THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:37 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: No major announcements. Let me give you a few pieces of housekeeping, and we'll make this mercifully brief today.
As many of you already know, Anthony Lake, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, will lead a delegation of senior administration officials to Africa. They'll visit eight countries, including Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Zambia, Angola, Benin, and Senegal. Mr. Lake will meet with officials of regional organizations, including the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
We'll put out a statement that has a little more information. They leave tomorrow and they will return the 22 of December.
Q Will this lay the groundwork for a presidential trip there, as has been rumored, in the coming year?
MS. MYERS: Nothing has been scheduled, but I think it is a signal of our ongoing involvement in Africa and our commitment to help the continent overcome its economic and health problems as we go forward. The President has said several times that he'd like to visit Africa at some point, but there are no plans.
Q Well, what are the chances of a visit?
MS. MYERS: I think that -- I'm going to go out on a limb here and rule out a trip to Africa by the President this year. (Laughter.) Okay?
Q What is the purpose of this?
MS. MYERS: The trip is to continue to foster relations with Africa and to continue to work with the nations as they address their economic and other problems.
For those of you interested in accompanying Mr. Lake, talk to Calvin. He's going.
Q If the President does go to Africa next year, is it safe to assume he would follow the same itinerary?
MS. MYERS: No, I think it's way too soon to even begin to discuss what itinerary the President might have should he visit Africa. Again I would just reiterate that he said he'd like to visit the continent; it's been a long time since a President has been there; he has a great deal of interest in what's happening there, and certainly, as does Mr. Lake. So I wouldn't rule it out, but again, nothing has been scheduled.
The other major announcement here is President Clinton has invited Bulgarian President Zhelev to meet with him in Washington on February 13, 1995. They're expected to discuss the situation in the Balkans, Bulgaria's integration into the expanding community of democratic nations and U.S. efforts to support economic reforms in that country. The two met briefly when President Clinton was in Budapest last week.
Q How do you spell it?
MS. MYERS: How do you spell it? It's ZHELEV. The first name is ZHELYU. He was elected President in '91.
That wraps up our announcements here today.
Q about Russia?
MS. MYERS: No. Certainly, there are issues we disagree on, but there are more issues that we agree on. And, as you know, Vice President Gore will leave tomorrow for the fourth meeting of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission. There are seven -- I think you already had a briefing on this today, so I won't go into too much detail -- but I think that is one example of the ongoing relationship, and that's certainly an important component of our relationship.
I would also point out that we've made a lot of progress in the last two years through the President's policy of engagement, including on security issues. There are no longer Russian nuclear weapons targeted at the United States, and no longer American weapons targeted at the Russian people. We've made tremendous progress on nonproliferation, including the recent accession by Ukraine to the MPT allowing for the implementation of START I. There have been -- certainly, we've helped and will continue to support Russia's transition to democracy and economic market reforms. That progress is not only in Russia's interest, but certainly in our interest, and the President believes that's in the best interest of the American people, and will continue to pursue that policy.
Q Is he carrying any letter -- is Gore carrying any letter to Yeltsin?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't believe so. He's not scheduled to meet with President Yeltsin. As you know, I think you heard that a little earlier, President Yeltsin had some minor surgery and is out commission, but certainly he'll meet with Chernomyrdin and other Russian officials while he's there
Q Dee Dee, what's the process for selecting a new surgeon general, and what's the timetable?
MS. MYERS: No timetable. I think the process is similar to -- process for selecting other senior appointed officials. The process has begun, and that will include putting together a list of potential candidates and beginning to narrow that down.
Q Well, the process for choosing the first one was she was an acquaintance he knew, so there was no real process on that one.
MS. MYERS: Well, not, that's not -- there was a process. There was a very deliberative process during the transition to pick a number of senior officials. The President selected her initially because she had broad experience in Arkansas as the President's Director of Public Health -- or, I'm sorry, the Governor's. And she had a particular commitment to children's health issues. And he thought that her track record, her commitment and her energy would make her an excellent surgeon general.
Q Are there any specific candidates now?
