THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Let me do a couple of program notes and then several asked about tomorrow's event with the governors. I'll do a preview of that for you.
First of all, the meeting that the President had wanted with Senator Lott and some of the other members of the bipartisan leadership looks like it will happen this evening at 6:15 p.m. So look for Senator Lott, Senator Daschle, Senator Ford, Congressman Gephardt, Armey, Bonior, DeLay, Fazio, Boehner, a number of others that will be here.
We had known that the Speaker was out of town, was not going to be able to be here, but the President did want an opportunity to meet with Senator Lott, now that he is the Majority Leader, both to congratulate him and also to review the legislative work schedule between now and the August recess, and then looking beyond, to the October adjournment, what we might likely be able to get done this year. He will raise the budget, certainly. They'll talk about the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill because there are a lot of very sensitive discussions underway on that legislation that we hope will lead to final passage of a measure shortly.
The President is going to talk a little bit about the Conyers-Hyde bill and see if we can't move that legislation which would provide new federal authorities to investigate the church bombings -- church burnings. They'll also talk about minimum wage, campaign finance reform and immigration. That's on the President's list. We expect that the Majority Leader and the Republican leaders in the House may have things on their agenda as well. Look forward to that meeting.
Q Will there be any coverage of that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't determined that yet, and we'll do whatever the Majority Leader Lott feels appropriate.
Q The President's not going to raise welfare reform, he's going to let the Republicans do it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, welfare reform we raised today in the President's remarks at the Nurses Association. And their action on that will be pending the reconciliation process. That's where it looks like they're going to be addressing welfare reform.
Item, the second: The President had a good phone conversation this morning with President Boris Yeltsin, congratulating him on the conduct of the election, which was, obviously, a success for the people of Russia. A democratic election in which nearly 70 percent participated. They, of course, will now have a runoff. The President also reviewed with President Yeltsin the upcoming G-7 meeting in Lyon, France. I've got a statement from the President we'll put out after the briefing that goes into greater detail. A 10-minute phone conversation.
Q Mike, should we expect a phone call to Gennady Zyuganov?
MR. MCCURRY: You should not expect a call to him.
Q Neither should he. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: As we do at the highest levels, we reviewed both our interests in the democratic reform process, economic reform, but also expressed our -- continued to express our support for that process of reform -- but, also at the highest levels, reviewed an upcoming important international summit meeting.
Q Did they discuss Lebed entering the government?
MR. MCCURRY: There was just a brief discussion on what the situation is now, what the political dynamic is now, but most of that follows statements that President Yeltsin has made publicly.
Q Can you elaborate at all on the status of the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill? Do you expect to compromise and what would its nature be?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been a very good exchange of ideas between the White House and Republican members on the Hill. We are looking for ways to pass this very important measure that would expand the portability of health care. The issue that is the only issue remaining in contention is the nature of the experiment that would allow us to test the concept of medical savings accounts. There seems to be broad agreement that there should be some test of that concept and most of the discussions at this point are about how to structure that test.
We're hopeful that these discussions will be conclusive soon and satisfactory as far as the President's concerned so that the conference can proceed with a measure that the President would sign.
Q Senator Lott said this morning that they had faxed another proposal on this this morning to the White House. Is the President prepared to get into a discussion tonight with Lott, to sign off on an agreement? Are they that close?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got our folks looking at the substance of those ideas now. This is a response to some ideas we had sent up there at the end of last week. And we'll let you know how those deliberations go. I'm not prepared to say that anything would be concluded today, but our folks are working on it at the President's direction.
Q Mike, when you say broad agreement, that there should be some test of the MSAs, agreement on the part of the White House as well? I thought the President did not particularly care for that idea.
MR. MCCURRY: No, we, since last winter in the budget deliberations, indicated a willingness to test that concept. Our opposition is not necessarily ideologically to the concept of the savings accounts. It's more to the practical effect of implementing that type of plan across the board.
Our concern is it would be disruptive to the health insurance system. It would, in a sense, opt out people who are healthier and in a better position to afford their own insurance arrangements, and then leave an insurance pool that is harder to cover and thus more expensive to the American taxpayer. That's our concern. Expert analysis of the medical savings accounts indicate that that is, indeed -- should be a concern. So our proposal to the Republican majority has been let's, with a quantifiable population, test this concept within the private sector employer-provided health system and see if it works. And if it works we can then discuss implementing a national program.
