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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 22, 1995
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

3:55 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Okay. All clear, right?

Q Yeah, right.

Q How come there's no meeting until next Friday? What happened?

MR. MCCURRY: As you can tell from our statement, as --in fact, can I have a copy in my statement so I can just keep repeating what's in the statement? (Laughter.)

Q We heard the President say that he's willing to stay every day, work hard and so forth to get an agreement. What happened?

MR. MCCURRY: He is. The key thing -- I'll do an exegetical of reading this statement for you. The good meetings that they had today refers to the two meetings they had. They had a larger meeting in the Cabinet Room and then the private meeting that the President had with the Speaker, the Majority Leader, the two Minority Leaders and Mr. Armey, too, I believe -- George? Armey was there -- in the Oval Office.

They build on the progress in yesterday's discussions. That's an important observation because you will recall that Mr. Panetta and Mr. Domenici and Mr. Kasich designed a process yesterday by which we dealt with some of the less controversial issues in this budget dispute. That generated over a seven-year period some $40 billion in savings in some of these secondary areas. That was presented to the principals today, and I think there was agreement that while there's nothing agreed until everything is agreed, that represented some progress and served as a useful model of how we might resolve some of the larger issues.

So the President and the other leaders agreed that that process by which staff develops an analysis, presents it to the budget advisors -- which is the Panetta, Domenici, Kasich, Sabo, Exon group -- they ought to work through this analysis beginning right after the holiday and then present that back to the principals a week from today, as they just did yesterday in looking at the issues that they looked at. And I think that's useful.

There have been different ideas on how we might advance this discussion, ranging from face-to-face meetings to whatever, but they had a process, they designed a process yesterday. It seemed to be working. I think there was agreement, as you can tell from this statement, that they ought to continue to use that process to see if they could make progress on these other issues.

Q No sense of urgency at all?

MR. MCCURRY: A great deal of urgency.

Q How can you say that?

MR. MCCURRY: A great deal of a sense of urgency. This President would, above all else, like to see the full services of the American government restored to the American people. But everybody in this room knows that's not going to happen because you've been following -- presumably, you've been following the debate in the House and the Senate today. So you just know where we are on that.

Now what we are going to do, since we can't get the full services of the government restored, they are going to deal with the most urgent situations that exist. Those range from benefits checks for veterans to income support checks for children who are dependent on AFDC, to federal workers who are not getting their pay. That was an area of very great concern raised by the President and agreed to by most of the leaders in the room.

And they are looking now at ways in which they might be able to address that situation, despite the fact that there doesn't seem to be agreement on Capitol Hill for a CR that would be fully fund the government. Everyone here knows that Democrats today have offered on Capitol Hill clean versions of the CR that would re-open this government. And you all know what's happened to those measures.

Q Well, would it come to a vote at all?

Q Mike, at the very least, does this mean that there's no end in sight for the shutdown, at least not until next Friday when the next meeting takes place?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are ways in which we will attempt to address the consequences of the shutdown. We will continue our work day by day at OMB to address the consequences of the shutdown. I believe you will see as a result of this meeting today on Capitol Hill efforts by the leaders to address some of the specific consequences.

It certainly appears that there will be some agreement on trying to get veterans' checks out on time and trying to get income support payments to children out on time. But we'll have to deal with the most urgent consequences of the shutdown on a day-by-day basis, doing what we can, working with the Hill and getting legislation passed and doing what we can do administratively under law as we did in the last shutdown to address the consequences that threaten life and health of the American people.

Q Well, so, the President -- this is a club over the President which he is accepting, basically?

MR. MCCURRY: No. The club over the President that they tried to swing was to insist upon him tabling a seven-year balanced budget proposal scored by the CBO in order to have exactly this type of discussion. And that did not happen.

Q But, Mike, he has repeatedly said he would not negotiate with a gun to his head, this sort of threat of shutting down the government. But now he's doing exactly that.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's the result of this conversation today, while not removed, the gun was clearly uncocked.

