THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:20 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House. Two announcements to begin with: one, Vice President Al Gore will present a series of major policy addresses on the future of the administration's policies toward the Russian Federation. They will begin with a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Friday, October 13th, and the United States Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday, October 17th. Thus sayeth Peggy Willhide, press secretary to the Vice President.
Q On the future of what?
MR. MCCURRY: The future of U.S.-Russian relations. The speech -- I understand the speech Friday in San Francisco will focus more on the economic and technological issues that have been a part of the work that Vice President Gore has been doing with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. Then the speech on Tuesday will take a longer-range view of the bilateral relationship and also, in a sense, set the stage for what will be an important meeting between President Yeltsin and President Clinton on October 23rd.
Q Where does he do the Tuesday --
MR. MCCURRY: Tuesday is at West Point, U.S. Military Academy.
And the second -- I didn't get a chance to mention this this morning, but I meant to. Late yesterday the President had a 30-minute conversation with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. They discussed two issues in some depth -- Bosnia, of course, comparing notes on the current situation related to the cease-fire, the progress towards overall peace discussions, and questions related to the implementation force that will be necessary to enforce the peace.
And then, secondly, they also discussed the Middle East and talked particularly about the importance of establishing a Middle East development bank, both the President and the Chancellor comparing and exchanging views on the importance of the bank, how it should be structured, what lessons could be drawn from a similar type international lending institutions that have operated elsewhere in Europe.
A 30-minute call, roughly 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. last night.
Q Did he ask him to contribute a certain number of troops? Ask Kohl?
MR. MCCURRY: He did not because there has been no specific request from NATO for contribution of forces yet. As NATO proceeds to finalize plans there -- as you know, based on Ken Bacon's very good briefing on this topic yesterday, the North Atlantic Council has now approved the general stages of an implementation force deployment in Bosnia should there be a peace agreement. We will now wait what will clearly be, according to Ambassador Holbrooke, very long and very difficult negotiations to see if we can achieve a peace settlement. And at that point, if they achieve the settlement, you'd be a lot -- we would be in a position to be a lot more specific about what the troop requirements will be.
But there have been some good general discussions about this at the Pentagon, and, as you know, Ken Bacon said yesterday that some of the things that he's seen reported are certainly in the ballpark.
Q Mike, on the Middle East Development Bank, my understanding is that it's been the EU that has resisted for months now the creation of a bank. Did the Chancellor offer the President any encouragement that the EU might relent and support Clinton and some of the Middle East countries?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, clearly, the President's intent in touching base with the Chancellor on this issue was to see if we could encourage one key European partner to be supportive of the plans for the bank as we prepare for the Amman summit at the end of this month. The EU will have to look again at some of the issues associated with the structure of the bank and some of the modalities of the bank's operations. But the EU -- my understanding is, and I think our understanding is, has by no means ruled out being supportive of the creation of a bank. Their questions are more towards procedures and to structure. And those are issues that we acknowledge we need to work through. And that, indeed, was part of the conversation the President and the Chancellor had last night.
Q But did the Chancellor give him any --
MR. MCCURRY: I would describe -- on the general subject of the importance of the bank, the importance of making progress on the issue of the bank at the Amman summit, I would describe the President as being encouraged by his talk with the Chancellor.
Q Mike, numbers aside, did the President ask Kohl, in principle, to participate -- German participation in the new peacekeeping mission?
MR. MCCURRY: They had discussions about the importance of both countries contributing to the peace effort. I would decline to be more specific about types of participation, but I think you're all aware of some of the public discussions in Germany about the Bundeswehr and how it may or may not participate in such a force.
Q Mike, it's been said that President Chirac also has been very favorable to the Mideast development bank. Have you had some cooperation with the French in trying to win the --
MR. MCCURRY: I know in the work that's going on in preparation for the Amman summit by folks here and at the Statement Department there have been discussions with the French, and I believe there have been some exchanges in our bilateral diplomacy with the French on that. But you might want to check further with some of the NSC staff or check over at State.
