THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
12:24 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House for our extended daily briefing. I'd like to start today -- I think the President's remarks at the White House Conference on Small Business today and some of the things we're doing on deregulation for small business folks, and particularly the aspects of pension plan coverage expansion we talked about really open up some interesting terrain.
The President has been steadfast, I think, in figuring out ways in which entrepreneurs and the small business community can really contribute to the growing of the economy that will result in higher incomes for the American people and eliminating unnecessary federal regulation and making it easier for those in the private sector in the small business community to provide economic opportunities, retirement income security for their workers as an important piece of that.
So I've asked Dr. Elaine Kamarck, who is Vice President Gore's Senior Policy Advisor, coordinates the reinventing government work, to be here today very briefly, along with Sally Katzen, the Administrator in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB; and Ellen Seidman, who is Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy at the National Economic Council. The three of them are available to you.
Elaine, why don't you make one or two brief remarks, and then see if there are any follow-up questions based on the event earlier today.
DR. KAMARCK: Thank you, Mike.
This is the fifth in a series of announcements in the President and Vice President's regulatory review initiative of the federal government. What I'd like to point out is that the President did two things today; first of all, he cut regulations. We can cut regulations just as anyone else can. The more difficult and more complicated work of the government, which we think is as important, if not more important, is fixing the government to make it work better.
That is the purpose of the pension reforms announced today, which have long been sought by people who run small businesses. The analogy maybe as to cutting the government -- yes, we have also cut the size of the government, but simultaneously, what reinventing government is about is making it work better while we're making it cost less. And we believe we're doing that both on the bureaucratic front and on the regulatory front. And so that was the message, I think, of the President today.
I'd like to bring up here Sally Katzen from OIRA, and Ellen Seidman from the National Economic Council who developed most of the pension reforms that were announced today, and take your questions.
Q You could have simplified the release. We don't know what "complex nondiscriminatory" whatever is. (Laughter.)
DR. KAMARCK: Would you like to describe that, Ellen, simply?
MS. SEIDMAN: Yes. Under the new rules, it will be infinitely simpler. Basically, we have, in this country now got a set of pension regulations that were designed to ensure that when we give tax benefits, in order to encourage savings, employers give them in a manner so that the lower income employees receive benefits that are commensurate with the benefits that the upper-income employees and the business owners receive, so that we don't end up in a situation where the owners or the upper-income employees get enormous pension benefits which are tax advantaged, and the lower-ranking employees get little or nothing. And so, we have established this entire set of nondiscrimination rules to attempt to accomplish that.
The rules have gotten extraordinarily complicated over the years. To some extent, it's a long series of loophole closings that have made the rules more and more complicated. These rules are legislative, they are not regulatory. The Treasury has just, as a matter of fact, done a major revamping of the regulations relating to nondiscrimination and has made them a good deal simpler already. But we are not at the point where, to make them much simpler, we've got to go legislative.
And what we've proposed today is that if a business says to its employees, look, I'll give you all three percent of your compensation, each and every employee, I will give three percent of compensation in a retirement plan, or the business says, I'll give you one percent of your compensation in a retirement plan and, moreover, I will match the first three percent of your salary that you contribute on a tax-advantage basis, dollar for dollar, and I'll match the next two percent, at least 50 cents on the dollar -- if you do either one of those things, we say, enough. We know the lower-paid employees are being paid, are getting their pension benefits. We don't need all the anti-discrimination testing on top of this.
We've done that already for the federal government. The matching program that we're proposing is essentially the matching program that is applicable to federal civil servants. And the federal government was smart. We figured out that the rules were so complicated that we couldn't possibly figure them out. And, so, Congress exempted the federal civil service system from those rules. What we're proposing is that private employers who are willing to live by the same rules, get the same exemption.
Q I wanted to ask you about the elimination of the regs. The President talked about this in terms of quantitative change, and he used two examples of regulations he says he can do without. Can you give some more examples of what you're going to need legislative change to do and some more concrete examples of what you're getting rid of?
MS. KATZEN: There's a variety of responses to that, Alexis. The agencies were asked to prepare summary reports and highlights which are due to the President on the 15th. And it's our expectation that we'll make those public within a matter of days afterwards, and let each of them speak to the particular instances.
