THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:14 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: A couple of quick things. At 4:00 p.m. or shortly after the President finishes speaking at the Africa Conference we'll do a briefing, sort of a readout on that. It will feature C. Payne Lucas from Africare, Michael Clough from the Council on Foreign Relations and Andrew Young, former Mayor of Atlanta, among other things.
And the big news for the day is that you're all invited, all reporters with hard passes are invited to the White House for fireworks on the 4th of July. Each hard passholder is invited to bring four guests, and you can see the Lower Press Office staff for additional details.
Q Where is the President going to be?
MS. MYERS: The President will be -- he has no schedule for any day of that weekend. And it's unclear at this point exactly where he's going, but they may go back to Camp David.
Q Would the President accept a health plan that does not have mandates, that has only incentives?
MS. MYERS: The President has made it very clear that what he expects and what he will sign is a plan that includes universal coverage. That is, guaranteed private insurance for every American. As he said many times, he's asked Congress -- he would look at a number of ways to get there, but it has to get to universal coverage.
Q Well, what if it is incremental through incentives, through market forces, then a commission down the road by the year 2002, something along those lines? Just hypothetically.
MS. MYERS: Just hypothetically, for example, certainly he has said that it could be phased-in over time, but it has to be within a reasonable amount of time and by a date-certain. The plan that he proposed, as you know, would have phased coverage in and had universal coverage by January 1, 1998. As for the other details, I think we'll have to wait and see what Congress produces. If the President is convinced that a plan produced by Congress through any number of means gets to universal coverage within a reasonable period of time by a date-certain, then he can sign it and will sign it.
Q Does the President consider 95 percent coverage full coverage?
MS. MYERS: We have not gotten into a debate about numbers or a discussion about percentages. What the President has said is he wants guaranteed private insurance for every American. We'll look at a number of ways to get there, and we'll, hopefully this year, sign a bill that gets us there.
Q Has he talked to Senator Moynihan about the mark that the Senator hopes to ask the committee to propose?
MS. MYERS: He certainly has talked to him throughout this process. I don't know whether he's talked to him in the last couple of days; not to my knowledge.
Q universal care. On Friday the President asked specifically by a KMOX interviewer if he was going for every American, and the President responded by saying, no, I'm saying universal care, that's what we're going for. He wouldn't buy into the 100 percent question. Is there a reason? Is there a discussion?
MS. MYERS: Yes. I think the President and others of us here at the White House have worked hard to stay out of a debate about numbers. The President has said he'd look at a number of ways to get to universal care. His definition of universal care is guaranteed private insurance for every American. And beyond that, we're just not going to talk numbers.
Q But isn't -- 100 percent -- I don't understand the distinction that you're making there.
MS. MYERS: We're just not getting drawn into a debate about numbers. We're going to wait and see what Congress produces and have a debate about specifics once there's something to talk about.
Q But he is standing on guaranteed private insurance for every American.
MS. MYERS: That's what he's said repeatedly; that's what he said he would sign.
Q What is it that prevents you from --
Q Dee Dee, there is that splitting semantical hairs. What did you mean by guaranteed private insurance for every American? Every American has to have it, or it's available if they want it?
MS. MYERS: It has to be provided for. I mean, there's a difference -- that was the debate we had early on between making it available and making it -- guaranteeing that Americans have it. There is a difference. I think the President made it clear that this is not about making insurance just available through various plans. It has to be something that covers every American.
Q So every American has to have insurance one way or another?
MS. MYERS: That's what the President has laid out, yes.
Q When you say that the only thing that you've really said that he has to have is universal coverage, and how you get there is open to question, are there, though, other aspects, particularly in the how you get there that are off limits -- for example, a tax increase or a levy on companies, like Moynihan is proposing. Is there any part of the way of getting there that is off limits?
MS. MYERS: No, the President hasn't ruled anything out. As you know, there was a cigarette tax in his original plan. That's something that's been contemplated by others, including Senator Moynihan. But I think without seeing the entire package, the President has been unwilling to rule out any other specifics.
