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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                         (Louisville, Kentucky)
For Immediate Release                                   January 24, 1996
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY MICHAEL MCCURRY
                      Louisville Male High School
                          Louisville, Kentucky

3:20 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: The President has about a 10-minute phone call with the Speaker. He had attempted to reach the Speaker prior to departing this morning, but they could not connect because the Speaker was having a press conference that some of you probably saw.

Their call was obviously -- the President had reached out to the Speaker to review the debt ceiling situation. He also placed a call to Senator Dole. He has not yet connected to Senator Dole, but there has been staff contact with both the Majority Leader's Office and the Speaker's Office.

Q Mike, was this on Air Force One?

MR. MCCURRY: The President called from Air Force One, just after -- around 12:30 p.m., spoke for about 10 minutes. He clearly wanted to raise his concerns about the debt ceiling and to repeat, personally, his own concern expressed by the Treasury Secretary in his letter of several days ago about the likelihood of an exhaustion of measures to deal with the debt ceiling after the end of February. The President felt it was important to personally assure both the Speaker and the majority Leader that in the Treasury Secretary's analysis is right on the money.

In the course of the conversation, the Speaker raised some ideas that I believe he's now discussed somewhat in public. The President found those ideas intriguing. He agreed that there should be follow-up on those ideas. As a result, staffs from both the White House and the leadership, congressional leadership -- and I suspect that will be bipartisan leadership -- will meet tomorrow to go through several of the ideas that the Speaker expressed today and other options that might be available to deal with the debt ceiling and to look for ways in which we might achieve additional budget savings that would move the nation on a track towards the goal the President and the Congress share, and that is a balanced budget.

Q Mike, the Speaker said that there would be no balanced budget deal as long as Clinton is in office. Do you agree with that?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the President made that clear last night in his remarks. He does not agree with that.

Q What were the ideas, Mike?

Q Mike, you said that the President -- I'm sorry, were you answering another question?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, Todd, the ideas were talked about at some length by the Speaker. And since they're his ideas, he can express it well enough. The ideas essentially are since there are some in common between both balanced budget plans -- that is, the President's plan and the Congressional Majority's plan -- maybe there is a way to look for elements of that savings plan in common that would at least provide a downpayment on a deficit reduction that would be good for the economy and good for the American people.

Q You said --

Q That's a tax cut proponent that he's talking about?

MR. MCCURRY: There's a tax cut proponent in that. The President will look at that element of the Speaker's idea very carefully.

Q You characterized those as the Speaker's ideas, but the President talked a lot about this last night. Are you saying that this isn't partly the President's idea?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think it's certainly true that the President, by suggesting last night that they could look for elements of both plans in common and achieve a balanced budget agreement, put in motion the idea there might be some ways in which we could look for savings in common.

Q Will he attempt to talk to Dole again?

MR. MCCURRY: He will attempt to talk to Senator Dole. Senator Dole is traveling and, obviously, the President is traveling, and obviously the President is traveling, and there has been follow-up with Senator Dole's staff, and that makes it possible to say that there will be at least further staff-level contact tomorrow. That's consistent with the President's view that there's no likelihood of any summit-level meeting or meeting of the principals, but there is a likelihood there would be follow-up contact at the staff level to look at some of these ideas. And as I say, we will look for options.

I'll make it clear, the President's preference and his preferred option would be the one he suggested in the State of the Union Address last night to look for savings in common that would get us locked into the goal of a balanced budget by the year 2002. But we'll see what we can do as these discussions develop.

Q Is this in the same vein, though?

MR. MCCURRY: This is in the same vein -- looking for savings in common that can get true budget deficit reductions and move us to the goal of a balanced budget.

Q Mike, what do you think brought the Republicans to this -- apparent change in their strategy?

MR. MCCURRY: The commitment that they share with the President to achieve a balanced budget and to reduce spending and reduce the deficit.

