THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:58 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I know everything is all clear for you now, so -- any other things you want to ask -- (laughter).
Q Mike, was the President off the reservation when he said in New Hampshire on Friday that he wanted to balance the budget in 10 years and submit a counter-budget?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Say yes, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Well, what did he say today? Because it appears as if he's talking about --
MR. MCCURRY: He said the same thing -- I think, if I'm not mistaken, said the same thing he said in his New Hampshire radio interview. In New Hampshire, in the radio interview, he told you that it's possible to balance the budget in seven years, but that's involving certain penalties and tradeoffs that -- you have to be aware what penalties and tradeoffs are involved in making that calculation.
The President just suggested to you if you do that, you're going to damage the ability of this economy in the long-term to grow and to do the kinds of things the President considers important -- first and foremost, raising the incomes of the American people.
The President, very clearly, has said that he thinks you can probably do it and get there in 10 years. And we begin a process now in the aftermath of -- once we get to the aftermath of the congressional passage of a budget resolution -- where you can engage through the appropriations and reconciliation process in providing detailed counter-proposals as Congress begins to work seriously on the budget. That's where we're headed.
Q So his strategy is individual counter-proposal to individual appropriations bills.
MR. MCCURRY: The important thing is they need to hang together so that you can see what the overall picture is. Now, it may entirely be possible in a bipartisan way to address the goal of a balanced budget with the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch working hand in hand. The President suggested to you today ways in which Congress can do that if they're willing to consider the tax cuts and how you pay for them, if you're willing to consider the context in which you make adjustments to Medicare and Medicaid, and if you're willing to make those types of targeted investments in education and training that will help grow the economy.
So the prospect is there to write a budget in a bipartisan fashion that can reach the goal of a balanced budget within a decade.
Q Mike, just understand -- seven years is too soon, 10 years is right.
MR. MCCURRY: Seven years involves tradeoffs and penalties that the President suggested to you today have got some enormously negative consequences for the economy and for the American worker who would like to see incomes rise.
Q Can it be done before 10 years, or is 10 years the minimum?
MR. MCCURRY: It is conceivable you could do it in 10 years or less, as the President has said.
Q I'm still a little confused. During the reconciliation process, will the President offer a 10-year, balanced budget counter-proposal to the Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: He will offer to them ways in which you get to a balanced budget, as he has said, by a date-certain.
Q Will he offer a specific counter-budget, as he promised in the radio interview that he would?
MR. MCCURRY: We will see. He will be negotiating, I think, first and foremost -- you have to understand the President will be negotiating with the Congress, and the disposition of that Congress at that time will be very important to the President. Are they willing to negotiate? It may entirely be possible to offer a comprehensive proposal to get to a balanced budget in a decade or less. That would be the President's preference.
But that's going to depend, in part, about the attitude of the congressional leadership on the Republican side.
Q Are you saying whether the President offers the counter-proposal that he promised last Friday is going depend on what kind of mood Congress is in?
MR. MCCURRY: It's going to depend on whether they want to meet him, answer those conditions that he has laid down, and engage constructively in an effort to write a detailed, comprehensive budget.
Q So they have to come out and say --
MR. MCCURRY: If it's there --
Q you're right on everything you said, Mr. President, on all your conditions?
MR. MCCURRY: They have to demonstrate a desire to reach the goal of a balanced budget, consistent with those specific conditions the President has laid down. And if in failing that, would be Rick's proper question -- failing that, you can expect the President to do exactly as he just indicated, he'll do as he did with the rescissions bill. He will negotiate with whichever House seems to be willing to give us the type of progress that we want --in the case of the rescissions bill it was the Senate; and absent any movement on that issue, even if it's less than perfect, he will indicate his veto, his intent to veto, along with specific ideas on how they could avoid that veto. That's how he proceeded in rescissions, and that's how he will proceed now.
Q Would it be reasonable to say, then, that the answer to the question of whether he will do what he said unmistakably he would do --
MR. MCCURRY: The answer is, it depends. It depends, and it depends on what type of posture the Congress will be in at that point.
Q are those comments now inoperative? The ones he made on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they're exactly what he said. He will be prepared to engage with them and produce a counter-budget, which will take whatever shape it takes. It could take the shape of a comprehensive budget document, or it could take the shape of individual proposals that will match the appropriations process and the reconciliation process. We're entering into a detailed, comprehensive season of budget-writing, once the resolution is adopted by the Congress.