MS. MYERS: I'm certainly not going to discuss potential names. But I will say that the process has begun.
Q Any timetable on an agriculture secretary?
MS. MYERS: No, we've said, again, by the end of the year, and I think we're still on that timetable.
Q Will there be a litmus test on the surgeon general?
MS. MYERS: No litmus test is on any of our appointees.
Q What about the speech?
MS. MYERS: Brit asked about the speech. I think it's likely. Again, nothing has been concretely scheduled. No venues, no times to announce.
Q What would be the purpose of this speech again?
MS. MYERS: The purpose of the speech, should the President give one, will be to continue to outline where he'd like to take the country in the next year and the next two years of his presidency. He's begun to talk about that. With the League of Cities he said he would draw the line at any proposals that would increase the deficit or attempt to overturn the ban on assault weapons.
At the DLC speech the other night, he began to expand on that a little bit further and talked about moving forward on some of the agenda items he talked about during the campaign, including continuing economic growth, tax fairness, welfare reform and a number of other issues. And I think what he'd like to do before Christmas and perhaps this week is outline in just a little bit more detail where he's going to take the country.
Now, I would steer you away from looking for a State of the Union-type speech, it will not be anything that comprehensive. But I think it will be continuing another installment in the President's discussion with the American people about the future of the country.
Q But it would be an evening speech or a daytime speech?
MS. MYERS: I think it's an open question. The question was, would it be evening or daytime. It's an open question. We're still considering a number of options.
Q Sounds like a political speech.
MS. MYERS: The President is the leader of the country. Certainly, the American people want to hear from him as we go forward at this, I think, transitional period between the elections and the beginning of the next year. I think that that is the role of the President, and certainly appropriate for the President to give a speech about where he wants to take the country.
Q middle-class tax cut?
Q How far along are the tax cut deliberations?
MS. MYERS: I think as both -- you want to hit the lights again? We'll do this on camera. For you, Brit. Don't say I never did anything for you.
There we go. The question was tax cut deliberations. I think it's both the President and Chief of Staff Panetta, as well as Secretary Bentsen said yesterday. A middle class tax cut is something the President talked about during the campaign, something he's committed to extending tax fairness and improving tax fairness in this country. It has long been something he'd like to do if economic circumstances permitted and it did not expand the deficit. He's already made a down payment on tax fairness by signing into law last year an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which made 15 million American families eligible for a tax credit. That applied to 40 million Americans in those families. He'd like to continue that process. And, again, it will depend on economic circumstances. That's something that's being looked at through the budget process.
Q Will it be in the speech?
MS. MYERS: It's too soon to say. We haven't, again, finally committed to a speech or to any particular element of that speech. I think it will be an outline of where the President wants to go.
Q Why can't you seem to make a decision about that? I mean, it seems like there are constantly questions being raised about the President's indecisiveness, and you can't even seem to decide whether he's going to make a speech, or not.
MS. MYERS: I think as soon as we have an answer for that we'll give it to you. We've said it's something that's likely. We don't have a time or a date to give you. But I think certainly the President has committed to an ongoing dialogue with the American people, and I think he will make good on that promise.
Q Dee Dee, are there any timetables -- decisions to be made today, tomorrow, Wednesday about budgetary matters, agency consolidations, program cuts, those sorts of things? Does he have goals of what he'd like to finish by the end of today, by the end of tomorrow, by the end of next week?
MS. MYERS: Certainly there is a process in place. And I don't want to be too specific about it, but the President has spent a good deal of time in the last couple of weeks, and will spend a good deal of time both this week and next week on budget questions. Certainly there are a number of major issues to be decided, including tax cut issues as well as specific program cuts. And those are all things that are being looked at. I think --
Q Who's sitting in on the deliberations?
MS. MYERS: Well, the process is led by -- I mean, there's -- I think the usual suspects -- Leon Panetta, Bob Rubin, Secretary Bentsen and other members of the economic team. It is a -- I think a relatively small but influence group; the same people that put together the economic plan.
