THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. A special welcome to Mr. Wolf Blitzer of CNN. Don't have much to tell you today, so let's just start.
Q Does the President still have confidence in Dick Morris after all these articles that have appeared this week raising questions about his loyalty to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Has the President talked to Dick Morris about trying to fenagle the Perot stuff?
MR. MCCURRY: Often.
Q About that?
MR. MCCURRY: I was answering the first part of the question. I was trying to get away with a one-word answer; it didn't work. I'm not -- not to my knowledge. But others in the White House have talked to him and Mr. Morris has made it clear that just is -- the story's not true.
Q After last week, does Dick Morris still have confidence in the President? (Laughter.)
Q Why does the President have confidence in someone who undercuts him, undermines him with other politicians, apparently?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a very strange interpretation of his role. I don't accept the premise of the question.
Q What does the President think about the speeches that he wrote for other politicians basically trashing his administration?
MR. MCCURRY: He has known Dick Morris for 17 years. Dick Morris has a very good understanding of where the President wants to lead this country. And the President and Dick Morris have reviewed his past work, and the President, being a Baptist and being one who believes in redemption, understands the parable of the Prodigal Son. (Laughter.)
Q Which means he's once and for all in Clinton's camp now?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no question about that.
Q If I can just follow up -- this suggestion in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Dick Morris was offering Gordon Black some help in order to get Perot on the battle in order to divide up the anti-Clinton vote, have you looked into -- has the White House looked into that allegation?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President and the White House were working up in New York yesterday when that story appeared. My understanding is that that was dealt with yesterday at the Campaign.
Q Last week the President indicated that he would now be in a better position to turn his attention to the nation's racial difficulties. Are you able to say what is likely?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't say what is likely. I can tell you that the President has put in motion a good deal of work on that subject. There are a lot of Cabinet officials now involved in looking at issues that are of particular concern to African Americans and to other minority Americans. We hope these will begin to take the shape of some recommendations that the President would make as he continues to talk about the subject of race in America, as he pledged he would do in his speech in Austin.
Q Senator D'Amato is accusing the White House of a politics of delay. He is seeking for his committee a lot of the telephone records and documents in the Whitewater investigation, and said you are not following through with requests.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe it's being made clear today by a number of those participating in the hearing that the White House has made good on its pledge to provide full cooperation. We've provided thousands of pages of documents, and we would just dispute any notion that we have not been anything less than completely cooperative.
Q Have they got a request in that's not been --
MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to check with our legal counsel spokesman on that issue.
Q Mike, what about the notion from majority counsel of the committee that documents were shredded?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that Senator D'Amato just encouraged members of the news media not to get too carried away with that. Apparently there's some allegation that duplicate documents were shredded, and I guess the concern among some members of the committee is, at the Treasury Department, they should have been putting those in recycling boxes or something. I'm not sure what their concern is all about.
Q So these things were not shredded?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you can -- they apparently would like to know more about that from the Treasury Department. And again, we would be more than willing to be cooperative. And you can check with the legal counsel if you need more on that.
Q What were Mrs. Clinton and Susan Thomases talking about a minute before Susan Thomases' call to Bernie Nussbaum?
MR. MCCURRY: I have absolutely no idea.
Q Mike, would you comment on some stuff that Senator Moynihan said yesterday? He's accusing the White House of burying an HHS report that said 4.8 million kids are going to be cut off under the welfare reform bill that you're supporting; and that "those involved will take this disgrace to their graves."
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to comment on Senator Moynihan's remarks. He's a noted expert on social policy. He has a difference with the President on the question of welfare reform. The President is working with Democrats in the Congress who want to see real welfare reform that promotes work and protects children. There is a serious conference committee underway now, and the President has made it very clear where he stands on the relevant issues that the conference committee will address, having sent our statement of administration policy up to the Hill some time ago.
Q Well, wait a minute. If he knows so much about it and he's making this accusation, are you not looking into the possibility that that many kids could be --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's raising a concern about a report at HHS, and you might want to inquire further at HHS about that report; and we will, too.
Q You talked yesterday of releasing today a new budget calculation, and perhaps even having the President come out and talk about the budget today. Is that going to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, is there interest in that?
Q Sure. Having the President come out and talk --
MR. MCCURRY: All right -- budget issues.
Q Yes. Are you kidding?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay.
Q So what time?
MR. MCCURRY: Want to say 3:30 p.m., 3:45 p.m., want to do that? Okay.
Q Mike, in all seriousness, coming back to Karen's question, though. I mean, is it the White House's understanding that HHS has prepared such a detailed analysis that would be parallel to earlier --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check further into it. We'll get --
Q If there is one, will you pledge to make it public?
