THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF EDUCATION, RICHARD RILEY, SECRETARY OF COMMERCE, RON BROWN, AND SECRETARY OF HUD, HENRY CISNEROS The Briefing Room
10:55 A.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good morning, everybody. The President has just concluded his first Cabinet meeting of the year, a very enthusiastic one. And I have three fired-up secretaries here to tell you more about it.
I think I'll call on Secretary Riley first, then Secretary Brown, then Secretary Cisneros will conclude, and they'll be happy to take your questions.
SECRETARY RILEY: Thank you, Mike. We did have a very exciting, positive Cabinet meeting where the President talked about his priorities for '95. And he talked a great deal about, of course, his priority of the moment being the Middle Class Bill of Rights.
I had the good fortune of being with the President yesterday in Galesburg, Illinois, and saw him really having contact with working Americans and saw their reaction to his address and then his conversation with them and see how responsive they were. I think it stimulated the President, and he then pulled us in this morning and gave us our marching orders for moving forward. It's a very exciting time for all of us, especially those of us who are interested in education and training and human improvement for Americans.
The President challenged the people in Galesburg and thereabout not just to say we're going to provide relief in terms of working Americans for tax relief, for other kinds of relief, but we're also challenging you young people and parents to realize that responsibility has to be an important part of your future and the future of this great country. So I think we have our instructions and we're ready to move forward.
SECRETARY BROWN: I would just say it was a very inspiring meeting. The President has a clear sense of direction, a vision about the future. He knows where we need to go and how we're going to get there. We have a plan. We have a strategy. We're going to implement it, and it is going to work.
The one thing that the President was very clear about is that we're not going to allow anything or anyone to undermine the success we've had in getting this economy on track and creating sustained economic growth, and moving towards the creation of highwage, high-quality jobs for the American people. The President is very clear about that. We got our instructions; we got our marching orders. We have a sense of mission and purpose that has been clarified today.
One thing is clear, and that is our approach is going to be a very targeted one. The economy is in good shape. All of the fundamentals are looking good -- economic growth where we want it; no signs of inflation; consumer confidence up; business confidence up; more investment in plant and equipment and research and development, which bodes well for our economic future.
But there is also another fact. And that is, the economic recovery has not yet been felt by all of the American people. And we need to take all the action that we can to make sure that hardworking, middle-income Americans, middle-class Americans feel the results of that economic recovery. And that's why we're committed to a Middle Class Bill of Rights to make sure that those who have not yet benefitted do feel the benefit; to make sure that those who have had stagnant wages and no improvement in their standard of living feel an improvement in their standard of living.
Those are the basic principles that the President has outlined. We are ready, as we have been in the past, to go to work to make sure that that plan is implemented; to make sure that we stay focused and disciplined; to make sure that we keep our eyes on the prize, so to speak -- the prize being to provide economic opportunity for all of the American people.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: One of the important elements of the Middle Class Bill of Rights and of the President's strategy to make the benefits come to all Americans is the restructuring of government and the way it operates. The President this morning gave very clear directions to the Cabinet members, the heads of the departments, and the Vice President spoke on the details of two initiatives that come from this morning's meeting. One of them is the second round of reinvention of government. And the second is the streamlining of the regulatory process within the departments.
On the first point, the second round of reinvention, essentially, what the directions this morning were to have each of the departments go back and begin thinking in dramatically new ways, in effect to break the mold, change the paradigm, and think in ways that may not ever have been possible before within the departments about how change can be made.
I was asked to make a presentation to the Cabinet this morning, because of the process that HUD has recently gone through. We were selected by the Vice President as one of the agencies to go through this process first. And as you know, in that case, it has resulted in the consolidation of some 60 programs to 3, and a dramatic change in public housing by changing the very assumptions about the way the public housing system has worked for 60 years, from a command-and-control bureaucracy to changing it to where we provide certificates to people who will put pressure on the housing authorities themselves all across the country. That's not just small steps, but it's boldly leaping forward into a new way of thinking about the public's business. The President wanted to make it very clear this morning, and the Vice President, that they want all of the departments to engage in a process that will do that.
The second direction given this morning, very clearly by the President, was to change the regulatory processes within the agencies. Really, there were two elements: first, to find alternatives to regulations where possible, to really think about other ways through incentives and other mechanisms to do the governments business besides the top-down regulatory processes. And related to that, to think about -- looking at the regulatory process within the agencies and playing more of a role as Cabinet officers in restraining the bureaucracy from just spewing out regulations at the rate that they have been. These are two very important sets of reinventing initiatives -- changing the government structure and looking at the regulatory process, which are a direct result of the orders given us this morning by the President.
Q A year ago when we heard from people in the administration, we were told that the most important issue facing the American public was health care reform. The President gave a major speech yesterday. He mentioned health care reform in passing. It was not presented as an agenda item. You have not presented it here today. What can you tell us about that, and also why should people think that the President is more -- going to be more able to follow through on this year's strategy than he was on last year's strategy?
