THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY, DR. JOSEPH STIGLITZ, CHAIRMAN OF THE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISORS, AND DR. LAURA TYSON, THE PRESIDENT'S NATIONAL ECONOMIC ADVISOR
The Briefing Room
10:48 A.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Economic news today. So, as always, we're glad we can have our top economic team here with us today -- Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, who is the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors is here, along with the President's National Economic Advisor, Dr. Laura Tyson. They're both here to tell you more about growth and the future of the American economy, and any other subjects that they would like to hold forth on.
Dr. Stiglitz, Dr. Tyson, welcome.
DR. STIGLITZ: Thank you. Well, this week's economic figures continue to indicate a remarkably strong economy with low inflation. Today's report on gross domestic product highlights the continuation of a healthy economic expansion led by strong investment and private sector activity.
Now, GDP figures often fluctuate from quarter to quarter, and today's numbers I think make most sense when they're looked at in a slightly longer perspective. They show that in 1996, real GDP has risen at almost a 3 percent annual rate.
Inflation has edged down to a 2.1 percent annual rate. Since the beginning of 1996, private sector activity has grown at a robust 3.5 percent annual rate. And since the beginning of 1993, private sector activity has grown at a 3.2 percent annual rate. Equipment investment is up 44 percent since the beginning of 1993, which is over five times faster than the pace of gain during the previous four years.
Let me turn a little bit more to the details of this quarter's report. In the third quarter real gross domestic product rose at an annual rate of 2.2 percent, the private sector of the economy grew at a 3 percent annual rate and equipment investment rose at an astonishing 19 percent annual rate.
Incomes grew rapidly. Real disposable income, which is the real incomes after taxes and after adjusting for inflation, rose again at an impressive 4.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter.
Meanwhile, inflation remains very subdued. The GDP price index, which is a more comprehensive measure of inflation in the CPI, rose at only a 1.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter.
Such strong private sector growth and investment bodes well for further income gains and low inflation in the future. The administration's economic policies, deficit reduction, investments in education and efforts to open markets here and abroad have laid solid foundations for stronger economic growth and higher living standards in the future.
DR. TYSON: Well, I will just say it's a pleasure to be here, yet again, to discuss some good economic news for the American economy. We have the GDP report, but this is only one of several reports that have come out this week, and I think it's important to put all this in context. We had a report this week which we talked about earlier, on the deficit. And I think it is important to recall that four years ago, President Clinton did promise to cut the deficit by 50 percent. It's been cut by 63 percent. It was $290 billion in 1992; it's $107 billion today, and this is a real achievement of the administration.
The Republicans deserve some credit for pushing the issue of balancing the budget, but President Clinton's 1993 economic plan, in fact, deserves the lion's share of the credit for the deficit reduction that we have achieved, and which is the foundation for the private sector's health and prosperity.
When you look at how much spending was reduced below the President's budget request the GOP, by our estimates, deserves only two to three percent of the credit for the drop in the deficit last year. It's the 1993 economic plan and it's positive economic impact that's contributed to about 75 percent of the deficit reduction. So, when we come to you month after month with good numbers on the economy, we are, in a sense, reflecting the reality that the economy has responded, as we had hoped it would, to the President's 1993 economic package. Another piece of news this week -- very important to emphasize -- is consumer confidence. Four years ago, consumer confidence was falling; today, it's at the highest level in six years.
In October, 1992, the Confidence Board's consumer confidence index was 56, today it's almost double that; it stands at 102. This happens to be about the same level that consumer confidence was at when President Ronald Reagan declared that it was morning in America. So we do have a confident set of consumers out there, and when you look at this growth of private, disposable, real income at 4.9 percent, that seems to me, along with an unemployment rate staying below 6 percent for 25 months, and at the lowest level in 7.5 years, this is what consumers are responding to -- they're responding to income growth, take-home, real income growth and they're responding to low -- continued low unemployment rates.
