THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL CHAIR DR. LAURA TYSON AND DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT JOHN EMERSON
The Briefing Room
2:40 P.M. EST
DR. TYSON: This is a briefing on the upcoming Southern Economic Conference that will be held next Wednesday in Atlanta, Georgia. Just as a matter of background, you will remember --perhaps some of you were there -- on December 14th and 15th, 1992, thenPresident -Elect Clinton convened a national economic conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. I remember it very well; it happened about two days after I had been named as CEA Chair, and it was a wonderful, world-wind experience.
It was an amazing set of conversations, for those of you who watched or those of you who were there. This was a very serious set of discussions by which the President-Elect, now the President, began the process of focusing his administration on the major economic issues confronting the nation.
At that time, the President and the Vice President were joined by their major Cabinet appointees and 329 of the nation's top economists, labor leaders, corporate executives, academicians, small business owners, and other working Americans. And the discussion really was very important to discussions we then had within the administration in the first three months of the administration, putting together the very tough budget choices that we made that ultimately became our economic plan.
If you look at the progress in the economy since that time, the progress has been, as I've said many times in this briefing room, very outstanding progress in terms of cutting the deficit in half as a share of the economy; in terms of six million new jobs created, 93 percent of them in the private sector; in terms of the best combination of growth and inflation performance -- that is robust growth with modest inflation performance -- that the economy has seen in a generation.
But almost every time, if not every time, I have come to this briefing room with my colleagues we've also emphasized that there are long-term problems that confront the economy, that continue to confront the economy, and particularly problems that show up in the form of pressure on working families, on their incomes, and on their employment prospects.
There are no easy answers to these long-term structural problems. And we've emphasized that. The President wants to continue his dialogue this time at a regional level, going to several regions of the country, and talking again to a group of corporate leaders, small business leaders, academics, economists, and particularly working families about these structural problems and to try to learn what's working, what isn't working, what more we can do. So that's really the basic point of this set of conferences.
The first one will be held in Atlanta. And that's a fitting place to begin because the President, of course, was a hands- on governor at a southern state. He worked -- for example, in 1986, he was the chair of a commission on the future of the South, which looked at some of the economic opportunities and challenges confronting the South. And it is appropriate to begin this set of discussions to learn more about what can be done for working families in the South where the President first began thinking about these problems a good, long time ago.
Now, with that as an introduction, let me turn over to John Emerson, who has been taking on the lion's share of the very big responsibility of putting together the sessions, who will be attending and sort of laying out for all of us what it is that we will try to discuss and learn from in our discussions with the attendance at the conference.
MR. EMERSON: Thanks, Laura.
Another aspect of this is it's -- the President's going to spend a couple of days in the South, and I think he wants to begin spending more extended time in different regions of the country rather than doing these quick pop in and out trips. And this is also an example of that.
The conference itself, which is built around the theme of making the economy work better for working families, is structured somewhat like the conference we had in Little Rock a little over two years ago, with one principal difference, and that is that we also have working folks who will be part of the panels and part of the discussions.
The structure will be four roundtable discussions preceded by some opening remarks by the President, an overview of the national economy by Secretary Rubin, and then an overview of the regional economy by Donald Ratajczak, who is an economist based in Georgia who will kind of give a presentation of what's been happening in the region. Ratajczak has been sometime a critic and sometime applauding this administration. So it will be a very straightforward presentation.
We then will move to the first panel discussion, which will be a focus on the regional economy in the South. We'll have people around the table. The President and the Vice President, by the way, will participate in all four of the panels. There will be administration officials, Cabinet members, who will participate in one each of the panels, depending upon their principal area of expertise or responsibility. And the non-administration panelists will change with each panel.
So the first one will be people like Hugh McColl of NationsBank, others who have -- would have something to say about the economy throughout the region of the southern states. And the second panel will focus on the strains on working families in the new economy. We'll have some experts who can speak to that. We'll have some people who are involved in companies that have had a lot of experience with needs of child care for workers, that kind of thing. And we'll also have some working folks around the table to talk about that.
