THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:42 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I just thought I'd show up sooner or later. Mr. Blitzer?
Q What about the Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott saying the President is a --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, what was that about?
Q He was saying that the President is simply a spoiled brat and doesn't want tax cuts for middle class families.
MR. MCCURRY: I think he had a bad day. If you had to deal with his caucus in the Senate you'd get frazzled every once in a while, too. So we'll move on.
Q Are you saying that he was simply responding to Republicans who have been critical of the leadership?
MR. MCCURRY: I know he must get frustrated from time to time, dealing with the members of his caucus. But we'll continue to work with him and make good progress for the country, and continue to cut taxes for middle income families, and move on with all those things that the President and the Majority Leader have demonstrated they can work together on.
Q But doesn't that show some fallout from this whole disaster relief episode last week, that there might be a stronger willingness on the Republicans to be less deferential to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably not. I think you can probably overdo the significance of that comment. I would imagine he may be --
Q Did he talk to him -- or did the President talk to him?
MR. MCCURRY: The President talks to him all the time. He enjoys talking to him.
Q Did he talk to him since the remark?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe he's talked to him since yesterday.
Q He slammed the phone down on him. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: If he had talked to him he would have wished him a happy Father's Day, which he did yesterday long distance.
Q Would your response be as subdued if Dick Armey had said that?
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe. (Laughter.) You can work up a little more enthusiasm for going after Mr. Armey than you can Mr. Lott, to be truthful. (Laughter.)
Q You don't think it's serious that they're going to launch a major campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: I just think they've been having a hard time. They've been fighting amongst themselves and it gets frustrating being the Senate Majority Leader when your own team can't get its act together, and that's -- we understand that frustration. We can understand that he's exasperated. We can understand that he's chaffing at the bit a little bit. He had to wake up on Friday and read a big story in The Washington Times about how Tom Daschle is the greatest Senate leader ever. I imagine he didn't like that. Did you all see that? It was a very good piece.
Q Aside from your glib remarks, are you going to have any campaign to counter their campaign when they say the President's not for a middle income tax cut?
MR. MCCURRY: We are going to say over and over again, and I think many Americans understand it, that one of the virtues of the balanced budget agreement that we reached with Senator Lott was that it provides targeted tax relief for middle income families. And we've designed the right way to do this, which is to provide the incentives that are going to grow the economy in the future by putting the target tax relief in areas which will encourage people to go out and get education, which will increase their earning potential in the marketplace and help expand the economy over time.
That's the way to go about this, not to leave people in a position where the -- the problem with the Archer bill and it looks like maybe the same problem will replicate itself in the Senate Republican tax bill, is that the people who are the lowest-paid workers, the people who are working hard who ought to get, in our view, as much tax relief as possible, are going to get short-changed in the version of the legislation they have so that, presumably, the money can go into the capital gains tax pile.
Q Mike, the Republicans counter that by pointing out that the 4 million children whose families get the earned income tax credit, their families don't pay any taxes already as a result of the earned income tax credit, so why should they get more welfare, in effect, at the expense of the 11 million middle class children whose families won't be getting any $500 tax credit under the Clinton plan, but would be getting it under the Archer plan?
MR. MCCURRY: We have already indicated we're more than happy to work with Congress to find way of extending that child tax credit up to age 16 or 17. We've already indicated that. In fact, Congressman Rangel's tax bill does that. You know, would that that was where the money was going to go on balance. It goes, as everyone in this room knows, to help offset the cost of the capital gains tax relief that the Republicans have provided. And it's not -- the lowest income workers, working families, is who we're talking about here, because in order to get the EITC you have to be earning money -- these are not people who are dependent on welfare, these are people who are working, trying to make ends meet. And we're trying to make work pay in this country and this is another way you can do it.
Q If they don't pay any taxes how can they get a tax credit?
MR. MCCURRY: The same way you could get back when Richard Nixon when President, you could have gotten a negative income tax credit. It works in the same fashion. It's how you calculate what the cost of the benefit it.
Q Well, Mike, are you saying that Archer and --
MR. MCCURRY: In any event, it rewards those people who are out there trying to work, rather than going on public assistance. And we can't understand why you wouldn't want to continue to provide those kinds of incentives if you wanted to be strong in favor of work.
Q Archer says that the trade-off is the 4 million for what he calls welfare for the 11 million kids --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, sure.
