THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Other subjects? We're done for the day.
Q Mike, do you want to respond to Speaker Gingrich's spokeswoman, who said that the Speaker feels blind-sided by the President's --
MR. MCCURRY: I think Mr. Bowles' answer -- his description of his conversation was an adequate response to that.
Q But it wasn't much of a description.
Q Mike, your former colleague said that you and other administration spokesmen have been mealy-mouthed in arguing on behalf of Ambassador Weld. Would you care to take some of the meal out of your mouths, and --
MR. MCCURRY: Geez, he used to be -- he was pretty mealy-mouthed, too, on occasion. (Laughter.) No, we have had a very --
Q But seriously, Senator Lugar also said he sees no discernible effort that the administration is making on behalf of Ambassador Weld.
MR. MCCURRY: He must not be aware of all that I've briefed you on in terms of our both public support and our private efforts, working with individual members, to strongly support the nominee. The Senate is in recess right now, after all, so there is not as much activity during a period that they're away from town. But the Governor was here. We're working closely with him, with our team that's fighting for his nomination, and we intend to make a very vigorous argument, especially as the Senate returns in the fall.
Senator Lugar also said that it was immaterial whether or not the White House was supporting the nominee and suggested that his concerns were in a different direction. But in any event, we are fighting hard for this nomination, and we have very strong support for it.
Q Mike, on Mexico -- today the Washington Post published an article on the front page saying that violence in Mexico is coming to -- does the White House feel the same way that the Washington Post -- the violence in Mexico and --
MR. MCCURRY: We tend to make our own analysis and don't rely on any one individual news organization, but we've assessed our relations and we know that our relations do have consequences sometimes in terms of public sentiment in Mexico, and that's why we work hard to keep the relationship amicable and continue to advance the bilateral interests that we have that we think are in the interests of the people of the United States, but also respect what is, after all, a very important relationship because of the geographic continuity of our borders.
Q Philosophically, on the line item veto, growing up we always heard stories -- or I always heard stories -- of all the egregious things that were happening and the little goodies tacked onto budgets and bills that had nothing to do with them and shouldn't be in there. What would you say to Americans now that this line item veto has been exercised, if you don't want to characterize specifically --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's the third time you've tried to get the sound bite that you're not getting. I think we've given you a very good analysis of the reasons why the President has acted. They're based on the nation's economic interests and what he believes will both serve the budget economic and fiscal criteria that he set forth very clearly.
Q Mike, the President seemed to say that the agricultural tax that he vetoed, that he was sympathetic to its aims but that it might have been drawn too broadly. My question is, if it's drawn too broadly, does it still only cover fewer than 100 people. Are you certain of that?
MR. MCCURRY: You had the people here who would have been better able to answer that question.
Q I didn't get my question in --
MR. MCCURRY: I think you can clearly fashion a measure that allows for some vertical integration in the agriculture sector that would be good, sound economic policy and good tax policy. Whether it would then become a limited tax benefit item as determined by the Joint Committee on Taxation is a separate question. I don't think it's possible to answer that.
Q Mike, this is also on the line item veto, a broader question about what the President -- how exercising this new authority has illuminated the debate over whether or not this changes or alters the balance of powers between the Congress and the presidency.
MR. MCCURRY: The balance of powers is defined by the Constitution and the President takes a view supported by the Justice Department that this is constitutional so, in that sense, it does not fundamentally disrupt the separation of powers embedded in the Constitution.
Q Would the President like to see a challenge in court on its use?
MR. MCCURRY: Numerous parties have said that that is expected.
Q Mike, the President went roughly through the 79 tax provisions that could have been line-item-vetoed -- 30-some were this and a dozen were that. Is it possible to get a more definitive and comprehensive list of the 79 provisions and what they actually were?
MR. MCCURRY: Not beyond what the committee identified.
Q Mike, I'm a little confused. The President made a great fuss about wanting to be fair to all states and yet Mr. Raines just said that he wasn't clear the President would have supported the same Medicaid break for New York that was given to Alaska. Can you clarify? I mean, do we have differential standards?
