THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right. Today's White House briefing. We will open with the following: How many of you have some interest in business? Right? Some of you do, some of you, mathematics, science and engineering.
Q Are you selling something different than usual?
MR. MCCURRY: I get lots of questions here on education. You ask me frequently about the environment. Some of you, I think, although I'm not quite sure, might be capable of teaching English as a second language, and skilled trades. The last I checked, journalism was one. Knowing that all of these interests and career pursuits might be yours should you choose to volunteer for the Peace Corps, I happen to have applications here and we have the latest and best Peace Corps recruiter --
Q Who runs the Peace Corps these days?
MR. MCCURRY: -- will be sworn-in to his new position at 2:20 p.m. today, an even that many of us here at the White House are looking forward to.
Q Are you trying to get rid of us?
MR. MCCURRY: Should I suggest for some of you as a way to get out of the funk that many of you are often in -- (laughter) -- you might seek an opportunity to enhance your own skills and contribute something to this ever-changing world in which we live in by leaving here and going there? Would I suggest such a thing? Yes.
Q Congress has sent you --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, Gearan is, I think that's the other way of saying we've changed the schedule, so that will be a pool on that when Mr. Gearan is sworn-in.
Q How old do you have to be to get in the Peace Corps?
MR. MCCURRY: Sarah, you're eligible. (Laughter.) In fact, some of the -- some of the most amazing stories of Peace Corps volunteers include people who, in their retirement, even in their '80s and I think I've seen one story of someone in their '90s serving as a Peace Corps -- Miss Lillian Carter was another example of that.
We also have got a statement from the Press Secretary that gives a readout on the President's very good and constructive meeting with President Iliescu of Romania, the subject matter covered in the meeting was much as I described it to you earlier -- the President expressed support for Romania's progress towards integration with the growing Euro-Atlantic community, secure and free market democracies. The President -- both Presidents reviewed the good and developing relationship between the two countries. And the rest of it in detail is available in a statement we will have available to you at the conclusion of the briefing.
Q Two appropriations bills are being sent here by Congress. Will the President sign them? One on the legislative -- for the Legislative Branch, the other on military construction.
MR. MCCURRY: Both the military construction bill and the legislative appropriations bill will be reviewed properly by the President and by our staff here, including the OMB. We'll have more to report to you later on the President's action related to those two bills.
Q Did he earlier say that if the legislation appropriations was coming down first that he wouldn't sign it?
MR. MCCURRY: That is correct. The President's view was, with absent progress on the underlying budget issues, it seemed a little strange for Congress to be taking care of its own funding before worrying about the needs of the rest of America.
Q So is that good? I mean, so he won't sign it, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we also are in an environment now where we're right up against the end of the fiscal year. As I said yesterday, we've got a real problem now because Congress has not finished work on the vast majority of these bills, including the ones that represent the largest share of federal spending, and it doesn't look like they will complete action on those bills prior to the end of the fiscal year at the end of the week. So we have got a real bind that we're in now, and we're going to have to look at these two conference reports, along with the other issues that would surround the development of a continuing resolution.
Q Can it be that he's going to cave already on the one thing he said he wouldn't accept?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's indicated there are a lot of things that are not acceptable about the direction that Congress is taking with the budget.
Q So this was late enough, though, so -- this is so late that he may have to sign it? Is that what you're --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll have to see how it fits within the terms of discussions that are going on now about a continuing resolution that would make up the difference in the balance of the rest of federal spending, which is not addressed by these two appropriations bills. I can say substantively that there were not that many issues in dispute on the military construction bill or the legislative appropriations bill, it was just in the President's disposition that Congress ought to work first on those appropriations items that are most important to the resolution of the overall budget impasse; they have not done that, clearly.
Q Let me follow Brit's question and take an opposite tack, my good friend. Are you trying to say that the President would actually consider vetoing a bill he has no objection to so that he can say that these guys should have worked on these other bills first? How would that be productive?
MR. MCCURRY: We are interested in trying to do everything we can to get Congress serious about the business of resolving these budget issues that are fundamentally important to the people of this country. So far, they are adamantly pursuing a course that they know is not going to result in the type of compromise that would allow the nation's business to be done in an orderly fashion.
