THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:51 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me do a couple of other items. First, I just wanted to share one item that I thought was interesting coming off of the President's trip to Israel. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk has sent a cable just reporting the very positive reaction that exists now in Israel in response to the formidable U.S. delegation that went to Israel for the funeral of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and points out -- you recall both when the President spoke here at the White House on Saturday and in his formal eulogy at the funeral, he closed by saying shalom chaver, which in Hebrew is, "good-bye, friend," or "peace be with you, friend." That has now become a bumper strip that is all over Israel and also appears on huge banners that are flying -- I guess along the major highways in Israel. Apparently, some Israeli advertising firm printed these up, distributed them, but it has caught on a bit.
The firm, when they wrote to the Ambassador explaining what they were doing said that, quote, "The President's words had warmed the collective heart of Israel. These two words captured the spirit of hope and commitment to peace which needs to be spread in the difficult days ahead." I thought that was kind of a nice footnote to a very important effort by the United States to express solidarity with Israel at a time of great national tragedy.
Second, I want to call again to your attention the remarks that U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor made earlier today in the report that he released from the Council of Economic Advisors in the Treasury Department, which I think really provides significant background information prior to what we hope will be the President's trip to Japan for the meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation foreign leaders and also the bilateral meetings we'll have with the government of Japan.
He reports that, first, in the time since the administration has taken office, U.S. exports to Japan have increased 80 percent, and that in the time since the framework agreement has been signed, U.S. exports and the goods covered in the sectors of the framework agreement have risen 50 percent, and at a rate twice as fast as other U.S. exports to Japan. That's a significant report and we've got copies of it available that I hope you'll take a look at.
I think the Treasury Secretary and the Chief of Staff covered most all news of the day, so --
Q Hazel O'Leary.
Q Mike, is the President -- is the President going to make a public address or some kind of national address to the country if there is in fact a government shutdown? And why didn't he come out himself on a day when there seems to be such a crisis?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will -- the President has got a full schedule today, working on these and other issues as they were covered. The President may well, in the event of a government shutdown or a pending default, have more to say in a more formal occasion.
Q So does that mean a possible television address? Will you ask for TV time?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we would do that. I don't believe there's any decision to do that, but he might want to find some opportunity in a setting in which Americans would have an opportunity to hear him to describe why we're in whatever situation we're in at that point. And as the Chief of Staff indicated, he certainly will have more to say on the subject in his Saturday radio address, and we'll also have a briefing here by Dr. Rivlin to talk about the preparation work underway to deal with a shutdown.
Q Mike, the Hazel O'Leary report on reporters, what's your reaction to it, and is that the kind of thing, as was suggested earlier, is that the kind of thing that would be resignation material?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Chief of Staff answered both of those questions. And I think it's clear for those of us who saw the account this morning, as reported in the Journal -- and we're going to find out whether that report is accurate and whether those are the facts -- but as reported in the Journal, it's clearly unacceptable.
Q Mike, does -- the House passed the CR last night and had all these things in it you don't like. The Senate is taking it up today. Can you tell us specifically what the Senate has to take out of that bill in order for the President to sign it and avoid a shutdown --
MR. MCCURRY: We just went through some of the measures specifically that are in there, but they have now -- the continuing resolution, they've basically put in there not only things like the Istook amendment -- I don't know whether Commerce --
Q And that may be coming out, we hear.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the point is that it all has to come out. So the Senate needs to take a clean -- I don't have a list with me, but we can try to get you a specific list. We did send up a staff, I believe, on -- can you go get it, and we'll read it.
Q Well, Mike, the reason I ask -- because some of the things Mr. Panetta mentioned are in the debt, and others are in the CR, and I was wondering -- it strikes me maybe you could veto one and sign the other --
MR. MCCURRY: No. I think what's clear is both vehicles are now being adorned with Republican majority ornaments, and they're all aimed at the same priorities that are reflected in the fundamental budget fight that is now underway. They are, one way or another, trying to force the President to accept their priorities on the budget, which includes devastating cuts in Medicare, raising taxes on the working poor, gutting environmental protection and reneging on the kind of investments in education and student loans that will make the economy grow in the future, and the President will not accept it. That's, one way or another, whether it's debt ceiling or CR, they both involve the same question, which is, what are they doing to try to force the President to accept their priorities?
Q Are we going to hear about the resolution of O'Leary matter today here, or are they going to address it over at Energy? I mean, how do you --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Chief of Staff just made clear he's asked the Secretary of the Energy to give him a report by the close of business today. He'll want to look at that report. He may have additional questions he wants to pose to her, and we'll see where things go from there.
