THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY CHIEF OF STAFF LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION DICK RILEY, OMB DIRECTOR ALICE RIVLIN AND DEPUTY SECRETARY OF LABOR TOM GLYNN
4:09 P.M. EDT
MR. PANETTA: I am joined here by Secretary Riley from Education, Alice Rivlin from OMB, and Tom Glynn, who is Deputy Secretary at Labor. Congress has, over the last six months, debated and then enacted a balanced budget proposal. The President stated to the country that he thought their balanced budget proposal reflected the wrong priorities for the country by essentially cutting education benefits, cutting Medicare beneficiaries, cutting other basic benefits in order to fund a huge tax cut, largely for the wealthy.
And that was the reason he introduced his ten-year balanced budget plan which he believes reflects the right way to try to achieve a balanced budget without hurting working families in this country.
I think the reality of those differences is now coming home to roost as we see the first appropriations bill that affect people in this country beginning to come out of the subcommittees on the House side. The reality of those differences makes clear that the watch word is not watch what they say, but, in fact, watch what they do.
The House subcommittee yesterday on VA-HUD adopted a 1966 appropriations bills for veterans, housing, the environment and national service. And today, we believe about 6:00 p.m., the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Education, Health, Human Services, and Labor will announce a proposal that he expects his subcommittee to mark-up this evening.
These first results of the Republicans' budget plan as it's implemented shows the reality of the concerns that the President had with regards to the budget because these budgets literally bludgeon working families in this country.
In order to balance the budget in seven years, they make huge, deep, and unacceptable cuts in education, job training, national service, housing and the environment. Let me give you a few examples of what is contained in the bills that we expect to be reported out of the Appropriations Committee into the floor.
On education and training programs, Goals 2000 for training teachers and reforming our skills -- terminated. Summer jobs programs for young people -- terminated. National Service Programs to encourage volunteer work, help young people obviously afford a college education -- terminated. Head Start has about 60,000 kids who will be thrown out of the program. Title I is a program that literally will be taken away from 1 million kids in this country. Safe and Drug Free Schools cut by 60 percent. Adult job training -- cut by 25 percent.
In housing, there is a 50 percent cut in the assistance for the homeless that is included in the bill that came out of that subcommittee.
The ability of the federal government to enforce environmental laws will virtually be decimated by the proposal that was reported out. A 50 percent cut in EPA's enforcement program which represents literally a moratorium on enforcement of the Clean Water Act and a one-third cut in EPA's work force overall. EPA would have to begin to notify Superfund contractors that they will have to stop work on a number of the polluted sites in this country.
Finally, on community development banks, that also has been terminated.
The President will not allow the Congress to make our children, our schools, our workers and the environment suffer in order to fund a tax cut for the wealthy and to meet the arbitrary targets that the Republicans have put into their balanced budget proposal.
So let me make clear: If these bills reach the President's desk in their current form, he will veto those bills. Again, let me repeat: Those bills reach the President's desk in their current form in the manner in which they cut children and cut those who are most vulnerable in our society, he will veto them.
Make no mistake, the President will not accept anything that the Congress sends to him. It is up to the Congress to decide now whether they will choose cooperation over confrontation, leadership over partisan politics, or sensible policies over extreme policies. Those are the choices that we will be facing over these next few months.
And, obviously, it is up to the leadership of this country, on all sides, to try to find a way to achieve a balanced budget in a way that is in keeping with the basic principles that all of us believe in in this country, that we've got to have a sense of family and a sense of community, and reach out to each other to assist rather than punishing those that are most vulnerable.
SECRETARY RILEY: Thank you. The expected results of the Subcommittee on Education and HHS and Labor leaves me very, very disappointed. It's really kind of a bad day for education at a time when education is the most important thing that this country is about. And we have in place, really, the mechanisms for making gigantic progress and so much exciting activity is taking place throughout the country and, yet, we come in here the total cuts for all appropriations, $22.6 billion, are four percent, that's a four percent cut is the basic big cut we're looking at. What does education play in that. Our cut of $3.8 billion is 15 percent of our budget. So, we're looking at a four percent cut with education taking a 15 percent of its budget as its part.
Now, that is bad news in itself. When you look at what the American people want, they want, clearly, improved basic skills. They want schools to be safer and drug free. They want parent involvement. They want teacher improvement. They want standards raised. They want access to college. They want flexibility for state and local schools. And that's exactly what Goals 2000 and school-to-work and the changes of the elementary and secondary act are providing. Exactly where the school folks and where the American parents want to be.
So, what do they do here. They take the basics out of education by cutting over $1 billion from our redesign Title One dealing, of course, with disadvantaged kids. They send a terrible signal to families by cutting by more than in half, 55 to 60 percent of safe and drug-free schools. They are destroying the bipartisan effort to assist thousands of local schools to raise their own standards, use their own reforms in their own way in the bipartisan Goals 2000 which was passed about one year ago and is now actively being used and taken advantage of in 47 states and all the territories and lots of exciting things happen.
