THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY LLOYD BENTSEN, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY AND ERSKINE BOWLES, DIRECTOR, SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION
The Roosevelt Room
9:16 A.M. EDT
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Obviously, we're here to talk about the President's health care plan and what we see happening in the Congress, and our anticipation of what will finally result in that regard. The meeting will be ON THE RECORD.
I've been asked to tell you, this is the first of a series of meetings that the White House intends to host. And you'll be given information about future times of such meetings that take place; and that there will be further statements, which I understand about 10:00 a.m. this morning, by a group of business leaders concerning their support of employer contributions to the health care plan -- they'll be coming out later.
As you know, the President's health care reform plan was based on the present system to the extent it could be. Nine out of ten employees who have health insurance now have it provided by the employer, by that person for whom they work. And we continue to build on that one because we feel it's the least disruptive way to go in providing universal coverage for the country. We want to guarantee private insurance for every American, and we want to give comprehensive coverage that cannot be taken away.
We want to get rid of the problems and the lack of portability, concern over preexisting conditions, limitation on age for coverage of health insurance. Those are the types of things that I addressed in my own bill, in the legislation that I passed twice through the United States Senate. That will be part of what we're working on in regard to this one -- to make it illegal for those companies to do those kinds of practices, where you did extremes in the way of ratings and just trying to limit your coverage to the healthiest of the people that were available in that regard.
We want to address the concerns of small business insofar as their concern about being able to pass on the costs, and what it might do to their operating profits. So I think that whatever you see will show a different treatment for small business than you will see for large business in that regard. And what I've seen thus far in the Congress works in that direction.
I'm also, in talking to -- as I have been -- to members of Congress over the last few days. There seems to be a growing consensus that it has to be done this year and that more optimism in that regard has to be accomplished.
You will also see, from the different committees, different approaches to it. If you're talking about the Labor Committee, they'll have the Labor Department more involved. If you're talking about Energy and Commerce, well then, you're going to see HCFA more involved. If you get into the Finance Committee, they'll find a way to get the IRS involved. (Laughter.) So having been there and understand the working on one's own turf, I can anticipate that finally what you'll have -- you'll get a bill that will be massaged. It will have, I believe, the basic things that the administration has proposed; but there will obviously be some changes and differences. Any major piece of legislation, where the objective has been underway for some time, will have different members who have worked on those objectives with a variety of solutions in mind. So the democratic process will work and, again, I'm optimistic you'll see it brought out this year.
I defer to Erskine here for any comments he'll make.
MR. BOWLES: Thank you. I think the problems that the Secretary mentioned that affect business in general are just compounded by the effects it will have on small business. As a number of you know, I've been travelling the country, meeting with literally thousands of small business owners over the last several months. And over and over again, I hear the same complaints. People really do stand up and say you could not design a health care system that's more anti-small business than the one we have in this country today.
The small businesses that I talk to are experiencing annual increases in the cost of health care of 20 to 50 percent a year. They are paying 35 percent more for the same health insurance that big business buys. And the insurance that we can afford to buy today just isn't any good. I mean, it's either bare bones coverage or something that has such a huge deductible, it only covers catastrophic events. And it's not just the skyrocketing cost and the poor coverage that you hear about, you also hear about the abuses that the Secretary referred to -- the occupational redlining, the exclusions for preexisting conditions.
I can't tell you the number of small business owners I have met, or actually folks who are working at big businesses even that would like to start a small business but they can't because they're locked in -- if they leave the business they're working for, they can't get coverage.
And it's not just skyrocketing costs, it's not just full coverage, it's not just abuses. It's also that the playing field's not level. For a small business owner today to try to negotiate with the provider of health care, with the insurance companies -- it's a joke; I mean, it's a non-negotiation. All the power of the marketplace today is on the side of the provider or the insurance company. The small business owner has no power in the marketplace -- we're thousands and thousands of inefficient buyers today. When the self-employed talk about getting 25 percent deductions to health care costs, everybody else gets 100 percent. Worker's comp -- I can speak to my own experience -- the only item on my income statement that rose at a more rapid rate than health care costs, and it rose to one and a half times the rate. The reason it did is the medical portion of worker's comp is rising so rapidly.