Q How would vetoing either of these bills contribute to that process, with bills that are much tougher on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: It would serve as a reminder to the Congress that everyone, including congressional staff and committee staff, ought to pay the price for a budget impasse when there is no funding available for the work that the government must do.
Q Mike, are these bills becoming bargaining chips for the continuing resolution --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll see. There are, in fact, productive discussions underway at a staff level on the continuing resolution, and we'll have to see how they go over the next 24-48 hours.
Q Do you have a sense that they're backing off the priorities that Congress was trying -- was talking about as being part of the CR?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they know very clearly what the President's views are on the scope and parameters of a continuing resolution. And they know that we are not interested in the approach that would put the lowest of enacted levels of committee marks into a continuing resolution. We've been very clear on that, and I think there's no surprise on their part now what the President's view is towards an overall continuing resolution.
Q Is Mr. Panetta directly meeting with the leadership on this, or how is this working?
MR. MCCURRY: He met over the weekend with the chairs of the two appropriations committees, and they directed staff to follow up. Staff has followed up yesterday and today.
Q So what do you mean by progress? What --
Q When do we anticipate Panetta talking with the leadership again?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, when it's necessary.
Q Well, it's obviously necessary to craft something before Saturday.
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q The House leaders, I guess, today are saying they may have something out of conference tonight or they may have something out of their committee?
MR. MCCURRY: We will see.
Q This is strictly from ignorance, but does the President feel that if his health proposal had gone through that we wouldn't be having this problem now with Medicare and Medicaid?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he cited -- one specific example of that, just at the end of last week in Los Angeles, where we had a very severe crisis with the county medical hospital that had to be resolved, the President did make the point that taking huge chunks of money out of the Medicare-Medicaid system at this time are going to put a lot of health care facilities in that type of jeopardy. And he did point out that structural reforms in health care reform would have made a real difference.
Q Mike, could you tell us why the dinner, the private dinner, tonight he's having is not open at least to pool press?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been doing a variety of -- some of you have followed the President's travels last week -- now, we've had a real -- a host of fundraising events this fall, and events that I have described as preparation events for future fundraising events, smaller dinners, that sort of thing. This is a smaller dinner; we have not in recent weeks been opening those to press coverage, but the larger event later this evening, which is a larger fundraiser, is open.
Q Mike, I know you have not opened it; I asked why have you not opened it.
MR. MCCURRY: Because we don't routinely make every small dinner event that the President has open for coverage.
Q Can I ask a follow-up, too? This comes out of last week's report in The Washington Post about the telecommunications organization in which they obviously had the opinion that by giving the President $100,000, they will have some effect on his --
MR. MCCURRY: I understand --
Q -- determination -- I know that you all have said that --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that the person that left you with that misimpression has now clarified that and has apologized for those remarks.
Q My question is, is, do you all feel that you should give back this money?
MR. MCCURRY: Do we feel --
Q -- to make sure that no one has any --
MR. MCCURRY: The President's views on telecommunications were stated publicly prior to the event in question. I don't see any reason why that would complicate the fundraising that was done at that dinner.
Q Well, Mike, this is a public office, and I think the American -- doesn't the President feel that the American people are entitled to know who is helping him get money to obtain that office?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely, and that's why, by law we have to disclose -- by law, we have to disclose every single contribution made to the Clinton-Gore '96 committee, and do so on a regular basis as you know. You can go down to the Federal Elections Commission and read the names of every contributor and determine who they are and what their interests in public policy might be.
Q Well, then, why don't you let these -- why --
Q There are two pieces in The Washington Post today, which suggests that some of the financial problems that the country's having could be cured if the CPI was figured differently. I wondered if that's something that has reached the thought process level in the White House and if there is an opinion on that.
MR. MCCURRY: It has been looked at by the President's Council of Economic Advisors. Their view is there is great academic debate about the CPI and about measuring inflation and what type of index best does that. Our sense has been any adjustments that represent an equation something like CPA minus-one is too large an adjustment, but it's something that, frankly, the President prefers that the experts look at carefully before they make any recommendations.