And I just want to end by saying that we tend to write our own talking points up here and to talk about the economy as we see it, but we have the benefit that numerous bipartisan, nonpartisan, objective economic experts who look at the progress of the U.S. economy have concluded that the U.S. economy is doing very well. And I just want to end with a quote from Alan Sinai, who is one of America's top economic forecasters. He said that, the U.S. economy is in excellent shape and, "when the history book on this business cycle upturn is written, it will go down as the best-ever, compared with other post-World War II upturns."
We have a sound, solid economic expansion. The underpinning of this is fiscal responsibility and private sector confidence, both in the business community and consumers. We have a low inflation expansion that's exactly the kind of expansion that can continue into the future as we move towards the 21st century.
Q Dr. Tyson, could you tell us, if the consumer confidence is so high, then what explains the fact that consumer spending, it says, grew by only 0.4 percent, the most sluggish increase in consumer spending in nearly five years?
DR. TYSON: I would say that -- we anticipate that, based on the income growth numbers, disposable income growth numbers, and the consumer confidence numbers, that consumer spending will remain strong. I don't know about you, but I certainly do vary my month-to-month expenditures patterns; it doesn't say anything about how I feel about the confidence I have in the economy.
So we would anticipate that consumer spending would, as has traditionally been the case, keep pace relative to the growth of real disposable income and employment opportunities.
DR. STIGLITZ: Yes. There's one other factor I think that will enhance the growth of consumer spending, and that is the fact that the net worth-to-income ratio is actually higher than it's been since the '60s, so that in terms of household balance sheets, they're actually in a very good situation.
Q Why did The Washington Post columnists, like Glassman and so forth, call it "an anemic economy"? (Laughter.)
DR. TYSON: You know, you will have to ask them. I think that again, if you look at what outside experts say, perhaps you can get a better sense of where the economy is. If you look for example -- I've mentioned this numerous times, but I think it does a very good job. A Baron's Magazine article of a couple of months ago, which basically compared economic expansions under a wide variety of indicators, economic growth, unemployment rate, inflation rate, interest rates. And when you look at this wide variety of indicators you see very clearly that this economy, under President Clinton, has performed better than any Democratic administration in 30 years.
Q What figures are -- is Dole using?
DR. STIGLITZ: Can I --
DR. TYSON: Yes, sure. Absolutely.
DR. STIGLITZ: Part of the reason -- you can always play games with statistics and, obviously, depending on your perspective, you try to pick out things that make it look one way or the other. One tendency that they tend to do is to look from the trough of the 1983 recession. And growing out of that hole, the economy grew very fast. But you have to remember that was the worst recession since the Great Depression -- that was the worst recession since the Great Depression.
So, when you're -- unemployment was in excess of 10 percent at that time. So, when you're coming out from that deep hole you have very fast economic growth -- it appears to have fast economic growth. But if you make comparable -- no economist would use that kind of trough measurement of how fast you're growing off of the trough. If you look at a broader perspective, like private sector GDP growth, it was 3 percent in the Reagan administration, over that eight years, and as compared to what we've had this year, 3.5 percent year-to-date, and 3.2 percent over the whole Clinton administration -- if you compare it to the Bush Administration, it was 1.3 percent.
So, if you're trying to look at this -- I always grade on a curve with my students -- if you're looking at it on grading on a curve in historical, we actually are really very strong. And it's particularly strong when you put in context of two other factors, how the other major industrial economies are growing -- we're just doing so much better than all of them, and partly because we've done so much better in getting our deficit under control. And secondly, typically, historically, when governments have reduced -- there is a fiscal drag caused by the fact that we're spending less. And it's because we've done it in a way that has given confidence to the economy that -- and interest rates have come down -- it really has generated this enormous private sector growth.
Q One of the numbers that you didn't mention in one of the reports this week that wasn't particularly good was in the area of Medicare. And I just wondered how the administration intends to address entitlement reform next year and whether the fact that it's not as good --
DR. TYSON: My understanding was the most recent report on the Medicare Trust Fund situation was better than expected, not worse than expected. So, that's the first point. But the second point is, I think we've made a very clear signal on this. We have said we have in our balanced budget of last year, a proposal which would extend the life of the trust fund by just about a decade, which is exactly the amount of time that the Republican plan would have extended the life of the trust fund, and we do recognize that for longer-term issues that have to do with changing demographics, we look forward to a bipartisan process to work with the Congress to get a solution.
