THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:19 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Welcome to the White House. If you'd like answers to your questions, press 1. (Laughter.) If you'd like to hear my standard response to every issue you might raise, press 2. (Laughter.) If you'd like to hear me do my State Department spokesman imitation, press 3.
Q That's a good one.
Q What is the reaction to your bear remarks this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Which ones? I was on a roll this morning.
Q On the national debt.
MR. MCCURRY: We have not yet obtained the repudiation of Mr. Armey's remarks by the Speaker and the Majority Leader that we hoped to receive as quickly as possible.
Q Mr. Gingrich just had the chance to do that, and he responded with the words "think bigger." What does that mean to you?
MR. MCCURRY: Think bigger? Think bigger? When it comes to -- those particular quarters, that's a rather frightening thought, isn't it? (Laughter.)
Q Senator Dole has also asked, and he responded with, he says he thinks there will be a CR that the President could accept, and that Rubin's credibility is not high on Capitol Hill when it comes to debt ceiling. So it appears you're not going to get the repudiation. Now what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that sounds -- the first half of that statement sounds fairly reasonable, so we'll have to see whether the Majority Leader can obtain passage of a debt ceiling extension that would satisfy the President. The President believes that we need to do this. We can't allow the United States to even teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, for goodness sakes, and the President doesn't believe that the Majority Leader or the Speaker, being the two responsible leaders that they are, will tolerate any games-playing of that nature. So, even if, in fact, they don't verbally repudiate Mr. Armey, they no doubt will, by their leadership of the House and the Senate, in fact, repudiate him by not allowing that type of tactic to prevail.
Q Are we, indeed, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy -- the credibility problem Mr. Rubin has with people up there is that is the same language he used for many months and the United States has not gone into default.
MR. MCCURRY: It's kind of a curious judgment that they make up there. On the one hand, they apparently consider efforts to prevent the Treasury Secretary's ability to deal with an impending debt crisis by trying to tie his hands, and yet they then simultaneously say, well, really, they're probably not a problem, and that the Treasury Secretary's crying wolf. I don't think they can have it both ways. I think the Treasury Secretary has made it clear that we are going to come up to a point, not before too long, at which we do face the debt ceiling again, and that he will be forced to resort to extraordinary measures that he does not want to have to employ, that the President does not want him to have to employ, and for that reason among many reasons, the best thing to do is just to simply extend the debt ceiling so we can get on with the nation's orderly business.
Q But if he's going to employ those measures, then we are not teetering on the edge of bankruptcy?
MR. MCCURRY: We would -- if he did not have available to him those extraordinary measures, we would face an impending bankruptcy, and the President has made it clear that he's not going to let that happen, and the Treasury Secretary won't let it happen. But again, the best way to avoid that circumstance altogether is to have Congress make the necessary -- take the necessary action that would extend the credit of the United States government.
Q Has the President had any conversations with either Dole or Gingrich about either the CR or the debt ceiling in the last 24 hours or over the weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any conversations of that nature over the weekend. There maybe have been some staff exchanges back and forth. We again hope that sometime later in the week the Republican leaders will again be in a position to come back to the table and continue good-faith discussions about balancing the budget; the sooner, the better.
Q As I understand the schedule, you've got -- they go out at the end of this week for what amounts to a month that they're scheduled not to be here. So you'd have to settle this or at least make some progress in your minds this week?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'd hope first --
Q Hopefully on the budget agreement, but I mean, on a debt ceiling and the CR --
MR. MCCURRY: First, we hope that the Congress would act to extend funding for the government and not put us through another government shutdown; and, second, to extend the debt ceiling for an appropriate period of time. But the President's resolve is to continue the discussions about a balanced budget agreement. That remains, despite the other two issues, which require action by Congress.
Q I'm a little bit confused by your answers with regard to the debt limit. I thought that earlier Rubin had said -- this was about a week or so ago -- that by mid-February he will run out of options. You seem to be saying this afternoon that he still has options; they may extraordinary, but there will be no default come what may February 15th.
MR. MCCURRY: I am not nearly as authoritative on that subject as the Treasury Secretary. I didn't mean to say anything that contradicts his own assessment of the tools available to him to manage the debt problem. What he's made clear is that he would rather not be in the position of doing anything extraordinary or otherwise. He would rather be able to continue his normal and customary duties as Treasury Secretary knowing that the debt ceiling has been extended.