Q everything that he outlined out there, conditions, would increase the deficit, not decrease it. That is, not cutting Medicare as deeply, not having --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not necessarily true, not necessarily true if you shrink the size of the tax cut, if you do any Medicare adjustments in the context of health care reform, which would do something about the growing costs of health care. There are lots of ways in which the President's suggestion would result in greater deficit reduction than that which has been suggested by the Congress.
Q Mike, why would the President simply not come forward and say, seven years is too early because of the effect on the economy, 10 years is possible, here's a way to do that? Wouldn't that be leading --
MR. MCCURRY: Because, Brit, right now in this context, the President feels strongly about this. Right now, to come forward with that type of comprehensive document would be an idle exercise. We know exactly what the Republican Congress would do with that, and the President's not going to waste his time or waste Congress' time. But as we move along here, there are going to be opportunities to engage. This is exactly as I was discussing with many of you on Friday. There will be opportunities to move.
Q how he would get there, how in the world are they going to write a plan that might have a chance, point by point, of meeting his veto conditions?
MR. MCCURRY: Brit, that's what they now do. That's what -- you've got a budget resolution which is going to make very clear what this Republican majority sees as the outline, the guidepost for a budget debate. And as we do year after year, the Congress then sets about the work of writing specific appropriations bills where they're going to see the President engaged with them every point along the way.
Q So he'll do this point by point by not in any broad sweep?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I say, it depends. It may be entirely possible to do it in the form of a comprehensive document. We'll have to see how Congress handles the discussion with the President and what disposition they're in once they reconcile their own versions. We don't know as we talk here today how the House and Senate are going to reconcile the dramatically different objectives in the two resolutions. On the Senate side, Republicans are saying there's not going to be a tax cut. On the House side, they're saying there's a huge tax cut paid for by cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. How do they reconcile those positions? We don't know at this point. Depending on the answer to that, the President will then have a different entry point into the discussions that we will likely have with the Congress.
Q I guess the President spoke -- sent a letter to the Speaker, or Warren Christopher did, about the foreign policy issues that he raised when he came out and talked today --
MR. MCCURRY: Rita, can I hold on that for a second until we -- let's do a few more on the budget and then we'll come back to that. That's a good question, and --
Q Mike, if a seven-year deadline is arbitrary, how come a deadline of 10 years or less is not arbitrary?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, 10 years or less, there is a dramatic difference. Talk to some -- Doyle, to some budget experts, can show you the dramatic differences that exist in out-year costs of various programs, including the entitlement programs and the -- both the discretionary spending and mandatory spending as you look into those out-years.
There's a significant difference there, just as a question of budget policy. And as the President has said and as Leon has said, it's not the date that drives the policy, it's the policy that drives the date. You've got to get the policy right first and that way you make better projections on what the day for a balanced budget would be.
Q If you knew what your policies were going to be, how come you couldn't give us this attractive 10-year figure earlier in your budget process?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, again, you know, what was the first thing that you all and Congress said about the President's FY '96 budget proposal? Dead on arrival. So why play that card --
Q Nothing personal. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing personal. (Laughter.) Look, why play that card when they haven't even anted up? You know, we've got to get them to the table.
Q So in other words --
Q but it's a starting point. I mean, it's --
Q Why propose a serious budget when you don't think it will adopted 100 percent?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's FY '96 budget was a good starting point. If they wanted to take that up and then deal with -- you know, they'd say there's not enough deficit reduction there, which, of course, they said, and then we would have them engaged. They took it up. There was not a vote for it -- which is, again, you know, why play out the end game before you've started any of the fun?
Q Well, maybe because the President is supposed to lead --
Q Does the President on Friday and Saturday and Sunday and Monday and today, has he intended to remove from the table, for good and all, an argument about whether it makes sense as a matter of principle to try to balance the budget in about 10 years, or is he not even sure that's doable still?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he has not removed that from the table. He clearly didn't.
Q What happened then between Friday's comments and --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure you're -- I'm not sure that I see the difference in what the President has said today and what he said in the interview he did on Friday.
Q tone was entirely different between what he said on Friday and what he said --
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q words --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, he indicated on Friday that there are tradeoffs and penalties associated with moving toward -- too quickly towards a balanced budget. He reaffirmed his commitment to get this country to a balanced budget, and the question is how do you get there. And the President has just given you a very good idea of how you're going to do that, or how he would propose to do that, and he has suggested as a model exactly how he engaged with the Congress during the course of the debate on the rescissions bill.
Q He also left a clear impression that there was a counter-budget in the works?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's --
Q Is there one or isn't there one?