But it is important to say that the President has led on this issue, that indeed, as part of his economic package in 1993, which the Republicans did not vote for, actually added life to the trust fund. And it was proposed by Senator Dole that we undo that particular addition to the trust fund. The President has behaved responsibly on the issue of Medicare from the very beginning.
We want to slow the rate of growth of Medicare, do it in such a way that we preserve its quality, and we can do that. And the first thing we should do is get bipartisan agreement on a balanced budget to get the trust fund situation solved over the short to medium-term of a decade.
Q Dr. Tyson, the third quarter business inventories were up about five times the pace we saw the second quarter. Does this rising backlog of unsold inventory alarm you?
DR. STIGLITZ: No. The fact is, that the inventory to sales ratios remain lean, so that -- they were very lean in the second quarter and now there has been some restocking. But the inventories, relative to the sales, are still at a very moderate level.
Q The second quarter growth was 4.7 percent, it slowed down to 2.2 percent, why was -- what's the cause of the slowdown and is there any reason to think that it will continue to slow down even more in the next quarter?
DR. STIGLITZ: Well, as I said, there are a number of factors that go into quarterly GDP. There is a lot of fluctuation on a quarter to quarter basis. One factor that we just talked about a few minutes ago was that there was a relatively weak consumer spending. And there are very strong reasons to believe that there will be a pickup in consumer spending, the fact that consumer confidence is high, real disposable income, what people have to spend was up 4.9 percent. And the net worth-to-income ratio was the highest it's been since the '60s.
Another factor is that net exports were not as strong as one would have liked. That's largely because our economy has been growing faster than many of our trading partners. And whenever our economy grows faster, we import more than -- our imports are stronger than our exports. Exports as a whole have done very impressively over the last three years. They're up over 30 percent, and it's particularly impressive, given the fact that our economy has been growing faster than other economies have been. But there are some growth in some of the European countries that looks like it's going to pick up, and that will strengthen that part of the GDP as well.
DR. TYSON: Can I say one other thing. I want to emphasize here that we are looking at a quarterly report. We need to keep in mind also -- basically we forecast for the year and I think it's important to emphasize what we have seen this year. Economic growth this year has averaged 2.9 percent, actually a little more than that. This is substantially in excess of our forecast for the year, which was 2.2 percent and even more in excess of the CBO's projection of 2.0 percent.
The Congress did a forecast of 2.0 percent assuming their balanced budget passed -- would be passed. This economy is strong, it's coming in stronger than forecast and I think I would just emphasize that this administration has a record now of each year having an economy which out-performs its forecast. And it is important, as we go into a next round of budget talks, to emphasize the need for conservative forecasting, but also the recognition that by setting a forecast, that doesn't tell us anything about a goal or about what the economy can do over the long run. But, remember, keep in mind this year, the economy on average is growing at an annual rate of 2.9 percent.
DR. STIGLITZ: Can I just add one other aspect? There are some important measurement problems that, over the last seven quarters, there are two different ways of measuring the size of the economy. One is from the income side, one is from the output side. If you look in any textbook, they're supposed to be the same; in fact, there have been large discrepancies between the two.
The fact that we've seen real disposable income as strong as it is this quarter -- 4.9 percent -- is a suggestion that kind of discrepancy is continuing with income growth being a much stronger indicator of the economy than the gross domestic product side is. And, as I say, over the last seven quarters, the discrepancy has been in the order of magnitude of one-half to one whole percentage point.
Q What guarantees are there, though, that the administration will stay on the deficit-reducing plan? It seems the President talks more about tax cuts and spending proposals than about balancing the budget.
