THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The President did all my work for me today so let's go enjoy this pretty day.
Q Did you -- we have a guest here today?
Q Mike Frisbie.
MR. MCCURRY: Should I? The look of astonishment on my face is because Michael K. Frisbie is in the briefing room.
Q Do you have a price tag on his announcement?
MR. MCCURRY: For his quarterly appearance here in the briefing room. Mr. Frisbie, it's a pleasure to welcome you here.
Q Thank you, sir.
MR. MCCURRY: We do this five days a week, by the way. (Laughter.)
Q Not I.
MR. MCCURRY: You read it on the Internet because you're sort of a space age kind of guy. (Laughter.)
It's -- over five years. Mary Ellen Glynn can tell you more. That's the Medicare portion. The Medicaid costs will be --
MS. GLYNN: Negligible.
MR. MCCURRY: Anyone else?
Q Would you repeat that again?
Q Yes, explain the Medicare stuff.
MR. MCCURRY: Ms. Glynn.
MS. GLYNN: It's about 380,000 women who will be covered under Medicare, this portion of the Medicare --
Q How many?
MS. GLYNN: It's 380,000, which we estimate will cost about $3 million over five years. Some women, as you know, already have this coverage and some will now be able to take advantage of it. There are approximately 400,000 women, age 40 through 49, in the federal employee health benefits plan, and we think the cost of that will be negligible as well because they are currently covered every other year. So now they will have access to it every year if they so choose.
Q That 380,000 was Medicare or Medicaid?
MS. GLYNN: Medicare.
Q Those are mainly disabled?
MS. GLYNN: It's mainly disabled women.
Q Does it cover all women, regardless of financial ability to pay for their own mammograms?
MS. GLYNN: The Medicare program?
Q -- or based on need, or all women?
MS. GLYNN: It covers all women under Medicare and all women under Medicaid are urged -- we're urging state Medicaid directors to pay for it for women who are between 40 and 49.
Q I wasn't aware that Medicare provided for health care for women under 65.
MS. GLYNN: It does for disabled women.
Q And the difference also for women over 65 under Medicare, I gather, is that you would waive the co-insurance --
MS. GLYNN: Right, exactly.
Q -- which now exists.
MS. GLYNN: Exactly.
Q And you're saying that -- where do you get the 380,000 figure? Is that --
MS. GLYNN: There are approximately 380,000 women who are covered under Medicare. They are all disabled women because --
Q You're talking strictly 40 to 49 --
MS. GLYNN: Right, exactly, age 40 to 49.
Q -- under Medicare disability.
MS. GLYNN: Right.
Q And that cost you're saying is $3 million over five years?
MS. GLYNN: Over five years.
Q What about the cost of dropping co-insurance and co-payment under Medicare?
MS. GLYNN: That will be involved in that cost. The total cost for Medicare will be $3 million over five years. I don't have a breakdown for those 380,000 women aged 40 to 49 who are covered under Medicare. Does that make sense?
Q Yes, and that's strictly Medicare and Medicaid. What about the rest of it when the President talked about OPM and everything --
MS. GLYNN: Right, federal employee health benefits. What will happen is that starting January 1st, 1998, any health plan that does not have that benefit, which is allowing women 40 through 49 to have a mammography screening every year, will no longer participate in federal health care benefits -- federal employee health benefits plan.
Q But what's going to be the price tag?
MS. GLYNN: Negligible.
MS. GLYNN: Right.
Q This is not going to have any effect on a balanced budget -- even the $3.5 million --
MS. GLYNN: No. We're told by OPM that it will not involve any rise in premiums at all.
Q What about Medicaid? What's the cost of that to the federal government?
MS. GLYNN: Medicaid, we're not sure. We just don't have a good figure for that because, of course, it's administered by the states. That's why we had to send a letter to each state Medicaid director urging them to do this. Most state Medicaid directors already provide this service, though.
Q So you don't have a sense of how much --
MS. GLYNN: No.
Q How will you deal with that? Will you set aside some money or --
MS. GLYNN: No, we don't expect it to be that much money. We're not talking about a gigantic population, remember; it's women aged 40 through 49. Currently, most women aged 40 through 49 are covered; they're allowed a mammogram every other year.
