THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
10:28 A.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: This will substitute for our daily briefing today since I'll be at the funeral as well. Let me, since I did not gaggle this morning, just do a couple of points on the President's schedule today.
First, the President himself will be addressing the GDP report in remarks that he will make a the top of the congressional meeting that he's having at 4:00 p.m. today. The President has invited a bipartisan group of Congress led by Senators John Breaux and John Chafee to come here today to really continue the work at putting together a sensible center in the United States Congress that wants to balance the budget by a date certain.
The President has indicated, as you know, that he wants that work to continue apace, and he wants to make sure we do everything we can to lock in an agreement on a balanced budget approach. He's very intrigued by the some of the ideas in the Breaux-Chafee balanced budget suggestions. There are some disagreements that we have with aspects of the plan, but there are some very -- some good thinking has gone into that plan, particularly in the area of Medicaid and welfare reform. And I expect the President will want to talk at some greater length with the members about that today.
Q This is the mainstream coalition group that he talked about?
MR. MCCURRY: He talked about putting together a mainstream coalition in the center of the Congress, bipartisan, to do the kind of work that has to be done to balance the budget. We've done that on other issues now, and we have demonstrated that Republicans and Democrats can work together with the President to get good work done on behalf of the country. And that's what he intends to do today.
Q What do you expect out of this meeting. Do you expect anything concrete, ideas on the table that the President would then turn around and offer to the leadership?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the President wants to work through the elements of the Breaux-Chafee balanced budget plan. As I say, we've got some concerns about aspects of their proposal, particularly in areas like CPI and Medicare. There's a premium increase there. There are some things there that the President I think would want to learn more about because they might not necessarily reflect his thinking. But there are other aspects of the plan that the President will discuss with the members today that he finds intriguing. And we'll see if we can't get some of the members to come after the session today and give you a little sense of the President's thinking.
Q But is it fair to say that the President is having this meeting today because Dole, Gingrich and Armey won't come over and talk?
MR. MCCURRY: It's fair to say that the President is very concerned by statements from the Republican leadership that they want to go it on their own with an extreme budget proposal that does not reflect the values of this country. So the President is looking for sensible people in the center of the political spectrum that want to move forward on a balanced budget plan and get the job done now, recognizing that it appears that the Republican leadership in Congress, against the wishes of some of their members in the Republican Congress, want to go forward with an unacceptable extreme balanced budget plan.
Q Are you suggesting that the President could support yet another balanced budget plan with modifications?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have our balanced budget plan. It's the budget proposal the President has submitted. But we recognize it's going to take work on both sides of the aisle to get the job done of balancing the budget, and that's the purpose of the President's meeting today.
I've got only a few minutes left.
Q Do you think the economic performance report this morning puts extra pressure on the Republicans to bring them to the table?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that will be up to them to decide. But the strength of the economy is important and good news, and it's quite clear that balancing the budget by a date certain would add to the strength of the economy. One of the things we can do to ensure that we lock in the strong economic performance is to lock in a balanced budget agreement. That's a way to build on this success, and that's a way to give the American people the assurance of a continued strong economic performance.
Q What specifically, from the leadership, from the Republican leadership, what are the extreme statements?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the thing that most concerns us is they clearly want to pull out the rug from underneath indigent Americans who need health care. They are looking at ways in which Medicaid would no longer provide the guarantee when poor Americans need it, and that's a source of very great concern to us. They are moving in that direction. They know the President finds that highly objectionable. And it's not clear, if they really wish to achieve a bipartisan agreement on a balanced budget, why they would be moving in a direction that they know the President can't accept.
Q But Medicare is not one of those problems?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Medicare -- we don't know exactly what they're going to propose in Medicare. They have had what we consider to be deep cuts or reductions in the increase of spending, as they often say, but they amount to cuts if you're an American who needs the promise of Medicare to be available.
There are still indications that they're going for a high number there because they want to add a lot of tax breaks or tax cuts for wealthy Americans. It's the same formula that led to the government shutdowns this past winter and it's, unfortunately, a harbinger of additional gridlock when it comes to the budget. That's why the President feels it's so important today to reach out to a group of Democrats and Republicans who clearly want to work together in a bipartisan spirit to get the job done on balancing the budget.
Q Can you say what parts of the Breaux-Chafee plan he's intrigued by?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll give you a better briefing on the substance of the discussion after the meeting.
