THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:14 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I've got nothing for you on the budget.
Q Oh, come on. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, the Democrats -- the blue dog Democrats are in the House Gallery right now announcing their support of whatever this deal is. The liberals are expected shortly thereafter to say, no way. What guidance can you give us to expect in terms of -- has the President talked to Erskine or any of the people on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has talked to members of his team. He is encouraged by the progress that's being reported to him, but at the same time, there are some unresolved issues. And for the President, the fundamentals have remained the same all throughout -- a balanced budget agreement has to address those priorities that he has consistently talked about, has to provide the kind of protections for the solvency of Medicare, the kinds of investments in the future that will generate the sort of economic performance that we've been experiencing, that will take care of the health care needs of kids, that will address the need to continue environmental protection. All of those things remain the same, and to get a deal that meets those tests, but also represents a bipartisan compromise with members of the Republican Majority who have their own sets of priorities is hard work. And that hard work will continue, I would guess, throughout the day and into the night, and probably into tomorrow.
Q So you're saying there's no done deal?
MR. MCCURRY: There is no done deal. Now, they obviously are closing in on the structure of something that looks like it might have some possibilities, but there's a lot of hard work ahead. I think -- I certainly expect multiple people on the Hill from the White House talking to Senate Democrats, House Democrats. I think Erskine will be going up there later today. And the budget team itself that has been conducting these discussions tells me that they will be working, they believe, well into tonight.
Q You don't expect any --
Q You're also saying that because they're close it could all still fall apart?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. There's no agreement until every element is agreed, and there are elements right now that are not agreed to.
Q What are you doing to try to clear up the concerns of some of the Democrats, like Mr. Daschle and Mr Gephardt?
MR. MCCURRY: I think a lot of them -- of necessity, in any negotiation, you have to conduct things outside the glare of the spotlight in order to make progress. And at some point -- and we're reaching that point now -- we need to start telling our friends and allies on the Hill more about some of the things that we think we're making progress on that we think that they will appreciate. And that's -- we're going to be probably at a point we can do that as we go into later on today.
And that will help -- by no means are we going to get a unanimous voice of support out of the Democratic Caucus for this agreement; we didn't expect that. Remember, our goal is to produce a balanced budget agreement that, at the end of the day when it's voted on can attract a majority of support from the House and the Senate Democrats.
Q Could I just follow up, though? These are the leaders we're talking about who seem to feel that they are not being kept apprised. Isn't it usually sort of traditional to keep the leaders of the President's party a little bit more involved?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been working closely -- remember the process that we have -- we're working closely with their representatives, Congressman Spratt and Senator Lautenberg. But as we go along here, I'm sure that we'll have additional contacts with the leaders.
Q Mike, is one of the problems the amount of detail and specificity at least your side is looking for in an agreement? If you look at the budget resolution, you have some very large numbers, including revenue changed numbers. Is the President insisting not only on seeing the total price tag for a tax cut, but also components of that tax cut? Is that what's involved?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I can't go into the details of the discussions. But the President clearly wants to make sure he's got a deal that addresses the priority concerns that he has, and he'd be very interested in making sure that there's nothing that will exacerbate budgetary tensions, particularly outside the five-year budget window that we're looking at. So, of course, he is interested in the details. They are addressing some of those details, but they still have some ways to go on some of the larger fundamental issues, too. So this is not done yet.
Q Does he feel that he brought the Democratic leaders in on the take-offs as well as the landing?
MR. MCCURRY: He -- we have throughout this entire process along the way made sure they understood what our fundamental commitments were, what our priorities were, what our strategy was for discussing these negotiations. We're down now to the finer points of an agreement, and that, inevitably, is going to take more work on our part to make sure that our own side is at least knowledgeable enough about the details that they feel comfortable expressing an opinion about it.
Q Well, to express an opinion, but does the President care whether they went along or not?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, absolutely. He would like to make sure that we get an agreement that at least had the possibility of getting unanimous support by all Democrats. Now, we are practical enough to understand that's not going to happen, but we're working hard.