That will be an opportunity to get into issues such as the pressure on wages, EITC, the need for child care, family leave, health care for children, what happens to you when you lose your job and you have to find another job, those kinds of things.
The third panel will be innovations in education and training. Secretaries Riley and Reich, for instance, would be joining for that panel discussion. There will be educators. There will be people who are actively involved in job training, school-to- work, that kind of thing. Again, both from the business side, from the education and training side, and from the consumer side, if you will, of some of these things.
And finally, the fourth panel, which will bring us back to a little bit more of a macro message, will be focusing on investing and sustaining growth and job creation. And in that panel we'll get into a lot of things like empowerment zones, reinventing government, how that has made a real difference, investments in technology, that sort of thing. So the fourth panel, by the way, will be moderated by the Vice President. The first three panels will be moderated by the President.
The sessions are geared to go about 90 minutes. We've got breaks in between. And the entire session will go from 9:00 a.m. in the morning until probably 4:00 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. in the afternoon. So it's going to be a long day.
Q Is there any prospect that serious change in the administration's economic policies could emerge from this session, these sessions?
DR. TYSON: Look, I think that you -- this is really a set of conversations and discussions. It's not intended to be a meeting from which there would be a communique, a change in policy --
Q Well, what is the purpose of it?
DR. TYSON: I think I tried to explain the purpose of it, but let me try to explain it again.
Q Are you saying this administration is in need of further conversations about the economy?
DR. TYSON: I think that, look, as I said, the economy has long-term structural issues. Nobody quite knows -- has a solution to those issues. I think that we should be discussing them all the time. I mean, until we can figure out as a nation how to handle the problem of rising prosperity, a very sound economy, and at the same time having stagnant incomes for middle income American families, we should keep discussing it.
Q Well, is there anything about that that you really don't think -- you think you don't know?
DR. TYSON: Yes, I think -- there are obviously things that I don't know or others don't know because if we knew everything we could solve the problems.
Q Well, maybe -- maybe that's so, but everything you've talked about as an item to be discussed at each of those things already relates to an aspect for which the administration has a policy. I mean, is this an echo chamber?
DR. TYSON: First of all, I also said that what we were going to look for is what works, what doesn't work, what else could be done, what could be done better. So I think that we have -- yes, it is certainly true we have defined the problem of the U.S. economy to be one which includes the problems of rising incomes broadly shared. That is how we've defined the problem. We've been very forthright about that all the time. We've been very forthright about the fact that that remains a problem. We are trying a variety of things to address that problem. We need to continue to learn about what works, what doesn't work, what else could be done.
But that conversation that we think is important to continue will not at any given meeting necessarily lead to any change in policy. But I think it will lead to the information base we have over time to make adjustments in terms of how we think.
MR. EMERSON: There's nothing wrong with the President of the United States going to a particular region to see firsthand how his policies are impacting people in their lives.
DR. TYSON: Not only nothing wrong, but I would say it's actually what a President should do. A President should go out and talking to working families about the policies he has put in place to see what is working and what isn't working and what more should be done. That is not only an appropriate role for the president, but that is a role a President should play.
Q What have you done to guarantee that the President will hear what is not working, and that it won't be a series of speeches similar, with all due permission to your speeches out here, about how well you're doing?
MR. EMERSON: Well, I think again that basically the guest list, people who are coming here, is first and foremost, folks who participated in the Little Rock economic conference who are from the region of the South. We have not systematically kept in touch with these people over two years. I mean, there may be some who have some very good things to say. There may be some who have some bad things to say. I mean, we don't know.
But I mean it's not -- it is -- so you have that group that we're bringing people in. We're also to the extent there are certain industries or sectors of the economy that aren't represented because some people couldn't make or as you break down and look at that region, perhaps there were sectors that were omitted from Little Rock from the South, we've sought to supplement that. And then again, having the working people around there, I think it will be a pretty frank and candid discussion.