DR. TYSON: The President has, I think -- every time he has talked about a proposal for a particular targeted tax cut or a particular program, such as, say, the school construction program I talked to you about a few months ago -- he has absolutely laid down clearly, line by line and dime by dime how it would be paid for. It has always been delineated within the context of a balanced budget, and we have always adhered to the goal of balancing the budget. So both by our record of accomplishment on deficit reduction, on the fact that we have a plan that balances the budget before the Congress, and on the fact that we have specified with each new initiative exactly how it will be paid for, I think that all of those things show our commitment to the goal of continued fiscal responsibility.
MR. MCCURRY: Let's just take three more -- one, two three.
Q In line with that, I have a fax from the House Republican Conference, and it says -- it's quoting a report in The Post, and it says that "markets threaten crash if Dems win Congress." And what they're saying is that fear is seeping into the market, and if the Republicans lose the House, the market will sell off; if they lose the House and Senate, the market will crash. What do you say to that?
DR. STIGLITZ: (Laughter.) Well, the first thing is that we don't comment on the stock market, just like we don't comment on the Fed. But, having said that, let me comment. (Laughter.) The fact is that the economy is very strong. And if you look at every one of the indicators that we've been talking about, investment is strong -- people wouldn't be investing at the kind of rate that we're talking about, real investment going up 19 percent, if they didn't have confidence in the economy.
The sheer profits in GDP the last measurement we had was at 8.7 percent, was the highest it had been -- as high as it's been in 28 years. Interest rates are low, they've come down this week substantially in response to the fact that the deficit numbers are coming in lower, the inflation numbers that we reported today are coming in lower -- you know, at 1.9 percent for the GDP price index.
All of these are factors which mean that the fundamentals underlying the economy are just very strong. And this, combined with what Dr. Tyson said, that our absolute commitment to deficit reduction and going forward on deficit reduction gives every reason why things should remain strong.
DR. TYSON: Can I just make one observation we should keep in mind? It was the Republicans who predicted in 1993 that the President's economic plan would lead to the economy going in the tank, would lead to an increase in the unemployment rate, would lead to an increase in the deficit, and some of them said it would lead to a recession. I think the predictive abilities of some of the members of the Republican side of the aisle in the Congress on the economy is questionable; I would not take this prediction seriously.
Q It was about a year ago -- it was about a year ago that a major adjustment in the CPI was considered a possible factor in a final agreement. You've had a year to look at that. Is it possible that could be part of a pact next year -- is that political suicide?
DR. TYSON: I think that our position on this has been all along -- this is an issue which the BLS and a series of technically sophisticated economists and statisticians who make their life focusing on how to improve the measurement of inflation, how to improve the measurement of the standard of living, this issue is an issue for them to make technical determinations on. And they are doing that, they have done this numerous times while we have been here in terms of making adjustments, quality adjustments to various important products in the CPI, and I think we should not politicize this issue.
MR. MCCURRY: Last question.
Q A few minutes ago you mentioned that the official forecast for GDP growth for the year was 2.2 percent and for the first nine months has come in at 2.9 percent. Are you prepared to now revise that forecast?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are in the process of coming up with our forecast that will be used for the next budget cycle. We're obviously aware of the fact that the economy has done better than our forecast said. We should remind, picking up what Dr. Tyson said earlier, we have consistently said that when we do our budgeting -- our forecast for budgeting purposes those are not our aspirations, those are deliberately-used conservative numbers so that when the budget deficit numbers come in, they have consistently been larger than we had originally predicted.
DR. TYSON: Deficit reduction numbers.
MR. MCCURRY: Deficit reduction numbers, I'm sorry, the deficit reduction numbers. And the reason for this, I think, is that it is important for there to be confidence in our deficit reduction strategy so that, obviously, as we go about doing our new forecast we will take into account the obvious success that the economy has had over the last nine months.
Q Dr. Tyson, can we see the line-by-line, dime-by-dime?
DR. TYSON: In each of these proposals we have background information.
Q They've been vague.
DR. TYSON: Pardon?
MR. MCCURRY: No, they've been very specific. When the President has put forward new proposals we provide very specific -- in the press office those copies, if you need them.
