THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY, BY DR. JACK GIBBONS, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, AND DR. LAURA TYSON, NATIONAL ECONOMIC ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT,
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the White House and to our daily briefing. Today the President of the United States is honoring 16 individuals from 14 different organizations with the National Medal of Science, which is the nation's highest scientific honor. That will happen shortly.
I wanted to have a discussion of this. It really puts the importance of science and technology in the context of the President's overall commitment to long-term economic growth. This is a key feature of the President's economic strategy as we plan for a red-hot economy in the 21st century. And I've asked Dr. Laura Tyson to just very briefly sort of set the scene for why this subject matter is so critical to the President's thinking about the economy. And then Dr. Jack Gibbons, who is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, will tell you a little bit more about the medals that the President will bestow.
Laura, if we could start with you, please.
DR. TYSON: Okay, thanks. Well, when I was chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, we -- each of the two years I was in charge of the economic report to the President, we made the case for science and technology and economic growth. And just let me repeat the basic facts of the case.
First of all, economists estimate that up to half of the nation's economic growth since the end of World War II can be traced directly to advances in technology. This is a major driver of productivity improvements; a major driver of new process improvements and new products -- so almost up to half of economic growth. If you think about the nation's most productive industries, the most competitive industries, the high-wage industries, the export-intensive energies, the ones that themselves invest strongly in our nation's future research and development, you can look into their histories and see that these industries have benefitted from sustained federal investments in R&D.
I'll just name a few of them: Agriculture, aeronautics, computers, biotechnology, medical devices.
I think Americans when they sign on to the Internet should recognize that the Internet is with us today because of federal investments in science and technology.
We are concerned that the actions in the congressional budget resolutions threaten a 50-year bipartisan consensus on supporting federal investment in science and technology. Under the guise of balancing the budget, the Republican proposals would have us cut -- cut -- by a third in real terms federal support on technology. And these cuts do not just stop at technology in the civilian sense for economic growth, they go on to cut technology looking into environmental improvement, technology for food safety, technology for civil aviation safety, technology for developing new approaches to education. Our budget, in contrast, maintains -- maintains -- vital investments in science and technology.
Now, one of the things that we've heard from Republicans when we bring this up is, look, the government will cut back on this, the private sector will pick up the slack. If the government spends less on technology support, the private sector will spend more. If you look at a review of R&D patterns in this country over the past 30 years, there's no support for that proposition. In point of fact, when the government spends more supporting technology and science, the private sector tends to spend more on science and technology. And that's really for two reasons. One is the availability of federal funding oftentimes encourages firms to do their own R&D to compete for the funds. You have to actually compete for these funds, and in competing for these funds you have to do some work yourself.
The second reason why federal R&D tends to be a driver, a promoter, of private R&D -- not a substitute for private R&D -- is that the federal government is focusing on technology which is risky, far from the marketplace and generic. It is the kind of technology where the results of technological innovation tend to spill over to a large number of users, meaning no individual user gets a monopoly or control over the information. It's the kind of information which is generic, of generic interest to a large number of sectors and industries who, in turn, can take the knowledge and develop products and processes of their own, with their own R&D money.
We're particularly concerned that the program that the Republicans are looking at for the greatest cuts, such as advanced technology program, are merit-based, they are insulated from political influence, they are based on competition, and projects are judged by merit, by, essentially, a group of scientists, engineers and experts in the field, and they are cost-shared.
This is an area where the government, putting in a dollar of R&D support, leverages many more dollars in the private sector, and we are concerned about that focus.
Finally, just on the end by saying we think it really is exactly the wrong time to cut investments in R&D, the high-tech sector is growing as a share of our output. I've already mentioned they have disproportionate contributions to high-wage jobs and export-intensive jobs, for example.
Technology is diffusing rapidly throughout the industrial sector. Industries are learning how to use technologies to cut costs and improve quality. It's not a time to slow down the nation's commitment to technology support.