Q Mike, also on the foreign policy side, the Republicans have been sending around a memo which they say was obtained of minutes of a meeting that AID had, senior staff meeting, in the last day or so in which they expressed the idea that some Democratic senators are about to cave in to Jesse Helms on going forward with the consolidation of some of the foreign policy organizations, and that the Vice President had them over here for a meeting to try to rally the troops yesterday. I wondered if you give us any --
MR. MCCURRY: Rita, I'll have to confess, I have to check on that. I don't know that. We've got very deep reservations about the reorganization plan as it's been put forward by Senator Helms. I think those have been pretty well rehearsed here and you know our thinking on that. And the Vice President has been very vigorous in putting forward the notion that there's a right way to reinvent our international presence overseas as part of our reinventing government effort. And he has been making that case early and often to as many members of Congress as he can. But we'll have to check for you on that particular message.
Q Is there any kind of deal in the works on this? I mean, right now we've got a lot of ambassadors --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to wait and see what the Senate turns its attention to now. There is some discussion that that issue or, alternatively, Cuba embargo issues might be coming before the Senate very soon. And I'll have to check and see what the schedule is there. But we remain hopeful that -- and certainly, you've heard the President making this case often that we need to be supportive of America's presence in the world. We certainly do that through AID, through USIA, and through on arms control issues, through ACTA. And our concern about the status of those three agencies I think is very well-known and very forcefully argued when we're dealing with Congress.
Q Do you know of any dissension in the ranks?
MR. MCCURRY: Dissension in which ranks?
Q Are Democrats pulling away from that -- from supporting --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, on that issue I think it's fair to say there were not monolithic views on either side of the aisle. There were -- a lot of different members of both parties in Congress took different views on the question of how you might effectively restructure some of this country's foreign policy apparatus.
Q Could you state for us what the administration's attitude is towards the Million Man March on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe -- didn't I -- have I not done that several times already? Our view has not changed. The President finds it encouraging that people would come together in an effort to promote the concepts of personal responsibility and responsibility towards community. Now, that said, the President has some deep reservations about the organizers of this march, in particular Reverend Farakhan.
Q On the budget, the Speaker had some additional comments today about a strategy of holding back appropriations bills through the 13th, doing a CR that's much more draconian, giving the President a choice between those two. What's the administration's reaction to the rhetoric today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they clearly have put themselves in a very adamant posture now; they're not interested in having further discussions or they have clearly rejected the President's invitation to walk through an open door. And they are holding fast to what is an implausible position that you can somehow or other balance the budget, accomplish the type of tax cut they want -- $245 billion -- and do that without causing any damage to those who participate in Medicare. And as we've been arguing over and over again, that argument just is not plausible and not logical. And at some point, there will have to be some give in that argument.
Q Have you made any proposal to them as to what sort of give there might be, or have you made a --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And the President sent them --
Q -- compromise offer that's actually got specifics --
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- remember, the course of this year and where we are. The President in June sent them a 10-year balanced budget proposal that you will all recall here engendered some bitter reaction among Democrats on Capitol Hill, but it was a good-faith effort by this President to open up a dialogue to achieve the very same result that the Republicans are looking for -- a balanced budget, targeted tax relief, protecting and strengthening Medicare by extending the solvency of the fund; and at the same time doing things that the President feels are important -- protecting this nation's environment and making necessary investments in education and technology for the long-term.
We went the distance in June hoping that that would begin a dialogue about how to resolve these budget issues. We have continued to try to pursue that. The President has had direct conversations with some of the Republican leadership, and yesterday they essentially said that's it, they're not interested in talking anymore.
Q Beyond that -- beyond offering and reoffering and talking about his budget, has the White House made any suggestions, proposals of any specific nature that would go -- meet the Republicans somewhere between where you are and where they are?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but it takes not mathematical genius to see that if you don't need to cut taxes $245 billion in order to cut Medicare for the elderly $270 billion, that if you target more effectively the tax cut, there is some room to maneuver there. That's been clear to the Republican leadership for a long time.
Q Have you made an offer along those lines?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had discussions about whether there's room to have those discussions. We've been talking about talking and now we're not talking.
Q What's the President's response to the AMA agreement to back the House Republican version?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it appears that the doctors have won at the expense of elderly patients, and that in order to buy off the support of the doctors lobby, the Republican leadership has agreed to at least $3 billion to $4 billion worth of costs that will now be shifted away from the providers and the doctors and to the patients and the beneficiaries. And that is not necessary. The point the President would make is it's not necessary to cause that pain to achieve the goal of a balanced budget, as he laid forth so clearly in his own proposal.
