THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:45 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Well, where would we like to start today? Anybody have a suggestion on a --
Q Can you explain the President's -- the question of promising no taxes, not to --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He has sent a letter, which I believe -- have you received the letter at this point? No? The President has written to both the Speaker and the Majority Leader offering the following proposition to the Congress, that if they will send the line-item veto legislation to the President immediately, he is willing to pledge that this year he will use it only to cut spending, not on tax expenditures that might otherwise be in the budget.
This is obviously projecting ahead to the coming skirmishes on various pieces of budget legislation and responding to several Republicans, including Senator Coates, who suggested today in various news articles that if we give Clinton the line-item veto he's going to use it to tinker with or shape tax-cut legislation. So the President, addressing that today, said, look, I've already told you that if you send me the wrong kind of overall bill I'll veto the whole bill, but if you're worried specifically about line items that relate to tax cuts, we will set those aside in individual bills and I will use this provision only on spending reduction.
Q veto the whole bill, though.
MR. MCCURRY: He has already said -- he said, if you send me an overall bill that I can't support, I'll veto that, as he just indicated.
Q calendar year, because he says very specifically this year.
MR. MCCURRY: He said this year. He said this year. They're obviously concerned about -- it's in response to the suggestions from various Republican members that they don't want to give Clinton the line-item veto this year because they're going to be doing so much related to the budget process this year.
Q What is it about Senator Coates that would get him -- that was able to wake up the President of the United States and have him out here making pledges?
MR. MCCURRY: He is the author on the Senate side of the line-item veto legislation, and so he's, presumably, the one that the Majority Leader is looking to for leadership on the issue.
Q That's not applying to the big tax cut that they --
MR. MCCURRY: No, this is -- look, "the big tax cut" would be in a budget resolution that the President wouldn't get an opportunity to sign or veto in any event. But we're looking ahead now to the appropriations process and the individual bills that come through and individual items that might relate to tax expenditures. And I think the concern on the Republican side, if we understand their public comments correctly, is that the President might somehow or other use the line-item veto to shape individual measures on the revenue side. And what he's saying now is that he's willing to confine his use of the line-item veto to excise specific spending privileges only.
Q I'm a little confused about this. I thought that the line-item veto applied to appropriate spending bills only.
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q It applies to every -- okay.
Q Mike, this is capital gains, isn't it? Republicans are concerned --
MR. MCCURRY: It could conceivably be. We're not -- they're not -- from their public comments we don't have complete transparency, but you could probably ask them to flush that out a little bit.
Q Well, I mean, that's their number one priority. They're obviously worried that if they give Clinton the line-item veto with the scope of -- attaching to tax provisions, that he can excise then a provision using capital gains to keep the child credit, for instance.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not a bad piece of speculation.
Q White House officials have portrayed this first veto as an opportunity for the President to look strong and decisive and standing up to the Republicans. Does it seem more counter to that message to, in the middle of his veto speech, make this offer, this conciliatory offer on the line-item veto?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not at all. I mean, he's interested in getting -- he's making it clear that he wants, as presumably does the Congress, to achieve significant deficit reduction and cut unnecessary spending from the budget. And once again, he's indicating his determination to do that. And as he said over and over again today -- the important point to remember is that the President has put forward legislation and, in fact, will send today, specific legislation that would achieve in excess of the amount of deficit reduction that was contained in the bill that he just vetoed.
Q Mike, the House Appropriations Chairman Livingston said today, if I understood him correctly, that the President had recommended this drug-free school recognition program for cuts last year. Is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: I have to check. I don't know the answer to that.
Q They have a letter from the administration suggesting it be cut by $100 million.
MR. MCCURRY: I have to check -- you mean the overall program, the Safe and Drug Free Schools program?
Q Drug-free --
Q What about this drug free schools recognition program? That can't be $100 million.
MR. MCCURRY: The budget request, the FY '96 budget request that went to Congress was $500 million for FY '96.
Q The last budget, the '93 budget, the '94 budget. The first budget, his first budget.
MR. MCCURRY: In his first budget. I'll have to check on that. We'll check.
Q While we're on the subject of this particular program honored out here today, or mentioned out here today -- if a program that gives out federal pats on the back at taxpayer expense to schools that are already drug-free can't be cut, what can? This is a program that doesn't get schools drug free, it makes a ceremonial pat on the back for those who already are.