If you look at trends in private-sector R&D, you see a disturbing trend to a reduction in long-term R&D, into the risky generic projects we're talking about. Our major competitors around the world are investing more in R&D and not less. And finally, science and technology are playing an increasingly important role in meeting other national goals; not just economic growth, but life-long learning, sustainable development and, of course, continued emphasis on national defense. So that's why the technology and science issue is an issue of economic growth, and that's why it's one of the major budgetary priorities that we are struggling with the Congress about.
With that as an introduction, let me turn over the floor to Jack Gibbons, who will talk about the Americans we are honoring today for their contributions in science and technology.
DR. GIBBONS: Thanks, Laura. That enables me to say much less because Laura did I think very succinctly summarize the background of today's event.
Upstairs in about an hour from now the President and the Vice President will celebrate a wonderful annual occasion for America, namely, to bestow the nation's highest awards in science and in technology innovation to a group of people selected by their own peers, recommended through a process to the President. And these awards will be made by the President.
If you look at the material, it describes these people and their inventions and their discoveries and their broad contributions to science and learning in America. It's truly a bunch of heroes stories. Each is a very different and personal account that I hope you'll have a chance to look through those short biographies.
So it's going to be a day of celebration over the success of a long-term commitment to explore as a nation the frontiers of knowledge. And the fruits of that exploration Laura just, I think amply, described to you. While it's a celebration, I think there's also a very serious overtone to this afternoon -- namely, that these people and the Nobel laureates which have been announced just in these past two weeks -- seven, I think, of the 10 Nobel laureates in science are of United States origin -- if you look at the background of all of these people, the President's Medals and our Nobel laureates, they're characterized by having been supported over a long period of time by public resources in terms of their research. And every single one of them, as far as I can tell, has benefitted from that kind of support from the rest of us citizens of this country.
And the President and the Vice President, I think, recognize this long historic commitment that Americans have made to each other for exploration, and the benefits that have flowed from that. But we're now entering a situation that gravely threatens our capability to do that in the future -- namely, the threats of Congress to cut into these investments which in turn enable us to achieve the kinds of goals, including economic growth, that helps us balance our budget, including environmental quality, health, national security, and indeed the exploration of new knowledge itself.
So it's a happy day. At the same time, I think it's a day in which we can see some very serious clouds on the horizon. And that's why I think the timing of the situation is very important for us. We know we can balance a budget. That should no longer be the question. The question should be, how do we achieve that balance and arrive at that time with an economy that's vibrant and is going to be able to enjoy the fruits of the continued investments in research and higher education that have enabled, from the past, our celebration today, and would enable, in the early 21st century, from those investments that we would like to make in these next 10 years?
So it's good news and bad news, and that's all I want to say at this moment.
Q How much are they trying to cut?
DR. GIBBONS: How much are they trying to cut? Congress is attempting to cut out over these years, in order to get to the balanced budget and a major tax decrease, in applied research and technology partnerships -- some are being -- they're attempting to eliminate entirely; others to be cut by very major proportions. For example, 20 and 30 percent in one year's time, which is a devastating change. In basic research even, the implications are a decrease in real support of science by as much as 30 percent over the next five years, at the same time when Japan and other countries are increasing their research -- their research budget, which, in turn, is already, on a per capita basis, larger than that in the United States.
Q Just to be clear, are these cuts in the amount of money that is being spent now or are these reductions in the increases that have been --
DR. GIBBONS: No, these are cuts from 1995 levels.
Q These are not reductions in increases --
DR. GIBBONS: These are reductions in real dollars.
Q Dr. Gibbons -- the recipients of awards this afternoon, what accomplishments are they being honored for that would have relevance or would be understood by the average guy on the street?
DR. GIBBONS: Well, I think if you look at the biographies you can pick them out, but I'll just give you a couple off the top of the head. It's very clear in the technology area where these accomplishments have been made, such as the work at 3M in technology innovation; and by Art Williams, other individual inventors that have developed -- in the case of Williams, an extraordinary small gas turbine which has enabled us to take a lead in small jet engines for private aircraft -- a lot of spin-out in terms of a variety of our private sector activities.