Q How will you handle it if it turns out to cost $10,000, $15,000, $20,000?
MS. GLYNN: We don't expect it to cost all that much. That's what the actuarial tables say.
Q Mary Ellen, just to be clear, where does the $3.5 million come from?
MS. GLYNN: It will be contained in our balanced budget plan. I'll have to figure that out. Think about it in this way: $3 million over five years is preventative money spent, and it will cost a lot less to do that than it will to actually treat women who have breast cancer.
Q Does the administration have any plans to propose legislation that would require private sector health insurers to provide regular mammograms?
MS. GLYNN: No. I believe there's a bill on the Hill right now, the Nadler bill, which does that. But we're urging private health insurance to do that.
Q Does the administration have a position on that bill?
MS. GLYNN: We have not taken a position on it, no.
Q Any details on the public campaign?
MS. GLYNN: None beyond what we've already said before.
Q Mary Ellen, this comes a day after the President appointed this commission on quality health care. Wouldn't that logically have belonged to the commission to look into this and make a recommendation, and if not, why not?
MS. GLYNN: This is actually something that, as you know, the National Cancer Advisory Board has been looking at for a while. Obviously, they came out with their recommendation today, and the health care commission was formed yesterday, so they didn't have time to get into it. But we thought it was sufficiently important that we wanted to act on it right away.
Q Do you expect the administration --
MS. GLYNN: But this will be the kind of issue that the Health Care Advisory Commission will look into in the future.
Q Do you expect the administration to take a position one way or another on that mandatory legislation on the Hill for private plans to go along?
MS. GLYNN: I can't tell you that; I don't know.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you. Other subjects?
Q Any reaction to the Boston Globe story that following Roger Tamraz's interventions in the White House, the President changed his policy on pipelines from Azerbaijan?
MR. MCCURRY: My principal reaction is I wish the reporter had taken advantage of the information that David Johnson tried desperately to give him last night because we could have make the story much more accurate. I'm quoting the article, as you know, saying there is nothing about contributions that affected any of the administration's decision-making on the question of pipelines. And David's got more on it if you want it, but the issue of multiple pipelines and how to get the Tengiz oil to transshipment points was an issue thoroughly reviewed within this administration over many months, and the decision to go for multiple pipelines was well underway long before Mr. Tamraz came into the picture in any way, shape or form.
He was, from what I gather, from David's work on this issue, I gather that he was after some designation from the U.S. government that he would be the U.S. authorized developer of one of the pipelines on one of the routes. We took the view that we wanted multiple routes, multiple developers, because we wanted competition to flourish in the provision of pipeline services for the development of those fields. It's going to be very important if the Tengiz fields are eventually developed -- an important source of oil product for the future, and we wanted to see multiple pipelines to be made available. He was after, apparently, something that would sort of make him the authorized developer of the East-West route, which he did not receive and would not have received. And all of this, we attempted to make clear to the reporter last night, but he was unavailable -- unavailable for comment. That happens sometimes.
Q Mike, just in fairness to the absent reporter, did they not ask for the comment until late in the day or --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they called me at 4:30 p.m. I got back to the guy at 5:30 p.m. and said, well, here's my recollection, because it involved a readout that I did in October of 1995 over a call that President Clinton had with President Aliyev of Azerbaijan. So he was quoting to me from a Reuter's story, and I didn't have a real deep recollection at the time, but I vaguely remembered as I knew a little bit about the issue, and I talked to him and asked David to get additional information for him, which he did. And they just didn't connect. Although you tried --
MR. JOHNSON: Tried several times.
MR. MCCURRY: Tried several times.
Q Mike, can I clarify something the President was alluding to earlier? Diplomatic credentials -- he's made decisions, you haven't made them public, they're being vetted -- is that where it stands right now? These so-called "critical countries"?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of ambassadorial decisions that are in progress right now. Some of them have been made, some of them are in final stages of checking. I believe some are very close to going to agrement, and we feel like we're in pretty good shape in reviewing those decisions and filling the vacancies that will exist. Some of these ambassadors, of course, because of the three-year cycles, the President indicated would not be leaving their posts for some time anyhow, but our appointments are very much on track.
