THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the White House. This will be the last briefing of the week.
Q Oh, nooo --
MR. MCCURRY: In fact, I think it's our only briefing of the week. When was our last one? Oh, no -- this is our -- I forget. I had the President of the United States doing my chores for me yesterday, and I am deeply grateful to the President. The record will show that he entertained you all yesterday.
Q Will you do his work now?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Let me start by telling you that the Department of Labor in a short while will announce that they are providing $15 million of disaster relief to California. That will provide about 2,500 temporary jobs --
Q Ohhhh --
MR. MCCURRY: -- to the dislocated and long-term unemployed workers in 49 counties of Northern and Southern California in the disaster areas. These are in the disaster areas of those states. They're obviously trying to help out with people who have been victims of the flooding in Northern California.
Q Fifty or fifteen?
MR. MCCURRY: Fifteen -- 1-5. Fifteen million dollars worth of assistance. (Laughter.)
Q Let's -- let me hear this. Can we hear it?
MR. MCCURRY: Helen Thomas has asked that you all settle down a little bit. Thank you, Helen.
Q To Northern California?
MR. MCCURRY: Northern and Southern California counties that were declared disaster areas by the President, subject to the request from Governor Wilson; 49 counties total. The Labor Department can tell you a bit more about it. They'll have a formal announcement.
Q Is it hypocritical for states to accept this money and for the governors to rail against unfunded mandates at the same time?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, that's an unrelated issue. We're interested in helping people who are victims of the flood. This is a program that the Labor Department maintains for exactly this purpose, and certainly a warranted use of the funds for those who are suffering from the effects of very devastating flooding.
Q Congressman Richardson emerged from the meeting this morning with the President to say that he told them he was going to take off his gloves, come out fighting, and has a whole new bunch of initiatives ready to go on education, welfare reform, crime, and all sorts of other things. What is he talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: That was Congressman Richardson declared that the President would be doing this?
Q Yes, he did.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's helpful. He will -- the President will be, tomorrow, in front of the newspaper editors, will be talking broadly about the 100 days of this session of the Congress just passed, but more importantly will be looking ahead.
You know, we've got hundreds and hundreds of days to go, probably even more than that, as the President continues to work on problems this country faces. And the President will be setting forth what he believes are some important elements of what work the Congress and the President must now do together. One hundred days has been fine, and it's -- whoopie, it's over. So let's get back to work now and get on with the real business and go about tackling those important problems that the American people expect the President and the Congress to address. We've got to get down to the serious work now, having gone through some of the festivities and carnivals -- or circuses, I should say.
Q Are you suggesting that this tax cut was not serious work?
MR. MCCURRY: This tax cut has been, unfortunately, an exercise in an all too familiar pattern by the Republicans in Congress to disproportionately deliver the benefits of a tax relief measure to the very wealthiest in our society. Now, the President's got a much better idea, which is target that tax relief on the middle-income families that need it, and do it in a way that will help the economy grow.
The President is interested in seeing people's incomes rise; seeing the economy grow. He's not interested in seeing programs cut that Americans need so that we can fund tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And he'll continue to insist on that position. The bill passed by the House last night is unacceptable. The Senate will now take it up, and it's pretty clear that some members of the Senate from the Republican Party have a lot of troubles with this bill, too. So we now have to see where the action goes as the legislation moves on to the Senate.
Q So far he's been trying to be very reasonable and keep saying we're going to work with the Senate. Is this a new posture on the part of the President?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, over and over again, has indicated he is interested in working with this Republican Congress to do those things that the Americans want to see done. They want to see government cut. They want to see deficits reigned in. And if possible, they want to see some tax relief to those in the middle income.
Q Did Richardson get the picture wrong in terms of his new attitude or attitudes?
MR. MCCURRY: Not at all. The President is going to be very feisty in arguing for his vision of what the American future should be about. It is a much different vision than that offered by the Republican majority.
Q How will this be different than what he's done the last couple weeks?