Q Do you see us coming back to the December question of how clean do you need the CR to be?
MR. MCCURRY: We hope not. We hope that the statements by the responsible Republican leaders in Congress that they intend not to try to use this as a tactic and the budget deliberations will prevail and that they will simply pass the necessary legislation and move on. There seems to be sentiment for that in the Republican leadership. We, of course, hope that the Speaker and the Majority Leader will lead their caucuses and make it clear that's the way they're going to do business, that they're not going to play games.
Q To what extent will President address the debt limit issue tomorrow night?
MR. MCCURRY: He will address it briefly as he will the budget, and then suggest that those are important issues. They need to be fully addressed by the Congress and the President and resolved, but we also need to move on to the larger challenges the American people face as we look ahead to the next century.
Q Could you elaborate on his preparations for State of the Union and what he hopes to accomplish and --
MR. MCCURRY: I did that at such great length on Friday -- do we need more of that now?
Q Sure. Has it changed?
MR. MCCURRY: This is now Monday and he continues to work hard. He did work hard over the weekend. The bleary-eyed speechwriting staff rolled back in here at around 7:00 a.m. this morning after having had maybe a couple hours sleep, and they will continue to work with the President today. He's been on the phone with Cabinet members and others, working through various elements of the speech. And he's looking forward to the opportunity to address both the Congress and the American people on the challenges America faces in the 21st century and how we, together as a country, not necessarily only as a federal government, but as a country, as a community of people, can meet the challenges that we will face.
Q Where is he in the process? Is he reviewing various drafts?
MR. MCCURRY: He's --
Q Has he a draft that is being worked on, one's being polished, or are there still several circulating?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been a draft that's moved around. He's made suggestions, he's rewritten portions of it, sent it back for comments to others, added elements himself. It's about where we usually are at this time. (Laughter.)
Q Eighty minutes?
Q How long is it now?
Q Talking about how to meet the challenge of the country sounds pretty vague and general. I mean, does he think --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not taking any bets, but I'm planning on making sure I make all the necessary stops before I sit down to watch it. (Laughter.) I can't believe I said that. (Laughter.) I hope nobody is watching. Sorry, Mom.
Q You're getting red in the face.
Q On the issues of budget and debt limit, will he be conciliatory, confrontational, neither?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, over and over again, you've heard the President say to this Congress that, let's not lose the chance to do what we know we can do right now, which is to balance the budget. And he's going to suggest to them we can do this, we can do it quickly, and it would be historic, and the American people would cheer, and both sides of the aisle here could cheer, and so let's get it done. But as I say again, I don't think he's going to dwell at any length on that, nor is he going to try to in a partisan way score points or outflank the Republican Majority or anything like that; he just simply is going to say, we can do this and let's move on to all of the additional challenges we face that we also need to address.
Q Who is his primary audience? Is he trying to talk to Congress on the budget? Is he trying to talk to the American people?
MR. MCCURRY: This is a report to the nation on the state of the union as required by the Constitution, but it's also an address to the Congress on those measures the President considers necessary and important for progress in this nation also suggested by the Constitution. So he is fulfilling a constitutional responsibility to address the Congress on those measures he deems necessary, and he's also reporting to the nation as required on the state of the union.
Q Will the President have any special guests, say, sitting next to the First Lady?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q Who will they be?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll get into that tomorrow.
Q To what extent is the President going to be devoting his time to looking to the next century, and how much on ways to just get through the rest of this year?
MR. MCCURRY: He will briefly at the beginning of his remarks say balancing the budget is important, we can do it; here is what my commitment is, and then he will go on to those challenges that are important to the country as we face the next century, and I would suggest he'd devote the bulk of the address to those challenges.
Q Is one of those challenges the problem of economic insecurity among the middle class -- stagnant wages, job insecurity, and will he address that?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be a subject very much on the President's mind and he will dwell at some length on the progress we've made over the last three years in the economy; the economy is strong, it's growing, inflation is low, unemployment is low, the so-called "misery index" at a generation length low, but he will also say Americans want to know how they can continue to see their own prosperity grow and how they can pass it on to their children and he'll have -- a substantial portion of the address will deal with that topic.
Q Can I also ask you if he will devote some time to the issue of tax reform or tax simplification?
