THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: All right, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to a new week at the White House. Thrills, chills, spills -- and, will the Press Secretary step in it? (Laughter.) Main reason we're here today.
Q How about those pregnant teenage entrepreneurs? (Laughter.) He tried to put the two together this morning.
MR. MCCURRY: And we go now to our first question of the day.
Q Start with the news.
MR. MCCURRY: Start with the news. Would anyone like to -- start with the news.
Q Do you have any? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: We already made it.
Q Is there anything new on the budget?
Q Who wrote "Primary Colors"?
MR. MCCURRY: Who wrote "Primary Colors"? I haven't read it yet.
Q Who does the President think wrote "Primary Colors"?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Someone asked the President if he recognized any of the characters in the book; he said, yes, George. (Laughter.)
Q Has the President read the book?
Q Bright guy.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I think he was joking. I don't know that he's had time to read novels.
Mr. Panetta, who is calmly at work in his office, reports to me that there are no meetings scheduled on budget-related issues. The Chief of Staff will be gathering with some of the administration folks who are working on debt ceiling issues later this afternoon to see if there's ways we can press forward in getting Congress to do a simple, straightforward, clean extension of the debt ceiling which remains the White House's priority and preference.
In coming days, I would not be surprised if the President reaches out to other groups that have participated in the budget process. You'll know that last week, we met with Senator Breaux, Senator Chafee and a group of bipartisan moderates in the Senate who have been interested in trying to achieve an historic balanced budget agreement, and I expect we will reach out to members of the House as well in coming days to try to keep those discussions going.
The President remains firmly convinced that it's within our grasp is an historic balanced budget agreement that could balance the budget within seven years according to the estimates judged by the Congressional Budget Office, and he will pursue whatever ideas and discussions can help us reach that end.
Q Well, does he think that by chipping away at different programs and so forth that the Republicans are going to achieve their goal anyway?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have --
Q If there's a month-to-month extension and each time they take away more and more funding of programs they don't like?
MR. MCCURRY: The President thus far has successfully prevented the Republican Majority from striking at the harder programs that the President feels are important to the American people. The President has laid out clearly his priorities in this budget debate and the protection of Medicare and Medicaid, protection of our nation's environment, making investments in education and technology that will help to grow the economy in the future and protecting hard-working, lower-income working families from tax increases has been among the President's priorities, and those things have not happened.
Q Well, he's had to give a lot on education.
MR. MCCURRY: And the President is fairly confident they won't happen. Now, at the same time we have faced across the federal government cutbacks in funding, and continuing resolutions that are not sufficient in making the kinds of hard choices that you need to make if you want to both balance the budget and also make sure that the government continues to function in an efficient and responsible way.
Q Well, what is he telling agency and department heads who are facing layoffs if they don't get -- if you don't reach some sort of budget deal?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, in his discussions with Cabinet officers have said we live in a very tough environment in which we have a very adamant majority in the Congress that continues to try to accomplish its larger budget objectives.
So that's made it necessary to live in this extraordinary situation in which we're well into the fiscal year without full appropriations for some agencies. But at the same time, the President has been working, and we will continue to work the appropriations process itself to see if we can't get agreement on measures that will fund government, provide full appropriations and do so in a way that is acceptable both to the President and to the Congress.
Q Of the vetoed or not-passed appropriations bills, is there any one or two you can point to as a possibility for some kind of a deal?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to review with OMB where they are in doing staff-level discussions with some of those appropriations. But you could see, given some of the agreements that have occurred or some of the -- I wouldn't say "agreements," I'd say "consensus" that has occurred during the course of the budget deliberations, it might be possible to fashion some of these appropriations bills in a way that would be satisfactory both to the President and to the Congress.
The President is willing to consider that, but the President doesn't want to give up on the opportunity we have now to achieve a seven-year agreement that would balance the budget.
Q Mike, is it still the plan next Monday to put out only about a 20-page document on FY '97?
MR. MCCURRY: My latest information from the Office of Management and Budget is they will have a structural outline for a budget that takes into account the budget deliberations to date and anything that happens between now and then, and then they'll be able to produce a somewhat more detailed budget submission sometime during the month of March. That's the latest information from Larry Haas over there.
Q Will you have, though, fairly extensive briefings on Monday, as you usually do, or will you scale back?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this will not be -- I will caucus with OMB officials, Dr. Rivlin and others there and see what they think they can make available. It will be an extraordinary year because they won't be able to do the customary release of the budget documents the way we normally would do it, the way President Clinton was able to do it when we were working with a Democratic Congress and meeting all the budget deadlines on time. That's obviously not possible to do because we haven't completed necessary budget work in this current session of Congress.