That's my basic statement. I've been all around the country. I visited in numerous schools and go out every week. I'm telling you there's a very noticeable excitement and energy in terms of education reform and improvement out there. It's positive and it's bipartisan, and this is bad news. It's a sad day for education.
MR. PANETTA: Questions.
Q Leon, are there any appropriations bills now working their way through the House that appear to be acceptable to the White House?
MR. PANETTA: Not at this time.
Q None of the 13 there's not one that appears to be in the ballpark?
MR. PANETTA: Not at this time. You know, it's obvious as they make their way through the process and go through the Senate that I'm not saying it's impossible that there may not be some few appropriations bills that might be acceptable once they work their way through. But right now I have to tell you that is not the case. Obviously, we have real differences with the overall, what are called, 602(b) allocation numbers that have been distributed. In other words, the overall numbers that are being provided because by their very nature of the size of the overall distribution on discretionary spending, it represents then a distribution that has these kinds of cuts that are involved.
So, we, in our 10-year budget plan, we were able to protect our investments. And we think that that's the approach that the Congress ultimately ought to adopt. So, that obviously means that the appropriations bills as they're beginning to make their way to the floor represent exactly the opposite in terms of the priorities that we would care about as an administration. And, therefore, it would be difficult to see right now which one of the appropriations bills might be acceptable. There may be some.
Q Do you have everything worked out now as far as the base closing is concerned? And when will that announcement come and in what form?
MR. PANETTA: The President really wanted to get information on a number of questions that he's asked regarding, in some cases specific bases, in some cases the overall process, and some of that information is still being presented to him.
But we hope to have the decision soon.
Q Can I follow on that. What kind of a signal would it send, if he makes his point clear on what he hopes will happen with base closings but he accepts the commission report. Is that an important precedent to follow, keeping the independence of the commission?
MR. PANETTA: Look, there's no question that the whole approach that was designed into the BRAC Commission was the approach that it would represent an independent and objective approach to trying to shut down bases and installations that the Congress would otherwise not do. And that process has been implemented, I think, four times in the history of the BRAC proposal. And this is obviously the last of those. So, obviously, there is credibility in that process, although the President was concerned, obviously, that this commission varied more than any other commission from the recommendations made by the Pentagon. And so, for that reason, has taken a very close look at the recommendations particularly because he's concerned about the impact on jobs.
Q Can you tell us more about the meeting this morning with the congressional leaders? Some of them had come outside and said we didn't discuss budget policy but kind of the ground rules and the timetable for moving these appropriations bills through to avoid a train wreck.
Can you give us a sense on, you know, were there any agreements reached on how to proceed?
MR. PANETTA: It was a very frank discussion. It was a good discussion I thought. The President basically said to the members that, when you look at the budget resolution and then you look at reconciliation, and you look at the date on reconciliation, which is September 22nd -- and incidentally, that is a date that is the latest of any budget resolution in history that contained reconciliation, I think it involves about three months, in most instances it was much shorter than that -- so, when you look at that, you look at the pace of what's happening with appropriation bills, it clearly raises the aspect that we're headed towards a crisis at the end of September, the first part of October. And that's not in the interest of the country; it's not in the interest of our economy; it's not in the interest of the President; and it's not in the interest of either party.
So the issue is then how do we try to move that process along, recognizing that there are fundamental differences here between what the President has proposed in his 10-year budget and what the Republicans are working on, that there are deep differences.
But let's have that debate, let's have it in the public. And let's not try to have a last minute crash here where they try to push through their priorities at the very last hour and somehow force the President to somehow accept their priorities or else face a shut down in the government. The President said that's unacceptable and we can't reach that point.
And so what he urged them to do was let's find a way to move this process up, to do reconciliation on a faster time track to try to get it done hopefully before the August recess, or at least try to get it out of committee before the August recess and if necessary, have them work through the recess to complete that job so that we don't face the prospect of a crisis in late September on these issues.
Q Did any of those congressional leaders say that they agreed with that or that they would try to move the appropriations bills more quickly?
MR. PANETTA: Every one of them reflected, I think, the same concerns. Obviously, there are differences as to how do you try to bring these issues together. There were some suggestions about how to possibly address some of the issues involved. But overall, I think, it was fair to say that all of the members of the leadership reflected the concern that somehow there had to be an effort hopefully to avoid the kind of crisis that right now appears evident to everyone if we don't do something different than what we're currently looking at.
Q Is this a -- this early veto threat -- that there was just out of the subcommittee, is it? I mean, is this a part of that process of trying to get them to move things quickly or come to your -- come to the table more quickly by issuing an early veto threat?
MR. PANETTA: I think the President made clear that there are fundamental differences, they know where he stands with regards to his priorities on reconciliation and on these appropriations bill and that he's indicated that, obviously, if those proposals are presented in the context of their budget to him, particularly on reconciliation and some of the appropriations bills, that he will veto them.