Q The President said that he supports tax cuts that are properly targeted and affordable to American people. Is he talking then -- or is he open to the idea of it being more than just for child credits and for education? Is he extending this to targeted capital gains --
MR. MCCURRY: We have left open -- as you know, left open the possibility of looking at the issue of a targeted capital gains tax cut as well, depending on how it fits in in overall budget solution. You can't isolate any one question about how tax relief would be accomplished without looking at the whole package.
Q Are the issues --
MR. MCCURRY: But certainly he is open to that and has indicated that he is open to that. But the problem right now is there's absolutely no room for a dialogue if you view it the way the Republicans view it. They are adamant about wanting $245 billion worth of tax cuts for the wealthiest in our country and they want to do that at the expense of those who rely on Medicare.
Q The $245 billion -- some of that is for the family credit --
MR. MCCURRY: I stand corrected, Brit. I should have said disproportionately for the wealthy -- the vast preponderance of that $245 billion going to upper-income Americans.
Q Vast preponderance?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. If you want to go through all the numbers on that, I'll be happy to.
Q On the targeted issue of capital gains, could it be for long-term investment targeted regardless of income?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to write a -- I cannot write a tax proposal here.
Q If the Republicans were willing to shift -- keep the $245 billion but reduce -- but target it more towards the middle class -- in other words, lower the level from 200,000 to 100,000 and go for investments in areas that this administration supports, would you be willing to go along with the $245 number?
MR. MCCURRY: No -- $245 billion is an excessive amount of relief, particularly if it's skewed the way they want to do it. You can't take that much money out of a balanced budget plan without doing the kind of damage that their plan does to rural Americans, as you heard Leon Panetta talking about today, elderly Americans, as the cuts are required in their Medicare proposal would make. You can't do it without raising taxes on working families, as the President argued last week. The disproportionate impact of that tax cut disproportionately for the wealthy leads to all these other cuts that the President finds unnecessary, that the other Democrats in Congress find unnecessary and that increasing the American people are saying are unnecessary. Thus is borne the dilemma that the Republicans are now in.
Q The Republicans want a seven-year balanced budget and the President wants nine -- revisions in July. Is there a possibility that the White House could go along with the seven-year plan if the GOP agrees to cut back on --
MR. MCCURRY: We said in June when we made the -- when the President made his proposal to the Congress, and we told you as we explained the proposal, that they are driven by the right policy. They were then examined by the OMB to say once you've set the policy and determined what the right policy is to get to a balanced budget, what's the calendar look like to achieve that objective.
First it was 10 years. It's now -- because of more favorable economic estimates that are available by the experts, it's been revised to nine years. The number of years has always been less important to this President than getting the policy right. But it's clear that, as we heard from the Speaker and the Majority Leader yesterday, they just are wrong-headed about how they want to achieve the balanced budget. And there's no room for give, as they said yesterday.
Q Mike, has the President set a date for his speech on racial relations?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Mike, the President this morning spoke about the new financial architecture which had been put in place in the aftermath of Halifax, and was generally very upbeat with regard to the Mexican situation. Does that mean that he feels that this new financial architecture is now in place, in spite of the fact we do have instabilities on the Japanese market -- the stock went down 50 points -- or is there more that has to be done? Is he satisfied --
MR. MCCURRY: No, this is -- this is a work-in-progress, as we've made clear all along, going back to the G-7 meetings in Naples, extending through the discussion the G-7 had in Halifax earlier this year. What the President has suggested, what he again turned to today is the need to take these institutions that are so vital to the global economy, updating them and making them more realistic and efficient in the new environment of the post-Cold War era, and then expanding their ability to promote global economic growth. That has not been accomplished yet by any means, as the President suggested today, but there's been some progress in that direction.
What are we looking at here. (Laughter.)
Q Bill Plante has the news --
Q Simpson interview canceled.
Q Here's the news of the day.
MR. MCCURRY: Ahh. Well, that will make life easier for the President -- no. (Laughter.) The news now on the wire is --late-breaking update -- NBC says that the O.J. Simpson interview is canceled.
MR. MCCURRY: There's two ways of looking --
Q Mr. Miklaszewski will now brief. (Laughter.)