Q Dee Dee, could you clarify the question about the 25,000 ground troops? The question is, did the United States earlier commit to this use of ground troops for the United Nations, the removal of the United Nations troops, or did the President make a new commitment in suggesting that we would have ground troops there?
MS. MYERS: The United States made a commitment at the time UNPROFOR was introduced into Bosnia that should that force get into trouble, we would help to rescue them, in effect. I think at the time what was discussed was air power. As circumstances have changed on the ground and as NATO has begun to make more specific plans and contingency plans for worse -- including contingency plans for a worse-case scenario, which is that UNPROFOR will be forced to withdraw under hostile circumstances, I think planning has gone forward.
So I think the President's commitment in principle to allow ground troops to be introduced to rescue UNPROFOR should that become necessary is an expansion of the commitment made under the previous administration. And I don't think the President ever meant to suggest that the previous administration had committed specifically to ground troops. I think it was pretty clear that the President was making a decision over the last couple of weeks, which we talked about last week, to make that -- to expand that commitment.
Q Does the President feel a need to run this by Congress and get congressional approval to commit 25,000 --
MS. MYERS: I think we have said -- the President has said his agreement in principle -- and we've never talked about numbers -- those are something that people have sort of estimated outside of our official confirmation of the fact that he said in principle he would commit ground troops. What was your question -- I'm sorry -- oh, Congress. He said that that was contingent on two things: one, us having a chance to review the specific plans, and two, additional consultation with Congress. So, yes, I think before any ground troops were committed, it would require additional consultation.
Q Consultation, but what about a vote?
MS. MYERS: Consultation.
Q Are there any plans to travel -- military base visits, or anything like that?
Q North Carolina?
MS. MYERS: Nothing to announce at this point.
Q Just keep the weekend open and --
MS. MYERS: Hopefully, we will be able to give you some concrete yes or no soon, but at this point, I think you have to leave open the possibility.
Q There's only one more Christmas shopping day left. Can you do something about that?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the stores are open late, so --
Q fast track authority from Congress to get Chile into the NAFTA, or is that something that you can just do unilaterally with the other allies of NAFTA?
MS. MYERS: Well, certainly we can begin discussions with them, which we plan to do. I think there are already steps in place to begin the discussions. It will begin with the United States, Mexico and Canada; beginning discussions about how to deal collectively with Chile. And then discussions about what criteria will be used not just for Chile's admission, but should NAFTA be expanded to other countries in the hemisphere.
As for fast track, we said that we would go back to Congress next year to talk about additional trade programs, and we'll certainly do that, but not without extensive consultation with Congress.
Q On your extensive consultations about Bosnia with Congress, is that just the chairmen of the select committees that are involved, or is it wider than that?
MS. MYERS: No, it was wider than that. There was a lot of staff-level consultations that went on last year -- or staff -- I should say very senior, including the National Security Advisor and other senior national security people who were calling people, members of Congress, particularly those who have committee jurisdictions.
Q In the future, if they do decide to --
MS. MYERS: No, our consultations generally are broader than that, and I think you can expect that that's going to continue to be a dialogue that goes beyond just the chairmen.
Q On NAFTA and Chile and fast track again, you say you'd go back to Congress to talk about additional trade programs. Does that mean you'd ask for fast track for the hemisphere-wide trade agreement as well as introducing Chile into NAFTA, or do you -- or is it your feeling that you can do the Chile thing separately?
MS. MYERS: He can begin it separately. But at some point you have to go back to Congress and discuss --
Q The issue here -- right -- is Congress is being kind of finicky. They put off discussions on fast track for the hemisphere-wide program --
MS. MYERS: Right.
Q and they're liable to give you problems over Chile.
MS. MYERS: Right -- we want to go back and discuss that with them. But I think GATT was begun without fast track, and the U.S.-Israel free trade agreement was begun without fast track authority. This will begin, actually, perhaps as soon as this month; certainly by next month we'll be discussing how to begin discussions without actually finishing that. We don't have a deadline for a session, but formal discussions will begin sometime shortly after May 31st.
Q Ultimately you're going to have to get the fast track for Chile?