MR. MCCURRY: How will it be different? You'll have to judge for that. I think it will very closely resemble what the President has told you he has been and will do. He will work with the Congress when that is possible. He will challenge them to try to shape emerging legislation to get changes that he feels are warranted. And in some cases, when it's clear that they are determined to head in the wrong direction, the President will say, no.
Q What are the new initiatives that Richardson was talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be a variety of things the President will suggest as a road map of how we can work with the Congress as we look ahead.
Q Like what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, come on along with us to Dallas tomorrow.
Q Give us a clue.
Q The President, yesterday, in his speech to the construction union --
MR. MCCURRY: He actually gave Brian a pretty good hint of that yesterday.
Q Brian, do you want to tell the rest of us? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Well -- and I hasten to add that you will all -- most of you were there.
Q I didn't see anything new --
Q Why wasn't it on the air?
Q construction unions yesterday, he said that --
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. The President --
Q we need to cut the deficit more, but he's not proposing doing that --
MR. MCCURRY: That's not true. The President has a 1996 federal budget proposal that builds on the remarkable record of cutting $600 billion out of deficit over the last two years, and would further reduce the budget deficits by $81 billion. That is the program that he has laid before the Congress in his own '96 budget proposal, and it's incumbent upon the Congress to get on with that work now.
Q He is not proposing lowering the total amount of the deficit year by year. In fact, it goes up under his budgets. So when he says that, does he mean simply that he's made cuts to keep the budget deficit static, or create a small increase in it, or is he signaling that he is going to come out with a new list of budget cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has made very clear his budget proposals in his FY '96 budget proposal. More importantly, he has demonstrated that he has the capacity to cut federal spending and to reduce the budget deficits. He did that over the last two years without one bit of support from the Republican Party in the Congress. Now he's sort of saying to the Congress and to the Republicans in the Congress, if you want budget deficit reduction, you can deal with my budget. If you've got a better idea, come forward with it. And I think it's fair to ask of the Congress now, after doing a lot of braying on the subject, to put some specifics forward.
Q But that doesn't answer my specific question, which is whether we're going to get a new initiative from the President beyond his budget of budget cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: We are not going to attempt to rewrite the FY '96 budget. We've got a budget proposal that's pending and it ought to be dealt with by the Congress.
Q Also, in his speech yesterday, he said the single most important element in middle-income tax relief is the higher education deduction. Does that mean he's willing to scale down his original proposal to what Gephardt has been talking about lately, which is focusing on job training and education?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they -- Congressman Gephardt, as you know, has moved his ideas on tax relief closer to the President's. We still believe the Middle Class Bill of Rights is the right place to be in the end of the day. And increasingly, as Congress wrestles with the question of tax relief, and as the rebellion develops in the Republican ranks on tax cuts for the very wealthy, we believe that it's likely Congress will begin shifting more in the direction of the President's proposal, the Middle Class Bill of Rights.
He was simply singling out what he believes structurally is one of the most important elements of that proposal, and those are incentives for Americans to get education so they can be more productive and earn more wages as they look ahead to the future. That's an important part of the President's concept of tax relief for Americans -- that it ought to encourage expansion and growth in the economy, it ought to encourage job creation, and it ought to be designed to enhance and improve on the performance of the economy over the last two years. We can't wreck the economic recovery in the name of providing tax relief. That's another, among other reasons, why we can't disproportionately skew the benefits of tax cuts to the very wealth.
Q Mike, are you all viewing this speech tomorrow as some kind of a transition away from what many have viewed as the President's spectator role over the past few months?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- I can't accept the premise of your question. It is a speech in front of a very important group, the Newspaper Editors of America. It's a group very important to many of you in this room -- when they don't fool around with your copy too much. And he looks at this as an occasion for him not only to comment on the work that this Congress has done so far, but as I suggested earlier, to set out some type of road map of what needs to be done. And now that we've kind of gone through 100 days of this Congress, well and good, let's move ahead and figure out what we're going to do for the next 500 days.
Q Is he going to set forth some sort of a new proactive role that he's going to be taking that we haven't seen over the past few months?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been quite proactive. If you haven't seen it, you haven't been looking hard enough.