Q Mike, the Wall Street Journal -- The Wall Street Journal report also said that this same private investigatory firm, Carma, did similar type of work for the IRS and for the Postal Service. Are you also investigating --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let's make it clear the firm is -- I believe does content analysis or media analysis, and then the Energy Department, according to the article, went and did additional things with us, so we'll find out more about it. I don't know that the firm itself, from the report in the Journal sounds like it does what many of us would describe as content analysis and media reports, a dubious undertaking, in my own personal opinion.
Q Just to go back to the CR for a second, if all of the extraneous things were taken off, you're still left with this CR that cuts deeper than the current one. Now, you negotiated that first CR understanding that it would have to have some kind of an across-the-board cut in it. Are you saying that you will veto any CR that cuts lower than the first one? Or you're open to negotiation on --
MR. MCCURRY: The Chief of Staff just made it quite clear that what they should do is extend the current continuing. That's what we are asking the Congress to do. That's the best way in order to give the extension of time necessary to resolve budget issues. But taking draconian cuts that are added into a newly-revamped CR is not what the President has in mind and is clearly -- that is clearly unacceptable.
Q But are you willing to --
MR. MCCURRY: We -- have we put out this SAP? All right, our SAP on the House Joint Resolution 115, which really spells out in some detail our objections to that resolution, is available, and you can, rather than read the list, it's there for your review.
Q Mike if you're saying so clearly today that the risk of a shutdown is imminent next week, why wait until Saturday to have Alice give more -- I mean, haven't you upset the public by calling up on that prospect? And don't you -- wouldn't it do you well to describe to people in a little more detail today the kinds of things that would be protected in --
MR. MCCURRY: You all can do that just as easily as The Washington Post did today in a good report. I mean, everything from getting a -- you know, not being able to get passports, not being able to file new food stamp proposals. Each agency has submitted a very detailed plan to the Director of Office of Management and Budget. Those have been reviewed; there have been follow-up with the agencies. We're now meeting with the Cabinet this afternoon to go through just what steps we will have to take in order to move ahead. And there is another 48 hours available for Congress to get on with the business that they've got to conduct. As the questions have just indicated, the Senate has yet to act. The Senate could, in fact, reject some of the extreme measures that the House has passed and pass a clean CR, and then we'd have to see how the House and Senate reconcile the differences between them.
Q Will Secretary O'Leary become part of the group?
Q Back to Mara's question, Mike, are you saying the President will veto anything but an extension of the current CR, or is there some room for --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is -- in the time since the original congressional -- original continuing resolution was passed, there have been some additional action on appropriations bills. And normally those can be reflected in some manner in a continuing resolution. But that process would require, as the Chief of Staff just indicated, the White House sitting down with the two chairs of the appropriations committees and really hammering out an agreement on what a CR would look like. The point is that there's nothing that indicates that that type of discussion is going to take place between now and Monday.
Q I just wanted to know if Secretary O'Leary is going to be one of those Cabinet members attending the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any idea. I assume so, yes.
Q In his meeting with the environmental leaders, did the President or did they bring up ANWR?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that it was most likely going to come up just based on the briefing that the President got, but I don't have a readout on the meeting on whether or not it did in fact come out. Maybe you can check with someone in the Press Office to see if it did come up, but it would -- my strong expectation is that something of such concern to the President and to these environmental leaders would come up, and you all are aware of our very strong opposition to opening up the refuge area for oil drilling and exploration.
Q Leon said that the President would do everything he could to protect the public and to make sure a catastrophe doesn't befall next week. Does that include offering to sit down and negotiate with Republicans on the budget before we get to the veto stage?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the veto stage is upon us, and as he indicated to you, he approached both the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader to try to determine what route they were going to take as the party returned from Prime Minister Rabin's funeral. And it's clear there was no willingness at that point to have a serious discussion that would address the concerns the President had repeatedly stated. So --
Q That was Panetta. I'm talking about the President. Is he willing to sit down?
MR. MCCURRY: He is only willing to sit down and work through these issues once there's a willingness on the part of the Congress to get serious about addressing his priorities. There doesn't seem to be any willingness on their part.
Q Has he, since he offered his balanced budget proposal in June, which was rejected by all the Republicans and by every single Democrat, offered anything new, any movement toward the Republican position at all in any way?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And I went through at great length and described for you exactly what he told the leaders that he met with last week on Thursday, indicating a willingness to address their priorities so long as there was some recognition that the President had very firm principles that he was standing on, too, that they had to address. And there's been no willingness on their part to address the President's priorities.
