THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:38 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: The following is a tentative press schedule for the President's travel to Italy, the U.K. and France June 1 through 8. Copies of the print pool report giving further details on sites and facilities are available in the bins. You'll also find a document prepared 50 years ago for media coverage of the actual D Day landing made available through this very press office and is available to us through the National Archives. Wait, where's the following -- oh, I see. I'm only announcing the -- the schedules are in the bins.
Q It's not true that some of us were there.
MS. MYERS: That's right. I don't know, some of you might have been. It's entirely possible. That pretty much exhausts the announcement.
Q Dee Dee, what is taking the President so long to name a Supreme Court justice?
MS. MYERS: I think he's taking an adequate amount of time to make a thoughtful decision. This is, obviously, a very important decision, but I think this is certainly a reasonable amount of time given the magnitude of this particular appointment. As you know, the President has a meeting even as we speak with his senior advisers on this issue, and I expect he'll have an announcement soon.
MS. MYERS: I think it could happen at any time. The President's in the final phase of the decision-making process, and I certainly won't speculate as to timing.
Q Earlier this week some of his staffers were saying that they didn't need --
MS. MYERS: Vanna will be up to turn the letters in just a moment. (Laughter.)
Q Earlier some of his staffers were saying that there didn't need to be meetings anymore, that all the work had been done, the President just had to choose, but he can't seem to quite commit.
MS. MYERS: Again, I think the President's very close. He asked his advisers to come in one more time to discuss it, which they're doing even as we speak. And again, I think you'll have a decision on this -- an announcement on that decision very, very soon.
Q? Is there a federal judge in the building? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Not to my knowledge.
Q? Has he done any interviews on this or does he basically know the people well enough --
MS. MYERS: Early on in the process we said we wouldn't be commenting on who he talked to and when, only that he left open the possibility that he may, in fact, talk to some of the candidates.
Q? talked to Judge Breyer when Judge Breyer was in town today?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. Is Judge Breyer in town today?
MS. MYERS: Has he been bicycling recently?
Q Dee Dee, do you have any comment on Congressman Rostenkowski's suggestion that a large, broad-based tax will be needed to pay for health care reform?
MS. MYERS: The President sort of commented on that yesterday. He said he had some questions about whether that would be fair to working people. I think Chairman Rostenkowski certainly shares the President's objectives in health care reform, and that is a plan that will provide guaranteed private insurance for every American, include comprehensive benefits. That is something that is being worked out through the committee process now.
Q I have a two-part follow-up to that. First, is the President going to sign off on a tax package to replace the GATT revenue?
MS. MYERS: We're currently working on the funding questions related to GATT with Congress. It's very similar to the process we used in funding NAFTA. It will be a bipartisan process. It will involve the relevant committee chairs on both sides of the aisle, committee members on both sides of the aisle. And we just don't have any final decisions on that yet.
Q But you're not ruling out taxes?
MS. MYERS: We're not ruling anything in or out. Again, it's something that will be determined through a very collective process with Congress. OMB Director Panetta, Secretary Bentsen and others are working on this, Ambassador Kantor are working on this review regularly.
Q There's a long list of taxes.
MS. MYERS: Again, this is something that we'll work through with Congress. We're not ruling anything in or out. Obviously, because of the Budget Act, we have to pay for it. And we will find a way to do that and the President expects it will get done this year.
Q There's a likelihood of taxes there. You've got Rostenkowski calling for broad-based taxes; in Kennedy's health plan he calls for a two percent tax.
MS. MYERS: Two percent tax on firms with five or fewer employees, a two percent payroll tax in lieu of up to a 3.5 or 3.9 percent contribution to health care.
Q All of a sudden out of Washington there's a lot of talk of new taxes. Can you say anything to reassure people that the President is going to be looking at this, looking at protecting their pocketbooks? Or how are you going to answer charges that all of a sudden there's a tax-and-spend mentality reasserting itself here?