MR. MCCURRY: He will not present a tax reform plan or tax simplification plan in his address, but he will certainly acknowledge that tax relief, as he has been fighting for as President, is something that remains very important.
Q Will he set certain parameters for tax reform without presenting a plan?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the tax reform debate, as inchoate as it is, is largely on the Republican side at this moment. This President wants to bring tax relief to middle-income families. He's got a plan for doing it; it's the Middle Class Bill of Rights. He's been fighting hard in these budget deliberations to preserve a modest tax cut focused on hard-working families. He's been trying to prevent this Republican Congress from raising taxes on the lowest-paid, hardest-working American families, which is a feature of their tax proposal. And the current enthusiasm for discussions of a flat tax seems to be largely on the Republican side, in which all comers to the debate are taking different positions and shooting at each other at the moment.
And you've heard our -- you know the President's thinking on a flat tax. He wants true tax reform. He wants to simplify the tax code. We've made enormous progress in the last three years in that direction. We'll continue to do so and continue to look for ways to both reform and simplify the tax code. But the current debate ain't it, as you would judge from the very critical comments that the Republicans are making about each other when it comes to that idea.
Q Mike, you've outlined some initiatives that he's going to take which may not involve action but may involve calls for community action. Can you give us some more guidance on what he's talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll do that more -- look, this is Monday, the speech is tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. as you know. I understand you all have to write about it and cover it and get into it, and we will be providing briefings as we go into the day tomorrow so we can move the story forward gently on a nice glide path that works up to the crescendo of 10:00 p.m., 10:30 p.m., 11:00 p.m. tomorrow night.
Q What time can we get an advanced text?
Q Yes, what about an advanced text?
MR. MCCURRY: An advanced text would be my idea of a proper launch, but it depends on what the pilot has in mind.
Q Is that what he said to Dole -- if you want an advanced text you're going to have to have someone else sitting at this desk? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I promised an advanced text last year and quickly learned I will never do that again. (Laughter.)
Q With Whitewater and the Travel Office continuing to be issues that are problematic for the White House and also raise a lot of questions among the American public, will the President in any way refer to those issues, would you imagine, in this speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are not problematic issues for the White House.
Q Wait, you're saying that the Travel Office and Whitewater are not problematic issues for the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because the President and the First Lady are fully cooperating and fully confident that the truth will prevail and their very clear answers to questions will be accepted. So I don't believe there's any real interest in going at any length on those subjects because it's not clear that they're even that central in the thinking of the American people.
Q Mike, on that subject, could you just explain why the First Lady decided to provide written answers instead of offering to go up and testify as some people have suggested?
MR. MCCURRY: I can quote from the letter than Mr. Kendall sent, which I assume you've got a copy of it. It makes it very clear that she -- as she's said over and over again -- wants to cooperate, wants to continue to cooperate. She has in the past presented written answers to questions that the committee has, and knowing from Chairman D'Amato's volubility that he seems to have additional questions, she found it useful to suggest that she be prepared to answer additional questions.
Q Right, and I'm asking why she decided to do it on paper instead of in person?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that she has suggested that she wouldn't necessarily do it in person; she's offered here to answer written questions and we'll see where the story goes from there. But her willingness to cooperate has not wavered once, nor is it likely to waiver in the future.
Q So I just want to make this clear, because it's surprising to me that you would say that this is not problematic for the White House. You're saying that they just feel that it's not an issue that the American public is much concerned about, and so they don't -- it's something that doesn't need to be addressed?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's just not problematic; I mean, it's pretty straightforward. People have questions, they provide the answers, then people have more questions, new questions; they provide the answers, and it's -- we're, I think, probably going to see the Senate vote to have a permanent Whitewater committee, and that's just going to be a fact of life, so we will deal with it.
Q They haven't provided any answer on where the missing files came from.
MR. MCCURRY: They can't answer questions they don't know the answers to.
Q You said it's a fact of life that there's probably going to be a permanent Whitewater committee. There are reports that the Senate Democrats are going to try to filibuster to keep it from getting additional funds. Does the President support the effort to kill the commitee by denying it funds? Has he talked to the leadership about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't even tell you whether the President's aware of that. I'll have to check into it.