Q Does the President believe that you can possibly get there without individual mandates and without employer mandates?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think when the President produced his plan, it included an employer mandate because he believed that that was the best way to get to universal health care. Clearly there are other ways, but the President believed that a system that built on the system that we have, which is employer-based, was the best and least disruptive way to get to universal. Now, he has said at the time and since then that he would look at other ways. If somebody can produce another plan that gets us to universal, that provides guaranteed insurance for everyone, then he'll look at it.
Q Dee Dee, are you insisting that the President have a plan and should have a plan ultimately that's very close to what Congress has? And can you talk about this issue of where you are saying, we hear this in debates all the time, that if Congress bogs down a health care bill, that they -- they're taking away from the American people what they have? I've heard this debate back and forth.
MS. MYERS: I think I lost you somewhere on that question.
Q The issue that if Congress should vote down a bill with universal coverage, then would you be saying -- subsequent to that, that Congress is, in effect, taking away from you, the American people, what they have?
MS. MYERS: As a debating point?
Q As a debating point in this thing.
MS. MYERS: I don't think -- I think the President hopes and expects that Congress will pass a bill this year that gets us to universal coverage, and that he'll sign it, and that the rest is a moot point.
Certainly he's made the point that members of Congress, members of this administration have guaranteed private insurance through their -- through our employment and that is paid for by taxpayers. It's a point that he made in his radio address on Saturday and last Friday as well.
Q But you're not insisting that Congress vote precisely for the American people, what they have is coverage?
MS. MYERS: No, what the President is asking is that Congress produce a plan that guarantees private insurance for every American. And beyond that, we'll look at the details as Congress is able to produce them.
Q Dee Dee, at risk of losing our five minutes on camera, the dollar fell to a post-war low against the yen today. Does the administration intend to step in and prop up the dollar once more? And what's the reaction to today's drop in dollar?
MS. MYERS: All comments on the dollar will be coming out of the Treasury Department.
Q Okay. Does that mean that the Treasury Department will be commenting today, because Lloyd Bentsen is maintaining a pretty low profile. If he is the only person --
MS. MYERS: I think that's a decision that they'll make based on what happens throughout the day, exactly what to say or whether to say anything. Again, that's something that's handled out of Treasury today.
Q Well, does the administration still feel it's necessary for the U.S. to emphasize some of the points that have been previously made about the dollar in relation to trade and the like, and its --
MS. MYERS: I think that besides the Treasury Department, we've had very little to say about that. I think the President has, on a couple of occasions, underscored the strength of the economy, that we continue to see strong job growth, strong economic growth generally, with low inflation. I think that, again, a test to the underlying strength of the economy beyond that, we've let Treasury make all comments about the specifics with relation to the dollar.
Q And what is the President doing about this today? Does has any meetings? Is he discussing it with anybody?
MS. MYERS: He doesn't have any formal meetings. He's certainly being kept up to date about the situation.
Q Dee Dee, is the President reassessing the need to consider raising interest rates again, considering the fall of the dollar?
MS. MYERS: Again, all comment on this is just going to come out of the Treasury Department. We're just not saying anything here.
Q Can we assume that any legal argument Robert Bennett makes in filing the Paula Jones case has been approved by the President? The President's been consulted and he approves of any political implications or legal implications of arguments made in his behalf?
MS. MYERS: He certainly is in contact with his attorney on issues related to his legal affairs, yes.
Q Dee Dee, has there been --
Q I'm sorry, but do you know is he approving, because is a lawyer, is he approving the arguments that are made?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he's being informed about them and is certainly -- he's working closely with his attorney on all issues related to his personal legal course.
Q Dee Dee, can I just nail down the five percent --if five percent of the American people do not have coverage, that is not universal coverage, is that correct?
MS. MYERS: We're not talking percentages. I'm just not going to get drawn into a debate about numbers.
Q What's the anathema there?
MS. MYERS: I'm just not going to get drawn into a debate about numbers.