MR. SPERLING: Mike, I can bring down one-page -- proposals with specifics by the end of your briefing.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Sperling will entertain you for hours providing you the detail. (Laughter.) Thank you, Laura. Thank you, Joe. Other subjects, anybody? Yes.
Q Do you think that the disclosures about -- on various campaign finance fronts is causing political damage to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: We are within days now of the American people making their own decisions about issues like that and I'll defer to the judgment of the American people. We have not seen any evidence of that, but Tuesday they vote.
Q Since we have no access to the President, what is his reaction to all of this?
MR. MCCURRY: Everyone has got a lot of access. You just haven't been out on the campaign trail with us.
Q Throw away the question, then.
MR. MCCURRY: You should come on out with the campaign trail with us.
Q Mike, have you decided the time or venue or day exactly for the speech on campaign finance reform?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not. We want to fit it into the schedule that we've already announced for the President. My guess is it will probably be Santa Barbara on Friday; that's what we're tentatively thinking of at this point.
Q What is his reaction? Does he have a reaction to all of this?
MR. MCCURRY: To what subject? To what --
Q To Huang and to Middleton and to --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the one that I've been giving every day and, when asked, he clearly sees the importance of addressing the issue of campaign finance reform. I've indicated that he will do so. And secondly, that we've taken steps and encouraged the DNC to take steps to provide any answers that need to be provided.
Q Does he think he's being hurt by this?
MR. MCCURRY: I just answered that question.
Q Mike, I just wanted to clarify, in looking towards '97, does the President think that taking the McCain-Feingold bill the way it is, is the way to start, or would he like to advocate maybe going back to the bipartisan commission idea and starting from the bill and working forward?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, both -- and don't rule out the possibility of maybe some combination of both. The President clearly will address exactly those types of questions when he speaks to the issue. We had hoped that we would use a bipartisan commission, as agreed to with Speaker Gingrich, to make progress on campaign finance reform. But when the Speaker was not able to fulfill his side of that agreement we turned our attention to the McCain-Feingold legislation, that currently is the best vehicle that's available for campaign finance reform, but I've heard at least Senator Feingold address the question of how they might want to look at that measure and make some modifications in that measure as the 105th Congress comes into session next year.
We obviously will work with proponents of campaign finance reform, as we have. The President clearly believes there is ample evidence that this should be a priority.
Q Mike, what does the President think about the endorsement from The Washington Post today?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it. Obviously, we appreciate support from editorial voices around the country but, as any editorial writer will tell you, it's not clear what impact that has on the judgment the voters make.
Q On exactly that, doesn't it concern you that you have two big endorsements, New York Times and The Washington Post --and The Washington Post was using words like "demagoguery" on Medicare, "evasive." What kind of an endorsement is that? They are both endorsing Mr. Bill Clinton but using words --
MR. MCCURRY: Who did they not endorse? (Laughter.) Enough said.
Q There was not much of a choice.
Q A qualified endorsement, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: You have a question?
Q But, Mike, I wanted to just go back to this campaign finance. For days, the Democratic National Committee has been saying that it has not been using any money going into the federal election cycle and so forth, and it turns out there have been monies going to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign. Doesn't this make the committee basically look like a bunch of liars?
MR. MCCURRY: No, you are --
Q And don't you come off looking --
MR. MCCURRY: You're misstating what they said. If I understand them correctly, it is that they no reportable expenditure from the period October 1 to October 16th that triggered the reporting requirement. Regardless of that, we felt, and I think that the Chairman of the DNC felt that they had an obligation to disclose, but what you've just alleged is not correct.
Q The FEC and Department of Justice are looking into some of the questionable contributions and, as you acknowledged earlier today, there are some contributions that have already been demonstrated to be improper. Presumably, the people doing these contributions at least thought they were doing the President's bidding and the Democratic Party's bidding. What is he doing to send a message of intolerance for this behavior rather than just saying it's investigated to make clear that he doesn't want people using these sorts of tactics and methods?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, exactly those steps that I have outlined for you in the past several days that he ordered that be taken, and you're aware of those. We talked about them in the past several days.