Q But I gather you will have departmental breakdowns, functional breakdowns, at least to that extent?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not anticipating those in connection with the February 5th submission. I am hoping that those will be made available in greater detail over time as OMB works with the agencies based on whatever understanding of a common baseline they can develop. Part of the problem here is with no FY '96 budget in place for some portions of the budget, it's hard to build a FY '97 budget submission off of a nonexistent track for some of those categories.
Q So what are you actually submitting? Just a broad outline?
MR. MCCURRY: We will submit an outline that summarizes the President's presentations to the budget negotiators and discusses in some outline form the President's priorities and his proposals to balance the budget. We will then follow that up in March, my understanding is, with a more detailed submission.
Q Mike, is the President still interested in this whole -- when you talk about wanting a clean debt ceiling extension, is he still interested in this whole downpayment scenario or some version thereof, or are there any active or passive or --
MR. MCCURRY: He promised the Speaker he would look at that idea, but that idea hasn't taken on any more substantive detail. In fact, there have been statements at odds with each other from various elements of the Republican leadership. We're not sure what would be in such a downpayment.
Now, the one thing we've heard is something that causes the President great concern, which is the bulk of the savings proposed in such a downpayment would come out of social programs that help the neediest Americans.
Also, there have been contradictory statements from Republican leaders saying they might want to graft different types of tax cuts, either capital gains or portions of the child care credit onto such a downpayment which, of course, would erode the value of any budget savings that could be achieved.
So as time goes on and as there has been a lack of detail from any authoritative Republican leader on that idea, I'd have to say that the White House grows increasingly skeptical that that's an idea that will work. It seems far preferable, in the President's view, to do what he has suggested from the State of the Union and prior and after -- go back to those elements of a budget proposal that are in common in the positions that have been reflected in these negotiations, see what's on the table, and see if we can achieve well over $700 billion in savings that would balance the budget in a time-certain.
Q Yes, Mike, to follow on that, some of the Republicans are talking about putting that on the debt ceiling bill as an amendment. Would that be unacceptable to you?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it would be very difficult to do and is contrary to the President's professed desire to see a clean, straightforward extension of the debt ceiling. That's just a piece of business that has to get done. I guess we were mildly encouraged to hear Senator Lott yesterday say that he thought that they were going to just have to get that done; it was a certainty they would get it done, that they might think of adding something on, although he didn't seem to suggest that they would try to add any larger budget package onto such a measure.
The President wants the Congress to stay here, get that worked on and not leave town until they've got an extension of the debt ceiling because it would be very dangerous to wait until February 26th to make the necessary arrangements to extend the debt ceiling. That's the day in which the federal government will have to send out Social Security checks. And if there's no agreement in place, those checks are going to bounce.
Q Well, Mike, to follow up on that, Senator Lott said yesterday that he thought they would wait until the week of the 26th to take this up. Do you think that's waiting too late?
MR. MCCURRY: The President would prefer that they get that necessary piece of business done now.
Q Mike, assuming that a big budget deal could still be in the offing, is it fair to predict that any kind of capital gains tax cut that the President might agree to, that the Republicans in turn would have to agree to raising the minimum wage?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to try to negotiate on an agreement here, but I would tell you that the President has always in the discussions he's had with the Republican leadership reaffirmed the importance of raising the minimum wage; he did so again in his State of the Union Address. And every time there's been a discussion of capital gains, it's been in the context of -- there's a preferable way to target tax relief, which is the way the President has proposed. But if you're insisting on the idea of doing it through some types of reductions in capital gains, here's a way we might approach that.
But those discussions have never taken the point where you could see one-for-one trade for minimum wage. And the President would be delighted to see some agreement to raise the minimum wage, but I doubt it's going to come in this context. And if it complicates the necessary effort to extend the debt ceiling, the President wouldn't want to see it come in that context; he'd rather see it in the context of an overall balanced budget agreement.
Q There's a new poll in Iowa that shows that Mr. Forbes has pulled even -- actually he's pulled slightly ahead of Senator Dole.
MR. MCCURRY: Do tell? Tell us more about it.
Q Well, that's exactly what the poll says.
MR. MCCURRY: Tell us more about that poll.
Q What does the White House think is behind that, and does it make the President more interested in Forbes's idea of a flat tax?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know enough about the Republican primary process in Iowa to know why one candidate would be faltering and why another candidate would be gaining. As to the specific question on flat tax, the President is quite clear in what he thinks about that; and we've heard, frankly, a lot of the Republican presidential candidates say it as well -- that the flat tax under most forms in which it's been suggested, it represents an unwarranted tax reduction for the very wealthy, paid for by very large tax increases on the middle class. That's a very bad idea.