And if you listen to the small business owners, they tell you what they've tried to solve the problems in the private sector. They've tried switching programs, they've tried managed care, they've tried self-insurance, they've tried reducing benefits, they've tried passing along a bigger share of cost to their employees; and nothing helps, and the cost of health care continues to rise and rise at an extraordinary rate. And unfortunately, the smaller the businesses are, the more disproportionate the costs are.
My belief is that there is no solution to the crisis that the small business owners face today without universal coverage. I think universal coverage really is the key, and I think the President is 100 percent right. Without universal coverage, the cost shifting that's occurred in the past will continue in the future; and it will be shifted to the weakest link in the chain, which is the small business owner. And that's why our costs will go up 20 to 50 percent a year if we don't do something to hold down the cost of health care.
I also have found, when I have a chance to talk to small business owners and talk about what's in the plan that's good for small business, that the response is very positive. I think if I could list them, I would say, when you think about it, for the first time in my experience, small business owners are going to have a chance to buy real insurance -- comprehensive insurance; not some bare bones coverage and not something that has such a huge deductible, it only covers catastrophic events, but real insurance. We're not going to be second-class citizens anymore. We're going to have the chance to compete for that quality worker and keep that quality worker.
And, two, real insurance is important, but it has to be affordable. And that's what the discounts are there for -- to hold down the cost of health care so it is affordable for small businesses. And when small businesses have a chance to do the arithmetic, the vast majority of those who provide health care today find that they have better coverage at lower costs.
And when you talk about the premium caps -- I mean, it's controversial here in town -- it resonates well with the small business owners because you can look them in the eye and tell them that their costs aren't going to continue to grow at 20 to 50 percent a year; that they'll be able to afford the health care coverage today and tomorrow. And I believe that the buying groups, the alliances, will give us the kind of market power we need to hold down the cost of health care so that the premium caps don't come into play. But it's good to have them there.
And, four, the abuses that we in the small business community are subjected to, they're outlawed going forward. And the playing field is leveled -- the self-employed get 100 percent deduction for health care costs. And we do get some market power -- we get the same kind of market muscle that big businesses have through the alliances. And when you explain that the alliances are basically buying groups, again, it's something that they understand.
And, lastly, choice -- choice is something that you hear about all the time in the field. And when you talk about the -- as Secretary Bentsen said -- nine out of ten people who have health care coverage today in the private sector get it where they work. But in two-thirds of those occasions, the employee doesn't get choice. The owner of the business is the one, generally, who makes the choice and tells the employee what kind of insurance coverage they get. Going forward in our plan, the employee does get choice; and they get choice among three different types of plans, but multiple providers. And they can follow their same doctor and use their same hospitals; and they really do get real choice, going forward.
So I have found my experience has been that if you can get by the rhetoric and talk about the facts -- the Wall Street Journal article was right -- when people look at the substance of the plan and not just the rhetoric, they see a plan they can really support.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think all of us know someone in our own families -- as I do in my own family -- or friends who have not been able to take a job, a job at a higher pay or more attractive to them, because of a preexisting condition in their own family. We've all seen that repeated over and over again. You get rid of that, and that's important so you don't have job lock; that's a major one.
Erskine's absolutely right -- when you talk about big business and the rates they get and small businesses and the rates they get, the great disparity between them has made it much more difficult for small business to provide health insurance for their people. Most of them damn sure want to do it, but it's the question of cost and being able to afford it, and this is helpful in that regard.
Q Mr. Secretary, the group of large businesses that's coming to this dinner today, the group that I'm affiliated with, with American Airlines and so forth, it's a very fragile group. They've come together and said, we agree on employer responsibility, but not a whole lot else. They don't agree on 80/20, they don't agree on the cutoff of the corporate alliances, they don't agree on a lot of the things that are in your plan. How much comfort can you really take from that?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, I think a very major one is employer responsibility, the acknowledgement and the understanding of that one. I think that's imperative. That's the biggest one of all. And they're acknowledging that. Obviously, they're not going to totally agree insofar as the detail across the board. We understand that. But those things will evolve through the Congress and the democratic process. And I think you're going to see a major reform in health insurance, and that this administration and this President's going to be responsible for that.
It's also my hope that, in the process, and I think it should, that we'll get bipartisan support for it. That's important -- such a major issue for the country.