Q Are you saying that he's being disingenuous about that, that that's not --
MR. MCCURRY: Of course. Of course, he wants you to think that, but that's a big tax bill and last time I checked there was estate tax relief in there, there's capital gains tax relief. You could drop any of those provisions and continue to provide the funding to help the lowest income workers get a tax cut and expand the tax credit for people with kids up to age 17 if you wanted to. That's not what their priorities are in this bill.
What I'm saying, and the President will fight for, and Democrats now are showing on Capitol Hill they will fight for, is tax relief that helps the middle income, helps the lowest paid workers of this society so they can get ahead.
Q And what's the Republican's priority?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've got a more expansive view of who ought to gain. And it goes to the heart of what we've debated in the past with them, how do you calculate the benefit of a tax bill. You can't provide something for everybody, which is what they want to do. Sure, they want to do some of the things that are going to incent families in the lower and middle income range, but they also want to take care of the people who want capital gains reductions at the highest end of the income scale. Everyone knows that. And I think the priorities the President has put forward in his discussion of tax relief are more targeted on exactly the middle income, lower-paid workers that we believe are the future strength of the economy as you see them moving into higher-paying, more productive roles in the labor force.
Q Mike, the response to the Republicans who say that the President now after the election is reverting back to the traditional class warfare that the Democrats --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we have got a strong economy. The premise of that strong economy is that people who go out and work for a living ought to get a fair shake in the economy and ought to be able to get ahead. One way that we will continue to grow this economy is to provide incentives for education. Therefore, this President, when he drew up a tax relief measure, put the emphasis on targeting education, as we know. And it is dead certain that if people go out and get additional years of college, the 13th and 14th grade, they will be able to get ahead in the work force.
So that's why we drew up the bill with that kind of emphasis and, by the way, exactly those people who would get cheated if you change this to a 50 percent tax credit up to $3,000 are the people who are the lowest income, in many cases minority Americans, who are looking to get kind of a community college-type opportunity for higher education. So we just think the incentives are very correctly drawn in the President's bill, we've got strong support from Congressman Rangel and the House Democrats; we think we've got support on the Senate side as well. And we're going to have to work these issues through. But in the end of the day, we think we're going to end up with a bill that provides incentives that will help this economy continue to grow at the robust rate that it's been growing and continue to provide economic opportunities for the lowest-paid workers and the middle income families that need tax relief the most.
Q Mike, two policemen were shot dead in Northern Ireland today. The IRA has claimed responsibility. The British government has called off the next round of talks with Sinn Fein. Is that position by London supported by the President, and do you have any thoughts on the next phase of the peace process?
MR. MCCURRY: We well understand the reasoning of the government of the United Kingdom. We understand that Prime Minister Blair and the new Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland are likely going to meet further on this. The United States government, too, is outraged by the callous murder of two policemen in Northern Ireland and we extend our deepest sympathy to the families of these two slain officers.
The IRA has claimed responsibility for what is, ultimately, an outrageous act of cowardice, an outrageous act of terrorism, and no one should ever make the mistake of thinking that actions of this kind represent anything equating to patriotism. It's, in fact, probably the exact opposite of patriotism and heroism to walk out and shoot two law enforcement officers in the back.
The President believes that the vast majority of people in Ireland, North and South, are interested in advancing the peace process. That is an interest of the United States government shares, and we will continue to work with those leaders and those parties that are clearly committed to peace and are going to be a part of the future, rather than the wretched past that has defined the time of troubles.
Q With the increasing tension approaching, with the marches season approaching, what is the message to Loyalist paramilitaries who may be now considering retaliation?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, their restraint has been admirable. They have been provoked over and over again, since the IRA suspended the cease-fire. And the United States government, of course, will continue to call on them to honor their own cease-fire and to avoid acts of retaliation because that sends you in the downward spiral that is all too familiar to the people of Ireland. What the President hopes is that those who truly remain committed to peace, and that is the majority, that they will continue to have the greatest influence in both communities as the search for peace continues.
Q Do you believe that the U.S. will continue to have discussions with Sinn Fein even if these atrocious acts keep happening?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States government has had contact with parties that we have always believed have been helpful to the peace process, and I would say we would continue contacts that we believe are helpful to the process. But sooner or later, it becomes clear who is willing to help the process and who is not.
Q Mike, several parties to the tobacco talks were just seen walking in a little while ago. Can you tell us what's going on and where you think --
MR. MCCURRY: They're talking and they will be in here, on and off, as they talk, to see Mr. Lindsey. No change.
Q Is the White House role getting more active than just monitoring?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think the talks themselves may or may -- according to those participating, are getting more and more to the point where they might result in something or not result in something, and so our process of monitoring has been a little more active.
