THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right. Let's start the daily briefing. Ladies and gentlemen, can I start with what I meant to say this morning when I incorrectly led you on the health bill question? I said this morning incorrectly that the President gets comped for his health care service out at Bethesda National Naval Medical Center. That is not correct. He pays what is called the regular DOD flat rate, which is the same rate that they extend to other dignitaries and members of Congress.
Q Is that $1.25 a day? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It's a good deal. My understanding is he's probably got, I think, bills for his knee surgery approaching $7,000. They've been submitted to his health insurer and the President does have a 20 percent co-pay under his health insurance policy. He has a health insurance policy similar to those that are extended to other federal employees.
Q You're talking about doctor's bills now? Because the hospital doesn't get covered by the flat rate payment, right?
MR. MCCURRY: They think they pay the hospital bills, and I guess -- I don't know what the portion of the additional bill represents. DOD can tell you more about their billing rate for Bethesda. And he is designated for that kind of treatment by the Secretary of Defense.* (* The Secretary of Navy authorizes care at Bethesda.)
Q What is the $7,000 figure refer to? Is that the doctor's fee -- you're not sure?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure exactly what that --what component costs that is.
Q Thanks for clearing it up. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It ain't free, in other words. But it's next to.
Q -- round the clock therapist and the orthopedic surgeon that went along on trips --
MR. MCCURRY: That's out-patient care which is extended as part of the service they provide and there is no charge for that, I am told. And that physical therapy is provided as part of the service rendered by the White House Medical Unit.
Q So the 20 percent co-pay, does that mean that he owes $1,400 on something?
MR. MCCURRY: Whatever the bills are that are submitted, you get up to probably some annual deductible with a co-payment requirement.
Q It seems to me the open question here is if he's getting the DOD flat rate, what's the $7,000 for, and it's probably for the surgery, but could you clear it up?
MR. MCCURRY: If you really need me to, I will. Or I can try calling Public Affairs out at Bethesda, which maybe you would like to try, too.
Q Mike, there was some talk on the Hill this morning about a letter from Janet Reno to the President recommending that he veto the supplemental appropriations bill because of a provision that would authorize individuals to sue the government -- something along those lines. Do you know anything about that letter?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard anything. Have you heard anything about that, a Reno letter? There are a lot of objectionable features to the supplemental, several of which we've talked about here, that would trigger the strongest possible opposition from the President. But most of our attention is focused on the automatic CR provision, which you know about already. I'll look into that; I hadn't heard that.
Q The Times Magazine reported over the weekend in a lengthy article about Kenneth Starr that Kenneth Starr had sent a letter to the President urging him to urge Susan McDougal to cooperate. Do you know anything about that? Is this true?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was an awful lot of things said anonymously by various prosecutors in that article, but you may want to talk to Mr. Kendall; he would be the appropriate person to respond.
Q At the meeting tomorrow, do you have more details yet on this meeting with the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee on --
MR. MCCURRY: We expect that at 11:45 a.m., it will be chairs and ranking members of the two authorizing committees and the subcommittees that deal with health related provisions of the balanced budget agreement. So we've got Archer and Rangel, Thomas and Stark from the Health subcommittee; Bliley and Dingell from the Commerce side; and from the Health Environment subcommittee, the ranking and chair there, too.
Q At this meeting will the President ask Mr. Thomas not to include MSAs for the Medicare population in his bill, or tell him that he would veto it if he does include them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have not extended a specific veto threat with respect to medical savings accounts. We have raised our concerns in the past about that and even just recently, Chris Jennings, the President's health care advisor, met with members of Congress and staff and detailed once again what our concerns are. We just think that that is going to lead to inadvertent negative consequences in the health insurance market. For all the reasons that we've described in the past, we've got strong objections to it, and we'll reiterate that. But we are still at the front end of writing that legislation, and we'll approach the meeting tomorrow in a positive spirit.
Q Mike, last year you were amenable to some kind of demonstration plan. Is that still the same position?
MR. MCCURRY: We were -- when pushed right up against it last year, suggested if they want to explore that idea before you mandate a savings account approach for all consumers, it would make sense to try it and see what the utilities and efficiencies are. And I guess we would still take that view that we don't want to see any wholesale changes made in the provision of health insurance along those lines, but we do want to see if we can't -- if the Republican majority in Congress wants to press the idea, we at the very least would want to see it confined to a set population for a set period of time so it can be properly evaluated.
Q Is that the main purpose of the meeting tomorrow, to talk about MSAs?
