THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:12 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This briefing will be brief because I don't have any news to impart upon you at the moment. But I'll make a reasonably good effort to answer questions.
Hello, Mr. Wolf Blitzer, of the Cable News Network. Good afternoon.
Q Can you explain the White House reaction on affirmative action -- the Supreme Court decision yesterday? How will this impact on the continuing reassessment of all of the affirmative action programs?
MR. MCCURRY: The Court's decision on Adarand is a profoundly important decision in many respects. The President has instructed those working on a review of affirmative action to analyze the opinion carefully and determine what impact that will have on the President's own review of affirmative action programs. We expect that that is going to take some time. And I will suggest to you that it -- the President, himself having talked about the opinion with some others, may have a statement later today, but it will be probably late this afternoon before that will be completed. We'll be doing a little bit of work on that during the day today and try to have a further statement later.
Q What kind of statement is that?
Q Would that be a written --
MR. MCCURRY: Written -- written statement from the President later.
Q Who did he talk to?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been working with those who have had a chance now to take a careful look at the opinion.
Q The President submitted a budget in February; the Republicans did what they did; and now he doesn't like what they're doing, so he wants to propose something new. Can you tell me what Vice President Gore's selling point to the networks was as why this is something so compelling that it demands television time to address the nation when he's had months and months to talk about the budget process?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me back up -- let me back up a little bit and maybe siphon out some of the belligerency from that question.
Q No belligerency, sir, just facts.
MR. MCCURRY: What the President did in February was submit an FY '96 budget proposal that you'll recall at the time suggested that there could be additional significant budget reduction in the context of health care reform.
We've said all along that absent health care reform it's difficult to go into entitlement programs, to Medicare-Medicare, achieve additional savings. That's something that's abundantly clear in watching the Senate and House deal with the budget resolution as well.
Now, the President put down a significant statement about priorities in the FY '96 budget proposal, and what he will do tonight is build upon that document by adding in not only additional savings that result from health care reform, but then also assess what the House and the Senate have done to date in the context of their own consideration of a budget resolution.
Now, there was a significant debate and a significant choice for the President on whether to intervene in this process now, or wait for the House and the Senate Conference Committee to complete work on their own budget resolution. The President's assessment is that the House and the Senate Conference Committee is heading towards a budget resolution that will give guidelines to the appropriations committees in Congress, that would surely result in bills that he would, of necessity, have to veto over and over again. That would then raise the very strong prospect as we go through August and September that we come close to the end of the fiscal year with nothing having been achieved in the appropriations process that allows the federal government to continue its orderly functions; thus, the very real prospect of a complete shutdown in the functioning of the federal government, with no spending authority, the likelihood of no action on a debt ceiling measure, and the train wreck that is implied by an inability of the federal government to function. The train wreck suggested by the Speaker, himself, when he said that was a very real prospect.
So the President, by intervening in this process now as the House and Senate conferees are deliberating, offers the Congress the opportunity of achieving a budget resolution that gives formula to the appropriations process that could result in compromise rather than vetoes and train wrecks.
Q Perhaps my belligerency confused you, but that wasn't what my question was getting at.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the urgency --
Q I'm talking about in February he did not go on national television to announce a budget. Why does he feel it necessary to raise it to that level at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think -- he feels we're at a point in this process, the Congress having deliberated now -- this new Congress, this new Congress that is a result of the elections of November 1994, which is not an insignificant aspect of this -- they have deliberated and it is now timely for him to reenter this process in a way that allows him to shape the priorities that will be expressed in the budget resolution that is the result of the House conference -- House-Senate conference work.
Q He could do that in many other venues, though. A national speech like this is kind of puts an emphasis on it.
MR. MCCURRY: This is a good opportunity to frame that debate, to focus the attention of Congress on the President's priorities and what he believes will be a significant statement that offers a way out of the difficulty we will find ourselves in at the end of summer if we don't avert the train wreck the President suggests will be the likely result of the deliberations to date.
Q Didn't the President, in fact, start this train on its way to wreck by not putting down a realistic budget to start out with four months ago?
MR. MCCURRY: The President put down a very realistic budget that he will build upon tonight by adding into it other elements that we suggested in the budget document itself that we submitted in February were at the moment not included in that proposal. We did not attempt in the FY '96 budget proposal in February to write health care reform into that budget. And that is one aspect of what you'll hear the President talk about tonight. But there are others as well.