Clearly, Senator Moynihan is something of an expert himself on those types of questions.
Q Is there any high-profile push to -- is there any high-profile push to move on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't detected one.
Q Hadn't you made a recommendation for .2? I mean, I thought there was a number --
MR. MCCURRY: There are a range of estimates that I think go from .7 to .2, and I think they represent different thinking, but there's apparently an advisory board, the membership of the advisory board is something that we're looking at, and there are a lot of issues associated with that. Again, I'd stress that the President feels that it's in large part a question that is a technical question and how you measure inflation ought to be looked at first and most carefully by experts and by his own Council of Economic Advisors.
By the way, a good reason why you have an independent expert academic Council of Economic Advisors on the premises to render the President that kind of advice in response to those who would try to terminate that type of council. (Laughter.)
Q Nicely done.
Q After the President made his brief comments about Ross Perot and a third party, he said., "I think that will play in Peoria. What did he mean by that?"
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't hear him make that remark. I have no idea what he meant.
Q It was kind of an aside to Charlie Rangel.
MR. MCCURRY: I think he was responding to Congressman Rangel's comment. Congressman Rangel --
Q Rangel who said, let the campaign begin.
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to go ask the President. Don't have an answer.
Q Michael, INS has conducted some sweeps to collect illegal workers in nonborder states recently. And some immigration policy advocates are suggesting that election year politics may be at work here. Why are those raids now? And is there any reason to believe that election-year politics --
MR. MCCURRY: -- that's the answer to that charge, to say I have absolutely no idea. And you should ask at the Justice Department.
Q Is there a nonpartisan -- bipartisan leadership meeting this week?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, although the President is looking for an opportunity to see some members of Congress on the subject of Bosnia at some convenient early day.
Q Mike, to follow that up just quickly. You didn't mean to say you have absolutely no idea whether politics is playing a role in immigration --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. I was saying I don't -- you asked me -- the question was why now, and that's a question that should properly be directed to law enforcement officials at the Justice Department.
Q Is there any reason to believe that -- I mean, have you heard anything here that suggests --
MR. MCCURRY: No, there's no reason --
Q -- that the President would like to see this done --
MR. MCCURRY: There's no reason to believe that. And I can't imagine why anyone would suggest that.
Q Can you tell us what's coming down the pike on federal research and development, what we can expect from the President in terms of --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't, but we can put you in contact with some people who can talk about that. We had a good event last week where we talked about the role that science and technology can play in national security policy and unveiled our strategy on science and technology as it relates to national security issues that we'll face in the post-Cold War era. And that -- you might want to go back and look at some of the things that were said about R&D funding in that context.
Q A follow up. Then why did the President release this statement on research and development yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check, or maybe we can get some people who know more about it.
Q Your answer to Helen's question never got quite finished. You said some bipartisan leaders are coming in to talk about Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the President is looking for an opportunity to do that at an early moment.
Q Dole, in regard to his complaint?
MR. MCCURRY: Those who would be interested, and I gather from Senator Dole's letter that they might have some interest.
Q Do you all have a time on that, or a day or anything?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Has a response been sent to him?
MR. MCCURRY: It didn't look to me like a letter that was written with the intent of getting a response from the President. They were asking perfectly obvious questions that we, of course, would ask within the United States government as planning goes forward at NATO and as we do our own military planning to implement a peace agreement. The Congress and every signatory of that letter knows full well what the status of negotiations are, and they know that at this moment we are trying to achieve a peace settlement that we then might properly enforce, and trying to make sure that we have good-faith agreement by all the parties involved, that's been the thrust of our diplomacy, the work the President's been doing on this issue today and that they're doing in New York as they meet with the parties.
As to what the general contours of our commitment on ground troops are, every signatory of that letter knows exactly where we are. The fundamental dispute is this: The signatories of this letter believe, as Kay Bailey Hutchison has said, that "Bosnia is not a place for U.S. leadership."
Q Did it say that in the letter?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that Bosnia does represent an instance in which United States leadership is vital, because it is vital to the future of Europe, and we do have an interest in the collective security of the European continent.
