THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
Q The President had more optimism than you did on the budget.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just going to wait and see if you had any good questions. (Laughter.) Instead, let me start with my own stuff. I'll come back to that in a minute.
I want to say, on his last day of service at the White House Press Office, a fond farewell to Stuart Shear. I think those of you especially on the TV side -- he's not here, he's watching on television. That's what he does, he's the TV guy. But he has done very, very well, I think, in working closely with all the different major broadcast outlets that seek guests from the administration, especially the White House, and very often is involved in the delicate task of balancing out the competing interests of news organizations. He's done exceedingly well -- he came to the White House from McNeill-Lehrer and he's going back to one of the networks to work on their favorite prime-time shows. And we will miss him a lot. He's been an extraordinarily good addition to the staff, a good colleague, and we will miss him. But he's moving for all the right reasons to New York City, and we wish him well.
Q What are the wrong reasons?
MR. MCCURRY: The wrong reasons are crass reasons. He's moving for the sake of love, which is a nice thing.
Q Have you had any big TV bids lately?
MR. MCCURRY: Say what?
Q Have you had any big network bids lately? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know. It's going out of fashion, Helen. It seems to be out of fashion these days. I think the revolving door is closing. I'll have to go sell toothpaste.
Q Not that I've noticed.
MR. MCCURRY: All right. What else would you like to know about? Your question was, is the President optimistic or pessimistic. He's generally an optimistic person. I'm a realist. (Laughter.)
The team has been up there meeting. I have not had a report because they've actually been working pretty steadily through the morning and now into the afternoon. They've been working on both the spending bill and the tax bill. But we'll have to await a report later to see if they feel like they're making progress. I think there's sufficient coverage up there of the discussions that they will all get caught coming out of the meeting.
Q There were a bunch of Democrats on the Finance Committee that said that the deficit numbers look so good that we should just stop talking for the next month and take it from there.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the first half of that is true. I mean, the deficit number is good, as the President pointed out. The deficit track has been coming down. But we also know from the assumptions and projections we have that it starts going back up absent agreement to lock in the kind of spending reductions we need.
And again, the notion that you can just miss the opportunity to do something truly extraordinary for the people of the America by enacting a balanced budget agreement is something the President wants to constantly remind members of Congress and the public about. We get not only mandated spending reductions in this bill, but we get tax relief for the middle income, preferably the kind of middle income tax relief the President is pushing for. We get the incentives for education which is going to help continue the economic performance we've had. We get a lot of the major incentives that the Republican side want for increased investment with the reductions in capital gains that we've moved in their direction towards.
So there are positive features to this bill and good things about this agreement that are well worth working on right now. At the same time, I think the President would agree with Senate Democrats and Senator Moynihan that if a good deal is not available, we'll just have to keep working on through the summer and into the fall in order to get the kind of agreement that the President can accept.
Q So he's not willing to rush into something just to get --
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely not. We're not going to accept a deal just because Congress is going on recess. We'll stick around and wait to get something that the President thinks is in the best interests of the American people.
Q Mike, I want to get your sense for the next few days. If there is no agreement, let's say, by this evening, with the President going out of town for three days, is it then a logical assumption that no final agreement will be in the offing until he gets back, because he's very apt to have to participate in the end game negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to predict that. He has a great deal of faith in his negotiators. They're working hard. I think they do expect to have some sense of where we are by the end of the day today, but I don't rule out the possibility that -- however remote -- that the President might do some work on this issue over the weekend long distance. I mean, he's familiar with all the faces, so he can talk to them by phone.
Q I mean buttoning up a deal, not just working on it. Wouldn't that require his presence here in Washington, so he could meet with Lott and Gingrich?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, when we reached -- he really was directly involved in making decisions about the negotiations when we got the framework of the agreement announced, but that didn't require his personal presence in meetings with the leaders. So I just don't want to predict that that's a necessary element of getting to a final agreement. But at the same time, I think, for practical purposes, we'll probably have some sense of where we are by the end of the day today and then I think we'll know whether we're going to be in for a weekend in which budget discussions are in play.
Q Why do you say by the end of the day? I mean, do you have some sort of a sense of --
MR. MCCURRY: Because they've been up there working and I think they customarily would work until the end of the day and then assess where they are tonight.
Q And are you still pushing to get something done before Congress leaves?