Q We're not talking about all the Democrats, we're talking about the leadership of your party.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are working very hard to make sure the leadership understands the direction the talks are going and, above all else, to make sure they understand we're not done yet and we are continuing to work it. I think there are a lot of folks reporting on this who are a little bit ahead of some of the facts.
Q That has not prevented them from bellyaching, especially if you heard Mr. Gephardt this morning.
MR. MCCURRY: We know that, expected that, understand that, and we'll just have to work through that.
Q Mike, one of the things that Daschle and Gephardt complained about is not simply the notion of being left in the dark, the procedural complaints, but rather the notion that what you're doing as a Democratic administration is trading cuts in Medicare funding growth for tax cuts for the wealthy.
MR. MCCURRY: It's -- a balanced budget agreement, if one is reached, will be far more complicated than that and they have a far more sophisticated understanding of the elements of the agreement than that. I don't except that as their presentation.
Q Well, actually, they said that very precisely. They both did.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they understand that we work in an environment here in which the legislative branch is run by the Republican Party; the executive branch is in control of the Democratic Party. If there is to be a think bipartisanship and if it is to apply to the budget agreement, there will have to be some accommodation on both sides for the positions both sides have. We can't govern in an environment in which the Democrats who are a minority in the Congress can get everything they want. That's a practical reality.
And I can well understand any frustration that people have that they can't get as good a deal as they might want, and we will just have to work closely with our friends and allies up there, try to build bipartisan support. And we believe we can do that in the end of the day if we get to the point we have an agreement.
Q Mike, could I -- just a bit before. Is this a deal that you want to have a majority of House and Senate, or a majority of House and Senate Democrats as well as --
MR. MCCURRY: We want an agreement where, through our fine work of persuasion and educating people about the details, that in the end of the day when it's voted upon, it can get a majority of the Democratic Caucuses in the House and the Senate. We want to get a majority of Democrats on board in the deal. We won't have them to begin with, and obviously you're beginning to hear some of the criticisms and concerns before we have had the opportunity to make the case for whatever the agreement is.
But again, remind that the deal is not going to be there in the end of the day unless the President is satisfied, and he has not pronounced himself satisfied at this point.
Q What's the main sticking point now?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to attempt to go through all of the finer points of the discussion, but there are a number of unresolved issues.
Q You discussed this majority of Democrats thing for quite a while. Does this mean that if this finally passes without a majority of Democrats that this will not have been a good deal for Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be up to the Democrats in the Congress to express themselves on that. We would not put forward the President's support for an agreement that he did not think was in the best interest of the country and that deserves support from Democrats in Congress.
Q That's different from what you're saying. You're saying you don't want to deal unless it can be supported by a majority of Democrats.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. We will not -- let me put it differently -- we will not put the President's support on the table for an agreement that he doesn't believe can get a majority of support in the Democratic caucuses. But again, at the end of the day, because we know it's going to take some work to get to that point.
Q Is it absolutely essential for the President that the House Minority Leader and the Senate Minority Leader are on board and support this deal?
MR. MCCURRY: We are going to work very hard to have their support.
Q But is it essential? Is it a sine qua non?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't speak for Mr. Gephardt or Senator Daschle. It would be up to them to decide whether they want to support whatever agreement is finally arrived at, when there is an agreement.
Q But the question is, will the President support an agreement that does not have the support of the Minority Leaders?
MR. MCCURRY: I've given to Mara the kind of deal that the President will lend his support to.
Q Does this mean you don't expect the President to have anything to say about this today?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- based on what I'm hearing -- he will likely do some -- he may well do some work on this today by phone. He has already called two members on specific points in which he wanted to exchange views with two members, and I suspect he might make some further calls later today. But I don't expect him to come down here or to go up to Capitol Hill or do anything of that nature today -- at this point. That's what I'm --
Q Were these two members Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: One yes, one no.
Q Can you tell us who they were?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q You've given every indication that this is going to go on for some time, it might not be resolved today. Is the President willing to clear the decks this weekend and work over the weekend on it?