Q But did he go beyond -- and one more -- did he go beyond stating that he would agree to talk about their principles -- which are all things that he adopted in the 1992 campaign so it's not new for him to say that -- did he offer any specifics, offer anything in any area that you could say that the President is trying to meet their concerns?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President did that in June. That's the point. He did that in June, and he asked them to recognize that and to say, look, in order to be serious about this, we now have to get into a serious discussion of all the other things that you are doing that, frankly, were not a part of your contract or not a part of what you've publicly articulated as your own priorities. And there was a failure on their part to entertain that type of conversation with the President. It's impossible to get -- you know, there will be a specific discussion on the budget once there's a seriousness of purpose that the Republican leadership brings to the task of resolving this conflict. And there is no willingness on their part to resolve those differences now.
Q Mike, Gingrich's office was complaining yesterday that he and Dole were relegated to the back of the plane during the trip to Israel and never got a chance to see the President.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not true. They sat in what is the VIP section of the plane. And every one of you, one way or another, have flown on the VIP -- or flown on Air Force One. And you know the cabin they were sitting in. You can describe it for your viewers and your readers as well as I can.
Q Yes, it was back there with us. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: They are in the section -- they were in the section of the plane reserved for VIPs. The only other place you would have put them, unless they had wanted to sit in the staff compartment with the staff, would have been what we call the senior staff quarters, and that was reserved for two former Presidents. And, quite frankly, the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader are outranked by George Bush and Jimmy Carter, thank you very much.
Now, what did the President do on this flight? He invited the Speaker and the -- this was -- they were going to a funeral, let's remember -- a funeral of the Israeli leader. And we had -- the important work to be done on that flight was to pay proper respect to someone who had been assassinated. And so the President of the United States invited the Speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader, the other members of the delegation to sit with him and the two former Presidents to get a good briefing on the current situation in Israel by the Israeli Ambassador to the United States and by our Special Middle East Coordinator. We treated all members of that delegation with utmost respect, given the solemnity of the occasion. They had a very good discussion -- frankly, very good questions asked by the Speaker, by the former Presidents. They were about the purpose of that trip, which was to mourn a fallen foreign leader.
And on the way back -- everybody here knows what the schedule was on the way back. We left there at about 11:00 p.m. at night, the President worked his way through the aircraft and thanked the members of the delegation for being there, and then most people who were sensible, went to sleep. (Laughter.)
Q Did you?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely.
Q Congress is scheduled to leave town for seven days at the end of the month. Will the President insist on them staying here if progress is made on the budget, given your concerns --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I can't hear you, Paula. Say again.
Q Will the President call Congress or ask them to stay in town in lieu of a seven day Thanksgiving recess, given the importance --
MR. MCCURRY: It's impossible to predict at this point.
Q Mike, the President has the energy and water appropriations bill, which he has until the 18th to sign. Does he have any intention to try to sign that and enact that to prevent the shutdown on those programs?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, most of the individual appropriations bills that might gain final completion at this point will be the larger budget issues surrounding the continuing and the reconciliation bill will subsume those. They will all be folded -- have to folded in one way or another into the discussion of those other measures.
Q Mike, I'm curious about one more thing about the flight. Did Gingrich and/or Dole at any point, going or coming back, ask to talk to the President about the budget matter?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Because, you know, Mike, yesterday you said you thought some of this beefing was staff level. Senator Dole last night in this Republican dinner apparently --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm well aware of his remarks.
Q -- did make those remarks. Do you think those --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm well aware of his remarks. And there was no indication to any of the staff people, to the Chief of Staff, or others. The Chief of Staff, as I told you, touched base with them prior to landing and said, you know, we really need to know where you all are headed on this. And it was clear from the response we got from the Republican leadership that they were going to have to go on the route that they are now on.
And I -- look, this thing smacks of silliness. And I -- it's also a little bit offensive when you consider the purpose of that trip, which was to go to a funeral and to mourn a foreign leader.
Q Mike, on CR, you said this morning that there's no -- you believe there's no chance of an agreement with the Republican Congress on that. The President has a trip to Boston Monday night -- it was brought up earlier. Is that a good image for the President to be doing that kind of travel?
MR. MCCURRY: He may not do that kind of travel, as the Chief of Staff just said.