Q -- (inaudible) -- is what the President said last night and what he's been saying for the past two or three weeks. We should do a deal on what we can do a deal on.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that it's different, but the President clearly spoke in a conciliatory spirit last night, encouraging Congress to work together. And today, the congressional majority indicated they were encouraged by that tone and we hope we will be able to work together to achieve budget deficit reductions.

Q Is this going to lead, Mike, to more talks between the President, the Speaker and the Majority Leader?

MR. MCCURRY: None planned at this time, and I don't believe that's likely at the moment.

Q Okay. Is it possible that the deal can be completed without those talks?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think anything is possible in the age of possibility.

Q Mike, does it appear that the Speaker is taking up the President on his offer to reach a deal on what you can reach now and putting all the rest off until the election? Is this what's going on here?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it would be preliminary to make that kind of judgment. They are looking for ways they can achieve budget savings leading to deficit reduction. Of course, the President hopes there will be savings sufficient to balance the budget in a time-certain.

Q Did the President speak also with Speaker Gingrich about a continued resolution -- CR?

MR. MCCURRY: They did not talk about that, but our understanding is that the congressional leadership has indicated they want to move expeditiously on a continuing resolution prior to Friday.

Q Mike, what are the differences in the approaches now, and how serious do you think -- you said it was in the same vein, but not exactly --

MR. MCCURRY: That remains to be seen. One of the purposes of the staff-level discussions tomorrow will be to explore really what the ideas are. We're not sure that we really know, and neither can we fully endorse anything they might put forward until we have a better idea. But, as I say, the President described himself as being intrigued with some of the ideas that the Speaker had.

Q Mike, do I understand that even though the Speaker says that he thinks the balanced budget talks -- the two sides are tremendously far apart -- those are his words -- the White House doesn't share that view?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I would say there are significant philosophical differences that remain, and the overall tenor of those differences has not changed.

Q Which idea was he intrigued with?

MR. MCCURRY: The Speaker had several ideas about how they might put together some accumulated savings that could at least make an acceptable debt ceiling extension possible. But I really believe it would be more proper for the Republican side to speak on that.

Okay, I've got to quit. Any absolutely urgent question?

Q Mike, has the President commented at all, do you have any sense of his reaction to Dole's reaction to him? Last night, the Dole speech.

MR. MCCURRY: Dole's? No. I mean, well, yes. We talked about it last night, Brit, and he was very happy with his speech. He did not see Dole's speech, so we told him about Dole's speech, and he shrugged and agreed with the analysis that probably had a lot more to do with the Republican primary than it did with a response to him.

Q -- Republican, I'm sorry -- had a lot more to do with --

MR. MCCURRY: Had a lot more to do with Republican primary politics than it did with a direct response to the President.

Q What did he mean by that, do you think?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know. Across the land, the hue and cry of too many liberal judges on the Court is not something that the general population worries about much.

Q Did he see the Dole --

MR. MCCURRY: In fact, if anything, the White House, as you know, has been criticized for not pointing -- has been criticized by liberals for not appointing liberals to the Court.

Q Mike, did he actually see Dole last night?

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, he did not review a tape or see it. He heard about the speech from those who watched at hand, read a little bit about it.

Q Did he have any comment?

MR. MCCURRY: He said it sounds like it had more to do with Republican primary politics than with him.

Q Could you describe the mood in the White House about it today? Was there sorrow that Senator Dole hadn't done better, or was --

MR. MCCURRY: We were more satisfied with the President's performance, satisfied that he had given a speech that really reflected what he wants to bring before the nation in the coming months, and we didn't worry too much about Senator Dole's response.

Q -- staff level tomorrow, it's about Panetta or Rubin, or just lower level staff?

MR. MCCURRY: More just staffers, like committee staffers and some of the White House OMB staffers.

Q What time will they go up to the Hill?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that they set a time.

Q Put them in a room with Gene Sperling and you're not going to let them out.

MR. MCCURRY: We're going to see who can outlast Gene Sperling. That's right.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 3:29 P.M. EST