Q Do you expect that the President will get any kind of report as the week goes on? Is there any timetable for that?
MR. MCCURRY: It's impossible to say. It's going to really be up to the parties. And we keep hearing that while they have made some progress, they have some issues between them that are not resolved and look very difficult in terms of the ability to be resolved.
Q So you don't think this is a meeting that's putting -- where they're presenting a final package today?
MR. MCCURRY: No. There will be meeting -- my guess, on balance, throughout the week.
Q What is the government role in this? I mean, what is it --
MR. MCCURRY: The government role in this is real simple: We want to keep kids from starting to smoke. That's been our public health objective and the parties know that, and they know that nothing that they would be able to achieve in their talks will make any progress unless the President endorses it, unless the Congress is willing to vote for it, so they need the support of the President. Ultimately, they need the help of Congress. And what we said in response is our aim is very clear; we want as quickly as possible to achieve the public health policy objective that the President has articulated.
Q Well, given what you know about the framework and the general parameters of where they're going, would you say the White House is pleased with the direction and the shape --
MR. MCCURRY: Some parts of the discussion have been helpful. There have been helpful comments last week by some of the leading public health organizations in the country. But at the same time, there's no deal until there's a complete deal and some of the toughest issues and the most important issues, in some respects, are yet to be addressed by the parties or resolved by the parties.
Q If the parties ask the White House to be more actively involved at this or a later stage, to help close a deal would the White House consider it?
MR. MCCURRY: We have been in contact with them; we have, to my knowledge, not received any such request. And, hypothetically, I'm not going to address hypothetically. They're talking; we'll see where it goes.
Q Do you have any suggestion that they are about to ask?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware. But this has been an evolving discussion and no doubt it's evolved in the last several days.
Q Mike, back to the tax cut. The Republic position seems to be people who don't pay taxes shouldn't get a tax cut. You're saying now that these people are deserving. What's the answer?
MR. MCCURRY: Understand, they don't pay taxes because we made a conscious decision to give tax relief to the people that are working hardest to make ends meet. These are the lowest-income working people in this country. They are not on welfare. They are out there trying -- to the contrary, they're trying to work and make ends meet. We did something very important for them when we passed the earned income tax credit. We said we will essentially relieve you of that tax burden that you would face so that we reward you for being out there and working; we make it better for you to be in the work force than to be dependent on public assistance.
And we've said that the child tax credit -- look, these families, that $500 goes a long, long ways to a family in that kind of situation, much more so than the people making $200,000, $300,000 a year who are looking for a capital gains tax cut. And that's not class warfare, it's just the simple reality of what it's like to live on the very small income levels that these people are facing. And, yes, our preference is to provide the incentive to the lowest-income working families that are trying to make ends meet in designing a tax bill.
Q My question was, given that they aren't paying taxes, how can you describe it as a tax cut? Shouldn't you be describing it as a grant?
MR. MCCURRY: No, this has been a feature of tax policy for well over a generation now. It provides -- tax credits that offset what people would otherwise pay in taxes is a feature of tax expenditures that relate to the tax code.
Q But they point out, if we're talking about tax relief, since they don't pay any taxes, they're not going to get -- why not give the relief to those who already are burdened with paying a lot of taxes?
MR. MCCURRY: I think you're failing to miss the point. These people are struggling --
Q We are failing to miss the point. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: -- these folks are working in the work force, right? They need that $500 tax credit to pay for day care so they can stay in the work force. They need it to buy groceries. They need it to pay for public transportation so that the can get to work. All we're saying is that that is a dollar spent that's well spent if you're providing tax relief in the tax bill.
Q I think what Deborah's keeps saying is and what I'm asking or Republicans are suggesting, why call it tax relief, why not just call it welfare?
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's not welfare. That is repugnant. And that's the way they think up there, that somehow or other, people who are working and trying to make ends meet who could use a little bit of extra assistance when it comes to their daily expenditures are somehow or other cheating the system. They would rather give the money off to people who have been churning stocks in the stock market, I guess. That's their idea of tax relief, admittedly; I understand that.
But we're saying it ought to be targeted -- there is nothing to be embarrassed about, that we're trying to shoot some of those dollars in a tax bill in the direction of people who are trying to work for a living and have a hard enough time making ends meet when they've got rent payments, when they've got groceries, when they've got day care, when they've got transportation expenses. They're trying to stay in the work force and not go on welfare. That's exactly the point. They're trying not to go on the welfare rolls.
Q It seems just as easily to argue that the Republicans want to shift that $500 to an area, say, between $60,000 and $80,000-a-year family income. Those people, presumably relatively middle class folks have received nothing over the past 15, 20 years in terms of tax relief. They could probably appreciate it as well.