MR. MCCURRY: It was asked and answered. I don't have any clarification to give.
Q No, it was asked and not answered.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't do any better than the answer you got.
Q Can we get a list of the names of the small number of major U.S. banks and so on who would have benefitted from the offshore provision that was --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that those were -- there's a hypothetical example in there, but you should contact Treasury and see if Treasury can help you on that.
Q Mike, I understand that Harold Simmons wasn't the reason for the President's action, but it wasn't clear to me whether you accepted the Hill's determination that $60 million of that would have gone to him or not. That's in dispute?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe it was in dispute. There was in dispute a different calculation as to the revenue impact, but I don't think any dispute over the fact that this particular transaction accounted for a substantial portion of that revenue impact. Treasury can help you out more specifically.
Q Just in terms of practical power impact of this, one of the bills the President very much wants this fall has nothing to do with spending or taxes, is fast track authority. Does the line item veto authority -- is it apt to increase his leverage with some lawmakers who may be on the fence in terms of improving the --
MR. MCCURRY: There are 535 answers to that question and I can't possibly speak for any individual member. I don't know the answer.
Q Well, let me just follow up. The President, in his own statement, made clear that he accepted some special interest provisions for the sake of getting the tax bill and the balanced budget. Why wouldn't he accept other special interest things, waving the threat of a line item veto to get fast track authority or other must legislation on his list?
MR. MCCURRY: I cannot possibly follow the question. You're saying he would threaten to veto but be willing to accept certain provisions in order to get --
Q If you vote for fast track authority, I'm not going to veto your pork. If you oppose fast track authority, I'm liable to veto your pork.
MR. MCCURRY: I imagine that the President has now available to him a tool that is useful in protecting the nation's interests and reducing unnecessary and wasteful spending. He can use that. And the dynamic in which that is used is part of the equation of how the executive and legislative branch wrestle out any piece of legislation. The veto power of the President is ultimately available in one sense or another and does have some impact. And how you calculate or express that in a quantifiable way is, I think, impossible to do.
Q Let me -- kind of the same subject. Does the President think it is responsible to use the threat of a line item veto with respect to non-budget related legislation, or is that irresponsible, to link the two?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has expressed the way in which he will use the tool that's been given to him by Congress, by a bipartisan majority in Congress. It is to do those things that he sets forth very clearly in the criteria that he articulated earlier. And he intends to use the tool in that fashion.
Q Has the President heard from Dennis Ross, and can you tell us about the Norton and Powell visits?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has gotten a briefing on Ambassador Ross's work over the weekend, and which continues today. I would not express ourselves as being encouraged or discouraged. There is hard work that lies ahead, and the President wants to see that hard work go forward. It's important for the parties to both address the fundamental security issues that Ambassador Ross is addressing, but then also begin to think more creatively about how they address their underlying differences.
The President and Vice President Gore had a good meeting with General Powell for about 45 minutes in the Oval Office, discussing follow-up efforts to the Summit of America -- summit for America's future that took place in Philadelphia last April. General Powell briefed the President on some of the things that he's been doing both in public and private to encourage volunteerism and a spirit of service, some of the things that are happening in the nonprofit community that the President found very encouraging.
And they talked specifically about some of the goals that they had set forth at the summit and what kind of work could be done in the future to follow up on that very good meeting.
And the Eleanor Holmes Norton meeting, the President was satisfied with -- an excellent meeting and I believe Director Raines has spoken outside on the substance of it.
Q Mike, I wanted to ask, could you give us maybe some details about tomorrow morning's event in St. Louis, the welfare --
MR. MCCURRY: In St. Louis, the President will highlight the success of welfare reform, the successes we've had in implementing the welfare reform legislation signed nearly one year ago and talk specifically about some of the efforts we have underway with the private sector to develop job opportunities for those who were formerly welfare dependent.
I think we'll have some good progress to report on the commitment that's coming from private sector enterprises to fulfill the President's challenge to try to move one million people from welfare dependency to work. Some of that is due to the good work of some enterprises in the St. Louis area, but this will also reflect some of the work that's been going on nationally that Eli Segal has been spearheading. And, of course, the President then has some political work that he's doing, as well.