SECRETARY BROWN: Well, I think nobody can quarrel or question the President's ability to follow through. We didn't win the health care debate. But nobody --
Q away from it.
SECRETARY BROWN: No. We did not walk away from it. I don't think anybody can claim that the President wasn't a leader in that effort. We were not able to persuade the Congress to take on that issue during the last session of Congress. And I think I -- everyone should be reminded that the whole health care discussion had much to do with our economic future.
One of the things that has been driving the federal deficit has been the cost of health care. So the two are very much related. I would disagree that health care was the primary focus of the administration. The primary focus of the administration was getting this economy on track, creating sustained growth and creating jobs for the American people. And I think the marks on that have to be high. The President showed extraordinary leadership in staying very focused on that issue.
We were very disappointed about our lack of ability to persuade the Congress to take action on health care. That is still an important part of our agenda. It has to be looked at within the context of economic renewal, of welfare reform, of deregulation, of continuing to pursue our national export strategy to create jobs for the American people. But health care has not been forgotten by any means.
Q What about minimum wage? Is the economy right right now for an increase in the minimum wage? And what's your recommendation on that?
SECRETARY BROWN: Well, as you know, it is one of the things that we're looking at, and that is a potential increase in the minimum wage. No decision has been made on that yet, as Chief of Staff Panetta indicated earlier today. But suggestions by some that we ought to eliminate the minimum wage for the American people are just outrageous. It seems to me that that is kind of a throw-back to a century ago where there is little or no concern for the plight of the American workers, particularly at a point in time when wages have been stagnant, when a lot of people have moved in the wrong direction, unable to provide adequate support to their families. But no final decision has been made on this issue of increasing the minimum wage.
Q Do you support it, though?
SECRETARY BROWN: I save that kind of counsel for the President.
Q Secretary Brown, do you think it works at the Democratic National Committee to have two chairmen? And what qualifications would Chris Dodd bring to the leadership of the Committee you once headed?
SECRETARY BROWN: First of all, as far as I know, no final decision has been made --
Q But you had the job before.
SECRETARY BROWN: I think the configuration that I have heard about, I think, would be a very good configuration. I know both Don Fowler and Chris Dodd very well. I've known them for years, have worked with them through the years. I think the configuration would be a good configuration for the party, although the President has not made a final decision as yet.
Q Any comment on possible plans for job change for you, perhaps to the campaign --
SECRETARY BROWN: As I've indicated a number of times before, although no one seems to believe it, I plan to continue as Secretary of Commerce. I love what I'm doing. I think we have -- have had a significant positive impact on the nation's economy and our economic future. I'm going to keep being Secretary of Commerce.
Q Given what we've heard from the Hill about Republicans' ideas for various Cabinet departments, given what the President has suggested in other departments, are you working under the assumption that the Commerce Department would be significantly smaller in the next budget?
SECRETARY BROWN: No, the Commerce Department is already the smallest department in the federal government as far as budget. I would suspect that people who are interested in significant budget cutting would be looking elsewhere. All of our departments, obviously, are looking for ways to be more efficient and more userfriendly, to streamline, but I would not expect the Commerce Department would be a principal focus.
Q You're saying the President is not going to propose any significant changes in your department.
SECRETARY BROWN: Well, you've already seen in the budget presentations, both in the first year and the second year and the ones moving forward to '96 that the inclination has been to focus resources on the Commerce Department since we are the confluence of trade and export promotion and technology and telecommunications, all of which are keys to the nation's economic future.
Q Secretary Brown, as a former DNC Chairman, could you tell us how much all this refocus and reinvention of the administration and the party has to do with the results of the November election? How does it speak to those results?
SECRETARY BROWN: Well, obviously a political party and a president of the United States are always sensitive to the views of the American people. We are clearly sensitive to those views. But I would remind you that many of the things that the Republicans are proposing now were originally proposed by Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential campaign.
Q The public didn't seem to remember that --
SECRETARY BROWN: Well, I think part of our job is to see that they do remember it; to stay focused not only on the future, but on the very significant accomplishments of this administration thus far. Some of the things that were talked about in the 1992 campaign could not be implemented, although most of them were, because after analyzing what the economic situation was in the country at the beginning of President Clinton's term, some of them were not possible, they didn't make sense to do.
We made decisions, the President made decisions, that were the right decisions for the economy. You now have a chance to assess those in terms of the kind of economic growth that they we're experiencing now. And as long as you can pay for it, we believe that middle income tax relief is the way to go.
Q could you all talk about the Mexico situation a little bit?
SECRETARY BROWN: No, we won't. The President will be dealing with that. I would just say, obviously, we're concerned about what's happening in the economy of a neighbor and major trading partner. But those will be issues taken up by the President.
Q How about talks with Japan today, sir -- what do you hope to accomplish there?