Q 100 percent is 100 percent, isn't it?
MS. MYERS: You all have used percentages, we have not.
Q Does universal coverage mean 100 percent?
Q What does that matter?
MS. MYERS: I'm just not going to get drawn into a debate about numbers, Helen.
MS. MYERS: I don't think it's productive.
Q When you say repeatedly that the President's bottom line is guaranteed private insurance for every American, every American would mean 100 percent of Americans, correct?
MS. MYERS: You all can define that however you want. We define universal health care, and the President has repeatedly defined universal health care as guaranteed private insurance for every American. If you all want a different definition, you are free to write it, but that is our definition and that is what we're going to say.
Q Can you give us your definition of every American?
MS. MYERS: Every American.
Q Dee Dee, by leaving us --
MS. MYERS: You guys can try every which way you want to get me to put a number on it, and I'm not going to do it. I think that much is clear.
Q But you realize, of course, that by not saying that 100 percent is every American -- every American means 100 percent, you're leaving open the option of 95 percent being interpreted as universal coverage.
MS. MYERS: You all interpret -- what the President wants and expects that Congress will produce is a bill that provides private insurance for every American.
Q Just not to try to force you to put a number on this, but the President --
MS. MYERS: That's exactly what you're trying to do.
Q I'm not going to try -- the President's bill does not envision covering illegal aliens. So the President's bill -- coverage that there will be less than 100 percent of Americans unless he doesn't consider illegal aliens Americans.
MS. MYERS: I don't think by most definitions that they are.
Q Well, then, my next question is, when he says private insurance for all Americans, the President's bill envisioned a good chunk of Americans be covered by public insurance, correct? Medicare, Medicaid --
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q Okay. So not every American has to have private insurance.
MS. MYERS: We've long said that that's our definition of guaranteed private insurance for every American. I guess I'll have to -- let me think about that question, because clearly there are people who are provided for through government-sponsored programs.
Q And more and more of them will be under this --
MS. MYERS: Some -- people will have -- there will be certainly expanded coverage, but I don't know if it necessarily means that they'll all receive it through the public sector.
Q Any decision on the legal defense fund?
MS. MYERS: It's still being discussed.
Q Dee Dee, is there a compromise yet on the crime bill?
MS. MYERS: Not yet. And the President has said he would like to give members of Congress a few more days to work through it.
Q Dee Dee, does the latest resignation of another Japanese Prime Minister mean that we can kind of forget about the possibility of getting partial agreement on the framework talks with Japan by the economic summit, as was previously hoped?
MS. MYERS: Well, we never really set G-7 as a deadline for any kind of announcement. But certainly we were making progress on the framework. President Clinton spoke with Prime Minister Hata on Saturday night, and one of the things that they talked about was the President thanked him for his work on bilateral economic issues, and particularly some of the progress that's been made on framework areas like auto and auto parts and others -- government procurement. They've made good progress.
Q Who initiated the call?
MS. MYERS: Prime Minister Hata. I think we may have placed it, but at their initiation.
Q It was to -- I'm sorry.
MS. MYERS: I think the Prime Minister wanted to speak to the President about the situation. And I think they had -- I don't know how long they spoke, but they had sort of a general conversation.
Q Can you give us any readout as to whether the Prime Minister him any indication as to whether he hoped he could build a new coalition and come back?
MS. MYERS: The President has no comment on the domestic political situation in Japan, other than that we're following it, and expect to work with the government of Japan on mutual regional issues, ongoing.
One of the other things the President thanked Prime Minister Hata for was his help and support on North Korea.
Q Does the fact that there is -- there was this resignation, is that going to slow the process down for getting an agreement with Japan, and --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we'll have to see. We hope to continue to work with the Japanese government toward agreement on the framework, on the sectors included in the framework. We expect that that will continue. I think the timing is, we'll have to wait and see.
Q Dee Dee, did you say there's a possibility of the President going back to Camp David -- that would be the third weekend in a row. Has he changed his mind on Camp David? Has he decided he likes it? Can you tell us about this?
