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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                        (Boston, Massachusetts)
For Immediate Release                                  February 19, 1997     
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                              MIKE MCCURRY
                      University of Massachusetts
                         Boston, Massachusetts                         

11:42 A.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: I just thought before the President starts talking, because we may not have a chance to talk later, if you've got any questions, interests. Anything you want to know? The President is very excited, obviously, about the juvenile justice initiative announced today --

Q Figures --

MR. MCCURRY: There are some statements coming out -- I think that you know that the Consumer Price Index increased 0.1 percent in January -- we have now a combined Misery Index that is approaching decades lows, which is encouraging news. It shows the fundamental strength of the American economy that continues to grow at an acceptable pace, with low levels of inflation, low levels of unemployment, with the basic fundamentals that encouraged the President to believe that we can sustain economic growth for sometime to come.

And very directly related to subjects we've been talking about the last two days -- a growing economy is clearly responsible for some of the success we've had in reducing welfare rolls and, simultaneously, the growing economy also makes it easier to deal with some of the problems that we face in inner-city areas that have been distressed by things like juvenile violence. So you could say, in a way this economic news ties things together.

The trade figures -- the Commerce Department will tell you more about that, but the fundamental strength of the U.S. economy obviously has made the purchasing power of our consumers greater than some of the abilities of consumers in other industrialized nations to import products, which creates an imbalance. If you look at the export numbers, we continue to generate high levels of export-driven goods and services going overseas, but they can't offset what American consumers are buying because of the strength of our own economy and the increase in wages as they import products from abroad.

It's the same fundamental situation we've been dealing with. But, again, the Commerce Department, when they tell you more about this, will point to the export side.

Q Mike, can you help sort out the cost of this youth violence plan? How much is it over a two years, one year?

MR. MCCURRY: It's difficult to do because some of these are one-year initiatives that are reflected in the FY '98 structure of the budget; some of them will be two-year efforts. Roughly put, this is about a half a billion dollar initiative over two years -- roughly $495 million over two years, included in the President's balanced budget plan. The key components, obviously, are the $200 million for the state and local anti-gang prosecution initiatives; the $75 million for the anti-truancy, school, violence and crime intervention initiative; and the funding for 1,000 new after-school programs to keep kids off the streets. There is a very tentative estimate of roughly $60 million for that item.

We also have $50 million for the youth violence courts and probation officer initiatives. Those are the substantial parts of the funding mechanisms here, but don't miss the fact that a large part of the initiative deals with toughening the enforcement mechanisms that are available in the courts and available to prosecutors.

Q Mike, the Republicans would spend $1.5 billion over three years. Why is your plan superior to theirs?

MR. MCCURRY: Our plan focuses on what works. And we see it here in Boston -- intervention; local communities coming together and drawing on the resources of local police departments that are invigorated with the concept of community policing; and church leaders, parents, school leaders and others who are committed to attacking this problem of one that requires personal involvement in a community.

It's not just about building more prisons or toughening law enforcement or providing more cops, it's also about a strategy of engagement in the community so that young people understand that adults care about their lives and are holding them accountable to more civil norms of behavior.

Q Mike, the numbers add up to #385 million.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, these are numbers that are reflected in the first two years. Now, there are some additional funding in there for things like the drug testing of minors, for some of the ability to prosecute more juveniles.

You know, roughly speaking, I am told, we're talking about as you take this year and next year you're taking about $500 million within our balanced budget track and devoting them to these programs. Don't try to add up all these programs because they'll never add for you in that fashion. The ones that we've identified here are the ones that have got specific funding allocations for the effort identified.

Q Mike, of new money that is -- the $500 million is an increment above and beyond what was spent under some of these programs?

MR. MCCURRY: No, this is the total federal investment for these programs. Now, some of these are continuing things that we did in the previous crime bill and that are currently funded out of the crime trust fund. So some of this is a continuation of efforts underway; some of it represents a new infusion of money for things that we are going to try to provide funding for, like the state and local anti-gang prosecution initiatives, which is a new element of this strategy.

Q So that the $500 million is the cumulative figure, not the incremental, new figure --

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. That's the investment for this initiative for the anti-gang and youth violence strategy over roughly a two-year period.

Q But is the $200 million new? Is that entirely new money, $200 million?

MR. MCCURRY: That $200 million is for a new effort, which is the 1,000 new state and local anti-gang prosecution initiatives, correct.

Q Mike, what happens after two years when, for example, that program is over? Is there more funding to keep these guys or women on the payroll, or what happens?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, as you see with the COPS program, as the concept of community policing nurtures, communities start coming forward and making a commitment to it. Now, you provide some federal money to get things going. We would look at future funding requests under the crime trust fund, under the five-year balanced budget track and see how much of this we want to continue. But we suspect a lot of communities, a lot of state and local governments, as they see the success of things like the program here in Boston, will begin to pick up some of these costs within their own allocation of resources.

Q I apologize, I still don't understand the money. Is $200 million over two years that's new, and the remainder are programs that were funded by the crime bill?

