THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'll start by telling you I can't offer up any additional news beyond what the President has already said on Bosnia. We continue to monitor the work that Assistant Secretary Holbrooke is doing quite carefully, and we continue to be hopeful that the progress that the President reported to you earlier today can bear fruit with further things to say, perhaps even today.
Q We or he?
Q Give the time difference there, is it likely to get something today? And if so, how? What forum would you use?
MR. MCCURRY: It's entirely dependent on how Assistant Secretary Holbrooke's discussions went. He took some ideas from President Milosevic, reflecting thinking of the Serbs, including the Pale Serbs, to Zaghreb earlier today. He met with President Tudjman. He also presented them to U.N. and NATO authorities. And he will --I believe he's, if not now, has just completed presenting them to the Bosnian government, and that could lead, we hope, to progress we can talk about in greater detail later.
Q You're expecting to hear from him soon?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have been in constant contact over the last 24 hours with Assistant Secretary Holbrooke, and Tony Lake has been briefing the President on the progress that he's been making. He's been checking in quite frequently.
Q What are you going to do if you have that announcement?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll judge based on what the news warrants. If the President have something to say, we'll give you plenty of advanced notice.
Q Changing the subject for a second, there are reports out of the Middle East that there could be a signing ceremony -- Israeli-PLO signing ceremony next Thursday here at the White House. Is the President prepared to cancel or change his travel to California in order to host an Israeli-PLO signing ceremony?
Q Oh, yeah. (Laughter.)
Q This is really important.
MR. MCCURRY: I do not want to speculate on the President's schedule, but I will say that the United States continues to urge both parties to make progress on their discussions related to the Declaration of Principles, and we'll just have to watch very carefully to see what kind of progress they make.
Q Does this have anything to do with technology on Thursday? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Technology on Thursday? Well, you can do a lot with technology these days.
Q Would that be important enough to cancel a trip to California to host an event like that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to judge the relative importance of events, but moving important and implementing the agreements that the Palestinians and the Israelis have made pursuant to the Declaration is quite important, of course.
Q That means he would return?
Q Both Senators Moynihan and Wellstone had some very harsh comments about the President abandoning the fight on welfare. What's your response?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President obviously has not abandoned the fight for welfare reform. It's something he's devoted a considerable portion of time to this year. He hosted a day-long working session at Blair House at the very beginning of this year to set in motion things that we hope are bearing fruit now as the Senate continues to move forward on welfare reform and as we continue to seek improvements that would lead to true welfare reform.
Q Moynihan, who's been prescient about these things in the past, has said that the Republican bill as currently written would lead children sleeping on grates just as the deinstitutionalization led to the homeless. Does the President think that's a -- is that a concern of the President's?
MR. MCCURRY: Senator Moynihan, when he made that comment, made it several days ago as he was addressing, I believe, a version of welfare reform that closely resembled the House-passed version. And Senator Moynihan is an expert on these matters, and that is a characterization that I certainly am not in a position to dispute.
The Senator also said today something else that I think the White House strongly agrees with that children who are born in situations that arise out of welfare dependency ought not to be left without any form of assistance at all. And there's an elemental responsibility to worry about them. That's exactly what the President has been working on as he addresses welfare reform, as we advance our own priorities in the Senate discussion. And we've had some measure of success over the last day and a half in moving this bill in the right direction.
Q Would he sign the Senate bill if it came to him?
MR. MCCURRY: It's far too early at this point to speculate, and, as you know, regardless of what the Senate does, there would have to be a conference committee to reconcile differences with the House bill that is truly awful.
Q I understand that, but would he sign the Senate bill if it came to him in a conference report?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not in a position to say at this point. We've got a long ways to go on welfare reform and even under Senate consideration of the bill.
Q Mike, yesterday when you were asked about retaining national entitlement of a safety net, you pointed to the maintenance of that provision and painted it in favorable terms. What it is, it's a five-year, 80 percent maintenance of effort requirement of the states. Is the White House satisfied with that? It seems that after five years, the states could drastically reduce welfare and what happens then?