MS. MYERS: Ultimately, we'll go back to Congress and discuss that.
Q Even if you didn't get fast track, you could still get it through Congress under normal processes, though, couldn't you?
MS. MYERS: Yes. In principle, you could.
Q Unless it was hugely controversial, which it might very well not be, why would it be so urgent to get it?
MS. MYERS: I think we just -- before we commit to getting it or not getting it, we want to go back and consult with Congress about how to proceed. And I don't think we want to make any commitments about how do we intend to proceed without having conversations with them first.
Q The President says he's primarily concerned about finding a way to pay for a tax cut. Yet, Time Magazine reports he has rejected all suggestions for how to pay for it presented so far. What's the latest thinking in developing decisions on how to pay for the tax cut?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think you have to be -- I'm certainly not going to discuss what proposals are being discussed in the budget meetings. But I think the President's very serious about not proposing a tax cut that's not paid for. That's one of the questions he's raised about Republican proposals. I think they've proposed some $300 billion in different tax cuts, be it capital gains tax cuts or child credits, or what have you -- middle-class tax cut -- and have not proposed any means for paying for them. The President's made it very clear he'll draw the line on proposals that would increase the deficit. And he said repeatedly that if he were to propose a tax cut, it would have to be paid for, and certainly he intends to make good on that. If he proposes a tax cut, it will be paid for.
Q But what options doesn't he like, and has he --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to rule anything in or out; those are all being reviewed in the process of the budget discussions.
Q Aside from proposing one that is paid for, will he veto one that originates elsewhere that is not paid for, that increases the deficit?
MS. MYERS: He made very clear last week that he would draw the line at any proposals that increase the deficit. One of the things that he said is, he's not going to allow this country to go back to fiscal irresponsibility for making commitments that we can't pay for.
Q When you use the term "pay for," does that mean in the overall realm of not increasing the deficit, or is that in the more narrow realm of the budget law as it exists today?
MS. MYERS: I think you have to take both into consideration when you have to operate within the budget laws. We've been very careful to do that, and the President's made it clear that he will not propose, nor will he accept proposals that increase the deficit.
Q Does the White House consider changing the Budget Enforcement Act so that you could use discretionary savings to pay for middle-income tax cuts?
MS. MYERS: There has been no proposal to do that.
Q I'm not clear on the hang-up of why you can't say today whether there is going to be a speech this week. Is it that you haven't come together on the proposals that you want to make in that speech, you haven't gotten TV time? What is the problem at this point?
MS. MYERS: There has been no -- certainly, there has been no specific speech scheduled. So until we have a venue and a time, should that all come together this week, then I think it's premature to announce it. But I think we've said that it's likely, and as soon as we have a time and the date and a place, we'll let you know.
Q Do you have agreement from the networks to carry it?
MS. MYERS: No. And that's not necessarily a factor. We're always in discussion with the networks. I wouldn't necessarily assume that that's a factor, specifically, one way or another.
Q Do you think the President would be able to reach a decision on the tax cut in principle by the time he delivers the speech?
MS. MYERS: I am not going to commit him to any specific elements. In the speech, I think it will be an interesting speech and one that moves the dialogue forward. But I am not going to commit him to any particular announcements. There would be no drama left if I told you everything he was going to talk about.
Q How about anything?
MS. MYERS: You'll all be on the edge of your seats. I think that -- that is not the topic, actually.
Q What's the hang-up on the ag secretary job? Are we down to a short list on that, or is that --
MS. MYERS: I think we're getting close, yes. I don't think there's a hang-up.
Q now being looked at for a CIA --
MS. MYERS: I am certainly not going to get into discussing names, but I will say that Secretary Espy resigned --
Q How about Dave Butts?
Q How about Dave Leavy?
MS. MYERS: He's available.
Q He has still not answered the question. Why will the President not answer the question that's been asked of him now repeatedly, what about Dave Leavy? What about Dave Leavy? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Do you want to come up here and defend yourself?
Q The White House stonewalls another day on Dave Leavy.