MR. MCCURRY: This is a program that with minimal funding recognizes people who have made some -- recognizes schools, recognizes principals, recognizes students that have made extraordinary progress in creating a safer environment for education and learning, and thus will serve as a model for others who are struggling to do the same. And that's a worthy investment in the present --
Q If funding is so minimal, why is he worried about it? I mean, this is -- becomes the backdrop for his case for all this spending, and it turns out to be a program that doesn't have anything to do with getting schools drug free, it's all about congratulating those that are.
MR. MCCURRY: Brit, he was talking today about a program that -- in the current fiscal year, they're spending about $480 million to make schools safer through metal detectors, through drug education programs, through mentoring, through giving students a chance to avoid substance abuse. So that's not -- he was speaking today in the Rose Garden not just about an awards program, but about a much larger program, the Safe and Drug-Free School Program itself, as I think was pretty abundantly clear to everyone there.
Q Mike, what form does this alternative program take now? At the time he threatened to veto the rescissions bill, it was basically a memo that he waved. Is it now a legislative language with specific line after line --
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is he has a much more specific -- I don't know if it has legislative language yet, but it's a much more specific codification of those elements that he's already suggested publicly. And that, as I say, will go to the Hill today.
Q Is it the Senate version of the bill or the --
MR. MCCURRY: It is much more along the lines of the compromise tradeoff that he suggested at the time the conference committee began work on the bill. Remember that the President indicated his willingness to support the Senate-passed version of the bill even though it was imperfect. But he said that would be a bottom line and if there is to be any negotiation I don't think we would start by proposing a bottom line.
Q The President's line-item veto offer today, was that the first time he had made that offer? Have you perhaps floated that behind-the-scenes with Republicans? And have you gotten any kind of positive response on it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I believe that he just addressed it today and it was in response to some of the suggestions from Republican members of the Congress, especially the Senate, quite surprising to the President, that they are now going to delay an element that we thought had been a central element of the Contract for America.
Q Have you gotten any official word on that or is it just from the news?
MR. MCCURRY: They sent it just now.
Q Has he received any word from the Hill in an official way that they're going to hold it back?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, but I don't believe we have any reason to doubt the public comments as reported by the individual members of Congress.
Q Are the Republicans correct when they say he offered to settle at $700 million?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on the contents of discussions that we've had.
Q You're not going to deny -- are you saying that they're wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but it was a very -- there were very complicated set of discussions around how we might move ahead on an overall package that would achieve significant deficit reduction. I'm not going to pluck out one fact in isolation and suggest that gives you an idea of what the scope of the negotiation was like.
Q Mike, politically, the President had the upper hand on the line-item veto. And the question really is, why did he feel a need to make this concession at all, particularly since it could lead to a result where the Congress might put something as egregious as the billionaires loophole -- some other form -- into a bill that for other reasons he would sign, and then he deprives himself of the very authority he's seeking.
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's not -- I mean if it's so egregious, Leo, he retains the authority to veto the entire bill. We're just talking about the exercise of a line item on specific line items. And the President is willing to say, look, if you're concerned about the tax side, I will confine my use of this only to achieve additional spending reductions. That doesn't -- reminding as the President told you, that he still retains the option of vetoing an entire bill if that becomes necessary.
Q Let me just follow up on that. It just the -- a few weeks ago, he signed a bill that he said has one or two horrors in it, but because it had offsetting commendable provisions, he felt duty bound to sign it.
MR. MCCURRY: The President will be happy to exercise those judgments if Congress passes pieces of legislation and do it with the extra leverage he would have of having a line item veto even if it's confined to the spending side. Look, this is a reflection of how anxious he is to have that authority as President to reduce spending that the President considers unnecessary.
Q Even going to the length of tying his own hands?
MR. MCCURRY: Going to the length of giving up, for this year, one element of how he might use the line-item veto. If that will encourage the Congress to pass this legislation promptly and give him the line-item veto authority, the President feels that's a worthy trade off to make this year so he can get on with using the line-item veto.
Q And his advisors felt that it was necessary -- politically necessary to provide that concession, otherwise he wouldn't be getting the line-item veto?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President felt -- I don't know that -- I won't speak for his advisors -- the President felt that it was worth making that offer to see if we could prompt this Congress into passing something that they pledged to the voters in November of 1994, would be a central element of their so-called Contract on America.
