THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome back to the White House after our brief silence while we were overseas, other places. And I start today with some announcements.
This is a formal announcement. The President of the United States is going to France -- Lyons, France, specifically, June 27-29 to participate in the annual summit of the industrialized nations that we have come to know as the G-7. A detailed travel itinerary has not been determined and will be announced at a future date, but I'm told that that will help everybody if I at least say on the record that we're going.
Q Any chance of that being extended, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Detailed itinerary will be announced at a future date.
Q You mean there may be some other stops beyond Lyons?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard of any being planned, but --
MR. MCCURRY: That's what I was thinking. We're right there, on the way home.
Q All in favor?
MR. MCCURRY: All in favor say aye.
Item the second: Anthony Lake, the National Security Advisor of the President of the United States, will deliver a speech setting the foundations for a new American century at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University up in Massachusetts on this Thursday, April 25, at 11:45 a.m. And I'm sure that Dr. David Johnson would be more than happy to tell you a lot more about that speech.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we'll be arranging a press charter for all those who wish to go. (Laughter.)
Q Will that announce any new policies?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to lay out -- Tony has been giving a series of speeches that put in a more conceptual framework the President's work on foreign policy matters, picking up on much of what you've heard the President say in his recent foreign travels, talking about the challenges that exist for America's leadership role in the post-Cold War era as we look ahead to a 21st century in which American leadership is indispensable. That's the speech in a nutshell.
Q Has the President invited Speaker Gingrich and Senator Dole to the White House to resume the seven-year balanced budget negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: No. He suggested it would be useful -- let's get to that -- I've got one more item, which I just want to make sure everyone saw the paper that we had put out on the Brown Commission report. The President announced today that several of those recommendations he was taking will also -- and I'm encouraged by this -- put out the bottom line dollar figure on America's intelligence community budget, which is a step forward since everyone has always had to go "blplpblp" -- like that when we talk about that kind of subject. (Laughter.)
There are some other --
Q Can Johnson do that? Can you do that, Dave?
Q How do you spell it?
Q I want to see the transcript.
MR. MCCURRY: I want to see how that looks in the transcript.
There are some other items on this, too. We put out the paper here because the Director of Central Intelligence is on the Hill today and tomorrow testifying as to some of these management changes and structural changes in America's intelligence apparatus that will prepare America's fact-finding abilities for the 21st century as we take on the challenges of global leadership that Mr. Lake will address eloquently in that speech.
Now, back to the balanced budget. Yes, we want to balance the budget and, as the President just suggested, we need to get a representative group of people here with the leadership and get on with the business. That assumes first that we continue to narrow the differences and make progress on setting the fiscal year 1996 budget. And Mr. Panetta returned just a short while ago and briefed the President on his discussions on the Hill today, which he found very encouraging because they did make progress in narrowing differences, but discouraging in one aspect, and that is the legislative riders related to environmental issues that many in Congress continue to want to attach to this appropriations measure.
Those are, in the President's view, very damaging legislative riders that jeopardize some of America's pristine natural wilderness, interferes with our ability to protect America's environment for future generations, and the President is not encouraged to hear that there are some members of Congress who are still insisting on having those environmental riders attached to this very important appropriations bill.
We hope we can, one way or another, reconcile that very important difference, finish the work on the numbers that would restore some very important investments in the President's priorities for Fiscal Year 1996. But Mr. Panetta gave an encouraging report to the President on that, and it does appear that Congress is trying to work with the President in good faith to put some funding back into those areas the President has always identified as high-priority items. Those things that will make the economy grow in the future, that will help us protect the environment, that will strengthen the social insurance programs that are very important to Americans in need.
Q What's your understanding of what's going to happen tomorrow when the CR runs out again?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's what Mr. Panetta was on the Hill talking to Chairman Livingston, Chairman Hatfield and others about, and they did make some progress and it seems reasonably safe to assume that we won't face any type of government shutdown situation by this time tomorrow. But we do need to continue to make -- work on that, make progress on that measure, and specifically on these very damaging legislative riders that should not be attached to this measure.