MR. MCCURRY: That may not be an -- that may not be an incorrect impression to leave you all with.
Q Did the President misspeak Friday --
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q and did he have to come back and fill after he talked to his budget people? Just what happened?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President -- look, the President outlined in a short answer to a radio question where we're headed on the budget, and he's amplified on that today.
Q long --
MR. MCCURRY: It's three paragraphs.
Q It was a --
MR. MCCURRY: Do you want me to read it?
Q Yes, read it.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, it says, look -- the question was, are you prepared at this point to set a date for balancing the budget?
And the President said: I think it can be done. First of all, it can be done in seven years. The question is what is the penalty and what are the tradeoffs. I think it clearly can be done in less than 10 years. I think we can get there by a date certain. But I want to evaluate the actual budget that the Republicans finally agree upon.
Parenthetically, as he just has said, they haven't done that yet, right?
That is, the Senate has to adopt their budget proposal, then they'll get together and reconcile the differences. Then I have to do what I promised them I did -- I promised that I would adopt -- that if they would adopt a budget that I would negotiate with them in good faith and that I would propose a counter-budget. I gave them my word on -- that I'd do that; I will do it. I owe that to them, and I owe it to the American people, as he, I believe, just said just now.
Q And now you're saying that may not be an incorrect impression.
MR. MCCURRY: Counter-budget -- the only question here is what form does the counter-budget or the counter-proposals take? Does it take the form of a comprehensive document? We suggest it could very well --
Q Well, how could it --
MR. MCCURRY: It could very well, if they're willing to meet him on some of these problems that he has with the direction of the debate currently, or it could be in the course of engaging as we go through reconciliation and appropriations. It's very likely this Congress will end up writing the budget in the context of one single reconciliation bill, as you all know.
Q Mike, if the House basically accedes to the Senate in the budget resolution conference, and the tax cut is more --
MR. MCCURRY: Wait, say again -- House --
Q When the House and Senate meet in this conference the President keeps on talking about to reconcile the differences between their budget resolutions, and if the end result is more like the Senate, is that the signal he needs to come forward? In other words --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the Senate hasn't even passed a resolution yet. What's going to be in the Senate -- do you know what's -- tell me what's going to be in the Senate resolution.
Q You know pretty well what's going to be in the Senate resolution.
MR. MCCURRY: We do?
MR. MCCURRY: Who -- does Dole or Gramm win on tax cuts, just as one small, minor question?
Q Dole. (Laughter.) Let's just say -- (laughter).
Q I'll take curtain three. (Laughter.)
Q Whether Dole or Gramm wins --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that this is a case where I detect that the press is a little bit ahead of the news. I hadn't realized that they had finished their work on the Senate resolution already. But to take your hypothetical, if they end up with a Senate version, that Senate version still doesn't meet the test that the President has outlined, so we have to go back to them, and the President says, look, I have right here a veto, and we're going to go into a very messy appropriations reconciliation process unless you're willing to come forward and meet me somewhere on these three terms that we've talked about.
Now, they've become fully engaged at that point, and we'll see what happens. If they sit there -- looks like there's room for bipartisan compromise, if it looks like the leadership of the Congress and the Republican leadership wants to come forward, we might end up writing a comprehensive counter-budget, very quickly.
Q I just have a follow-up on that. A Senate Republican budget official said today that he thinks you guys have a window sometime between after the Senate votes and before the conference -- the budget resolution conference finishes to weigh in, because after that, they're going to do it themselves, and you will be left on the sidelines --
MR. MCCURRY: What are they going to do? They're going to write a budget resolution and then they have to apply that budget resolution to a host of appropriations measures and reconcile --
Q left on the sidelines.
MR. MCCURRY: The President suggested today there is no way that he will remain on the sidelines; he will engage. He couldn't have been clearer about that.
Q Mike, is the fact that the President's emphasis on deficit reduction came in New Hampshire has anything to do with the politics of that state?
MR. MCCURRY: As far as I know, not.
Q On the three conditions that the President laid down, conceptually at least, the two regarding taxes --
MR. MCCURRY: Did you understand that question? All right, I didn't.
Q Two of the three conditions the President's laid down, you know, broadly general concepts, are fairly understandable. But with regard to Medicare, when he says, well, I'll accept changes in Medicare in the context of health care reform, what does he have in mind? Is he talking about something close to what he proposed last year that he didn't get? Is he proposing something less of health care reform that he talked about earlier this year when he talked about incremental health care reform?
