THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND DR. HENRY FOSTER, NOMINEE FOR U.S. SURGEON GENERAL The Oval Office
2:10 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Madam Secretary, and let me say it's a pleasure to have Mrs. Foster and Senator Frist, Congressman Clement here.
The Surgeon General of the United States has enormous responsibilities. As the public face of our public health service, he or she really is the people's doctor, the person responsible for promoting good health practices and alerting the nation when health threats exist.
To fill this post, I wanted someone who is both a topflight medical professional and a strong leader and effective communicator. Dr. Henry Foster is such a person. And I am pleased today to announce my intention to nominate him as the Surgeon General of the United States.
He is widely respected in the world of medicine and science. After serving his country for two years as an Air Force medical officer, he became Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Andrew Memorial Hospital at Tuskegee University.
For the past 21 years, he has worked at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. As the Dean of the School of Medicine and its acting president, he helped Meharry to lead the way to meeting the health needs of the poor and the underserved. At the moment, he is a visiting senior scholar at the Association of Academic Health Centers here in Washington.
In the communities he's served, Dr. Foster has won hearts and minds for his innovation and his dedication to saving the lives of young people and vulnerable people. He's received numerous honors for his work in obstetrics and dealing with sickle cell anemia and, very notably, in the prevention of teen pregnancy.
He has shown us how one person can make a difference. Eight years ago he developed and directed the "I Have a Future" program at Meharry to help stop teen pregnancy. It has been an unqualified success. Working with young people that others might think beyond help, he built up their self-esteem. He taught them job skills. He encouraged them to stay in school. Most important, he told them to be responsible for themselves. Thanks to Dr. Foster, these young people have a chance to live a good, full life.
I want Dr. Foster to use what he's learned to help America attack the epidemic of teen pregnancies and unmarried pregnancies. We know government can only do so much. So large a part of Dr. Foster's job obviously will be to use his enormous skills of persuasion to reach out to people in the private sector -- in the religious, education, entertainment, sports and other communities in this country.
As I said in the State of the Union, when I challenged all sectors of our society to help us deal with these problems that must be dealt with one by one, we have to have help everywhere. I am convinced Dr. Foster is the person to galvanize this help and lead this charge. We want everyone to do their part to find the solution to this problem.
I want Dr. Foster now to say a few words, but as I introduce him, I want to thank him for taking on a task in public service at a time when public service sometimes has prices that are clearer than rewards. I thank him for his willingness to serve, to try to make a difference in the health care of the people of this country, and especially to try to make a difference in the future of the people of this country.
I thank his friends and colleagues for supporting him, the marvelous letter we received from Donna Shalala's predecessor, Dr. Lou Sullivan, the letter we received from the head of the American Medical Association; and, of course, the support you have from your congressman, Bob Clement, and from Senator Frist who just told me that he was the first doctor elected to the United States Senate since before the Depression.
So I would say it is time. Now, I'm going to try to keep for feeling so poorly. I need his help in any way other than a legislative sense.
Dr. Foster, the podium is yours.
Dr. FOSTER: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very kindly.
First, I wish to express my appreciation to you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to work on behalf of the American people. In many ways, health care in America is a paradox. We hold some of the world's greatest expertise in health and health interventions. People come from around the globe to be the beneficiaries of this care. Yet, in terms of health care outcomes, we don't do nearly as well as we should as a nation.
In my view, you can judge the character of a nation by the manner in which it deals with its children and the elderly. There is nothing more stifling than a compromised beginning. We must assure healthier starts for our children.
Another of my special concerns is the epidemic of adolescent pregnancies. We have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Western world; that is twice that of the next highest nation. Moreover, be assured, this is a problem that cuts across all socioeconomic strata. There are, however, demonstrated ways that this problem can be mitigated. It takes commitment and lots of hard work, but it can be done.
As you have heard, the "I Have a Future" program is making a difference in Nashville, because it has brought together a concerned community that's willing to put into the time and effort that it takes to treat the multiple problems and antecedents of teenage pregnancy.
As your Surgeon General, this will be among my highest priorities. I will also put tremendous emphasis on other pressing health issues for which prevention can be very effective -- such issues as AIDS and tobacco consumption, especially by our children.
In closing, let me say to you, President Clinton, Secretary Shalala, Assistant Secretary for Health Lee and all of those with whom I will be working, I know, that together we can demystify and confront the root causes of teen pregnancy, low birthweight, illicit drug use and the myriad of other issues which we will grapple with in the coming years.
Lastly, I wish to say again, thanks to my wife, St. Clair, my daughter, Myrna and my son Wendell, who have supported me so stoutly in all of my professional and personal endeavors.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: You just hit the high point. Now you have to answer questions. (Laughter.)