MR. MCCURRY: I hope not. I hope that we can arrive to the point sooner than that. But, of course --
Q Is that possible? Is it possible?
MR. MCCURRY: We're talking about something historic here -- a bipartisan agreement to balance the budget. Now, that hasn't happened in this town for a long time. And, yes, some of you have said, well, there will be bellyaching and concerns and complaints about it -- there will be, because it's been, as you all know, one of the most contentious issues in Washington for several decades now. So no deal is going to be perfect, but we don't want the perfect to be the ultimate objective here. It has to be one that's good, it's in the best interest of the American people. And it will be one that the President is satisfied deserves the support of a majority of Democrats in the Congress.
We can go home now. That's all there is.
Q Mike, you've got very good economic news in terms of growth yesterday, and all the indications are that the deficit is going to be projected much lower than CBO said in their latest forecast. Is that of material help in the end game of these negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it helps in the sense that it makes the job somewhat easier, but let me not understate the difficulty of reaching agreements. You're hearing that and seeing that as you watch the reaction on the Hill. These are not easy decisions and they involve touch choices, they involve accommodation to the viewpoints of the other political party, so by no means is it easier.
It is somewhat easier in an environment in which you've got a very robust economy that's doing well, it's generating sufficient revenues that we'll see some type of decline in the projected deficit; that's good news. It does make it somewhat easier, but it doesn't solve the problem. They still have to make tough choices when it comes to cutting spending, and have to make some tough choices on structuring priorities within the budget if they're going to reach balance.
Q In the beginning of his new term, I believe the President said that it is his goal with regard to a balanced budget, was not only to achieve it by the year 2002, but to have a balanced budget for quite a period of time subsequent to 2002. Is that still a specific objective of his in reaching this --
MR. MCCURRY: That is -- it is a specific objective in the sense that he does not want to see anything happen that balloons the deficit in those out-years beyond 2002, and obviously the structure of any tax cuts is material to that question, and you can imagine the President spending a fair amount of time and concern on that issue.
Q Does he have a timetable beyond 2002 for a balanced budget with regard to these negotiations that are occurring now? Does he want assurances that it's going to last five years beyond 2000?
MR. MCCURRY: Leo, we are having a tough enough time just getting to the year 2002. The five years beyond that we'll have to address beyond that, with the exception of understanding that we want to be in an environment where the positive economic performance that we believe results from a balanced budget agreement will continue to sustain itself, sustain itself with the right type of strong fundamentals that we see now in the economy because that makes it far more likely that you continue in a balanced budget environment after you move beyond 2002.
Q He wants at least five years of balanced budget beyond 2002?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President believes that the net result of a balanced budget is a much stronger, healthier economy. It will include the kinds of investments in career training and skills training and education that we believe will growth the economy in the out-years and generate more revenue. So we would think all the good things that would be in a balanced budget agreement will improve the performance of the economy as you move out beyond the year 2002 anyhow.
So, of course, the answer is, yes. We want to sustain strong economic growth in the environment of balanced budgets, low inflation, low unemployment well into the 21st century. That's the goal.
Q Was Alexis Herman sworn in? And does that complete now the formation of the Cabinet?
MR. MCCURRY: Alexis Herman was sworn in, and with the exception of George Tenet, who we believe will be confirmed eventually --
Q Is he Cabinet? He is not Cabinet.
MR. MCCURRY: He has Cabinet rank, yes.
Q Mike, you said that and you touched upon this before that the President doesn't want the deficit to be ballooned beyond 2002, or other people have said, they don't want the tax cut to explode in the out-years. How do you go about making sure that that doesn't happen? What specifically do you -- how do structure it -- and I know that's part of -- but what are your goals in that regard?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, OMB can look at proposed changes and incidents of tax and project out at least in some fashion beyond the year 2002. They can measure what tax consequences are for individual changes in the tax code beyond the budget window that you're looking at.
Q Are you saying to the Republicans, look, this kind of capital gains cut doesn't work and this type does?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the devil is in the details, and that's why we're twisting the tail of the devil.