Q For Paris, Moscow?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- if you've got nothing else to do on a beautiful spring afternoon, you can try to chase that down, but I'm not going to help you on which country or who or things like that.
Q But aren't those key posts?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in some respects, the appointment of ambassador to any country is a key post, so I wouldn't want to designate one country as being more country than the other.
Q How about Moscow and Paris, are they important?
Q And Tokyo.
MR. MCCURRY: And all of the above.
Q Are those the ones that are going to be placed?
MR. MCCURRY: We have vacancies in those two posts, along with others and we're going to fill them.
Q Does the White House have any comment on the reports that the Saudi man arrested in Canada was on the payroll of the Iranian Intelligence Service?
MR. MCCURRY: Even if I knew that to be true, I probably wouldn't comment on it, which I don't.
Q Can we clarify something else that the President said this morning? I think when there was some discussion about the DNC fundraising he said he would be willing to talk with Governor Romer about the restrictions on money from foreign subsidiaries. Is that an indication that he wants to rethink that or --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just think he -- and Governor Romer didn't necessarily indicate that he thought that they should change the policy either, but he just thought they ought to take another look at it. And the President, if Governor Romer does, and if he wants to bring an argument to the President about it, obviously the President would listen to it. That's all the President was indicating.
Q -- feels very strongly that this is an important restriction to be left in place, no matter what?
MR. MCCURRY: He feels strongly that it was important to take some steps to move unilaterally, which we did.
Q Didn't you say that Senator McConnell and others have complained that this disenfranchises Americans, for example, who work at a Toyota plant in Kentucky that they can't get together and make contributions simply because they work for Toyota?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is a legitimate concern, I think, in some cases. You've got U.S. citizens who are -- the principle, as the President articulated today, is that people who are qualified to vote ought to have a right to participate by supporting financially the party, if they so choose. And there are some concerns -- when you delimit the ability of foreign subsidiaries to contribute, there are some problems there. But, remember, those individuals could give. I think the question is, more specifically, do the companies themselves give. There's a separate issue about what if those employees go together, form a PAC -- should the PAC be allowed to contribute? But it's certainly -- an auto worker that works in one of those plants and wants to contribute to the Democratic Party has the right to and does still have the right to.
Q Mike, elsewhere in that New York Times article this morning, Governor Romer says that he's been trying to advocate a policy with respect to the fundraising documents, where they should all just be dumped out the door and released so the thing would be over with, or to the extent it can be over with, once and for all. Yet, in recent weeks, White House people have been saying it was the DNC that's blocking the release of a number of these documents. It feels like there's some kind of game going on here where it's a shell game where we're told one thing by one agency and another thing by you guys.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let me clear it up for you then. The DNC was -- undertook negotiations with Mr. Burton's committee with respect to a portion of the documents that they had in their possession that were in common with the portion of the documents that Mr. Ickes had in his possession. They asserted a proprietary right that -- for confidentiality on the grounds that these were internal budget documents of the DNC that ought not to be made a matter of public record because they would obviously help those who might not see eye to eye with the political interests of the Democratic Party. And to my knowledge, they've successfully negotiated that and they have done a confidentiality agreement with respect to those documents. So we wouldn't release those documents -- I gather the DNC would not want to release those documents either.
And simultaneously, both the DNC and the White House are generating large volumes of documents that we're going to be providing to the Hill. We want to work with the Hill and give them the material before we make the material available publicly. That's where it stands.
Q Anything on any federal role or response to the San Diego mass suicide?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't have any information different from what the Attorney General said earlier today that the Justice Department is monitoring the work that state and local law enforcement authorities are doing. Not to my knowledge has there been any federal role indicated at this point, but they have got federal resources on standby if they need any assistance in the investigation they are conducting.
Q Is the President getting briefed on this?
MR. MCCURRY: He got a very -- just what I just told you now is what he was told about is there any federal role indicated. And other than that, I think, like most Americans, he read this horrible news in the paper and heard about it on television.