MR. MCCURRY: He is making -- he is referring, as he did in the State of the Union Address, to moving ahead in a step-by-step basis, probably in an incremental basis, to address some of the most urgent problems in health care in America, and especially those associated with the rising costs of health care, but not trying to recreate a comprehensive health care reform bill a la 1994.
Q So he's not talking about 100 percent coverage or 95 percent coverage -- he's talking more about --
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's talking about those types of --
Q portability and --
MR. MCCURRY: -- the types of step-by-step, incremental measures that he indicated in the State of the Union Address that he would like to pursue.
Q Have all efforts to reach a compromise on the rescissions bill collapsed?
MR. MCCURRY: They made no progress that I have to report in the discussions between the Chief of Staff and Chairman Livingston yesterday, and it doesn't look like they are headed to any type of resolution quickly.
Q You said you'd come back to --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, let's clean up on the budget and then move on.
Allison. It's a pleasure to call on you. Welcome to the White House Briefing Room.
Q Thank you. I'm thoroughly confused. Is the change of tone between Friday and today -- due to the fact that --
Q Get up there. (Laughter.)
Q Nothing personal. (Laughter.)
Q is the change in tone due to the fact that he spoke too early, that you still want to keep the focus on the Republicans, and by speaking Friday --
MR. MCCURRY: Bingo! (Laughter.)
Q Oh, good.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Look, we're at a point -- you have to evaluate where we are in this process, okay? The Republicans are still wrestling with their own resolution. And there is a huge internal contradiction in their two versions of a budget resolution. And the President has made it clear that what -- they've got to reconcile that. We will come forward; we will engage with them. But they've got to get -- they have to kind of get their act together. They're not there yet, are they? I haven't seen them get --
Q President misspoke? I think that's what I heard -- he spoke too early, she said. You said, bingo.
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. No, he gave you -- look, he was being very candid and telling you -- telling his New Hampshire audience where this debate is headed, and he amplified on that just now.
Q the news? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: The President makes the news. Of course, he can be ahead of the news. (Laughter.) The problem, sometimes, is those that cover the news like to be a little ahead of the news.
Q what we may have perceived as confusion or incoherence is, in fact, a brilliant strategy by which -- (laughter) -- in which the President is showing some ankle in hopes --(laughter) -- in hopes that senators --
MR. MCCURRY: I knew if I stood here long enough, someone would get it right.
Q in hopes that moderates in the Senate would respond?
Q Oh, my.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, he is sending a signal, very unmistakably, to the Congress that there is a way to engage, that we can do the bipartisan, serious work of deficit reduction that will take this country to the goal of a balanced budget. That is a serious offer on the part of this President. And we hope that the congressional leadership will engage him on that.
Now, the President has made it pretty clear that some of the directions suggested thus far by the congressional majority are simply not acceptable, and he laid that out for you just now in pretty detailed terms. But he also made it very clear how they could engage and how they could do the work of writing a bipartisan budget. And he's offered a willingness to meet them and offer new proposals.
Q Mike, just back to Doyle's previous question. If the policy is what drives the date, and the President mentioned the date he prefers on Friday, clearly less than 10 years, he must have a policy in mind that gets you to a balanced budget by that date. How --
MR. MCCURRY: He has fairly evolved thinking on how you would propose to engage with these counter-proposals, as Congress moves to the next step in consideration of the budget.
Q can you share some of his thinking with us?
MR. MCCURRY: No, obviously not. I'm not going to stand up and announce the counter-budget, no.
Q Do you have a sense --
Q Wait a minute.
Q Mike, out there, Mara asked a version of the question she just asked -- she asked the President for specifics. He's ticked off three or four things. He said Medicare in the context of health; he said he thought the tax cut was way too large; the education cuts were too deep. In other words -- but earlier, from this podium, officials have said that Medicare cuts --they didn't necessarily want to go to deficit reduction, rather to expanding health care for other people, coverage, catastrophic care. The President said to the aging people, hinted that this would --home care, that there were cuts to be made, but that they wouldn't necessarily go to deficit reduction, rather to make the system better.
So we're left with only the tax cut is really a deficit --
MR. MCCURRY: No, they would not -- I mean, you're making an assumption that was a revenue-neutral proposal. I mean, you would generate certain savings for Medicare, depending on how you do it; you could accomplish other things within the context of health care reform; you could actually reduce Medicare costs, depending on some of the things that you might do to reform health care reform. So I wouldn't take that and put it in just one box, because it has to fit with other questions like size of tax cut and like the type of other types of targeting that you might do on tax relief.