MR. MCCURRY: We will run that down for you.
Q The people of Quebec are about ready to hold a referendum on separation from the rest of Canada. Is the administration concerned about the possible political and economic disruption this could cause?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's obviously an internal Canadian issue that will be before the voters and will be decided locally. However, I can say on behalf of the President that a strong, united Canada has proven to be not only a great country, but a very powerful and good ally of the United States. And we hope that relationship will continue.
Q Would a strong but not united Canada prevent a good relationship with the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it would be impossible to assess that. But I would say we would hope that the relationship that we have enjoyed with a strong and United Canada would continue.
Q In other words, you hope they don't secede. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I think I chose my words carefully enough that you can catch the drift.
Q What was the official reaction of this administration to Mayor Giuliani's aides expelling Yassir Arafat from a concert?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our official reaction was that the whole episode was regrettable. But at the same time we recognize that the Mayor has a right to invite who he wishes to receptions, just as the President had a right to invite Chairman Arafat to his reception.
Q There was some pretty strong language about the yesterday from various officials suggesting that it was a diplomatic embarrassment. Does the White House now not think it was?
MR. MCCURRY: Chairman Arafat gave no indication of being diplomatically embarrassed.
MR. MCCURRY: So.
Q So if it's okay with him, it's okay with you? No harm, no foul, is that the idea?
MR. MCCURRY: I said I thought that the incident was regrettable.
Q Do you think the questions are hostile today?
Q How long would the administration like a temporary debt ceiling extension to last?
MR. MCCURRY: We'd like a permanent one.
Q If you've already signaled that you're interested in temporary, are we talking into December?
MR. MCCURRY: We'd like a permanent one, and as close to permanent as it could possibly be.
Q Mike, I know the President is going to come out now that you've told us at 3:30 p.m or 3:45 p.m. and talk about budget issues, but can you give us a sense of what the White House is doing on the budget and who you're talking to, what kinds of conversations are going on, and who's holding them?
MR. MCCURRY: I can say, because of the importance of this subject, everyone from the President down through the Chief of Staff and most people who work on economic issues in the administration -- the National Economic Council, the legislative affairs folks -- just about everybody has been very consumed with the work on this issue because it's so enormously important. We are searching for every possible way to stop this Republican majority from doing the wrong thing as it seeks to do the right thing, which is to balance the budget.
The President's got some firm ideas on how we should proceed to balance the budget. We are working actively with Democrats on Capitol Hill to see how best to advance those strategies, but we do so in the face of a determined Republican majority that seems bent on destroying Medicare, and taking some of the commitments that we have made in this nation to the elderly, to those who work for a living, and throwing them upside down -- raising taxes on working people, cutting the rate of increase in spending for Medicare so that people are denied benefits who need benefits. It's just the wrong thing to do. And we're trying to stop them and there are too many conversations and too many people working on that to enumerate all the work that's going on, but it includes the President, it includes the Vice President, it includes just about every other senior official here.
Q Has the President spoken with the Majority Leader at all this week?
MR. MCCURRY: He spoke to the Majority Leader -- I mean the Minority Leader -- Minority Leaders of the House and Senate last week. He's not had any discussions with the Majority Leader, the Speaker, recently, that I know of. But I would want to go back and ask him. You may want to ask him that yourself.
Q Mike, two questions. One, is the President prepared, perhaps even this afternoon, to explain how his budget would have to change in order to balance the budget in seven years and still meet his principles?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's prepared to explain how the Republican budget needs to change to satisfy him.
Q One more question. When Alice Rivlin was -- when Stenholm first came out with his alternative budget, Rivlin said this is something that we have to take very seriously. What does the President think about the conservative Democrats alternative budget?
MR. MCCURRY: The President applauds those conservative Democrats and the coalition for seeking to address the issue of the balanced budget in a way that makes a lot more sense than what the Republican Majority is doing.
Q -- support it if that was --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's got his own ideas and we set them forward in June, as you know.
Q Mike, Gingrich said that he's willing to go inter conference and adjust the Republican tax cut because they've been stunned a little bit by your argument about how they're raising taxes on people under $30,000 a year annual income. Is that just him talking or is he -- is that a result of some talks that are going on between the President and him or -- what's the status of these backroom --
MR. MCCURRY: The President and the Speaker have talked; I do not know how recently. But among the concerns the President has raised is the taxes that are being increased on working Americans --$148 billion worth of tax increases for average working Americans in the Republican majority plan. He thinks that is wrong; he thinks they ought to start -- at least open the door to further discussions by at least, as a starting point, agreeing that they wouldn't raise taxes on working Americans. But we've not heard any response from the Republicans other than maybe some indication that that argument is getting through.