In the pure science, it's even more fun to see what some of these people have done. There's one person, Hans Dehmelt, from the University of Washington, who's been playing around with trying to isolate individual atoms and fundamental particles -- elementary particles -- and isolate them with extraordinary ingenious ways to where he can study an individual atom and, in doing so, is able to make extremely precise measurements.
Now, you say, well what about that? One of his most recent measurements is something like four parts in a trillion of accuracy. The fact that we have a global positioning satellite system now reflects the fact that we have measured extremely accurate frequencies and, therefore, are able to time things carefully. Dehmelt's work offers the opportunity for a thousandfold improvement in that kind of measurement, so it's a direct relationship.
Another award winner, a couple of them, have developed methods of understanding the shapes of molecules, especially big, organic molecules, and they understand how these shapes play a role in the way these molecules combine against DNA and other viruses and bacteria and, therefore, enable us to design medical drugs in the future. So fundamental understanding of these things leads to very important applied opportunities for us, as well as a lot of fun in discovering the unknown.
Q Jack, Laura Tyson said that, traditionally, increases in government basic research leads to increases in private industry basic research. At least, I inferred that she said cuts would also bring --
DR. GIBBONS: That's the -- the real world correlation is when public support goes up, private support goes up; when private support goes down, private support follows in behind it by about a year.
Q Why isn't the reverse --
DR. GIBBONS: I think it's one money following another. Those are the facts. Now, why it happens I'm not sure anyone knows for absolute certain. But what we know is wrong is the allegation is that if the government goes down, the private sector will go up. There's absolutely no evidence of that anywhere in the world.
Q Jack, is the White House still considering the possibility of vetoing specific appropriation or authorization bills based on cuts in technology programs?
DR. GIBBONS: Well, exactly what's going to be vetoed or not is a tough one for me to say. I will tell you this, for example. The omnibus science bill, reported by the Science Committee, has so many problems with it. Not so much the idea that one shouldn't organize science better -- anyone would argue for that -- but the enormous cuts that are involved in that bill --
Q House or Senate?
DR. GIBBONS: The House bill -- have caused every senior administration official asked to review it to recommend unanimously to the President that he veto it.
Thank you very much.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Dr. Gibbons.
Before we move on other subjects, I do want to announce formally -- I think a lot of you are aware of this -- but I think the President does plan to host the first ever White House Conference on HIV and AIDS. That will occur on December 6th. It will feature more than 130 individuals from across the country. Conference participants will discuss the latest trends in the AIDS epidemic; epidemiological surveys and studies of the AIDS epidemic itself; and the central issues of AIDS research, prevention, care, and discrimination, among other issues.
Q Will that be here at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be here. We'll develop, as we get closer to December, more specific details. The President is expected to participate in at least some portion of the conference.
Q This is not going to be like an economic conference where it's an all-day thing and he sits there?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it will be similar to other White House conferences.
Q Can the Treasury Department, or the administration prove that the government will reach its debt limit on October 31st? And are you willing to do so up --
MR. MCCURRY: Of course, of course. This is serious business. This involves international financial markets, the liquidity of the United States, the solvency of the United States government. And everybody in this country knows that the Secretary of the Treasury is an expert on those matters. And for anyone to suggest that we are not basing these decisions on what's in the correct interest of the United States are just wrong.
When you actually -- when you run out of money and pay, you have to project because you don't -- you're dealing with large accounts, but you've got a pretty good sense of when it's going to happen. And the Secretary yesterday, acting on the advice of experts at the Department of the Treasury, took steps to manage what is now apparently going to be a crisis because Congress won't act to extend the debt ceiling.
Q I don't know why you say there's going to be a crisis. Gingrich said today that he can prove it to their satisfaction that he's in favor of a debt limitation.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Speaker also said that they were willing to extend the debt ceiling, and we said, fine, let's do it. And then he took it back. So I'm not sure where he is.