Q How can you say with any certainty that we won't face a shutdown?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the Congress has now, I think it's safe to say, thrown in the towel on that tactic. They recognize that it was a mistake to try to blackmail this President. They did so twice, resulting in very damaging government shutdowns, and they have not pursued that tactic since, nor do we believe they will tomorrow.
Q But if Congress insists on these environmental riders, does the bill become veto bait, or is there room for compromise?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are very troubling legislative riders, and we continue to hope and believe that Congress will understand they cannot attempt to attach those to a measure that the President must sign.
Q Are there any messages from the Hill -- from these talks today that Panetta brought back that he now has to report -- the President has to make decisions on anything that Panetta brought back from the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: The President got a good update on where things are and gave some instructions to Leon as he pursues his future deliberations.
Q And does Panetta have plans to go back to the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: He will remain in contact with people on the Hill. I'm not aware of any plans for him to go back this evening.
Q New subject?
MR. MCCURRY: New subject.
Q Syria --
Q The President said in his remarks that it was too early to start the presidential campaign and they ought to all hold off and do the business and the other countries have shorter campaigns. It's the President who is in on the air with an aggressive ad campaign, not Senator Dole. Isn't there a kind of conflict there?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not at all. I mean, the President, rightfully, has to protect himself from the very damaging charges and incorrect, erroneous charges that you hear sometimes from leading Republicans, including Mr. Dole himself. We've got a right to correct the record, and that's what we've done.
Q On the same subject, I thought I heard stronger words from you in the past as to whether or not the presence of these environmental riders on a piece of legislation merit presidential veto. Are you softening that?
MR. MCCURRY: On these legislative riders? No, we're hoping that we get them knocked out of the bill so we don't have to deal with the issue of a veto.
Q Well, obviously. But in terms of consequences, all I'm trying to figure out is, you've not hesitated to use stronger words in the past, and you seem to be softening.
MR. MCCURRY: The Vice President made clear this week, I would make clear again now that they have tried to attach these very deleterious amendments to this bill that would provoke a veto by the President. The Vice President has already said that this week. We're in a situation now where we think, we believe that they've gotten that message, and we hope they will work to give us legislation that's satisfactory that the President can accept.
Q Can you say anything more, Mike, about what the President has in mind to get budget talks going again after three months or whatever? Is he talking about a broader representation of Hill leaders, how big, a summit? What is he talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what the President has in mind, as you heard him suggest earlier, is that there is within the Congress, we believe specifically within moderate members of the Republican caucus together with Democrats who are convinced that we have to balance the budget, enough sentiment to support the type of measure the President has talked about over and over again, the kind of measure that would lead to a date certain within seven years a balanced budget that both sides could agree to and embrace.
The President has never given up hope that this Congress would work with him to produce that type of measure. And what the President wants to do now is in a sense reopen the door to the leadership and also to other members of the Congress who'd be interested in joining together in a bipartisan way to get this very important piece of work done because this President remains convinced that balancing the budget is in the economic interest of the American people, it's the right thing to do, and he still believes that this Congress is not going to want to miss that opportunity to achieve that kind of historic agreement.
Q So do you believe that what took place in December and January failed because there wasn't a broad enough representation?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he believes that that -- what happened in December at the end of the year came so close to success because both sides identified the types of savings that could get you to a balanced budget that we can't walk away from the table simply because we're getting closer and closer to a national election. Do we have to continue to work hard to see if we can't lock in those types of savings and balance the budget? And then if there are other larger priority issues, defer them until the election. But at least take advantage of the savings that both sides have identified that can lead you to a date certain for a balanced budget? Do that, do that now. And then get on with the business of discussing what other types of changes each side might want to make if they restructure priorities looking ahead into the next administration.
Q Two questions. Does the President -- is the President now trying to either circumvent or overwhelm the Republican leadership, and what is going to give in return? Is he willing to move on --
MR. MCCURRY: -- hope. We're trying to give them a little bit of help. There is sentiment there in the Congress to balance the budget. And they're a little grumpy out there in the leadership ranks in the Congress now, and we're just trying to make them feel better about doing something that would be truly historic. The President believes that we can get the work done.
Q Do you have any sense that Dole and Gingrich are --
Q Wait a minute. I'm not finished.