But that, so far, is not an idea that has gained any support within the Republican Caucus within the Congress. They have not proposed that they have come forward with anything. They've come forward with sort of a description of a flat tax, as proposed by former Secretary Kemp's Commission. But it really has not been advanced formally in a legislative way that the President is required to deal with it.
It seems right now to be -- have more to do with intramural Republican politics than with sound policymaking.
Q What are his messages going to be in New Hampshire on Friday? And are there any plans to bring up flat tax --
MR. MCCURRY: The President will, as he did in Louisville after the State of the Union, will continue to talk about those things that he brought before the nation in his State of the Union Address, and be talking about those important ways in which Americans can come together in their communities to meet the challenges that exist for the 21st century. And a number of those will be on his mind as he goes to New Hampshire.
Q Mike, can you tell us about Dr. Foster's salary and any staffing that he'll have and the expense --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He will be unpaid as an expert advisor to the President. He will do some travel and related work that will be paid for out of existing funds at the Department of Health and Human Services. They will maintain an office for him there, but he will draw on existing HHS staff for his support.
I should say he's obviously a part-time special advisor on the question of teen pregnancy, because he will retain some of his -- he'll retain his faculty position at Meharry College and he will continue to be a professor of obstetrics and gynecology there. But in the role that he will play for us within the administration, serving both the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the President, he'll be an unpaid advisor.
Q Does he have a travel budget?
MR. MCCURRY: He will have a budget that will be developed. That hasn't been formally structured yet. It's mostly designed to cover any travel related expenses. If the President and the Secretary want him to, in connection with his work, see some specific community programs -- like the ones the President heard about today as he met with some of these extraordinary community leaders -- Dr. Foster will be in a position to do that type of work.
Q Mike, in the discussion that the President had with President Yeltsin on Friday, the issue of NATO expansion came up. President Yeltsin, I believe, took it up. Can you tell us something about the substance and the tone of that particular issue --
MR. MCCURRY: President Yeltsin indicated that he has some very strong views that he would convey in a subsequent communication to President Clinton. That's identical to what President Yeltsin said when he spoke to the matter publicly. And we will certainly wait to see any communication of that nature, because that's a very vital subject. Our views of NATO expansion have been drawn very carefully to match what the Alliance of Sixteen agree should be the work program for this year.
There's nothing that has changed about that work program, or about the timing of discussions related to the when and the how of consideration by the current Partners for Peace for the formal briefing they will receive on some of the prerequisites for expansion.
One thing we know for certain is that we will continue to consult very, very closely with the Russian Federation on this subject because we believe it is not only in the national security interests of the United States and our European allies to address this question carefully, precisely and prudently, but it is also in the long term within the national security interests of the Russian Federation.
Q Back on Dr. Foster, he seemed almost to be a figure in the background very much today, he didn't have much to say. The Secretary of HHS kind of pushed him out to have his picture taken --
Q Pulled him in and then he went away. What was that all about?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he had a very -- I was in the Oval Office with Dr. Foster and the President prior to there and they were having a very vigorous conversation about ways in which we need to pursue some of the ideas that came up in the meeting the President had this morning. The President is very excited about his involvement, delighted that someone with his very impressive record and his experience on the street in dealing with this problem up close and personal will be available to do this type of work.
Q Will he be taking an active role? I mean, will he be out speaking and being on the -- being an advocate for this? Will he be --
MR. MCCURRY: It's very likely -- remember, he will be, as the President describes it, his liaison to this national campaign. Now, we hope that the most visible part of this effort will be the impressive board of directors and the efforts that they launch publicly to address this question and to remind people of the need for responsibility and what they can do, how they can handle all the challenges that young women and young men face as they deal with very difficult personal issues.
But at the same time, I think that Dr. Foster will be in a position to judge, as the President described it, what the government's role can be as it promotes this type of private sector involvement. And that will be vigorous, it will be public, and I imagine it will take Dr. Foster a lot of places --
Q Will it be public, though? She's really asking, are you trying to hide him?
MR. MCCURRY: No, absolutely not. He stood out there in the Roosevelt Room today and was very prominently featured in this meeting and he had a lot to contribute during this meeting.
Q Did the President -- Rita, you want to follow-up on --
Q No, I just was going to say that -- the part where he appears to have been more active was when there weren't television cameras around and there weren't a lot of us there to observe him.
MR. MCCURRY: I just couldn't more strongly disagree. He was there, stood with the President during the presentation by the Secretary, and was very actively engaged publicly and privately.
Q Why didn't he speak?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Maybe it was an oversight on our part.
