THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY DURING CONGRESSIONAL MEETING
The Oval Office
12:33 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to, if I might, just say a couple of words. First of all, I want to thank Senator Daschle, Senator Moynihan, Senator Breaux, Senator Mikulski for coming here today discuss welfare with the Vice President and me and Governor Romer and Secretary Shalala.
Last night I laid before the nation my plan to balance the budget in 10 years in a way that is consistent with the long-term prosperity of the American people and our fundamental interests. And one of the priorities I stated was pursuing the right kind of welfare reform. I still believe that the Republican bill is too tough on children and too weak on work, and runs the risk of undermining our fundamental commitment to the welfare of children without moving people from welfare to work.
I want to endorse today the bill authored by Senators Daschle, Breaux and Mikulski because it does meet those criteria. It is -- it supports work. It supports doing the things that are necessary to get people into the work force and protecting children, especially dealing with the child care issues and requiring states to continue to support the children of the country who, through no fault of their own, are born into poor families.
So I believe this is the right kind of welfare reform. It also saves money. It will help us balance the budget, but it does it in the right way.
Q Mr. President, the Democratic reaction to your budget has been overwhelmingly negative. Do you have a revolt on your hands on Capitol Hill?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's been sort of decidedly mixed, don't you? Senator Breaux was just telling me that he and Senator Lieberman endorsed it today.
Q but a lot of people feel that you have let them down, you pulled the rug out from under them.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just say, a lot of people -- I'm sympathetic with the Democratic position. The Democratic position is the Republicans won the Congress by just saying no. They voted against deficit reduction. They proposed health care plans and then walked away from them. They just said no. And somehow, they were rewarded for that, and therefore, we should just say no at least for a much longer time.
But I do not believe that's the appropriate position for the President even if it -- the voters have a lot on their hands in their own lives. It's hard not to figure out what's going on in your own life today without trying to figure out what's going on here. And I don't believe it's right for the Democrats to kind of overreact to the last election.
Even though I don't think they were treated fairly, I don't think the last Congress got anything like the credit they deserved for reducing the deficit, bringing the economy back and doing all the wonderful things that were done, I still believe that the long-term best interests of the country are furthered by bringing the deficit down in a way that increases our investment in education, preserves our commitment to the historic commitments of the Democratic Party to helping those in need, permits us to protect the environment and have a strong defense and do the things the country needs.
So I believe I have done the right thing. I know there will be those who think that it's the wrong time or the wrong thing, and they are free to express their opinion. But I still feel very good about what I --
Q Mr. President, much of that criticism appears to be directed at your proposal to cut the growth in Medicare.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I believe -- if you look at what we've done -- first of all, we've already cut the growth rate of Medicare. The inflation rate has been coming down. And we've done it without cutting services to the elderly.
Their proposal will provide for drastic cuts in services to the elderly. Our proposal will provide for some health care reform which expands health care coverage, including to the elderly, and cuts the rate of increase at a more moderate rate than the Republicans do and in a way that enables us to avoid cutting services to the elderly or charging low-income elderly people a couple of thousand more dollars for health care that they can't afford. We're not going to do that.
So if you look at the details of our proposal compared with theirs, I think ours is going to stand up very, very well. And that's why I have urged all the members to look at the details, look at the facts before they reach a final judgment.
Q Do you want to meet with Republicans as well?
Q Where does it all go from here, Mr. President -- a budget summit?
THE PRESIDENT: -- the details, like welfare reform.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:38 P.M. EDT