DR. TYSON: Can I say also on that issue, as John mentioned, not everyone we've invited -- I mean, we've invited a diverse group of people. We have not talked to each of these people about what they are coming to say. So -- and we've tried to be very objective. The person who's giving the regional economic overview is probably -- is widely regarded to be the best sort of economic forecaster and economic analyst of the southern economy. And as John said, he has written things which agree with our policy, and he's written things which disagree with our policy. But certainly in terms of giving one a sense of what the challenges and opportunities are in the southern region, that will be a very objective analysis.
So I think that we really are trying to get feedback. Again, if you go back to the original summit, or the original economic conference in Little Rock, and you listen to the conversations, there were lots of different viewpoints there.
And finally what I would want to say is that we are, in a sense, taking focus on thing that are problems, things that are not working because of the focus of American families who do feel that they continue to confront major problems of dislocation, of wages which are not rising or rising at a disappointing rate -- child care, health care, a whole constellation of issues, which have meant that even when the U.S. economy is performing at a macro level at its best in a generation, many Americans feel worse or feel concerned or insecure about there futures. And that is a serious issue.
Q If you heard advice that you shouldn't be cutting taxes now and you should cut the deficit more, would you seriously consider that?
DR. TYSON: I think we are open to all suggestions at this point from the participants. We will make our case. We will listen to what they have to say. We have made our case and will make our case in terms of why we have come to where we have come in terms of the balance that we've tried to strike between taxes, deficit reduction and expanding investment programs in education, for example. But certainly I anticipate that we'll hear differing points of view about many things at this conference.
Q Mr. Emerson, aside from those who attended the Little Rock conference, how are they people being selected for this meeting, and who is paying for them to get there?
MR. EMERSON: First of all, the people who came to Little Rock -- to the extent we have, as I said, kind of gaps in important sectors in the economy in the South, we've reached out to determine who would best represent those sectors and -- from a variety of sources. Obviously, because we're going to Atlanta, there are a couple of folks who, for instance, weren't at Little Rock, that if you're going to go and have an economic conference in Atlanta you ought to have those folks. That includes the chairman of Delta Airlines, for instance; that includes Ted Turner as another example. And then, thirdly, in terms of the working people, basically Departments of Education and Labor in particular have had -- because the most heavy representation there is -- also the SBA -- the most heavy representation there is going to be on panels two and three -- they kind of came up with a wide variety of names that we've been looking to. So, basically, those are the ways --
Q And who's paying for their travel --
MR. EMERSON: Oh, in terms -- people are paying for their own way there. One thing we will deal with, there will be some kind of, I think, a scholarship to deal with folks if they are working people who can't afford to get there. It's a cosponsored conference by Emory University and by the Commerce Department; so that's who is paying for it.
Let me just also mention the Cabinet members who are participating are either the day before or the day after going to go to a different state in the region and do some things there that also are focusing on these issues. So, actually, it's going to have more than just bringing everybody into Atlanta for one day for this conference.
Q Do you know yet what other regions are going to be involved in the other three conferences, and what the time line is? That is, is it all going to be done this year?
MR. EMERSON: Oh, yes. We're going to try to get this all done, I think, by the fall. We're looking every six to eight weeks to do another one. The regions are the West, the Midwest, and the Northeast. And in terms of particular states, we have not yet decided on that. We have kind of an idea, but let's get this one done.
Q California, perhaps?
MR. EMERSON: Well, there's an argument both ways. California has the west and there are obviously a lot of states that would be encompassed in that. And if you do it in California it may kind of -- it may overwhelm some of the issues in the Rocky Mountain West. So we're actually trying to think about that. It's not as obvious a question as you would think.
Q And the Iowa conference is separate from these?
MR. EMERSON: Rural conference?
MR. EMERSON: Yes, the rural conference is separate, although, obviously, doing an economic conference in the South, there is going to be farmer participants and people who can talk about the rural development issues as well.
Q Dr. Tyson, do you expect that one of the problems you'll discuss will be the widening trade deficit and the threat that that could pose for continued job creation?