Q One of the issues he mentioned to Brian was the minimum wage. Does he really expect the Republican Congress to give him a vote on the minimum wage?
MR. MCCURRY: He believes that they should. We don't have any false expectations about whether they will. But if they thought about it for just a moment or two, they might see the merit in taking those who are working at minimum wage levels and reward that work by giving them an increase in their incomes.
Q To get back to the mysterious new initiatives that he might or might not propose -- when you said he gave some clues yesterday, for those of us who were dense or did miss them, could you just explain what they were and what these initiatives might be?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he answered a questions yesterday about how you'll see the next 100 days developing. And he set out some things that he want to be talking about and he'll do so at greater length tomorrow.
Q Several of the members at this meeting said they urge the President to veto the legislation that you announced later that he was going to sign. They said his response was noncommittal. Could you explain to my why he couldn't tell 30 members of Congress that he was about to issue a statement a half-hour later?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'd been on the Hill since late yesterday telling members of Congress exactly how the President would dispose of that piece of legislation. So there was no surprise.
Q Well, they seemed surprised, talking to them today that he couldn't manage to mention that fact when they asked him about it today.
MR. MCCURRY: They -- I think the President was pretty clear. My understanding was he even, as the meeting broke up, was clear with some who specifically were asking about that. It may have not been the same people who spoke with you.
Q Related to the Senate effort to cut spending in Fiscal '95, can you confirm that the President indicated to Daschle, and others, that he would be willing to sign a $16 billion rescission package if they could have worked out this idea with the caucus today to compromise?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can tell you that, as the President has told you before, we had a great deal of trouble with that rescission package passed by the House. And as we told you we would, we've been consulting directly with members of the Senate about improving that package as it goes to the Senate. And you can naturally expect that we were working with them to restore some of the cuts in programs that the President cares about -- whether they were summer jobs, whether it was Head Start, whether it was the AmeriCorps program. The President has been working and the staff has been working with members of the Senate to improve that legislation.
Now we'll have to see where it goes. It doesn't look like they're going to be able to get the kind of an amendment that the President wanted to see developed in the Senate. If that does not happen, it's very likely that the Senate is going to pass a rescission bill that is unacceptable. And unacceptable in the Senate, plus unacceptable in the House, to me, adds up to a veto.
Q So he specifically gave his blessing to the compromise that Daschle then floated with the caucus?
MR. MCCURRY: We have been in consultation with members of the Senate on how to improve the rescission package as it works its way through the Senate.
Q Mike, does the White House have any problems with the Speaker addressing the nation tomorrow night in prime time? And what role has the White House played in the Democratic response?
MR. MCCURRY: We do not. We have suggested to members of the Congress that given that the Speaker is talking about congressional consideration, that we feel it's entirely appropriate for the Democratic leadership in the Congress to be a part of that response. They, of course, will speak eloquently to any points raised by the Speaker. The President will speak eloquently himself tomorrow on much the same subject.
Q Can you give us some background on what information it is you're preparing for the House to meet this requirement that Mexican aid continue to flow, and will you meet the deadline set in the Cox amendment?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Treasury has already put out a statement from Secretary Rubin that indicates that they are complying fully with the request from Congress for information; that they continue to work quickly to satisfy the concerns of members of Congress so that we don't hamper an aid package that is fundamentally important to the recovery of the Mexican economy.
But as the Treasury Secretary has suggested, and I would repeat, that we welcome oversight opportunities, but there's a point at which oversight strays over into harassment and attempts to intimidate the Executive Branch. And if that happens in this case, they are going to bear the responsibility on Capital Hill for any faltering of the Mexican economy resulting from any damage done to the aid package. That's a -- the Secretary of the Treasury has said better than I have.
But I can -- I'll tell you precisely what they've been doing. They have -- Treasury at this point, has expended an incredible volume of resources at taxpayer expense, to fulfill these requests for information from the Congress. They've to date -- in excess of 10,000 man-hours -- person-hours I should say -- have been expended to deliver information to the Congress. There have been a total of to this point 55 letters, separately, from members of Congress seeking information about the Mexican aid program; 53 of those have been answered in great detail. Treasury has provided access to over 3,200 pages of unclassified documents. And prior to April, 475 pages of classified documents have been provided to the Congress.