Q maybe move on and then come back for those who are hard core on the budget --
MR. MCCURRY: Ms. Braver would like us to move on -- (laughter). Let's do the one more, and then we'll move on to Rita, who has been very patient, I might note for the record.
Q I know she has. Even if the Medicare goes --
Q Oh, well, thank you, Rita --
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q We're still -- part of the reason for all this confusion is we don't have anything like the kinds of tax cuts that they're talking about from you that would get to a balanced budget in 50 years. And I just think if you would give us some examples of very serious cutting of this budget, we wouldn't be so frustrated.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, within the parameters of what the President has said, you get a pretty good idea. Look, those of you who follow the budget carefully, it's not hard to decipher what the President is saying when he talks about Medicare in the context of health care reform, more targeting when it comes to the question of tax relief, preserving some of the investments, and then moving forward.
It's going to involve cuts. It's going to involve cuts that are difficult to make and choices that are difficult to make. But as the President did with the rescissions bill, he's indicated a willingness to make those cuts.
Q Mike, if the President had decided to take his FY '96 budget and show this same philosophy and same policy spread out over 10 years instead of five, would we have seen that 10-year proposal show an elimination of the deficit.
MR. MCCURRY: That is an excellent question. And I can't honestly say I know the answer to that. I don't know if you took -- I mean, I doubt it because I don't think embedded in the FY '96 budget proposal were the types of changes within health care reform that would generate out-year savings in Medicare that might be necessary to reach the goal of a balanced budget. That's my off-thetop -of-the-head answer, but I would recommend that you check with some of our OMB folks on that.
Q Could I just ask one other question on this? What happened to the --
MR. MCCURRY: Rita has fallen asleep in the front row waiting for her chance to change the subject.
Q It's a dumb question I've been waiting to ask.
Q What has happened to the idea that the administration had been advancing before that all you really need is to have a declining deficit and as long as it's a certain percentage of GDP, and, you know, that was good for the economy, you didn't need to balance the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there remains some truth in that statement, that as a percentage of Gross Domestic --
Q leaking out --
MR. MCCURRY: No. As Gross Domestic Product as a percentage -- the size of the deficit as a percentage of the total economy is a good way of looking at how you're doing in deficit reduction. That remains equally true now. But the goal of reaching a balanced budget as the President has embraced has, obviously, positive effects on the economy as well.
I mean, we have moved well beyond that discussion. We've moved well beyond that -- wait a minute. We've moved well beyond that point by suggesting that a balanced budget within 10 years is a reasonable goal.
Now, -- no, no, no -- let's got to Ms. Braver.
Q One very short question.
Q Go, Wolf.
Q She's yielded her time --
Q On the eve of the Dr. Henry Foster confirmation vote in the Senate -- (laughter) -- do you have an assessment --
MR. MCCURRY: As our British friends would say, Wolf, you must place that question in queue, please.
Q I don't care. I just want to know what the President is doing besides coming out, making a public statement, and sending a letter from Christopher up to the Hill to actually practically work with these members to try to get some of this stuff undone that's in the House bill.
MR. MCCURRY: And the answer is he's been doing exactly that -- working with individual members. I believe that in both the case of Minority Leader of the Senate and the Minority Leader of the House, who he's seen recently, he's talked to them. He has been working this issue in some of his conversations with members that he's talked to in recent days. And we've had a variety of administration officials through a variety of contacts, both with members of Congress and with others, pressing the case very vigorously that this isolationist piece of legislation is not in the best national security interests of the United States.
Q Does he have Democrats ready to offer a series of amendments on this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have been during the course of the mark-up, and I believe there will be on the House as well, attempts to modify the legislation.
Q Has he tried talking to the Speaker, who's worked with you on a number of foreign policy -- or is that taboo around here?
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to check, Brit. I don't know whether he has engaged the Speaker directly on the subject.
Q What about former presidents?
MR. MCCURRY: And the Speaker has been -- you are correct to note -- the Speaker has been supportive on many occasions of some of the President's foreign policy goals. That is accurate.
Q Mike, what about former presidents? Have you guys gotten them involved?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had some discussions with former -- officials of former administrations. I don't know whether the President has directly engaged President Bush or any of his predecessors.
Q Senator Mitch McConnell said that he asked for the White House's help in getting any Democrats to support adding a billion dollars in foreign aid in the Senate debate, and Christopher said, no, we don't to engage on that front. If you care so much about foreign aid, why won't you support his amendment?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the Senator's statement. I'd have to look into that or check with the State Department.