DR. TYSON: Well, I think we will be discussing the trade issue both in terms of the job opportunities that have been created by the growth of exports from the South. The South has become an important high technology center. The South has become an important source of foreign direct investment, and that foreign direct investment is shifting, is resulting in more southern interest outward to the rest of the world. But I think at the same time the South is a region of the country and has been a region of the country where some labor-intensive industries have in fact been impacted by imports before yesterday's trade numbers.
So that was always going to be part of the discussion. And I expect again it'll be both the opportunities and the challenge of globalization and the dislocations of globalization and what people need to do in terms of skill acquisition and education and training to make adjustments to the changing global economy.
Q What about the impact that the trade deficit could have on the dollar? Do you think you'll talk about that?
DR. TYSON: Well, if anyone talks about the dollar at the conference, of course, it will be the Secretary of the Treasury.
Q Dr. Tyson, as you know, the President has yet to get very much credit from the voters or from the population for the economy. Is this in any -- do you think this might change the view, at least in the southern region, make them think that maybe he is responsible for what they haven't given him credit for?
DR. TYSON: Look, I have no idea what the -- if this would change that view or not. What I said here, I think, a couple days ago, I'll just say again, I think that it is going to be easier in some sense for the administration to define itself clearly to the American people in terms of what it is striving to achieve in the economy and how it is striving to achieve it, because we now have a contrast that will be in the minds, I assume, of the participants who come to the meeting. Some thinking that the contrast works to our advantage and some perhaps thinking that the contrast works to our disadvantage. But a clear contrast which will, I think, allow us to delineate and define our policies very clearly.
Q Contrasting what?
DR. TYSON: Well, for example, what we've been talking about here the last few days -- a contrast between our concern about the problems of child support, our concerns about the problems of education and training, and some of the proposals that have been made on the education front and on the children's front by the Republican- dominated Congress in the past several weeks.
Q You're portraying this sort of as an answer to Newt Gingrich -- is that it?
DR. TYSON: No, no, no, not at all. I tried to -- what I said -- you asked a question of how will we connect with the American people on this issue? I was actually answering that question, not much about this conference. This conference was designed -- the idea for this conference predates the kind of discussion I just had with you. This has been an idea the President has wanted to reengage in this kind of dialogue with working Americans for quite some time. And planning for this has been going on for quite some time.
So I would not -- all I was simply saying is I don't know what this conference will do in terms of the issue you raise -- will it help American in this region connect with our policies or not. But I said I think there's something else going on that might indeed help us make that case.
Q Dr. Tyson, -- about the contrast between the strength in the economy and yet there's still problems of stagnant incomes, uncertainty about employment prospects. Is there reason to think that the problem of stagnant incomes might begin to change a bit since the unemployment rate is now at a point of being pretty low? By recent historical standards, corporate profitability has been pretty high. Is there reason to think that workers might be able to better -- might be able to do better in terms of wage growth, say, in coming months, coming years?
DR. TYSON: Well, I certainly think that sustained economic expansion is a necessary condition for rising incomes for middle Americans. And we have had a strong economic expansion over the past two years, and we are trying to do everything we can to keep it a sustained economic expansion. It's the -- it's not just the strength of the economic expansion, but the longevity of it which is important to providing a foundation for revising American incomes.
And I think that if we keep this going -- last year, I think we reported in the Economic Report of the President that compensation growth had actually been surprisingly slow given other indications of what was going on in the labor market. You have to have a expansion continuing, I think, to really see a significant change in compensation growth. So it's necessary, but not sufficient.
And we're going to be talking about both -- both ways to sustain the economic expansion, but also other things that can be done by Americans to take advantage of education and training opportunities which will allow them to move from the lower-paying job opportunities to the higher-paying job opportunities. I have to leave, but I will leave this to John Emerson. I have to leave.
MR. EMERSON: We will have handouts for you on Monday with a list of the participants and detailed agenda and all that. So, if there are further questions, we can deal with them at that point.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END3:03 P.M. EST