Q Just to clarify -- so he's essentially going to be presenting us this evening with an amendment to his budget as opposed to an amendment to the GOP budget?
MR. MCCURRY: This will take the shape of a fairly comprehensive set of guidelines that can include specific recommendations to the Congress on how they could adjust the current budget resolution and meet the priorities suggested by the President.
Q -- by GOP or his budget? I'm sorry, just a second -- does that mean GOP or his budget?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you'll see the documents, from the documents that we'll be able to give to you later on today how he builds off the current projections and how he incorporates some of the projections and baselines that were included in the '96 budget.
Q In the Rose Garden he suggested that he wanted to wait to get the most leverage which was when there something that he could sign or veto was coming up. Now you're saying that he wants to affect the budget resolution -- that's his goal, which is something that he can't veto.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he can -- there was suggested two options. You could wait for them to complete their work on the conference report. He, admittedly, doesn't have great leverage in that because he has no veto. But what the President has determined is then we are left to fight it out appropriation bill by appropriation bill, with very little prospect of successful outcome of those deliberations. By entering the process now, there is still a chance, if the Congress is willing to take the President's offer up, to work on this document in a way that will allow the President and the Congress to amicably address spending priorities and appropriation priorities as we move through the process later in the summer.
Q Does he have a preferred method of following up, a summit, negotiations? What does he want to be the next --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see how the Republicans in Congress respond to the President's remarks tonight.
Q He did seem to suggest in the Rose Garden that the rescissions bill process was the model. And now what change between now and his decision to go forward --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is still a general model of what the President attempted to do in the rescissions bill. Remember that prior to final action -- and we went through this a lot yesterday -- prior to final action in the Senate the President worked directly with the bipartisan leadership in the Senate to attempt to get a document that would reflect his priorities.
In a sense, that's exactly what he's doing now. But as we look ahead, the same prospect lies ahead for what happened on the rescissions bill -- that there's a failure on the part of the Congress to accommodate the concerns of the President, resulting in a veto. And the President has said often he would not wish to see veto after veto, he wants to see the Congress and the Executive Branch together address spending priorities in a way that allows the country to move forward towards the goal of a balanced budget.
Q On the rescissions bill -- the President has accepted all but about 10 percent, expressed in dollar terms at least, of what that bill did. Can you give us some rough sense of how much of a disagreement, how radically different this plan to get to balance in 10 years or whatever will be from what the President sees as the shape of the measures emerging from the Congress? Is this way different?
MR. MCCURRY: This represents a different approach from the one suggested by the Congress. A lot of the -- many of the same goals are shared by the President and the Republican Congress: the goal of deficit reduction leading to a balanced budget, savings generated from cuts in certain programs -- many of them dear to Democratic constituencies, to be sure -- a very modest tax relief for middle income. But it also reflects many of the President's priorities, putting an emphasis on education, investments and those things that will help the economy grow over the long-term. So there are some different --
Q Is the Middle Class Bill of Rights largely intact?
MR. MCCURRY: It's substantially -- the concept of targeted tax relief for the middle income is intact in the bill.
Q How about size?
MR. MCCURRY: But everybody has to give a little in the course of reaching a desired outcome of balanced budget.
Q -- meaning the tax that has shrunk?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to confirm details on the package.
Q Could I clarify -- were you trying to suggest that the President believes that in the short-term health care reform can produce actual savings in the budget, or simply that reductions in the growth of Medicare spending can be used -- because I thought the CBO more or less decimated last year the notion that health care reform would produce any short-term savings.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that health care reform is a necessary ingredient of achieving savings and outlays for Medicare and Medicaid. That's all I want to really say on that at this point.
Q Mike, to follow Maura's question -- is the President amenable to a budget summit if the Republicans are also amenable to it?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't answer that question, and I suggested that we'll just have to see how the Republican majority in Congress responds to the remarks of the President tonight.
Q In order to get a response, would the President set a deadline for action on a compromise? If not, by a certain time then --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have a -- the President is coming forward with his ideas in the context of their own deliberations on budget resolutions and appropriation bills accordingly, so in a sense, we acknowledge that the timing is up to the Legislative Branch, but the President believes that this timely intervention on his part can help guide the Congress towards a solution that the President would be able to accept.