Q He did not take it back, Mike. He said, if Rubin can prove the -- in a speech at noon he said if you can prove to their satisfaction, he is willing to go ahead with a short-term --
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you on speaking on behalf of the Speaker and we'll have the Secretary of Treasury follow up with him.
Q The question is can you make the case to their satisfaction.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we can, and the Secretary -- yes, and we will and the Department of Treasury will be doing so.
Q Apparently the President is up to a terrific start with Bill Roth, since he said last night in Houston that he agrees, says Roth, with the President's statement last night in Houston, that he raised taxes too much. Was the President surprised to find himself -- when did the President decide that that tax increase was too big?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not a fair characterization of what he said last night. He said, look --
Q That's an exact quote, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: He said, nobody -- what he said in paraphrase --
Q "It might surprise you to know that I think I raised them too much, too."
MR. MCCURRY: He -- I think as any elected leader would suggest, nobody would like to raise -- nobody likes to raise taxes. Everybody would like to cut taxes. And what the President suggested, if you read the rest of what he said last night, Brit, is that we had to raise taxes, probably more than we wanted to, had to cut spending probably less than we wanted to, but we ended up with a deficit reduction that made this economy grow, which was the point that he made and that you in the audiences, as he was addressing, felt that we did better off.
Q I'm sure you were around and listening at the time. I don't ever recall his ever saying that it was too big at the time.
MR. MCCURRY: Probably not. I was probably in a foreign country at the time.
Q Well, I don't recall his ever saying that at the time. When did it dawn on him that this was too big, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President clearly was making -- was telling this audience last night, look, we had to make tough choices in 1993. We did it without not one Republican helping us. And it's not easy to raise taxes and it's not easy cut spending, but we did it. While the Republicans in Congress talked about it, we did it, the President and those who supported him -- the Democratic Party in the Congress. And the result was a deficit reduction that made the economy grow. Every one of those Republicans who voted against the President's deficit reduction package predicted that this would be ruinous for the economy. Remember that? And it wasn't. And that's the point that the President made last night.
Q Mike, he's been -- on a couple of these fundraisers recently, he's been saying that because he couldn't get any Republican votes he was forced to raise taxes more than he would like and cut spending less than he would like. But why? Why does he say that? Because the Democratic Party won't let him do anything else?
MR. MCCURRY: You had to come up -- as he referenced last night, former Secretary of the Treasury, Lloyd Bentsen, who gave the President good, sound economic advice about what type of deficit reduction would be necessary in order to get strong economic performance --
Q But that's the total amount.
MR. MCCURRY: -- so you had to do more than you otherwise might have wanted to do in order to get the type of economic performance we've seen for the last two and half years.
Q You're talking about more deficit reduction or more tax hikes? This is what I'm trying to get clear.
MR. MCCURRY: He talked about both in the speech last night.
Q Where do we go next in terms of resolving the debt ceiling issue?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. It's impossible to predict where they're going to be from one moment to the next. The Speaker at one point suggested that we need to negotiate and the President would -- we need to negotiate about the larger issues in the budget. But just on the simple question of, is the United States of America going to be solvent, are we going to go into bankruptcy or not, the President is willing to sit down and try to work that problem out and come up with a date. We obviously want the longest duration for the debt ceiling that's possible to achieve, but we've got to get on with business. And the Speaker, apparently at one point, looked like he wanted to do that, and now that's not so clear.
Q Do you mean the President literally sit down and negotiate, or are you speaking about Secretary Rubin?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Secretary wrote a letter to them yesterday and laid out what he needed to do now in terms of T-bills, but he's ready -- the Secretary of the Treasury is ready and willing to try to work something out so we can make sure the United States government doesn't default.
Q If a debt ceiling --
Q If you're talking about Clinton sitting down with Gingrich and talking face-to-face --
MR. MCCURRY: They have larger issues to discuss, and those are budget issues, as we know.