MR. MCCURRY: No, there are many elements of this, if you look through the paper and in your booklet, if you go to the back of it when they go title by title through the bill, there are many elements of this that represent new ideas, new proposals, new strategies as part of the anti-gang, youth violence effort. A lot of them have to do with toughening standards for prosecution. Some of them are enforcement measures. Some of them are new grant fundings for these various local problems. All told, it represents an investment of about $500 million dollars.

Q -- you seem to suggest that some of it --

MR. MCCURRY: I think the truancy is new. Obviously, the requirement for gun locks, that's new. There is a great deal of new in it. The Brady Bill extension is obviously a very new provision. So I'd look carefully at the paper and at the booklet we've given you and I think it's pretty clear.

Q Mike, Kenneth Starr this morning said that it would be dangerous to conclude that the fact that he's leaving the probe implies that it's coming to an end, and saying also that it's at an active and sensitive stage. Do you have any comment?

MR. MCCURRY: Having not made that conclusion, the White House would have no reason to comment. And we have no reason to add to what we said yesterday.

Q Mike, any new reports on the health of Deng Xiaoping?

MR. MCCURRY: There are new reports emanating from official government sources in Beijing, but nothing that is conclusive.

Q Reports on whether he has died or not?

MR. MCCURRY: There are always conflicting reports, nothing that has been authoritatively established that I'm aware of.

Any other subjects du jour?

Q Anything on the gambling commission appointments this week?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in -- anything on the gambling commission this week.

Q Mike, can you share any reaction to the U.S. government to the situation in Mexico with their drug czar being apparently put under house arrest?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the White House certainly shares the sentiments that have been expressed by General McCaffrey, that it is certainly appropriate that they've taken a law enforcement action, that they are appropriately pursuing this through their law enforcement efforts. And it is also simultaneously extremely disappointing to the United States government that the Mexican government has evidence of corruption as this high a level.

Q Is the President doing anything to personally lobby on behalf of Alexis Herman's nomination? What's his view of the prospects of that nomination at the moment?

MR. MCCURRY: He's followed very carefully her effort because we think it will be a successful effort to win confirmation. He gets reports on the discussions that she's had with individual senators. He's been following very carefully the effort to identify concerns and answer concerns that senators may have, and he is confident that any concerns that have been raised have been adequately addressed by Alexis Herman.

He has also indicated his willingness, if there is a need for it, to work on individual votes. But at this point, what the President is very keen on doing and what he has personally been involved with is trying to get a date for a confirmation hearing so that she can answer publicly any concerns that are out there. And he has pursued this privately with individual senators and is hoping that there will be a date set for her confirmation hearing quite soon.

Q If I could follow up on that, the investment that she was in that was reported over the last weekend, where there was no money down for her participation in the investment, would that be acceptable under the President's new vision for affirmative action?

MR. MCCURRY: The structure of that investment is not one that I am familiar enough to talk to. Mr. Lockhart has been and can help you. I'm not even sure whether that investment was done under any of the SBA programs that have historically been associated with affirmative action. I'd have to check further. But Lockhart has been working that and can walk you through those issues.

Anything else?

Q -- endorsing needle exchange program of HHS?

MR. MCCURRY: The President supports the work of the Department of Health and Human Services, which has been looking very carefully at the issue of needle exchange. There was a report that Secretary Shalala I think either made available or received last week. The principal concern that we have is with public health and evidence that as a public health question needle exchanges advance drug treatment and drug rehabilitation. But the Department has been, under the circumstances allowed by law, looking at pilot projects that exist around the country.

Q Mike, since you're talking about juvenile issues today, there was a proposal back during the campaign for drug testing of minors that were getting driver's license. Has the administration put forward legislation to enact that? Is that --

MR. MCCURRY: No, we have not -- the President instructed Secretary Pena and Secretary Shalala to report back to him further on that. They are continuing to work on that report, and that has not come back to the President. The goal is to produce any necessary legislation or forward any necessary legislation to the Congress, but only after they have examined the issue as instructed by the President to do.

Q Tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has talked a lot about how we can make sure that in the era of managed care environments for health care delivery that there is no gap in the types of service that are provided to recipients of Medicare. I suspect tomorrow he'll talk about that same concept as it relates to the indigent and Medicaid. And then on Friday, I'm anticipating, Harris, that we might be saying some more about the District of Columbia. Something on Medicaid tomorrow and then further work on the District Friday.

Q Is this a new proposal on Medicaid or is this just the President saying he's concerned about people falling through the gaps?

MR. MCCURRY: I've given you the subject matter and you'll be interested in the news that he makes on that tomorrow.

Q And this is a new proposal on District for Friday, are we talking about what he's --

MR. MCCURRY: It's news. The President speaks and it's, therefore, news.

Q How do you think the President might speak in his speech coming up today? We might want to take it live.

MR. MCCURRY: I gather he hasn't started yet.

Q You gathered right.

MR. MCCURRY: He's getting ready to start. Okay.

Yes, last question.

Q One last question about the justice thing. I'm still a little confused about the finance of this thing. Like the $200 million, for example -- is that somewhere in the budget that he's --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the request for appropriated funds for this initiative come out of the crime trust fund which is fully budgeted in the budget. There are elements of this that you will find in the full appendixes to the FY '98 budget proposal, but, generically, it comes out of the crime trust fund.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 11:52 A.M. EST