MR. MCCURRY: We are pushing to get a good deal, and that may or may not be possible by the time Congress leaves.
Q Do you anticipate the President would delay his vacation if necessary -- and the second thing -- you mentioned the capital gains tax. Does he consider his capital gains tax proposal still alive?
MR. MCCURRY: On the first, he would delay his vacation if it was necessary in order to achieve an agreement. At this point, we don't have any reason to think that's going to happen, but, of course, he would be willing to stay here in Washington if it was necessary to reach the kind of balanced budget agreement that he wants to achieve. And second, we think the President's tax cut proposals are very much in play. We've got a very smart, sensible way to target tax relief on middle income people. It's preferable to the Republican alternative.
The President has made it very clear there are aspects about his tax proposal that he thinks must be in a bill that will be acceptable to him, and we're holding fast for those principles.
Q The President said this morning that the Republican tax plan falls far short of the agreements -- commitments on education. What's the White House's view on how much money the Republicans have allocated for education? How close are they to the $35 billion? And what are the specific disagreements? He didn't enumerate them this morning.
MR. MCCURRY: They were in our letter that we put out last weekend. We think the indexing feature, for example, explodes the deficit, which is directly contrary --
Q No, I mean on education.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, on education, they have not provided that 20-percent tax credit for expenses up to $5,000, which is potentially the most important part of the President's education package. And then, in addition -- up to $5,000 or $10,000? Barry, the budget expert, will check. Anyhow, you know what I'm referring to -- the 20-percent cost you can deduct major expenses. Now, that's available to virtually anybody up to the income cut-off.
Then we've got the HOPE Scholarship-type credit, which is also, we think, a necessary part of relief. And the Republicans have not structured it in the same way. In fact, that's one reason why -- that's the principal reason why the President's proposal shifts the benefit of tax relief right to the middle income -- the people we think would, A, most appreciate it and, B, use it to further their own skills, their own training, to get additional education which will make them more productive, higher wage-earning workers into the next century.
Q Mike, is the President watching the situation in the Bahamas? And also, following up with that question, are there any tensions since the Prime Minister of the Bahamas said that the situation is not true after the State Department says that there is some unspecified violence against U.S. interests in the Bahamas?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President -- I don't know that there is a situation in the Bahamas to follow. The President's aware that the State Department, as it customarily does, reported on some information that it had related to possible plans for unspecified violence. That is, by the way, something the State Department is required to do because of a very good policy. When the United States government receives information in the various ways we collect information, if it affects the safety of U.S. personnel, under our no double standard policy, we share that information publicly so all U.S. citizens can be aware of it.
The State Department put out a very straight-forward public announcement just advising citizens to pay extra attention to their security in day-to-day activities and maintain awareness of their surroundings while in the Bahamas. That's probably sensible advice for people from the United States who are traveling anywhere in the world.
Q Well, what kind of information does the State Department have to think that there could be some unspecified violence on U.S. interests there?
MR. MCCURRY: The information that was reflected in the State Department announcement and was related to unspecified violence.
Q What's cooking on the Israeli-PLO peace process?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States continues its painstaking effort to encourage the parties to have dialogue and to address the unresolved issues in their discussions related to --
Q I'm sorry, is the process in a pretty high gear at the moment? High, medium and low gear is the choice?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that, as the President has suggested, there are always efforts underway by the United States government in one fashion or another to continue dialogue between the parties with respect to the Middle East peace process. They have been underway. I'm not going to characterize the degree of activity, but it's a very important role the United States plays to help facilitate dialogue and we've been working very hard at it in a variety of ways.
Q You don't want to characterize it because the terms would be too slippery or -- what I'm really trying to get a sense of is whether in the last week or two it has become more active.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm suggesting to you it's always active in one way or another. I don't want to characterize the degree of activity or say anything but the obvious, that we continue a very strenuous effort to encourage the parties to deal with their differences and to resume their dialogue.
Q As far as you know, has the President spoken to any of the principals in the Middle East lately?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check back. I don't believe that he has spoken to them any time recently.
Q And is Dennis Ross still the point man?
MR. MCCURRY: Ambassador Ross himself has had contact with the parties. Of course, we welcome the visit by Danny Nevah this week. The State Department reported on those discussions and Ambassador Ross is always, one way or another, very heavily engaged in discussions.