MR. BOWLES: My opinion is, what they are saying is really twofold: one, that universal coverage is the key, and that a system based on shared responsibility between the employer and the employee is the least disruptive, most conservative approach to achieving that goal. It really does build on our present system of private sector health care, it builds on our present system of employer-based coverage, it builds on our present system of choice of doctors and plans, and it builds on our present system of highquality American health care.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think one of the things they have come to acknowledge is, they're going to pay one way or the other, that they're going to get a cost-shifting that takes place unless we have universal coverage. I think that makes universal coverage an imperative.
I look at the situation -- I served on the board of Texas Children's Hospital for years, and I was talking to some of the other hospitals as far as the kinds of losses that they're taking. We're looking at the big hospitals having losses of $40 million and $50 million in the way of unpaid bills. But you know who pays for that, the rest of us -- those of us who have insurance. The increase in cost of hospital beds, physicians' costs, all the provider costs being escalated.
We look at families who have an illness in their family and they don't have health insurance and they don't take the kid to the doctor because they feel like they can't afford it. And at the last minute, they take him to the emergency room. And the illness progresses to the point it becomes much more difficult to cure the child, much more expensive, a longer time to do it. They look the kid over to see if he has a gunshot wound or a stab, and he doesn't, so they put him aside while they try to clean out the ambulance and take care of the dire emergency cases. And then they finally get around to the child.
They're not set up to take care of that kind of an illness. It's much more expensive for them to handle that kind of a process. Those are the things we want to try to --
Q The NFIB is releasing, in a half-hour, a report that's projecting an 850,000 job loss over the next several years. Half of them, I think, are in small businesses. What is your response on that?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I must say on that, I've been listening to these predictions of job loss. We listened to a lot of that last year as we added over 2 million jobs to the economy. I go to a G-7 meeting, a Job Summit meeting, and they marvel at what we've been able to do over this last year, in spite of all of these dire predictions as to what was going to happen to our economy, and insofar as what was going to happen to job improvement, or lack thereof. And they want to know how we've done it, and we have been able to do it by the kind of actions we've taken on the budget and the rest of it. And I'm confident we will continue to do that, and that these small businesses will continue to progress.
Q Mr. Secretary, do you think, in fact, that the passage of the health care plan, the Clinton plan would result in some job loss, although you might --
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Job loss?
Q Some job loss?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: No, I don't think that's going to happen.
Q Zero job loss?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think there will be some shifting of jobs, but not net job loss. No.
MR. BOWLES: I would add to what the Secretary said, that the CBO, in their report, came out and said that our health care plan would not hurt the economy, that our health care plan would not lead to job loss. In fact, he said it would be good for not just those small businesses now that provide health care, but it would be good for all small businesses, because it would level the playing field.
You can also look at other economists who come out with reports. Look at the Economic Policy Institute. It came out and said that it would create 258,000 manufacturing jobs. You can look at the report from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, another nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that said it would create 660,000 jobs in the private sector. You can look at the report that came out in the Brookings Institute that said it would create 750,000 jobs in the health care industry alone.
So I think there is plenty of support from a group of economists that say our plan will be good for the economy and will create jobs. And again, if you look at the final analysis of the CBO's report, it says that it will save -- health care reform will actually save businesses about $90 billion for current employees in costs by the year 2004. That's $90 billion that we can use to create jobs. That's $90 billion that business can use to purchase equipment, to improve productivity. It's $90 billion they can use to reinvest into the economy.
Q But a lot of Democrats on the Hill seem convinced that small business is going to be seriously hurt, and that your subsidies don't go anywhere near far enough to help them. How are you going to expand those subsidies? Will you cut back the benefits? Where are you going to find that money to --
SECRETARY BENTSEN: There are many options, but I'll tell you this bill is going to be paid for, or the President's not going to be signing it. And they will accomplish that objective; I'm confident of that. They'll be looking at many options, whether they phase something in longer or whether there might be some possible reduction in overall benefits, or how it's being paid for.
But one of the things you have to look at -- if you look at small businesses where an employer feels his responsibility and provides health insurance, and then you look at others where they do not feel like they should be providing health insurance in that regard, this levels the competitive field amongst those businesses, and I think that's good.
Q One of the issues that the CBO did raise was outsourcing, and the unintended effects in your legislation and many others of pushing workers out of large businesses to small businesses because of the existence of the subsidies available for small businesses. How do you think that problem ought to be dealt with?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I don't think you're going to see that a major problem. I don't believe that'll be the case. I think for the large businesses the economies of size will meet much of that objection. So you have seen that some outsourcing already taking place and you have seen with that a substantial growth in the small business, and you've seen additional jobs taking place. But I don't look on that as a major factor just because of the differential and the subsidy to small business.
