THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY CHIEF OF STAFF LEON PANETTA
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EST
MR. PANETTA: We have -- the three of us have just completed a meeting with the President. And on behalf of the President, I am pleased to announce that Evelyn Lieberman will be named Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff, to replace Erskine Bowles.
Q Oh, wow --
MR. PANETTA: Our Evelyn, our Evelyn.
Q Is she the first woman to hold that job?
MR. PANETTA: Evelyn is the first woman to be appointed to this position. And she will take her position effective January 15th. She'll be reporting directly to myself and will carry on the same responsibilities as Erskine did. She'll be responsible for the Office of Scheduling and Advance, the Office of Management and Administration, the Office of Presidential Personnel, and the Office of the Staff Secretary, as well as Director of Oval Office Operations.
Q What about golf --
MR. PANETTA: The one quality she cannot replace is the ability to play golf, but I am sure she will be able to teach the President a few things -- (laughter) -- about backgammon. (Laughter.) She's going to learn how to play hearts, too.
Look, the -- let me just say this very briefly. There are three important qualities that a person has to have in this position, from my point of view and the from the President's point of view -- that's quality of leadership, integrity, and I think the ability to have strong discipline with regards to the management of this operation. And I can't think of anybody better than Evelyn that represents those qualities. She's already the leader of the White House staff in many ways. She has always been someone of honesty and of integrity. And she always shoots straight, as many of you know. And thirdly, she, I think, is someone who will bring continued discipline, strong discipline, to White House operations. And that's a large responsibility in this job.
So she brings the perfect mixture of chicken soup and a kick in the butt that we need in this job. (Laughter.) So, Evelyn, I want to welcome you to the Deputy's job. And, ladies and gentlemen, you'll be dealing with her in that capacity from now on.
Q Will she still be in charge of keeping the White House press room policed? (Laughter.)
MR. PANETTA: Evelyn, you should say a few words.
MS. LIEBERMAN: Thank you very much. I'm very excited to be doing this. I'm a little nervous, as you can see.
I want to thank, of course, the President, but Leon and Harold for bringing me on, but also -- and for their confidence in me, but also to my beloved Mike McCurry whom I loved working with, and Maggie Williams whom I loved working with. And I look forward to continue to working with all of you. Thank you.
MR. PANETTA: Thank you very much.
Q Leon, before you go -- (laughter).
Q Pete Domenici just said that he did not think there would be any more negotiations between the White House and the principals unless the President gives on entitlement reform and moves their way on spending issues. He also took exception with Mike McCurry and Alice Rivlin for saying the difference was taxes. Why is he so pessimistic, and is the difference more than just taxes?
MR. PANETTA: Well, I have not seen what Pete had to say, but I can only represent the views of the principals in the Oval Office. And the principals in the Oval Office have been, as I pointed out, working very hard in trying to arrive at a compromise here on a balanced budget. They've been working 50 hours. They have, as the President pointed out yesterday, made progress in a number of areas. There are some differences that remain.
But the view of every person in that office -- Speaker Gingrich; Majority Leader Dole; the Minority Leaders, Gephardt, Daschle, and myself -- was that we are going into a recess. All of the principals said we ought to have a break here and that the staff ought to continue to work on some of the key issues that remain that we've discussed -- there is a significant amount of staff work that can be done in this interim -- and that the principals would reconvene about a week from today. And that's the basis on which we're operating.
And I think, there are obviously, a lot of people on the outside of these negotiations who in one way or another would like to see them collapsed for their own particular purposes. I don't think that serves any purpose. I think everybody -- everybody -- ought to be working to see if we can finalize a balanced budget agreement. That's in the interest of the country, and it's in the interest of all the parties that are there.
With regards to the specific allegation, I just have to tell you that we have, the President has a balanced budget approach that is certified by the Congressional Budget Office that we think protects Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment, doesn't raise taxes on working families, and provides for a modest tax cut -- that's there.
The disagreement has been on a continued effort to take the tax cut up to $200 billion-plus. And the simple fact is that in order to pay for that size tax cut, you simply have to go back and give deeper cuts in Medicare and Medicaid and welfare reform and some of the safety net programs that the President cares about. That's the reality. That's where we're at.
Now, I recognize that -- you know, that Pete Domenici can call that entitlement reform, but when it is in the context of the largest tax cut -- $200 billion -- that will be targeted to those that, frankly, don't need a tax cut, that's not about entitlement reform, it's about how do you pay for that sized tax cut. That's the fundamental problem.
Q Well, are there more meetings scheduled by staff yet at this point?
MR. PANETTA: Yes.
Q And also, since Domenici spoke, the markets began falling. And it appears that they're taking as some sort of failure between the two sides. Is that a mistaken impression?
MR. PANETTA: Well, that's why -- I mean, I think, again, it was clearly the view of the principals in the Oval Office that this would be a recess. I have to share with you that there were some that wanted to label it a suspension. But the view of the principals in that office was that we have a recess, take a break. There are some things that obviously the principals have to do. The Speaker is going out on the campaign trail. The Majority Leader Dole is doing that. The President has to go to Bosnia. And they thought this would be an appropriate time to take that kind of break and come back and renew these efforts next week.
Now, that's the view of the principals -- that they continue to work to try to produce an agreement. And I think that's what people ought to focus on, because they're the ones that will decide whether or not there's an agreement. It's not others outside the room.
Q It sounds like you're saying that Senator Domenici actually wants these talks to collapse. You mentioned that in response to that question.
MR. PANETTA: I don't think --
Q And what would his reason be if you did?
MR. PANETTA: I honestly don't think that he wants that to happen because, I think, Pete Domenici of all people recognizes the importance of trying to get a balanced budget. But I have to tell you that, you know, my sense is there are forces that are pushing for these talks in one way or another to collapse. And I think that's dangerous, dangerous for the country. I mean, these principals have worked for 50 hours to try to see if there's a way to bring this agreement together. My view, having been a participant in those meetings is that we've made a lot of progress and that we've been able to narrow a lot of the differences. Admittedly there are some, still, some tough issues to deal with. But that's the nature of these kinds of negotiations. But at least what I saw from the principals is an interest in trying to get this job done, not in walking away from it.
Q Is it fair to say that there are also some officials here in the White House and in the Democratic Party who think the President would be better off in terms of his own reelection campaign, and the Democratic Party would be better off if this negotiation collapsed?
MR. PANETTA: I'm not going to start to get into identifying who those forces are. I just have to tell you there's a lot of pressures out there on both sides that -- you know, that are working in different directions. And that makes it tougher to do.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:22 P.M. EST