Q There's something that confused me in your answer to Leo, the previous one. You're saying that if this came along, and there's another billionaires loophole, part of a worthy bill, he would reserve his right to exercise the line-item veto on the billionaires loophole, even though --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. He would reserve his right to veto the entire legislation, if necessary. We're only talking about the use of the line-item veto. The President still would have the authority to veto the entire bill, whatever the bill might be.
Q Congressional Republicans are saying, as you are indicating, that they don't want to give him the line-item veto because they don't want to give him that political power. And you're saying that the President would still have the right to use the veto power over the overall bill. Why would Republicans take this in any way seriously, especially if it's only for this limited period of time?
MR. MCCURRY: The main reason is because they pledged as part of their Contract that they would do this when they went before the electorate in November of 1994. And with some fanfare, they promised the American people that they would deliver on that pledge promptly. Now they're indicating that they're backtracking on that and they want to hesitate and they're not sure that's a good idea after all. So that's what we're doing.
Q Don't leave -- no, no, no.
MR. MCCURRY: Are you going to ask me about the Cuban reactor?
Q Yes, I do want to ask about the Cuban reactor.
MR. MCCURRY: Go get me an answer for this. I don't have that with me. We'll come back to that.
Q Given the form the President used --
MR. MCCURRY: -- the same answer I gave at the State Department, but I'll give it to you.
Q The fact that he pointed out that the Republican Contract, does he feel that he will generate some public support for the Republicans delivering on basically half the line-item veto authority for this year? Does he feel the public will grasp this?
MR. MCCURRY: I think what he -- he hopes that the public will get the following message: He want the line-item veto to cut unnecessary spending. And he's offered to the Congress a way in which it might become more palatable based on the last minute objections that some Republicans have to giving him that authority after promising to the voters they would give him that authority. He's willing to set that aside for this year in order to get something that he believes he could use effectively to achieve something the American people want, which is cuts in wasteful, unnecessary federal spending.
Let me give you your answer. And this, again, as I say, is identical, I think, to what they said at the State Department yesterday. We don't have any independent verification of the veracity of some of these reports concerning the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy's assistance to that project. But the United States government feels strongly that sales for and/or assistance to the Cuban nuclear program should not be provided until Cuba has undertaken a legally binding nonproliferation commitment -- they are not, as you know, adherents to the Nonproliferation Treaty currently -- including a commitment to accept necessary IAEA safeguards -- International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards -- on all present and future facilities. We have specific concerns about quality control and the construction current maintenance program, the overall quality of the plan. But it is important to note that this type of plant does not produce weapons-usable grade plutonium.
Q So you don't really know if it's true then?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't have a way of verifying in part because we don't have any IAEA safeguards in place so that there's no independent international monitoring of any type of assistance that MINATOM might be giving to this Cuban project.
Q Is this concession on taxes in the line-item veto something that any Republican has asked for of either Griffin or Leon Panetta, or is this just you guys read in the papers today and decided this would be a nice way to call the Republican bluff? I mean, is this something really that could move this, or is this --
MR. MCCURRY: The President hopes that this will be a way, based on the public comments of certain Republican members of Congress, a way in which we can move the legislation forward. As to the rest of it, commenting on how the sausage was made, I'll leave that to others.
Q Could you clarify your answer on capital gains?
MR. MCCURRY: No. It's speculative. We don't know what they're going to pass. I'm not going to speculate how we might use it on individual tax expenditure items.
Q Leon Panetta has said that that provision and repeal of the alternative tax and a few other provisions should be dropped. Do those all still fall under your definition of --
MR. MCCURRY: Hey, look, if it's a crummy bill, and the President feels that it's necessary to veto the bill, he'll veto the bill. If it has so many crummy provisions that the President can't accept the bill, he'll veto it.
Q He doesn't need a line-item veto anyway.
MR. MCCURRY: If he can make it better -- if he can make it better with a line-item veto when it comes to the spending side, that's what he could use the line-item veto to do. That would be a step forward in the President's view.
Q Did he watch the administration people on the Hill on Bosnia, any of the testimony?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt it, because he had other engagements during that period. He's gotten a report --
Q But he cleared the testimony?
MR. MCCURRY: As I indicated yesterday in my highly accurate pre-readout of the principals meeting, they did review the testimony that was to be given in the various questions and answers that were likely to go in response to questions from members. And the testimony unfolded pretty much as we anticipated with the answers that we had anticipated.