Q Huh?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've taken some of -- whether it's veterans' benefits or welfare payments or now we've got some forward movement as a result of this meeting on the issue of payments to workers who are furloughed -- they're going to try to work through some of these issues, and they've instructed staff to look at ways that they could deal with that.

Q -- half-cocked, right?

Q Mike, was there a definite agreement that this meeting today from the Republicans to go ahead and move through on a limited CR basis all these urgent matters as they come up?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it would be better given the agreement that we've reached not to try to characterize or spin the results of this meeting, for you to direct that question to the Republicans.

Q And was there agreement to continue to --

MR. MCCURRY: The President was encouraged -- the President raised those as urgent issues, and the President was encouraged by the response.

Q What was the tone of the meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: Workman-like. Workperson-like.

Q What is the President going to be doing this weekend?

Q Were there any women there?

MR. MCCURRY: In other words, they rolled up their -- they did, this was, in fact, exactly a meeting where they rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

Q Did he ask them to open the government and they refused?

MR. MCCURRY: He has done that repeatedly.

Q I take it the House is going to go into recess, but there are different versions of this very narrow --

MR. MCCURRY: I cannot help you sort out what's happening in the House and the Senate. We're following that and trying to make heads or tails out of that ourselves, but it's a very fluid situation. I'd ask your congressional correspondents.

Q What does the President do this weekend? How does he advance it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's confident that those who will be working through some of the analysis of the issues will be at work. There will be some staff level work, but to be candid about it, the budget staffs at both the CBO and the OMB have been working 24-hour days for several weeks, and the President is going to give our OMB staff and economists the Christmas holiday off. They'll come back after Monday beginning working on this analysis of issues. They'll present that to the budget advisors group. That's the Panetta, Kasich, Domenici, Exon, Sabo group. I expect they will meet late next week and prepare the agenda and the discussion for the principals a week from today.

Q What is the guidance on what he's going to do? Is he still going to go to Camp David next week?

MR. MCCURRY: Since this is just developing, he probably was looking for an opportunity to talk to the First Lady about their plans. His plans are still to be here through the 26th at least, and then the option of going to Camp David from the 27th he'll have to explore. I don't have an answer for you.

Q Is Hilton Head out?

MR. MCCURRY: If he goes down, I think -- he still has an interest in going down and having a party with his friends on New Year's Eve. But I don't know whether he's going to be able to do that, or not.

Q Mike, in today's meeting, did the President ask them to put the government back to work?

MR. MCCURRY: He addressed his concern as he did publicly for all of you at the -- I mean, the answer to that, obviously, is yes, because he did it with all of you present at the beginning of the meeting. I mean, he stressed that concern, he raised that concern. They talked about it during the meeting.

Q And they said no still?

MR. MCCURRY: The no came from the action on Capitol Hill today, as you know.

Q Mike, the $40 billion that you talked about, did the principals all agree to where that was coming from and did they reach any agreement about where to put it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they -- again, I would stress, because I don't want anyone to misunderstand what the White House is saying that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. They were satisfied they made some progress on those roughly $40 billion worth of savings generated by discussions they had on the wide range of things they dealt with yesterday from spectrum to banking, to financial, to transportation issues, some of the other issues that they've dealt with. That's a useful model. And then that goes into further discussions. I don't have any detail breakout of that. I can't specify that, and I won't specify that.

Q Mike, is the President --

Q -- there's no Medicaid agreement?


SANTA CLAUS: Ho-ho-ho-ho.

MR. MCCURRY: It's very good to see you.

SANTA CLAUS: Merry Christmas.

MR. MCCURRY: Merry Christmas. Let's do a couple more questions, and then I'll turn the podium over to Santa.

Q Is the President comfortable with the way this thing ended? Would he have preferred more talks tonight, obviously, on the weekend? Is it just done now until next Friday?

MR. MCCURRY: The President would prefer to see the government open, prefer to see the balance -- the budget balanced now. But we are into a process that we hope will resolve some of these issues and resolve some of the differences that exist. These differences still exist. It's not possible to achieve either of those objectives today.

Q But this timetable is to give everybody a Christmas at home, isn't it?