Q You say that the Democrats have been step by step clued in on concessions that the President has made?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had to conduct a negotiation. There are aspects of that negotiation that have had to be done confidentially, but certainly we're not going to move ahead to any final agreement without consulting closely with Democrats. And I believe that's going on at this minute in the Senate and will go on later on in the afternoon in the House.
Q Mike, is the President still going to the fundraiser tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: So far now, no change in his plans for this evening.
Q Do you want to explain how -- soft money fundraiser relates to his ongoing --
MR. MCCURRY: We have covered that numerous times. The party is in debt and we intend to help the party retire the debt.
Q Do you expect him to talk about the budget at these two events tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not if we're at the same point we are now where we've not reached an agreement. I expect he will say some things about the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, anticipating the dedication of the memorial tomorrow.
Q Do you know how much money is being raised?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The DNC can tell you more. We've got -- I think we've got some of the figures here, but the DNC can tell you more.
Q Did the President's Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness issue its report today? And any reaction to the appointment of Warren Rudman?
MR. MCCURRY: Warren Rudman is a very classy and distinguished guy and he's got the kinds of commitments to openness, accessibility, management of internal procedures of government and oversight of internal procedures of government that would make him an excellent choice over at the Pentagon to supervise some of the work they're doing on this issue.
I don't believe that the interim 60-day report from the Presidential Advisory Committee has been made public yet; I think we are expecting to receive that. It addresses those three specific questions the President asked. And it's not a concluding report, they will continue their work and, above all else, continue the effort to make sure that we're getting good, truthful accounting of what happened and what we need to do about it, as we look ahead.
Q Mike, do you expect to receive the report today?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it is arriving today? It is arriving today and will be made public at some point.
Q Mike, is Erskine going on to the Hill today to brief simply the Senate Democrats, or will he be briefing both Senate Democrats and House Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's safe to say he's going to see the House Democrats to listen carefully to some of their comments.
Q What time is it going to be?
MR. MCCURRY: Later. It's like late afternoon. I don't know that they've got a time. It's after "Inside Politics," Wolf. (Laughter.)
Q You read my mind.
Q The veto threat on the CR, does that still stand? Because I gather that there's still talk of attaching that to --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it strongly stands. I mean, we've spent most of this briefing talking about the opportunity to achieve an historic balanced budget agreement that would really put us on the right course. It's the exact wrong thing to do to start talking about a budget standoff, gridlock back to the old nasty ways of doing business in Washington that would lead to the potential for a government shutdown, in which case you would need to deal with is there going to be a shutdown. But if you were needed to deal with that question, you certainly wouldn't do it with the type of provision that they're trying to attach to a disaster relief bill that's supposed to be helping hundreds of thousands of victims out in the Plain states who need help.
Q Mike, it seems to be the last few years a lot of people have been calling for the White House to prosecute those persons who were involved in the -- or who performed the Tuskegee Experiment. Is the White House possibly looking at prosecuting those involved in that experiment?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so, and let me explain maybe why. By the way, the President will formally apologize to 14 surviving members of the original Tuskegee Experiment on May 16th. We'll have an event here at the White House in the Rose Garden. The victims of that syphilis study now range in age, I think, from 87 to 100 years old. And at least some of them are going to be here and be on hand for the ceremony that the President will have here in which he will formally apologize not only to the victims of the study itself, but to their families and survivors.
Now, on your question, there was a great deal of litigation that occurred as a result of these experiments back in the 1940s that worked its way up to some settlements that were made in the 1970s. And those settlements were made consistent with the status of the law at that time. One of the outcomes of the Tuskegee Experiments is that there has now been considerable change in law that would allow prosecution in the future incidents if there were any like this. But the claims of many of those victims were settled back in the '70s.
If you call CDC, they can tell you a lot more about the status of the litigation and how it was resolved back then.
Q Mike, some people are equating the situation -- just listening to people, they are saying, it's almost like war crimes and if you can prosecute someone --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's absolutely reprehensible what occurred, ad it's the reason why the President will apologize. But as to the specific attachment of criminal liability, I think a lot of that was done in the claims that were settled back in the '70s.