Q Well, he said a date certain. I mean, I'm not talking about October 1, I'm talking about sometime before then to try to reach a compromise. And if not, then --
MR. MCCURRY: We believe that the Congress in one way or another will be in the position of wanting to respond to the President's suggestions as it sees fit, and hopefully, in a favorable way.
Q Are you talking about putting this out there, what you're trying to affect is the ultimate budget resolution going through conference now and not --
MR. MCCURRY: We believe this could ultimately affect the deliberations of the Conference Committee, but even beyond, it could certainly affect the appropriations process and the reconciliation process as well.
Q If the Republicans wanted to have a budget summit, would the President be amenable to that?
MR. MCCURRY: You're suggesting to them how they ought to respond to the President's address; I'm not going to be so presumptuous.
Q Can we call this a compromise that he's offering and have the television networks accept it to air it?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll be able to look at it and I think measure it against what you know the President's strongest desires are, and then decide for yourself whether that's an appropriate label. I think it's a clearly --
Q Well, it is a compromise from what he had offered before.
MR. MCCURRY: It clearly demonstrates a willingness on the part of the President to reach out to Congress to work together with the Congress to achieve the goal of a balanced budget.
Q Well, are they going to televise it, have you heard?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard -- I've seen only wire accounts that indicate that they are responding -- there are indications they are responding favorably to the President's request for time.
Q Isn't the President throwing away a potentially important bit of leverage by allowing himself to be spooked about the prospect of this train wreck? Ronald Reagan used to relish that prospect and brought the government down a couple of times because it put him in a stronger position vis-a-vis Congress. If you're telegraphing tonight, or if the President's telegraphing tonight to Congress that at all costs he wants to avoid a train wreck, they can then do almost anything and he would have to accede.
MR. MCCURRY: The answer to the question is now, and as the Secretary of the Treasury was here earlier to summarize really the context of his answer, we are headed into a G-7 summit in coming days where the other industrialized countries are looking carefully to see what type of fiscal discipline the United States will have in addressing its own economic affairs, and the President's view is at a time in which we see great volatility in global financial markets, that this is not a time to play Russian roulette with financial markets. And that is precisely what you do. If you want a demonstration of why it's not a good idea to work towards that type of train wreck, just look at 1990 and the experience we had.
Q -- the Republicans play off the President's fear of the train wreck and enhance their bargaining position.
MR. MCCURRY: Only if they lack the country's best interests in mind as they do so. I think that they need -- the President here is making an offer to the Republicans we can work together if we're in a position to give a little to achieve a very worthy and important outcome. And the President believes that there are some indications, not least of which was the very amicable discussion he had with the Speaker in New Hampshire this past weekend that the Congress will try to resolve some of these questions in something less than the incendiary political environment that you suggest with the question.
Q Did any of his advisers tell him that that's a rather naive thought?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't go into private advice.
Q If there are still Democrats who want veto after veto, why should they not mount a primary challenge against the President for moving so far to the right?
MR. MCCURRY: That's speculation on what the political reaction will be in some parts of the Democratic Party. There will, no doubt, be Democratic members of Congress that don't agree with the President. We acknowledge that, and that's --
Q -- your argument, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Our argument is that they -- that we have got to be serious about bringing this country's economic business into a rational path that leads to discipline and to control unnecessary spending and reaches goals that will be a necessary ingredient of future economic growth. If you as a Democrat believe that people who work for a living need to have some prospect of brighter economic futures, the discipline that is shown by balancing the federal budget is a necessary ingredient of that type of economic future. And that all else then becomes, you know, quibbling about things that this country has struggled with for 10 years, 20 years, at a time when which there had been no ability because of the declining resources available to address those very urgent human needs that most Democrats care about very, very deeply.
Q Is this a bottom line or this is an opening?
MR. MCCURRY: This is a useful contribution by the President to the dialogue in Congress over writing a budget. And it, hopefully, could very easily lead to negotiations that would result in the goals that the President suggests are important.