Q Product liability?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The President will be back here at approximately 2:00 p.m.-- 2:10 p.m., I think, for the veto of the product liability legislation.
Q When he does that, is product liability reform over for the year, or are there some kind of reforms that you could salvage?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will suggest today that we really do need to have legal reform. He understands that there are a lot of frivolous lawsuits in the legal system. We need to protect the American people from the damaging economic costs of those types of frivolous lawsuits. And he will suggest there are ways that they could fix this legislation that don't put consumers and individual Americans at peril. There will be some people today who clearly deserve to have some redress of the hardship they suffered as the result of tort claims, and what we will be saying is that, look, we need to protect these kinds of Americans while we accomplish the goal of litigation reform.
Q At the same time, how do you answer the critics that say by vetoing product liability the President appears to be in the pocket of trial lawyers who were his biggest, largest contributors?
MR. MCCURRY: There are very strong feelings on both sides of this debate. Those who have promoted this legislation, business interests in particular, have outspent the advocates of a veto by at least 10 to one. So it is no more true of the President than it is of those supporters of the legislation.
Q Yes, but it might be said that it is easier for them because they only have one target, Bill Clinton as opposed to an entire legislature.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, when you are President of the United States, you can be a tempting target for people who want to shoot at you; that's correct. But the point is that both sides of this debate have been very vigorous in lining up support.
Q I don't mean critics, Mike, I mean his supporters.
Q Will he try to fix this? Will he offer a specific fix this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: He will suggest there are ways that we can accomplish legal reform without incurring the likelihood of a veto.
Q This year?
MR. MCCURRY: Whether or not it is passed this year is going to be entirely up to Congress. It doesn't appear from the statements of members of Congress that they are likely to present an acceptable litigation reform -- legal reform measure to the President. Clair?
Q Do you know anything about this story out of Miami that the school board there is upset because the student who introduced the President on Monday wasn't a student there and, in fact, was not even a public school student, but goes to a private school.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- I heard something about this, but I also heard that the individual who introduced the President was selected because he and his family have been involved in important drug abuse --
Q She -- it was a girl.
MR. MCCURRY: She. She, apparently -- her mother had been involved in efforts to curb drug use by students throughout the school district, public and private. The President was there, as you recall, for an event to highlight efforts to curb drug abuse. But maybe some folks here can help me with more on that.
Q Mike, a quick question on that. The stories say that Mort Engleberg first asked these organizers that a black male student introduce the President, then called back and said, no, we want a white female, and that Janet Reno has written a letter expressing her indignation and outrage that ethnicity would be a criteria for selecting the person to introduce the President. I mean, is that the way these events are set up normally?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, a lot of work and planning and different arrangements go into setting up any presidential event.
Q Well, I mean, Mike, this was a question --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know a thing about this. I didn't even know that -- I was not there and someone else can help you later.
Q Is that commonplace in that sort of arranging for these kinds of speakers?
MR. MCCURRY: We like to have a cross-section of people introducing the President and people who have got real-life experiences that speak to the issues the President's going to address, which is exactly what happened in this case.
Q Did the President know that this young lady did not go to the school where he was?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm referring these questions to other people for follow-up.
What else do you need?
Q Who are you assigning it to?
Q Just one kind of a future thing -- how is it going on the corporate responsibility conference plans?
MR. MCCURRY: The plans are going well. The President has been working with some of the economic advisors who saw you earlier, and they look forward to a productive meeting later this month.
Q Who showed up for that; do you have some key names?
MR. MCCURRY: We can give you more details as our plans firm up.
Q Is May 16th still the --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe May 16th is still the day that they're looking at, correct.
Okay, this is going to be it for the day. Anything else?
Q Are you going to give us a readout after the congressional meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll give you a readout after the Breaux-Chafee meeting. I imagine you're going to see some folks at the stakeout and I've asked whether or not Mr. Panetta might be available along with some of the members. We expect it to go about an hour, I believe.
Q Did you find anything to put on the schedule for tomorrow yet?
MR. MCCURRY: He is going to have I think the rescheduled annual meeting with the commanders-in-chief of the various services and theater commanders tomorrow. And then I believe he's got the rest of the day down. Is he going over to the Tank for that? It's here? That will be here.
Okay, very good. Thank you, and we'll provide some people later on for you. Thanks.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:37 A.M. EDT