Q Do you have any news on the Foster -- how the Foster vote is moving through the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's -- I know that Dr. Foster has got some appointments scheduled on the Hill. And he's meeting with individual senators. He hopes that those will include senators who might be more favorably disposed to his nomination upon meeting him and hearing more about his record, his experience and his qualifications. And might that include the Majority Leader? There have been some discussions with the Majority Leader's staff about when they might get together, but I don't believe a time has been set yet.
Q Do you think the Dole office is stalling?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We have no reason -- I think the senator, if I heard him correctly on the weekend, acted like he was very anxious to meet Dr. Foster.
Q Back on Bosnia. The administration spent today trying to clarify exactly what it's position is on Bosnia. Do you think the confusion over the past week or so has carried a cost in terms of the President's credibility either on the Hill or among the allies?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in a good position to determine that. You should ask the allies or people on the Hill.
Q Why was Barbara Jordan here today?
MR. MCCURRY: Barbara Jordan -- she was here to brief -- initially to brief Chief of Staff Panetta, Commissioner Meissner, and I believe some others on the work that the Commission on Immigration Reform has done. I believe Leon took her down for a short visit with the President. And the President discussed with her some of the recommendations and congratulated the Commission itself for the recommendations they've made on legal immigration. I think we will probably issue a statement sometime shortly from the President indicating that he believes that the recommendations of the Commission are consistent with his own views on legal immigration in that they are pro-family, pro-work, pro-naturalization consistent with some of the basic premises of existing immigration law.
We have been implementing a lot of the recommendations that arose from the first Commission recommendation and believe that there's a lot in this report that deserves some study. Now, I should anticipate a question.
Q How about the legal reduction --
MR. MCCURRY: There is within one of the commission's recommendations -- I mean, within one of the elements of the overall report of the commission a recommendation that there be reductions in the legal immigrations permitted in the country. The President indicated to Barbara Jordan today that he would support such reductions, and he believes that the legal immigration system does need to be reformed so that closest family members -- this has been an ongoing discussion within the administration -- but closest family members ought to have priority to be admitted as quickly as possible and that they ought to ensure, when they can, that American workers are not adversely affected by immigration numbers.
With the reductions that are in the commission's report, I guess at first glance and to the administration seemed to make some sense. We're going to be reviewing the report thoroughly, working closely with the commission and with the Congress to make sure we have a numerical system on legal immigration that is fair and that upholds the American tradition of legal migration.
Q On the rescission detail, what happens next in terms of White House expectations? There are some comments from Republicans on the Hill, number one, that they're not going to try and override because they don't have the votes. And, number two, that they might not have a substitute bill or move with a substitute bill. What do you guys expect?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes, as you know, that there is very important funding for California disaster victims and for Oklahoma City and other provisions that are very necessary and need to be addressed promptly, and the President believes that's very compelling and that will serve as incentive to the Congress to look very carefully at the proposal that he has now made to them on how they can remedy this legislation so they can be passed promptly and be back on his desk, we would hope, shortly, if not within a matter of days. It would be possible for them because the President has given them such a thorough outline of how to address this legislation and have it back to him literally within a matter of hours so that we could have a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden and not a veto ceremony.
Q Governor Wilson to help you on that?
MR. MCCURRY: His support would be welcome.
Q On the day of the State of the Union speech, Mr. Panetta -- I'm trying to remember -- he said the President was in the speech going to embrace the recommendations of the Majority commission. The President actually, I think, made a much milder reference to it in the speech itself. Has there been a new --forgive me -- but a second wave of recommendations from them since that time, or is the President just now amplifying his previous support for the commission?
MR. MCCURRY: They have -- the commission has now come forward with some specific recommendations which we've been able to learn about from news accounts in which the Chair of the commission has now briefed some of the folks here at the White House on. So we have an understanding, a more concrete understanding of what they've proposed specifically.
Q On the rescissions, are you saying that you'll have a substitute bill to give us sometime today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they thought -- the President was waving that document and we should check and see in what shape that document is --
Q What is it? Yes -- what exactly is it?
MR. MCCURRY: I neglected to look at it, but I believe it is a more detailed version of how you would spell things out.
Q But we got burned the last time. Is this an actual substitute bill, or just a list of ideas?
MR. MCCURRY: Bring me a copy, and I'll take a look at it and let you know.