MR. MCCURRY: We went at great, great length at this yesterday, and I don't have much to add to what I said yesterday. But the form of, I guess you'd call it a conditional entitlement, that has been embraced by the Senate in the amendment that they've adopted is something that moves certainly in the right direction because there was no such guarantee of maintenance of effort in the original version of the bill.
It does move in the direction of addressing the concerns that Senator Moynihan has spoken to and certainly that President Clinton has spoken to as well, making sure that we do have assistance available to children who need assistance when they're in that type of condition.
Q But where do you want them to end up?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to write a bill for you right here and now. I mean, we're in the process of working through Senate consideration of many amendments that are central to welfare reform. Some of them are very important in improving the bill. We've had some luck and some success in making the case in favor of some of those amendments, and we'll continue. You know, come on guys.
Q Is the U.S. troop presence in Macedonia affected at all by this agreement that was made between Greece and Macedonia? And was there anything else that emerged from the President's meeting with those representatives today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is not directly. Remember that the deployment of those troops in Macedonia is to guard against the danger of a spillover of the Balkan conflict into Macedonia which is, frankly, a threat more from the north. It is not a threat represented in the disagreements that have existed between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. But certainly enhancing the stability of the region by limiting tensions between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be yet another factor in preventing against a wider Balkan conflict.
Q Can I follow up to your Chirac announcement? When he's here, will the U.S. try to dissuade the French from any more nuclear tests?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to -- we'll have plenty of time as we reach towards November 3rd to talk about that, but certainly the subject of a comprehensive test ban and how best to enhance the climate for comprehensive test ban will be a subject on President Clinton's agenda.
Q But there has been some criticism by other countries that the U.S. and Britain have not really gone very far in their criticism of the French tests.
MR. MCCURRY: I recollect at the time of the French tests that we used fairly strong diplomatic language for the actions of a close ally in saying that we regretted the action.
Q The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bill Archer has apparently endorsed Robert Reich's proposals to do away with some aspects of so-called "corporate welfare." Does the White House support eliminating some $30 billion in subsidies for big businesses as Archer now seems to be suggesting?
MR. MCCURRY: Corporate welfare is a large, voluminous topic, and there are steps that we have taken in the past and steps that we've endorsed in our own budget proposals to Congress that do limit some forms of what I guess you'd generically call "corporate welfare." I'll have to check further to see specifically what the Congressman is suggesting that we limit.
Q Could I ask a kind of totally unrelated matter? Fort Marcy Park is still closed off as a result of the FBI continuing search, apparently, for the bullet that killed Vince Foster. How does the White House feel about two years after the fact this kind of a search continues amid new questions raised by D'Amato and Faircloth?
Q Does the White House feel anything about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have any feelings about proper law enforcement activities.
Q Well, if you did have feelings, what would they be? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Our feelings would be more directed to those that continue to try to spin conspiracy theories and suggest somehow or other that the events --
Q And if you had feelings about that, what would they be?
MR. MCCURRY: They would be disappointed, disappointed that people would not respect the family of Vince Foster and understand what is abundantly clear at this point, that his suicide was a result of factors that have now been publicly discussed by his widow, and that have been fully reviewed in a variety of investigations and inquiries that you're all familiar with.
Q Do you know that this renewal of this investigation or search at Marcy Park has anything to do with conspiracy theories, or whether there's some hard evidence of this sort --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm referring to comments that have been made elsewhere --
Q Oh, okay. So you weren't commenting --
MR. MCCURRY: -- in the last 24 hours that we find disappointing; on the investigation itself, you'll have to ask the Justice Department. I have no idea what parameters they have for that. It would be proper for the law enforcement officials to address those.
Q Are you referring specifically to the shift in tone from D'Amato, now suggesting that he does have questions about the suicide?
MR. MCCURRY: You would be right on the money, yes.
Q The Republicans have put out all the details of their Medicare proposal. Will you put out yours?
MR. MCCURRY: Details?
Q Some details.