MS. MYERS: He's certainly enjoyed his weekends there, the last two weekends there.
Q Did he play golf?
Q What is he doing up there? Can you tell us?
MS. MYERS: Spending time with his family mostly, I think -- reading.
Q Does he stay there the whole weekend, or did he take Jimmy Carter's advice to sneak off to Pennsylvania to go fishing?
MS. MYERS: To go fishing? I don't believe he did any fishing this weekend.
Q Did he play any golf?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. If he's sneaking off, he's not telling me.
Q Does he smoke? Cigars?
MS. MYERS: Does he smoke? (Laughter.) No. He does not. He doesn't light them, although he does enjoy --
Q Does enjoy what?
MS. MYERS: He has been known to chew on one from time to time.
Q He doesn't inhale.
Q He doesn't even ignite.
MS. MYERS: So many creative minds in such a small room.
Q Let's go back to how he spends his weekends up there.
MS. MYERS: I honestly don't know what he's done the last couple of weekends, other than he's mentioned to me that he's done some reading on a variety of topics.
Q Are there any aides you could ask about what he does for recreation and so forth?
MS. MYERS: I'm sure that I can speak to him about that if it's of pressing interest to you.
Q I think it would be of interest to a lot of people, yes.
Q Have they had guests up there?
MS. MYERS: I believe it's just been the family the last two weekends. They have in the past, as you know, almost every other time they've been there have had guests.
Q These last two weekends?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of.
Q No facilitators?
Q Maybe Chelsea --
MS. MYERS: Yes, Chelsea did take a friend this weekend.
Q One more question on the dollar, but not a Treasury kind of question -- now that this is such a huge issue, will it now be on top of the agenda of the G-7, this time around?
MS. MYERS: I'm sure that it will influence discussion there in some ways, but we'll have to wait and see what happens during the course of the next week.
Q Is it now topic A-1 at the summit, as opposed to Russia, or how would you rate that one?
MS. MYERS: Well, the first sessions are focused on economic issues, G-7 economic issues -- Russia has been, as you know, invited to participate in the political global issue sessions on the second day. So I'm sure that the dollar will be discussed along with other currencies and a number of economic issues on that first day.
Q Back to Hata for a second. Does his fall make it less likely that the G-7 summit will achieve what you wanted it to achieve? Does it set some things off limits that you would have like to have discussed, given their economic power?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think that we were -- I mean, that the goal of the G-7 was a bilateral agreement with Japan. What we're looking for is a multilateral discussion of job creation and economic growth of -- accepting macroeconomic ideas that will facilitate world growth, of continuing to talk about ways to improve working conditions in all the G-7 countries.
Q But having an economic superpower in effect leaderless at a meeting like this, doesn't it make it more difficult to have these multilateral --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we'll see exactly what happens within the course of the next week. I think it's just difficult to say at this point. I don't think it -- no, I'm not going to say any more than that.
Q Dee Dee, can you also say what the briefing plans are this week for --
MS. MYERS: Yes, we'll probably have an announcement tomorrow. I think briefings will start on Wednesday. We'll probably do something like an overview on Wednesday. On Thursday we'll talk specifically about G-7. And on Friday we'll talk about the other bilaterals.
So, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, briefings. And by tomorrow we'll be able to tell you who is going to actually participate in those briefings and give you some times.
Q Have you decided yet on the schedule whether there will be a congressional leadership meeting at the White House this week, or have any other meetings been added with members of health care --
MS. MYERS: I think I said today that there would be a meeting with members of Congress about G-7 at some point this week. And beyond that nothing to announce.
Q So that would be by --
MS. MYERS: Probably, yes. I haven't seen the list.
Q Do you have any word on the President's vacation plans yet?
MS. MYERS: I don't. Congress is scheduled to recess on the 12th. I think the expectation is they might stay in a few days longer. The Clintons will, I think, take vacation the second half of August. They'll probably stay out through Labor Day.
Q Have they found a place yet?