Now, there is something going on here that is much more important, I think. You've got a lot of minions on the Republican staffs on the Hill that are running around now trying to figure out a way to intimidate the Executive Branch and prevent us from doing the work that we must do to fill our obligations under the Constitution and to execute the laws passed by Congress. They figured out that they can try to use the oversight function to try to harass and intimidate those who are doing the legitimate work of the American people in the Executive Branch. I wouldn't be surprised if next week, once members of Congress go away on recess, the staff with nothing else to do starts figuring out ways to harass us further.
And I want to make it very clear on behalf of the White House and on behalf of the administration that we are not going to be intimidated by those who are trying to disrupt the proper function of the Executive Branch by an overzealous use of the congressional oversight function.
Q Does it go beyond the Mexico deal, and can you cite another example?
MR. MCCURRY: It goes -- certainly goes well beyond -- well beyond. There have been attempts, as several of you know, to intimidate Carol Browner at EPA. I'll just run through a couple of examples since you asked.
They've got -- responding to a request from Congressman McIntosh, EPA has provided 3,500 pages of documents to his subcommittee. There have been five EPA lawyers working full-time for the past several weeks to satisfy these demands from Congress. They've got legislative and general counsel staffs at EPA that practically full-time are working to respond to requests from Congress.
Over at the Justice Department, the Office of Legislative Affairs one week after a request came in from Congress delivered six boxes of material to the House oversight committee's request for every statute and regulation enforced by the Department's environmental division. It was a very broad-based request.
We've got the Justice Department's COPS Office has been fulfilling requests. Over at the SBA, in 1995, they were asked a total of 27 times for the entire year to appear in Congress, and to date already, they've been asked to appear on the Hill before oversight committees 21 times. At the VA, they've got about 600 pieces of congressional mail per month. HHS gets 100, 200 calls per day. I mean, we work hard to satisfy the legitimate inquiries from members of Congress. But we will not accept or tolerate an effort by over-zealous House staff members to use an oversight function to prevent us from doing the work that the President has been elected to do.
Q Can I clarify? You just said House members. Is there a similar problem on the Senate side?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of. There is an effort developing over -- that we're aware of -- over on the House side to try to use oversight function, we believe, in a fashion that is attempting to intimidate the Executive Branch.
Q But why?
Q Is this qualitatively different --
MR. MCCURRY: Why are they doing it? Because they don't like government.
Q I mean, do you think they have a bigger purpose? Do they want to kill the Mexican loan? They what?
MR. MCCURRY: They don't like government as a general proposition. And they're impeding our work.
Q Deliberately, you're saying?
Q What are you going to do about it, Mike? Are you going to stop processing the requests?
MR. MCCURRY: We're going to call them on it, as I am right now.
Q What's the difference between what they're doing to what Representative Dingell and other Democrats did when the Republicans were in the Executive Branch of the U.S. government?
MR. MCCURRY: We did it with -- I think, a little more dispassionately and with an eye towards legitimate investigative work. There are boundaries there and there's clear now -- it seems to us a pattern developing as we look across agencies of an effort to go in and harass separate individual agencies and prevent them from doing their work.
Q Are you talking about an effort led by House freshmen and organized out of the Speaker's Office perhaps?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not -- there have been a couple of published reports, if you go look for them, that talk about it. There have been -- look, we've become aware of efforts that are underway up there and we know of certain activities that staffers are planning to try to --
Q You act like it's a conspiracy.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a conspiracy, I think they're pretty blatant about it.
Q I know you don't like it, Mike, but the White House has promised to comply with the request for documents on Mexico.
MR. MCCURRY: We will. We will.
Q When will the President be able to certify that he's fully complied with those requests?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'd refer you to -- I think Secretary Rubin's statement today gets into that at some length. I don't see it right here, but they have addressed that in the statement that he's issued today. Look, we fully understand the constitutional responsibility of members of Congress to see that the laws are being properly executed. We spend a lot of time and a lot of taxpayers' money to make sure we get them the information they want. That's all legitimate. That's all proper, that's all the way it's worked in the past. But we detect now a new environment in which they are using this oversight function in a way that is attempting to harass us and intimidate us so that we don't go about doing the work that we've been elected to do.