MR. MCCURRY: If they put out all the details of their Medicare proposals, that's news to me and I think news to a very anxious group of Americans now who are worried about what's going to happen to their premiums, to their co-payments. We're on the verge --
Q She just withdrew the question. Let her reask it.
Q Cry uncle. (Laughter.)
Q I object. Sustain the objection and she'll reask the question.
MR. MCCURRY: Our willingness to engage in a discussion of Medicare is related to the President's willingness to move forward on writing a budget and addressing all of the issues that are fundamental to a resolution of the current budget impasse and details will certainly have to be addressed, once the discussions get serious. So far, they're not getting very serious, and so far, contrary to your question, the Republican leadership has not been forthcoming in providing details, and they owe the people of America an honest answer.
Q You said that you would put out your details in a microsecond if they came forward. If the Senate comes forward with a bill as early as next Monday, would you then put out your details?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I said we'd put them out once they're engaged in a useful and productive discussion on how we're going to break the impasse and move forward.
Q Wait a minute. They're ready to pass a bill.
MR. MCCURRY: They're going to pass a bill, and they've said to the President, well, gee, we're willing to sit down and try to work out something on Medicare ignoring all the other issues that are fundamentally important to the budget debate. And you can't solve a problem by taking one slice of the loaf and toasting that. (Laughter.)
Q Say what?
MR. MCCURRY: What was that again? (Laughter.)
Q Do you put butter on it? (Laughter.)
Q Don't stop him, he's on a roll. (Laughter.)
Q It's the bread metaphor.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm taking one pebble of the stone and squeezing it for what little it's going to emanate.
Q Is it possible that Democrats could introduce legislation that represents the President's Medicare plan, let's say, in the next couple of weeks? And could that actually be in as a bill?
MR. MCCURRY: I would not rule that out if there was clearly a disposition on the part of the Republican leadership to seriously address the fundamental elements of the President's 10-year balanced budget proposal. So far, we have -- as I said several times, we haven't seen the Republican leadership engage on some of the fundamental principles that the President put forward in his proposal in June.
Q They would have to embrace the entire budget?
MR. MCCURRY: No. They would just have to -- they'd have to look like they want to get on with the nation's business. So far they don't look like that. Is that clear?
Q A loaf of bread.
Q Okay. That question is toast. Can we move on?
Q Mike, in terms of a compromise with the Republicans when the leaders were here, afterwards Daschle said that Democrats could embrace a seven-year timetable toward a balanced budget if the Republicans give up the entire tax cut and the defense add-ons. Would that also be acceptable to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a different way of saying the following: If they altered their priorities in the budget, if they got more realistic about how they were addressing the President's objectives -- remember, the President objectives here are very clear. We've got to balance the budget, we've got to provide tax relief to Americans who need tax relief, we've got to preserve investments in education, and we have got to address the solvency of Medicare by extending the solvency of the trust funds in a way that doesn't take it out of the hides of beneficiaries.
Now, if there is a way to do those four things in a seven-year framework as opposed to a nine-year framework, that might be the premise for a dialogue. But there's no indication at all that I've seen from the Republican leadership that they intend to move in the direction of that type of dialogue. To the contrary, as you heard this morning, they're saying some inflammatory things that would suggest that they're not interested in a useful dialogue with the President that could help move the country's business forward.
Q Would you indicate then that the President is still very much wedded to his middle-class tax cut whereas you've gotten quite a few Democrats on the Hill really saying deficit reduction is more important than tax cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as he said in Illinois even earlier this week, believes that preserving tax relief so that it can enhance educational opportunities for Americans is a fundamental piece of business as we attempt to grow the economy in the 21st century. That is about America's economic future and it's about the priorities that the President attaches to this budget process.
Q Does that mean the other elements are not as important?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are other elements of the Middle Class Bill of Rights that are certainly important. The President, as you know, has been stressing education, and that's a critical feature of the President's approach to tax relief, that it enhances educational opportunities and, in a sense, savings for future educational opportunities.