Q Dr. Foster, do you think that at the -- your programs about teen pregnancy in Nashville can be applied on a national scale?
DR. FOSTER: I certainly do, and there have been efforts already to replicate the program; there is no doubt about it. It can be --
Q I hear a lot about personal commitment, but I don't hear anything about official commitment.
Mr. President, does your plan to combat teen pregnancy carry any new money with it? How do you intend to do that, or is it going to be primarily by the private sector?
THE PRESIDENT: We have a whole plan we've been working on for months, and Dr. Foster and I are going to get together and go over the outlines that we had worked on before he agreed to come on, and we will finalize that. I expect we'll be announcing it sometime in the very near future, and we'll talk about then how we intend to do it.
Q Will it take more federal money?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the main thing we have to do is to galvanize the resources that are there now, spend the money that's there now better, and get -- I have been led to believe by many people all across this country that there will be an enormous amount of support for this effort in the private sector if they have confidence that it's a serious, disciplined, organized effort that is likely to work.
I might let Dr. Foster say more about that.
DR. FOSTER: No, the only thing I would add that didn't come out -- we are going to also utilize greatly the volunteer efforts. There is an emerging middle and upper black class that's doing everything now to give back. This has only developed among African Americans since World War II. And I'm surely certain that the same sort of emergence is occurring with Hispanics and other ethnic groups in this country.
Q Mr. President, does he have same license to be as outspoken and blunt as Dr. Elders did, or some areas -- did you caution him that there are some areas that he shouldn't be talking about?
DR. FOSTER: No comment. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I can't do better than that. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, some conservatives have already said that they plan to oppose your nomination because of Dr. Foster's support for distribution of contraceptive devices in public schools and his stand on abortion. Do you anticipate a problem -- this confirmation?
THE PRESIDENT: No. I'll tell you, the policy of the administration is that we should have appropriate education policies in schools, that we should encourage abstinence among our young people, that the question of contraception is one that should be resolved at the local level involving all sectors of the local community. There is no national policy on that, and there will not be.
In terms of the other issues that could be raised, I am confident that thoughtful conservatives will have the same view of Dr. Foster as Senator Frist does when they have the same opportunity to review his whole record. I think that we got an endorsement from the head of the American Medical Association already and from President Bush's HHS Director, Dr. Sullivan, who went to medical school with Dr. Foster, and I think there will be many others coming forward. So I feel good about it.
Q Mr. President, the budget that is going to be released on Monday, are you calling for a smaller deficit decrease than you had originally hoped for?
THE PRESIDENT: A smaller deficit --
Q Are you efforts to decrease the deficit --
THE PRESIDENT: Our efforts to decrease the deficit -- let me say this -- I'm calling for twice as much in budget cuts as I am for the cost of the Middle Class Bill of Rights, the tax relief for the middle class. So my tax cuts are paid for, and there is further deficit reduction in our budget. And we will keep a tight rein on the budget deficit.
The one thing that we have no control over in the budget deficit is the impact of higher interest rates on the deficit. The American people should know that whenever interest rates are raised by the Fed, among other things the cost of carrying the nation's debt goes up. So we can't do anything about that. And in that sense, the deficit will not go down as much as I had hoped, because the interest rates have gone up. You can't overcompensate for that; there's nothing to be done about it.
But we're doing a better job in controlling inflation and health care than I thought we would a year or so ago -- the whole country is. I don't mean just the government; the people in health care and the people in business are working harder on it. We have a lot of budget cuts that are very important and significant in this budget, and I'm looking forward to working with Congress to see how we can do even better. And I think that I'm encouraged by what they said, that they want to pay for their tax cuts. So I think that this -- when I submit the budget, I think it'll be the beginning of a very positive thing; I don't have bad feelings about it.
Q What's your reaction to China saying that your human rights report is indiscreet and meddling in their own affairs?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's always been their view, and we disagree. I mean, we believe there are international standards for human rights. The Human Rights Assistant Secretary is charged by law with submitting a report every year. All he did was fulfill his legal responsibility to tell the truth as he saw it, and I support what he did. I think Mr. Shattuck's done a good job, and I think it's a very -- it's by far, by the way, the most comprehensive report ever filed by the State Department on human rights, and it covers far more than China. China was not singled out; we evaluated every country in every part of the globe with any issue in this regard.
Thank you very much.
Q How are the baseball talks going? Have you gotten feedback?
THE PRESIDENT: We just -- we're in it. That's all I can say. Not up, not down -- we're in it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:24 P.M. EST