Q But has there been any sort of statement of intolerance about this either -- we know there hasn't been publicly. What about privately?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what we have said publicly has reflected certainly what we've communicated privately.
Q Mike, but just the general theme of the President kind of, you know -- and we've all been saying it -- when is the President going to really express a sense of -- I don't know if he even feels angry or outraged -- or did --
Q Where is the outrage?
MR. MCCURRY: That got asked earlier. I think Santa Barbara on Friday. Is there anything else? Yes.
Q Wake up, America.
Q Chancellor Kohl marks 14 years in office tomorrow and is I think the most durable leader in Europe. Could you comment on the relations Clinton has had with them? They've had some pretty good meals together. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: They have actually formed a bond, both personal and a bond that reflects the strong ties between the United States and the Federal Republic. Both of them have worked hard on the principal questions that face the post-war world, certainly the post Cold War Europe. And whether it's the issue of Bosnia, European integration, the future of NATO, questions of relations with the Russian Federation of which Chancellor Kohl has been an undisputed authority in both providing guidance and counsel to all of us in the West.
The President has found in the Chancellor someone who is one of the most imaginative statesmen on the world scene today. The fact that he is now reaching a point where he will, in longevity, be the longest-reigning leader of Germany since Bismarck, is a reflection of the esteem in which he is held by the German people, but it is also a reflection of the strong stature he brings to the councils of world leaders as they meet and they deliberate. I can't think of but a handful of relationships in which the President has personally enjoyed the camaraderie, as well as the insights, as those provided by the Chancellor and the meetings that they've had together.
Q The President has received criticism in some quarters about signing on to the Welfare Reform Bill, even though he said he will remedy it after his election, if he's reelected, does he intend to somehow just incrementally change what needs to be fixed, or is he talking about a wholesale overhaul of the overhaul bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you know that we've identified two specific provisions that we have concerns about. The balance of the equation, though, is on the side of successful implementation of the bill. The President has talked about all the roles -- the roles that all Americans need to play in helping. He certainly pointed to the private sector and encouraged them, challenged them and, indeed, gotten a response from the private sector to help provide the jobs that will be necessary for those making the transition away from welfare and into work.
He has worked closely with the governors, talked with governors about how states can address through their social welfare agencies the requirements that are placed on them by the new legislation and with members of Congress he knows that we will continue to work to make sure that welfare reform is a success.
As to the specific changes, you know the two areas in which the President had concerns. He identified those in signing the bill, and those are the ones that you can presume he will address in the 105th Congress.
Q Mr. Kahoe of the FBI has pled guilty this morning. Does the White House have any comment on that? And is there any overall concern that there is trouble at the FBI?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I'm not familiar with that case. I'll have to --
Q It's the Ruby Ridge --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check. I don't know that we have any comment.
Q Where did you say the President had talked about campaign -- these shenanigans, on the trail?
MR. MCCURRY: During the debate in San Diego, among other places. It came up -- he had an extensive discussion of it there and he addressed it, of course, in his acceptance speech in San Diego -- I mean, in Chicago.
Q I just want to follow up on Jill's question. I know you didn't seem to be familiar with Ruby Ridge, but with the combination of the Ruby Ridge problems and what happened with Richard Jewell, isn't there a sense from the President that something needs to happen at the FBI with Judge Freeh?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is confident that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is one of the premier law enforcement agencies in the world. And it's under strong leadership. That leadership is capable of addressing any shortcomings that have been identified. Director Freeh himself has addressed himself to those issues.
Q Has he indicated that he might issue any sort of public apology to Mr. Jewell?
MR. MCCURRY: I've already, on behalf of the President, indicated that he certainly shares the sentiment of the Department of Justice that it was regrettable that Mr. Jewell was placed in the position he was placed in; regardless of who was responsible, no American should be in that position.
Q Mike, Administration reaction to a Chinese court sentencing human rights activist Wang Dan to eleven years in prison?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a very charitable one, but let me find it. Obviously, we are deeply concerned by the sentence that has been given to Wang Dan, he is one of the premier voices in China for human rights and for worker's rights, expressing his own opinion, which he is freely entitled to do under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It's inconceivable that any government would seek to restrict the ability of someone to raise those issues in a climate of free and open expression.