Q Well, the fiscal solvency of the United States of America, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the underlying issues that make that an issue in the first place, which are related to the budget, as you know.
Q This morning, some Republican staff said that they were moving toward putting together a debt ceiling increase that would be 10 to 15 days beyond November 13th. Is that acceptable?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on time. As I said earlier, we want the longest duration possible so that there's no question as to the solvency of the United States government.
Q If the debt ceiling does run out, I mean, does it matter to most Americans, or is this just an issue for people with lots of money?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Look, it matters in terms of what happens in global financial markets. There is a very direct correlation the Secretary of the Treasury suggested between the interest rates Americans would see, and what happens if there is some doubt about the long-term solvency of the United States government in international financial markets. The Secretary is much more prepared to talk about that than I am, but there is -- it affects, ultimately, the economy of this country, but more importantly, it affects the image that the United States has in this world if there's not confidence throughout the world that we are solvent and that we pay our bills in a timely fashion.
Q A lot of Americans may say, look, I'm sorry if people don't have a great impression about the country's financial prowess, but the truth is, I want to have a slowdown in how much this country is spending, and I would like to see the debt lowered.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, everybody -- the President wants a balanced budget, the President wants to get that as fast as possible, but he wants it done the right way and not the wrong way, and that's what this whole discussion is about. But every American also wants the benefits of the kind of economic performance we've seen in the last two and a half years with low inflation, steady job growth, growth in the economy, because that's good for everybody. That helps them as they sit there and wrestle with their own financial bills. But think of those who have got credit card debt, those who have got other installment debt. If they see a major change in interest rates, if they see interest rates going up, that's not going to be good for them. So does this matter to them? Yes, it does.
Q Does the President see the need for additional steps or actions? For example, a commission to address the nation's racial division?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he does. He sees a need for every American to be a part of the solution, as he suggested in his speech at the University of Texas. He sees, fundamentally, we need to start with how individual Americans relate to one another. And that does not always necessarily require government action, but the President, on other occasions, has talked about what government must do to address the question of persistent racial discrimination in our society.
Now, there will be a lot of ideas. One of the thankful things coming out of the march on Monday are new ideas about how we should proceed from here. There will be some calling for conferences and others calling for commissions and all of these ideas the President believes ought to be looked at carefully. But we ought to start now, since we know a lot about the problem now, with the types of changes the President talked about in his speech on Monday. There's nothing that prevents Americans from getting on with the business of addressing this from the heart and getting on with the business of reconciliation. And he will continue to speak to that point, continue to work on that, and it may be that down the road some commission or other types of ideas can be useful in channeling the energy of the American people as they address the problem of race. But there ought to be nothing that delays the important business of getting on with the healing that needs to occur in our society.
Q Can I follow up on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, Brit.
Q When the President spoke on this issue broadly on Monday, he, as you told us, had not had an opportunity to see any of the march or to gather how much of an event it was. Now that he's had an opportunity to understand that, what is his reaction to it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President was less impressed by the speeches given from the steps of the Capitol and more impressed by the determination of the people who were in the audience and the crowd. There was an extraordinary spirit there. There was a great willingness on the part of those who came here to Washington to take responsibility for themselves, to proclaim their determination to take responsibility for their families and their communities, and that was the most encouraging part of the day in the President's eyes, not what happened so much on the platform, but what happened in the crowd.
Q Senator Domenici was the first one to push the argument that if the United States defaulted on that it would have a beneficial effect on the markets because the markets would see that the U.S. was getting serious with the budget. Domenici in the hearing said that he came to that conclusion after a discussion sitting with 10 people in a room. Do we know who those 10 people were? Were they financiers, were they people who were perhaps going short on Treasury bonds? This would be important to find out this reason, because it seems to go against all common sense.
MR. MCCURRY: I have absolutely no way of knowing who Senator Domenici has been meeting with in private meetings.