Q Are you saying that Dole believes that? Because this morning --
MR. MCCURRY: Dole should address himself -- he should either disassociate himself from Senator Hutchison's view, or indicate that is the thinking of those who signed the letter. She signed the letter, it's his letter, he should either clarify her remarks or clarify his own thinking.
Q This morning, you said that he is accountable for what she said. Since when?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he should be accountable. This is a subject where she has now said very clearly that Bosnia is not a place where the United States should lead. She is a signatory of this letter, and I think it's proper to ask the Majority Leader whether or not that represents his thinking.
Q So what are you going to do? Hold your breath and not respond to the letter until you get the proper response from Dole on Kay Bailey Hutchison?
MR. MCCURRY: Our response to the letter is occurring right now in New York where we are attempting to end this conflict by getting the parties to agree to peace, and that will then represent the commitments we make thereafter, would be in furtherance of implementing that peace.
Q But is the meeting in response to the letter, they want more consultations?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the meeting is a very effective answer to that letter, yes, the part of the letter that suggests --
Q No, I mean the meeting they're going to have the end of this week -- no, no, no --
MR. MCCURRY: -- that, instead of peace, what we need is more war, by lifting the arms embargo.
Q I'm talking about the meeting that you want to have later this month.
MR. MCCURRY: That is a very proper response to that letter, yes.
Q The letter has got a lot of --
Q Nick Burns -- I think Burns has said that there is going to be an announcement in New York at 3:00 p.m. Do you expect to have a major announcement today on Bosnia, and would the President be making any statements?
MR. MCCURRY: If the parties make progress and if they do agree -- I mean, remember, this is a step-by-step progress. We don't have a peace treaty in hand, we didn't expect to get one today, we are working through all of the very tough issues that are embedded in the dialogue that they have going on in New York.
It would be a significant achievement if we could make some forward progress on constitutional arrangements that preserve the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina; and if we achieve that, the President might have something he should say about that, of course.
Q I just want to make sure you were answering the question that I was asking. I'm saying, is the meeting you want to have --
MR. MCCURRY: Probably not, but go ahead.
Q -- is the meeting you want to have with congressional leaders later this week on Bosnia a response to the letter? Are you talking about the meeting in New York?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Look, we have consulted throughout the conflict in Bosnia. We have consulted very closely with Congress, still Congress wouldn't understand the thrust of U.S. policy, what we are attempting to achieve both at the negotiating table, what we're attempting to achieve through our projection of force, using NATO.
At staff level and sometimes involving the President, very often involving the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, at the sub-Cabinet level, at the White House staff level, working with congressional staff, working with members, working with committee chairs -- there has been a very active and constant dialogue on the question of Bosnia and how we might best address it.
The signatories of this letter know that, they know the parameters of our policy, and they are trying to create, I believe, a diversion, and it fits with a larger objective that they might have.
Q Did you say the President might have something to say on --
Q What larger objective?
MR. MCCURRY: To further the congression -- the resolution that many of them supported, which is to adopt a war policy towards Bosnia instead of a peace policy by lifting the arms embargo.
Q That wasn't in the letter.
MR. MCCURRY: It was, too, in the letter.
Q That they might still --
Q A change of subject, Mike. The President and the administration have railed against the Republican capital gains tax as being the part of the tax policy that would disproportionately help the wealthy and the well to do. Yesterday at the Sperling lunch, the President seemed much more open to capital gains, and in fact, tried to make it seem like he didn't know what their proposal would do. Where is his thinking now? Is he evolving his thinking?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it was just exactly as he described it yesterday. The President has supported the use of targeted capital gains tax relief as a way to stimulate small business creation and entrepreneurial activity in the private sector.
Q Wouldn't that fall disproportionately on the wealthy?
Q You said that the test would be if it created jobs and raised incomes, which is what Republicans say that capital gains would do.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?
Q The President said his litmus test for capital gains would be, does it create jobs and raise incomes, which is exactly what Republicans say capital gains does?
MR. MCCURRY: There are disputes about the degree to which the Republican tax proposals would do that, because you have to measure them in the aggregate against other aspects of tax code changes they would make.