But it follows -- Department of Transportation, for example, there is a statutory provision that you have to do drug testing before you employ somebody. Now, if you think about that, it means that a prospective employee would sign up for an interview and at that point make another appointment to be drug tested. It's hardly random and hardly very effective. But it becomes very costly for the employers. That's one I know that the Department of Transportation is looking at. I know that Commerce is looking at some in the export control areas. But it's across all of the agencies. And we'll have that information for you early next week.
Q Can you think of an EPA example?
MS. KATZEN: Well, a lot of the EPA examples, remember, have surfaced already in the reinventing EPA, which was done on March 16th. And there's that beautiful brochure that leaves some of it, and some goes further. Now, for example, in the area of legislative changes, they have identified RCRA as a statute that is in need of a few rifle-shot changes. Whether all of those were developed at the time of the report -- they didn't stop working. So the bulk of it is in that brochure. There's more stuff coming.
Q It's nice to see women. (Laughter.)
MS. KAMARCK: We get all the hard work. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Moving onward, let me start first with an introduction. It's a great pleasure to welcome to the press office staff today Allison Wilke.
Allison, will you stand up, please? Allison has been snatched from her honeymoon while the memories of that honeymoon are, no doubt, still warm, and she is married to -- recently married to Carter Wilke, who many of you know is on the White House staff as a speechwriter and now works with the National Historic Preservation Trust, where he's laboring away for Richard Moe, the president. We're delighted to have Allison with us, and she replaces Julie Green, who has got a great opportunity now over in the Office of Media Affairs, remaining within the Press Office.
Q What will she be doing?
MR. MCCURRY: She'll be my personal -- Special Assistant to the Press Secretary. She will be responsible for my conduct, my behavior, my schedule --
Q She looks like Mary Ellen. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: The two of them will be confused frequently, no doubt.
Q Could you tell us, do you expect the President to release a counter budget proposal this week?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect the President, at the moment that he feels is exactly right as far as timing, to come forward with the types of proposals and ideas that he's indicated he would offer to the Congress as they make a good-faith effort to reduce federal spending and bring the budget into balance.
Q Do you think it could be this week?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out, but I wouldn't necessarily say that would happen. He's been working on it with a number of his advisors, as has been correctly reported, and he will look to maximize his own intervention in this process so that it can result in measures that will lead the country in the direction of a balanced budget, along the lines of the timetable that he suggested before.
Q Do you have a reaction to the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action? And does this change the President's plan for releasing his own review?
MR. MCCURRY: Mike, I don't have a formal reaction. The Court has just ruled in the Adarand case on a five-four vote, as you know. To make just one or two points, the President, as many of you know, has long supported efforts to increase opportunities for minority and women entrepreneurs. That has been a central premise of his own approach as he looks at the policy implications as part of the affirmative action review.
The White House along with the Justice Department has now been examining the opinion as it came down from the Court today. I believe it's a little premature to suggest what type of impact this might have on that review, but it will certainly be assessed in the context of the President's affirmative action review which is still underway. And as soon as we can report to you how we assess the opinion, we'll do so. But it's an opinion that, for good reasons and obvious reasons, the President's folks wanted to study first before we commented upon it.
Q Were you waiting for that before you released the President's review?
MR. MCCURRY: As we said before, the timing of the Court's action did not necessarily affect our review, but it clearly -- that was a case pending on the Court's docket and it does perhaps have some implications for the review. So it makes some sense to look at the opinion in the context of the work that the President has been doing with his policy advisers.
Q In terms of the President's review of possible budget proposals, what would be the moment? I mean, what is the impetus for the great moment when he unveils whatever he's going to suggest?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President wants to pick a moment when he feels that his ideas and his contributions to the debate will have the greatest impact on the Republican Congress. It's not too complicated. We want to be in a position to help guide them in the direction of a series of measures, perhaps a series of appropriations bills, or even perhaps a budget resolution that would help the Congress be in a better position to work with the President as we go through the appropriations process. If we don't do that, if we fail to do that, we are headed for what the Speaker himself has said is a likely train wreck in October in which the government all of a sudden will be forced to shut down because it will not be sufficient funding authority. And that is something that the President, I believe, is determined to avoid. And by making a timely intervention in the process at a moment in which he can maximize his own leverage in the discussions, he hopes to avoid that outcome.