Q Could you comment on the concerns of the markets about the stability of the Mexican peso?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q This came after a report about the --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm sorry, I don't do pesos while the markets are open.
Q I just want to make sure I understand the Chief of Staff's comments on welfare. Is it now the President's position that the Senate bill is unacceptable --
MR. MCCURRY: By the way, I'm sorry, on that last question, you should contact the Treasury Department because they are authorized by our government to speak to that issue. There have been contacts between the Treasury Department and the Mexican Finance Ministry, but we, for very good reasons, don't comment on currency exchange rates while markets are open.
Q Is it now the President's position that the Senate bill is unacceptable -- the Senate welfare bill is unacceptable and that in order for him to sign it --
MR. MCCURRY: As the Chief of Staff said, there is absolutely no change in the President's view. The President said in his radio address September 16th, and we restated it in Dr. Rivlin's letter to the conferees on October 18th, that the Senate-passed bill is within striking distance of acceptable welfare reform. But we've made clear all along that it's not a perfect bill; it needs to be improved. The report that Dr. Rivlin will release today gives you very good reasons why it needs to be improved, and more importantly, provides a road map on to how you can make those improvements.
So we are inclined to be optimistic on welfare reform, and to suggest that it is possible for the House Senate conferees to do those things that we stipulate in both Dr. Rivlin's letter and in the report released today that can improve the final version of welfare reform.
Q But if I remember correctly, you strongly indicated that if the Senate bill landed on his desk in the form in which it passed the Senate, that he'd sign it --
MR. MCCURRY: He may have to accept that bill. He may have to accept that bill, but as I say, we are optimistic in believing that bill can be improved.
Q Why would he have to accept it?
MR. MCCURRY: Because it might be the only version that comes, although any of you following this debate know that to our great disappointment, the conferees appear to be moving in the wrong direction, which is back to the House bill, rather than taking the Senate bill as a good starting point and improving it, which is what they ought to do.
Q But, Mike, you plan to veto so many other things, why all of a sudden, do you have to accept the bill? It doesn't make any sense.
Q You're going to shut down the country. Why, you know --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because they -- I mean, look --
Q Why on welfare do you have no choice but to accept it, where on all these other things you have choices?
MR. MCCURRY: Because on welfare reform we've actually gotten a piece of legislation that reflects some of the President's strong thinking about the subject, which is that we need to reward work, protect children, make it possible for states to have the flexibility that will encourage that transition from welfare dependency to work situations. We actually ended up with a bill that, as we have said, is within striking distance of something that's going to be acceptable to the President. Every piece of legislation has to be evaluated on the merits.
Q How do you protect children when your own department says that a million more kids will be driven into poverty by the Senate bill?
MR. MCCURRY: One way is to not do what they're about to do. There are 18 million kids in this country living in poverty, but 7 million of them are lifted above the poverty level by the earned income tax credit. So one good place to start would be not to do what the Congress is about willing to do on the earned income tax credit; that in terms of the incidents of poverty and children in poverty, that's a far more important issue than the welfare reform bill in some respects. But they seem determined to raise taxes on those working poor families, which will have a greater impact on children in poverty than welfare reform.
The other thing about this report, as you will see when it comes out, is that it measures poverty, makes projections on what will happen based on current experience. And one thing we hope is that current experience will change as states use the opportunity the President has given them to experiment with how to make that transition more effective. But, ultimately, kids have to be protected, and that's going to require funding. And as Mr. Panetta just told you, the maintenance of effort provision in this legislation can certainly be improved. There's contingency funds that will protect states that face economic downturns, as we argued from the very beginning, when we originally commented on the Senate-passed bill, could be stricken, because states need to have a contingency fund to protect themselves against economic downturn so kids don't wind up in poverty.
If we can get the job done, we can protect the kids, but there have to be improvements in the bill, and there have to be, you know, a good-faith effort by the House-Senate conferees to continue us on the road towards a welfare reform bill that will do all those things that we've said are necessary to reward people who go to work and to protect children while those parents do go to work.
Q Mike, but it seems that you people -- you threw away your leverage on the welfare bill at the time that the Senate approved its version. The horse is out of the barn, and now belatedly you're trying to recoup. When the Senate debated and approved its version of the bill, you did not side with Moynihan and Kennedy, who said this is not acceptable, this is not --
MR. MCCURRY: That's -- Leo, is incorrect. Every Democrat in the Senate endorsed the same bill the President endorsed, which was the Senate Democratic version of welfare reform, which is also, by the way, covered in our report today. We started -- all started from that same starting point.