Q Mike, on the Tahoe summit, the President's participation tomorrow, how will the federal role at Tahoe change as a result of tomorrow's summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Joe's going to take the trip -- and you've been working on it, do you want to whack away at that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think as far as the federal role, that's one of the things that will be addressed, particularly in the executive order that the President is prepared to sign tomorrow. And I think the simplest way to look at that is, he wants to make sure that we have maximum efficiency in working with both the regional authority and the states. And that will be the focus of the executive order in addition to the substantive things that Katie McGinty talked about yesterday.
Q In terms of tying together the activities of -- federal agencies that impact Tahoe, will the executive order also provide for permanent collaborative mechanism -- in other words, kind of a U.S.-TRVA commission rather than just the federal agencies coordinating among themselves? Is there going to be something in the executive order to also have an ongoing consultative process with the folks out there?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any specific -- creation of any specific body. But I think the focus will be to make sure that with the regional authority and the states, the Nevada California Compact that all of the relevant agencies work in the most productive way they can. And that will be the focus of the order. We'll have more on that tomorrow. But I'm not aware of any new specific authorities set up to facilitate any --
Q Whatever additional federal dollars are pledged by the President tomorrow, that would then show up in your next budget?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Without getting into the specifics which we'll do tomorrow on the commitments we'll make on the main areas of concern out there, I can tell you that the money we're talking about is in the 5-year balanced budget that we're currently working on.
Q The week ahead?
MR. MCCURRY: The week ahead. This just in.
Q The Middle East?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Thank you, Barry. A timely notation, very important secret.
Q What does it say?
Q Could you read it to us?
Q Tell us. We want to know.
Q Share with the class.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'll do it -- it's actually related. We just resolved something that was related to the week ahead. Saturday, as you know, we will be in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, and Los Angeles, California. Monday, the President will address the National Governor's Association.
I expect the President will do several things. He will bring the governors up to date on the status of welfare reform. He will note the progress that we've making in implementing the 1996 welfare reform and point out that many of the experiments that have occurred at the state level in 43 different states where there have been waivers granted. Many of those experiment-projects that were authorized by the waivers have now been folded into the implementation of the new federal law. And the President will discuss some of the trends that we've been seeing in the states as they begin moving people into work situations from welfare. I think he will compliment at least some of the states for their ability to take some of the savings that they're generating and plow it back into child care. Child care is, of course, a very important element of welfare reform generally.
And I imagine he will also talk a little bit about our education standards, give them an update on some of the work we've done. He'll probably mention to them the announcement he made today with respect to the cities, the urban school districts that have agreed to sign on to the standards initiatives the President is promoting.
Q He suggested this morning that the governors are dragging their feet on education standards. I mean, how much is he going to actually sort of confront or challenge them to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll see. I think he principally intends to address the subject of welfare reform. But I imagine he'll also want to talk about education and encourage them to take the type of initiative that the mayors and local superintendents of public instruction from these school districts have taken.
This really is in a way a remarkable thing today. These are the poorest school districts -- in some cases, school districts that have large concentrations of some of the poorest students in America. They have been the ones that have been beaten upon in past years for the quality of educational standards and performance. And for these urban districts to step up to the plate and say, look, we're willing to be measured against a nationally recognized standard, requires some courage on the part of these local education and municipal officials. I think the President will encourage the governors to maybe do likewise.
Q You're not declaring the welfare reform bill law a success are you, when thousands of disabled immigrants cannot get any relief?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the disabled immigrants -- we were just talking a minute ago -- are one more reason why we need the balanced budget agreement enacted into law, is because it addressed specifically that situation. That's one thing that the President will continue to insist upon in the discussions.
But as a general proposition there's been more success than failure so far in the implementation of welfare reform and the President is going to continue to work on this. He's going to be continuing our effort to involve the private sector, and providing job opportunities for formerly welfare dependent mothers. We'll be doing some on that in the course of the coming months.
Let me finish the week ahead. Tuesday, because of the very late return from Nevada, there's no public events Tuesday. And Wednesday the President is going to see the Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa, Deputy Prime Minister Mbecki. He then, that evening, goes to the 1997 National Boy Scout Jamboree -- subject to be determined.
Q Where is that?
MR. MCCURRY: Down at Fort A.P. Hill, down in Virginia. We're going to also, by the way, while we're down there -- training in pup tents to prepare you for your accommodations in Block Island. (Laughter.)