Q Is it felt here that his handling of the rescissions measure was an example or a case of timely intervention, or was that thought to be something to be avoided in the future?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I think we see that, as we have
suggested in the past, as something of a model. We worked very closely
with the Senate bipartisan leadership to fashion a measure that, while
not perfect in the view of the White House, was, nonetheless,
acceptable. We laid that down as a bottom line and suggested to the
House that they needed to come to the Senate measure if they were going
to seek the support of the President, and unfortunately, the Conference
Committee did precisely the opposite; they moved from the Senate bill
and went back closer to the House version of the rescissions measure.
And the President, as he promised
he would, vetoed the measure.
Now, there has been a positive result from the veto, which is discussions are continuing on how we can meet the targets of deficit reduction, cut wasteful spending and address some of the priorities in the rescissions measure, including relief for disaster victims and measures to help Oklahoma City. But the President, as he has often said, would prefer to have signing ceremonies in the Rose Garden, as against veto ceremonies.
Q You've answered the question in terms of the substantive intervention, but what about the question of timeliness? Was if felt that his announcement after the bill had cleared conference of his threat to veto it was --
MR. MCCURRY: In fairness, on the rescissions bill, there was a long process of dialogue with the Congress. We went in early on in the House deliberations and told them that many of the directions they were proposing, the specific program cuts would be unacceptable and would likely attract a veto. The House went ahead. The President made it very clear that was an unacceptable measure. The action moved to the Senate where we worked very closely with the bipartisan leadership and helped construct a compromise measure that was much more to the President's liking. So there was intervention at each step along the way.
And I think on the budget, you've seen some of that, but the President clearly believes that you can come forward with additional ideas and have an even greater impact on the deliberations as they begin to write the '96 budget.
Q Mike, how close are they actually to a compromise on the rescission package?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they still have a ways to go. It is my understanding that discussions have been fruitful.
Q Do you expect there will be an announcement on that?
MR. MCCURRY: It really depends -- and it depends in large part on the leadership on Capital Hill because, of course, they'll have to take up and initiate a new measure that would reflect some of these discussions.
Q I just want to make sure I understand. Am I understanding you right when you're saying, the President will have an alternative balanced budget proposal, the only question being when he will release it?
MR. MCCURRY: I said that he will have ideas that he will contribute to the debate in a timely way. I did not suggest necessarily what form those ideas might take. They might very take the form of a budget proposal or a budget outline, or they might take the form of individual contributions on appropriations bills. In some sense, they are one and the same because as we move through the appropriations process, as you look function by function at the budget, we need to be negotiating in our own mind against some bottom line that the President has in mind. So in effect, we would have to have some sense of what that proposal would be. But whether or not the President would want to unveil that in a comprehensive sense is up to him and it's an idea -- I would suggest that the President's thinking on that is rather firm. But he for his own reasons will engage the Congress at a time that he feels is appropriate.
Q What happens next on this blue ribbon commission on political and campaign finance reform? And at some -- is the White House going to make some attempt to get the Senate Majority Leader in on this idea?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think we'll begin with the Speaker because the idea grew out of a suggestion from a citizen in New Hampshire. It was embraced by the Speaker and by the President. Both the Speaker and the President, if my understanding is correct, certainly in the case of the President this is true, have asked their staffs to begin looking at the idea to see how we could structure either a commission or some mandate for a commission. And there will be things to report on that, I would imagine, as we go forward in the coming days. But the President very clearly last night gave instructions to his staff to pursue this matter with the Speaker. And I think one of the aspects of that discussion will be who else needs to be involved in the deliberations about an overall mandate for such a commission and the composition of a commission.
Q Who's in charge of it here of following up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Panetta was looking at the question today and then instructing others on the staff to look at it.
Q Also, there was a lot -- if I can just follow up -- there was a lot made last night in the news coverage, and this morning, of how conciliatory this event was yesterday in New Hampshire. And yet this morning, the Speaker in an interview on New Hampshire television said that the exchange had exposed Democratic lies about what the Republicans plan to do about Medicare. What do you make of that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't think that was directed at the President. I think he was probably putting a favorable cast on what was an amicable discussion that did reveal some important differences as to approach and as to substance. The President and the Speaker do not see eye to eye on many questions. But, as you could tell yesterday, they are willing and able to discuss their differences in a rather open way.
The environment -- many of us were commenting afterwards that the tone of the encounter they had with the senior citizens group in New Hampshire last night was very much like the bipartisan leadership meetings we frequently have here in the Roosevelt Room in the White House. It's that type of familiarity that they have in these discussions; it's that type of reasoned approach to issues. But it does reflect, I think, some differences -- some philosophical differences in the approach of the Republican majority and the administration.