Q But I thought that the administration's research into this had already established some decision about that -- and he just sounds much more open.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, the President was indicating that this is not likely to come to him as a separate, stand-alone bill, as you well, know; it's going to come as a part of a much larger measure that you would have to look at -- looking at all of the elements within the -- both revenue side and spending side that are likely embedded in whatever resolution comes forward.
He is open and has been open to the idea of targeted capital gains tax relief, he's indicated support for the -- for example, the measure Senator Bumpers put forward, and we just don't know at this point what fashion tax relief will come to the President in any final measures adopted by Congress.
The President's preference for tax relief, as you know, is for the kind of education and training incentives that are embedded in the Middle Class Bill of Rights. That's the best way to provide tax relief to average working families, it's the best way, in the President's view, to stimulate overall economic growth because it's a long-term strategy. But we are realists enough to recognize that we're likely to get tax measures that come to us in a somewhat different form from the Congress, and the President said simply that he would have to look at it.
Q Do you expect the President to have something to say on Bosnia today, and in what forum? Just a statement, or --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I answered that already, and I have made it pretty clear that we would if there was something that was significant enough to warrant, and you indicated you had some guidance from the State Department that sounded pretty close to me.
Q Are you sure you want your statement to stand that the Republicans want to adopt a war policy toward Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because that is what lifting the arms embargo is. Lifting the arms embargo is to -- putting them back into a situation where they try to gain on the battlefield what we believe right now they might be able to achieve at the negotiating table. So it's war vs. peace, and they are suggesting in this letter that they prefer a policy of war as opposed to a policy of peace. And we're trying to negotiate a peace settlement in Bosnia, and they're suggesting that the answer is to lift the arms embargo and let the parties continue and the conflict, to let the killing continue, let the dying continue, and we think that it's time to bring that to an end.
Any clearer? Does it need to be any clearer than that?
Q After the signing ceremony, you have a series of bilateral meetings with the different leaders of the Middle East --
MR. MCCURRY: Before and after, I believe, yes.
Q Is it to tie up loose ends for this part of the deal, or is it to make fresh ground towards another deal? What is the need for --
MR. MCCURRY: It is an indication that in the Middle East peace process, there are significant -- we have seen enormous significant events over the last two years. This is one of them, because the interim agreement will now begin the implementation process for those things agreed to in the declaration, and that is an historic achievement.
But there is a lot more work to do as we attempt to reach the goal of just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region. From President Mubarak to King Hussein, including, obviously, the government of Israel and the Palestinian authority, there are important views on those larger issues. It's also important, in our view, to consult very closely with the Palestinian authority and the government of Israel on how best to provide international support for the agreements that they have now made face to face.
And so there is -- I wouldn't describe it as loose ends to tie up, but a lot more work to be done as we deepen the roots of peace now growing in the region.
Q Do you anticipate having some sort of communique on Friday, or are you moving towards some sort of other announcement by the end of these two days of talk?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, I wouldn't suggest that. I think that obviously the parties are here to celebrate this achievement, this agreement. But you will hear us talk a lot in coming days about all the steps that are being taken by the international community,by the government of the United States to nurture the peace process broadly throughout the region; to help Israel the goal of peace with her Arab neighbors; and also make sure there is support sufficient to make these agreements reached between the parties long-lasting.
Q Mike, what is your view of Mr. Perot's announcement last night -- its possible impact and his ongoing dissatisfaction with political choices?
MR. MCCURRY: The same one the President expressed earlier.
Q If this Middle East agreement to be signed Thursday is so significant, why is it that all these events are pool only or closed, instead of that massive South Lawn ceremony we had in September of '93?
MR. MCCURRY: Because I believe it would be accurate to say we are engaged in a peace process that now we hope will accelerate. This is an important milestone on the path to a deeper peace. But there will come a time, we hope, as we look back, where these types of ceremonies marking important achievements between the parties become almost routine. That would be a very hopeful thing for this region.
Q What does that have to do with having it open or closed?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again -- it is open. All of these events are open to the press, as I described this morning.
Q What does the administration think about legislation that's now apparently being discussed that would require the IRS to use some commercial entities for debt --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?
