THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:09 P.M. EST
Q What's in the speech, and can we have an advance text?
Q And can we have it now?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's start right in. The advance text to the President's State of the Union speech will be available sometime tomorrow before the speech. (Laughter.) Any other questions about that?
Q How far -- how much before the speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's been working throughout the weekend and even today -- in fact, right now -- on his State of the Union speech and polishing it and preparing it for the American people and for members of Congress. I suspect he'll work on it throughout the day tomorrow. We, of course, will provide you as much information about the speech as early as we reasonably can.
Q Has he made all the decisions for it?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he has made decisions related to items he will cover in the speech. He's also prepared -- the administration has been working on a very large agenda for the coming year that relates to thematic material that the President will cover in the speech. So I believe that, as I've told many of you already, the President's speech will be a good opportunity for him to lay the premise, in a sense the vision, for his leadership, and to describe in some detail the types of initiatives that he would see accomplishing that vision.
Q Has the President made a decision on minimum wage increases yet?
MR. MCCURRY: The President received recommendations from his economic advisors over the weekend on the minimum wage. I believe he has a very firm idea of how he is going to proceed, and he will say so publicly at the appropriate time.
Q May we take it that those recommendations were unanimous?
MR. MCCURRY: The recommendations, as they often are after a good discussion amongst advisors, represented a consensus on the best way to address certain issues that are related to a possible increase in the minimum wage.
Q Do you expect him to speak about this tomorrow? Is that an appropriate forum?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to suggest that he will or will not address that item tomorrow night. I think that will be up to the President.
Q So it is possible that he may choose some other forum to discuss the minimum wage?
MR. MCCURRY: That's possible. (Laughter.)
Q That's very helpful. Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q What decision, if any, has the President made on this matter then?
MR. MCCURRY: That's -- Doyle is trying to squeeze the hard news out there. Thank you, Doyle. Next question. (Laughter.)
Q It worked well. (Laughter.)
Q Is there any news in this?
Q Is possibly the reason that he's shying away from the idea of talking specifically about the minimum wage is he's afraid it's going to overshadow the rest of his speech?
MR. MCCURRY: As you've heard many in the administration talk about the minimum wage, the erosion in the value of the minimum wage over the last 30 years, it fits with a consistent theme that this President has articulated, that working families and those who work hard for a living need to get a break. And I think in that context, in the larger context, it might be an opportunity to address the issue. But I -- again, we'll have to wait and see how the President chooses to address publicly that issue.
Q Mike, what would be the rationale for proposing the minimum wage hike now that Republicans control Congress when it wasn't proposed in his first two years when Democrats controlled Congress and it might have had a better chance to pass?
MR. MCCURRY: The administration in the first two years did address issues that relate very directly to the incomes of those who are working at minimum wage levels through the earned incomes tax credit, as you know, and that case has been laid out. The principal argument, to answer your question, for addressing this issue is that the value of the wage itself over time has eroded so that those today who work at an minimum wage salary don't make as much as they did, say, back in 1955. You have to go back that far to reach the same real level of the wage. So it has eroded over time and, as a matter of fairness, that needs to be addressed.
Q How much is the erosion in the value of the minimum wage been offset by the earned income tax credit?
MR. MCCURRY: Brit, I don't know the answer to that. I can try to get that.
Q Has anybody reported that to the President? Is that included in the recommendation, or has anyone even thought about that?
MR. MCCURRY: That issue was addressed in some of the background material that went to the President. I, frankly, just don't recall myself what the value -- how the value is offset by the earned income tax credit.
Q Are there political risks also to a minimum wage increase?
MR. MCCURRY: Are there political risks? Well, there will be those who oppose it. Anytime a minimum wage increase has been proposed in the past, there are many who will come out and make a very vigorous argument against it. And there are also, in that context, a lot of people who assess the macroeconomic impact of a wage increase positively or negatively, and it becomes part of the debate.
But as with any decision where you're trying to do something to fight for working families, there are those who will oppose it and those that need to be answered in the context of that type of debate.