Q Is any person from the White House staff attending this luncheon?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's -- the President, the Vice President are hosting the lunch for Captain O'Grady and his family. The President just, by the way, began the meeting, as you know, with Captain O'Grady in the Oval Office a short while ago. The President met him at the door of the Oval Office with a crisp solute and said, "Basher 52, it's good to have you home." And they then went into the Oval Office.
The Vice President offered Captain O'Grady the chair that the Vice President customarily sits in. They had a very good discussion. And they then, as you know --
Q Was Gore there sitting on the floor? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, he took a position nearby on the couch, Brit. (Laughter.)
They then walked over to the Colonnade where they are having a nice lunch. Mrs. Clinton is hosting a lunch separately for Senate spouses, I think as many of you know. But she did visit with Captain O'Grady and his family for about 10 minutes before going off to that luncheon; greeted Captain O'Grady's father and said, "I know you; you're on television." And they plan to have a luncheon -- have you put out the luncheon menu already? So they're going to do the luncheon and then go over to the Pentagon. The Pentagon event, by the way, I believe has been moved indoors because of the inclement weather.
Q What did they talk about in the Oval Office? How long was the discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: They talked, I believe, must have been about 40 minutes. Captain O'Grady -- it was really an opportunity for Captain O'Grady to tell an amazing story in much greater detail. And both the President and the Vice President were interested in exactly the ordeal that he went through. And it is a hair-raising story. Captain O'Grady reported to the President and Vice President that at various points throughout his five and a half day ordeal there were moments in which Serb patrols were literally four or five feet away from him. I think it would be accurate to say that he feels divinely blessed that he was able to elude capture.
Q Captain O'Grady has suggested that he's not the hero, but those rescued him were. I wonder if the President is planning any special effort to recognize those Marines.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the President agrees with that sentiment exactly. And they talked a little bit about that in their meeting, that the real heroes in many ways are those who risked their own lives to conduct the rescue mission. In fact, that's exactly why the President agreed with the recommendation from the Pentagon that they have the formal ceremony welcoming Captain O'Grady home over at the Pentagon where we could also pay tribute to all the units that were involved in the search and rescue effort. That's exactly why the President is going over to the Pentagon, to pay tribute to all of those who were involved in an extraordinary mission.
Q Was this 40 minutes taken up -- all this time was taken up with O'Grady telling the President and Vice President about the ordeal, or did the President and Vice President ask questions, did they talk policy?
MR. MCCURRY: They had a very engaging conversation, both about his ordeal, his family, his service to his country, his career as an Air Force pilot and -- a good conversation.
Q Did the President indicate that a field promotion was in the works here?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information that would suggest that, but I can check on that.
Q Do you think you could also get some of this good stuff from the luncheon?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see. I mean, as I just suggested, we would point you over to the Pentagon to the event later on, because I think that's where the President really does plan to say a good deal in a tribute to all those who participated in this mission.
Q Is he going to say anything about Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: He will talk about the importance of the work that Captain O'Grady was doing when he was on his mission, and the work that so many thousands of U.S. personnel are doing in and around the Balkans and the Adriatic to -- consistent with the U.S. view of what our role in the conflict should be.
Q Is he going to talk about the missiles?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt it.
Q Mike, back on the Gingrich commission idea --
Q Can we finish on this? Did the President and O'Grady talk about the operation itself, any aspects of the mission? Did the President ask questions about the difficulties of the mission? Did O'Grady share any information --
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that they talked a little bit about it, but I didn't sit in on the conversation, so I don't have a complete readout.
Q Did the President seek some kind of advice from O'Grady? Did O'Grady offer any advice on how these operations should --
MR. MCCURRY: It was not a policy or political discussion.
Q Does the White House have any reaction to what is now an obvious lie about the Bosnian-Serb statement that O'Grady was in their custody -- I mean that they captured O'Grady?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I've commented on that already from here.
Q Mike, back to the budget for a second. You just indicated a few minutes ago that the President is considering whether his leverage might include the budget resolution as opposed to the reconciliation down the road. In the Rose Garden, the President sort of indicated that he didn't believe in idle exercises and he thought his best leverage might be more toward appropriations and reconciliations. What might have changed in his thinking about how he could influence the resolution?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's not get too wrapped up in specific legislative vehicles, but look at what the outcome is that's desired. We need to have a budget process that gets this nation moving in the direction of a balanced budget within, the President believes, a decade. That's the goal. How you get there will be determined by what type of deliberations are ongoing in Congress as they write appropriations measures, as they go through the normal legislative work of drafting and writing a budget. Now, there are various ways in which the President can intervene and contribute ideas to that dialogue.
