THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Hello, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome back to work. Let me do a couple of things at the start, some housekeeping. First of all, I want to bring you up to date on the President's previously announced trip to Japan and Russia.
The President plans to depart Washington mid-afternoon on April 15th, arriving in Tokyo late in the afternoon on Tuesday, April 16th. We'll be announcing in connection with the Japanese government at a later date a full itinerary for the President's stop there and his program in Japan.
He'll depart Tokyo late in the afternoon on Thursday, April 18th, and he will arrive in St. Petersburg very late in the evening on April 18th. While the President is in St. Petersburg he'll have an opportunity to pay his respects to those who lost their lives and the families of those who lost their lives during World War II. Also I expect him to take in a little bit of Russian culture. I assume that means they're going to go to the Hermitage -- most likely.
So they will then leave late in the afternoon on April 19th from St. Petersburg for Moscow for the Nuclear Safety Summit that you're all aware of, and we'll be announcing the President's schedule once the government of France and the Russian Federation, the cohosts of the Nuclear Safety Summit, finalize the agenda and put that out.
The President's plans are then to stay in Moscow for the balance of that week, and on Sunday, April 21st, conduct bilateral meetings with President Yeltsin at the conclusion of the summit. So the return here to Washington would be most likely late in the day on Sunday, the 21st.
Q No Korea?
Q What's he doing between the 19th and the 21st?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll be -- that's the Nuclear Safety Summit in Moscow. The summit will -- the 19th and 20th is the summit, and then he's got bilateral meetings with President Yeltsin on the 21st.
Also, we'll have some paper available shortly that brings you up to date on the quick impact assistance package that the President announced for Bosnia back in December when we were in Paris for the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords.
You'll recall the President stressed how important it was to get a quick infusion of money into Bosnia that would begin to show the people of Bosnia that there are benefits for peace. And the impact package that we announced, which included some $85.6 million for some 36 projects, has now really started to bring about very positive benefits for the people of Bosnia. You'll see in the rundown that we have that there are 15 projects that have now been completed, 15 that are almost complete. And they have resulted in things like emergency food and clothing for the people of Bosnia, home heating, electricity assistance for those who are trying to get utilities restored, infrastructure repairs, employment-generating activities so people can see some transformation in the quality of economic life in Bosnia.
Again, this stresses the fact that while we have seen good compliance with the military terms of the Dayton Peace Accords, we also need to work to increase assistance for those civilian aspects to the Dayton Accords that will change the prospects for reconciliation and economic development in Bosnia.
And those are the two items that I had. Questions?
Q They had a meeting.
MR. MCCURRY: They had a meeting. The President, as you know, met for about an hour and 10 minutes with the Majority Leader, the Speaker, Mr. Armey, Senator Daschle, Congressman Gephardt. The President said it was a good, workmanlike meeting. They clearly want to get back to business and the President indicated he did, too. So the President said he was pleased with the results and hopes that it indicates there will be progress to come on the agenda that the President would like to see addressed.
The President opened the meeting -- well, I guess they talked a little basketball, at first. Congressman Gephardt, as they were sitting down, said that they were there to talk basketball, so they diverted a bit to talk about the NCAA play-offs. And there was a little speculation about the prospect of a Kansas-Arkansas match-up, which is not out of the realm of the possible.
Q Why are they so optimistic about this meeting? It doesn't sound like they achieved a thing. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Well, here's what they did. The President opened by saying -- repeating what you've already heard him say: Look, we've got to get serious about balancing the budget. This is gone on too long. The American people deserve a balanced budget. But we also have to reform welfare. We've got to pass the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill. We shouldn't be delaying that measure by attaching controversial provisions that will delay consideration of that bill. We need to get on with line-item veto, all the things that we said we were going to get done.
And the response from the other side as they work through this was, essentially, let's look at these longer-term issues after we deal with what are essentially 1996 issues. The Republican leadership seemed to want to focus on what was really going to be the agenda over the course of the next week and a half as they prepare for an Easter recess.