Q A lot of people have weighed in with their thoughts on what the stakes are for the President tomorrow night. What does he view the stakes for his presidency as? We know he went to the DLC a couple months ago, and that was supposedly the starting over speech. Is this in that category, or does he see it as less than that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was often a temptation to label major speeches by the President of the United States make-or-break speeches. I don't believe President Clinton views this State of the Union address in that fashion. I believe he sees it as, again, another opportunity for him to outline in a very direct way to the American people and to our Congress the type of leadership that he believes will get us to the vision of America that he has effectively described.
Q Is this a new vision of America?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, in fact, it's very fundamental in some ways. It goes back to exactly those things the President addressed when he declared his candidacy for the presidency during the course of the 1992 campaign, themes that he has articulated since then, programs, initiatives, achievements of the administration that he is proud of over our first two years in office. In a sense, what he will outline tomorrow is a case that builds upon the work that he has done for the last two years and that carries forward into the next two years and beyond.
Q Does he feel he got away from the message that he articulated during the campaign? Until the last month we hadn't heard New Covenant since the campaign.
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it would be true to say the President feels that in an effective way he's been presenting his message in recent appearances publicly. I think he was very satisfied that his message got through to those Democrats who were gathered at the Democratic National Committee meeting on Saturday, and he looks forward to continuing that type of public advocacy of the leadership that he has offered as President in the weeks ahead.
Q What did the President mean this morning when he said he wanted a government that was less elitist?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he wants a government that more fairly reflects the interests of average working families in this country -- the people who get up every day, they go to work, they pay their bills on time, they pay their taxes, and they expect their government to help get them a fair shake, in a changing world economy, a changing environment that we live in.
And I think that is the type of message you'll hear from the President tomorrow night -- one that talks about a strong economy that can raise incomes for working families, a new reinvented government that's leaner, more effective and less costly to the taxpayer, and then, as you've said, Wolf, the community of citizenship that is defined by the phrase "New Covenant" that the President has used fairly frequently in recent speeches.
Q Has he ever before described the government as too elitist?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with each and every time the President has addressed the government. I recall, as I think back to the speech he gave when he was running for president at Georgetown, certainly in his description of the way government works and the way government addresses problems of average working folks, he -- in describing the concept of reciprocal responsibility, which is sort of the philosophical premise behind the New Covenant, there is an assumption there that people are going to offer something back as part of this community that he envisions.
Now, that maybe is different from what some elitists might view as the role government should play. Elitist is hard to define, obviously.
Q Elitist is hard to define. I just wonder when finding insight overtook him, that he decided after two years as President that government was too elitist.
MR. MCCURRY: I think you may be taking some shorthand liberty with what he thinks, but he has thought deeply about the role government can play and the role citizens together can play in improving their country. And I think, again, his stress will be on those folks who feel like they are not getting a fair shot from their government and deserve better.
Q Mike, if there is any concern that proposing a minimum wage increase could overshadow his speech tomorrow night, why not just announce it today and get it out of the way?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- I'm fairly confident that the President's speech tomorrow night is going to have so many interesting aspects to it that that wouldn't, in any event, define the speech.
Q Is it possible that he might announce the middleincome tax initiative taking effect sooner than he originally proposed in December?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that at this point.
Q Mike, the President spent much of last year talking about health care reform in forums such as tomorrow night. Will he discuss his plans for health care reform in '95 in his speech?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect he will. And I suspect, similar to the way he did Saturday, he will make the point that, absent health care reform, there are millions of Americans who continue to face that risk of lack of coverage.
Q Mike, what's the status of the Mexican financial stabilization plan? Dole said yesterday that were a vote taken at that point it would fail in the Senate. Is that your reading? And when is it going to come to a vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is not a legislative package at this point to take a vote upon, so it's hard to imagine that happening. That's exactly where the administration is concentrating its work. We're working very closely with the congressional leadership to create the legislation that would allow the economic support package for Mexico to move forward. Those discussions are going very, very well, and we are hoping that a legislative vehicle can be finalized by the end of the week.
Q Do you have any more on -- you said this morning you were looking into the Novak article on the conversations the Mexican Foreign Minister may or may not have had.