He can do that in the context of a conference committee deliberation on a budget resolution. He could do that in committees as they work through appropriations bills. You could do that in the context of reconciliation. There are a variety of ways in the calendar between now and October 1st in which he can make his influence felt. What he's determined to do is to avoid the train wreck that many now suggest on Capitol Hill is all but inevitable. The President thinks that's bad government. He wants to try to head that off in figuring out how to do that.
QQ What do you mean a train wreck?
MR. MCCURRY: Arriving at the new fiscal year without a budget in place so that there's no funding authority for the government to conduct its operations, thus shutting down federal installations, federal buildings, the White House press room.
Q Why would that happen? Because of him vetoing appropriations bills?
MR. MCCURRY: Because there would be a standoff on various appropriations measures and no authority for the government to conduct its activities.
Q Doesn't that mean the Speaker's called the President's bluff? I mean, he said there's going to be a train wreck and I dare the President to let this happen.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's suggesting that's bad government, a bad outcome, and there's got to be a better way to get the nation's business done.
Q When did the President arrive at the view that a balanced budget in 10 years was the appropriate goal? When did he come to that view?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been looking at that question, and he's not fixed on any arbitrary date, remember. I think the President's more interested in the policy that drives those types of discussions, and as he has suggested, he believes that you can accomplish the goal -- important goal of a balanced budget within a decade. But there are other aspects of that that are important, too -- what type of policies derive that balanced budget approach, what consequences would there be for the national economy, how do you look at the predicted performance of the national economy and factor that into the decisions you make about a budget, and how do you ultimately make the priorities of a government approach that contributes to lifting incomes for American workers.
Q Well, may we take it that he came to the view that this could be done in a decade at the time when he first said that it could be done in a decade?
MR. MCCURRY: No. This is a fundamental question about how the FISK* operates within the national economy, and that is, as you could well imagine, something that the President looks at all the time, because it is central to what he believes his presidency is about, which is, helping this economy grow, helping create more economic opportunity for the American people.
Q Does he now firmly believe that this can be done within a decade, or is that something to review again in maybe 15 years?
MR. MCCURRY: That's what he believes, and he believes that you can make policy against that objective. But he will continue, as he should, continue to watch very carefully what the economic indicators are, what the predicted performance of the economy is, what monetary policy does to those projections -- all of those questions fit into an overall picture of what the economy is about.
Q And you can't say when he came to this view?
MR. MCCURRY: I can say he's come to the view as he's worked in, what, the last six weeks, that there will be a point -- and the Chief of Staff suggested sooner rather than later yesterday -- there will be a point at which he wants to contribute his specific ideas towards the goal of a balanced budget within 10 years.
Q The original question remains, and I don't think it's been quite answered, which is, when did he arrive in the view that you could do it in a decade?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he woke up one morning, Brit, and said, "aha, 10 years." I think he's beginning looking at all of these questions as they fit together, and what has evolved is his own belief that the goal of 10 years, as he suggested in the Rose Garden that day, is one that you can begin to make specific policy decisions against.
Q Mike, could you characterize, describe Dick Morris's role in the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not in the White House. He's one of many people outside the White House that the President talks to on a regular basis. Those of you familiar with his career know that he's been a friend of the President a long time and has worked for him in various campaigns in the past.
Q Does he come to the White House for regular meetings, or does the President speak to him outside of the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President talks to him fairly often, and he probably comes down and visits with the Clintons over at the White House from time to time -- talks to the President -- my guess is he talks to others on the White House staff from time to time, too. I talk to him from time to time. He's a fairly smart guy.
Q And how do you feel about his Republican connections that he works for Trent Lott and other Republicans? Is that a problem for the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I think the President is interested in the most talented people who can help him drive his ideas, who can help him fashion the argument that he wants to make to the American people. The President relies on people who are his staff to help him do what he wants to do as President of the United States. And he gets help from Republicans, from independents, from people from all walks of life.
Q Mike, do you have any comment on the Times story on the Russian nuclear --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- they're looking at that. I believe there were going to do some of that over at the State Department today because they've been spending the most time on it.