Q We heard 10 Republicans earlier today speak about an arrogance of power, obstruction of justice, possible perjury --
MR. MCCURRY: It went on forever. I agree with --
Q These are very serious allegations that 10 Republican senators hurled at the White House. And the question is, what is the White House response?
MR. MCCURRY: The most effective response delivered was the one that was then very quickly delivered by the minority members of the committee which came to much different conclusions than those offered by the members of the majority. And it was an effective rebuttal to a lot of the wild accusations that came out of the majority. There's nothing that is new about what they said today since in one form or another they had either aired these matters during the long course of spending $1.8 million of the taxpayers money to look into these matters. And over the course of the past several days they've leaked several times the substance of this report.
So nothing new today except for the rebuttal by the committee minority which this is the first time they had presented a very detailed response to that. I kind of agree with what Jack Kemp said today of the Republican Party, "they very often look like grumpy old men."
Q The hearings tomorrow of the House Oversight Committee is holding on the release of the FBI files were prompted by the release of 1,000 documents. As I understand it there are still 2,000 under subpoena. Do you know the status of those and what's going on between the committee and the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I'd have to direct you to the White House Legal Counsel. They have had discussions back and forth about those remaining documents. The Legal Counsel's view and the view of the Attorney General of the United States of America is some of those documents -- in fact, I think all of those documents now are considered properly protected by the Constitution. And the committee on May 8th suspended any discussions further with the White House Legal Counsel on the disposition of the documents.
Q Are you saying that the Attorney General has reviewed all those documents or had them reviewed by her and she concurs in your judgment that executive privilege applies?
MR. MCCURRY: We had asserted a category-based assertion of privilege on some of those documents and then they had to go through document by document. We produced the ones that in the view of the White House Legal Counsel and the Attorney General could not properly be constitutionally protected and kept those that we believe are.
Q So all of them have passed muster with Justice?
MR. MCCURRY: That is my understanding.
Q And the claim is of executive privilege?
MR. MCCURRY: Right. And, again, to clarify the document related to Billy Dale -- there was never an assertion of executive privilege lying against that document. There was a bulk of documents that we were negotiating with the committee about, and then those negotiations with the committee broke down. But we had indicated a willingness to provide that material. I've seen that erroneously reported a couple of times.
Q Wait a minute. Haven't you expressed an unwillingness or at least a tentative unwillingness on that based on the Privacy Act?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Well, no, our concern was for the privacy of personnel records and documents. And we were negotiating with the committee about how they could properly be provided.
Q Since the bombing in Manchester on the weekend, has Tony Lake had any contacts with the parties of the conflict in Northern Ireland? And, secondly, has the White House attitude to Sinn Fein shifted in the wake of the bombing?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have throughout this period remained in contact with the parties. It's a historic moment for the peace process because of the all-party talks that commenced June 10. And we continue to believe those are very important to the future of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
This morning, just as an example, Mr. Lake had conversations with Gary McMichael and David Ervine, two Loyalist Party leaders from the UPD and the PUP. He underscored his support for their very constructive engagement in the peace process, including their efforts to keep the Loyalists' cease-fire intact. That's been one sign of a commitment to the peace process and the courage it takes to make peace that the Loyalists' cease-fire has held during this period. And certainly the National Security Advisor continued those party leaders to keep that in place. Along with reviewing other aspects of the peace process, they had a good discussion of what progress might be made as the party talks go through the discussion now about what they might -- at the State Department, but certainly not here -- called the modalities of the talks. Those discussions continue with Senator Mitchell and other members.
As to our view of Sinn Fein, we will continue to remain in touch with Sinn Fein. We'll continue to remain in touch with all the parties so long as we deem that to be useful in advancing the peace process itself.