MR. MCCURRY: And we are right there with them. That's what the purpose of the President's targeted tax cut for those folks, for education expenses is all about.
Q The President's targeted tax cut kind of tails off before it gets up at that income level.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it phases, but it phases higher than $60,000 to $80,000, I think. I think it goes -- phases higher than that.
Q I think it's out at $70,000, and down to pretty little at that.
MR. MCCURRY: Principally, what we're doing is we are providing help to people who are raising kids and people who are going to try to go back into educational settings to get additional training so that they can become more productive and higher-earning members of the work force. That, in our view, has been a good way to target and to use the money available in the tax bill. And, more importantly, it's consistent with what the design and outline of the balanced budget agreement was about, which gave the President significant leeway on the question of education tax relief, which is -- the Speaker, the Majority Leader signed on to that. At some point, they're going to have to go back to their committee chairs and say, look, this is part of the deal we've made.
Q Since both the Senate and the House version contain that provision which you object to, are they not now tenable offers on the table?
MR. MCCURRY: I said on Friday and I'll say again, that's not going to be the bill that gets signed into law eventually, but there's going to be a lot more negotiating and a lot more back and forth before we get final versions of a tax bill through both the House and the Senate.
Q What you're saying is unless it's changed, it's vetoed?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just saying it will be changed and they know it and we know it, and we're going to work together with them to make sure the changes are the right ones.
Q Well, are you prepared to say it's veto bait?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no need to say that at this point because they're nowhere near sending us a bill. They are near a good discussion with us about how we properly target the assistance in a tax bill and we think there's going to be a lot more turns of the wheel before we get to something that is moving down this way.
Q Mike, getting back for a moment to Northern Ireland, what does today's development do to the President extending a hand to Gerry Adams? What will the administration's be henceforth with regard to Adams and Sinn Fein?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the one that I just indicated earlier, that we will maintain those contacts with parties that we believe are useful in advancing the peace process.
Q Define that for me in terms of --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to define it any more than that. I think we're at a point now where actions are going to demonstrate a lot, because there have been some actions that, frankly, have demonstrated things that are outrageous and heinous. What we need to see now is a restitution of the cease-fire -- an unequivocal restitution of a cease-fire that lasts by the IRA.
Q But, you see, the position of the British government under Major and now under Blair is that there is essentially a direct link between Sinn Fein and the IRA; that if Sinn Fein really wants to exert sufficient political pressure on the IRA to desist from terrorism, they can do it, and since terrorism continues they will not talk with the IRA. My question is simply, what is the American analysis? Do you also have that kind of linkage between Sinn Fein and IRA and, therefore, you're also going to abstain from meeting with them?
MR. MCCURRY: As you know, the government of Prime Minister Blair had met twice with Sinn Fein and has now canceled a scheduled third meeting. They've made no other statement beyond that. We can well understand their reasons for doing so. We will continue to remain in close contact with both governments as their decision-making unfolds and we'll have to see what happens. But this is a point now in which those who want to be with history and with peace need to come forward and do what they know must and ought do.
Q Mike, since I have never covered the State Department maybe I need a little help in interpreting diplomatic language. But you said before that sooner or later it becomes clear who's willing to help the peace process and who's not, which I might interpret as a thinly veiled hint that patience with Sinn Fein could run out. Would that be a correct interpretation?
MR. MCCURRY: I think you can go check with your colleagues who cover diplomacy and they'll be able to unravel what I said earlier.
Q I was hoping you would.
MR. MCCURRY: Next question.
Q On Saturday, the President, in his speech in San Diego, toned down his criticism of Prop 209 from his prepared remarks. What was behind that?
MR. MCCURRY: He didn't tone it down, he just chose to phrase it in different ways for the reasons that he said.
Q What's the President got on his schedule once he leaves Denver? What's in store for San Francisco and L.A.?
MR. MCCURRY: He goes to San Francisco to speak to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. I think they're doing some fundraising as well in San Francisco and Los Angeles -- correct? Then back overnight Monday night and he's got the day off Tuesday.
Q So is L.A. only fundraising?
MR. TOIV: I wouldn't rule out an event in L.A.
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently, Barry is saying they might do some other things down in L.A., too. We'll get you the schedule.
Q Is Tiger Woods dissing the President?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q There seem to be several occasions where the hand has been extended and it has not been taken up. I mean, he walked right by him at the 16th hole.
MR. MCCURRY: I know of only one instance, which was the Jackie Robinson thing. We've covered that before and we have no problem with that.