Q What's the question?
MR. MCCURRY: It's on the deal -- the story today on the HEU transfers between Ukraine and Russia. And all -- well, what I would just say on our behalf here -- as many of you know, the agreement itself is one that represented a very significant foreign policy achievement for the President, so we're not going to let the agreement itself slip between the cracks. In a variety of ways we've been pursuing both with the government of Ukraine and Russia the progress under the agreements that they've reached in their trilateral accord that was signed in Moscow. And President -- or Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and Vice President Gore are expected to take up this issue when they meet at the end of this month.
Q Is that accurate? I mean, as far as the U.S. is concerned, the deal is in some trouble --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are looking at it. There are aspects of it, as there are with any complicated agreement, that need to be reviewed as the agreement is implemented.
Q Another question on U.S.-Japan trade?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q The U.S. has rejected a European proposal to participate in these negotiations --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not familiar with that, Wolf. I have to kick that over to USTR. But Ambassador Kantor, as you know, has been supervising some technical level talks that are occurring in Geneva. So USTR will be able to help you on that.
Q Will Secretary Christopher be heading to Halifax earlier to meet with the Japanese on this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Have they -- has the State Department announced that they're going to have a bilateral meeting yet? Go check with them and they'll tell you when it's going to happen. They customarily do -- it's customary for the Deputy Prime Minister -- Foreign Minister Kono and Secretary Christopher -- well, in various capacities they have met prior to bilateral meetings between the Japanese Prime Minister and President Clinton. So it would not be unexpected that they would meet prior to the meeting.
Q Would it be fair to assume that they're to meet and try to resolve this luxury car tariff issue?
MR. MCCURRY: It would not be fair to assume that. The Secretary of State, as he's often said, has responsibility for the broad portfolio that is represented by all aspects of our engagement with the government of Japan. And as we've often said, the trade economic issues are but one aspect of what is a very important, productive working relationship. And we need to pursue in a variety of way a lot of the different things that we work together with the government of Japan on.
Q Following on that -- there will be a lot of attention on the bilateral with Murayama and it's the first one in -- the spotlight will be on, but do you expect anything significant to come out of that with regards to this trade dispute? What should people be looking for out of that? They're not going to sit down and solve it, I wouldn't think?
MR. MCCURRY: The meeting between Prime Minister Murayama and President Clinton? We've said already here and we will brief again tomorrow at 11:45 a.m. with Secretary Christopher and Secretary Rubin, but they will tell you again tomorrow that we don't expect any resolution of our trade and economic issues as a result of the meeting between the Prime Minister and the President.
Q They will have a news conference here?
MR. MCCURRY: How do you like the way I slipped that in, Helen? Pretty good, huh?
Q We don't expect any resolution of it?
MR. MCCURRY: Not in Halifax, no. And they both -- Ambassador Kantor has made that pretty clear that there are other issues. We don't expect any resolution before, either, although, you know, I do need to defer to those experts who are now discussing some of the underlying issues as they meet in Geneva today I believe.
Q Do we expect any resolution ever?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been able to reach -- we've reached 14 bilateral trade accords with Japan during the course of this administration consistent with the framework, and we believe that it is possible to resolve these disputes through negotiation. That is our preference. We would rather negotiate, agree and move on to stronger economic relations in an atmosphere of freer and more open trade. We would prefer that to a climate in which there is retaliation and consequences under U.S. trade law.
Q Now, the U.S. is still committed to abiding by any WTO resolution that might occur?
MR. MCCURRY: This matter is being pursued at the WTO. That's correct.
Q Wait a minute, that doesn't answer the question.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll kick that question over to Ambassador Kantor because he had a precise answer to that, and I can't remember it.
Q Mike, can we go back to the commission with Gingrich for a moment, please?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Campaign finance reform and lobbying reform have been kicking around for a long time. The President and Gingrich get together periodically down here and other places. Why does it take a proposal from a mere citizen in New Hampshire to bring them together and move forward on this process?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was just a -- it was one of those unique moments in which a good idea suddenly struck both of these leaders who have worked on those issues extensively as the right thing to do and for exactly the reason that the President suggested.
The President, as some of you know, has been looking at the issue of reform of our political system very carefully, and as he indicated in answer to the question last night, there's really not much prospect that any real reforms would make their way forward in our current climate unless you figured out some way to break the gridlock that has existed on these issues.