The President, while indicating that it's very important that they continue to work on the larger issues, agreed that they need to concentrate in the next nine days on things like the continuing resolution, the remaining FY '96 appropriations bills, the debt limit, regulatory reform -- might even be able to get line-item veto as part of a debt limit extension. They talked about the farm bill, about the prospects for product liability.
It was a wide-ranging discussion of the issues that are remaining on the congressional agenda, and there was some indication in this meeting that they understand that we've got problems with some of the issues that are being attached to some of these matters -- for example, they're legislative riders on the continuing resolution that are just not going to be acceptable to the President. The President sketched out some of those in very blunt language. The President was particularly forceful in talking about the need to fight crime and to get the community policing program funded, the COPS Program, and that that would be a high priority for him. They also identified some of the other areas that could prevent these necessary measures from being passed in the next nine days.
So the purpose of the meeting, clearly, was to see if they couldn't clear out some of those things that might prevent the Congress from making good on this agenda over the next nine days. I mean, that being the case, I'd say the objectives of the meeting were really to identify those agenda items that need to be pressed in the next nine days. And the President is satisfied that they wanted to get on with the work of doing that agenda. Now, the larger issues remain, and after Easter we'll have to come back here and see if the Republican leadership wants to get serious about balancing the budget. That remains to be seen.
Q Did he agree on the three items that they said they would try to do before Easter? And did he agree to the three amendments to the debt limit?
MR. MCCURRY: He agreed that those were the three items that needed to get done and that they needed to work to resolve the remaining differences that exist on those measures. We still have a number of concerns, as I just indicated, on some of language that's being attached to some of these measures, and we made it very clear that they shouldn't put unacceptable language on these very necessary measures.
Q Speaker Gingrich indicated that he believed that the President would not just veto the D.C. bill if it had, as he called them, the scholarships for 3,000 children, the vouchers. Is that fair? Do you think that if it comes to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Rita, I'm sorry, in all the discussions I had with the President, the Vice President and Mr. Panetta, that issue did not come up, so I'll have to check on that.
Q It just didn't come up at all?
Q Mike, does the President support, as Dole says, allowing the line-item veto to take effect in 1997?
MR. MCCURRY: If that's the best we can do, we'll do it. It will be useful to the President in his second term.
Q Mike, did the President take note of Dole's apparent clinching of his party's nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: No, there was no discussion at all of the 1996 presidential campaign.
Q No handshake --
MR. MCCURRY: They shook hands. They talked about basketball at the beginning and exchanged pleasantries and got down to work.
Q Well, if Arkansas is playing Georgetown, where is the President's loyalty?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a very difficult question. (Laughter.) I can barely get over the Tony Lake versus Bill Clinton controversy over UMass-Arkansas. So we'll have to settle Georgetown and Arkansas later. But I think somehow the Razorbacks would get the preference.
Q You spoke of this as a window of opportunity. I don't know if you seize a window of opportunity --
MR. MCCURRY: The window of opportunity did not close today, but they decided they were going to pull the blind down first. (Laughter.)
Q Wait a minute. Go a little bit further on that.
Q I don't know about that.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, that didn't work, did it? Look, what they did, there's a window of opportunity to deal with issues like a pledge to get this balanced budget agreement done; welfare reform and getting on with that; health care reform that would allow people to have health care if they change jobs or if they see a preexisting condition as they go into a new job place. That's all still there on the agenda. And the President didn't hear anything today that indicates to him that it's impossible to get resolution of those issues.
What we heard is that the Republican leadership of Congress, properly so, wants to concentrate on what the workload is that they face over the next nine days. And it's an extensive one, and the President's got concerns that are going to need to be addressed on exactly those same agenda items. So they worked through some of those concerns and we hope that will lead to successful resolution of those measures and some signing ceremonies here next week.