MR. MCCURRY: This timetable is to allow people to work through issues that are deeply divided at the moment and that apparently were not reconcilable today.

Q Was the President willing to work --

Q Just one other thing, Mike, on another matter. As you know, as a result of the compromise, those Whitewater notes were released, went to the Hill. Senator D'Amato and others have reacted. What's the sense here about what the effect of this is? Does it make things better, make things worse, prolong the controversy, end it --what?

MR. MCCURRY: I concur fully on Mr. Fabiani's statement.

Q Mike, just to be clear here, are you saying that the President was willing to work, but the members of Congress wanted to go back home? I mean, who was it who said we shouldn't --

MR. MCCURRY: The issue was not the desire to go back home. The issue was the desire to try to make some progress on these issues. And they clearly were not going to write a seven-year balanced budget plan at this meeting today. That was not in the expectations for the meeting.

Q Well, how about next week?

MR. MCCURRY: What they have done is designed a process by which we can get to that objective.

Let me just take one or two more.

Q So the President was unwilling to work on Tuesday. I just want to find out --

MR. MCCURRY: Look, that is not the case. The President is more than -- would have been willing if it was some prospect that this would have led to a successful result to have worked all through the holiday. That's not going to happen. It was clear in this meeting that they're not going to bridge these --

Q Well, did they tell him, we won't do it?

MR. MCCURRY: It's clear that they weren't going to bridge all the differences that exist and write a budget that is a very complex document in the course of a weekend.

Q Mike, explain what is the goal here now? Is the goal to produce, as the Republicans want, as Armey has said repeatedly, a bill -- a bill in the end that they send to him that puts the government back to work and it's a done deal? Or is the goal to get far enough along to where the Republicans finally give in and pass a CR? What's -- I mean, it's got to be one or the other.

MR. MCCURRY: The goal we have is to see the services of the government fully restored. We can't achieve that goal right now. What we can do right now is to address the most urgent consequences of the government shutdown. And we will do that, and we believe today we've got some sense of cooperation from the leaders in trying to address those most urgent issues. I cannot predict for you now when the continuing resolution or full funding or full appropriations measures will pass that will fully restore government. But I do know the President is committed to working towards satisfactory solutions that deal with the most urgent consequences of the shutdown.

Q But does the President believe that a CR will be passed before there is a final agreement on the budget deal?

MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn't rule out that possibility.

Q Mike, a follow-up --

Q Why?

Q -- do you think that federal workers will get paid? Some of them have been told to start filing for unemployment next week.

MR. MCCURRY: The one positive thing that came out of the meeting is it was very clearly on the part of everyone in the room concern about the status of federal workers who are furloughed, federal workers who are working as excepted employees who are not going to get paid until there is funding. And also -- well, those are the two categories. And they -- in both categories, there seems to be willingness on the part of the leadership to explore remedies that would allow them to be paid despite the shutdown. And that was encouraging. We don't have an answer to that problem yet, but there is some agreement that they will look for ways to try to get paychecks to those people, especially during this holiday season.

Q Armey has said that they're not going to have any votes at least until Wednesday evening, as they were shutting down on the House floor. Given that you wouldn't quarrel with the notion that the government is going to stay shut down at a minimum, at least until Wednesday night, or at least until Thursday morning?

MR. MCCURRY: I would not quarrel with that. I mean, and he knows the House schedule better. That's exactly the situation we're in. They're not going to, despite the efforts by Democrats on the Hill to pass a continuing resolution today, that's not going to happen.

Q Mike, to follow on, do they go ahead, though, and apply for unemployment, which will cost the government even more?

MR. MCCURRY: They will have to take the best advice they can get from the Office of Personnel Management, and they will know best the situation. Federal workers should contact personnel advisers at their agencies or look for notices from OPM on how to handle those circumstances.