MS. MYERS: First of all, the President has not proposed or endorsed any new tax measures. In fact, the only thing that he has done is rule out effectively new taxes to pay for welfare reform.
Certainly there are other proposals working their way through Congress that include some revenue increases -- as you pointed out, Chairman Rostenkowski. I think Senator Kennedy's plan includes a very small payroll tax, again, those firms with five or fewer employees.
I think if the average Americans look at what has happened to them over the past 15 months, they can answer that question themselves. First of all, 99 percent of -- 98.8 percent of Americans saw no increase in their income taxes. This economy has been revived. It's doing much better, creating jobs -- we've created almost 3 million new jobs in the last 15 months. And I think that those results speak for themselves.
Q Is the President now conceding that his health care plan will not prevail and that whatever emerges will be either Kennedy's or a mix of Kennedy and several others?
MS. MYERS: Well, the President proposed, as you know, a very detailed health plan. But we always knew that it would have to go through the congressional process. That's where it is now. Certainly we always expected there would be some changes to it. The President made one very solid commitment which is that he would veto any plan that did not include guaranteed private insurance for everybody. Other than that, I think it is something that the Congress will have to work through the details on.
Q But are we at the stage in the game where he is now conceding --
MS. MYERS: I think he conceded from the very beginning that there would be changes, that Congress would make changes to his very detailed plan. I think clearly some of those changes will be for the better.
Q How does he feel about not having the mandatory alliances?
MS. MYERS: I think what he feels most importantly about are the things that he talks about regularly. Most importantly and the bottom line, the thing that cannot and will not be compromised on is guaranteed private insurance for every American. He'd also like to see shared responsibility, one that includes a commitment from employers and from individuals and from the government to participate in the plan, comprehensive benefits so that everybody gets a very solid set of benefits so that they can take care of themselves and their families. I think if we, the President gets those in any final form of a health plan, he'll be more than satisfied.
Q How do you get your community rating system and, therefore, cost controls without the mandatory alliances?
MS. MYERS: Right. That's something that will have to be worked through with Congress. Senator Kennedy -- Chairman Kennedy, certainly is committed to cost controls, as are many other members of Congress who propose changes in the President's plan. Those are things the President feels strongly about and thinks that Congress -- the President believes Congress can ultimately produce.
Q Dee Dee, could you just give us an update on Rwanda and what efforts the administration is making to help the situation there?
MS. MYERS: As I guess -- I'll give you the figures on this. Yesterday, the Department of Defense announced that it's going to begin airlifting approximately 478,000 pounds of humanitarian relief supplies into that country. Air Force planes from New Jersey have gone to Incerlik, Turkey. There they will be loading up with supplies which include 100,000 blankets, 10,000 rolls of plastic sheeting. These will be flown from Incerlik into Tanzania, and then from there, distributed by UNHCR personnel into Rwanda.
At the same time, we're continuing to press for continuation in diplomatic efforts. We expect that there will be meeting some time soon in Tanzania to begin a dialogue toward a peaceful conclusion.
Q? On Tanzania, you said a dialogue. What exactly are the diplomatic steps the U.S. is making on that?
MS. MYERS: Well, we're trying to revive a regional dialogue there aimed at a cease-fire and a cessation of hostilities generally. That process has been difficult to date, but we'll continue to press forward.
As you know, Assistant Secretary Shattuck was there. He's back now and I believe he's testifying on the Hill so he may have more to say about that today. In fact, he may be done. I haven't seen the reports on that.
Q? In the course of the town hall meeting last night, the President made a passing reference to getting everybody into one room, the people on the Hill that have all these proposals. Is there any thought of some sort of -- I hate to use the word summit -- but health care meeting of all the people with different, varying ideas?
MS. MYERS: I don't think we're at that point yet. We're still in the midst of the committee process, hopeful that many of the committees will complete work by Memorial Day and move forward on the process. And we'll just have to see how things go up on the Hill.
Q What did he mean by that?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that he would like -- he will use whatever means necessary to reconcile the different plans that are being proposed in Congress and get a reform measure passed this year. But we don't have any specific plans on it at this point.