Q Mr. Farrakhan is today announcing a voter registration initiative. A two-part question: What do you think -- what does the White House think of Farrakhan's getting involved in this voter registration? And a broader question -- what about his being more active in the political process? Is that something that you welcome or not welcome?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes Americans should register and should vote. And people all across the political spectrum carry out voter registration drives. But, ultimately, the importance of participating, getting people to register and getting people to vote is something that's undeniable, regardless of who's doing it.
Q Just to go back to Rita's question about what might actually happen if there was a default -- I mean, other than raising the cost of money and interest rates, I mean, are you saying the government can still send out Social Security checks and pay federal employees and all that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are other consequences. And Secretary Rubin's outlined some of them in the letter he sent yesterday. But there are other consequences that attach to insolvency by the United States government. In any event, as Secretary Rubin suggested yesterday, it's just no way to do business.
Q If there were this kind of insolvency, wouldn't it be exacerbated by the weak financial situation in Japan? After all, you've got -- the United States government has just developed a stand-by rescue plan for Japanese banks. If we are suddenly finding ourselves with our own hands tied as to what we can and cannot do with our own money, and Japan then has a crisis, doesn't one aggravate the other?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect that's true, but the Secretary and people at Treasury would be in a better position to brief on that point.
Q Back to the race issue for a moment. Is this White House willing to work with, meet with, or in any way include Reverend Farrakhan in this commission or whatever your race solution is going to be as a way of reaching his followers?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Mike, I want to get back to the President's comments Friday and yesterday about raising taxes too much. If I remember, in 1993, he talked about the fact that in the go-go '80s there was a certain element of the population that benefitted. And he wanted those individuals to pay more in tax as a part of equity. If he is now saying that he thinks that he raised taxes too much, is he interested in lowering taxes for those individuals?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's interested in targeted tax relief as he's outlined in his plan -- a balanced budget and extending the solvency of Medicare.
Q No, wait. Why would he suddenly say now that he believes that he raised taxes too much on individuals that he professed were actually paying their fair share?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question we asked and answered earlier.
Q On Friday --
Q I don't think we understood it.
MR. MCCURRY: I think I was profoundly precise in addressing that.
Q In Williamsburg on Friday when the President laid out the four budget issues that he thinks could need an honorable compromise, one of them was redesigning CPI. You didn't qualify it as saying subject to any authoritative approval by economists. Why are you saying there is no shift in --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because he said -- I went back and reviewed the transcript of what the President said in Williamsburg, and he said, look, there are a series of issues that relate to assumptions and growth projections and calculation of inflation and medical health care costs. Those are all -- have to be resolved, and in the mix, if you're going to draft a baseline from which you can do budgeting. I think it was a self-evident point. We've told you on the question of calculating inflation and the CPI what we think we need to do, we need the best advice of experts, and may well be that as part of the solution that we look at some type of an adjustment if, in fact, the economists are right and that there is an overestimate in the calculation of inflation. The question is, by how much, how do you do the adjustment, and that's something that, again, we suggest we ought to rely upon expert advice in making those judgments. But it affects the overall picture and the assumptions that are critical in designing a baseline for a budget.
Q The House tomorrow is going to take up Medicare. Have there been any changes in the House package that would make it more palatable to you, or is that still a waste of time as far as you're concerned?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are discussions -- I mean, they are trying to address the growing concerns that members of Congress have about a package that clearly asks more than is necessary of elderly beneficiaries. They're scrambling to try to fix the mess that they've created. And whether or not they are successful will depend on how close they get to the design that we've suggested, which is, do the things necessary to extend the solvency of the Medicare trust funds, but don't do it by harming beneficiaries, and you don't need to do it -- you don't need to harm beneficiaries because you don't need that savings unless you're going to do something with it that doesn't make sense economically, which is to give it away to people who don't need a tax cut. The sooner they get to that fundamental premise, the closer we're going to be to a solution to this overall budget problem. And they had better get on with it.
Q This is still veto bait, though, at this point.