Q But are they all furloughed? I mean, how do they --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are 470,000 federal workers who are working now. The federal government is incurring a legal obligation to pay them. And what we agree at the very least is that we ought to figure out how to get paychecks to those people since we are legally obligated to pay them one way or another. We also are very concerned about people who are furloughed. And we encourage that the Republican leadership on the Hill have pledged to make sure those people do get their pay restored. And we will look for ways that we can do that, even advance full appropriations or a continuing. There's no -- there was no answer or solution to that problem today, but there is some willingness to explore a way to deal with that situation.

Q I don't want to go over old ground, but what you may be hearing from us is you say there's a very discernable sense of urgency, and yet here both sides are taking several days off, and no meeting scheduled until next Friday. And that's hard for us to put the two and two together and --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there clearly are some divisions that exist here. You've been hearing them expressed publicly all day. And having meetings throughout the weekend that weren't going to resolve those differences wouldn't be a fruitful exercise. But they've designed a process here that they believe will work. This is the one that worked yesterday, and they believe it will work now.

Q Were there any food fights?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think they served any beverages or refreshments.

Q When you say they believe, do you mean the principals believe?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, as they say in their statement, they believe that the process that they used yesterday to reconcile some of these issues worked. And they believe that if they try to employ it for the larger issues, they might get somewhere.

Q Mike, what's next up on the table? I mean, I assume you're moving from the easiest or least controversial issues to the tougher --

MR. MCCURRY: Substantively, I can't -- I can't answer that question substantively.

Q Just one final process question. Did the form of the discussions that have occurred so far suggest that there's a kind of a component-by-component, issue-by-issue approach to this budget in which, while everybody may have a complete budget on the table, those complete budgets become less relevant as this process goes forward?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a very good question, Brit. I can't -- since I did not participate in all of the meetings and especially the Oval Office one, I can't answer that completely. I can tell you that the central elements of this budget discussion are now so well-known to the participants in these discussions that they can look at individual elements from some of the different proposals out there -- whether it's Breaux-Chafee, whether it's coalition, whether it's Senate Democrat, whether it's the President's plan, whether it's the original congressional resolution -- and know, based on what they -- take the element, look at it, know, based on whatever the number is how it would fit into an overall final agreement.

So it's an interesting question and it probably is a useful observation. There may be, if there's a final agreement to be made, it's going to draw on a lot of the different ideas that are out there.

Q Can I follow up on that Mike?

Q Is the President still going to pre-tape the radio address?

Q There was a sense at the beginning of the week that if this was bumped up to the principals --

MR. MCCURRY: Radio? We're going to do it live now. Do we know the subject yet? Budget.

Q If I could ask you a question to follow on Brit -- There was a sense at the beginning of the week that if this was bumped up to the principals -- the President, congressional leaders -- they took over, they might be able to resolve it faster. Is it the feeling now that the process you're talking about would --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that I accept that characterization. I don't believe that I've ever said that. I don't know that anyone here at the White House has ever said that. I believe it's been said elsewhere that if the principals would get involved, they might be able to resolve these issues quicker. But that was always --

Q Well, they said --

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's correct. But I don't know that that's ever been entirely clear.

Q Is it your feeling that the process that involves the Chief of Staff and the chairs of the committees, the process that they're developing works better?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the point I'm making is that it worked yesterday. We had an agreement -- remember, we had an agreement to conduct some face-to-face talks without preconditions, and that process failed because it was not acceptable to a portion of the House Republican caucus. Now we've got a process. That process seemed to work yesterday in narrowing some differences. And it's encouraging that they now are going to employ this process as they work through next week and then to prepare for the meeting --

Q What's the process?

MR. MCCURRY: It's the one that's defined in the statement. And we've been through that four or five times already.

Q One thing you haven't said in the good meeting is whether or not the principals themselves made any of the decisions they were talking about having to make going into the meeting. Everybody talked about making tough decisions. Did they make any decisions today or just agree on --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the toughest decisions are those that are dealing with the most controversial items in the budget. And as you know, they didn't attempt to resolve those today.

Okay, anything else?

Q Yes, there's one more important point on contractors. Contractors are not getting paid. What happens --

MR. MCCURRY: I can't help you at that level of detail.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 4:20 P.M. EST