On previous occasions, both the President -- the President and the Secretary of State and the President's National Security Advisor have raised his case with Chinese officials, expressed our concerns both about his incarceration and about the unfairness and injustice done to him by his inability to freely express his own views. And we continue to stress that we believe that freedom of expression, as recognized by the Declaration on Human Rights, is the hallmark of any civil society.
Q Will this issue be high on Mr. Christopher's agenda next month?
MR. MCCURRY: This will continue to be an issue on our bilateral agenda, yes.
Q Can the Administration point to any demonstrable gains in human rights as a result of its policy of engagement with China?
MR. MCCURRY: It's been very tough going in the area of human rights. There has not been progress that the President would see as sufficient. But the struggle for human rights, for freedom and for democracy is clearly one that is a long-term struggle when it comes to societies that are having a hard time adjusting to the realities of the world we now live in.
Q I understand that the President is going to address campaign finance reform, but doesn't he think it's necessary to address the reports that are coming out every day about the Democratic Party and Taiwan and Indonesia?
MR. MCCURRY: He does and he has, through all of us who speak on his behalf, and through the steps that he order be taken that we've reviewed in the past.
Q The President was at a breakfast this morning with business leaders. Can you give us an idea of who it was he was with?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that's still going on now, but we can do that -- I can check on that. I don't have the list here.
Q Is the President going to mention GDP in the speech today?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's -- when he talks later on today I expect he probably will address the growth numbers. The focus of the event today is on creating more economic opportunities, specifically for female entrepreneurs, but I think he'll talk about the strong performance of the economy as well.
Q Is there any chance he'll go to Vietnam on this Asian trip? There are rumors.
MR. MCCURRY: We've announced our schedule. I haven't heard any change in that. I haven't heard any speculation about additions.
Q Can you give any further guidance on these small business initiatives that are going to be announced?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got some paper we can give to you that explains some of the things he'll talk about later.
Q The President won't be coming back until after the election. When do you expect him back in Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: Wednesday, a week from today.
Q The situation in Zaire -- what, specifically, is the U.S. now proposing, or how should the U.S. -- maybe even in conjunction with other countries -- been helping?
MR. MCCURRY: Through Ambassador Simpson, we have had close contacts with governments in both -- with the Rwandan government and, I believe, with the Zairian government, too. He has been engaged on both sides.
We continue our efforts at regional conflict mediation and, indeed, in Secretary Christopher's most recent trip there, we pointed out the need to manage tribal and ethnic rivalries with greater care and attention. We'll continue to work that issue, continue to work with the United Nations' High Commissioner for Relief, which is very active in addressing the humanitarian needs of both the Tutsis and the Hutu population, but it will require the continued discipline, diplomacy that we have exercised up until now.
Q Is there anything echnically, any type of assistance right now, because there is an immediate crisis?
MR. MCCURRY: You mean a withholding of any assistance to --
Q No. Any technical assistance that you might offer in dealing with the --
MR. MCCURRY: There is a lot of work being done by the UNHCR both -- at both the north and the south ends of the lake in the camps to address the humanitarian needs of those who have fled from Rwanda into Zaire. And frankly, that is hampered by the continuing conflict.
One of the things that is damaging about the fighting that has occurred is that it has disrupted some of the provision of humanitarian aid that has successfully taken place in the last several months, but we are continuing to work through that -- continuing through our embassy to try to monitor what relief activities are available and see if there is any way we can add to the ability of the U.N. relief agencies to provide help, and also the nongovernmental organizations that are providing assistance as well.
Q Mike, I'm not sure I heard you speak to the Republican National Committee thinking about taking the DNC to court this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that came up yesterday, and we addressed it yesterday.
Q That is supposed to --
MR. MCCURRY: I addressed it in --
Q But it is supposed to -- well, it's supposedly possibly happening at some point today.
MR. MCCURRY: We addressed that yesterday.
Okay. Thank you.
END 11:25 A.M. EST