Thursday, the President will have a health related event at the Department of Health and Human Services. Friday, he sees President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, and Saturday will do the weekly radio broadcast live from the Oval Office at 10:06 a.m.
We can confirm now that the President will attend Justice Brennan's funeral at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday at St. Matthew's. He's been invited by the family.
Q Will he speak?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not known at this point.
Q Mike,on the budget and tax negotiations, is the assumption that you will require, both sides will require a megadeal, encompassing both the budget and the tax aspect; or do you folks see that you could, for instance, first get a tax agreement and then go on to the budget side?
MR. MCCURRY: They are proceeding as two separate pieces of legislation. And today they dealt with the spending issues first and then moved into the tax issues. Now, the degree to which one set of issues relate to the other issues is probably a different calculation for each person doing the negotiating.
Q So the two, in effect, in practical terms, tend to be related in the negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the two of them together give you an overall picture of what the budget architecture is for the next five years, yes. But as a practical matter and, importantly, they were divided as they were considered by the Congress and the administration thought that was a wise division.
Q Monday could we expect that some more states would join in on the President's education standards movement?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out. The grand total of kids in states participating, 8.6 million; 19.8 million of total public school enrollment -- 8.6 million schoolchildren, elementary schoolchildren, are in the districts and states that have now subscribed to the President's education standards. That's roughly 19.8 percent of the total public school enrollment in the country. So we're getting close to one-fifth.
That includes the six states that have already subscribed, plus the Department of Defense schools, plus the urban school districts that are outside those states that have already indicated they will participate.
We have not counted California. I don't think this includes that. We welcome Superintendent of Public Instruction Easton's strong public support. She's been working very hard within the legislature to try to get the California system to subscribe, but that would take it considerably higher than the roughly one-fifth that we've achieved now.
Q Do you care to comment on the Haley Barbour testimony yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't because, frankly, I missed it. I didn't really get to see any of it.
Q So what's the deal on the hot tub?
MR. MCCURRY: The deal on the hot tub is -- I think Barry knows the most about it -- I think it's pretty much as -- (laughter.) You look like a hot tub kind of guy. Why don't you come here? No, I think it's very much as Al Kamen reported this morning. There was an outfit that donated the hot tub directly to the White House via the National Park Service. The Park Service usually is responsible for coordinating that type of donation. I think the rough cost, if I'm not mistaken, was in the neighborhood of $8,000, and I haven't been in it yet. But the President reports that it's nice.
Q What does the Fine Arts Commission say?
Q Why did they want seven seats?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they don't need all seven seats, but we don't rule out the prospect that sometime in the near future there will be larger families that occupy the White House. I believe -- how many children does Al Gore have again? (Laughter.) And they're getting married now, so they're going to bring the -- so we anticipate that future first families will enjoy this addition to the permanent facilities here at the White House.
Q So it's a gift to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a gift to the people of the United States, because the people of the United States own this -- (laughter) -- the people of the United States own this.
MR. TOIV: National Park Service.
Q Merry Christmas.
MR. MCCURRY: You want to go out there, don't you, Helen?
MR. MCCURRY: If I asked the Big Guy and say, look, we want to go out and have a martini out in the hot tub, will you go with me?
Q I'll take the martini. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It's Friday at the White House, Friday, July 25th. That's what we have for you. Back to your regularly scheduled programming here at CSPAN. Thank you for today's satire edition of the White House daily press briefing.
Q Getting used to your audience, aren't you?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just trying out a little bit, seeing how it goes. How am I doing out there? All right, see you guys --
MR. TOIV: Tuesday.
MR. MCCURRY: Why brief on Tuesday, because there's not going to be anything going on here.
Should we take -- given that it's summer, take a pass on Tuesday since everyone's getting back -- you get back at, like, at 6:00 a.m. in the morning -- 4:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m. in the morning. Why don't we say we'll probably not brief then until Wednesday. Check further and make sure you're up to date.
Q You're saying there won't be any budget activity?
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously, we will adjust our schedule depending on what the need is with respect to any budget deliberations. And as far as the rest of the afternoon, my understanding is we've got two or three other pieces of paper, but we are aiming to get an early lid on. We've got one or two personnel things, and barring some development related to budget discussions that I'm not aware of at this time, I think we'll be able to get everyone out of here early.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:42 P.M. EDT