And his point is if -- let's confront those differences now, let's debate those differences now, hopefully there will be time to try to resolve these differences in a way that ultimately will produce a budget before the end of the year -- of that will produce an agreement before the end of the year. That's -- before the end of the fiscal year -- that's his goal.
But what he's basically saying right now is that if we stay on the track we're on now, and Congress adheres to this target on reconciliation, plus maintains the current pace on appropriations bills, this country is headed for trouble.
Q Are you officially the bad cop in this dialogue now Leon? I mean, the President this morning was talking cooperation, are you --
MR. PANETTA: Me, a bad cop? (Laughter.)
Q Are you the person to be out here and say, you know, that's your role now? You're sort of pre-triangulation here today. (Laughter.)
MR. PANETTA: I speak on behalf of the President. I speak on behalf of the administration when we reflect the concerns that the President has with regards to these bills. And you can interpret it in any way you want. But it reflects the President's position on these bills.
Q -- President of two minds?
MR. PANETTA: Not at all.
Q Do you have a dual-prong strategy to say, for example, we believe cooperation is necessary; we can't wait for a train wreck, but not at any price. And we won't accept any -- I mean, you said, "The President won't accept anything Congress does." You meant you won't accept anything Congress does, not he'll accept something? Right? You just won't accept anything?
MR. PANETTA: Whatever.
Q -- mean he wouldn't accept nothing?
Q Could I ask a Medicaid question? Did the Speaker offer in this meeting this morning to work with you more closely on appropriations bills if you would negotiate with him a Medicare cuts package?
MR. PANETTA: The Speaker made several suggestions, one of which was try to have some kind of working group. And we did talk about the possibility of having staff from the committees from Alice Rivlin's shop working on some of the technical issues, differences that are involved in terms of numbers. But beyond that, I don't want to go into the specific discussion.
Q Would you be willing to do that?
MR. PANETTA: Pardon.
Q Would you be willing to formally negotiate?
MR. PANETTA: Well, that was not offered, and that was not discussed.
Q Are you getting any satisfaction from Mr. Gingrich on the bipartisan commission for political reform? Are you getting any satisfaction --
MR. PANETTA: I'm awaiting -- we had a conversation at the end of the week, and the Speaker indicated to me that he would be presenting his views on that proposal some time this week.
Q And you're satisfied with that?
MR. PANETTA: Well, we're waiting to see his response first, and then I'll tell you what our reaction is.
Q Was the rescission bill discussed this morning? And is there any movement on that?
MR. PANETTA: Yes, it was. The President raised the rescission bill, indicated that he wanted to see the rescission bill enacted, and that we would be doing everything we could to hopefully deal with the objections that have been raised on the Senate side by some of the senators to try to move the bill along.
But I think there was a bipartisan consensus at the meeting this morning that we ought to try to get the rescission bill enacted, and that, hopefully, that might serve as an example for perhaps resolving future budget issues if we could at least get that through.
Q What are you doing to help, in trying to trust the Senator's objections on the rescission bill?
MR. PANETTA: We're talking with him.
Q Can you tell me what that means and who's -- can you give me a little more detail on that?
MR. PANETTA: No. We're talking with him.
Q When the President raised the issue of reconciliation and said that he would like to have it done before the August recess, what was the Republican response to that, and how does the issue of Medicare cuts in that package weave into, fold into that?
MR. PANETTA: Well, I mean -- look, obviously, there are some concerns about the recess, and I think there were some members who talked about the importance of being able to spend some time with their families during August. At the same time, there are others that believe that this is an important enough issue that, very frankly, the Congress ought to roll up its sleeves and get this job done and get it done on a faster time track than what they're on right now.
So there were some differences reflected over that, and I think everybody -- I think, obviously, the President as well would like to be able to take some time here, but at the same time, the President himself said, if I have to be here, if I have to help work with you, I'll be here to do that.
The most important thing right now is doing everything possible to work together to resolve these issues, to get the reconciliation bill put forward so that we can ultimately resolve these issues before they hit the wall in late September. That's the key.
And the President said very clearly, I've got my priorities; I have my differences; I believe in the budget I presented; and I'm going to be fighting for those issues. But let's fight that openly. Let's not fight it at the last minute where we jeopardize perhaps the economy of the country.
Q Is this to avert another budget summit, which in the past has not been all that successful?
MR. PANETTA: Look, I think the point is not whether or not it's a summit. There are all kinds of views as to whether or not -- those of us who participated in the last summit have mixed feelings about summits -- so, there are those feelings that are evident when that discussion comes up. I think it's more the question -- when do we reach the point where both sides are willing to sit down and try to resolve these differences and at what point does that happen. Right now we're on a collision course. And the President basically said if we're on a collision course, let's put that collision course early so that we can ultimately then try to resolve these issues before we get to the end of the year. But, for goodness sake, don't do this at the last minute, at the 11th hour when the country suddenly faces a shutdown in order to somehow accept your priorities. I'm not going to do that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:30 P.M. EDT