Q How many offices are involved in this effort of harassment and intimidation?
MR. MCCURRY: How many -- say again?
Q Offices -- how many congressional offices?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't detail you specifically, but we keep getting anecdotal reports coming in to us from various Cabinet agencies that they're all facing, one way or another, this type of effort from a range of oversight committees and subcommittees.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, very widespread. We're seeing it across many different agencies, and the pattern that has developed here has required us to make it clear that we don't -- we understand what they're trying to do, and we're not going to accept it.
Q Can we just go back to Alexis's question about the rescissions bill? The reason why it fell apart was because the Democratic Caucus didn't buy the deal that Daschle made with Dole. Is the President doing something to convince Democratic senators that this was the best deal that they could get?
MR. MCCURRY: We want to see the Senate improve the bill. We've been working with senators to say, look, here are the things that concern us greatly, here are the improvements that we believe that you can make. They can tell you better than we can what the dynamic is within the Democratic Caucus and what it is on both sides of the aisle. I think it's fair to say that on both sides of the aisle, there were conflicting views on the rescissions bill, and that's a story that develops up in the Senate. Our interest was purely and simply to try to head off some of the devastating cuts in the House bill that the President finds unacceptable.
Q So you were satisfied with the deal Daschle made? He said the President --
MR. MCCURRY: No, we're not entirely satisfied because they took a bad bill and made it somewhat better. But it certainly didn't make it -- it didn't make it as good as it could have been in the eyes of the President, because they could have accepted versions closer to our own budget submissions.
Q Mike, on this pattern that you cited, how did the White House come to determine that there was this pattern? Was there a Cabinet meeting where this information came forward and started to evolve? Did Leon --
MR. MCCURRY: No. We work closely with members of Congress, and we have become aware of some efforts underway on behalf of Republican staffers up there that made it pretty clear what they're up to and what they wanted to do.
Q How did you come to compile this list, for example, that you had today?
MR. MCCURRY: I was curious, and I looked around and said I'm interested in how much volume of requests are you getting around the Cabinet agencies. We asked them. We just kind of asked around and said give us some examples. Now, it's immediately triggered by the question of this Cox amendment, as it relates to Mexico, which is an example of where we're trying to do everything we can to give legitimate information to them, and our worry now is that that's being done in a way that is going to thwart the policy from going forward.
Q You say you want --
Q Are you asking --
Q Shut up, will you? You say you want -- (laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Let the record show that a fracas has broken up in the briefing room, and it's not the one that I started.
Q You say you won't accept it. What do you mean you won't accept it? Are you going to start saying no to these requests?
MR. MCCURRY: We might, yes. I mean, we might -- or, we might start saying to the American people, you want to know how much money we're spending to chase down these stray bits of information because we've got some overzealous staff people up there who are trying to keep us from doing our work.
Q How much money are you spending?
MR. MCCURRY: That sounds like a good second-day story. We'll work on that tomorrow. (Laughter.)
Q Is this new initiative -- is this new attack that you're making today part of the new taking off the gloves initiative?
MR. MCCURRY: No. (Laughter.) No, look, it is purely and simply an effort to let people who are legitimately trying to do the work of the American people do their work. And part of that legitimate work is certainly to provide the information requested by Congress, but at the same time, we have got to use a little common sense here. And when -- we've gotten the types and volumes of requests that suggest to us that they really are trying to gum up the works. And that's what we object to.
Q Mike, what all pieces of this Contract now might be vetoed? The House tax bill and rescissions, maybe, if you don't like what comes out --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the rescissions -- we'll have to see. The rescissions is certainly a story developing today, and we'll have to see how they end up. We had very good discussions about a possible amendment that would have improved the rescissions bill, while, by no means, making it perfect. But if it goes back to a version that is closer to what was pending before, it's going to contain many cuts that will be devastating to programs that are necessary for many Americans. And so we might very well end up in a situation where that bill is unacceptable as it goes to final passage. But we are a long ways from that, the Congress is off for a recess, they come back. We'll have to see if, in fact, the Senate is going to pass the bill before the recess, and if so, then what does it look like when it comes out of conference.