Q New subject.
Q One more question on that. Why -- why did it take a whole year to get to this teenage pregnancy thing going?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because -- what was laid before you today was the result of a year's worth of work. After a year, they have now put together a very impressive group that you have now seen publicly announced. They have located the private sector funding necessary to move this campaign forward so that U.S. taxpayers will not finance it directly. And they've got a program of action for the coming year that they've mapped out very carefully and that they hopefully will ratify as the board of directors meets next month.
So what we've done quietly behind the scenes, in the course of last year is follow through on the President's commitment, structured the effort to make sure it will work, enlist the support of a very impressive group of prominent Americans who wanted to know that this was real for them to be involved. They met, many of them, here back in October and structured the initial outline of this campaign that we'll now conduct.
So, in a sense, this is a good progress report to the country on what we've done over the past year and now the very exciting challenge to carry out the campaign that the President talked about today.
Q What is the extent of the government's role with the CDC on fighting teen pregnancy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the CDC right now -- and one of the things we feel strongly about doing is to find those things that work, such as the examples of some of the community programs we saw today, and replicate that success. What we know is the government shouldn't try to find one cure-all, one answer that fits every situation. We've got to go to the communities, see what is, in fact, working and then figure out how to duplicate that success.
The CDC, through its Community Coalition Partnership program, awards grants that help individual communities get similar types of programs started. They awarded about $6.5 million worth of grants last year. They expect that -- roughly that same level of activity, depending on how they're affected by the budget picture. And that's the proper role for government, not to come in and try to solve every single problem but to find ways to encourage leaders in the community to come together and to address the challenge head on.
Q Mike, did the President and First Lady feel she got a fair hearing on Friday and do they expect she has finished with the grand jury or may she be recalled?
MR. MCCURRY: They certainly hope that she's done, but the First Lady will continue to cooperate and they both felt very good about the day.
Q Anything further -- felt very good about the day because it was over or because what?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably a combination of all the above.
Q On Chirac's visit, will you try to ask him whether this is the end of this series of French tests? Do you have any assurances from them or do you have any status update from him?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the issue of our work together as two governments to achieve a comprehensive test ban will certainly be part of the agenda. Our views of their testing are well known and have not changed. The important work that lies ahead is to achieve during this calendar year the promulgation negotiation of a comprehensive test ban.
Q Can I follow up? It's still up in the air whether he's going to do a seventh test. Do you have any update from him, or will you ask him?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it would be more proper that you address that question to the government of France.
Q Mike, did the Special Counsel advise the First Lady one way or the other whether her presence would be expected again or is it just standby, or --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll refer that to Mr. Fabiani. I believe he dealt with all your news organizations and answered that on Friday.
Q Has the administration completed its work on how to either nullify or mitigate the HIV provision in the DOD authorization bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had -- that is a lamentable addition to a bill that's otherwise necessary to keep our nation's defense strong. Many of the most grievous provisions that caused the President's veto were fixed, but that one was not. It was altered somewhat to address the question of benefits that would be available to those who were discharged. So the White House has continued very urgent consultations with both the Justice Department and the Department of Defense on how we can either amend or excise that language in some future piece of legislation. The President doesn't believe it should be in the defense authorization bill and will look for a way to try to take it out prior to the effective date in June.
Q Is that still under consideration, then, what your definitive strategy is going to be --
MR. MCCURRY: They are scoring various options on how they can deal with that both legally and perhaps legislatively.
Q And do you have any kind of time estimate as to when that work will be completed?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a very urgent matter to the President that they address it, because the President doesn't want people to face that discharge; and they hope to do that prior to the June effective date.
Q And when does the President sign that bill?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe it has arrived yet here, so I can't predict.
Q Chernomyrdin indicated that there may be some revisions in the reforms that they're undertaking in Russia now because I guess there's a popular demand for some of the socialistic benefits that they had before, retirement benefits and so forth. Are you aware of that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have known and have seen various modifications, course corrections, as the progress toward market economics and political reform occurs in Russia. At the same time, the important thrust of the comments that President Yeltsin made to President Clinton is the direction of that reform remains irreversible, as President Yeltsin indicated. How they get to the destination is something that we watch carefully, that we will see them make changes from time to time in the way they approach certain issues. Sometimes it will be a case maybe, to borrow an apt Russian observation, of two steps forward, one step back. But there will be corrections that move them in the direction of irreversible political and economic reform.
Q Will they be announcing any new business deals tomorrow, in particular anything to do with Boeing?
MR. MCCURRY: If they do, they'll be news tomorrow. Okay, goodbye.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:40 P.M. EST