Q Is the President now more encouraged after what he heard from the Republicans this morning that a seven-year balanced budget deal is doable?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President still believes that it's doable, has heard nothing today that would indicate that it's impossible, but recognizes that there are still significant differences that exist between the Republican majority and the President. The President has set forth his ideas in abundant detail yesterday in his budget proposal. And the Republican reaction has been fairly predictable -- they want more tax cuts and they want more cuts in Medicare and entitlements.
Q How confident are you that another government shutdown will be avoided?
MR. MCCURRY: The seriousness of this meeting today indicates that both sides want to avoid that type of outcome. And, again, we have very significant concerns on some of these measures and we made that clear. So we've made it -- it would be impossible for the Republican leaders to say that the President hasn't made it clear that there are unacceptable things now in discussion as part of these measures that they better not add in if they want to avoid that outcome. And they -- both sides seemed determined to avoid the outcome of a government shut down.
Q Did he name those measures? Did they specifically --
MR. MCCURRY: They went through in some detail.
Q Could you give us a little more?
MR. MCCURRY: I went through as much as -- I would say -- I mean, we sketched through our concerns in the environmental area, related to some of the interior issues that are under consideration, several other measures where we want to make sure that we see improvements.
Q Just for the record, could you give us one or maybe two examples of those language problems that you mentioned a few minutes ago?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are measures -- I mentioned that there are a variety of them. There are a lot in the environmental area related to the Tsongass, the Mojave, Columbia River. The President was very concerned about community policing, the Cops Program. There are others, as well. I'm not going to try to work through the whole list, but they had a good discussion of it.
Q Was there anything about the meeting today that led the President to believe that the climate has somehow changed at this point in an election year than it was last time that they --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President recognized that the Republicans have had a fairly bitter and fairly nasty primary fight, but that Senator Dole and Speaker Gingrich and Representative Armey are back here in Washington now and want to get back to work on the agenda that remains as the Congress and the President deliberate the nation's business. That's the change in climate.
Q Mike, during the press conference up on Capitol Hill the Republicans put out a list of their priorities, and the balanced budget has fallen to number three and welfare reform is at the bottom, after Easter.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know that that's -- I saw the chart that you're referring to. I don't think they rank ordered those priorities. They were just -- seemed to be putting the measures that they were going to attempt to address between now and next Friday, and then the measures they would consider after Easter. And I don't believe that they were indicating that those had fallen in priority.
For the President's part, balancing the budget, welfare reform and the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill remain very high priorities and we'll continue to work hard with this Congress on those issues.
Q Did they actually set a date for another meeting, or did they just say generally that they would meet?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they just indicated that, here's the workload that we've got before the Easter recess and here are the issues that we need to address beyond Easter.
Q Did the Republicans raise the assault weapons ban and what did the President have to say about it?
MR. MCCURRY: They did. The President was very troubled by the fact that they apparently want to repeal the assault weapons ban. They apparently are once again going back to the well for the NRA. They didn't have a lengthy discussion of this issue, but the leadership did indicate that they were going to spend time on that issue. And given the enormous workload they have, one wonders what they owe to the NRA to force them to take time out for that very damaging effort to repeal the assault weapons ban that's working, that's protecting people.
Q The President would veto it.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President -- it's not clear at this point in what context they would consider that. But we have repeatedly said that we would veto any effort to repeal the assault weapons ban. And we can't, frankly, imagine why they're spending time on it.
Q Did the President express his concerns?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And we've expressed our concerns consistently.
Q Who was pushing it among them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they were just working through, here's the issues that they're going to take up. I don't know who is pushing to take this up on the Hill. You can go ask the Republicans.
Q The Republicans objected to having a photo opportunity at the top of the meeting, saying they didn't want to be seen as a prop for the President's reelection campaign.
MR. MCCURRY: That's curious coming from at least one of the participants on the Republican side. But they didn't one, and so we said, fine, we don't need one.