Q Was he not invited today?
MR. MCCURRY: We invited anyone from the tour that wanted to come. I don't even know who came.
Q Mike, how seriously is the President taking the notion of an apology for slavery? And would he consider that a next step toward opening the door for discussion of reparations for slaves?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard -- I mean, the President addressed that over the weekend. I really don't have anything to add to that.
Q Let me take you back to the tobacco talks and try again. Several of the participants suggest that it's not only possible, it's likely that there may be issues left when the talks reach what they consider to be their limit in the next couple of days, and they'll be handed to the White House in an unfinished state in any case.
MR. MCCURRY: That's sheerly speculative based on what we've heard from the parties. I think you ought to go back and see if any of them think that that's a likely outcome.
Q Well, that is the likely outcome I'm getting from several of them. And since the White House and some Cabinet agencies are going to be asked to look at this settlement -- however much of it is done anyway -- do you not anticipate having some input at that point and help to resolve some unfinished issues at that point?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, at some point --
Q Obviously, you want these people to do as much as they can by themselves.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. And at some point they're going to come forward and say, look, here's the best we can do, what do you think. And we'll look at it and tell them what we think. I mean, it's not complicated.
Q Well, I wonder why you're hesitant to say that, though. I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: I just did.
Q Mike, is the administration --
Q I walked into that, didn't I? (Laughter.)
Q Is the administration, in anticipation of a Supreme Court decision on the Internet and smut, rethinking the President's earlier stated policy?
MR. MCCURRY: No, our administration views are those that we've argued in front of the court. I think there's some discussion of what will happen, depending on what the court might do. But I -- we would always, as the President suggested in West Virginia, want to look, first and foremost, at ways that we can help families that want to protect kids from smut and indecency. And we'll continue that effort in a variety of ways regardless of what happens in front of the court.
Q I wonder if I could just follow up. How would you characterize the deliberations now underway inside the administration on this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: As being pro-family and against indecency on the Internet that's not appropriate for kids. And we're figuring out how to do that depending on what the Court might rule as the kind of thing that if you care about those things, you would start doing some thinking about it in advance.
Q How do you reconcile the position of the Supreme Court with the draft report that the administration prepared saying the administration believes that government should not try to sensor the Internet?
MR. MCCURRY: I would really go back to what the President said in West Virginia -- we want to try to find ways in which we can help parents protect children from things that parents don't think children ought to be experiencing as part of their Internet use, and there are different ways you can do that. There are probably some technological software ways you can address that question and --
Q Does the administration believe the government should censor the Internet, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: That's an argument -- we've made that argument or answered that question, in effect, in the way that we've argued in front of the Court, and I'm not aware of any change in what we've argued in front of the Court.
Q So the draft report that's been prepared inside the White House that says that --
MR. MCCURRY: It's a draft report looking at what are the consequences of various options that might be available to government in the wake of a Court decision.
Q But aren't you pulling in your horns already on the assumption that it will rule against you?
MR. MCCURRY: We're thinking about what we can do in the future to address the question of indecency on the Internet if we're trying to help parents. And it may not be all driven by litigation or interpretation of the Court ruling, there may be other things that are policy-driven as well that we can do to help parents.
Q Is there something planned -- a time planned to talk about this? There is a suggestion in this story of a specific day -- I think they said July 1st or something.
MR. MCCURRY: Not specifically, because I think it depends in part about when the Court may hand down the decision, but there are only several Mondays left.
Q What about television content? There's new activity in the area of the networks reorganizing their rating system and some suggestions that the White House may want to be involved in this.
MR. MCCURRY: I think as I said last week, we've encouraged the industry to work with the parents' groups and the advocates of children who are looking at the rating system that has been put forward by the industry. And we've always said all along that we ought to make that user-friendly so that it works effectively for parents and for those who are trying to protect children. Same thing, but it's better to have some uniform application of ratings. It doesn't make a lot of sense to have the industry marching off in five different directions and leaving parents confused about what various ratings means.
So we've been talking to them, working with them. The Vice President has met with the industry and with representatives of families and certainly has been involved in seeing if we can't come to some consensus on how to modify the experimental rating system that had been put forward.
Q Mike, back on the Internet. Does the President feel that different issues involved on the content of the Internet when the child is in a home setting as opposed to when the child is at a school setting?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. You're in an educational setting as opposed to a home setting.
Q -- published a map this week that purports to be Netanyahu's suggestion for a Palestinian self-rule area. It's cut into about four different enclaves which the Palestinians have not officially been presented with, but would definitely find untenable. Does the White House have any knowledge that this really is a good policy and what your reaction to it would be?