MR. MCCURRY: They've got Medicare provisions, Medicaid provisions. They've got all the stuff related to covering uninsured children, which will be part of the discussion tomorrow. So they've got a lot of work to do, and this is one of the first of what we anticipate being several working sessions as we now craft the legislation that implements the balanced budget agreement.
And as I said, and as we've said in the past, there will be moments along the way where we go through, back and forth with Congress and flesh out the details. We know that that won't always be a smooth process, but we think it will ultimately be an effective one and codify the contours of the budget resolution which we expect to be approved this week by Congress.
Q This health insurance idea for children is not part of the budget resolution now. Are you expecting a lot of difficulty with that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the coverage of the 5 million uninsured kids is part of the balanced budget agreement. You mean the specifics of how you do it and how you accomplish that? There are some different ideas on how you would approach the central question of extending that coverage, but that's the kind of thing they will talk about tomorrow.
Q What is he doing today, what's he preoccupied with?
MR. MCCURRY: He had a day off because he was busy on Saturday. He's doing some paperwork and checked in with Mr. Bowles and Mr. Berger, and I think was catching up on some loose ends that are still left over from last week when he was traveling out of the country.
Q When is he going to veto the late-term abortion procedure bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Has it even arrived here yet? We'll have to check and see. I'm not even sure that we've received it yet. We'll have to keep you posted.
Q What's the status of your attempts to try and meet our needs on Friday at the Sidwell Friends --
MR. MCCURRY: Ongoing, and we'll report to you when I have something definitive.
Q Mike, would the U.S. support the Nigeria-led operation to put down the coup in Sierra Leone? And there are reports that some 20 people have been killed there in Freetown today. Are you concerned about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is continuing violence there and we are interested in diminishing the violence and seeing if this fragile cease-fire that they've been working on can't be fully implemented. We are concerned for the safety of those who remain in the capital city. We are monitoring very carefully the situation on the ground, particularly around the hotel from which 300-plus American citizens were evacuated over the weekend, along with hundreds of third-country nationals. We continue to monitor the efforts related to remaining citizens who are innocently trapped in and around the fighting.
Q What about the operation, what about Nigeria and neighboring African countries --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have been watching and consulting closely with the so-called ECOMOG group, which is the consortium of African countries that have offered to be of some assistance. We are supporting efforts to deal directly with the parties -- both factions, rebel factions -- to encourage the institution of a cease-fire.
Q Has the President expressed his sympathy to the family of Betth Shabazz?
MR. MCCURRY: One of our staffers in the Political Affairs division who personally knows the Shabazz family has been in contact with the family and expressed our concern, yes.
Q This meeting tomorrow, the Ways and Means Committee is also scheduled to mark up the tax portion of its balanced budget obligations next week, and Archer may unveil his mark sometime later this week. Will that also be on the table, or is this strictly a Medicare-Medicaid meeting tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they are dealing with the health related aspects of the legislation tomorrow, not the health financing aspects. We will have other opportunities to be in contact with the tax writing committees and look forward to doing that. I'm not aware of anything tomorrow but --
Q Do you expect another session later this week on --
MR. MCCURRY: I expect that we will have discussions from time to time and I wouldn't rule out the idea that at some point the President might be dealing more directly with the tax writing committees. But, as you know, they've got a number of very difficult issues that they will have to address. The President, for that reason, but some of his starting principles on the table in the radio address on Saturday, as you probably noticed. So we'll continue that work, but I'm not aware that they're to the point where we're moving into that kind of meeting format at this point.
Q Mike, what's the state of play and White House involvement in the tobacco negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: No change.
Q Do you have any meetings scheduled this week?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. Last time I checked with him was during the trip because we had some -- a flurry of rumors that there was going to be some meeting at the end of last week. As far as I know, Mr. Lindsey remains in telephone contact with the parties. They are at a point where you've seen a lot of public discussion in and amongst the attorneys general from the states involved and some of the other plaintiff representatives. And we're monitoring actively the discussions that they're having. But I'm not aware of -- in the meetings that have been scheduled, I haven't heard of any.
Q Donna Shalala was quoted today as saying -- quoted as telling the negotiators not to expect immediate White House approval of any deal that's reached. Is the administration putting daylight between itself and these negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's only as we have consistently said. We have very clear public health objectives here. We want to formulate as quickly as possible a program that leads to the health outcome the President seeks -- a reduction in the number of children who start smoking. And we are continuing to pursue our regulatory mechanisms to that effect, and we will, as we have said in the past, evaluate any proposed settlement with exactly that criteria. That's going to require very careful review, and I think Secretary Shalala is probably reflecting the President's determination to make sure we achieve the best possible public health outcome, irrespective of how they deal with other issues that are on the table. But at the moment, as near as we can tell publicly, judging from the comments of the parties themselves, we are a long way from having that question before us in any event.