MR. MCCURRY: Most of the article itself references conversations with Republican members, and I haven't been able to find out exactly what detailed conversations we've had with the Mexican government. Certainly, Treasury can address in greater detail some of the work that they've been doing. There have been conversations ongoing. There's, obviously, between here and Mexico City, very high-level communications about the status of the package, and the expressions of our concerns that are reflected in some of the so-called "conditions" that have been suggested as part of the overall package. So those discussions continue; they're not just confined to the Foreign Minister or the Finance Ministry itself.
Q Mike, do you know if any of the participants in today's pro-life march requested a meeting with the President? And if so, do you know if he agreed or disagreed to such a meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Participants in the pro-life marches today? I would imagine, given the number that are here, that someone, somewhere along the way requested a meeting, but I don't have any details about it.
Q Do you know if the President has any meetings or discussions on that topic today?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President has a statement that was read by Secretary Shalala reflecting his viewpoints, condemning recent violence, among other things, and also reflecting his overall sense that abortions, when they occur, should be safe, legal and, of course, rare, as he has said often.
I believe that that statement, which was made on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, was his opportunity to address the issue. He clearly, in working on his State of the Union address, will have an opportunity to stress the larger questions of health care, privacy rights, freedom of choice that you'd expect him to address maybe tomorrow night.
Q Mike, what is your answer to the critics of the peso bailout, so to speak, or cosigning? They're saying that the United States is more willing to help people abroad than they are here; they ought to help the people at home first. What do you say to that?
MR. MCCURRY: The strongest argument we can make, the actual case that some cite is Orange County, California, where we've got a system of bankruptcy laws in the United States that protect those, that can deal with situations like that. We don't have the similar types of legislative protections when it comes to the insolvency -- potential insolvency of a major neighbor of ours, and major economy with which we need to do business in order to keep jobs and livelihoods going here in the United States. So the surest, best argument in retort to that type of criticism is that this type of support package which helps Mexico weather this bump in the road is in the manifest national interest of the United States because it is, after all, American workers, American jobs that are on the line should Mexico's economy suffer that type of insolvency.
Q One of the objections that was raised last week by some who are opposed to this package in its present form or what they fear will be its form, is that they don't think it goes far enough, or may not go far enough to establish in a way that's satisfactory the independence of the Mexican Central Bank, they want it performed along the lines of the Fed -- I'm sure you've heard about this.
The Treasury Department sent some peculiar signals last week by saying, well, the Mexican Central Bank is independent, which is, I guess a term of art. How far do you sense the administration is willing to go to try, in terms of this package, to require the Mexicans, as a condition of getting these loan guarantees to reform the management of their Central Bank?
MR. MCCURRY: Brit, I don't want to speculate on what types of specific conditions might be drafted in connection with the package not being developed on the Hill. We have had good conversations with the government of Mexico about economic liberalization, about their progress towards political reform --those types of -- the role that the Central Bank plays in the economic progress that Mexico is making would be reflected in some of those conversations. But I don't think it would be wise for me to try to identify specifics in listing the conditions that might be attached now to the support package as it's being developed.
Q Because the bargaining continues, or because it's inappropriate, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the discussions continue and at some point they will come out with a measure that is public and easy for all to analyze.
Q What about the argument that the financial markets are already adjusting for this situation, and that the only thing the government can do is get in the way at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are and they are not adjusting. I mean, they measure a variety of external stimuli, including, unfortunately, things that I might say here. So that's why we do have to be fairly careful in suggesting what kind of package might be developed, what type of defined roles there are for economic institutions within Mexico, and what the likelihood of passage would be.
We say over and over and over again, we'll continue to say, we think we have got a good handle on how to deal with this crisis. We've got good strong bipartisan support on the Hill. We're working closely with the congressional leadership to craft the necessary legislation, and we believe that that will be introduced and passed quickly so we can move beyond this temporary crisis.
Q Mike, Congressman Fazio said this morning he hopes to get a majority of Democrats in the House for this measure, but he hasn't got it yet. Has the President spent any time in the last few days, or is he spending time in the next few meeting with, phoning Democratic members of the House?