Q This leadership repudiation that you wanted Armey's comments, does it have to be public, and do you plan any phone calls today between the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the important thing is for them to get on with business. If they go on ahead and pass a clean debt ceiling, it will be pretty clear that they disagree with Mr. Armey, and that's good enough for us.
Q But are you looking for clarification in the meantime?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's pretty clear that we want to make -- we want to know that the Speaker and the Majority Leader don't share Mr. Armey's views; that's the whole point. We don't believe they do, and we think they will make that clear one way or another, either though their action, their leadership or through something that they say.
Q Mike, where do things stand now between the White House and the Governor of Pennsylvania?
MR. MCCURRY: He's -- well, I just talked to James Lee Witt a short while ago. He's up there doing good work today, as FEMA has been doing good work throughout the recent snow and flooding disasters. They have, I believe, just in the last several hours declared an additional 19 counties in Pennsylvania covered under the disaster declarations so that individuals will be eligible for assistance.
The President has been getting good summaries from emergency management officials on how the disaster effort is going. They've been -- FEMA has, one way or the other, been on the job with Pennsylvania state officials since shortly after the snowfall began on January 7th. The President, as you know, had declared a snow disaster, which allowed FEMA to help out with certain clearing of emergency snow routes and intersections and access roads that were critical for emergency vehicles.
This is something new, by the way. Snow clearing is largely a local and state jurisdiction responsibility, but we found because of the size of the Blizzard of '96 that there was a proper role for federal officials, but that doesn't automatically translate into the same type of role once the snow melts and you're dealing with a flood emergency.
The kind of disaster assistance provided, through FEMA and through the federal government requires that same county-by-county assessment that has to be done when there is a major disaster declaration and FEMA officials were, throughout the last weekend, in almost constant contact with the state emergency office. FEMA's representative on site took a helicopter tour of flood damage with the state's emergency director on Saturday. We gave them some assistance as to how to construct and develop their documentation so they could present a valid and formal disaster request, which the Governor did properly on Sunday morning; and because we've been working closely with the state, we were able very quickly to turn that around, and within three hours the President issued a disaster declaration yesterday, as you know. So the system worked well.
Q What do you make of the Governor's critical comments?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I had some choice words for the Governor earlier to let him know and let his people know that the federal government responded in a very clear, efficient and forceful manner, because we understood the need that the people of Pennsylvania faced. And the Governor, who was very critical of the President and the administration, should have known better, because we had people on the scene. We were working well with his state government, and we reminded the Governor a little earlier today that we don't take well to criticism that is not well-founded. The important thing now is to move on and to do the work that James Lee Witt is doing today. The Director of FEMA will be meeting in a short while with the Governor, and I expect that will be a very amicable meeting.
Q How do you know?
Q Does the President have any plans to go fly over the flooded area or --
MR. MCCURRY: He's awaiting -- we've gotten some preliminary assessments from both Secretary Pena and from Mr. Witt. We're very satisfied with the progress that's being made to address the needs of the people of Pennsylvania. We're also beginning to look at some of the disaster information coming in from other states as well. And the President will monitor the situation very closely, as he has been. And if it seems important for him to go tour the damage to ensure that the federal response is 100 percent, he, of course, will do so, but there are no plans for that immediately.
Q Do you have any reaction to the article in the National Review, William Buckley's article, that it's time now to take another look at legalizing drugs?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a declaration of defeat for those who would otherwise be supporters of the President's strong effort to combat drugs. The President thinks it's time for an offensive in the war on drugs, and not time for surrender. And legalization is, one way or another surrender, saying we can't fight drugs. And the President believes it sends the wrong message and that the right thing to do is to make it clear that we are going to end the ravage of drugs in our communities. He will have more to say on that subject tomorrow night.
Q And I understand also that the President is about to nominate or name General McCaffrey to be the new drug policy director?
MR. MCCURRY: Stay tuned.
Q Over the weekend, Vice President Gore said it was time to have a national debate on a consumption tax to replace the current tax code. Is this something that the President --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, who said that?
Q The Vice President.
MR. MCCURRY: Vice President of the United States? I once worked for a brilliant man who ran for president and made that part of his platform.
Q It wasn't the current president.
MR. MCCURRY: And I don't believe the Vice President was suggesting that he intended to run on that same platform. No, the Vice President suggested, as we have been suggesting, that there are ideas in the tax reform debate that need to be examined. And given the share of revenue that some other industrialized countries draw from a consumption-based tax as opposed to an income tax, that's an idea that deserves some academic review. But it's a long way away from saying that we are going to move forthwith into any type of sales tax or consumption tax.