Q Mr. Secretary, do you see some sort of compromise similar to the Dingell bill, where there's a two-face, two-tier system, with small business having very different requirements from big businesses in terms of providing benefits?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think you will see a differential between small business and large business. I think that'll be the ultimate result. But where that delineation is and what the compromise is, I don't think can be spelled out at this point.
MR. BOWLES: The President has been very candid. He's laid down two markers. And that's the only two markers he's laid down. One has to be universal coverage, comprehensive private sector health care that can never be taken away, and the other marker he's laid down is he will not sign a bill that's not good for small business, but doesn't have some kind of discounts in there to make it affordable for small businesses.
We have taken one approach to that, which will provide real support to small businesses. Chairman Dingell has taken another approach to that.
Q Mr. Secretary, can you just tell me -- what do you is Mr. Dingell's proposal to exempt businesses with 10 or few workers from paying for the health care for their workers, and in lieu of that making them pay a one percent payroll tax -- is that an acceptable option to you?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Oh, I don't think at this point that we're going to adopt any one of these. We'll look at -- the compromises will have to be worked out amongst the committees. That's historically the way it's done, and it will be done that way this time. We anticipate that. I look at -- for example, I look at the plan in Hawaii, how it's done there. I look at the plan in Oregon and what they do, and for the subsidy for small business, and apparently they're effective. But so will these committees be looking at all of these options. I can't give you the end result.
Q Mr. Secretary, the CBO is preparing a report on the Cooper plan, which pegs its cost higher than Mr. Cooper does.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Approximately $150 billion, as I recall. (Laughter.)
Q That sticks in your mind. (Laughter.)
Q That's right. Does that analysis look about right to you? Do you think that's an accurate calculation of the Cooper plan cost? And if it is, what do you think the effect will be on support for the Cooper plan?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, I think it's going to be a rude awakening for some of the people concerning the Cooper plan and its costs. And, obviously, that'll have its impact insofar as support for it.
Q Do you think it should undercut support for the Cooper plan among a lot of people who have looked at it favorably?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, I think it gives them problems insofar as support. Of course it does.
Q Doesn't that plan, doesn't that analysis, though, undercut the administration's argument that the price caps will never be used because CBO policy says that Cooper costs more because competition doesn't save money. And CBO analysis of your plan is based on the price caps, not on competition.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, I think what you're saying is a redundancy insofar as limitation on cost when we put in our price caps. And hopefully, it will not have to be utilized.
MR. BOWLES: I think you're only seeing half a story with the Cooper plan because it also says that 25 million people will also still be uncovered, which causes a continuing cost shift which is in the system today.
Q Secretary Bentsen, you went before the NAM a couple of months ago and said you were flexible on the size of the alliance. The alliances seem to have headed even further south since then. Are you flexible in their being voluntary alliances as opposed to mandatory now?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Let's wait and see what they come up with.
Q Do you have any sense of frustration at all at the speed with which the committees are moving or the lack of speed?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I've always had a sense of frustration with the -- so that's not new for me.
Q But it doesn't dim your optimism that finance, for example, may not get around to even legislating it until June?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think they'll get it done. And we'll keep working across the country. I'll be in -- where am I on Monday? I'm in Utah on Monday, talking to a small business there, a nursery business, 21 employees. And she's quite excited about health insurance will be afforded to her employees and to her company and what that subsidy might be. I was at a hospital, a Shriner hospital with the President down in Dallas the other day. I was in a hospital up in Pittsburgh. I'm in Washington today. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Secretary, I'd like to get back to the issue of job loss and job gain. While you folks come up with people, small business people who say they provide insurance or they'd like to provide insurance, the other side does come up with small business people who say they will go belly-up if there aren't -- who are we supposed to believe?
MR. BOWLES: Actually, that's not a fair characterization. If you look at the reports that come out from NFIB, two-thirds of their membership provide health care benefits to their employees and of the third that don't, two-thirds of them say they want to. And they give three reasons why they don't over and over again: A, they can't afford the day-to-day prices; B, what they can buy today just isn't worth it, it's just bare bones coverage or it's something that has such a huge deductible, it only covers catastrophic events; and, C, if they can afford it today, they probably won't be able to afford it tomorrow because it grows and 20 to 50 percent per year.