Q The legislation that's apparently now being discussed that would require the IRS to use some commercial entities for debt collection?
MR. MCCURRY: Yeah, we've got a -- I've got a copy of a letter, and I haven't had a chance to look at it in depth. But there is a letter the Treasury has made available that outlines the Secretary's thinking on that. He, I think, at some length sets forward some of the administration's concerns on why this privatization would represent, to him, a troublesome direction. That came out, I'm sorry, came out from the Commissioner of the IRS. We can get you a copy of that.
Q Didn't the administration itself favor something like that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think our views are set forth in this letter we can make available to you.
Q You're having a meeting down here sometime this week on Indians. Who's attending, and what's the problem? What's the --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware that we had a meeting recently on proposed cuts for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but I don't know of any event this week. Maybe we can have someone check.
Q -- recently something this week.
MR. MCCURRY: We can have someone check for you, Sarah, yeah.
Q Yeah, Mike, when you were talking about nurturing the peace process broadly and providing more support in the Middle East, were you talking about more money, basically, and how much?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's -- there are commitments that now have been made by the international community, going back to the International Donors Conference that occurred in October of 1993. Part of what the work we're doing is to make good on those pledges. That was a pledging conference. A lot of donors have been asking for certain understandings before that money is properly committed. That's true of international financial institutions, as well, who are trying to assist with the development that's going on now in Gaza and the West Bank.
And what we're attempting to do is to try to encourage those in the donor community to come forward with the amounts that they have pledged, and also to assess what additional amounts are going to be necessary as they begin to build an economic infrastructure in the territories.
Q Mike, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but this President has offered opinions on who the best basketball coach was at the University of Arkansas in history; what the bigger meaning was of Cal Ripken's streak; precisely how long children ought to play in public school; who ought to be the mayor of New York. Now, there's a third political party --
MR. MCCURRY: All significant developments.
Q Now there's a third political party being formed in the United States, and are you actually telling us the President has no thought about it at all, doesn't want to even talk about it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President talked about it earlier today. (Laughter.)
Q But, Mike, he didn't. And you -- is there something I'm missing? What's the secret?
MR. MCCURRY: It was right at the end of that -- see that transcript? Go right to the very end there.
Q Yeah, he doesn't want to talk about it, just like you did.
MR. MCCURRY: No, he said -- what did he say there?
Q He says, I try to balance the budget. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: He said, look, I'm -- he said he's working, balancing the budget. He's been a strong and ardent advocate of political reform, and the significance -- you're asking me to comment on the significance of a development that Mr. Perot addressed himself to last night, and the President suggests and I suggest that that's ultimately up to the American people. I mean, I don't know how else you can do it.
I'm not -- you know, if someone wants to put me on as a political pundit after I'm long gone from the White House, I'll provide all kinds of analysis and ribald comments. But that's, you know, that's your business, not our business, as the President suggested yesterday. You're in the business of analysis, and reporting the news and figuring out what things mean politically. That's not what we're up to here.
Q Now, wait a minute --
Q Give us a break here --
MR. MCCURRY: Alright, that's it. New subject. Connie, yes. You can always be relied upon for a new subject.
Q She's going to ask you about Perot --
Q Has Syria been --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what they think of Perot down in New Zealand.
Q By the way, that ski field is pronounced --
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.
Q Listen, I'm serious. Has Syria been -- on peace talks?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The importance of making progress on that track is well-known. The Secretary of State has devoted enormous work to that goal. Ambassador Ross has been in the region working with the parties. And we have said repeatedly that the goal of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace cannot be achieved until we make progress on the Syrian-Israeli track.
But the government of Syria has also spoken publicly and you know their views. They say much the same: that there needs to be progress on their dialogue and by no means do the announcements and celebrations that are to occur in Washington in any way inhibit the importance -- or limit the importance of making progress on the Syrian-Israeli track.
Q New subject, sir. Is the President, before his term expires in the White House, planning to get Turkey and Greece, like the Arabs and the Israelis, to sort out their differences in the Aegean and in Cyprus? They are two NATO allies and yet, there at each other's throat for so many years.