Q What changes do you need to see in the product liability bill to sign it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've got some very specific concerns on the measures related to punitive damages and awards, some of the language that reflects in the ability of judges to award damages, and obviously the joint and several liability provision. We're working hard to see if we can't resolve those and our statement of administration policy that we issued on that covers it in greater detail.
Q Mike, you said that both sides seemed determined to avoid another shutdown of the government. How?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, by not leaving these funding issues unresolved. For example, the government would technically shut down Friday night if Congress doesn't pass an extender through the end of next week. They clearly are going to do that. It clearly is a desire on the part of the Republican leadership to buy the one-week time necessary to continue the deliberations on these other issues. It's a lousy way to do business, not a very effective way to run our government. It reflects a little bit of the disorder that exists in the way Congress is being managed these days.
On the other hand, our view is they are working through a series of issues that they've now outlined. We have identified the President's problem areas. We expect them to resolve those satisfactorily so the President can sign these necessary funding measures, or at least figure out where if they're going to have to continue in a continuing resolution vein, we know where those areas are and identify how that will work.
But the attitudes seem to be let's get this work done at least so that we avoid the outcome of a shutdown.
Q Mike, what's the assessment of the incident in the Middle East today, and the possible effect on what was undertaken at Sharm el-Sheikh?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is another example of how enemies of peace wreak their havoc on the peace process itself. Hezbullah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, in their different ways they attempt to provoke reactions and provoke incidents that do damage to the peace process itself. We are obviously very concerned about the escalation of incidents in South Lebanon that's been going on for some time over the last 10 days. There have been a pattern of these activities, and we're obviously well aware of the concern of the Israeli government as they deal with these terrorist incidents.
At the same time, we've urged the sides to exercise restraint, to see that things don't escalate further, that tensions are reduced, and we have called on those who are in a position to exercise influence on the parties to exercise that influence.
Q Like the Syrians?
MR. MCCURRY: You are smart enough to figure that out.
Q What response have you received from the Syrians on this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have had a variety of discussions in a variety of channels, and our concerns have been taken on board.
Q What is happening on the ground right now as far as the U.S. knows in Southern Lebanon?
MR. MCCURRY: You would more properly address that question to those who know precisely what's happening on the ground. We have some understanding of what's underway, but it would be more proper for the Israeli government to tell you that.
Q Have your concerns been noted in the last, say, several hours since the incident took place with Assad? Have communications been made contemporaneously --
MR. MCCURRY: We are communicating in a variety of ways. I saw one TV report saying that we've communicated at highest levels. I have no indication that that's true, but we are communicating through a variety of channels.
Q Meaning the President called?
MR. MCCURRY: I just said that that was an incorrect report.
Q I'm wondering what your reaction is to the judge's order that the President can testify on videotape, but will not be able to get the questions in advance. Can you explain why you wanted the questions in advance and what hardship it might cause him now that he's not going to be able --
MR. MCCURRY: We will fully comply with the judge's order. It matches very closely the argument that was made by the Justice Department in its brief.
Q Well, does that mean --
Q Could you just explain why you thought it was better to get the questions in advance?
MR. MCCURRY: That's been the precedent. That was the argument that the Justice Department based on the precedent of past presidential appearances before courts of this nature.
Q Do you know, Mike, will he be able to testify on the videotape from the White House somewhere, some nondescript office or --
MR. MCCURRY: The court's order today, if I understand it correctly, says that he can testify from here at the White House. And the counsels will meet over the course of the next five days to resolve the procedures.
Q Do you know when that would happen?
MR. MCCURRY: They will meet to resolve the issues in the next five days is my understanding.
Q Back on the Middle East. Have we urged Israel to exercise restraint, and do you know has Israel exercised restraint?
MR. MCCURRY: I said that we've urged all parties to exercise restraint.
Q And do you know has that advice been followed by the Israelis?
MR. MCCURRY: The Israeli government is aware of our concerns and we're aware of their concerns as they deal with these Hezbullah-sponsored incidents of terror.