Q But that never became the Senate-adopted version --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we tried -- we tried with amendment and amendment and amendment to get it. And 35 Senate Democrats believed we ended up as the President did -- said so, with something that was in striking distance of welfare reform.
Q Well, my question is, would it not have strengthened your leverage today --
MR. MCCURRY: That's ancient history -- ancient history --
Q -- had you strongly opposed the Senate version.
MR. MCCURRY: You know, that requires hindsight --
Q Mike, I don't want to belabor this thing with O'Leary, but did -- has the President spoken to her this morning? And can you give us some idea about what his reaction was to the story --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't. I have not talked to him on this subject. I would doubt very much that he would have had a reaction different from Mr. Panetta, mine and others who read the article.
Q Just to finish the sentence, you said there would have to be improvements in the Senate bill or else what? I mean, what if there are not improvements in the Senate bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- I mean, look, just one minor example on when it comes -- there's a provision on raising the age of eligibility, I think, on Medicare benefits from 66 -- 65 to 67. Now, that's a provision that, frankly, is in the Senate bill that we don't like --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, yes, yes -- it's in -- the way you measure benefit levels or something in one of the funding formulas, I think. I may have that wrong. You can ask Dr. Rivlin later. There is one provision, as a matter of fact, as we've identified in the Senate bill, that is less preferable than the House bill. So there are ways in which, as the House-Senate Conference Committee meets, they can go through all the things that we've been telling them, dating back to October 18th when Dr. Rivlin, I think, gave a very comprehensive list of improvements that they need to make, to improve this bill and to get the job done. And --
Q But you're not willing to say if it's not improved he won't sign it.
MR. MCCURRY: We're not willing to be pessimistic about this. There is a strong bipartisan consensus in this Congress to reform welfare as we know it. We don't want to miss that opportunity. We don't want to lose the chance to do something that's truly important. But it's going to require hard work by this conference committee to improve the bill to make it acceptable, to move it from being within striking distance to move it to become something that everybody is very proud to be here in the Rose Garden signing sometime in the near future.
Q Mike, on the partial birth abortion bill, the Justice Department says it's unconstitutional because there's no exemption for the life of the mother. Can you tell us, one, will the President veto it if it comes to him without an exemption? And, two, would he sign it if it came to him with an exemption?
MR. MCCURRY: We have said, and I repeated yesterday, that the President cannot support a bill that does not reflect the language necessary to protect the health and life of the mother, as consistent with law, consistent with Roe v. Wade. I'm not familiar enough with the Justice Department opinion to know specifically what point that addressed. But we made available yesterday and had made available prior our statement of administration policy, and I believe it's very clear.
Q Well, Mike, does that mean that he would sign it if there was an exemption for the life of the mother?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if they get the language that is consistent with the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe, and that provides for the consideration of the need to preserve the life and health of the mother consistent with that decision, that would be a vast improvement in addressing the question of third trimester abortions.
Q Mike, that's not -- I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't know, Deborah. The answer is we don't know. Will they add that language in the final version when it goes to final passage? If they do, it makes the bill much more acceptable to the President.
Q If you can't get all these improvements you'd like, particularly for children in the welfare reform bill, has the President conditioned his approval of it on full restoration of the EITC Fund?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, I'm not -- there would be --if you can't get the improvements the President wants, we have to figure out how we're going to protect the kids. Now, that's one way to do it. Another way is to build on the experiences that the states have as they use their waivers and begin to conduct welfare reform experiences, identify which of those state experiments work best and try to incent those by providing additional funding. Another way is to work especially hard to get full funding for maintenance of effort, which is another approach the President could take.
There are a number of ways you can address the issue of how was the funding going to be there for child care and to help children who are going to have to be cared for as their parents move to work situations and off of welfare. We are committed, obviously, to doing what it takes to protect kids. But the best way is for the House-Senate Conference Committee to write a bill that addresses all those things that I think we've given them in considerable detail that will allow them to complete the work and complete the work in a way that's satisfactory not only to the President, but for all of those in the Congress who voted for it.
Let's not forget that there was a very hard-fought fight in the Senate to pass a bill in the first place. And it's quite clear if you look at the votes and look at the statements of moderate Republicans in the Senate that they're not going to support a bill that's similar to the House bill, and they're going to want to make the kinds of improvements that the President called for today, especially in light of this report.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: That's one reason among others why we are very optimistic on this subject.
Have you got a place to go? Have you got a lunch appointment? (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:19 P.M. EST