Q Dee Dee, how confident are you at this point that whatever emerges will contain employer mandate?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, it's something for Congress to work out. The President -- as he said a number of times, we looked at a variety of options before proposing an employer requirement. The President and others believe that that was the best way to go about it. Now, if Congress comes up with something that gets us to guaranteed private insurance for everybody and meets the President's bottom line, I think the President will be willing to look at it. At this point, we haven't seen anything.
Q Dee Dee, Ambassador Kantor yesterday talked about moving the World Trade Organization Conference out of Singapore. Does the President favor that and does he have any other kind of retaliatory measures in mind in wake of the caning?
MS. MYERS: I believe Ambassador Kantor said that today, a little while -- sometime this morning, and I don't have anything for you on that. I'm not sure -- the President hasn't had a chance to react. I don't know if he knows about that yet.
Q Ambassador Kantor went out and said that without knowing -- without the President being aware of it?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if the President knows that he said it, and I don't know what the status of that is. I just don't have anything on it yet.
Q Can you get back to us on that one?
MS. MYERS: Yes, sure.
Q Are there any other retaliatory measures --
MS. MYERS: Just the warning that was issued by the State Department. They are aware of our feelings on this, and we'll continue discussions with them.
Q Is the administration rethinking its policy towards Japan and trade and opening markets?
MS. MYERS: No, our policy remains the same. As you know, the President talked yesterday to the new Prime Minister, Prime Minister Hata. And I think they both committed to trying to find at least a way to begin negotiations on framework before the G-7 this summer. But our position has not changed, in effect.
Q So the administration is not about to concede that the framework negotiations will not be fruitful and that given the current distress in the economic -- in the financial markets, that they should abandon it?
MS. MYERS: No, we're not going to abandon the framework. I think what we'd like to do is find some circumstances under which the framework can begin or move forward because it's already begun. As we said throughout the last several months since Prime Minister Hosokawa was here in February that the ball is in the Japanese court. We're interested in continuing dialogue with them, but we're still committed to our bottom line which are both objective measures of progress.
Q Can you talk to us about the options that the White House is considering for a legal defense fund for the President? The two lawyers he has are very expensive.
MS. MYERS: With the introduction of the new suit last week, the Counsel's Office is studying the question of whether is would advisable to recommend the formation of a legal defense fund, and if so, on what terms. The questions are novel as no president has ever before been sued during his term for alleged conduct that occurred before he took office. No decision on either question have been made, and if you have any additional questions, I would refer you to Mr. Cutler.
Q Whose idea was this? Was it the President's idea or Mr. Cutler's idea -- where did it come from?
MS. MYERS: I don't know where the idea came from. I think certainly given the introduction of the suit on Friday, it raised some questions, but you'd have to check with Mr. Cutler.
Q Does the President share the First Lady's views as expressed on the interview with Vanity Fair about the media being hostage to the right wing?
Q Couldn't hear the question.
MS. MYERS: Does the President share the First Lady's views expressed in Vanity Fair that the media is hostile?
MS. MYERS: That the media --
Q Handmaiden to the far right.
MS. MYERS: Handmaiden to the far right. I don't think it's --
Q Well, some. (Laughter.)
Q reading -- giving his bath. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: But he was reading it in the bath. I don't think it's productive to comment on that.
Q Pardon me, what was the answer to the question?
MS. MYERS: I don't think it's productive to comment. I think the President believes that the media works very hard and plays an important role in this process. (Laughter.)
Q Most of us don't even think that. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
MS. MYERS: Yes, Terry, excellent.
Q Did the President hire Bob Bennett who is also the lawyer for -- (Laughter.)
Q Will tell you when to go. (Laughter.)
Q You should have taken it when you could have.
MS. MYERS: I know, I should have run.
Q The President hire Bob Bennett, who is also the lawyer for Dan Rostenkowski. Is there any concern that this could create some complications or conflicts later on with the President's lawyer representing Rostenkowski before -- in actions against the government which the President heads?