And the citizen in New Hampshire last night had a very valuable suggestion -- why don't you consider some type of commission structure, in fact, modeling it on the base closing commissions that would really provide an impetus to the executive and legislative branch to move ahead on some of these reforms. It might be a valuable --
Q Do you see that applying to any of the other gridlock issues that we see forming out here?
MR. MCCURRY: I would suggest that in this particular issue because it goes to the fundamental composition of the legislative branch, that this might be a case in which it's a very warranted approach because it's hard to get people who are currently members of an institution to think through all the issues that surround reform of a system by which they are elected to the offices that they hold. So an outside commission of experts in this particular case makes some sense.
Mr. Hunt. Where did you get that tie?
Q My daughter.
MR. MCCURRY: That's something.
Q Do you want to say more about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm going to reserve judgment on that tie, let the record show.
Q The House and the Senate have dealt with this issue and there's some thought that this commission might slow things down by putting it on a third track. How do you respond to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Boy, I tell you, I remember in one of my previous lives working on campaign finance reform at a time in which everyone agreed there was great momentum and the issue was quickly stuck because of the institutional prerogatives that exist on Capitol Hill. And I think you can look ahead, as the President has, and see exactly that same type of gridlock developing. So, far from believing that any type of commission might slow the work on reform we believe that might be a necessary element of spurring the Congress to further action.
Q This has been tried before.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, boy, there have been commissions on campaign finance reform and lobbying reform and political reform ad nauseam.
Q What's different about this one?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this one -- along the lines of the suggestions of the citizens of New Hampshire, it would have some authority, although it's as yet undefined, to really propose some things that might jump-start a legislative process. That's the big difference. It's not like a private foundation coming forward with some --
Q No, no, no, I'm saying through the legislative, those kind of bipartisan commissions on campaign finance reform have been set up by the Senate and the House to come up with recommendations that both parties can --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been working committees in the Congress or ad hoc committees in Congress. I'm not aware that there have been this type of effort to bring in experts from the outside or -- I'm sorry, you're correct. Yes, I remember.
Q But the Base Closing Commission was binding. I mean, the decisions made by that had some force behind it.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. Now, whether you could make this binding, we don't know. We have no idea until we explore it further with the Hill leadership.
Q Mike, can I ask another affirmative action question? You began your earlier answer by saying the President supports opportunities for minority and women entrepreneurs. Your early analysis of what the court did today is to throw into jeopardy the $10 billion in set-asides for exactly those folks. Do you agree with that assessment, and what can you do to change it?
MR. MCCURRY: You're correct, that is the early analysis that's being made by experts who are commenting on the opinion. I just can't be in a position yet to offer you any type of a reaction that would represent a preliminary view of the administration. We need to look at it very carefully, we want to study the opinions and whatever dissents were developed and look at it a little more carefully before we provide an analysis, because it's so central to the question that a lot of you have been following closely. I think you just give us a little while to study the opinion, I think that would be fair.
Q Will that put on ice his whole review?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it won't. It will need to be considered in the context of the review, but certainly will not put it on ice.
Q Is there some White House meeting this week with gay elected officials?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe there is, and I think it's tomorrow. But they can -- it's tomorrow at sometime.
Q Will the President attend this meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President is not expected to attend.
Q Was he ever?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a briefing for leaders from the gay community, and I believe it's scheduled for tomorrow at some point. But we can -- the office staff can find you a more.
Q Who is seeing them?
Q What's the reason? Is it because of the Attorney General's decision not to --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. This has been set up for some time, and we do a regular series of briefings for outside groups who want to come and hear more about the administration's policies in selected areas. We've had environmentalists in. We've had a variety of civil rights organizations in. This is one in a kind of ongoing group of briefings like this that we offer for leadership of various communities.
Q Is the administration preparing to move on some kind of gay rights issue?
MR. MCCURRY: No. It's not connected to any imminent development, although there is the appointment of a commission that is scheduled some time soon of which this particular group has some interest, I think.
Q A question about Leon Panetta's comments in that interview which you jawboned about a little bit -- do those comments reflect a change in thinking within the administration that the risks of the economy are now tilted a little bit more toward weakness?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the Secretary of the Treasury who is our lead spokesperson within the administration on monetary policy has made it clear that we maintain our view that the administration doesn't comment directly on the decision making of the Federal Reserve.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:06 P.M. EDT