MR. MCCURRY: Those would be two laudable goals that we have been pressing through very patient diplomacy and through the work of a special presidential envoy. And that work will continue. We consider an effort to bring a resolution to those conflicts to be very important because they do involve the interests of two very close and important NATO allies.
Q The President repeatedly says that he is for a balanced budget. Is he necessarily whetted to a nine-year plan or would he be willing to be flexible and go along with the seven years if the Republicans in turn are willing to cut back dramatically on Medicare --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've said often that when the President looked at how best to achieve the goal of a balanced budget -- which he strongly favors -- the important thing was to structure a policy that would get us to that goal and represent both a sound investment in the future of the American economy, a smart economic policy and a policy that would achieve those goals in a way that protected the American people.
We then -- so in a sense, defined the policy, then worked on what the calendar would look like -- or what the timing would look like. It worked out at the time the President initially put together his proposal, a ten-year path. And then economic forecast and assumptions were adjusted, it looked like you could achieve that goal within nine years. The important thing is the policy. Is it possible to match the President's priorities and the thrust of the President's policy and do it on a seven-year track? It might be. We think it would be hard to do that, but it might be possible to do that.
The important thing, though, is to acknowledge the priorities that the President has put forward. It's important to balance the budget; it's important to provide tax relief to average working families in this country; it's important to protect our commitment to preserve America's environment and to make investments in education that will allow this economy to grow in the 21st century. If you can do that and fit it into a seven-year timetable, there's no theoretical reason the President would oppose that. I just don't believe that the Congress is working on that type of approach right now, unfortunately.
Q Mike, there's a possibility that the train wreck will take place around the time of the trip to Japan. Is that a 100 percent commitment of the President to make that state visit, or is there a chance he would stay home?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that.
Q Can you describe how you think the ceremony will proceed on Thursday? I mean, will all these people make statements, or --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll let you know, give you our best understanding as we get into Thursday. I think it will proceed pretty much as you would imagine. And I do believe that you will hear from each of the five leaders that will be present. One last one.
Q For the record, Mike, this is a state visit scheduled for Japan. Is that not an iron-clad commitment to Japan, regardless of what happens here?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President has an iron-clad desire to go to APEC. The work of APEC is important, but we obviously have to be cognizant of what's happening here on the home front. And the approach of a debt ceiling limit and the damage that would do to America's standing in the international economy, if, as the Speaker suggests, we just let the United States government go into default is a source of very real concern. That would present the President with a fairly urgent crisis, and it might require him to adjust his plans accordingly.
But obviously, we don't have any plans to do that now, because the President is unwilling to assume that anyone in the United States Congress would allow that damage to be done to the United States government and its good faith and credit in the world.
Q How is he going to get the money for the trip, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: From you, the American taxpayers.
Q Last Thursday, on Larry King, there was a call-in show. The President indicated that he would be willing to support an across-the-board deficit reduction every year if the target is met, which sounds very similar to Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. Why is the President volunteering an endorsement of the old Gramm-Rudman?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, I'll have to ask him. I recall that answer, and I had meant to ask the President about that. He referenced, as you remember, his own experience in Arkansas and the way they structured fiscal matters within the state budget. And if I have an opportunity, I'll try to follow up with him on that.
Q Are you now saying that the Republicans' unwillingness to move on the debt ceiling and budget may jeopardize the President's visit to Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just --
Q It's a very sensitive time --
MR. MCCURRY: It's very sensitive timing, and that would suggest timing -- I mean, we are unwilling to believe that anyone would put the United States of America in that position. So we intend to be optimists, as the President has said, that we won't face that type of consequence. But everybody in this room knows what the timing of these matters are, and you all know what the President's schedule is, related to APEC.
What is this? Late-breaking news -- it's always perilous when someone hands you a bulletin. Chairman Livingston has just had a press conference up on the Hill. And he says that he hopes Congress and the White House will reach a CR resolution on the continuing resolution as early as Tuesday afternoon. I wouldn't rule that out, but I'd have to check and see.
We've had, as I said, staff negotiating. And I'll check and see with Leon whether he has swung back in action. Thanks everyone.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:48 P.M. EST