MS. MYERS: No. And I think Mr. Bennett answered that as well.
Q Was that discussed?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q Have you found the third country willing to accept the processing centers for Haitians?
MS. MYERS: Discussions are beginning to that effect and we don't have any more information on it yet.
Q Still on Haiti -- Secretary Christopher made reference yesterday to this peacekeeping mission. Is that -- has a decision been made that we want to pursue a U.N. peacekeeping operation there? Or what is the status of that?
MS. MYERS: I think, as the President said on Sunday, one of the things we're looking at, one of the steps, is reconfiguring the U.N. mission after the military leaders have resigned and democracy, or at least the initial step towards restoring democracy have begun. In other words, that's something that's envisioned after Cedras and company are gone.
It's consistent with the military and police trainers that have always been envisioned as being part of post-Cedras era in Haiti. We will discuss with the U.N., with the OAS and certainly with Congress both what the configuration of that would be and what our role is. And we just don't have any decision on it yet.
Q You wouldn't consider a U.N. peacekeeping mission there that the United States ground troops wouldn't play a major role in? It's our hemisphere and it's our --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's -- I think again, it's much more in line with the training mission that always been envisioned as opposed to some kind of a broader peacekeeping effort. It's a sort of military and police training mission, which is always been something that we've talked about. The U.S. role in it I think will depend very much on circumstances on the ground as we get closer to that. And it's something that we'll discuss with Congress and, again, with the U.N. and others.
But I don't want to get into semantics about what the Secretary said, but this is consistent with our view of what would happen.
Q This is more like what you've talked about in the beginning than our understanding of peacekeeping now since --
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q So the Secretary misspoke, more or less?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's a semantic question more than anything else.
Q Aren't they all?
MS. MYERS: It's a term of art. The word peacekeeper is a term of art. I think this is more something that we've always talked about as a military and police mission. The U.N. mission which we've talked about reconfiguring. And we're far from having any final conclusions about that.
Q Does the President think it's all right for Alan Greenspan and the Fed to raise interest rates again? Or is going --
MS. MYERS: Certainly that is a decision that Chairman Greenspan and the Fed will have to make. I think it's interesting to note that the -- first of all, economic growth continues to be strong, inflation continues to be low. But the blue chip report was released today for May; they did not increase their inflation rate for either '94 or '95. In fact, their predictions are almost exactly in line with the administration, which is 2.8 percent inflation in 1994, and 3.3 percent in 1995.
So in other words, I think we're certainly watching it as the economy continues to expand, we're watching for signs of inflation, but at this point we continue to see continued growth with low inflation.
Q Wait a minute, that's a 25-percent increase of inflation.
Q Did he talk to Greenspan about it, did he say anything about it?
MS. MYERS: In 1993, it was 3.0 percent, so it's consistently low.
Q Getting back to Haiti for a second. You're looking for a third country to perhaps process Haitian asylum seekers.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q Refresh my memory. Why is the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay not in the -- among the options being considered?
MS. MYERS: It's something that's not being considered now; we'd rather work with other countries in the region, or perhaps process refugees at sea. And we're looking at our options as per that right now.
Q What is the reasoning for that? It was used twice before that, as many as 15,000 at Guantanamo.
MS. MYERS: Right. At this point we're pursuing other options and have decided not to pursue Guantanamo.
Q Why? What's wrong with Guantanamo?
MS. MYERS: I could see if there's any particular reasons on that. At this point we're not looking at that as an option, though.
Q When you say discussions are beginning, though, what do you mean? Have any countries offered themselves up? Are you discussing with other governments? Can you be more specific?
MS. MYERS: We're in the process of beginning to have -- beginning a dialogue with other countries. It's something that we'll discuss with OAS and the U.N.
Q Can you reveal those countries?
MS. MYERS: No, we're not to prepared to do that yet.
Q How many countries have you approached?
MS. MYERS: I think countries in the region. I don't want to limit it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:57 P.M. EDT