Q Oh, I'm sorry.
Q I'm not finished. What is the President offering in return? Is he willing to make some moves on Medicare savings, for example?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a big table we'll stretch out in the Rose Garden and we'll have all those people right there with him signing the historic balanced budget agreement when the time comes.
Q But Leon Panetta didn't go up there and just say, let's talk. He had to go up there with an offer.
MR. MCCURRY: No. Mr. Panetta today, I'll make clear, was working on the FY '96 budget. Now that's -- we've got to get that urgent piece of business done. But the President suggests today that once we get that done we can open up the possibility again of reaching a balanced budget agreement, which is what he wants to do.
Q Will the White House be issuing invitations to some of these moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President more or less just did. We put the ball tossed in the air, and we'll see if someone wants to take a whack at it.
Q Syria. What's the President hear from Damascus, from the Secretary about this snub?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary -- I wouldn't read too much into the Secretary's travel plans. The Secretary returned to Jerusalem because, in fact, logistically that's where all the bags and hotel rooms for the U.S. delegation happened to be. President Assad has had a series of meetings. They requested or they indicated to the U.S. delegation there wouldn't be an opportunity for Secretary Christopher to see President Assad during the day today in Damascus so the delegation returned to Jerusalem and we'll let you know
further what their travel plans are when they know what their travel plans are.
Q Well, it sounds like he blew him off.
MR. MCCURRY: We're not -- look, there's a lot of hard work being done to bring peace to the people of South Lebanon and Northern Israel. That work will continue.
Q So you don't regard this as a snub, Assad refusing to meet with him?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we don't. We regard it as one other development that we have to contend with in the very painstaking process of bringing peace and reconciliation to the people of the Middle East.
Q How about Dudayev, do you have anything on his --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check, maybe come back to that tomorrow, whether there have been some work being done on the question of how we can urge the parties in Chechnya to bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict there, and we'll keep you apprised of any developments.
Q Do you don't know whether reports of his death are greatly exaggerated or --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of those reports.
Q How about Chernobyl?
MR. MCCURRY: On Chernobyl, we understand that the fires are located some distance from the damaged reactor, but we have gone through our Embassy in Moscow to request more information from the proper Russian authorities.
Q Moscow or Kiev?
Q What about the 1,500 tons of medical --
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Embassy in Kiev?
MR. MCCURRY: The embassy in Kiev, I'm sorry.
Q -- 1,500 tons of medical supplies which we were sending for the 10th anniversary, do you know anything about that? Could they have not gone yet?
MR. MCCURRY: Check with Mr. Johnson afterwards.
Q On the G-7 conference, what's the expectation of the Russian presence at that point?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?
Q What's Russia's presence going to be? Is it going to be G-8 for the full conference or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they participate -- Russia participates in G-7 conferences at the political level, which the 8 has now been used to describe that setting. The level of participation has increased somewhat in the recent G-7 summits, and I think you'll see some reflection of broader-scale participation by the Russian Federation at the upcoming meeting in Lyons.
Q This will be after their election, though, and if they're in a run-off it could be iffy or touchy.
MR. MCCURRY: It'll be after the June 16th election, correct.
Q Mike, one more on Chernobyl.
Q The expectation would be the winner will come?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the expectation --
Q I'm trying to get what Yeltsin --
MR. MCCURRY: There's no expectation. There are two possible outcomes. One is a candidate would receive the majority, but I don't believe -- my recollection is that they would not -- they swear in the newly-elected president, even if it's the incumbent, at some later date after the election. I don't know when that time is.
Q On Chernobyl, is the U.S. concerned, do you consider this to be a major --
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have enough information to know how major it is at this point.
Q On the new Medicare data, how bad a picture are we looking at at this point? And also, in a political sense are we back to the same debate that we had before?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no. The Medicare -- look, solvency of the Medicare trust fund has been a subject that the President has worked on literally form his first day in office. In 1993 we passed a budget package to extend the solvency of the trust fund two to three years. We did so without any help from the Republicans, who refused to vote for it.