MR. MCCURRY: We, as a general practice in the peace process, and particularly with respect to the dialogue between the Palestinians and the Israeli government coming out of Oslo, we've said often that the parties need to speak to each other and share their ideas across the table so they can be evaluated and commented upon by the other side. We very often will help in our facilitating role, lend our own perspective, give our own thoughts. This is an instance where I think there has been some discussion about a future construction of maps related to the West Bank, and it would more properly be the government of Israel and the Prime Minister's responsibility to explain that.
If that idea is to be advanced, it needs to be advanced in direct dialogue with the Palestinians and they need to discuss it and they need to share their views in that setting.
Q You're basically saying the Israelis should talk to the Palestinians about it. But my question is, really, would you imagine that such a map could be at all tenable, given the actual dispersal of the population areas into unconnected --
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question of demographics and drawing lines, but it's ultimately a political decision that has to be made by the parties in direct contact. Do you foresee some way in which you transform land in exchange for a commitment to peace? Well, yes, that's foreseen by Oslo. So is that tenable? Yes, we believe it is tenable. But how that is advanced and the process by which it is embraced and then implemented by the parties and one that grows out of their dialogue and their negotiation of which there has been too little.
Q You said it is tenable?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean -- yes, it's foreseeable, it is negotiable, it is what the parties themselves have pledged to do under Oslo, but it needs to happen in the kind of dialogue between the parties that has been very difficult to achieve in recent weeks.
Q All four of the Palestinian designated areas would be bisected by highways that the Israeli military would control under this map.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not useful for the United States to criticize any individual ideas that either parties wants to put forward. We need to try to get them to talk to each other. We in general refrain from taking positions on ideas that the parties themselves advance for the precise reason that we want them to discuss their ideas with each other.
Q It looks like it's all come to a standstill now. You haven't done anything lately -- the U.S. hasn't.
MR. MCCURRY: We do an awful lot all of the time related to the peace process and there's been a fair amount that's been underway, but it at the moment is a delicate moment in which we're just getting people to talk and to reason with each other and to fulfill the commitments they've made in the past has been hard to achieve. But we have ups and downs in the Middle East peace process. That is almost the definition of the process itself.
Q Given the opposition of the Likud in the past to even consider land for peace, this new Likud map that Netanyahu has put forward -- is this progress as far as the U.S. is concerned?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be progress to see the parties directly engage on issues that are of fundamental importance to both sides and that have already been defined by both parties as their agenda under the declaration and growing out of the Oslo Accords.
Q What's your answer to Wolf's question, though, really?
MR. MCCURRY: It was to say those ideas have -- to be considered progress, they have to be advanced within the structure of a dialogue that will actually lead to something, to lead to progress. It's not just progress for one side to have an idea; it needs to be an idea that is then engaged, and then there is discussion, negotiation, reflection on those ideas within the process that they themselves have established. Our job, in short, is to encourage them to have that kind of dialogue, and that's the place where you could go forward with maps and discussions about the future and settle issues that are for the parties themselves the most difficult issues because they were declared final status issues.
Q So this hasn't been presented yet to the Palestinians. They wouldn't have the nerve to do it, would they?
MR. MCCURRY: There are lots of different ways that ideas come forward, but in the end, they are only meaningful to the degree that they're engaged by the parties in their own dialogue.
Q Has the White House made any decision on the new clean air standards?
MR. MCCURRY: Not as of this moment.
Q Do you know when that decision will come? Because the EPA has to issue the new legislation or the new regulations on July 19.
MR. MCCURRY: After a lot more thrashing about they will then resolve --
Q So you're not very far on this decision process?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't want to predict. Would you want to predict? (Laughter.) If you're applying common sense and rationale you would say, very shortly. But that's the reason I don't want to predict.
Q Any recent talks between the U.S. and Syria, or is that something we're not even going to consider until we get the Israelis and Palestinians back together?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in the ultimate search for a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace, there's no way to achieve that objective without further dialogue with Syria. But that, again, is -- both sides in that equation have addressed themselves to that issue.
Q But the U.S. has not made in the past couple of months any overtures?
MR. MCCURRY: We have been working at the pace and in the direction that seems to make sense to us based on our understanding of the parties' disposition.
Q Are you going to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider campaign spending limits?