Q Mike, at the time of the ValuJet crash, Secretary Pena made rather broad and sweeping assertions about his confidence in the safety of ValuJet's operations, which have since been almost completely countermanded by the FAA's decision yesterday. What's the President's view of the Secretary's performance in that regard? And did he think he misstepped, overstepped --
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Pena, at an opportunity to brief Mr. Panetta yesterday, pointed out, as did Administrator Hinson, yesterday when he addressed that same question, that in the immediate aftermath of the crash, they were relying upon the information that the FAA had available concerning security procedures at ValuJet up until that point. As a consequence of the crash, as you'll recall, the Administrator and the Secretary ordered an extensive 30-day review of safety procedures. And the results of that 30-day review were announced by the Administrator yesterday. If I'm not mistaken, in about 10 minutes, Secretary Pena will be holding a press conference and be talking about some of the management aspects that arise from the work that they've been doing there.
Q But did the President -- just daring to suggest a parallel with other situations that occasionally occur at the White House in which you're called on to make pronouncements about the probity of files or the investigative sweep of something, does the President think, with the coolness of hindsight, it would have been better for the Department of Transportation, and thus the government of the United States, to make a more tentative and tepid assessment of the safety of an airline under scrutiny than the sweeping defense he made at the time?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President understands that hindsight is 20/20. In the immediate aftermath of a crash for which there was an enormous amount of public interest and public concern, the Secretary of Transportation addressed the surrounding safety issues as best he could based on the information he had available. The important thing is that they sought additional information. They did additional investigations and safety checks, as they well should have. And the consequences for those safety checks are those that were outlined by the Administrator of the FAA yesterday.
Q Michael, does the President retain full confidence in Mr. Pena and Mr. Hinson?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Mike, there's a published report that George Stephanopoulos and Harold Ickes took Pena to task after those initial remarks. Is that true to the best of your knowledge? And what were the circumstances there?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not familiar with that conversation or with those -- with those conversations. I'd have to check and see.
Q You don't know whether it's true or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea whether that's true or not. I think, as always, our concern always is to make sure that we have the best available information and the most accurate information coming from any Cabinet official or any part of the government, including the remarks that we make here at the White House.
Q Does the President support the departure of --
MR. MCCURRY: I am not, in talking to Mr. Panetta today, not certain how much detail we were given on the management
reforms that I gather will be announced very shortly at Transportation. In a broad sense, some of the steps that they were taking were reviewed with the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff then did brief the President about both the announcement last night concerning ValuJet and also some of the decisions the Secretary and the Administrator have taken related to the announcements they're about to make. And the President concurred in the steps outlined by the Secretary.
Q Mike, back on the files. On what grounds is executive privilege being claimed for those 2,000 pages of documents?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'd prefer to get the answer from Jack Quinn, but it's the constitutional protection that derives from the President's ability to consult with his advisors, to have internal deliberations that allow the President to perform his constitutional duties. That's the broad sense.
Q Well, how is the oversight committee to assess whether allegations of wrongdoing or improper conduct are warranted if it cannot examine the files?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the question relates to the type of material requested, and I'd refer you back to Jack Quinn's letter where he points out the type of material they're requesting. It's material that goes to the President's conversations with attorneys, to the internal deliberative process within the administration. In fact, it's safe to say the one reason -- in recent days many of you have asked why doesn't the White House conduct its own internal investigation of the FBI files matter. Part of the reason is because the Clinger Committee went exactly to the heart of that type of internal deliberation and began to investigate the investigation, which has produced months of taxpayer finance back and forth between the Congress and the President.
Q Are you saying that the White House will not conduct inquiries because it's afraid that its inquiries might be subject to oversight investigation? Is that really -- obligation to do them?
MR. MCCURRY: It's quite clear, based on the tenor of some of the investigations that have been launched by this Republican majority, that they will spare no lengths to attempt to interfere with the President's abilities to conduct his official duties.
Q So that's the reason for the claim of executive privilege?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's a very specific assertion of privilege that is outlined in Quinn's letter. Can we get a copy of Quinn's letter? For those of you who are asking, we'll distribute that again.
Q Did the President have any conversations with Craig Livingstone about the leave of absence either before it was announced or subsequent to it?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.
Q What about the restructuring of that office? When is that going to happen and what will happen, who's going to be put in charge?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House Legal Counsel, Jack Quinn, as you can well imagine, to carry out the procedures that he outlined in his memorandum on Friday, has had to look at what is necessary to carry out the mandates in that memo to make sure that those procedures are adhered to and what type of leadership the Office of Personnel Security needs, generally what type of process we have to comply with the types of procedures he outlines in that memo.