But we have worked since then to develop a savings within the Medicare program that will extend the solvency of the funds and we now have a plan that would extend the length of time that the current fund can pay benefits up to seven to 10 years, roughly comparable to what the Republicans would do in their balanced budget proposal.
But the important thing is that in both sides' balanced budget proposals they are dealing with the question of how do you extend the solvency of the trust funds. Now, there has to be a long-term fix as you look well into the next century that deals with the question of how do you pay for the out-year costs of Medicare as you look to the year 2010 and beyond to 2020, 2030.
But that's going to require hard work. It's going to have to be done, most likely, in a nonpolitical context, certainly not in an election year. These types of questions, whether you're talking about the Social Security trust fund or the Medicare trust fund, the long-term solutions to those problems are going to be found once all sides in a bipartisan way are in a position to sit down and come up with some long-term answers.
The important thing is that right now, pending before the Congress, pending before the President, is a balanced budget agreement that extends the solvency of those funds an additional seven years. And we could do that right now. And it was another reason why the President today suggested we need to get on with the business of getting a balanced budget agreement.
Q But don't -- if you compare what happened in fiscal year last year compared to this year, it's quite a significant leap. And doesn't that seem to buttress what the Republicans have been saying, that it's getting worse fast?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the numbers, the inflow and outflow into the trust fund fluctuates from year to year. We have actually -- the Treasury Secretary wrote to the Hill last week on this, so you can get a copy of his letters, saying, look, we have got to take some action to deal with the solvency of these funds. We have acknowledged that from the very beginning. That's why the President addressed that in his budget. That's why we have got $124 billion worth of Medicare savings in the budget proposal that we sent to Congress a short time ago. It has to be dealt with, and it should be dealt with promptly, but the way to do it is to do it in the context of an overall balanced budget agreement.
Q The President says he is going to sign the counterterrorism bill tomorrow. On that, at this point, is he satisfied or pleased with everything that is in the bill? And what are his plans for the things that he wants that are not in there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, his concern is not so much what is in the bill; it's some of the things left out of the bill. The bill could have been stronger, could have been tougher, but he will sign it tomorrow, and sign it recognizing that it does add to arsenal of tools available to this country as we fight international terrorism.
The President, I think, will point to those aspects of the bill that will strengthen the hand of America's law enforcers as we deal with the threat of terrorism. He will also tomorrow indicate that there are steps that we need to take in the future that will continue to press some of the objectives we had in our original legislation.
Q Does he plan to send legislation of any sort containing those things this year or is that something that will hold over until next year?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not aware that we've planned any major legislative initiative, but there are some steps the President believes that we can take to fill out some of the additional tools that are necessary to fight terrorism.
Q How do you read the report on the jobs by the Council of Economic Advisers?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the report is very encouraging in two respects. One, it shows that there has been sustained job creation in this economy. There are 8.5 million new jobs that have been put back into this economy reflecting the strength of the economy that the President has helped build since 1993. But most importantly, I think the most intriguing fact in this report is that well over two-thirds of those jobs are in those sectors that are higher wage-paying on average. So in other words, we are creating jobs that pay better than the median wage so that these -- that job creation is moving in the direction of higher-paying, higher income-earning jobs for the American people. And that is significant, and, as I say, encouraging.
Q I didn't understand your answer to Bob's question. How is Russia's participation in the G-7 different -- going to be different this time from last time?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there has been a series of things done in recent G-7 meetings that have in a sense upgraded Russia's participation. They went from -- being participating in the political aspect only to participating in some of the preparatory work, some of the sherpa work in advance of a summit. And I think those enhancements to Russia's participation in the G-7 will be reflected in the upcoming meeting in Lyons.
Q Will they be in everything now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are not in the -- if you remember, the G-7 itself started as a way for the major industrial economies to calibrate their macroeconomic policies. There is still a great deal of utility to those discussions and those are discussions that the Russian Federation does not traditionally participate in. But as we've seen this group take on a broader responsibility for political work, in a sense we've almost had the development of another entity which is the eight that deal with the broad political agenda that these leaders address when they are at this summit format. And as those issues have taken on greater importance, the Russian Federation's very important role in those discussions has developed as well.
