THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Nice to be here today. Thirty years ago today here at the White House, President Lyndon Johnson bragged about the economic performance of the economy -- 56 straight months of the longest peacetime economic expansion in history. And then he signed the Federal Employee Salary Act of 1965, not knowing at that time that born that day was future federal employee Mary Ellen Glynn -- 30 years old today. Happy birthday, Mary Ellen Glynn. (Applause.)
What else do we want to know about?
Q She's 30 years old?
MR. MCCURRY: Hard to believe. Graduated from the Clinton Kiddy Corps this day. (Laughter.)
All right. What else? Mr. Blitzer?
Q Any update on Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Nothing new. I mean, we obviously continue to stay in contact with the embassy, and the embassy is monitoring reports from the Presidential News Service and it keeps in close contact with foreign ministry officials, but there's not much available to us that they're not making available publicly.
Q On this, Mike, are you concerned about this election board disqualifying that reform party? Does that suggest to you that there's a trend toward a hardening -- the nationalists hardening over there?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a source of concern. The fact that Yabloko and Derzhava have both been disqualified for what appear to be procedural reasons limit the choice available to the voters of Russia. And one hallmark of any democracy is the broadest possible of choices as free citizens cast their ballots. But we will be monitoring how the election law develops and what status those parties have as we get closer to the December Duma elections.
Q When will the President announce for reelection?
MR. MCCURRY: President Yeltsin? (Laughter.)
Q No, President Clinton.
MR. MCCURRY: Sometime before November of next year.
Yes, Mr. Knoller?
Q Is that the best answer you could give?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the only answer that's available.
Q Since we're asking when-will questions, when will the President nominate a surgeon general, and what's taking so long?
MR. MCCURRY: They have had several candidates under active consideration, and I wouldn't rule out the possibility of a nomination sometime soon.
Q Like this week? Does that qualify as soon?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe it will be that soon. But they are continuing -- they are actually searching and vetting appropriate candidates.
Q Are they getting a litmus test on abortion?
Q Mike, does the U.S. government have, or has it ever had a policy on recognizing Quebec or a break-away province in Canada?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that we have a policy concerning any individual province within Canada, specifically. And the process by which the United States government extends diplomatic recognition is one that follows international law generally.
Q So what will you do in the wake of the results tonight? What will the U.S. government do?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will watch the election returns.
Q Line-item veto -- do you have any expectation of seeing it emerge from the conference committee and through both Houses again? And if the President were to have it this year, how would he behave differently with regard to the budget and appropriations upcoming?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, on several occasions, the President has indicated specific items he would have used line-item authority to excise from measures that the Congress has sent here. He has done that at least on two occasions. But the President continues to believe that the line-item veto is a necessary tool for the executive in controlling wasteful federal spending, and he is dismayed that having made so much of it in their Contract for America, that the Republican majority in Congress has failed to deliver on that promise it made the American people.
Q What about the future were he to have it the rest of this year? Would it impact on the budget reconciliation or anything else?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it would be a significant tool available to the President as we go into the final stages of the budget deliberations with Congress. It would be a significant tool available to him to direct the budget towards the priorities that he has repeatedly laid before the American people.
Q What does the administration --
Q Anything happening on debt limits since Rubin sent the letter up on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, but I forgot to check with Howard Schloss at Treasury to see if the Secretary's had follow-up conversations. He had been meeting with individual members of the Congress just to lay the facts in front of them so they knew exactly how the impending debt ceiling would affect quarterly auction sale announcements and issues like that.
Q What does the administration think of Mrs. Dole keeping her job with Red Cross, taking a sabbatical and planning to return to it if -- well, I suppose, return to it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the administration feels one way or another she'll be returning to her job at the Red Cross. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, the legislative appropriations bill is up again in the House. They're saying they're not going to make any changes in it. What's the President's stand on it now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President continues to feel that it is a little unseemly for the United States Congress to take care of its own business before taking care of the people's business. Now, the Congress has now jumbled a lot of budget measures together in reconciliation, but they have failed to reconcile differences between the House and Senate-passed versions and know that when they do and send to the President a measure that he has already made quite clear is unacceptable, that that measure will be vetoed and will go back to Congress so that we can see if Congress is yet serious about doing the nation's business. And given that, I think the President -- some of his concerns as expressed about legislative appropriations are still there.
This has never been an issue about the level of funding or funding for Congress itself, but more the issue of do you put a little heat on the Congress to make them think about the business they need to do for the country before they run off and take care of their own committees and their own staff.
Q This morning the President delivered an upbeat speech saying the country was on a roll. Last month he said the country was in a funk. (Laughter.) Are we on a roll or in a funk?
MR. MCCURRY: We're on a roll and the President is optimistic.