MS. MYERS: They haven't decided. They haven't decided. Q Home sales last month went down slightly. Some
analysts attribute that to rising interest rates. Are you at all concerned that the interest rate rise by the Fed that we've seen so far is having a negative effect on growth?
MS. MYERS: No, as a matter of fact growth remains strong. Economic growth and job creation remain strong. And we'll continue to watch it as we go forward here. And inflation remains low. So I think generally the state of the economy is sound.
Q Do you see any sign of inflation on the horizon, that the Fed should be concerned about as it convenes next week?
MS. MYERS: Well, the Fed will have to make its own determinations. But certainly our economists don't see any real inflationary pressures building up. And I think Chairman Greenspan said just last week that the economy -- I'm paraphrasing here -- but that the economy was in good a shape as it had been in many years.
Q Several of the medical leaders today said that they thought the 95 percent coverage would not be sufficient for health care, that it would perpetuate many of the same problems we have now in the system, and a lot of the burden would still be left on them for taking care of the uninsured. Does the White House agree with that assessment?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, without discussing specific numbers, one of the things that the President is concerned about is leaving millions or tens of millions of Americans without insurance, which would continue to result in cost-shifting, in poor people receiving their care through the government, rich people always being able to afford to buy their care, the middle class being uncovered, which will drive up rates for everybody else. And it will continue to, I think, lead to many of the problems that we see in the health insurance market today. So that's something that the President's very concerned about.
Q Dee Dee, I understand your reluctance from the podium to discuss what the White House will and won't accept on health care. But can you talk a little bit about the process that involves White House officials as these different committees work on different proposals. Are you running their numbers through your models? Or what is the interaction going on behind the scenes at this point?
MS. MYERS: Yes, we're providing whatever technical assistance that members of Congress need as they draft proposals, whether it's check numbers through economic models or other things. Certainly, there have been a number of discussions between members of the White House staff and the health care team and members of Congress.
What, I think, we haven't gotten involved in is the specific committee process which is moving along and, certainly, both the education committees in both the House and Senate have already produced bills. I think Ways and Means is getting close. With Chairman Moynihan's leadership, Senate Finance is making good progress. So we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
Q But you're not able to react to any of the proposals that have come through these committees?
MS. MYERS: Yes, we're just not commenting on specifics, particularly the specifics of proposals that haven't even been completely drafted.
Q Forgive me. You have suggested that we can define words any way we want to, but it seems to me the essence of --
MS. MYERS: No, I should suggest that you probably will.
Q May I please? The essence of communication is that, God forbid, words have universal meanings. And when you say something, "every American," we hear "every American," and we don't hear an asterisk. And we're trying to find out where the asterisk is and why the President made a distinction on Friday about it, and why you seem to be making one now.
MS. MYERS: I'm not making -- I refuse to make a distinction. I refuse to get drawn into a debate about numbers. What we have said and what we continue to say is "every American." And I think that statement speaks for itself. I have said it a thousand times from this podium.
Q That is the read my lips, that's the bottom line. That's the veto.
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to put a number on it, and I'm not going to say, read my lips --
Q Nobody's asking for numbers.
MS. MYERS: I think the President made it very clear in the State of the Union address what his bottom line was. We've continued to make it clear. You all want me to put a number on it. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to make policy from this podium.
Q I don't want any numbers. I want to get a sort of yes or no, if I could get it. We think it was clear. We think we understood it. And we think when the time comes when he puts his signature or veto on it, it will be because this is or isn't what we think we understood. Is that a fair, is that fair to ask --
MS. MYERS: I don't think -- I don't have any idea what you just meant by what you said. (Applause.)
Q The art of communication, Frank, do it again. (Laughter.)
Q Why do we have to define words that we both know what they mean?
MS. MYERS: I've made it very clear what our bottom line is -- insurance for every American. If anybody has a question about anything else, I'm happy to take it.
Q Dee Dee, I wanted to clarify --
Q Debra Tannen in here.