Q But is an education tax credit a nonnegotiable item? It's one thing to say the President wants it, but is it something that absolutely has to be --
MR. MCCURRY: We just would like to be in a position to negotiate about it. We can't even get to that point.
Q New subject?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q Has the U.S. gotten an adequate explanation as to why this balloon was downed in Belarus? And what is the reaction from the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not received an adequate explanation, but we have had indications from the government of Belarus that they will work together with us for the types of inquiries that can provide some answers.
Q Now, wait a minute. It was downed by the military -- is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: The details, I think, were fully briefed over at the State Department yesterday, what we know about the incident this date. I don't have that with me here, but you can refer to their answers.
Q Any reaction from here about --
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's obviously, not only troubling, but highly -- inappropriate doesn't do justice to the incident. I mean, there were two innocent people who lost their lives through what may have been a tragic mistake, but seems to have been more deliberate than that.
Q They're not being cooperative at all, then?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, the opposite -- I said the opposite of that. I said we have had indications from the government of Belarus that they want to be fully cooperative and inquiries that could help lead to answers about why this tragic incident occurred.
Q No apologies or anything yet?
MR. MCCURRY: They immediately phoned our embassy to indicate -- their embassy in Minsk to indicate their regret for the incident.
Q But, Mike, on a wider level, does this raise concern about a former Soviet republic with -- some of these former Soviet republics holding -- still holding nuclear missiles -- about them being trigger happy and not having the proper command and control procedures on their own military?
MR. MCCURRY: No, let's not make wild leaps into speculation about command and control over nuclear arsenals. There are different procedures in place for that type -- that's the subject of very regular and very direct contact bilaterally.
Q So you remain confident about their command and control procedures of their military in most republics?
MR. MCCURRY: We have no reason to doubt that they are not under competent authority.
Q How about Russia? Have you heard anything new from the Russians on the grenade attack on the embassy?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I have not gotten anything new. I do know that there is a very extensive law enforcement underway by Russian authorities. They are cooperating fully. Our embassy is cooperating fully with them and I've not heard any report that we're anything less than satisfied with the work that the Russian authorities are doing to determine the source of the attack.
Q Can you go back to Belarus and the shoot-down? What did you mean by deliberate?
MR. MCCURRY: There is some circumstantial evidence that would seem to suggest that it was not necessarily a tragic mistake. They're trying to get to the bottom of that now.
Q So were they fired on because they were Americans?
MR. MCCURRY: We're going to get the answers to that as we develop the investigation.
Q The President -- as I recall, issued a proclamation for tomorrow on POW-MIA -- do you know if he plans to do anything tomorrow or if the proclamation is in?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to check. We're get back to you on that. I'm not aware of anything scheduled.
Q Mike, every time the President and Yeltsin have met, there have been these great pledges to have prompt ratification of START II. But the prospect seems more and more distant. Do you, for instance, expect ratification by the Senate this year?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Senate -- let me look -- the Senate just passed a sense of the Senate resolution, something earlier in the week, right, on that subject. I can go -- let me get that. I believe there was some Senate consideration of the treaty earlier in the week, but I'll check into that for you.
Q What about on the Russian side, with the revival of this Star Wars things on the Hill and problems with the Balkans? Do you get any indications out of Moscow that the Russian parliament is predisposed to ratifying anytime soon?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are indications that the Russian Federation is pressing forward with the effort to seek ratification in the Duma. There are also, however, concerns that are being expressed not only within the Duma, but by the Russian Federation itself about compliance with the ABM Treaty.
Q On Medicare cuts, is the White House attempting to build a coalition between governors who would be hard hit by these cuts and the so-called sandwich generation of middle class that might end up paying for long-term care for their parents?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if we are attempting to build a coalition, but certainly the concerns of the governors match very directly those who are directly impacted by the cuts. And they're probably coming together of many voices in a chorus expressing great dismay about the thrust of the Republican proposal.
Q How's the Ohio Day going?
MR. MCCURRY: Splendidly, as far as I know.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:41 P.M. EDT