MR. MCCURRY: The Justice Department and Solicitor General can tell you more, but we have been concerned about both the practical and constitutional impacts of Buckley v. Viello, and I think it is likely that if the right case came forward at the right time we might find a way to challenge the premise that spending limits in federal campaigns are unconstitutional. There are some cases the Justice Department can tell you about that are working their way up through the lower court and that might present that opportunity. And I think the President and others at the White House believe that the status of campaign finance is such that a test of whether or not the original Buckley decision is a valid measure of constitutionality is in order. And finding the right case to make that test is something that the Justice Department is looking at.
Q When you say the status of campaign finance, do you mean the fact that legislation is not moving on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: Since the time of that declaration by the Court, which was considered a freedom of speech application, the amount of money being raised and going into the system has increased, I think, 700 percent. I think there's some question of whether the overall integrity of the process was by that decision or whether it may, in fact, have been weakened by that decision. And I think that's, we believe, a good proposition for the Supreme Court to test.
Q And what would you say to people who might argue that the fact that the President is continuing to do all these campaign fundraisers at the same time he's making things like this --
MR. MCCURRY: It's the same argument that you've heard over and over here -- I can repeat it for you if you want to go down that road again, but it's -- we have a system of rules, and as much as we're trying to change the rules, that doesn't mean that we can't continue and shouldn't continue to live under the rules and compete against the other party under those rules, as much as we'd like to see them changed.
Q I'd just like to clarify something on taxes. When the administration -- when the President proposed his Middle Class Bill of Rights back in December of '95, was that tax cut fully refundable then? My recollection is that it was not.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't remember whether it was or not. I don't believe it was, but I'd have to go back and --
Q So what has changed from now --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we changed -- there's been a lot more experience with the EITC; we've done a lot more -- we've figured out better how to target -- there's been a lot of practical application in the way these tax credits work -- because they've run into some criticism from time to time, and we've actually improved them, modified them and put them forward in revised fashion in some of our tax legislation.
Q But, essentially, what the Republicans are offering now in terms of non-refundability at the lower ends is similar to what you proposed two years ago?
MR. MCCURRY: The structure of that bill, since it included the IRA provision -- it was a different structure, that bill. But I wouldn't want to accept that premise without going back and looking at it.
Q There's an event on tomorrow's schedule -- a President event that will talk about African trade event. Can you give us some idea of what that means?
MR. MCCURRY: We have been working in the work up to the Denver Summit, looking for opportunities to fulfill a mandate put before the leaders at the Lyon Summit a year ago to consider the particular economic needs of Africa as the continent emerges, as different countries at different paces continue to democratize, as they continue to liberalize their economies, as they become participating members in the system of world trade and as they find new ways to sustain economic development over time. All of that our government has reviewed. And the President will put forward an initiative on trade with Africa tomorrow.
You can probably get a little more on it at 3:30 p.m., when the National Security Advisor and Mr. Tarullo from the NEC brief. And Secretary Rubin will also be here as well, too. They can tell you more about it in oblique terms, since we are going to try to make some news on that tomorrow.
Q What about the other event tomorrow, the Title IX? Is there any news going to be made involving that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will announce some ways in which we can improve enforcement of Title IX and extend some of the non-discrimination principles in Title IX into areas that are not currently covered by federal law. That will be a subject he wants to address tomorrow, and then also celebrate 25 years of working to try to give women more equal opportunities in educational settings.
Q Mike, in that event will he also be looking at the fact that some schools have been dropping their athletic programs rather than comply due to so-called lack of ability to fund?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be a lot of people who will be here tomorrow who can talk about various aspects of that.
Q President Clinton tomorrow will outline the U.S. initiative that will be then formally presented to the G-7?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's -- well, it will be our effort, working with our Congress to do what we are going to put forward as a U.S. way to handle trade opportunities with Africa. But then, of course, he will then talk about that and share that with other leaders in Denver as one of the outgrowths of the initiative that was begun a year ago.
Q Mike, you were talking before about middle class versus the rich. Could you tell us what is the level the administration finds is middle class, and at what level "rich" begins?
MR. MCCURRY: The test of middle income is one that you can get from the Commerce Department, I think. I don't have it right off the top of my head. I know roughly what it is, but we can get you the exact chart.
Q What I'm wondering, Mike, is that given that in the Rangel tax bill the tax cut basically is gone at $75,000, should we interpret that to mean the administration thinks any family earning over $75,000 is rich?
MR. MCCURRY: No, of course -- I mean, there are different ways of describing that. There are some statistical realities about what different income brackets people are in and we'll get you the data. I think it would be useful to get the factual information on what -- on the percentiles. Usually the way they do them are the quintiles, and the fifth of Americans making this, the second fifth this; third fifth that; fourth fifth that -- it's kind of an interesting chart and maybe the New York Post will want to run that tomorrow. But it gives you I think what the statistical answer to the question.