Q I have nothing for you on that. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Let me point out, there are two ways of looking at this news. The good news is -- for ABC -- is it might raise -- boost the ratings for the ball game. The bad news is, it might raise CNN's rating for the Republican debate in Manchester.
Q They couldn't compete with that one.
MR. MCCURRY: For the President of the United States, it's no news because he didn't plan to watch it anyhow. He's planning to have a nice 20th-anniversary dinner with his bride and the Revered Vic Nixon, who married them 20 years ago this day, and members of their bridal party and others who have been friends of the couple for the last two decades. So he was not planning to watch television tonight in any event.
Q Maybe Dateline NBC can cover that.
Q The First Lady promised a present that would make a big splash. Have you talked to him this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, oh, oh -- well, no, they have not exchanged gifts. The President said he had not received his gift from the First Lady. And I inquired as to what he might have purchased her, and he allowed as he did not want you all to know before she did, but he said he'd done good by her. (Laughter.) And he said -- that was compared to the first year's --
Q He doesn't talk to us anyway. Go ahead and tell us.
MR. MCCURRY: -- the first couple of years of their marriage when they didn't have enough money to exchange gifts.
Q Where's the party tonight -- here, on campus?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it's at the house. They're planning to stay in, yes.
Q Mike, did the President think it was a good idea to have that interview in the first place --
MR. MCCURRY: He had no opinion about that, as far as I know. He had no plans to watch the interview as it turns out.
Q Do you see something acceptable in Medicare cuts coming out of the conference committee that looks more like the Senate bill?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, the Democrats have a very good idea, which is to try to move ahead with the Part A savings, the $89 billion that represent by and large the same proposal that the President made in his 10-year plan. By the way, Congressman Sam Gibbons makes a very good point. Today he said that the effect of the Republican tax cut legislation, which rolls back the '93 OBRA provisions, as they related to Social Security taxation, actually brings the amount of Medicare savings for the HI trust fund that's in the Republican proposal down to the point where they only extend the solvency of the trust fund the same six years that the President's plan does. So we're now talking about absolutely no difference when it comes to who is going to make the HI trust fund more solvent. The Republican plan and the President's 10-year plan do exactly the same job, if you measure what the effects of the tax changes are that are now recommended by the Republicans in Congress.
So that argument is about nothing. I think we can take that one effectively off the table.
Q If the Republicans were to accept your economic assumptions, and you were to go along with a downward adjustment in the CPI, that would put less pressure on --
Q If, if, if, if.
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- which assumptions are you talking about? We had -- yesterday we had the Speaker of the House accused the President of being too optimistic in his growth estimates. We had the Senate Majority Leader say we were too pessimistic. Maybe the reason why they can't talk to us is that they need to talk to each other to sort out where they are. You've got Dole saying growth is going to be a 33.5 percent. Well, that's an enormous difference from what they have projected.
Remember, the difference between OMB and CBO on growth estimates over the pathway that we're looking at here is the difference between 2.3 percent and 2.5 percent. But, suddenly, Senator Dole believes that we are going to have growth estimates that are 3 percent, 3.5 percent. You know, that goes beyond smoke and mirrors; that's a pretty heavy, thick fog, I think.
Q I have a quickie on another topic. Senator Feingold and three other Democratic senators have written to the President charging nuclear cooperation with Jacques Chirac and the French. Have you received those communiques? Do you have any --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check. That's one for David Johnson. I hadn't been aware of that, but we have talked through some of that.
Q I have a question concerning something that Clinton said yesterday. He said that under the GOP plan there would be the smallest economic growth in 25 years. Where did he come up with that figure?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Yesterday, he said it would be the smallest economic growth if the GOP plan -- balanced budget plan went through, that the U.S. has had in 25 years.
Q No, he was talking about the assumptions.