Q As long as you're on the subject of the trip, to what extent is the White House running short of travel funds for the President and his staff?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not, because very prudently the senior staff here determined early in the year that they had to manage those resources more effectively so we can now, even with the planned travel we have, we've got I think $40,000 or so in sort of head-room, cushion between now and the end of the fiscal year. And I'm sure this has happened in the past; there's just a prudent effort to keep the size of the presidential entourage at a minimum.
Q Do you know what that applies to, because my understanding is that will barely keep Air Force One in the air for an hour, $40,000.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's our cushion right now for -- that's what we've got left over after we've budgeted for all the anticipated travel for the balance of the --
Q That's just paying for the cost of staff that accompanies him, not for the cost of Air Force One or the President himself.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. This is staff travel, is what we're talking about.
Q To follow up on Mark's question, what exactly is being done to scrutinize the number of staffers who go on these trips and will this scrutiny, will these restrictions continue when you're flush with money into the next fiscal year?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think they will because the President and the First Lady have both expressed some concern about the volume of people -- not official folks from military or Secret Service or Medical Unit people that are required by law to travel with the President, but more White House aide/staff type folks. And they would like to keep the size of their entourage travel to a minimum.
Q How and why did the volume get to that point, where it raised concern --
MR. MCCURRY: Bracket creep. (Laughter.) Just sort of bracket creep. And people taking seriously the inflated titles that they've been given. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, would you take a Medicare question?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q No Medicare question.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I will, but if it's one on the same lines of what we already covered earlier, let's get to some of the others.
Q No, Medicare, not Medicaid.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, Medicare, try me.
Q Congressman McDermott, on the floor before the vote on balanced budget, argued that because of MSAs the amount that existed -- private fee-for-service and in addition this provision where individuals can privately contract with doctors who are not taking part in Medicare -- McDermott said we're creating a two-tier system for people who have money and don't. Is the President concerned about this? Is this part of your deliberations?
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously so, we have great concern about the creation of MSAs. That was a feature of the final bill that the Republican majority felt very strongly about and there was a great deal of haggling not only over the concept but also the size of the initial experimentation. There is a very public record that reflects our concern about MSAs generally. But at the end this was something that the Republican majority felt would represent a warranted experiment and creative ways of providing lower cost coverage under Medicare and we were willing to accept a properly structured experiment, even though we do have, and continue to have concerns about it.
Q Mike, speaking of trips next year, the President is supposed to be going to Africa. Has the White House pinpointed where and why he's going?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the why -- yes. The President has also announced an ambitious trade initiative that pinpoints Africa as a source of future economic and commercial opportunities for the people of the United States, and that the United States has a long-standing interest in many regional political security and economic issues on the continent. So the President looks forward to a trip, perhaps early in 1998, to Africa, although we have -- second part of the question -- no, not specifically identified the countries or the itinerary at this point.
Q South Africa a definite, though?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't imagine we wouldn't, but on the other hand there's no set itinerary at this point.
Q Anything new to report on the UPS strike?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new beyond the Secretary of Labor's announcement that she would be seeing the parties later this afternoon for an assessment. We look forward to getting the results of that assessment.
Q Does the President agree with Herman that it's not really a good idea for UPS to escalate things at this point by hiring replacement workers?
MR. MCCURRY: The President agrees with the Secretary of Labor that the best thing that could happen at this point is for the parties to redouble their efforts and energies to reach a solution.
Q Mike, the Los Angeles Times had a story suggesting that Johnny Chung, after giving money to a private fund defending the Clintons got Maggie Williams' help in meeting -- any concern about this? Does the White House feel this is appropriate behavior by White House staff?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't looked into that enough to comment on that. I know generally the actions of Mr. Chung have raised some concern here, and we've expressed those in the past.
Q I was wondering whether actions of Ms. Williams have raised some concern.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure what actions you're referring to, but I'll look at the article and see if there's anything to say about it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.
END 2:08 P.M. EDT