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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 19, 1995
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                       BY THE VICE PRESIDENT,

The Briefing Room

5:50 P.M. EST

THE VICE PRESIDENT: The President just had a very good discussion with the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. Prior to that, we had a very constructive conversation with the Speaker and the Majority Leader of the Senate. There will be another meeting tomorrow, after which, if the meeting is successful, if the conversation is successful, there will be a joint statement outlining the terms of an agreement if there is one. No agreement was reached this evening.

There was, as I say, a very constructive conversation about how to proceed toward a balanced budget as soon as possible, and how to reopen the government and get a continuing resolution as the discussions proceed. And we hope that with the joint statement after tomorrow's meeting, we'll be able to say to you that there will be a resolution that allows the government to open its doors and a schedule and a framework for constructive discussions toward a balanced budget within seven years.

There were no concessions by them; no concessions by us. It was a constructive discussion about how to get this process back on track. And we're by design trying not to say a lot about the details of the conversation this evening in hopes that after tomorrow's discussion there will be that joint statement.

Now, this evening, the President's Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta will meet with John Kasich and Pete Domenici and offer -- and develop some suggestions for tomorrow's discussion. The only understandings that were reached as part of a possible agreement on how to proceed tomorrow is that the Speaker and the Majority Leader, the two Democratic leaders and the President and I will be face to face during the discussions, assuming that they continue.

Q Where will they be, right here?

Q It sounds as if --

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I want to give the leaders -- okay.

Q Well, the two things that the Republicans said, Gingrich and Dole said up on the Hill that were agreed to today is that everything from now on that's put on the table will be scored by CBO and that the President and they agreed that this will be done by the end of the year.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That is a slight misunderstanding. I'm quite confident that it is not willful, and let me explain exactly why I'm confident that that was not a willful misunderstanding.

We tentatively agreed, all subject to tomorrow's discussion, that what would be talked about would be the President's balanced budget proposal, the balanced budget from the Congress, and in addition, we will consider other balanced budget proposals that have been offered by members of Congress from both parties. Those other balanced budget proposals are all scored according to CBO.

The Majority Leader and the Speaker also said that the President's priorities and the principles articulated by the President -- you have to protect Medicare and Medicaid; you have to protect education and the environment; there can't be a tax increase on working families -- that those are part of the discussion, in keeping with the agreement which was a two-sided agreement after the last continuing resolution was announced.

So I think what they meant to say was that when we consider other proposals -- the coalition has put out a proposal; Senator Daschle's been very active in talking about a proposal, and others -- they're all scored by CBO. But clearly, the President's budget plan is one of the two starting points in the discussion.

Q Mr. Vice President, was there an agreement that there would be a budget deal by the end of this year?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. But there was an agreement that both sides would make every effort to conclude a seven-year balanced budget as quickly as possible, and if it is possible to complete it by the end of this year, we want to do that. We'd like to do it sooner rather than later.

Now, there was no agreement on a schedule, but clearly, tomorrow's discussions anticipate that we will reach, if it's possible to do so, an agreement on a schedule for the discussions, which would include a target date. And as far as we're concerned, before the end of the year is better than after the end of the year; but it's all subject to the agreement itself.

Q When do you want to open the government again -- tomorrow?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: As quickly as possible.

Q Will there be a CR tomorrow, do you think?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Certainly hope so. Certainly hope so. We would have preferred one prior to now.

Q Under the same terms that you had before?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, without any tricky conditions or anything, and hopefully that will come tomorrow.

I want to allow the two leaders to make statements.

Q We're still not clear on CBO, Mr. Vice President. Still not clear as to whether the President has accepted CBO scoring on every proposal on the table, or not.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, no, no. If you're asking the question, did the President agree to put down an administration CBO plan according to those assumptions with the things that we've targeted as problems with those, no, absolutely not. The President and the Speaker and the Majority Leader agreed to continue the discussions tomorrow in anticipation of a structured discussion that will include the President's balanced budget plan, the Congress's balanced budget plan, and other proposals as they might be helpful on specific points.

Q Mr. Vice President, Mr. Gingrich was fairly explicit that in order to get -- for any proposal to be on the table, any proposal to be on the table would first have to be scored by CBO. Is that not your understanding?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, we don't want to search for disagreements here. We're searching for agreements.

Q -- a fairly large one jumping into the room.

THE VICE PRESIDENT: But that's why I started my previous answer by saying I really do not believe that it's a willful misunderstanding. Obviously, the President's balanced budget plan is one of the two starting points. And --

Q But that would be a misunderstanding, that statement that to be on the table it had to --

Q So the President's budget is not going to be rescored by CBO?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: The ultimate result of the discussions, assuming that they do begin and continue in a constructive fashion, the ultimate result will have to be scored by CBO in consultation with OMB and others. We have already agreed to that. We have no quarrel with that whatsoever.