MR. MCCURRY: Those are the assumptions. He's saying that if you take the CBO assumption, even adding in the balanced budget bonus of .1 percent and make it 2.4 percent, the point he's making is that it doesn't reflect a lot of faith in the Republicans' estimate of how well this country will do in economic growth under their own plan. Now, remember, back in --
Q That's not the smallest in 25 years.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will defer to Bloomberg Newsletter, because you are the world's greatest resource of statistics on the question of economic growth. So whatever it was --
Q So the President misspoke, bad staff work, what?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll go back and look and see exactly what their growth estimates are. But the point he was making is that back in September, September 5th, Senator Dole criticized the President for being too conservative in his growth estimates by -- at least having a budget plan that he said was going to generate growth that was insufficient to meet the country's needs as we go into the 21st century. Now, they're turning around and accusing us of smoke and mirrors for the same set of assumptions. You know, they keep changing their tune every day when it comes to this question.
Q Mike, did the President get a response to his letter to the Hill on welfare and --
MR. MCCURRY: No, but that was a letter that went to the Hill as a statement of policy in preparation for the work that the Conference Committee is going to do. The response that we'll get from Congress will be whether or not they accept the President's reasoning as the conference committee begins to deal with welfare reform.
Q What baseline can we look for for Congress to pass --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our view is pretty simple, that if they end up at the House bill, it's gone and we lose the opportunity to reform welfare as we know it. And the President's made it clear then he will proceed by giving individual states the right to reform welfare on their own the way we've been doing. If we get the Senate bill, we're in a much better spot. Even though the Senate bill is imperfect, we can make do with that and work within the contours of the Senate-passed bill. Even better would be if they can improve upon the Senate bill, and it's not impossible for the conference to do that.
Q What do you think Dole's remark that it's Halloween around here, and scare tactics?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's two weeks premature -- right, Halloween is two weeks from now. (Laughter.)
Q It's going to get worse?
MR. MCCURRY: It could get very worse. It's either Halloween or Alice in Wonderland -- I can't decide which they're into today.
Q Ending up with the House bill or the Senate bill -- I mean usually a conference comes up with some kind of mixture of the two. Now, in the past, Leon Panetta has said any step they take towards the House bill would get them a veto. Are you saying something different now?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q You're saying it has to be the Senate bill or --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not saying anything different from our esteemed Chief of Staff. I would never do that. No, the point I'm making is, look, one of the critical -- let's take as an example -- one of the critical issues is continuation of effort. One of the dire problems with the House bill is that there's no guarantee the funding is there to protect innocent children from changes in requirements. Now, the Senate put a commitment in law that said 80 percent of effort, a provision that doesn't exist at all in the House bill. Now, you could take the 80 percent or even improve on the 80 percent if you wanted to. The issue is are you going to require a certain level of funding --
Q You want some kind of continuation of effort.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- well, no, not some kind. We want 80 percent or better. I mean, the issue is do you continue -- do you maintain the current effort so that people don't get lost -- left behind, or do you not address, fail to address that issue at all, which is the grievous damage done by the House bill.
Q How does the President feel about the family cap where the states, if they wanted to continue to pay for extra children, then it would have to come out of their own funds? Is that a problem for him?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check on that. I think that is a problem because that has the net effect of reducing what the state -- the state has to make up the difference some how or other then under those circumstances. And that would lead to the kinds of cuts that would put in jeopardy children who would then not have any recourse at all, or wouldn't have any benefit level at all.
Q Is the President's pending speech on race relations still possible at Austin or is that -- can you rule that out?
MR. MCCURRY: It's still possible. But I just him, I said, are you really ready to say we can do this at this point, and he said, no, I really -- with President Zedillo here and the things he's been working on, he's not had an opportunity to really lock in on that. And he asked me to refrain from saying he was definitely going to give that speech on Monday until he knows that he'll be in a position to address the issue as effectively as he want to address it.
Q On that point, you said he's talking to people about this. Who's he talking to, how is he consulting with people on this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the problem is he's really not had an opportunity yet to do that type of work on it. I'll let you know as we get closer to the speech, if in fact we give the speech.
Q Mike, in terms of maintenance of effort, does the White House believe that it should be a percentage of what states currently contribute and, thus, favor continuation of the current inequity where states like New York pay a much higher share than, say, Arkansas?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no. The maintenance of effort provision that has been adopted by the Senate refers to federal funding that's available. What we would hope to see happen is experimentation going on at the state level that begins to change the mix of how they finance so that they stretch each dollar that goes into public assistance even further. That's the whole purpose of a lot of the expenditures -- or a lot of the experiments that are now underway.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:50 P.M. EDT