MS. MYERS: That's right. That's right. (Laughter.) I'd like to be able to say the President stands by him, but --
Q He doesn't know him. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That's right. That's right.
Q Is the President revamping his image, according to, as Elizabeth Drew contends?
MS. MYERS: I think that the --
Q No more jogging in shorts and that sort of thing?
MS. MYERS: I think that the President will continue to try to communicate with the American people about where he wants to take the country and let the chips fall where they may. He said what he wants to do is make decisions that he thinks are in the best interests of the American people; this is not a discussion about moving right or moving left, it's about how best to move the country forward, and that's what he wants to do.
Q Dee Dee, the leader of the Democratic Party -- there's a lot of talk about the new chairman, who's he's going to be. When should we expect a new chairman of the Democratic Party?
MS. MYERS: The only thing we've said about that is that by the DNC meeting, which is mid-January, we'll have named a new chair. I think Dave Leavy is on the short list for that. (Laughter.)
Q He does want to move the country -- I mean, he does want to move his administration to the center, doesn't he? I mean, this is what I read. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Well, you know you can't believe anything you read, Helen. You know all the people who write it. (Laughter.)
Q All the insiders who really are supposed to have the ungarbled word, this is what they're saying. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We're still waiting for the ungarbled word -- coming from this podium. (Laughter.)
Certainly the President wants to continue to move the country in the directions that he discussed during the campaign, during the first two years of his presidency, which is continue to move the country in the directions that he discussed during the campaign and during the first two years of his presidency which is toward economic growth and economic and fiscal integrity, and he's done that.
He's looked at ways to reduce government and to make it more efficient. And we certainly launched the REGO process, and you can expect that he'll expand on that, not just this year but in the coming years. Welfare reform was an agenda item that he talked about, not just during the campaign, but he sent a proposal up last year and it's something that we've now called for a meeting with both other members of Congress and governors and those who have an interest in it to try to find a workable welfare reform solution.
And so I think the President is going to continue to move in the same direction that he outlined during the campaign and during the first two years of his presidency.
Q His so-called "new Democrat" friends have repudiated his first two years basically.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think they have disagreements with some elements of his first two years, but I haven't heard anybody criticizing him for creating 5 million new jobs, or economic expansion, of low inflation. I haven't heard anybody criticize him for creating more high-wage jobs, for this being the most productive economy in the world again after nine years. I haven't had any criticism of a number of the proposals that he moved forward. I haven't heard any criticism from them about his reinventing government, about --
Q Only about those jogging shorts. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I have to remain mute on that.
Q Is it the President's belief that his administration already occupies the center?
MS. MYERS: I think the President would like to resist labels that don't mean much. I think that he campaigned saying that there is a third way -- not that moves right or moves left, but that moves the country forward. I think that's what the American people want. I don't think that they want a debate about labels that don't necessarily mean much. What they want is a debate about how to solve their problems, and that's something the President feels strongly about and will continue to work hard on every single day.
Q Some of these spending and program cuts the President's apt to propose are likely to irritate key democratic constituency groups, for that matter, Republican groups. Do you think the President envisions these as floors from which he's prepared to start discussions or ceilings beyond which he wouldn't be willing to go?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we have to wait and see what the final proposals look like. But I think that's one of the problems with cutting government is that every program has its defenders. And every time you try to cut programs or reduce government or make changes, there are people who will fight to resist those changes, and the President certainly understands that.
Nonetheless, he cut down 300 programs and eliminated 100 programs in his last budget. We've already cut 70,000 positions from the government, and we will cut 272,000 at the end of five years at least. There's been other restructuring and streamlining and that doesn't always go easily without a fight. I think he does expect that he's going to get resistance in many corridors when he introduces his new budget. But he believes that that's -- it's time --
Q specifically is he going to get resistance on?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's going to come from a number of quarters, Helen, and, again, I would hate to take all the drama out of it for you.
Q Do you think he might get more resistance from Democrats than from Republicans?
MS. MYERS: No, I'm not suggesting that. I think we have to wait and see. I think you can certainly expect it from both sides in some areas.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EST