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q Michael, the President said last night to this audience at the fundraiser -- I know they cut us a new one in Texas over the assault weapons and the Brady Bill. Cut us a new what? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You know, when you're speaking to an audience in Texas, a wonderfully resonant phrase like that needs no further embellishment.
Q I know, but you're speaking to an audience that -- MR. MCCURRY: A bunch of lugheads? You're right. Q What did he mean? Q Mike, does the President think that Fidel Castro should
be given a visa --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have obligations as a host country -- has Castro put in the application? They've put in the application, it's under review at the State Department and they'll make an appropriate judgment. We do have obligations as the host nation, though, that we've acknowledged, and there's never been a leader of a foreign country that's been denied a visa to attend a U.N. function, to my knowledge.
Q Gephardt and Daschle are coming over here to talk about the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: Just to -- where things stand now in this ever-shifting debate on the budget and other issues.
Q And the President is then going to host a principals meeting on Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's getting a briefing from General Joulwan after that. There will be principals there.
Q Even if the debt ceiling is not extended, can't the Secretary of the Treasury find ways to shuffle money in the trust funds around for several months so that there isn't really a real crisis here?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I wouldn't suggest months. You need to go to the Treasury, but you can't take steps as he did yesterday to begin to deal with the consequences or the approach of expiration of funds. But the Secretary has made abundantly clear publicly and even privately to members of Congress what the exact timing is going to look like. And there's no doubt, should be no doubt in the minds of Congress about what that timing looks like. Everybody knows what the schedule is. Everybody knows how debt needs to be rescheduled. Everybody's got a rough idea of how these deadlines are going to approach. But the Secretary can take some steps, as he did yesterday, to juggle things a bit. But it doesn't last for very long.
Q The President is going to sign the ag bill as soon as he gets it, is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we've made it pretty clear he will, yes, but we haven't received it yet.
Q Mike, on Bosnia, the hearing yesterday, Christopher's comments, first of all, could you just encapsulate the United States' national interest in Bosnia which justifies any troops over there to put their lives on the line?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, I hesitate to summarize what we've had the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs now testify a total of about 12 hours' worth on Capitol Hill the last two days. But in a shorthand way, our interest in the long-term security of Europe and peace on that continent is enhanced by managing regional conflicts like the one we've seen in the Balkans.
I think every American remembers that this century started with a horrible war that began in a place called Sarajevo, and the President is determined that this century will not end with a horrible war in Europe that begins in a place called Sarajevo. We are trying to bring that war to an end, and U.S. troops can make the difference, the critical difference in helping those parties maintain a peace.
What the Secretary suggested yesterday is that if the United States does not lead, peace will not occur and that that is a manifest interest to the United States to promote peace on the European continent.
Q I have a follow-up which is that the Secretary made it clear that the United States would go both to the United Nations and to NATO to ask for permission to do this. And yet you have consistently said that the President is not going to go to the U.S. Congress. Now, does that make sense?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's not what we have said. The Congress is clearly taking this matter up. We've said we would welcome the authorization of Congress to proceed with a peace enforcement deployment in Bosnia. We have to go to the United Nations to structure that peace enforcement since it has to be a Chapter VII rather than a Chapter VI mission, and we need approval from the North Atlantic Council so that other nations will share the burden. We're not suggesting the United States ought to do this unilaterally. We should do it with our NATO partners. It should be a NATO operation and a NATO mission, and we will go to those institutions to seek support, just as we will go to the United States Congress to seek the support of Congress.
Q Is Friday's economic conference going to have a different focus, given the timing of it, given what's going on up on Capitol Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it will affect the -- it will reflect the realities of the regional economy in the Midwest. The Midwest is making that transition away from what we used to call the "Rust* Belt" and into higher-tech, higher-performance local economies. We will talk about that to be sure. Trade issues and improvement in the trade figures as we saw today will clearly be relevant and be important. And then lastly -- and I think any news that comes out of this will be focused on the critical importance of education -- this is a region in which people get higher wages by getting higher education. And the President is going to talk very directly about the importance as we look ahead in the budget issues to come of the importance he attaches to further investment in education.