Q How would you have us interpret Clinton's talk about a seven-year budget and now Gingrich indicating a willingness? Is this a reflection of talks that are going on, or is this --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, hopefully, that you see leadership on both sides -- the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch -- understanding their responsibility to this country to try to move the nation's business forward, and looking for ways to do that, looking for ways to keep discussions going. But there are some deeply important principles that the President holds on this, and I would presume that the Speaker has some as well. And it's not clear that the differences over those principles are bridgeable at this point.
Q Have they had any more phone calls?
MR. MCCURRY: I just answered that --
Q I know you don't want to spoil his fun, Mike, but for those of us who don't have a paper until tomorrow but do have editors all the time, can you just give us a little more hint about what the President -- is he going to talk about the deficit and how it's doing better, we don't want to put at risk --
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to have one piece of news concerning the deficit, and then he is going to talk a little bit more about where we stand in this debate that you're asking me about now.
Q Will he be able to answer our questions here?
MR. MCCURRY: He may take a few. We'll see.
Q Will that be in the briefing room at 3:45 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be right here.
Q At 3:45 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: At 3:30 p.m., 3:45 p.m, thereabouts.
Q At 3:30 p.m. or 3:45 p.m.
MR. MCCURRY: Somewhere in between there. We'll try to do it at 3:30 p.m., but my guess is, given the President's schedule right now, we might have to move it closer to 3:45 p.m.
Q And he's going to talk about the quarterly deficit estimate being lower than --
MR. MCCURRY: Be here, you'll hear.
Q One more question on Quebec. Is it the administration's position that if there was a succession that Quebec would not be part of NAFTA?
MR. MCCURRY: That's an issue that is impossible to determine until the referendum occurs. But there wouldn't be automatic "excession" from NAFTA.
Q Conservative Democrats have put out this alternative budget. Would the President consider that as an alternative to his alternative, which Democrats didn't put out on the floor --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been a series of alternative measures advanced as the House and the Congress have wrestled with the budget. Democrats have tried any number of ways to try to blunt the thrust of what we consider the wrong direction that's being pursued by the Republican majority. And many of those amendments and many of the alternatives advanced have, in fact, built on the President's balanced budget proposal of June. There was a, for example, Medicare amendment offered in the Senate by Senate Democrats that called for $89 billion worth of Medicare savings that built largely on the formula that was embedded in the President's bill.
There are similarities, some similarities, between the coalition's approach on issues and the President's balanced budget proposal of June. And these all reflect, I think, an effort by Democrats in a variety of ways and in different types of amendments to try to undo some of the damage that we think the Republicans are about to do in their budget.
Q Michael, I don't think you answered my question. I'm saying would he sign on to the --
MR. MCCURRY: I think I artfully went right around it.
Q -- what does he think of this budget? It is not a --
MR. MCCURRY: He thinks that -- I think I already said it's useful for the coalition to come forward and try to temper the more extreme provisions that are in the Republican majority's budget.
Q -- tax cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: I answered you already, Mara, that he has his own ideas and they were in the June budget.
Q But does he know there are also major differences in the Stenholm proposal. It has no tax cuts. It has a CPI adjustment in there where officially you are always saying you don't want to enter into the political arena --
MR. MCCURRY: And neither do I want to write a budget here. I'm not going to get that specific.
Q Just a quickie, another topic -- this situation --the man who might be court-martialed for not wanting to wear a uniform under NATO, U.N. Does the White House have a position on that? Does it think American soldiers should serve in another uniform?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe that the Defense Department has been dealing effectively with that.
Q Does the White House have a position on it?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe the Defense Department's handling of that matter has been correct and effective.
Q What is their opinion?
MR. MCCURRY: You can -- they briefed on it at great length.
Q -- the Yeltsin talks with the parties in Bosnia moving the process forward, or is it simply just to get a bone, throwing a bone to Yeltsin to get --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you saw one very positive result of that discussion today, with the announcement by the Russian Federation that the three leaders, before going to Dayton, will meet with President Yeltsin. That will be an important opportunity for President Yeltsin to encourage them to make process, similar to the President's meeting with both President Tudjman and President Izetbegovic yesterday in which he made the same appeal -- that they use this opportunity in Dayton to make progress quickly on a resolution to the conflict in Bosnia. So that was, I think, fair to say, a significant outcome of the discussion in Hyde Park.
Q How did that come about?