Q What can you tell us about the congressional --
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that George Stephanopoulos and Chris Edley and I believe someone from our Legislative Affairs shop had a very good meeting on the Hill. George has met with a number of your colleagues at the conclusion of that meeting and told them what we have said here already, that the review is continuing. It's likely to take weeks before it is in conclusion. I believe the only thing new George indicated is that he would -- the President would meet with individual members of the Black Caucus prior to locking in any final recommendations as a result of the review, but he did not suggest when that might occur.
Q Isn't there a meeting today?
MR. MCCURRY: This is a meeting -- George has had this meeting on the Hill already today.
Q Is not the Black Caucus coming here today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so. I think this was the meeting that was under discussion is the one that happened.
Q We had been given to understand that some members of the Caucus were coming here today.
Q Coming here at 6:00 p.m.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that, because I have now developed a habit of reporting on these meetings prior to them occurring. I know for certain, because the little fella came in and told me that he was up on the Hill and met with members of the Black Caucus up there. (Laughter.)
Q Do you think the information highway is being blocked?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q Making friends around the administration here.
MR. MCCURRY: Ah, he's one, absolutely.
Q You're not getting the word, man.
MR. MCCURRY: What word?
Q Any word.
MR. MCCURRY: Any word? I just gave you a good readout on the meeting that George had on the Hill. That's pretty good, I think.
Q Did he tell you about a 6:00 p.m. meeting?
Q With Robert Perry? Is he coming this afternoon? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on the 6:00 p.m. meeting. I've now got everyone else dispatched to go bail me out here. Can you go -- you go check on that one.
Q You're running out of staff here.
MR. MCCURRY: We can save a million phone calls if we can get these answers.
Q Can you give us a readout on the police event tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't. We'll have to do that a little later on. We'll check into it.
Q On Bosnia, the read on the Hill today was that the U.S. was prepared to send 1,500 troops. I understood before that the number was 3,500. Why that change?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q I understand that in the testimony on the Hill there was a talk of sending -- the troop force going over in preparation was 1,500; before, the number that had been given was 3,500.
MR. MCCURRY: Go check the transcript of yesterday's briefing at the Pentagon. They went into exhaustive length into that exact subject.
Q What did Mary Ellen find out?
Q Whoa, we've got a couple of questions on the floor here.
MS. GLYNN: George met with the CBC. And we're looking for the --
MR. MCCURRY: George's meeting -- the referenced meeting to members of the Congressional Black Caucus occurred, indeed, on the Hill with Mr. Stephanopoulos and others from the White House. There are no other meetings occurring. I think the President might be having dinner with some members of Congress tonight. But they are not, to my knowledge, members of the Black Caucus.
Q Rescission substitute?
Q Who is he having dinner with this evening?
MR. MCCURRY: It's in the residence so it's a private event. I don't know.
Q Could you find out about the rescission substitute bill?
MR. MCCURRY: We're finding out about that now.
MS. GLYNN: We're finding out about that now.
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell a few jokes, kind of hang around here a little while longer if you want to.
Q The Senate vote occurs today on the terrorism bill --
MR. MCCURRY: We will applaud it appropriately at that time.
Q A piece of paper, something.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I imagine probably a statement from the President. I haven't asked yet but I would imagine that's what it would be.
Q some paper about the President's embrace of these recommendations in principle?
MR. MCCURRY: The draft I've got is just a short statement in which he says what I just said.
Q introducing a bill to kill Commerce. If that goes through would you guys veto that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've got very strong objections to "killing" Commerce, but they're a long ways from finishing that piece of legislation.
Q How about the flag burning amendment?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the Associate Attorney General testified on that on the Hill yesterday.
Q Anything new on the pilot?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new.
Q What are you going to do about a safe Rose Garden program? Are you aware of those kids
MR. MCCURRY: Try to move in portable air-conditioning would seem to be a warranted suggestion based on today.
Q Or perhaps make your programs a bit shorter.
Q Is that where the police officers are going to be sworn in tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know. Do you know?
Q what lawmakers are having dinner with the President tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: Democratic leadership, I believe.
Well, we're petering out here. I'm going to go see if I can get a copy of it.
Q post a new rescissions --
MR. MCCURRY: If it's postable, yes.
Q How much money is cut from it?
MR. MCCURRY: How much money is cut from what? I think it adds up to the same number -- $14.5 billion -- I'm sorry -- $16.5 billion.
Q Has there been any rethinking of the earlier Jordan Commission Report suggestions like the -- IE and those kinds of things?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't see that. I just read a very brief summary.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:15 P.M. EDT