Q Has the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyck been in touch with Prime Minister Peres, as Israeli newspapers are reporting?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's been a variety of contact in a variety of channels. I can't confirm that the Ambassador has had contact at that level, but he has been active. My understanding is that Secretary Christopher will be active, in contact with the parties at some point. I don't know that that has actually happened yet, and we obviously have people here in Washington who are following things very closely as well.
Q But the President is not planning on getting personally involved?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is already personally involved in that he's been following these developments very closely.
Q Does the U.S. believe that President Assad of Syria could, in fact, stop these attacks on the Israeli troops --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't give you that assessment, but I've said that we have properly directed a range of contacts to those that we believe are in a position to influence some -- to exercise some influence over the events themselves and to assist in deescalating the tension.
Q Mike, is it the case now that the U.S. is going to be selling Stinger antiaircraft missiles to Taiwan?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't confirm any specific list. Let me just tell you what -- there is a discussion, an annual discussion that occurs between Taiwan and the United States on arms-related issues. That discussion has occurred. The Pentagon briefed on it yesterday, and we, by longstanding practice, don't go into any detail on that.
But I'd caution you on one thing -- they don't approve sales in these annual meetings. What they do is discuss the legitimate self-defense needs of Taiwan, pursuant to the Taiwan Relations Act. They then work up some ideas on what type of material that might involve. Then there is a consultation process that involves the United States Congress and the development of some categories of things that then are made available for purchase.
Now, it's not always the case that Taiwan comes back to purchase exactly those items, but I can't get into specific confirmations on what the shopping list looks like.
Q Mike, yesterday in the budget briefing, Alice Rivlin said that there was no capital gains tax increase, but there is a provision buried in the revenue portion of the budget that calls for averaging of stocks, which would be essentially a de facto tax increase. Do you know what the rationale --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a de facto tax simplification for average investors. Now, that can be used as a loophole by very wealthy investors who take advantage of -- but what it does is it simplifies the life of investors who have got complicated transactions that occur over a number of years. If you've bought a number of issues of a particular stock over years and you're trying to calculate what your cost basis is and what your gain is, this would actually simplify things. It, in fact, puts purchases of common stock in much the same position that mutual fund investors are in currently. So we see it as a -- closes a loophole that has been used by very wealthy investors to avoid taxation. It makes life easier for average investors who will be able to deal more simply with calculations on capital gains.
Q Easier but more expensive. It will cost them more in taxes.
MR. MCCURRY: It will -- it depends on how an individual taxpayer wants to calculate their gain, what method they would have used, what method they would have calculated under the old rate. There will be some -- I mean, there is a revenue increase that is associated with the provision, but that, we believe, is also because of what type of activity it will generate.
Q Mike, what is on the agenda for the Clinton-Preval talks tomorrow? And also, does he have any plans for trying to get Republicans to be more sympathetic?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they will -- the President will see President Rene Preval tomorrow here at the White House for a working session. There will then be an expanded -- after a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Room, there will be an expanded meeting between the delegations in the Cabinet Room, and a working lunch following. The President clearly will use this opportunity to reaffirm our support for Haitian democracy, once again note the work that U.S. forces did in restoring democracy to Haiti, as the President did earlier this week at Fort Polk.
They will also get into some specific conversations about the requirements for reform, for privatization, and for revitalization of some of the economic sectors in Haiti that need to be part of the transformation that occurs. As the political transformation occurs, there needs also to be, obviously, an economic transformation in the lives of the Haitian people. They will talk a lot about what a realistic budget might look like for Haiti and about agreements with international financial institutions, about how various assistance programs might be developed. So they have got a fairly thorough bilateral agenda that they will work through.
We will also talk about just what the status of UNMIH is. U.S. forces, I think everyone knows, are scheduled to be out by April 15th, but there will be a follow-on Canadian-led force as part of UNMIH II that will be there to continue to assist law enforcement officials and assist in the transformation occurring in Haiti.