Q And, in addition, did the President over the weekend speak to any other G-7 leader about the political situation in Japan or the dollar situation--
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether the Prime Minister and the President discussed the dollar specifically. And, to the best of my knowledge, he has not spoken to any other G-7 leaders over the weekend.
Q Is the President of Chile coming here tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he is. Let me give you the time on that. I think it's 11:15 a.m.
Q Do we have a press conference?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the answer to that. I don't think so.
Q Could we ask for a press conference?
MS. MYERS: I think Friday -- when was it? Thursday? When we had the -- the last time the President came in here and made a statement and took questions.
Q Wednesday. Single subject.
MS. MYERS: Only because you only asked questions about it.
Q Can we have one? Can we have a press conference that is more distant than 15 minutes from deadline?
Q And more than five questions?
MS. MYERS: I can't respond specifically to that.
Q Something freewheeling.
MS. MYERS: I think -- we've done those periodically. And certainly, we will.
President Frei of Chile will be here tomorrow at 11:25 a.m. There will be a pool spray in the Oval Office. They'll meet there, then head to the Family Dining Room for lunch. There'll be a photo of the walk down the colonnade. And then --
Q Press availability. I mean, that's standard. Unless you're going to insult the President of Chile.
MS. MYERS: No, then at 1:30 the President bids President Frei farewell from the North Portico.
Q Well, why -- seriously -- this is a working visit, the standard lunch, the portico, the colonnade. Why not a press availability? It's the first time we've had a visiting --
Q Well, Turkey had one.
MS. MYERS: Oh, I don't think it's the first time. I don't think so.
Q How do you define first time? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I don't think this is exactly scientific. I didn't read that in "Putting People First."
Q Is this a slight against Chile?
MS. MYERS: You guys -- I don't know what is in the water here this morning. You guys are cranky. It's Monday, you don't want to be here.
Q Can you go through the week, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: Sure. Let's find out what other things you all are unhappy about.
Q Can you ask the President his definition of 100 percent? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: You know, I think that the President of Chile may have some thoughts about that.
The President will spend some time -- actually a fair amount of time this week in briefings in preparation for G-7. Tomorrow, he does the meeting with President Frei. Tomorrow evening he'll attend a fundraiser for Senator Sasser and Sarbanes at the Sheraton Carlton. He will also do -- I don't have the time on this, but -- is he doing an AFSCME satellite feed? AFSCME, which is -- they're having a convention in San Diego. That'll be sometime around -- between 1:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.
And then on Wednesday, again, it's mostly meetings and briefings for -- internal meetings and briefings for G-7. Then he'll have a diplomatic reception in the Diplomatic Reception Room, which is actually closed press on Wednesday evening. So there's no open press events during the day. And at this point, there's no open press events on Thursday or Friday, either.
Q We've always covered the diplomatic receptions --
Q Does this have anything to do with the view that he's overexposed?
MS. MYERS: I think it has to do with the fact that he's spending time -- and this can change; we often add events as the week goes on. He's spending time preparing for G-7. He's spending time working on other things, including health care. I'm sure there will be some congressional meetings as the week goes on.
Q How much time has he spent trying to lobby against the lifting -- unilateral lifting of sanctions --
MS. MYERS: I think he's -- I don't know how much time he's spent. I mean, he's talked to -- I think his position is clear. He certainly has talked to members of Congress about it.
Q Who is handling that for the White House?
MS. MYERS: Pat Griffin and Jeremy Rosner.
Q Key senators are --
MS. MYERS: I think Jeremy's not anymore.
Q saying nobody's lobbying on it, and --
MS. MYERS: I think Jeremy's last day was Friday. Whoops.
Q Why isn't anybody working on that issue?
MS. MYERS: People are working on that issue. The ones that have been in here, certainly the leadership is well aware of the President's position -- well aware.
Q What's the coverage for that?
MS. MYERS: The first part of it will be for sound and camera.
Q Is there anyone from the administration --
MS. MYERS: Mr. Don Steinberg will follow up with a background briefing.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:42 P.M. EDT