Well, the President's plan addresses each one of those points. First of all, it gives small businesses for the first time ever an opportunity to buy real insurance, comprehensive insurance, not just bare bones coverage; B, the discounts are there to make it affordable, and when the small businesses do the arithmetic -- not just listening to rhetoric, but do the arithmetic, the vast majority of them find they get better coverage at lower cost; and C, you know, the premium caps are there and the market power is there to hold down the cost of health care so it doesn't grow at 20 to 50 percent a year.
So again, I think going beyond the rhetoric and looking at the facts is very helpful.
Q The President's plan becomes more attractive to small business if you can throw in the medical part of workmen's comp into the overall insurance. I know you have had problems doing that, but there seems to be a lot of interest on the Hill to do that. Have you worked out a solution?
MR. BOWLES: There is a great deal of interest. Our plan talks about combining the delivery portion or the medical portion of worker's comp, but it also sets up a commission that it is due to make a report by July of 1995 to how to combine it fully. And that's what we're working toward. That's what we want to do.
It is difficult to combine an experience-rating system with a community-based system. But it can be done. And that's what the commission is to do, is to report by July of 1995 on how we do this.
Q Mr. Secretary, may I ask you again about the size of the alliances and the question whether they need to be mandatory or not and how much flexibility there is in the administration's policy on that. Has that changed at all since the statements that you made to the National Associations of Manufacturers? Where are we on that?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: We'll wait and see what comes out of these committees, but there's no question but what -- there'll be adjustments to be made by the committees. That's the realities of it. To try to tell you what the size is and the acceptability at a particular level, I'm not going to do that.
Q But on the issue of mandatory, this is not mandatory on the employer mandates? That's still something that's subject to discussion, or is that something that comes under the definition of being universal coverage or not?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Obviously, we've stated our preferences, but we'll face the realities of whatever comes out of these committees. I've been there.
Q The alliances, if they become more and more voluntary, doesn't that limit choice because businesses then will continue to do --
MR. BOWLES: There are two factors about voluntary alliances. First of all, the alliances are not some kind of, you know, wild theory that might work. They do work. And you can look at California, look at the -- in California that was formed and now 2,500 small businesses in it. They're insuring 44,000 lives, and next year they're forecasting to have a decrease in the cost of health care by 6.3 percent.
Q It's voluntary.
MR. BOWLES: It is. Let me get to my point, okay? You can look at the only other one that has had significant success is a group up in Cleveland called COSE, the Council of Smaller Enterprises which is composed of 12,000 small businesses insuring about 75,000 workers and 170,000 lives. The makeup of the group is what we all consider to be -- the working unemployed is principally small businesses with fewer than ten employees. They offer their participants a wider range of choice. And sure enough, they do pay 35 percent less for health care than other folks in Cleveland do, and their costs have increased at only one-third of the cost increase of everybody else in Cleveland since 1986. That's the good news.
The bad news is that they do engage in adverse selection, which is a significant problem. And the second problem is, you know, you take a town like where I'm from, where our chamber in Charlotte has tried to do the same thing. And we only had about 200 or 300 small businesses that have come together in our buying group. And it's a chicken or an egg type situation. We can't get enough market muscle to bring down the cost of health care, but we can't get enough people to come in without having a good price out there.
The reason COSE has been successful is twofold; they've been at it for 18 years. And two, they've had some really fanatically good, strong leadership from a guy named John Pope. We can't wait 18 years for this to happen on a voluntary basis in Charlotte or in Atlanta or in Houston or in Dallas or in Denver. That's why I think the voluntary basis should be a long, drawn-out process. But again, buying groups, shifting the power of the marketplace, changing the supply and demand equation from favoring the provider health care to favoring these thousands and thousands of inefficient buyers works.
Q Let me ask the question again, and forgive me if I'm not just missing something here. Are you saying that it is possible to get to the President's goal of universal coverage with some form of voluntary alliance? Is that how to interpret that answer?
MR. BOWLES: I think the President has been very clear. He's willing to look at all options to get the universal coverage. Again, I think what we would want to do is do our arithmetic to make sure that the options work.