He's very confident he's got a good idea of how to proceed on that. They're in the process of finalizing that. I expect there will be some additional memorandum that he will issue to White House staff at the proper point that will outline those procedures.
Q Who is going to be put in charge of that office?
MR. MCCURRY: That will all be determined by the review made by the Legal Counsel, submitted to the Chief of Staff, approved by the Chief of Staff. And as I said, I think they've got a pretty good plan how they're going to proceed. And they'll probably have it done pretty soon.
Q Do you think it will be done today?
Q How soon?
MR. MCCURRY: It could be today, tomorrow. The Legal Counsel indicated last night on a television interview that he wanted to get it done in the next 48 hours.
Q Mike, when did it become clear yesterday that this step that you pretty well indicated did not occur was going to occur?
MR. MCCURRY: You mean, Mr. Livingstone's request to go on administration leave?
MR. MCCURRY: That happened at about -- my guess it would be sometime around 9:00 p.m. last night, maybe shortly before.
Q I know that it -- but when did the discussions that led to it start, do you know, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: The discussions about the office and to implement some of the changes began really after the issuance of Mr. Quinn's memo, because he needed to make sure he's got procedures in place to satisfy that memo. What type of structure there ought to be in that office and what type of supervision there should be in that office, I think, has been an ongoing concern of the President, the Chief of Staff and the Legal Counsel for the past several days. As to specifically Mr. Livingstone's role, I think those matters developed during the course of the day yesterday. But I'd have to -- I'd want to go back and check and see exactly what type of conversations were held on that.
Q Do you know who originated --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Livingstone initiated the request to be put on administrative leave.
Q I understand that, but whose idea was it that he do so?
MR. MCCURRY: He made the request.
Q I know he made the request, but the idea that he should go elsewhere, did that really originate with him, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: He initiated the request and you should probably ask him or his representative.
Q To be more specific, when did the first notion of reorganizing the office come up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that was suggested in some ways by the memorandum that the Legal Counsel did that outlines some very tough new procedures that have to apply to that office. Whether or not you've got in place the people and the resources and the leadership and the management structure to carry out those guidelines is something that properly the Legal Counsel should address as the immediate supervisor for that office.
Q In view of the fact that more is now known about the backgrounds of Messrs. Marceca and Livingstone, do terms like "innocent mistake" and "bureaucratic snafu" that were used by the President and the White House previously, do they still apply? Are they still factual?
MR. MCCURRY: We have no information or evidence to suggest otherwise.
Q I just wanted to ask, following up on Brian and Brit's question, Mike, given that the impression left here in this briefing yesterday was very clear that no immediate personnel change would --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I went back and reviewed the transcript -- I indicated there was no disciplinary action pending against Mr. Livingstone, and that remains the case.
Q But the tone of the discussion was that we were not going to see precipitant personnel actions at the White House or in that office. I'm not saying you misled us, I'm just saying the tone was, don't expect precipitant action. So my question is, were there discussions in telephone or in person late yesterday afternoon and early yesterday evening among senior White House officials, up to and including the President, about whether this would be a wise idea? And did the President and his senior advisers discuss this at some point or some length, based on the level of questions you've got now on three successive occasions, yesterday and Friday twice, about whether this would be a wise idea? And did Mr. Livingstone's decisions grow out of that internal discussion in the White House staff yesterday afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a complicated question, very similar to Brit's earlier -- when did the discussions begin about the reorganization of that office. To the best of my knowledge, they have been ongoing in the last several days, and specifically how they ought to pertain to Mr. Livingstone is something that developed during the course of yesterday. I can't tell you exactly when, but as to specifically during the day yesterday, yes, during the evening and early evening yesterday there were conversations about how that office ought to organized.
Q Was the President involved or present?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- to my knowledge, the President was not involved in those conversations. But certainly the Chief of Staff was and the Legal Counsel was and others.
Q Were there negotiations about the question of when, the timing, and whether or not he would be paid?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. As Mr. Quinn indicated, he was contacted by Mr. Livingstone, who asked to be placed on administrative leave.
Q When did he decide he would be paid?