Q When you speak of staffers, are you speaking of rogue elephants, or do you think their bosses know what they're doing?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know.
Q You seem to be pinpointing --
MR. MCCURRY: We're trying to head off a little mischief before it gets too far down the road.
Q Dave McIntosh is I think the only specific Congress member name you mentioned. Any other culprits you could name --
MR. MCCURRY: He has been most visible in some of the sparring so far with others. But you can check around on the Hill. You'll be able to check around the Hill and find out.
Q Are you suggesting that McIntosh or any of these other individuals are not utilizing the information? In other words, they're just stockpiling it for the sake of asking for it, or they're not --
MR. MCCURRY: No, what I'm suggesting specifically is, it seems a pattern has developed where they are requesting information not so they can evaluate the effectiveness of the government's performance, but so that they can use the process of requesting and gumming up the works in order to intimidate and thwart those who might be carrying out the laws as they've been properly passed by the Congress. That's what we're objecting to here. It's an obstructionist attitude on the part of the oversight caution.
Q Like when McIntosh asks Carol Browner for information about environmental regs, what is --
MR. MCCURRY: You can go back through that exchange, and it's pretty clear what -- they're doing, going well beyond that. There was a specific effort in that case to intimidate the Administrator and prevent her from properly protecting the environment the Americans live in.
Q Don't you think it's incumbent upon you if you're going to come out and make this kind of accusation to back it up with some kind of hard numbers, comparisons, in terms of the requests being made?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. That's what I just tried to do. There's been an extraordinary increase --
Q More than Democratic congressmen?
MR. MCCURRY: -- extraordinary increase in the volume of these requests, and requests in volume that go well beyond what we've seen in the past as Congress exercises an oversight function over Congress.
Q Compared to what?
MR. MCCURRY: Compared to the most recent Congress, I am told. I can try to quantify that.
Q comparing apples and oranges -- a Democratic Congress and a Republican President.
MR. MCCURRY: That's what I'm talking about.
Q Compared to Iran-Contra, for example, or an investigation of Neil Bush, or something like that?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, set aside specific investigations of Congress that are duly constituted within Congress around a specific subject like that, that's outside the routine oversight work. I'm talking about the routine oversight work that occurs on the Hill, day-in and day-out. The volume there is what we're talking about comparing.
Q Well, is it your sense, Mike, that this is payback time on the part of the Republicans to try to get even?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You'd have to ask those on the Hill that are doing it.
Q On the Cox amendment itself, is that likely to become a moot point because you'll comply with the request for the documents --
MR. MCCURRY: We are complying with the requests as the Treasury Secretary indicates. That's important because we want Congress to fully understand why this measure is so important to the health of the Mexican economy, because that ultimately is very important to the health of the U.S. economy.
Q But it's not a question of a veto because you'll meet the requirements?
MR. MCCURRY: No, there's not a veto -- I don't know that there is a veto required. The effort is aimed in a little different direction. It's holding up necessary and urgent pieces of legislation by attaching what is a -- an extraneous measure.
Did you have a readout on that? Check with Calvin here. He might have something on that.
Doug, did you have another one?
Q Yes, Mike. If Libya sends planeloads of pilgrims to Mecca, as Colonel Gadhafi has threatened, what does the United States want Egypt and Saudia to do when they enter its airspace?
MR. MCCURRY: What we want them to do is what they have done in previous years, as Libyan pilgrims legitimately set about for the Haj. They go to neighboring countries, they fly out of neighboring countries. They don't use aircraft originating in Libya, because that is direct violation of U.N. sanctions. They've, I think, talked about that at great length at the State Department today.
Q You don't have any assessment of what Senator D'Amato did yesterday with Judge Ito --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the commentary on that was swift and appropriate.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EDT