THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS AVAILABILITY OF THE PRESIDENT
The Briefing Room
11:17 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Looking over the last few days, it is clear that this Congress is on the wrong track. I began the year hoping to make bipartisan progress on balancing the budget, on reducing paperwork, reforming regulation and welfare. And, therefore, I was very pleased last week when a bipartisan majority voted to reject the extreme anti-environment provisions adopted in the House committee. That was the right thing to do.
But then the lobbyists for the polluters went to work. They got the leadership of the House of Representatives to call the bill back up. And last night, in a remarkable exercise of special interest power, the House voted to gut environmental and public health protections. It was a stealth attack on our environment in the guise of a budget bill.
The bill would effectively end federal enforcement of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, a bill that my Republican predecessor said was his proudest legislative achievement. It allows poisons in our drinking water, raw sewage on our beaches, oil refineries to pollute, and limits a community's right to know what chemicals are toxic which are released in their neighborhoods. It would be bad for our children, our health and our environment.
This is Washington special interest politics at its most effective and at its worst. Even before the 17 special interest provisions were added, the bill had already dramatically undercut environmental protection by cutting environmental enforcement in half.
You don't need to damage the environment to balance the budget. Our budget demonstrates that, and the budget the American people get out of this session of Congress ought to demonstrate that. In the past few days, a battalion of lobbyists has swarmed Capitol Hill, exerting enormous pressure to save these loopholes. I said I would use the power of my office to help people, not polluters. I believe we can protect the environment and grow the economy.
So on this so-called environmental bill, my message to the American people should be very, very clear: Don't worry. We'll make common-sense reforms. But the minute this polluter's protection act hits my desk, I will veto it.
One of the most interesting things that has achieved not too much notice in the last few days is that while Congress has been taking care of the special interests, it's also taking care of itself. It is way behind schedule on virtually every budget bill, in the hope, apparently, of enforcing a choice at the end of this fiscal year between shutting the government down and adopting extreme budget cuts which will be bad for our country, bad for our economy, and bad for our future. Apparently, they don't even plan on letting the American people see their planned Medicare cuts until the last possible minute. But one bill, wouldn't you know it, is right on schedule --the bill that funds the Congress, its staff, and its operations.
I don't think Congress should take care of its own business before it takes care of the people's business. If the congressional leadership follows through on its plan to send me its own funding bill before it finishes work on the rest of the budget, I will be compelled to veto it.
I want to work with Congress to pass a balanced budget that protects the health and the security of the American people, a balanced budget that strengthens our economy and raises the incomes of our people and the future prospects of our children. But we have to remember in order to do this that all the special interests have to be subordinated to the broader public interest. That is not happening now, but we can still get things back on track. That's what I want to do, and I still ask, again, the Congress to work with me to do it.
Q Mr. President, your policies and your judgment calls appear to be under siege on Capitol Hill -- Waco, Whitewater, Bosnia, social programs and so forth. How debilitating has this been on you personally, on your administration, on the country? And, obviously, you're whistling in the dark if you think you're going to have common ground. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I disagree. It's not been debilitating, it's been invigorating. And I wouldn't be so surprised. There are two significant things that -- I would say big issues -- that have become clear in the last few days. One is you can see who's in control in this Congress, who's in control of the people that compelled this unusual revolt on the environmental issues. You see the story on the NRA today -- no gun control measures will be voted out of committee or on the floor of the House. I'm sure glad we got the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban first, and I still think we ought to have a ban on the cop-killer bullets.
You see -- we're investigating -- this Congress is investigating the AARP and letting the NRA run one of its own investigations. So you see who's in control. That's the first thing you see.
The second thing you see is more hopeful. There were, after all, 50 Republicans who broke ranks in the House and said that they would put the environment ahead of party. Senator Dole yesterday said that, in Vermont at the Governors Conference, that he wanted to pass a welfare reform bill free of the extremist provisions which the members of his Caucus, some of them, had demanded that he put on the welfare reform bill. And so we may be moving toward finding common ground in welfare reform.
So you see two things. You see who's in control, and it's not good. You see some people feeling uncomfortable about it, and we may be able to make some progress. And so I don't think we know what the outcome will be.
Q Mr. President, there's a report today that Mack McLarty said in a memo that there would be no significant action on Waco without White House approval. When did you know of the plan to tear-gas the compound, and did you personally approve it?
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Mikva has said in the letter exactly what my role in that was, and it's consistent with what I've said all along. And I don't have anything new to add to that.
Q Mr. President, have you made a final decision that there will be no retaliation for the shoot-down of Captain O'Grady? And if so, why not?
THE PRESIDENT: I have no comment on that.
Q Mr. President, speaking of special interests, do you feel that the Speaker is dragging his feet on the bipartisan campaign finance reform commission? And what else are you willing to do to make sure that that happens?