MR. MCCURRY: The circumstances of that I've already suggested you might want to ask Mr. Livingstone or his representative.
Q Well, it's still not clear to me, Mike, is whether he jumped or was pushed.
MR. MCCURRY: He was -- as Mr. Quinn indicated, he asked to be placed on administrative leave.
Q Were there conversations with him about a possible leave before he made that call to Quinn?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any such conversations. But again I suggest you contact him or his representative. And again, it's his representative, I think, that would be most useful, since I believe that's who has -- most of the contact that we've had has been through his counsel.
Q Do you know was the President informed of that decision before Mr. Quinn went on Larry King Live? Did the President know that's what was going to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: He -- either just before or just after. But I know Mr. Quinn did brief him on some of the steps that are being taken.
Q Do we have an answer yet to the Friday question on how Mr. Livingstone came to be put in charge of that office and how Mr. Marceca came?
MR. MCCURRY: The circumstances of the detail -- we have provided correspondence between the White House and the Pentagon to Chairman Clinger's committee, and I believe you can get that correspondence from Mr. Fabiani if you ask him.
Q Meeting with the governors?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The President tomorrow is going to have a group -- bipartisan group of southern governors and their attorneys general present to talk about the rash of church burnings, principally in the South, of concern to the entire nation, and now arising some other places as well. They will hear a presentation from Jim Johnson, the Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Enforcement; Deval Patrick, who's the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights; and from Secretary Cisneros that will really go through the various elements of the Treasury Department's, Justice Department's and HUD's response to the crisis with these burnings, to the efforts that the federal government can make to assist state and local governments deal with the problem, and also in come cases provide federal assistance for rebuilding.
That is the purpose of HUD's presentation. They'll have, also, an opportunity for both the President and the Vice President, who will be there as well, to hear more from the governors about the impressive law enforcement efforts that state governments have conducted.
The President looks forward to this session as one in which ideas can be exchanged between the governors and between local -- those responsible for local law enforcement and those who are directing the federal effort, and we certainly hope that by demonstrating that a bipartisan group of governors are willing to join with the President to condemn these burnings, that that will be a very strong signal that the United States cannot tolerate these tragic and unfortunate types of acts.
Q Is the President looking for anything concrete to come out of this meeting, or is this primarily something symbolic, intended to send a message?
MR. MCCURRY: It will both be symbolic and send a message to be sure, but also be an opportunity for us to hear an evaluation from these governors and from the attorneys general who will be present what they think needs to be done, if there is anything that can be done in addition to the extensive federal law enforcement effort that is underway already. So it will have both a practical and concrete impact as well.
Now, I also should tell you that the President is going to tell them that today we requested an additional $12 million in supplemental appropriations for ATF to intensify some of the federal efforts that have been underway. We've told you and briefed you about some of the additional things that we're doing in the field that obviously is going to require some reprogramming of funds. So we have requested that that $12 million be transferred from other funds that are available in Treasury Department accounts; that's for the ATF. And then we're also going to ask the Department of Justice to use its existing authority to reallocate about $9.5 million of FY '96 funds. This is principally to investigate each of the arson incidents. So it's a total of $21.5 million.
Q How many governors were invited, and what's the turnout so far?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got, I think, over a half-dozen Democrats and Republicans expected to attend, and we're still in contact with some people -- they're trying to rearrange schedules and see if they can make it, so we may have some additional as well.
Q -- time of the event, and coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: It's 1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Q Was that a half-dozen Republicans and a half-dozen Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: I think just over a half-dozen total currently confirmed. We've got a number who will be sending representatives, and we're still waiting to hear back finally from some others.
Q Mike, who are the ones who have confirmed?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not really doing the list yet. We'll put out the full list later. Yes, we'll put the full list out later.
Q Have you had any outright refusals?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge, no. We've got some people who can't attend because of a prior conflict, but who all, to my knowledge, have asked to send representatives if they can't attend.
Q Unfortunately, the more publicity this issue has gotten, at least since Greelyville, the more burnings there seem to be. Has any thought been given to cooling the level of publicity and expressed concern?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a hard call to make because of the concern about copycat crimes, but we can't judge motive based on the information we have. We don't know whether these incidents were triggered or motivated by additional publicity. In any event, the President feels and concurs with those who say forcefully within the black church community that it's important to speak out and condemn these reprehensible acts.