Q You're not going to use the fora to talk about the budget debate on Capital Hill, or the debt limit, or anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we will be interested in talking about the critical importance in this period in which we're debating the budget of further investments in education.
Q Mike, some other administration officials have been suggesting that that was when the venue he was going to use to make his response to the House Medicare vote. He's not going to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that might be possible, too, depending on what happens on the floor.
Q Mike, a lighter question. Several of our political people wanted to know whether the White House, or the President himself, had seen the Lugar ads depicting the President and the Vice Presidents as the Blues Brothers?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I'll have to ask them.
Q Mike, is it consistent with Japan's status as an ally that the U.S. spy on its trade negotiators?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe, in my recollection, there's ever been a White House Press Secretary who's talked about covert intelligence gathering here. So I won't.
Q In view of presidential travels starting Friday, can we or will we get a briefing, say tomorrow, on the agenda and issues for the Yeltsin and China summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. We will take care of it one way or another and we're already talking about how best to do that. We'll do that tomorrow at the regular hour.
Q Is he doing a terrorism thing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Very likely.
Q Might you tell us what it is?
Q Of what nature?
MR. MCCURRY: Think back six months.
Q Mike, I hesitate to do this, but I'm going to try to go back to Maura's original question. The President seems to be suggesting that it is somehow the Republican's fault that taxes got raised so high, because they wouldn't support his plan. Could you make that jive with the fact that Congress was then controlled by Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Democrats voted to achieve the deficit reduction that the President described in that passage in his speech last night. Not a single Republican voted for it. It's a very direct implication.
Q So why did that make it too high?
MR. MCCURRY: Because they had to achieve -- they had to do the kind of -- you had different ways you had to get the mix of spending cuts and tax increases, because you were relying only upon Democrats. It changed the equation on how you write it.
Look, Speaker Gingrich -- the point -- you've heard the President make this point on other occasions, just to walk through this. The Speaker has got an enviable position compared to where the President of the United States was in 1993. The Speaker knows that there will be Democrats who support deficit reduction, who support spending cuts, and who are willing to do what is necessary on the revenue side; and that we can achieve a bipartisan compromise and achieve a balanced budget. The Speaker has that enviable position.
What position was the President of the United States in in 1993? He was told by the Republican leadership of Congress that there would not be one Republican vote for what he had to do to make the hard choices necessary on the budget. So he had to craft a deficit reduction plan --
Q He was told that before he did his budget?
MR. MCCURRY: -- that included a mix of -- yes, yes. He's said that several times.
Q Has any Republican ever acknowledged the truth of that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President --
Q The President has been saying it for years --
MR. MCCURRY: -- the President has said that, and I've never heard a single Republican leader deny it.
Q I'm not sure anybody has bothered to ask them.
MR. MCCURRY: Anyhow. But that changes the way that you compose the combination of spending cuts and tax increases necessary. If you're only doing it to hold together a Democratic constituency, it's politics 101, and that's the way the President had to go out and lead and do business.
Q It sounds like what he's saying is if I had raised taxes any less or cut spending any more, I couldn't have gotten my Democrats to vote for it. But in fact, if you remember back then, it was precisely because the taxes were raised and the spending wasn't cut enough that he had such a hard time eking out the last couple of votes. I mean, it sounds like he's rewriting history.
MR. MCCURRY: Your memory is better than mine. We've exhausted this subject.
Q Just on this thing tomorrow, whatever it is -- your suggestion to think back six months certainly brings up Oklahoma City. Is there a reason why you don't want to indicate what this is?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just -- look, the President will have more to say on it tomorrow. We have been waiting to get the kind of antiterrorism legislation from this Congress that Congress promised the President by last Memorial Day. And now six months after Oklahoma City, it's a pretty sorry story that that legislation has not been put on the President's desk.
Q What's the venue for this statement tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll brief you on the schedule later. Someone can help you.
Anything else? Good-bye. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:52 P.M. EDT