Q Will the President be involved --

Q But the President's intermediate budget is not going to be rescored by CBO?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: That is correct. That is correct.

Q Vice President Gore, what should be read into the fact that the President has now agreed to become so directly and personally involved from here on out in this process?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that's a very positive sign, and the fact that the Speaker and the Majority Leader agreed to consider restarting the discussions and for them to be personally involved with the President and the others -- the three of us here and others involved -- I think that's a positive step.

Q Mr. Vice President, did you reach agreement on assurance for back pay for federal workers?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. It is our strong hope that that would be a feature of the way this is finally resolved. It would be my expectation, but it's far from assured, as you know.

Q Not to harp on this, Mr. Vice President, but, for example, your original OMB figure for Medicare savings is $124 billion. Then CBO iteration of that is -- would only yield $97 billion in savings. So if the President is talking about getting them to come closer to his priorities on Medicare and Medicaid, how can you have a discussion if you're not having apples and apples on the table, but it's, in fact, arguing about apples and oranges?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: No. To take a second example before answering your question, we find it troubling that the CBO projects that there will be a recession if the congressional plan is adopted and the unemployment will go up to six percent and interest rates will go up as inflation comes down. We think we understand the reasons why they project those numbers; we think they're simply wrong. But we think it would be irresponsible to say that's an accurate way to project how this is going to end up.

At the end of any discussion that commences tomorrow --and hopefully it will -- the final result will have to be looked at freshly by the CBO in consultation with others.

So before we close -- I know that was the last question, but I want to insist that the two leaders have an opportunity to say what they wish.

SENATOR DASCHLE: Well, I think this is a very positive development. I think that Democrats generally believe that we can accomplish all that we've said we want to accomplish in the time frame that has already been agreed to. That is, we can balance the budget and protect our priorities.

I think that a couple of things ought to be said with regard to our hope. One is that we will be laying down under this parameter another budget that is a Democratic -- probably a Senate Democratic budget that goes to the heart of many of the priority concerns that we've articulated now for some time. It will be perhaps the Senate Democratic proposal on one side and the Republican conference report on the other that will form the box within which the negotiations will take place. So we hope that that will then develop the parameter, the spectrum within which all the decisions would be made.

Secondly, I'm told, and I'm encouraged by the Republican willingness to consider outside analysis as we look at the economic repercussions of all of these things. As I understand it, that also was discussed. And if the agreement tomorrow will articulate that, I think many Senate Democrats will be very pleased.

Q And your budget would be scored by CBO?

SENATOR DASCHLE: Our budget would be scored by CBO as well.

Q Does the Vice President and Mr. Gephardt agree with that formulation of how these talks are going to go?

CONGRESSMAN GEPHARDT: I think what happened today is good; it was pretty simple. I think you now have the negotiation on the budget moving to the President and the leaders in Congress and the Vice President. I think that's good. It shows that we're really going to make this effort and it's good faith on all sides. And secondly, that we're going to try to do it quickly and get right to it and see if we can do it as fast as possible.

Q What caused all the change?

CONGRESSMAN GEPHARDT: The government should go back to work. We have felt for a long time that this was inappropriate and not right. And I think everybody came to the conclusion that that needed to happen and we needed to get to the table and get back to the negotiation and see if we can do this. Maybe we can, maybe we can't. But we've got to try and we've got to try in this time period.

Q Did the President ask for a CR tonight? Did the President ask them to --


Q And what was their response to that?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't want to violate the confidentiality of the discussions. I guess the most I can say is that it was not possible. We, of course, have favored a CR, a resolution to keep the government operating. The President did ask for that. We understand the problems that the Speaker and the Majority Leader wrestle with. We want to be respectful of that. We do think the government ought to reopen.

But I wanted to comment just briefly before we close on the question that was shouted out in back. The discussions, if they do begin tomorrow, will be about the President's balanced budget plan, the congressional balanced budget resolution as passed, and that discussion will be enriched by consideration of other proposals that have been advanced by members of Congress, House and Senate in both parties.

In some cases -- on taxes, on Medicare, on some other provisions -- you will be able to find proposals advanced by members of Congress which set a boundary line at one edge of what's possible. The other edge of that boundary being in the Congressional Budget Resolution, and the comparable proposal from the President being somewhere in between. All three elements, in that case, will be on the table for discussion. And since there are several proposals advanced by members of Congress we will have an opportunity to look at a variety of possible solutions to this very difficult problem of how to get agreement on the President's principles and priorities, which is an absolute necessity, and a balanced budget within seven years as ultimately scored by CBO in consultation with OMB and third parties.

Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Q What are Panetta and Kasich and Domenici, what are they going to discuss tonight?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: They're going to further flesh out the way the conversation will proceed tomorrow.

Q What time is that meeting?

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 6:05 P.M. EST