Q Mike, back to the files. Have you made any progress on determining what list they were working from? And can you give us any clues as to the -- of this mysterious list The New York Times referred to today that still had Jim Baker's name on it?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know anything about the list that's referred to in The New York Time's account. And in checking with people here at the White House I haven't found anyone who suggests that it was provided by the White House to The New York Times.
As to the first part of the question, what list was used by Mr. Marceca will be very materially relevant to any investigation that is pursued on this, and the White House, again, would welcome, if not even encourage, an independent investigation into the circumstances related to the request for these files, the presence of these files at the White House.
Q Are you saying by implication there that the White House continues to feel that it should not engage in trying to find out because it's the province of the investigation or what's going on?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe these matters will be examined one way or another. We've had contact with the independent counsel. We understand that some aspects of this matter have already been reviewed by the FBI, and we believe that that is the proper way to get answers to the many questions that we would like to have answered, including many of those that you've been raising.
Q Does that mean then that the White House is not itself actively seeking those answers and will await those investigations to get them?
MR. MCCURRY: That is correct. We are not conducting any internal investigation of these matters ourselves, believing that that would, one, be attacked by the President's political opponents; two, be challenged most likely by the Congressional Oversight process and lead to additional requests for information, additional inquiries; and, three, because these matters have already been, at least in some respects, reviewed by the independent counsel. There's a body of investigative work that could be built on and, certainly, there's the work that the FBI has already done within its own organization. So there's an investigative record there that could be pursued.
Q Mike, the directive the President issued today on welfare to require single mothers to name the father before they receive welfare benefits, what happens in cases where the mother says honestly she doesn't know who the father is?
MR. MCCURRY: The requirement for cooperation with a state's child support enforcement agency or with its welfare agency, whichever a state would require, would allow, and the regulations the HHS will issue pursuant to the President's directive would allow, a good-faith exception in cases where there really cannot be any certainty that the mother knows who the likely father is. So there is an exception there, but it is, in practice from what we understand, fairly rare that you find that kind of circumstance.
There's also a good-faith exception for women who might feel that they, identifying the father, could lead to any instances of domestic violence. So there are some ways in which, in a setting that a state either welfare agency or child support enforcement agency is looking at a case, that they can get some discretion in a case-by-case basis to protect the mother.
Q On welfare -- is the equipment for all of this tracking already in place and the programs already in place? And does this mean more paperwork for small businesses or businesses that are --
MR. MCCURRY: Bruce Reed is here -- you all know, Domestic Policy Advisor to the President, has been working on this.
MR. REED: Well, the President took two actions. One was stricter cooperation requirement for paternity for mothers who apply for welfare. The second was to set up a national program to help track absent parents across state lines.
Essentially, what it does is, it allows the 25 states that already collect new-hire information and that require employers to report to the state every time they hire a new employee, it allows those states to submit that information to the federal government, which the federal government can match against its master list of absent parents from all 50 states, which we already collect. So this is already existing information that the 25 states have, and an existing computer tape that we already maintain for all 50 states.
This program has been extremely successful within the states that have done it. Washington and Florida are a couple of leaders. Washington collects $20 in additional child support collections for every dollar it puts into this program. And our welfare reform bill includes child support measures that would make new-hire reporting a national requirement, so that all 50 states would begin to do this, because it is one of the main ways to make it easier for the government to track down delinquent parents. The two best ways to get out of paying child support are to move across state lines and to move from job to job, and this initiative gets at both of those.
Q So is this adding to a state bureaucracy, or is this adding to a company's bureaucracy and having to file --
MR. REED: Twenty-five states already require employers to do this. We're saying to those 25 states, send us that information and we will run it against our list of delinquent parents, and every time we get a match we'll send it back to the state where the delinquent parent lives and allow a procedure to begin to start collections.
MR. MCCURRY: And remember, too, that most states require already reporting for unemployment compensation purposes or workers compensation purposes, so that that type of record doesn't add extensive, additional burden to the private sector enterprises that report.
Q On the good-faith exceptions to naming the father, what's the thinking about how many women may choose this, and what are you doing to perhaps limit the number of women who either claim that they will be threatened by naming the father if they don't know?