Q Are you not sure how many of the surviving victims will be here for that --
MR. MCCURRY: We don't know at this point how many will actually be here.
Q There are a total of 14?
MR. MCCURRY: There are 14 who are -- 14 surviving members of the original study.
Q Still alive, but out of that number, we don't know how many are going to be here?
MR. MCCURRY: Right, we don't know how many would actually be in a position to travel here.
Q I heard you say that you certainly hope that the Democratic leadership will support the budget deal. But the nature of the give-and-take of a bipartisan deal means that it's not assured, I suppose. The next things that's coming up that the White House has talked about is fast track, and I'm wondering if it's conceivable that there might be a fast track deal that doesn't get the Democratic support either.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to project on that. It's hard to say.
Q You mentioned the President's speaking at the dedication tomorrow morning, and you'll be talking about that later. But from what you've seen so far, what sort of a view does the President hold of the former President Roosevelt?
MR. MCCURRY: What sort of view --
Q -- does he hold of former President Roosevelt?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will express on behalf of the nation the kind of affection and sense of history that we've grown to have of Franklin Roosevelt over the last half-century. In many ways, he was the indispensable figure of the indispensable nation in what has become for all practical purposes an American century. And the legacy that he left is an ongoing legacy, I think the President will suggest. The real monument to him is one that kind of lives around us and survives around us today in all of the things that he created that are a permanent part of the way we take care of each other as a country and the way we exercise leadership in the world.
He'll have remarks along those lines. And some of -- if you did not have a chance to go back and see what the President said at the Thomas Jefferson Building dedication up at the Library of Congress last night, he talked about Roosevelt in those remarks too, and you might want to go back and look at that.
Q Mike, do you see a certain irony in the fact that programs that perhaps not Roosevelt-era, but Roosevelt-style programs -- the fate of those programs are now being decided in these budget talks that --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think it's part of the positive legacy of Franklin Roosevelt that he left a country that initially was suffering from bad economic distress, built it back, restored American leadership in the world, left a country that was vibrant and growing. And part of the work that is being done as we go into this next century is to do, in some sense, the same things -- to continue to build a strong economy that provides work and income to the American people and to continue to exercise the kind of leadership in the world that was the legacy of a President who helped win the Second World War. And that is in some ways the parallel that exists.
Q Does Clinton have any qualms, though, that he, as he dedicates the memorial tomorrow, he's really the Democratic President in the last 50 years who's done most to undercut the domestic philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt. He's proclaimed the end of --
MR. MCCURRY: Franklin Roosevelt wanted to provide jobs and income to American people who had suffered from the Great Depression. He wanted America to be a vibrant force for freedom and liberty in this world, and he wanted to take care of children who needed help, widows who needed assistance. He wanted to see this country grow and prosper. And in that sense every minute that Bill Clinton has been President, he had been part of building that same legacy left by Franklin Roosevelt.
Q One of the legacies of Franklin Roosevelt was AFDC. That was in the --
MR. MCCURRY: AFDC was a program that Franklin Roosevelt put in place to help the widows of coal miners in the Appalachians, and it was not the program that we have trimmed somewhat to keep it within the confines of a balanced budget.
Q Well, it's gone. You didn't just trim it, you eliminated it.
MR. MCCURRY: We have not eliminated welfare. We have restructured welfare so it provides people -- the most important thing to Franklin Roosevelt in assuming leadership of a country in depression was to provide work for people. And the welfare reform bill that the President worked on is about providing work and the benefits of work to those who need it and who will prosper by having employment as opposed to assistance.
Q So there's no confusion, you expect the President to be on the phone perhaps to people this afternoon on the Hill; you don't expect at this time to have him say anything in public.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I'm not going to -- there's a lot of work left to do today. If an agreement comes together, it will come together. And at that point, the President may want to say more about it. I'm not -- my best guess is, that's not going to happen anytime by early deadlines today.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:42 P.M. EDT