Q The Vice President misspoke --
MR. MCCURRY: No, he said -- all he said was it was an idea that ought to be looked at, and that --
Q But he said --
MR. MCCURRY: All kinds of ideas ought to be looked at.
Q -- saying that it's not time right now.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans within the administration to propose a consumption tax.
Q Two questions in the foreign field. The Israeli Foreign Minister -- is there any coverage of that?
MR. MCCURRY: We are going to probably have some type of photo opportunity. Haven't we decided to do that? We'll see.
Q Is the President --
Q A pool?
Q -- act on the abortion bill today?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Is the President going to act on the abortion bill today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe he has any plans to do that today, no. I don't -- have we even received the H.R. 1133? Have we received that bill yet?
Q Can I follow up on abortion?
Q I have --
Q -- or is he just going to try to ignore the issue? Is there anything at all about the abortion --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I indicated earlier -- I got asked earlier today and I said the President hopes that those here today on the anniversary of the decision of Roe v. Wade respect his right to have his opinion, which is that abortion should be a decision between a woman involving her own conscience, her consultations with her doctor and her own faith.
The President supports a constitutional guarantee of a woman's right to choose, and he simultaneously believes that legal abortion should be rare and should be safe. And he has said so on numerous occasions and continues to hold that view. But he respects the others, the right of others in good moral conscience to have dissimilar views. He hopes, however, that the discussion of these issues can occur in an environment in which reason and good judgment prevail, as opposed to intimidations, threats and violence.
Q The other constitutional requirement of the President in the next 10 days is to submit, odd though it seems, a '97 fiscal budget. Exactly how much of a budget are you guys going to submit? Is it going to be keyed off of the Daschle-revamped CBO 7 -- what are you plans right now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I -- first of all, I believe it's a statutory requirement. I don't think it's a constitutional requirement. But he will submit a budget by the statutory deadline, which I believe this year is February 5th. It will build on the proposals that have been shared in the budget deliberations. Obviously the President hopes, because he's an optimistic fellow, that we have a budget agreement that we can build off of prior to February 5th. That would be the best of all worlds: for the President and the Congress to agree on a track of spending that takes us to a balanced budget by the year 2002, so that can be locked in and we can build a budget submission to the Congress off of that baseline.
But that may not be possible. If it's not possible, we will do the best we can under the circumstances because there will not be, in effect, a real FY '96 budget to build off of. But the budget will reflect the President's commitment to balance the budget in seven years using Congressional Budget Office assumptions about spending levels and budget.
Q Are you going to do full line-by-lines and all that sort of stuff?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be impossible, lacking an FY '96 budget, and given the uncertainty that budget planners now have, to produce that big stack of documents that you're used to seeing. Because if you look through those documents, most of them deal with what the authorized levels are for spending, the appropriated levels, and there are large parts of those government
Q Well, both levels are in CRs.
MR. MCCURRY: that you can't build that judgment off of, and no guarantee that by February 5th that you've got baseline spending that you can guarantee, or at what level. We may have 75 percent funding. We don't know what we'll be facing, but they'll do the best they can. That will reflect the President's priorities and the commitments he's made to the Congress as to how do you reach --
Q There's a suggestion that the White House does not want to be responsible for putting on paper the levels of, for example, domestic spending that would be necessary, since that's where you take a large cut against CBO 7? Will you detail that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know that it is possible to do that, lacking an FY '96 budget. I just, as a technical question, I'll have to ask the OMB folks. I don't think you can do a line-by-line budget, lacking appropriated levels.
Q It's been several years where the government has run almost all year on CR's. In fact, full budgets have not --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the last --
Q -- are not the rule, and they always managed to -
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the last time they had the situation it substantially impacted the following year's submission by the President of a fiscal year budget, if I'm not mistaken. My recollection is that it had a substantial impact on the ability of OMB to draft a budget proposal.
Q It's been reported that the President plans an official announcement of candidacy around April; is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe he's put enough thinking as to the question of timing to justify a statement that he has a plan. There's been some rough discussions about when are we likely going to go -- look, the issue is at what point are we going to see a full-formed presidential campaign underway. And I believe it's accurate to say the President doesn't believe that's going to happen until the Republicans pull out of their very divisive, very angry, very emotional primary fight, and that's probably the earliest that we think that would happen would be about April Fool's Day, appropriately enough. Yes.