MR. REED: I think in general, the importance of establishing paternity cannot be understated. Without a legal establishment of paternity, a mother and her family can't collect one cent of child support. So it is very much in the interest of the mothers and children involved to get the father's name on record and to get it legally established.
What has happened in current practice is that the welfare office in most states is not in the business of collecting the child support; the welfare office writes the welfare checks, the child support office does the child support collections. And so, even though there is a cooperation requirement on the books, the welfare agency doesn't press for an answer because it's not really their job to collect the child support. They just want to get the eligibility information and get the application processed and then, down the line if they get the information over the child support agency, then maybe the child support agency will take action.
What we're saying here is we want it to be a standard procedure for the welfare office to ask this information, for the mother to provide it, and then this regulation that we've initiated today will also require the welfare offices to, within two days, report that information to the child support office so that they can begin to start a legal proceeding against the father.
Q I understand that, but if I could follow, I don't know what is to keep the typical response from the mother becoming "I don't know who the father is" or perhaps more likely, "I'm in danger if I name the father."
MR. REED: In practice here's how we expect this to work out. This regulation which is based on the procedures in our own welfare reform bill and all the major welfare reform bills currently pending in Congress, requires the mother to provide the name of the father and some other identifying information which is different from current law which doesn't have those specific requirements. It simply requires any relevant information.
We have called on the states to develop their own set of criteria for how to deal with instances where the father is not known. And, as Mike said, we certainly allow for good-cause exceptions. But I think those decisions are best left to local communities on the ground because there is, obviously, a great deal of variety of different cases on welfare. But I think right now the welfare offices across the country just don't ask the question and they don't make any effort to explain to applicants how important establishment of paternity is to their future ability to collect child support. And we should also point out that collecting child support is one of the best ways to get off of welfare altogether.
Q Can I have that last answer again. What is the current law -- not the whole answer, just the part about what the current law is.
MR. REED: Let me read to you what current law says. Current law says, that a welfare recipient must provide, "relevant information in their possession."
Q What about anything?
MR. REED: About the child's father.
Q So what's new?
MR. MCCURRY: The principal difference here is that right now, in establishing paternity, the process begins after the application is submitted by the individual. It can takes months later. What we're doing today is insisting as a matter of regulation that it be done prior to receiving benefits. So, in other words, you trigger an automatic process where you begin the paternity identification process. In practice its been months sometimes before any of the process captures or collects people who might be skipping out on the benefits that they owe.
Q Mike, this isn't such a big difference, is it? I mean, all you're doing is changing --
MR. REED: No, two things, as Mike said. One is a more precise definition of what information the mother is supposed to provide. And, second, the office needs to determine that she is, in fact, cooperating before she can get on welfare in the first place. Under current law the mother can go on welfare, the determination of whether she's cooperating can come at any time, it doesn't have to come beforehand.
Q -- that the President has the power to do this unilaterally under existing law, so my next question is, why did it take him so long?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, the main reason is that we've been trying -- that this is an element of the President's national welfare reform proposal. We've been trying to get this enacted nationally. We're going ahead now and doing this, using the President's executive authority because it appears it's going to take some time for Congress to pass a comprehensive welfare reform proposal.
Q Yes, but this is also in the Republican welfare reform bill.
MR. MCCURRY: This has been in every version of welfare reform, whether it's Breaux-Chafee, whether it's the National Governors proposal that was built off of many of the President's ideas. It was in the President's 1994 and 1996 welfare reform bills.
Q Bruce, what list does the federal government use to check names against if they get it from the state?
MR. REED: There's something called the Parent Locator Service that's based at HHS. Every state submits its list of parents who are delinquent in child support, which is a list they compiled based on their child support caseload.
Q But in trying to track it down, do you try and match it against Social Security lists or taxpayer lists or --
MR. REED: Well, there are a number of different kinds of matches that the federal locator service already does. But this one in particular it take the new-hire information --
Q I understand that. I was just wondering what lists are used to try and locate them against. I mean, your master list of Social Security recipients or taxpayers? What kind of list?
MR. REED: You mean under current practices apart from this or -- well, I think the federal locator service matches it against -- they have the legal authority to match it against just about every available --
Q The IRS?