Q Another tax question. What does the administration expect this provision on cost averaging to do to investment, the level of investment? Do you expect the level of investment to remain the same or --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to get someone from the CEA or others to get back to you. I don't know whether we measure any impact. Obviously, we see a revenue increase associated with that, but I don't know what we think the overall effect will be on investment activity.
Q Two questions about this morning's meeting. One, the President didn't get to deliver his statement this morning. Is he going to say anything about the budget in the afternoon event?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't expect him to. I mean, as you can tell from how we've described the meeting, it wasn't one that made a lot of earth-shattering news. It's one that they just basically worked through what the agenda is that lies ahead, so I think the President will probably stay focused on his remarks about tobacco use among children.
Q The second thing is that Dole, if I understand him correctly when he briefed afterwards, said that he had congratulated the President -- congratulated him for wrapping up his nomination and Dole has wrapped up his. Would that have been during the basketball part of the conversation?
MR. MCCURRY: Or maybe on the way out, because in my discussions with -- the President didn't indicate that to me and Leon and John Hilley, who provided me kind of a readout on the meeting, didn't indicate that -- because I pressed them pretty hard, said was there any discussion or joking or bantering back and forth on that, and they didn't indicate that.
Q Mike, there are indications that Buchanan could run as an independent now. What does the President believe that -- either Buchanan or Perot -- could that hurt or help him?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing because the election will be in November and this is March.
Q Mike, on the health care legislation, if the House goes ahead with its version, which I gather has a few other things in it, is this something the President would veto?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. You said which?
Q The health care -- I mean the House version.
MR. MCCURRY: If they add the managed -- look, that is exactly the type of provision that is going to provoke controversy. We have got very strong reservations about the whole idea of medical savings accounts, what impact they would have. We believe that they might disproportionately advantage the wealthiest and put at risk those who are in need of federally-assisted health care. And we've raised those concerns repeatedly. The Republican majority in Congress knows of those concerns. We have in the past explored the ideas you've heard here maybe experimenting somewhat with that type of concept, but not doing it in the form of a broad-scale reform.
In any event, it has no business being attached to this bill which enjoys widespread bipartisan support which could pass tomorrow, given the level of support that it's got. And to try to load up a bill that enjoys support on both sides of the aisle that would do a lot for the American people -- protecting their health care insurance, making sure its there when they change jobs, making sure that they don't -- their health care coverage is not undermined by preexisting conditions -- to gum up that legislation now would be a serious mistake in the view of the White House.
Q -- in this budget meeting this morning, whether this was progress or not. Was it progress? Did they get anywhere?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. It's progress -- on those issues that Republican leadership identified for action between now and next Friday, they made some progress because they understand, the Republican majority understands what they are going to have to be careful with in order to reflect the concerns of the President. So they know what they're going to have to do if they want to have a successful week and a half here getting some action done. Now, the larger agenda, it remains to be seen. I put that in the undecided category.
Q Who ceded some ground here, and, if so, what ground?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- it wasn't that kind of meeting. This was a meeting where they worked through the agenda that exists for next week. They discussed the differences that exist on some of the measures that are going to be under consideration on the Hill next week. We hope the congressional leaders took away a better sense of what they're going to have to do to satisfy the President's concerns. We certainly understand from them those issues that they want to raise. We understand why they are concerned about some certain provisions. But we've made it pretty clear where we're going to have to work together next week if we're going to have some progress. And we believe progress can be made.
Q On the debt limit extension, would the White House object to a attaching regulatory relief to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Senate-passed regulatory relief bill which passed, I believe, 100 to nothing, we believe will probably get attached to that debt relief measure based on the conversation we heard today, and I think we'd be supportive of that.
Q Having noted your concerns --
MR. MCCURRY: The Senate-passed bill. I'm making very clear, the Senate-passed bill.