Q Mike, can I follow up Josh's question for a second? I think the criticism that Governor Romer was making is about the daily hit that the administration, the DNC, the White House is taking because these documents are coming out piecemeal, but he blamed Burton's committee for doing it. And he suggested -- at least in the article -- why not let the White House release everything they have and then get this thing over with in one fell swoop instead of letting it drip out.
MR. MCCURRY: If that were -- I would love to do that if that were possible. But given the expansive nature of the document requests that have come from the Hill, we've got teams of lawyers that are still searching, still going through documents; every White House staff is still generating documents responsive to some of the requests we have. It's just -- it's not there. In any event, we'd need several dump trucks to load up here and put it all on there, and then we could drive it down to your bureau and dump it on you, Wolf.
But at some point, they will have to provide this to the committee. And we'll work with the committee and make sure that we can make those documents that need to be available, available because that's -- the President certainly wants the facts on this situation to be available we will do that in a timely way.
Q Mike, so, if the DNC on its own changed its mind and decided to put out the documents that it has -- that Mr. Ickes has, the White House would not object?
MR. MCCURRY: We wouldn't object to them doing that. They've got documents -- they're working on a whole separate set of document requests, too. To my knowledge they have not produced all the documents they're going to have to produce, and to my knowledge they're not in a position yet to publicly disclose all the documents that they will eventually produce. I think they're in pretty much the same position that we are.
You know, Governor Romer may have thought, well, gee, this is all done and they're all sitting in a box somewhere. That's just not the case.
Q If the DNC is $14 million in debt, aren't their budgetary concerns sort of academic, in terms of disclosing information?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because as the President indicated earlier, that will be retired and they will be competitive as they go into the '98 cycle. How we targeted resources and where we spent geographically, and what we spent money for, you could easily see the DNC may consider sort of proprietary information that they would want to be available only to those who need to know that.
Q There are some Republicans who believe that President Clinton shut the door once and for all on a COLA adjustment in this budget process when he rejected Lott's idea for a commission. If that's not the case, could you explain what the President hopes to see happen?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, as I said earlier today, the President believes there needs to be annual adjustments for inflation. The President, like I think just about everyone knowledgeable on the subject, believes there's an overstatement of inflation in the current index. How to adjust that index so you get an accurate measure of inflation is something a lot of good, smart people are working on -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in particular.
Now, they're going to be in a position to maybe take some action either later this year or beyond and they will do that. The issue then might be is there still a judgment to be made about whether or not the index overstates inflation. And the President has not ruled out looking at that question and thinks only that the process ought to be one that the American people can be confident in, that the American people can say was done for good, legitimate reasons based on a technically accurate measurement.
Q Yes, but if a process that had credibility could be found, would he like this question to be resolved so it could have an impact on this year's budget talks?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he wants the decision to be made in the right way. And then the decision to balance the budget can take into account any adjustment in the inflation index, if you need to take into account the inflation index.
Q Is that a yes?
MR. MCCURRY: That was an artful evasion. (Laughter.)
Q You're not saying that the whole process is going to wait until BLS has finished its work, are you?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think there's some interest in letting them -- they are the primary custodians of that series and there's some interest in letting them do the work that they are already doing on that. And then also having additional discussion by those who are expert in the subject on the question of the measurement.
Q Well, Mike, this morning you said this is not a front-end item in the budget process. Does that mean it's an end --a back --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think it's clear that they didn't go out and decide that they were going to adjust the CPI by "x" amount or "x" percent.
Q Right. But what I'm asking you is does that mean this is something that --
MR. MCCURRY: That hasn't happened, to my knowledge.
Q Right. But does that mean that this is a back-end item in the budget; in other words, that this is something that could --
MR. MCCURRY: It could very well be.
Q What you were just saying would suggest that the White House doesn't think that BLS will answer that question once and for all, that they would need a sufficient, final arbiter of what the correct inflation measure is.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they're looking hard at the question and resolving what they can resolve and we'll see what kind of answers they come up with.
Q Is there a way to help BLS come to its decision faster, perhaps by November?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I think they've got sufficient resources and good, smart people to do the work. I'm not aware that they have asked for any help.
Q Did you find out about the Medicare commission, when President Clinton plans to --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to run that down. I forgot to check on that.
Okay. Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EST