Q A question on Bosnia. We have Leighton Smith saying: no way, never, never will we guard these mass graves or ensure the security of war crimes investigators and the British Foreign Minister is saying they should. And now today, Perry and Portillo put out kind of "bag" comments and I'm wondering if you could clarify what exactly NATO is going to do in terms of this.
MR. MCCURRY: This has now all been overtaken by a very encouraging development and that is the meeting that the chief prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal, Mr. Goldstone had today with Admiral Smith, the Commander for the International Force.
They have now made it clear that they agree on the modalities -- that is, the methods for coordinating the respective missions that both the International War Crimes Tribunal and the International Force have pursuant to the decision-making by the North Atlantic Council of the United Nations.
The IFOR Forces, that is, the NATO forces in Bosnia will be able to provide appropriate assistance at the appropriate time to ensure area security for tribunal teams that are carrying out investigations at mass grave sites. And Mr. Goldstone has indicated that he is very satisfied with the level of support that's going to be offered by NATO forces as conveyed by Admiral Smith, that he is aware of some of the limits of the mandate of available resources, but that at the same time, the prosecutor also requested that NATO avoid public discussions about some of the things they're going to do related to the tribunal request they will submit to NATO, because that will ensure greater security for some of those sites.
So the important development today has been a meeting, obviously, between the prosecutor for the War Crimes Tribunal and the commander of the NATO troops in the theater, and they've been able to work out an agreement to the satisfaction of both that will allow the important work to continue or prosecuting those response for these heinous crimes, and simultaneously allow the NATO forces to carry out their very important mission of implementing and enforcing the Dayton Accords. And the United States -- the President is very encouraged by that development, and so, too, are others who are addressing that in our government today.
Q Are the Russians balking at carrying out their treaty commitments and so forth, pulling back now from -- on proliferation and --
MR. MCCURRY: No, they are -- they are -- we are in a period where they clearly are grappling with their own role in the world and how they will conduct a foreign policy that is consistent with the views of their government, the views of their President and their political realities that the Russian government finds itself in. We understand that.
We, too, have to put our national security interests first and U.S. interests first as we deal with others, including the Russian Federation. But the spirit of cooperation that exists as we work through difficult issues we believe prevails in our bilateral relationship. And we are encouraged by the coming visit of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to the United States. He will -- they will have a meeting of the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission at the end of this month, and that will continue the work of cooperation on many very important bilateral issues that defines the nature of the partnership that we enjoy with the Russian Federation.
Q So you don't see any pulling back or any kind of a hold now on --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't -- I believe it's safe to say that in the inevitable pathway forward towards democracy and market reform, one can see a dynamic in the Russian Federation in which they take different tacks along that path. And they are going through a certain type of tack now. We just hope that the progress towards the goal that we desire, which is peaceful cooperation continues.
Q I'm talking about nuclear -- the nuclear treaty.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct as it relates to START II, we hope a START III and ratification of both by the parliaments of both.
Q Back on politics just for a moment. Does the President plan to make campaign appearances between now and April Fool's Day?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he'll have -- we will have political events on his calendar from time to time when he's out -- he has been -- he's been doing that already. He raises money from time to time. He'll be out in states like Iowa and New Hampshire, we hope, prior to events that are on the primary calendar in those states. But the issue is whether or not the President sees himself in campaign mode, and the President doesn't. And I think that's in part because it's not intellectually challenging to think about a campaign in which there's no opponent. And he has, at the moment, no opponent.
Q Do you reject, then, the analysis that suggests that part of the function of the State of the Union Address tomorrow night is in essence a kickoff -- campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I don't -- you guys are the analysts and you can write about it and think about it whatever you wish. When he describes for the country what he thinks the big challenges are that face this country in the 21st century and says, here's where we need to go as a country in order to meet those challenges; here's how we can pull together as a community and make life better for the American people, he obviously is using one of the primary features of the presidency, which is the bully pulpit to try to rally a country. And that's certainly what a good candidate does in a campaign; that's what a President does as he seeks reelection.