Q Mike, in answer to Ann's question you weren't intending to signal any doubt about whether the U.S. would recognize an independent Quebec, were you?
MR. MCCURRY: I was not even addressing the question in advance of decisions that the people of Quebec must make and then discussions that properly would occur between the Canadian Parliament, the Canadian government and Quebec, depending on the outcome.
Q The President has been criticized in circles up there for what he said here last week. It's been said that he was interfering in the Quebec election. How do you respond to those --
MR. MCCURRY: The President made quite clear as he addressed these matters that he recognized that this is an internal matter that must be decided by the Canadian people. He said that several occasions; so did I. But nonetheless, the President does have strong views on the important relationship that exists between the United States and a united Canada and felt it was important for him to set those forth.
This is an issue that has now attracted considerable attention here in the United States, particularly in states that border along Canada. And it's perfectly proper for the President of the United States, given that concern, to express himself on the issue.
Q How did you get to that impression?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry.
Q -- that the states bordering --
MR. MCCURRY: Some of you or -- I have heard some of you have interviewed today the Director of Tourism for the state of Vermont, just as one example. But we've heard from state governments along the border from New York, from Vermont, from other border states, and there is significant economic impact and significant concern there if there is any diminution of trade, cross-border trade between the United States and Canada.
Q Going back to the budget, now that the House and Senate have passed budgets and are going to move to reconcile their differences, what is the White House doing to prepare for the next stage of the budget debate? Presumably Clinton's veto, and then what follows?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have already done a great deal of preparation for the final deliberations on a budget. That was the purpose of the President coming forward in June with his own proposal to cut taxes, to balance the budget and to preserve the Medicare Trust Fund, and while at the same time addressing the President's priorities on protecting the environment, investing in education and technology, and doing those things necessary to make the economy grow into the 21st century.
So we, beginning early this year, did an enormous amount of preparation for what we hoped would be good-faith discussions with the Congress about putting a budget together that would work for the American people. So far, nothing has changed. There has been an adamant refusal on the part of the Congress to address any of those things that the President put forward. And until there is, there won't be much to talk about.
Q Well, what does the President want Congress to do before he'll engage in real talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he came here and made that quite clear last week. He again restated his priorities and his concerns in his radio address on Saturday. I don't know how we could make it any clearer than we've already made it.
Q But in the conference report, do you want them to restore some of this funding, for instance?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be great for them in the conference report to begin to take a look at the President's budget proposal that he put before them in June. They have that in their capacity, by the way.
Q One other question on Canada, has anybody done a legal analysis as to what would happen if Quebec seceded in terms of NAFTA? Would Quebec be automatically a member of NAFTA or would that have to be renegotiated to include Quebec?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been some discussion of that issue. I'm not aware of any final legal opinion that has been rendered by the State Department legal counsel or anyone else. But we've made clear that there is not automaticity to NAFTA participation in the event that Quebec was ratified as a separate entity.
Q So what you're saying is, NAFTA is between Mexico, the United States and Canada and would be what remains of Canada if there were a separate Quebec nation?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that there's not automaticity to adherence to NAFTA.
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good State Department word. They use -- they talk like that over there all the time.
Q Does that mean nothing automatic?
MR. MCCURRY: Don't worry, guys. It's not dirty. (Laughter.)
Q Looking ahead to the Ireland trip, will there be at least one identifiably Protestant stop on that trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you know, Mary Ellen? You've been working on the trip.
MS. GLYNN: The advance team just got back.
MR. MCCURRY: Let us -- Greg, we had a pre-advance team that was over there, and they are here. I wouldn't doubt it, but let us work more information up. I don't know --
Q To follow up on your comment about the conference report, is there any expectation or effort on the administration's part to make the conference report acceptable, or is it just the understanding that that's a pro forma thing, they're going to send up something unacceptable?
MR. MCCURRY: At this point, there's no reason to believe that they would be able to reconcile differences between the House and Senate version that would produce an acceptable measure.
Q But they can come up with just about anything they want, as you just said, right?
MR. MCCURRY: They could, but there's no indication that they are turning their attention to the President's proposals and priorities.
Q Mike, why did the White House have such trouble convincing Republicans and Democrats that Clinton plans to veto?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think there's any doubt of that. I think everyone on the Hill acknowledges that that's the case.
Q There's a suggestion that the President is being advised that any kind of compromise with Republicans over Medicare would be a political loser for him next year, particularly Florida. Is there any indication that the President would back away from the $124 billion that he's proposed for Medicare cuts, or is he in any way reluctant to agree with them on a compromise?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has spoken repeatedly on this issue and made clear where he stands. And I'd suggest that the political impact in an individual state has very little to do with his thinking and what much more to do with his thinking is what he thinks is fundamentally right.
THE PRESS: Thank you. END 1:25 P.M. EDT