MR. MCCURRY: We, the White House has been working very closely with the congressional leadership doing what they have asked of us as we fashion a package that can, in fact, get the majority of support on the Hill. And we'll continue to do that and I suspect that if the leadership calls upon the President to do specific things, the President will certainly entertain those requests.
Q Has the President personally been involved in what appears to be a change in the policy in Bosnia with more -- allowing Serbs more direct participation in talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has been fully briefed on some of the discussions that are being held by the Contact Group and Contact Group representatives, specifically, our U.S. representative to the Contact Group, Ambassador Charles Thomas. It is not a new development that U.S. diplomats meet with the Bosnian Serbs in Pale. Ambassador Redman shortly before the end of the year did so just prior to former President Carter's visit to Sarajevo. So, in a sense, that does not represent something new. But it does reflect what the Contact Group agreed to when the foreign ministers of the Contact Group met in December to do everything possible to reinvigorate the diplomacy to bring this terrible and tragic conflict to an end.
Q Has the Ambassador been recalled as I read in The New York Times?
MR. MCCURRY: He is -- I understand that they've addressed that at some length this morning over at the State Department. He is back for consultations. Beyond that, I think that over at the State Department they may be able to deal with that today.
Q No change in policy at all in terms of Bosnia and the more direct contact?
MR. MCCURRY: There is no change in the policy. The policy is directed at a reinvigorated effort diplomatically to bring that difficult conflict to an end through a peace settlement that uses as a basis for discussions the Contact Group proposal of last July issued in Geneva.
Q Do you expect any kind of change in the dynamic over there with the departure of General Rose? Are you expecting a different attitude from his successor?
MR. MCCURRY: That is not easy to answer. It is believed that UNPROFOR will continue to operate along the lines of the mandate that has been outlined for it by the Security Council, and that's reflected in its military leadership. And the change in commander, we feel, will not likely result in any substantial change in the short-term in the way that UNPROFOR carries out its mandate.
Q Wasn't one of the problems that you had that General Rose interpreted that mandate in his own way?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he interpreted it in consultation with other military leaders and with the U.N. Security Council and with military leadership of NATO. How that will change or how it might change with the change of command is not clear.
Q Where are we on personnel, some personnel announcements -- CIA?
MR. MCCURRY: I stand by what I reported last week -- they will be coming in a matter of days.
MR. MCCURRY: Matter of days.
Q soon it becomes a matter of week.
MR. MCCURRY: A matter of days.
Q Are two Bush former security advisors on the list? Lilly and Gregg?
MR. MCCURRY: Say what? (Laughter.)
Q He's good at covert activity.
MR. MCCURRY: I think -- these personnel matters, as I reported to you, the President's been moving through them in a very precise way and a disciplined way, and they're coming to a head very quickly -- although I would suspect that that news might push out beyond the State of the Union address.
Q Will President Clinton -- will he discuss the Mexico situation in his address tomorrow night?
MR. MCCURRY: Given its importance, and given the importance that the public understand exactly how the loan guarantees work, I don't think he will belabor the point, but I think he'll certainly talk about the importance of it and highlight it. It's a good opportunity in front of that kind of audience to address it.
Q There's been a number of calls for collateralization of the loan possibly with Mexico's oil industry. Are you willing to consider that as a possibility, or would you rule it out?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we would, as the Treasury Secretary said here on Friday -- was it Friday? -- Secretary Rubin indicated we would consider that very seriously on Friday.
Q Back on health care for a moment. You said it would be addressed somehow tomorrow night. Can we expect that whatever plan will be to be laid out at this time?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that -- I don't think it would be accurate to call it a plan. I think the issue itself will be addressed. The President feels very strongly about it, continues to feel strongly about it. And I think he will touch on it in the context of those things that are certainly on his agenda as he looks ahead.
Q A broad brush or specifics?
MR. MCCURRY: I would not suggest that in that type of address you would do a full explication of a health care plan.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:31 P.M. EST