Q Does the administration believe that the Internet can be adequately regulated by industry --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President believes that people of good faith can come together and answer the question how do we protect kids from things that they don't -- their families may not want them to see. And there's a technological aspect to that. And there's a policy related aspect to that. And I think that the President believes the industry can very much be a part of the solution.
Q Two questions. One, with the meeting with the Crown Prince, do we expect any news out of that? And, second, do you have any details about the In Performance evening gala?
MR. MCCURRY: The answer to the first is, yes. Answer to the second, I don't know. Do you guys know anything more about the WETA performance? I asked for some background -- check with some of the people in the press office. That's the thing tomorrow night. It's tomorrow night.
Q What's the substance of the meeting going to be?
MR. MCCURRY: He asked if there was going to be news on it. I said yes.
Q A follow-up question. What will be the substance of the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Substantively? The President will, with the Crown Prince, talk about Jordan's support of the peace process, many of the issues that we have dealt with earlier today have been very much on the mind of the King, and the King has lent his own authority and expertise to the issue of how the parties can best reconcile some of their differences.
The President will talk more about how Jordan's role in this process, along with that of the government of Egypt and others who support the peace process, has been so instrumental. And the Crown Prince and the President, of course, will reflect on the status of the process, some of the same issues we've been dealing with earlier today.
Q Last question on this tax stuff. Does the President believe anyone earning more than $75,000 a year should get a tax cut in this pending legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: The President supports and believes that people should get the kind of tax benefits that he included in his own tax bill, and some of those do work in the advantage of people who make well more than that. One example, the homeownership capital gains provision, which would assist people making considerably more than that as they sell a home. That's one of the examples. So we have not, by any means, suggested that people above those income levels should not get any tax relief. The President, in fact, understands that many families with incomes in that range do need tax relief.
But those folks are benefiting from a strong, growing economy, and are in a position to take advantage of some of the good things, positive things that have been happening. We've said on balance if you can help a working family at the lowest end of the income scale get ahead and handle some of their life costs, that those are dollars well spent. And we want to see a way -- we don't think you should give that up so that you can put money into the capital gains provision. You don't buy into this myth that the Republicans are trying to sell you that they want to target all that money that would go for a refundable tax credit into a middle income tax -- that, in fact, if you look at the numbers is probably not going to work out quite right. If they wanted to do that, they could modify their capital gains provision and have more than enough money to take care of exactly those families.
MR. TOIV: Two-thirds of their tax package goes -- nearly two-thirds goes to the top --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's the preliminary Treasury analysis, as Barry points out, is two-thirds of the economic benefit of the Republican tax bill go to those making the highest one-fifth of income in the country, so the benefit is pretty clear.
Q But they pay taxes --
MR. MCCURRY: They work. I mean, the people we're talking about, the lower income work for a living. This is not welfare. They're working for a living; we're trying to get them -- we're trying to stretch their incomes so that it pays for more of life needs. Why would the Republicans want to raise taxes on those lowest income people is another way of looking at it.
Q How critical does the President believe this refundable $500 credit is to his objective to get a million people off welfare in the next four years? In other words, does he feel he's got to enlarge, in effect, the EITC?
MR. MCCURRY: Leo, it's a good question because it is -- they are related in this sense. We have got to make work as rewarding and as financially beneficial as possible for exactly those people we're trying to move out of welfare and into work. And we have to keep those who are working believing that working is better than receiving public assistance. And this credit is not a bad way of doing that, not to mention keeping our tax system somewhat progressive.
Q Mike, when you said before people over $75,000 get other tax benefits, but does the President believe the $500-per-child tax credit should cut off after $75,000?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't remember what the phase-out was of ours. We'll get the information on our tax proposal --
Q What's in the Rangel bill is what he supports?
MR. MCCURRY: We said that are aspects of the Rangel we can support. We have our own tax package. We can get you the precise answer on that because it phased out above certain incomes level. I thought it went up to $110,000, family of four as it phased out, but we can double check that for you.
Q If you could also check, what other benefit besides selling a house, people whose incomes over $75,000 might be from the President's --
MR. MCCURRY: From the President's bill in addition to the homeownership?
Q Is there another example of some other tax benefit?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check and see. There may be -- we had an extender on some tax -- on some of that and I think our tax deduction for college expenses, the $10,000 tax deduction phased up through $110,000 -- went well over $75,000.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:29 P.M. EDT