Q Mr. Secretary, one of the -- of interests in this debate is between the states who would like ARISA labors in order to carry out their experiments to various degrees and come back -- tax and self-insured plans of larger companies, and the larger companies themselves who don't want to see ARISA. How do you think that debate ought to be resolved?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Very carefully. (Laughter.)
Q Which means?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: It's a tough one, no question about that. And trying to reconcile those differences, because each has his point of view he's trying to achieve. I can't tell you how it's going to be resolved. To the extent we can get uniformity across the country, the easier it will be for the administration of it. And yet, we've seen things like in Oregon; we've seen things like in Hawaii. And the Hawaii situation has proven itself.
MR. BOWLES: I think the Hawaiian situation is one that really works -- just mention it for a second -- especially for its effect on business. If you look at the situation in Hawaii, they have enormous growth in the creation of business. The business phase has been very low. And while they have one of the highest costs of living in Hawaii, they have one of the lowest costs of health care than any state in the Union. And one of the things they set up in Hawaii was a rainy-day fund for small businesses that just couldn't afford health care. And you know what? Since 1974 it's been used five times.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: They've had about $85,000 pulled out --
Q This is a debate that can't be solved by chopping the baby in half. You either go with one side of the debate or the other.
SECRETARY BENTSEN: No, I don't quite agree with that. I think you can moderate it and I believe that's what the committees will be trying to do. I don't think it's an either-or proposition.
Q Mr. Secretary, your successor as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has in the past expressed some skepticism about the Clinton plan and about its financing and even about the nature of the problem the country faces on health care. Have you been talking to Senator Moynihan yourself, and do you think he's now on --
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Sure.
Q is he now on board with the administration's approach? What's his temperature, do you think?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Let me state that any of these committees are going to make modifications of the President's plan. Those are just the realities of it in finding -- in developing a majority within that committee. And I think that part of that will be in having bipartisan support, and that'll be necessary.
But what you're going to see in the long run when we get all through is a major health reform piece of legislation passed that would not have been done without the initiative and the strong support of the President of the United States.
Q Mr. Bowles, you may be the wrong person to ask this question, but politics aside, what's the magic of small business? Why must all these subsidies be tied to employer size as well as wages, when, really, what you're talking about is an added labor cost that relates solely to the proportion of wages?
MR. BOWLES: I think my answer to that would be clearly that I think this President has shown over and over again that he understands the important role which small business plays in our economy. You can look at some of the provisions that went through in the budget bill last year that Secretary and the President fought so hard for, look at the increase in the expensing provision that really is a direct savings for small business. Look at the 50 percent reduction in the capital gains tax for investments and new starts of small businesses.
This President understands that small business is that engine that drives the economic train. In the country, it is the job creator. And it's easy to see that there are government regulations that have historically had a disproportionately adverse effect on small businesses. That's why we had the regulatory reform meeting the other day where, for the first time ever, we brought together the government regulators from six of the Cabinet agencies to meet with small business owners to talk about how we can attack those government regulations that have inhibited the growth and productivity of small businesses.
We wanted to make sure when we did this plan that we gave small businesses the help they needed in order so that they could be sure, we could be absolutely sure that this was not only getting them the insurance they needed to attract and keep the employees they needed, but also we made sure that they could afford it. And that's what the discounts are there for -- to bring down the costs of health care.
I should add that when you think about the effect of health care coverage on small businesses, don't forget that one of the biggest problems small businesses have are attracting, keeping and retraining and retraining and retraining the number of new employees they have to bring in each year, and being able to offer comprehensive, real insurance to be able to keep and train and keep that worker will really do a lot to reduce turnover and increase productivity of the small businesses. And bringing down the cost of worker's comp will also be an enormous help for small businesses.
Q What kind of timetable would you be comfortable with? There are some people who are talking about a very long phasein for employer -- how soon would you like to see that be in place?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Do you want to try that?
MR. BOWLES: No sir, those are your kinds of questions. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I don't think I'd give you a definite timetable with what we're facing in the Congress. Obviously, the shorter the better from our standpoint.
Q Mr. Secretary, the DNC recently announced it's switching gears in how it's trying to sell its effort going from a sort of a grassroots lobbying to T.V. Do you think that that's the way to convince the American people through an advertising blitz to counter the Harry and Louise, I made a mistake in the past by not --
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I certainly think that helps. And to get that message across to the American people is an imperative and we ought to use every avenue we can. The better they're informed, I think the more supportive they'll be of it. And whether it's through T.V. ads or meetings like this with you folks or getting out the message out there so the public can better understand -- that's our objective and we're going to keep pushing at it.