Q Mike, if I am correct in what you said earlier in this briefing, you were saying that the President, what he's putting forward, builds off of the current budget resolutions and appropriation process in Congress. And then you're saying that it doesn't so much represent a different direction as it, quote, represents a different approach than the Republicans. Aren't you as much as saying that the Republican -- that this is a "yes, but" Clinton budget -- yes, cut the deficit; yes, balance the budget; yes, cut Medicare; yes, do all the things the Republican ran on and are putting in place, but do it just a little bit differently? And is this not --
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President -- the President has --
Q -- an acknowledgement that the Republican direction is the direction Clinton now endorses?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President, as he has said often, believes there is a right way and a wrong way to achieve the goal of a balanced budget. And this represents the right way. And for all the reasons that he has said all over very often, there is a wrong way to balance the budget. And that has been demonstrated now in both the House and the Senate.
Q -- probably not going to be a bunch of new taxes --
MR. MCCURRY: There will be -- you'll see in this document a way in which the President believes you can achieve the goal of a balanced budget consistent with the priorities that he has very often expressed and consistent with the implicit criticism of the action by the House and the Senate.
Q I just wanted to understand more clearly the timing of this. Many Democrats up on Capitol Hill suggest that this is the absolute wrong time to be offering this kind of budget, and that it's much better to wait a little longer and let the Republicans take the heat. How much of this was driven by the upcoming G-7 summit and the desire by the President to go up there and show that he was still a credible deficit reduction --
MR. MCCURRY: That was a factor, as you've heard expressed here already today. But also a factor that there's something beyond the political advantage that would come in just continuing the torch of the Republicans on the actions that they have taken to date; that we at the end need to be able to demonstrate to the nation that we do share the objective of fiscal discipline. And the President has an obligation as an elected leader and as President to come forward with ideas that can usefully move towards that result.
Now, there will be those on Capitol Hill and those who are very close friends of this President who suggest that it was not necessary to do this now. But the President feels otherwise, after considering the matter very carefully.
Q New topic. Has the President or the White House made any steps toward creating this blue ribbon commission on political reforming? What kind of timetable do you see for getting this going?
MR. MCCURRY: We have got that on a very fast track. The President asked his advisors to come up with specific ideas on how to structure that, and there has already been a good deal of work done on that. A good memo has circulated already that kind of reviews the structure of bipartisan commissions, looks at the questions of how we could make the results of the work of this commission somewhat more binding on the President and the Congress as they work towards political reform, and that we will be approaching the relevant members of Congress soon to begin serious deliberations on how to structure that commission.
Q Does that mean both Gingrich and Dole, that you would intend to approach, or just Gingrich --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will start the dialogue with the Speaker, because that's the way the dialogue was started in the first instance between the Speaker and the President.
Q And one other thing to follow up. The Senate and the House, too, have made plans to vote on this lobbying disclosure and gift ban bill this year. Would the President like to see that kind of extracted from this commission and make it just a campaign finance reform committee?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a worthy goal, and the Congress may very well continue to work on that piece of legislation. That's something that could be considered by any such commission that is established and that addresses the additional questions of campaign finance reform, political reform, disclosure laws, any of the things that might be under the purview of this commission.
The commission itself has no mandate, has not been established, but the discussions are now underway certainly within the administration and very shortly with Congress as well as what the parameters of that type of review should be.
Q On the tariffs, the proposed tariffs for Japanese luxury cars, do you anticipate there could be a breakthrough during the G-7 summit on this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I think it's been abundantly clear each and every time administration officials have talked about Halifax that we don't see the meeting between the President and Prime Minister Murayama, or between Secretary of State Christopher and Deputy Prime Minister -- Foreign Minister Kono in that context. It's certainly not in the prospect at this moment that there would be that type of result, and that's been indicated now by those who have participated in the technical talks at Geneva. We would certainly hope that there could be progress towards a negotiated solution, but there doesn't seem to be much prospect that that will arise out of the meeting at Halifax.
Q So what would happen after Halifax? Would the technical talks continue at that other lower level until the June 28th --
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't want to speculate on whether there would be additional meetings beyond Halifax. But it's probably self-evident that it would have to be if we were to avert the imposition of sanctions as scheduled June 28th.