And so you will judge for yourselves that -- you know, there's a difference in my mind between electoral politics, campaign politics, making a choice between candidate X and candidate Y apparent to voters, and rallying forth a country, presenting your vision, talking about where the country is going to head.
Now, some people will suggest here, and I can't quibble with it too much that there's a political element to that, but that's not what -- you know, the purpose of the speech is not for him to go out and clobber some Republican candidate over the head, because we wouldn't know which way to clobber.
Q But does he look forward to Bob Dole's response?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. The Senate Majority Leader will no doubt have a constructive response that might even, in fact, agree with some things that the President has said.
Q Mike, you said the President, tomorrow, in his brief discussion of the budget, will make clear his commitment to a balanced budget, including his FY '97 upcoming proposals. Would that also extend to whatever budget proposals he may present in the second term? In other words, that he would continue towards a 2002 balance?
MR. MCCURRY: Will it continue until 2002 in balance on the track that he lays out and whatever submission he has?
Q Let's just suppose he gets a second term. Would he commit now to pursue the balanced budget goal in 2002 as long as he's President?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he believes as long as he is President, having worked hard, struggled hard with nary a bit of support from the Republicans, I might add, to get the deficit reduction we've achieved to now -- most Americans don't know that we've cut the deficit in half based on the decisions we took in 1993 -- so having done that, that's important work that he, in fact paid a price for, one could argue, so he wants to continue the progress and continue to move forward. And the goal of finishing the job and getting to a balanced budget by a time-certain will remain a critical part of his presidency.
Q I also have a question on the natural disasters. Should this be an object lesson for the Republicans that sometimes a national safety net, a national entitlement, is important in case of human disasters; that if you had FEMA funds block-granted, Pennsylvania might be in far worse shape than it is today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's not an automatic entitlement to assistance, which was the issue today that we got into with the governor of Pennsylvania. There is a need for documentation because all the taxpayers of the United States contribute funding to provide disaster relief. That's why the federal government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency is particularly precise when it assesses what the damage is and why we need documentation, why we need to work with states to get the right kind of assessments to say here's what the documented needs are, they clearly qualify for assistance under federal law, and we can properly act on a request from a governor. That's why we work with a state like Pennsylvania in advance of a request, to make sure that we've got the right kind of an assessment done. But that's a case where I think you can accurately say it's based on need, it's based on human hardship, and it's not necessarily and entitlement, it's one that is judged.
But it's a reminder -- I guess another way saying it --is how important the federal government is in addressing the needs of the American people. And this debate we're in right now on the federal government is in part a question of what role the federal government plays. And we seen in Pennsylvania, see in other states, where it can play a powerful role at helping to meet the needs of people who are facing hardship -- is how important the federal government is in addressing the needs of the American people. And this debate we're in right now on the federal government is in part a question of what role the federal government plays. And we see in Pennsylvania, see in other states where it can play a powerful role in helping to meet the needs of people who are facing hardship. That's true in a lot of different ways.
Q Is the President going to weave this into his speech?
MR. MCCURRY: That general theme of what the federal government can and cannot do, what we can expect of the American people and what we need of them as opposed to what we can offer from government will be a theme in the speech.
Q Is he going to have a good word for federal workers?
MR. MCCURRY: He will, and he will, you know, both compliment the work of the federal work force and then also have some things to say about the federal government.
Q Are you going to brief tomorrow?
Q Mike, is he going to devote much time --
MR. MCCURRY: At the rate I'm going, I'll still be here tomorrow. (Laughter.)
Q Is he going to devote much time to the crime issue tomorrow night, and will he have new initiatives --
MR. MCCURRY: He will, as I said Friday at great length and will repeat here today, on the issues of crime, on the issue of education, on the issue of economic empowerment and keeping economic growth strong, those are all issues that you can expect the President to address at some detail. He will talk about the personal responsibility Americans have to accept some change in their own lives as we work together as a community to address the problems we face. He'll describe some limits that exist for government, because government, in Bill Clinton's view, should be limited and should be reinvented to properly address the needs of the nation. And we'll be there for at least an hour, I guess.
All right, listen, we've got -- we need to gather up a pool to go see the President before his meeting with Foreign Minister Barak of Israel.
Q Mike, was that a serious estimate of the time -- you said they would be there at least an hour?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just slipped that in to see if you were still awake.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:58 P.M. EST