THE PRESIDENT: Dragging his feet is an apt, but inadequate, description of what has happened. (Laughter.) I mean, we shook hands on that in New Hampshire. I thought it was a fairly simple deal. The man said -- the gentleman who asked us the question; he said, why don't you guys do a base closing commission. We said, okay. Five days later I wrote a letter to the Speaker. I didn't get an answer. Five weeks later, I wrote -- I said, again, okay, here are two people that are the kind of people that I would put on this commission, and I'd like for them to get with someone you designate, and we'll set it up -- Doris Kearns Goodwin and John Gardner. Those are pretty respectable Americans. So far, they have not gotten any response or had any success either.
So we're going to keep trying. I mean, I think that it is wrong to say you're going to do something and not do it. So I hope we can do it.
Q Have you met with them -- have you met with the two of them already, Goodwin and --
THE PRESIDENT: I have not, but we've obviously been in touch with them. And we're trying to -- we're going to keep pushing until we get an answer one way or the other. If the Speaker does not want to do this, he ought to say that he has no intention of doing it. But we shouldn't just let it hang out here. What we ought to do is to do it.
Q Mr. President, is there anything you or the First Lady could do to end all of the hearings on the continuing interest in the Whitewater business, especially in the aftermath of the Vince Foster suicide? For example, there's a proposal in Newsweek magazine by Joe Klein that Mrs. Clinton volunteer to testify before the committees to explain her role.
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know what in the world we could do. I mean there's basically been this big -- you know, I don't have anything new to add. We've answered all the questions. There has been a $3.6 million RTC investigation which basically says that what we said was there all the time. You know, no one questions, no serious person questions all the reports on whether Vince Foster committed suicide or not. I don't know what to do. I think these hearings will proceed and our people will cooperate and we'll just see what happens.
Q Mr. President, we know that you just met with the leadership to try and make your veto of the Bosnia arms embargo lifting stick. But in the event that it doesn't, and not knowing as we speak what the size of the margin is going to be, what's the next step? What else would you look to do?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, whatever the vote is, we still might sustain a veto. But I was encouraged by a few people who told me that they had decided on reflection that it was not the thing to do now. The Rapid Reaction Force, after all, is showing some strength there. And I would remind you that the only thing that has ever worked in the last two and a half years is when the Bosnian Serbs thought the United Nations would permit NATO and the Americans who are working with NATO to use air power to stop the aggression so that there would have to be a negotiated settlement. And in the last several days, the last couple of weeks in Gorazde, you know, we've gotten five convoys through; there has been no assault on it.
And I think that this new strategy will work if we can hammer out a negotiated settlement and there's a new effort there. So I believe that is the best strategy. I've said it all along, and I haven't changed my position. I'm going to try to see that position prevail.
Q Mr. President, on both the ongoing hearings, Waco and Whitewater, are you convinced and can you say for the record that everything that is going to come out is out vis-a-vis where you stand in the White House and your policy decisions on both?
THE PRESIDENT: As far as I know -- we have not added anything new to what was already known, but as far as I know we have been totally forthcoming and have said everything there is to be said on it.
Q Mr. President, can you tell us, first of all, why you want to veto the telecommunications bill? I understand that you're concerned about concentration of media power. And in regard to that, can you comment on the merger yesterday between ABC and Walt Disney and the proposed merger that may happen today between CBS and Westinghouse, and whether you see this concentration of power happening?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, first of all, you have to take -- on these mergers, under our law and as a matter of economics, you have to take them case by case and analyze them. And all I know about the proposed mergers is what I read this morning when I woke up. So I can't comment on that.
I do think it would be an error to set up a situation in the United States where one person could own half the television stations in the country or half the media outlets. And we don't have a fairness doctrine anymore and we don't have -- particularly if we took the federal government out of -- all the federal agencies out of any kind of maintenance of competition or maintenance of competitive environment by taking the Justice Department out of it, for example.
I would remind you that we have the most successful telecommunications operations in the world partly because we have had the proper balance between a highly competitive environment and an openness to new forces and new technologies and new entries in it from all around the world.
I want very badly to sign a telecommunications bill. We tried to pass one, this administration did, during the last session of Congress. One of the interest groups affected by this great drama that's unfolding in the telecommunications area prevented, through its supporters in the Senate, prevented the bill from passing in the last session of Congress. I hope we can get it, but we want to get it right.
The Vice President has done a lot of work on this over the years. He and I have talked about this at great length. And we are -- we have negotiated in good faith with the Congress to try to get it right. We want very much to sign a bill. We believe it will be good for the American economy and good for the American consumers if it's the right kind of bill. So we'll keep working on it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:31 A.M. EDT