Q Without giving any specific numbers, could you explain how much of a difference there is between the right way and the wrong way?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I can't. Brit made a good stab at that to try to describe that. We can't -- it was easy in the context of the rescissions bill because you're talking about a specific deficit reduction in different numbers. I can't, as we sit here now, do that, because I'd have to give you some quantitative estimate of what the difference --
Q But I just --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't do the general quantitative -- I can't, right here and now, do sort of the quantitative side of this. But by 9:00 p.m. tonight, I think it will be easy for you -- by 9:00 p.m. tonight, it will be easy for all of you to do it.
Q Okay, but what I'm asking --
MR. MCCURRY: What's your question?
Q You've attacked the Republicans for making cuts in Medicare.
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q Now, you're going to propose your own. What's the difference?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the difference is that they are obviously less and they're done in the context of health care reform.
Q We haven't seen a lot of little old ladies lying down in front of Dick Armey's or Newt Gingrich's car over the issue of Medicare. Did you guys miscalculate the senior citizens' willingness to support a balanced budget as opposed to fighting for their full Medicare bill? Is this like a weakening --
MR. MCCURRY: No, we didn't. I think we have a good sense, as the President who got a very strong and positive response from a group of senior citizens over the weekend -- it was clear, I think, that there is a willingness to pull together as a country to address some of these budget priorities, but it can be done in a way that protects some of those who face really clear needs. And among them, in the case of the elderly, are long-term health care and other things that we've talked about often in the context of health care reform.
Q -- full-blown health care proposal attached to this?
MR. MCCURRY: The President sensed, even before the State of the Union, has talked about step-by-step incremental reform in health care and has suggested that in that context it's possible to achieve Medicare and Medicaid savings. And I would think you would rightfully expect the document that he'll talk about tonight to reflect that.
Q The President, in his February budget, did not really deal with the corporate welfare proposals that both Democrats and Republicans have not targeted. Are we likely to hear him talk a little bit about how deficit reduction could be accomplished by dealing with those subsidies and tax breaks?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out.
Q Will he call for the elimination of any Cabinet departments?
MR. MCCURRY: You're now kind of going into trying to squeeze from me the sort of details that we clearly will be able to provide to you later in the day. I'm just not going to do it now, not going to do it on the record. We'll have an embargoed briefing later on for those who have to write on tight deadlines and a lot of this will be clear.
Q -- draw a line in the sand on education?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's wrap up on the budget now. We've done enough on that.
Q When did the President resolve to do this? Last night, this morning, the middle of the night?
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- I suggested to you yesterday, the President had a pretty firm notion on how to proceed. A lot of the decisions that are embedded in the presentation he'll make tonight have been made over the course of the last two weeks or so. Many of the decision points along the way -- there were some decisions that were really of necessity only made in the last several days. The President, I think it's accurate to say, really didn't determine until this morning that we would definitely proceed with the presentation tonight, although it's clearly been something under discussion and something that he's given great thought to in recent days.
Q And who at the networks -- I mean, this was -- at what level did the Vice President talk to there?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he's -- well, we made the request, as we routinely do, to the bureau chiefs who constitute the pool. But there, obviously, have been additional discussions with the networks and executives as well.
Q Are there any takers yet?
Q -- who was contacted?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think -- those are private conversations.
Q Well, weren't they at a very high level and wasn't it made plain this morning that it would be at a very high level?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's fair to say that the White House -- the Vice President and the White House staff feel that these are very important remarks and we want to make sure that the networks understand that.
Q Well, why don't you just -- can you just tell us then who was approached?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't detail all the calls that were made. There's not a secret. I just don't have -- I'm not going to list some and not list others, and I'm not sure who all the Vice President and others here may have talked to. But we did talk to people who emphasized the importance of the address -- as we should.
Q Mike, does the President now like Speaker Gingrich's argument that there will not be any Medicare cutbacks, but just limited increases?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm kind of through doing specific questions on the budget.
Q The corporate subsidy, the corporate welfare, some of those are in the form of actual subsidies but others are tax breaks that have been written into law over the years --
MR. MCCURRY: Not biting on this one.
Q What about the home mortgage? Is there going to be a cap on home mortgage?
MR. MCCURRY: We're done.
Q How about just logistical. Is there any chance of an advanced text?
MR. MCCURRY: We will do our best.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:21 P.M. EDT