Q Taiwan, Chinese irritation at the granting of the visa. Does the administration have a comment on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has taken a step to allow a visit visa to be issued to President Li of Taiwan --something that the President feels is consistent with the values that we promote in this world as a democracy. We believe in freedom of speech. We believe in freedom of travel. And we know that here in the United States those affiliated with academic institutions develop attachments to those institutions. And for a private, unofficial visit of this nature, we believe it is very much warranted to allow President Li the opportunity to visit his alma mater, Cornell University. That does not change our policy towards China, which is governed by the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act. But at the same time, it reflects the values that we have attempted to advance in our bilateral discussion with the People's Republic of China, including the President's decision to continue Most Favored Nation status --
Q He has -- doesn't that expire in early June, and he is going to extend it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check on that. I believe that's correct, but I'm not certain of that.
Q Mike, Chairman Clarke of the D.C. Council has asked -- says it's fine to close Pennsylvania temporarily, but to do it permanently, you should go through the formal City procedures? Is the federal government going to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: -- the Treasury Secretary has directed steps to be taken that he considers warranted. The President has concurred in those directives. And we have indicated more than a willingness to engage with District officials in addressing the question of funding some of the changes that are occurring and also the discussion of what long-term plan can be developed, both for the citizens of the District of Columbia and for visitors to the nation's capital.
Q the zoning board and put the application in, or is that --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe the venue for some of these discussions is the National Capital Planning Commission, if I'm not mistaken.
Q Although my colleague, Mr. Blitzer, has left, since you read Rick's mind earlier; if you could read Wolf's mind and give us the answer to the Foster question that we -- the logical and obvious Foster question.
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the President plans to see Dr. Foster tomorrow morning. We remain very hopeful, given his enormously impressive appearance before the Senate during the process of his confirmation and given his record, which the President believes is exemplary, that the nominee will both clear out of the Labor Human Resources Committee and make it to the floor of the Senate, where we believe he can be confirmed.
Q Well, you're pretty -- pretty much more confident about that now, aren't you? Or am I wrong about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- we have said all along that we, from the beginning, since so many senators stepped forward from the outset to oppose this nomination before they had an opportunity to even know Dr. Foster and his record, we've said we faced an uphill fight. And I suspect it's still uphill, but it's not quite as steep as it has been.
Q Why do you think that's so?
MR. MCCURRY: Because Dr. Foster is just such a -- you know, superbly qualified candidate, someone who can emerge, we believe, as in a sense the nation's family doctor. He's got an enormous capacity to bring people together, to reconcile people who have strong views on issues of public health on opposing sides. And he made -- clearly made a very distinct and positive impression on those senators that he testified before when he had his confirmation hearings in committee. And we hope that that impression will be sufficient to convince many senators to support the nomination.
Q What time and for what reason are they meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they're just getting together in the morning for breakfast.
Q Photo op?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll follow up for you later.
Q Do you have any comment on Speaker Gingrich's suggestion, the federal government step in to help out car dealers of luxury Japanese automobiles -- should they be harmed?
MR. MCCURRY: He's feeling the pain of Lexus dealers these days?
Q Yes, evidently.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the statement, so I'll have to check into that.
Q You might want to check up on --
MR. MCCURRY: Check into that --
Q There might be something you'd want to say.
MR. MCCURRY: There are thousands -- thousands and thousands of auto dealers in this country, and a small fraction of them -- a small fraction of whose livelihood depends on selling those luxury Japanese imports that are specifically cited in Ambassador Kantor's targeted sanctions. And we recognize that there will be some economic loss there, but it certainly is not disproportionate given the need to get very serious about a disproportionately large trade deficit with Japan.
Q But you aren't suggesting Mike that because somebody may be a Lexus mechanic, or a Lexus salesman, or a secretary in a Lexus dealership that they --
MR. MCCURRY: You worried about Lexus?
MR. MCCURRY: You in the market for a new car?
Q You made the comment about not being worried about -- that these affect people who are not necessarily in upper income brackets.
MR. MCCURRY: We acknowledge that, but we acknowledge that that is a small fraction of those who are involved in the commerce of new autos, and don't -- you know, it's -- if you look at the total number of auto dealers and dealerships in this country, not all of -- you know, some of whom have luxury Japanese imports as one line of business, when they are also selling, you know, Chevy Cavaliers, we think that they will be able to withstand that economic pressure. But there will be some economic loss. And that is the nature of trade sanctions. That's the nature of our law.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:30 P.M. EDT