MR. REED: The IRS does a separate program that Treasury runs where they do a garnishment process, which is slightly different because there's certain privacy protections for tax information.
MR. MCCURRY: But that's important because I think, if I'm not mistaken, in 1995 about $828 million worth of income tax refunds that were due or held back because of cases where they could be properly garnished against people who were in arrears on their child support payments. So there's a cooperative thing that runs through the government.
Q Does the administration see any civil liberties problems with this? I mean, you guys seem very intent on tracking people, whether it's curfews, parts of the antiterrorism bill, on this thing.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, many aspects of the tracking process have been elements of some of the welfare reform experiments done at the state level. And some of that has been litigated already. The President is satisfied and the White House is satisfied that this would pass privacy tests and is certainly constitutional. And at the same time, let's think of the severity of the problem. We're talking about collecting child support payments. We're talking about ultimately money that is saved by the United States taxpayers. So there's a compelling national interesting in making sure that we collect from those who owe it due to court orders for child support payments. And the administration, as you know, has been working very hard on the problem since 1993. We've increased, I think, by $3 billion, from $8 billion to $11 billion, the amount that is collected now in child support payments. And that 40 percent increase is because we have worked very hard at making this a high priority. ??
Q Just a kind of global question on what Republicans are calling scandals. Today you have the Whitewater matter; you have Branscum-Hill in Arkansas; tomorrow Clinger is starting with his FBI file hearings. What is the White House's assessment of how long all this is going to last -- this lasting until November 5th? And what is the assessment of the political damage this is likely to cause?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because it's politics and political in nature, it clearly will last through the November election because the Republican candidate and the Republican Party, lacking any other substantive reason to make an appeal to the voters, is intent on taking these issues and stringing them together in the fashion that you just indicated and using this as their only campaign pitch.
We're just talking -- we just spent a minute with you talking about the very real problem of welfare reform, how we can help mothers make sure that they help us in identifying parents who need to have responsibility. The President is going to be dealing with church burnings tomorrow and how we combat that crisis. And those are issues I suggested Americans are concerned about. But the Republicans are going to, apparently, make their appeal based on fairly extraneous issues. And we'll just see in November which case or which argument is more compelling to the American people. I think I have an idea of which one might win.
Q Today, Chinese leader Jiang Zemin stressed his willingness to meet with President Clinton. What is your reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no reaction other than to suggest to you that the President and the Secretary of State have underscored the importance of regular highest-level meetings between the United States and the People's Republic of China. The President has enjoyed his encounters with President Jiang Zemin, and we would continue to hope that within the process of managing this very important relationship highest-level exchanges become a feature of the dialogue.
MR. MCCURRY: What are you doing?
Q I hope that's not on the tape.
Q Within the process of what? We couldn't hear.
Q Can you repeat that?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- that was such elegant State Department drivel I don't think I could repeat it again. (Laughter.)
The thrust of it is, the importance of that dialogue and that bilateral relationship would suggest that regular meetings at the highest level should be a feature. The Secretary of State argued that recently, that that should be a regular feature of the relationship. Clearly our ability to constructively engage with China, which we have seen some positive fruits from recently, depends on an engagement at highest levels.
Q So when is the next highest-level meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: There is nothing scheduled, but we are still in the process of scheduling the National Security Advisor's trip to China, which is still, hopefully, happening soon, right? We don't have a date for that yet.
Q Former White House lawyer, William Kennedy, was deposed on the Hill today. Is there any indication that he knew anything about the collection of FBI files?
MR. MCCURRY: The only thing that I know of his knowledge of these matters is as was reflected in the statement that he issued on Friday.
Q In a sworn statement, right?
MR. MCCURRY: He issued a statement, I'm not sure it was sworn in the fashion that Mr. Livingstone's statement was sworn, but he issued a statement much to the same effect.
Q Mike, now that --
MR. MCCURRY: Are we going to go back and do round two on the files now? Are you going to keep me sweating up here in front of the -- (laughter.) Let's try to wrap up pretty quick.
Q Now that Mr. Livingstone has been placed on administrative leave, does or does not the President have confidence in Mr. Livingstone?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got confidence that Mr. Livingstone made the right decision by asking to be placed on administrative leave.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:25 P.M. EDT