Q But it's accurate to say the U.S. does not believe that Russia should be made a permanent member of what is now G-7 and could become G-8? Is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's accurate to say we believe there's a very important role that the G-7 plays as it deals with global economic issues, and we also believe that the Russian Federation plays a very important role when they meet as eight in addressing political issues.
Q And Yeltsin is the President at this time, at the time of this meeting, no matter what happens in the June --
MR. MCCURRY: That's my understanding. There's no --
Q That hasn't changed?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure what their constitution calls for in terms of swearing in and we just -- but it's at a later date beyond June 16. And, of course, there is, as we were saying earlier, there's a possibility, depending on whether or not a candidate gets a majority of the vote that there would be some runoff situation after the Lyons summit.
Q So I don't misunderstand on Chechnya, the President has not put in any call to King Hassan yet as --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe he has, but I think what w offered to do is to work diplomatically perhaps at the highest level but not necessarily at the highest level to encourage some contact with General Dudayev.
Q Now that the reports have, for well over five hours now, from more than one source saying Dudayev was killed on Sunday night, Monday morning in a village --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I just don't know anything about those reports.
Q The U.S. is in no position to confirm anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information.
Q Any updates on Paraguay? Has the U.S. cut off or suspended aid there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are a lot of things happening on different fronts. We have had, through our embassy in Asuncion, very active diplomacy today. We have also engaged the governments of Brazil and Uruguay in working with us to press the case for continued adherence to democratic norms. Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott has been at the Organization of American States today. That has already happened, right? He has addressed the OAS earlier today to raise the very grave concern the United States feels.
And once again, the United States is in a position with our partners in this hemisphere of dealing with a proximate challenge to democratic rule in a very important state that is allied in the effort to bring greater democracy to our hemisphere. And we are pressing very hard to make sure that democratic rule is maintained and that constitutional norms apply.
Q Back on Syria, are we satisfied that President Assad had a legitimate excuse not to see Secretary Christopher?
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Christopher has spoken to some of your colleagues about that, and the report I have is that he has indicated that that's what he believes.
Q Foreign ministers of the Commonwealth meeting in London on the issue of Nigeria -- there is some consideration of economic sanctions, Canada and New Zealand in the lead. Great Britain says it would not be possible without the United States stopping purchases of Nigerian oil. Is that under consideration, and is that --
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to check. I don't know the answer to that.
Q On the larger budget package, when the President said that he wants to build on a mainstream coalition, is it your idea then to not just work on these $700 million in common savings but to try to build on the Breaux-Chafee package and other --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Breaux-Chafee. I mean, there have been a lot of very valued contributions made to this debate, but it's clear that there's sentiment, strong sentiment within, we believe, a sufficient number of members of Congress from both parties to pass a balanced budget and to do it along the lines of those savings that have already been identified. The Breaux-Chafee proposal is one; Senator Daschle's been very active in developing some ideas. There are several proposals out there from which you could see the clear outline of a balanced budget agreement. And the President would like to invite all of those who have an interest in getting that work done and getting it done quickly to come forward so we can do that and then move on to whatever political debate we want to have later this year.
Q But there's no meeting set, right?
MR. MCCURRY: No meeting set, but the President clearly indicated today that he's open to that type of suggestion.
Q If no resolution on the appropriations bill negotiations, will the President accept another temporary continuing resolution?
MR. MCCURRY: We're getting tired of these temporary stopgap, day-by-day types of measures, and that's why Mr. Panetta was pressing hard today to see if we can't wrap this up once and for all.
Q Mike, is a Christopher trip to Damascus necessary to get a cease-fire, or can you get it without a trip there?
MR. MCCURRY: It's hard to imagine there would be a definitive set of arrangements that would curb the type of violence that we have seen in recent days in South Lebanon without the very patient work that the Secretary has been doing, and that, of course, involves a great deal of travel between those capitals and discussions with the relevant parties.
Q But at some point you think you would have to return to Damascus to get a cease-fire?
MR. MCCURRY: I would imagine it would be very difficult to get it without that, but the Secretary is in the best position to make those judgments, and some of your colleagues are traveling with him.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:00 P.M. EDT