Q Mike, yesterday Mr. Bennett said he might be willing to consider giving $600,000 to $700,000 to charity in the Paula Jones case. Where would that money come from? Would that come from the personal funds or insurance?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything to add to what Mr. Bennett had to say yesterday.
Q Does the President have the money to come out of the personal funds?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett will be in a position to address that, addressed most of those questions yesterday.
Q How frequently are they talking?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett addressed that yesterday.
Q Do you have anything to add to what Mr. Bennett said? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: As you correctly gather, I have nothing to add to what Mr. Bennett said. He was quite available and quite responsive to those questions yesterday.
Q How much time does the President spend on all of these cases?
MR. MCCURRY: A fractional amount.
Q Like what?
Q By definition --
MR. MCCURRY: Like a small fraction. (Laughter.)
Q Charlene Barshefsky will be on the Hill tomorrow --
Q Fifteen minutes?
Q -- to testify before the Senate Finance Committee. Is there any chance that she'll will unveil any administration position on fast track that many in Congress have been waiting for, or is she going to delay again?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a very strong possibility she will discuss that and talk about the broad parameters that the President would seek in obtaining the fast track authority he would need to advance our commitment to free trade in this hemisphere and throughout the world. But I doubt that she would unveil any specific legislation at this point.
Our view, as we've told you before, is that the best time for that debate will be likely early this fall. I think that's the point at which we would be best positioned to make a very strong push for fast track authority.
Q At what point does Gephardt's opposition to the President's policies make it impossible for the President to continue working with him?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, probably never, because given the large volume of things that they agree upon and given the fondness the President expressed for the Minority Leader last week and the fondness the Minority Leader expressed for the President last week, they're going to be working together in most instances and disagreeing on a few cases. So I don't think that day will ever arrive. At least not until 2000.
Q Are they going to bury the hatchet?
Q As the House begins work on the tax bill, does the President have any warnings to them about what he might or might not --
MR. MCCURRY: Just be very mindful of the agreements that were reached and the specific promise that was extended by the Speaker and by the Majority Leader as to the out-year size of any proposed tax cuts. We are not at this point going to take any steps that compound deficit problems in the future in how you structure tax cuts and what the out-year effect of those tax cuts are something that we will watch very carefully.
Q Is that the criteria, rather than some kind of distributional analysis?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as to distribution of effects, the single most important thing is to ensure that the $35 billion that's earmarked for post-secondary education go for the type of education tax relief that the President has talked about, which will disproportionately help middle-income taxpayers. In fact, even now with the change that we made in our HOPE Scholarship proposal over the weekend will help lower income people.
Q Mike, how go the efforts of the White House to get Congress to pay up arrears to United Nations?
MR. MCCURRY: Ambassador Richardson has been making, I think, a series of rounds on the Hill to press that case. We think the work that we have done in New York to encourage administrative reform at the United Nations has put us in a better position to make the argument for paying up our bills. We think, as a matter of our obligation in the world that we lead, we need to make good on our promise to pay what we owe the United Nations.
But we also, simultaneously, have wanted to see changes made there and the reform program that's underway now at the United Nations looks promising, it has been briefed to relevant committee chairs on the Hill and we think that adds to the argument. As more and more people understand the role the United Nations productively plays in many places around the world, the issues that it deals with, the progress that we're seeing in making it a more effective tool for the post-Cold War world, we think the support will be there both in Congress and amongst the American people.
Q Well, why won't they pay their bills?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, partly because Congress has not appropriated the funds in past budget years to pay.
Q But I mean, why? Why?
MR. MCCURRY: Because they had certain concerns, and some well-founded concerns about the way the United Nations was being run. And, if you recall, we took some fairly aggressive personnel action with respect to that. So we hope that has changed the climate. And the process of reform in the United Nations has moved forward and we think that that makes the environment for passing that payment of arrears more fortuitous.
Q Mike, last year -- well, Boutros-Ghali, who's no longer there -- but the representative to the U.N. and WTO and the IMF and World Bank were at the Lyon Summit. Does the President have any intention of bringing those people to the Denver Summit? Is there any reason to bring them?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, which group?