Q Mr. Secretary, if I could switch gears on you a little bit. You spoke about Europe being envious of the U.S.' ability to create jobs. Will the Bundesbank rate cut today help Europe create jobs? Do you have any reaction to the rate cut?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, I'm pleased to see it. I had dinner with the president of the Bundesbank while I was there in Frankfurt recently. And I think this will further speed the economy of Germany. What you've seen happen to West Germany -- the burden of bringing together as a nation the two parts which I would deem to be the largest LBO in history is something far beyond what they anticipated in the way of burden. And you're looking at the GDP in East Germany that will probably be on the order of seven percent this year where you're looking at West Germany flat, or maybe eight-tenths of a point.
I think you're seeing it bottoming out, and this, I think, on the part of the Bundesbank will help. I've met with the head of the Bundesbank from time to time. I have always found it more productive not to have an open confrontation, high profile, but to have meetings in which we encourage for the stimulation of the economy throughout Europe, as we're obviously working very much on macroeconomic policy trying to encourage Japan to do the very same thing.
And I have a weekly breakfast meeting with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. I won't comment on that one. (Laughter.)
Q Would that you had to cancel -- (Laughter.)
Q Mr. Secretary, there is a lot of stuff in the Clinton bill that does not relate directly to the President's two goals that caught some flack. There's training quotas and racial quotas for medical schools and specialty internships, a lot of public health spending and so forth and so on. How much of that is not going to make it or could be sacrificed in the interest of speed in getting through to the basic goals?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I'm not going to do the trading with the committees here. Obviously, those are objectives we would like to see fulfilled. How much we'll obtain, we don't know at this point.
Q Mr. Secretary, do you feel that the administration's effort on health care is now kind of firing on all cylinders and doing well? There's been some criticism of the administration's efforts in the past for not, in doing a very good job of selling the plan and explaining it, defending it against attack. Do you feel that things are going better now? How would you assess the administration on that?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think we've learned in the process and I think it is a better coordinated effort than it has been in the past. But there's nothing new about that when you're talking about a major piece of legislation. I think you're seeing an all-out effort in this regard in various departments and in the administration participating in it. The Treasury certainly is a part of that.
Q Sir, I wonder if maybe you can say maybe a little bit about your own goals in this effort to push the health care bill through Congress. What do you see as your particular contribution and what kind of role will you be playing in mapping out strategy on the Hill?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Obviously I have other concerns in the Treasury that I'm working on, but I think mine is a supplementary role in trying to assist in that regard, particularly talking about - - background of being a businessman and spending a good part of my adult life building a business. So I understand the concerns of businesspeople and what their objectives are, what their experiences are. And to the extent I can be meeting with business people, I intend to do so, have been doing that, and will continue.
Q From your experience in the Senate, the Congress now has, I think, 62 or 63 legislative days left. What do you think the timing of the passage of this legislation is going to be? And how close to the upcoming elections can it be and still get through?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think the pressure for such and having to go back and saying we failed to accomplish it is one that will put a great deal of support for getting it done before the election. And I think it'll be accomplished. I've seen time and time again in the past where things would get off to a slow start, but if the public will support it and an election was facing them, it has a rather amazing influence on what those committees will finally do. And I've been in those where we would have all-night sessions when we thought the crunch was on to get it accomplished -- particularly in the conferences. And we did it. And I believe that this one is as major piece of legislation as the Congress will have in this last couple of years. And it will be successful.
Q Mr. Secretary, have you actually heard from CBO -- the Cooper report, or is your information from --
SECRETARY BENTSEN: I don't know where they got it, but I accept it. I accept it. I was smiling -- (laughter) --
But talking about these sessions, I can remember one of the sessions where a major piece of legislation like this -- at 3:30 a.m. in the morning, Danny and I finished our conference and I thought we were all through. And I walked down to one of the subcommittee conferences at 4:00 a.m., and Marina Wise was there and her child was sleeping under the table. (Laughter.) We'll get it done.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
Q Marina, have you folks seen the numbers from CBO?
SECRETARY BENTSEN: Oh, Marina's here. (Laughter.)
END10:01 A.M. EDT