't have to make very many substantial concessions, or are you saying that he did but they're a good thing, or what?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: No, I think they did some things which I think is a very substantial improvement in trying to help citrus and trying to help vegetables and trying to help sugar. And that strengthened the agreement from the United States' point of view.
Q Mr. Secretary, you were personally courting, I believe, Congressman Green, who did not go your way today. What were you trying to tell him and why did he not go the way you wanted?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think he can speak for himself on that. He's quite an eloquent, articulate fellow. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We'll take one more.
Q Mr. Secretary, just two or three weeks ago, your side seemed to be kind of dead in the water, and yet now the momentum seems to be your way. What were the turning points on that? What turned it around? Was it the Gore-Perot debate, and what else --
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Certainly that helped. No question about that, that helped. And that's a case of facts overcoming fear and getting the facts out there to the American people. I think that was terribly important. I had made the point time and time again that Ross's problem was when he talked about that great sucking sound that he had a hearing problem. (Laughter.) That was not jobs going south, that was products going south. And we expect that to expand. Mexicans love U.S. products.
Q Mr. Secretary, what do you foresee for Ross Perot in the future? He's apparently saying today that the NAFTA vote is only the first of two votes on this issue of three that are coming up, including congressional and presidential. Are you expecting harassing tactics or anything else, or is Mr. Perot just off the scope?
Q Say yes.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think I've said quite enough on that one. (Laughter.)
Q The polls show that the American public is still divided on this, that it's roughly half and half and that still a lot of people don't understand it. If it should pass tonight, what does the White House do? Does it just kind of drop the PR campaign and let it -- now it's going to be fait accompli?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: No, I think we continue how important trade is to our country and that it creates one out of eight jobs in our country and it's imperative that we expand trade.
Let me tell you what shape we're in. We've got workers today that are the number one productive workers of the world. Now, that's not propaganda, those are the realities. Look at what the economists tell you about the American worker today. You've still got the work ethic and you still have an infrastructure to back him up. You've got that. You've got business more competitive than it's been in many years -- they've squeezed out fat in their businesses. You've got a situation where management and labor finally understand how important quality is in their product. And they're really quality conscious and doing a superb job there. And what you're seeing is the lowest long-term interest rates that we've had in 25 years.
You've seen the cost of capital far more competitive with the Japanese and with the Germans and the Europeans at the present time. You put those things all together and I tell you, we're ready to take on the world when it comes to competition and jobs and trade. And I've done two more than you've allowed me.
Q What do you think the chances of getting a GATT agreement wrapped up before December 15 are?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, this is a plus for the President and that's going to strengthen his hand. I'm optimistic we'll do it. But it's not going to be easy -- the same problems there. You've got the French wanting to open the Blair Agreement. And the problem with that one, all farmers, including our own, think they got the short end of the stick on it.
Q Mr. Secretary, how does the President pick up the pieces after this with those who opposed him as a former member of Congress? Does he act magnanimous in victory? Or do those who struck out against him owe him something?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Oh, I think that the executive branch and the congressional branch need each other. And we'll work together and we've got some big ones that we want to work out partisan agreements on, as we have done on this one. And that's been very effective. I can't tell you how many members of Congress have said to me, well, we're just delighted that we're working this out in a bipartisan way. And that's what we're working to do when it comes to health reform.
Q What about patching it up with labor?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Labor's going to be very interested in health reform and they'll be wanting to work with the Congress and with the administration in that one.
Thank you very much.
Q Is Bonior still on your Christmas list? (Laughter.)
END 2:58 P.M. EST