Q At the G-7 Summit last summer, the U.N. General Secretary was there, the head of the WTO; there was some discussions among the head of the IMF and the World Bank. Are these people going to be attending again this year for any part of the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: There was in Lyon a very specific discussion about global institutions that exist and the architecture of those global institutions. That's followed up on a conversation that began in Halifax the year before. I think that -- we've gone from that general discussion about the architecture of the post Cold War era down to more specific issues. And some of those same groups may be there or be present for a discussion that I anticipate about Africa and about sustaining economic development in Africa. So I think they've moved now more from a general to a very specific.
Q Mike, you kind of hinted on the fact that you're concerned an automatic CR in the supplemental provision, supplemental appropriations. Do you see any strategy for getting past that?
MR. MCCURRY: About getting past some of the disagreements we have? Well, my guess is that in the week that Congress has been gone they have heard a lot from constituents that ask, what is the deal with this emergency aid for those suffering from disasters and why did you guys leave town? We tried to turn up the heat a little bit on that question, as you know. And our hope is that Congress will come back to town looking for a way to move that very important disaster relief forward and looking to resolve some of these other issues in other ways so we don't hold up that assistance any longer.
Q How do you plan to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: Through the same kind of close consultation and occasional jawboning that we do to affect the outcome of legislative fights on the Hill.
Q Mike, does the White House have any reaction to the class action suit filed by flight attendants today in Miami against tobacco companies for second-hand smoke on airplanes?
MR. MCCURRY: Not any immediate reaction from the White House. I'm not -- I'll have to check and see if anywhere else in government there's been a comment, but not that I'm aware of.
Q Mike, what's the White House saying in reference to the price of a stamp possibly going up, especially since the economy is supposedly, "so great" right now?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have evaluated that and I don't know at what point the proposed postal rate increase is -- whether it's come from the Commission, or not.
Q In the radio address, the President said he wants to reach as many working families possible with the $500 child tax credit. Does that mean he's open to raising eligibility age from 13 to possibly as high as 18, as in the Republican --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have strong views about the age 13 as the eligibility date, as you know. But we will work with the tax writing committees. They've got -- I think, as Chairman Archer or someone said the other day -- a lot of wine to pour into the bottle that has been built. And right now, it looks like they may have some overflow that they have to deal with.
But we've got some pretty clear ideas on how expansive the credit should be and how it should be available. And we'll fight for our views in discussions with the tax writing committees. But they clearly want to get done a lot of tax relief, but they have the defined amount of tax relief that's available under the agreement.
Q What does the President think of Secretary Reich's memory? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary of who?
Q The former Labor Secretary.
Q The small guy.
MR. MCCURRY: What was his name again? (Laughter.)
Q I don't know.
MR. MCCURRY: What does he think of his memory or his book or his --
Q His memory.
MR. MCCURRY: What did he forget? I'm missing something here.
Q There's been some questions about whether everything he recounted was accurate.
Q Or any of it. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I wasn't aware of that. It sounded entertaining.
Q He was supposed to have made a lot of misstatements and attributed things to people who claimed it never happened.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, boy. (Laughter.) Some of that stuff was so good. How about the thing about getting caught in the little dog door. That had to have happened. (Laughter.)
Q Did you read it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I've read -- I've heard about it. I don't get to read books unless they are with big type and lots of nice pictures and your kids are sitting on your lap. (Laughter.)
Q Did the President read it?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to suggest that this was that kind of book, but --
Q Has the President read the book?
MR. MCCURRY: The last time I had asked him, he had not. But my guess is he probably has by now.
Q He probably has?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q But, yet, you don't --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had any reaction. I've never talked to him about it.
Q Is the President going to have a news conference anytime soon?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we were trying to work on having one some time next week, like a date that we can't announce, but sort of June 10th. (Laughter.) We were talking about it. If we announce that, I'll let you know.
Q That's Tuesday.
MR. MCCURRY: It's Tuesday.
Q Is there going to be some kind of roll-out to this race initiative or he just going to go to San Diego and give a speech?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be some kind of roll-out. I don't know what kind, but it will either be big wheel barrel or a little wheelbarrow, one or the other.
Q You mean before he does the speech he'll do something else here?
MR. MCCURRY: We may talk about it or try to set it up as we customarily do when we're trying to take the good, positive, interesting ideas of the day and propel them forward into the Zeitgeist. We'll try to figure out some way to do that for you, Wolf.
Q Is Sidney Blumenthal going to be in charge of it?
MR. MCCURRY: I hope so. Who knows.