Q Having noted the White House concerns on the health care legislation -- stuff added, are those concerns serious enough to warrant a veto?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are on the -- we've identified a series of measures that are unacceptable to the President -- obviously. So they know that, and I don't think they want to be in a position where they're -- they did not seem to be in the position of wanting to generate vetoes here next week. They seemed to want to generate signing ceremonies that would advance the cause of the nation. The President appreciated that. That's why he was pleased about the meeting, and that's what we hope happens next week.
Q Mike, on a different subject -- are you moving forward as The Post suggests, with the arms shipments to Pakistan?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we had -- no. We've had some consultations on the Hill, and there's a story in one of the papers this morning that says we've been up on the Hill consulting about what the impact of the Brown Amendment is, what we can do under the Brown Amendment to further our own objectives.
Remember that some of these provisions -- these provisions are designed to help us advance our own interests when it comes to proliferation concerns, when it comes to combating narcotics trafficking. We believe that there are some things that we can do that would nurture a better partnership with the government of Pakistan in those areas, and we've consulted with the Hill on how we might proceed. But there haven't been any final decisions on those issues.
Q Mike, when you say that they seem to be wanting to generate signing ceremonies and not vetoes in the next couple of weeks. But can you give any indication what their intentions are on the bigger issues that are --
MR. MCCURRY: No, they really held those aside. On welfare reform -- they did discuss Kennedy-Kassebaum to some extent, but on welfare reform and on a balanced budget agreement, a larger agreement, a multiyear agreement, they didn't even attempt to get into those issues.
The President was well-prepared to get into those issues today and would have spent considerable time on them, but it was the suggestion of the Republican side they stay focused on those things that arise between now and the Easter recess. And we don't fault them for that. That probably made some sense.
Q Would you figure on putting together another meeting like this post-Easter?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see where we are after recess. I mean, this is a lot of work to get done in the next week and a half. It would be interesting to see if that work gets done. We hope it will get done. We hope it will get done to the satisfaction of the President. If it does, maybe that will shed some light on where we go on the larger issues beyond Easter.
Q What did they say specifically about Kennedy-Kassebaum? Did they say that the measures loaded on to the House bill would be unacceptable --
MR. MCCURRY: They talked about -- we kind of handled most of that already -- we stressed what we felt could be done to get it passed right away because it's a good bill and it could be passed right now as a clean bill. But there was some discussion about their interest in medical savings accounts, and we went through that at length already.
Q Was there any discussion, I wonder, about the House-passed bill or resolution on Taiwan or the Taiwan situation at all?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, in addition to working through some of these domestic issues, at the beginning of the meeting did briefly give the Republican leaders an update on the Middle East peace process, his meetings in Sharm el-Sheikh and in Jerusalem, and he did discuss China, some of -- the process that wear using to resolve some of our proliferation concerns, and the meetings that we've had most recently with the Vice Foreign Minister to attempt to address some of the differences that exist.
They also reviewed briefly the tension in the Taiwan Strait, with the President updating the leaders on our view of those developments.
Q Of the things on the debt limit, that they're planning to put on the debt limit, is there anything right now that you're concerned about that would prompt a problem there, or do you think everything there is going to --
MR. MCCURRY: If I understand correctly, the three that are likely to be attached are line-item veto; the stripped-down regulatory reform bill, I believe as it was passed by the Senate, although is some question of what other changes might be made in conference. We've indicated that it's best off if they stick with the Senate-passed version. And then the third, I think, was --
Q Social Security.
MR. MCCURRY: -- the Social Security, earnings limitation test, which we acknowledge is important. We will work with the congressional leadership to address the issue of how you pay for that.
Q That will be paid for in the debt limit bill? In other words, it will --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not clear. They raised the --they can attach the change in the earnings limit test, but then deal with how that gets paid for in the future, in a future discussion. And I think it's about a $7-$8 billion a year provision. So our concern is we don't want to make the deficit worse, so it's got to be factored into some of these larger discussions about how we're going to right a budget.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you all.
END 2:06 P.M. EST