MR. MCCURRY: President Yeltsin and President Clinton discussed that at some length. President Clinton agreed that it could be helpful, saw that President Yeltsin could play a very important role not only because of who he is, but because of the role the Russian Federation has played in the Contact Group. And President Clinton indicated to President Yeltsin he'd be willing to suggest to President Tudjman and President Izetbegovic that they participate in this meeting. We feel that is a very useful contribution.
Q Why didn't we find out about it, though, at Hyde Park?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I made an attempt to at least alert you to this discussion yesterday when I briefed, saying that there were some things happening in the walk-up to Dayton that were growing out of that session that we had. But we couldn't be as specific as we wanted to be until we were certain that everyone was willing to accept the invitation, and that the meeting itself would occur. And then, of course, it was proper, since the meeting is being hosted by President Yeltsin, for the Russian Federation to announce the meeting.
Q Are you suggesting that the President proposed this idea first, or that he just agreed to it once Yeltsin proposed it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's fair to say President Yeltsin -- it is certainly his idea to have this meeting in Moscow, and he reviewed that with President Clinton. President Clinton did feel it would be very helpful, and a productive part of getting the Dayton talks underway. And President Clinton offered to help President Yeltsin seek the acceptance of the invitations that were issued.
Q Another follow-up on Hyde Park -- did Yeltsin express concern about the ability of Russia to finance troops that might go to Bosnia? Did he ask for any assistance in that regard from the U.S. Treasury?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know the answer to that. I know that in the background briefing by those that participated in the session that question was not directly addressed and I have not seen anything to indicate that it was addressed in any specific detail. I believe the subject may have come up, but I don't believe it was addressed in specific detail. But I'll double-check that.
Q Mike, has the President talked to any Middle East leaders after the vote in Congress moving the embassy?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not that I am aware of. He has plans, of course, to see Prime Minister Rabin this evening.
Q Will he discuss the issue with the Prime Minister?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt very much he will discuss it. It may conceivably come up, but he's much more interested in visiting with the Prime Minister on the status of the peace process.
Q Although you would prefer your plan to be seriously considered by the Republicans, would you be willing to have the Stenholm proposals be a starting point for negotiations with Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is put forward his ideas. At this point, we need some indication, any indication, from the Republican Majority that they acknowledge the priorities that have been put forward by both the President and many Democrats on Capitol Hill that you cannot be so generous in tax cuts that go disproportionately to the wealthy, that you cannot be so vicious when it comes to cuts that are going to hurt the elderly, and that you cannot renege on commitments to protect this nations environment and to make the kinds of investments that are necessary to make this economy strong and growing the 21st century.
Even some acknowledgement of those priorities that the President and Democrats in Congress share would at least open the door to a more reasonable discussion. But there is an adamant, defiant attitude on the part of the Republican Majority that says we just don't want to talk about anything that the Democrats want to do. So we're in this difficult circumstance that we are in.
Q What is the President going to talk about at the Truman dinner tonight -- foreign policy?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to talk about European security issues and review some of the work of the last several days. But talk in greater detail about the challenges that Europe faces in the post-Cold War era and the importance of U.S. leadership in resolving those issues. I expect him to touch specifically on Bosnia and on the question of NATO expansion.
Q Could you tell us why Secretary Rubin has been calling a series of meetings with top Republicans? I think yesterday he had four one-on-one meetings, this morning he had another --
MR. MCCURRY: I would ask that you ask at the Treasury Department. But as he made clear in the letter he sent Capitol Hill yesterday, he is determined to do what he can do to see that the United States government does not default. And he's got growing concerns about the approaching debt ceiling deadline that he outlined yesterday and, I believe, he's exploring ways in which we can make sure that the United States does not go bankrupt.
Q Is October 31st the default date?
MR. MCCURRY: He outlined -- if you get that letter, Mark, that he had yesterday, he really traces through what the consequences of various T-bill auctions will be as we approach the deadline.
Q Mike, does the White House have any reaction to the agreement reached yesterday with the Japanese on how to treat U.S. servicemen who run afoul of Japanese laws? And will that general issue come up in the bilateral with the Japanese Prime Minister next month?
MR. MCCURRY: I cannot predict it will come up. It appears that there have been good efforts underway by the foreign ministry and by the Defense Department and by others in our government to address that issue in advance of the President's bilateral visit to Japan. But our understanding is that they are finding ways within the Status of Forces Agreement to acknowledge our obligation to address the concerns of the Japanese government.
I've seen some press accounts that provide a discussion of the agreement that is somewhat different from my understanding, but I believe that they were doing some further backgrounding on this at the Defense Department today, so you might check in over there.