Q When does he come on board?
MR. MCCURRY: I read in The Washington Post it was six to eight weeks.
Q What's he going to do when he gets here?
MR. MCCURRY: Be profound.
Q You mean you're not profound enough?
MR. MCCURRY: Me? Absolutely not.
Q Will he announce the next ambassador to Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: Will he announce the next ambassador to Japan? No. And we're not anywhere closer to announcing that Tom Foley is an excellent guy that's going to get that job. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, any contacts with Jospin or his people and the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Between --
Q France, the French election.
MR. MCCURRY: No, we have not, to my knowledge, unless -- I'm not even confident, Eric -- has he formally been asked now to form a government? As of earlier today, that meeting had not occurred with the President. But, as I said earlier, if he is asked by President Chirac to form a government, we would work closely with that government. We've got enduring interests that we explore through our close and warm bilateral relationship with France. And at a time when the future of Europe is very much on the minds of those of us in the United States thinking about the future of that continent, including the President, we would seek a very active, productive, warm relationship with all elements of the French government. And knowing something or two about cohabitating, we think governments can be successful when they operate in that fashion.
Q Do you expect any changes on the policy in Bosnia and the Middle East from France?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll have to await any formal declarations on the part of Prime Minister Jospin, but not that we anticipate. We see some enduring elements to the ideas that have been advanced by President Chirac and by the government, and we suspect that there will be continuity more than change in the presentation of their foreign policy.
Q Do you have any indication from the Socialist Party that that's --
MR. MCCURRY: There has been some from the dialogue that occurred during the election period and then -- nothing formal yet, although through our embassy in Paris, we have ongoing contacts with representatives of the various parties, so we have some sense of their preliminary thinking.
Q Do you have any news at all today? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It's a quiet day. Yes, I've got one valuable piece of news, which is the President is announcing today his intent to nominate Janice Lachance to serve as Deputy Director of the Office of Personnel Management. We've got a piece of paper available. And with the distribution of that piece of paper, the news that you are looking for is that that's our full lid for the day.
Q Mike, Treasury has put out an environmental and economic impact at the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue, and it shows that the closing cost the city half a million dollars a year in lost parking revenue and shifting bus routes. Is there any thought being given to reimbursing the government, D.C. government, in any way for that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have, among other things, a quite substantial economic assistance package that's available to the District -- we're working to do that -- that would defray the costs of many things. There are some aspects of this assessment that I'd rather leave for the Treasury to review, but we will work with the elected representatives of the District and those who are concerned about the District to make sure that we find acceptable solutions to questions that they care about.
But I remind you that in terms of off-setting aid, we've got an assistance package that's quite generous and has got a number of benefits available well beyond just the question of offsetting costs for traffic closures.
Q As far as the White House views it, does this more or less continues the green light to keeping this closed and changing it to a --
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is -- Treasury can tell you more, but I think this is an initial assessment that's provided and I think they've got a ways to go before they finalize anything with respect to the various options that were studied within the assessment itself.
Q There's an ongoing attempt to get some --
MR. MCCURRY: -- which goes into a comment period now, right. So there will be an additional period for comment.
Q In an ongoing attempt to get some news, is there any reaction to the Commerce Department report today about personal spending and retail spending only being up one-tenth of a percent in April, which is widely being analyzed as the economy is starting to slow up?
MR. MCCURRY: When the Chair of the President's Council of Economic Advisors was here Friday, in an event that was considerably more newsworthy than many of you here felt -- maybe we should have saved and done that today -- but a lot of what she projected as indicators for the second quarter were that we had seen some moderation of growth and that that probably was a useful thing because we are seeing certain growth patterns even out and continuing out on a path of steady, disciplined growth in the economy, continuing job creation without seeing any spike in inflation. So that's largely good news. The fact that the economy would slow a little bit is not seen as a negative thing here, given the very strong performance that we talked about in the first quarter.
Q If the McVeigh jury should come back, do you think the President will want to comment?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt it. We'll see where they are. Regardless of what the jury is, there will be additional steps in the litigation that I think the President would want to be careful about not impinging upon.
Q Mike, the speaker of the Cuban National Assembly, Mr. Ricardo Alarcon has been criticizing President Clinton's policy to Cuba, claiming that it's being led totally by Congress, he's playing more or less a passive role.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, his views in prior statements are well-known and he's arguing that case from the ideological premise that you would expect from someone who supports a totalitarian dictator.
Q Thank you.
END 1:39 P.M. EDT