SECRETARY BROWN: Well, those are very important, as you know, we have a continuing trade deficit with Japan, over $60 billion. We've said from the beginning of the administration that that is unacceptable. It would be irresponsible for this administration, or any other, to sit on its hands and do nothing in face of a $60 billion and growing trade deficit. But the discussions between the President and Prime Minister go way beyond issues of trade. They're really about our bilateral relationship generally, security issues and many other issues will be primary on the table.
As you know, we are going to re-engage with the auto and auto parts talks this month. I made that announcement a couple of days ago. We think it's very important, because autos and auto parts represent 60 percent of our trade deficit with Japan, and we look forward to making progress in that regard.
Q said today, sir -- the president of Honda rejected calls for direct talks with the private sector -- the president of Honda today rejected your call for direct talks between United States government and Japanese automakers to solve this problem. Can you react to that?
SECRETARY BROWN: Well, we expect to have direct talks with the automakers. We've had some preliminary conversations -- Under Secretary Garten has been in Japan two or three times in the last several months. He went to London at my direction just a week ago to meet with his Japanese counterpart. We think we're going to make progress on these economic issues with Japan.
Q Mike, the secretaries talked about the President's focus and the priorities -- marching orders. Since a lot of these ideas -- how is the President going to change and convince people he now has this vision? One of the complaints reaching him in Galesburg yesterday was editorials saying, we don't know what you stand for. What will change?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think it's very important for the President to continue this conversation that he started with the American people and to keep it up.
I think that one thing we all value is the opportunity over and over again to remind people about both the success and progress we've had in the first two years and how we build on that, use that as a foundation, as we work forward, continue to fight for middle-income families, continue to represent their interests as we do the work of reinventing government, as we build upon some of the relationships that the President sees between both the rights Americans have and their responsibilities.
It's all -- part of this is, it's not rocket science. You need to repeat yourself over and over again to get through some of the clutter that is out there from time to time. And when we do so, as the President successfully did yesterday, you do convince people and you do get the kind of response that we think is both positive and enthusiastic.
Q Mike, you were there -- how would you summarize -- they kept talking -- the secretaries kept talking about marching orders. How would you summarize exactly what the marching order is here?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is very determined to see that this Middle Class Bill of Rights is effectively advocated by his Cabinet, and he's going to -- obviously, if you saw him yesterday, know that he will be in there pitching. He wants his entire team to be in there pitching as well. And he was very clear about that. And the interesting thing, also, I think, as Secretary Cisneros said, is to tie -- to see how that relates, then, and ties into some of the things that the Vice President has been doing with reinventing government.
Those two are directly related, if you think about it, because building on the strength of this economy is a way that we demonstrate we've fought for things that we want to protect and defend from those on Capitol Hill who might have other ideas; and as those on Capitol Hill advocate other ideas that might jeopardize the recovery and jeopardize, frankly, some of the work we're doing in government, we want to be able to come back and make the case we are doing the things that the American people expect of us in terms of streamlining government, focusing government and making it more efficient.
Q How do you effectively advocate those ideas if your own Democrats on Capitol Hill are going off in another direction? I mean, do you plan -- do you expect the Democrats on Capitol Hill are going to be taking those marching orders as well and focusing on the Middle Class Bill of Rights?
MR. MCCURRY: They have given every indication in recent days that they appreciate the President's directness and his candor in his discussions with the American people, and you we them reinforcing that message, and we appreciate that. There's been a lot of --
Q Does the administration have a reaction to Gephardt's still formulating a flat tax proposal of 10 percent or 11 percent --
MR. MCCURRY: We -- very well of our idea of tax relief and we've presented it very clearly, and we're going to continue to press that. I think Representative Gephardt has been very clear -- he was talking in a sense about -- theoretically about flat tax that dates back to his own experience with Senator Bradley advocating tax reform during the 1980s, and I believe I'd really refer that back to Representative Gephardt.
Q Just to be clear, the strategy -- this strategy and the plan of action that Secretary Brown talked about, is that just basically going out and hitting the stump and talking about this?
MR. MCCURRY: We are in a contest to demonstrate against the argument of the Republicans that we have got a better approach. Our approach makes more sense, it's paid for. We believe it's the one that offers the best chance of relief to hard-working families in this country. So we've got to get out and tell that story and, in a sense, campaign for it. And that's exactly what the President and the members of the Cabinet will be doing.
Q Mike, does the new focus and direction include a position on the balanced budget amendment, how you're going to approach that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we've been pretty clear about it in a sense. We understand the direction that the Republican leadership wants to take the Congress on the balanced budget amendment. We just say to them simply as proponents of that idea, as advocates of that idea, you owe it to the American people to explain where you would come up with the money to balance the budget. There is a great deal of anxiety in this country that what the Republicans intend is to take it out of exactly those programs that Americans depend on.
Now, we know we have to do our part to demonstrate that government can work, and that's what reinventing government is about and what the Vice President talked about very, very passionately in the Cabinet meeting today.
Thanks. Sort of a mini-briefing.
Q He's hooked. (Laughter.) You're hooked.
MR. MCCURRY: I like it up here. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END11:15 A.M. EST