Q Mike, why did you use the vicious to describe the Republican --
MR. MCCURRY: That was a bad word. I shouldn't have said vicious. I mean, the consequences -- you know, if you think of the situation of elderly women who are, you know, going to have to make some very painful choices if they see these kinds of reductions in their Medicare benefits take place -- I mean, that is putting them in circumstances that require choices that go to the very heart of how you live and how you survive. And that does seem painful, if not vicious. But maybe that was saying -- going a little too far. If so, I take it back.
Q Mike, both you and the President raised the possibility recently of a seven-year schedule for a balanced budget. Do you these internal calculations that you're making show that you could reach that and protect the kind of programs that you're now trying to protect from the Republican assault?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I -- as I've talked about that issue here, you can't do it in seven years protect -- or address the President's priorities and do it using the calculations that the CBO has used to make assumptions about the national economy. It can't happen. But even -- it is conceivable you could do it even if you use the more optimistic but still a very conservative assumptions about growth that the administration used in drawing up the President's plan.
Q The President went from 10 to nine on better economic numbers --
MR. MCCURRY: I said, it's conceivable you could do it.
Q The President went from 10 to nine on better economic numbers. Now that the deficit projection is going to be lower, does that make it easier to go from nine down?
MR. MCCURRY: It all depends on how thoroughly you address the priorities that the President has suggested and how realistic you are about adopting mainstream economic assumptions about the future of the economy.
Q The economy is doing better now than when the CBO projected.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. And that's what we keep pointing out to the Republicans, that the economy is performing better, that in any event the OMB estimate, annual estimate, for growth, which is 2.5 percent, is less than what the bulk of private sector economists now forecast. So it's not like we're using wildly optimistic figures. The difference is that the CBO is at 2.3 percent annual growth; the administration is at 2.5 percent annual growth; most private forecasts, the blue chip indicators, are above that -- I think 2.6 percent and above.
So we're saying, look, let's get a little more optimistic about what the performance of the economy will look like. Now, at the same time, that generates big dollar differences in how you calculate budget outlays, as you all know. So it's a serious question and an important question, but it should be at least possible to agree on what the assumptions about the economy should look like.
Q If you're willing to change the projections, or ask the Republicans to change the projections to bring down the differences between you, why not also clank in a revised CPI which would give everybody even more money?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because -- that's an important question -- again and again we've told you that if there's an overstatement of the impact of inflation, that ought to be measured carefully by economists, that we ought to get expert advice on what that is. There seems to be agreement that it needs to be modified because it seems to overstate the impact of inflation. The question is, by how much precisely? And that's something that we're going to let guys in green eye-shades figure out.
Q Are you -- in the past when the President first put out his 10-year plan, and then after looking at how the economy was doing, you said, oh, well, actually, the same plan applied; we can do it in nine. Are you saying that now, watching what the economy is doing, you can now --
MR. MCCURRY: No --
Q -- the same plan applied, gets it to --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not saying, nor is the President going to say that there's any new calculation of what the budget impact of the President's June proposal is.
Q But when you say it's conceivable you can do it in seven years with our assumptions, what do you mean?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no, I said it's conceivable that -- it's conceivable if you were more generous and more optimistic about the budget assumptions, and wanted to address the kinds of priorities that the President has laid out, that you could get to balance in seven years. That's as the President said last week.
Q More generous than your own?
Q Wait, than your own? What are you --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying if you used -- it's conceivable you can take -- look, OMB and CBO assumptions, as they often are, are going to have to be calibrated and meshed as Congress and the President finally get down to the real work of writing a budget. That happens often, has happened in the past. They come to an agreement on what the overall performance of the economy will look like, and they take into account what private sector forecasts look like and what the general view of economists should be. And once you do that and once you establish what that baseline is like, and if you want to address the kinds of priorities the President has laid out, you can balance the budget over whatever calculated path you want, depending on what your policies are.
Again, remember -- you guys keep asking how many years, how many years, how many years. We keep telling you over and over again, the important thing is, what are your priorities and what's the policy that underpins your approach to balancing the budget. Are you going to protect seniors? Are you going to protect children? Are you going to make investments in the economic future of this country? Are you going to provide tax relief in a calculated, targeted way to people who need tax relief -- average, middle-class Americans? And then, if you do that, once you set those policies, then you see what the budget track looks like over how many number of years. And the economic assumptions affect how fast you move towards balance.
Q Are you suggesting averaging the two baselines --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not. I'm just saying that they have to agree on that. Come on, you guys.
Q -- come in lower than the projected $160-billion figure?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:40 P.M. EDT