THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The Vice President is meeting today with three families to launch the new television rating system which will herald a new era in television for children and families. And the President and the Vice President for a long time have worked on this. I think you're all familiar with our efforts on the v-chip and the things that we've been doing on the rating system itself. But the Vice President will be in a position to show some clips of new educational programming, unveil some of the first examples of the new rating system in place, and demonstrate a v-chip that works with the new rating system.
All about to occur in the Roosevelt Room; pool press. And I'm told that we will have the sound piped in here at 1:30 p.m -- if the daily briefing is over at that point. (Laughter.) Added incentive.
Q Incentive -- which is better, McCurry or Gore? McCurry or Gore? (Laughter.)
Q Do you have your v-chip?
MR. MCCURRY: On the v-chip? They probably -- they didn't have the v-chip on that Cybil Shepherd movie we were just watching in there, did they? We were just waiting until the baseball playoffs come on.
Q Is that what you guys do up there?
MR. MCCURRY: It was just playing in the background. You can watch that and listen to Wolf on CNN simultaneously.
All right, continuing -- the Secretary of Commerce, Mr. William Daley, will in a short while announce that 90 percent of this nation's metropolitan area has reported increases in export sales growth from 1993 to 1996, showing that free and open trade is one more -- more evidence of the engine driving the strong economic performance we've seen in hoping to bring economic life back to metropolitan areas. He will talk more about that. And, obviously, we're calling attention to that in connection with the efforts the President is making to secure free trade negotiating authority from the Congress, a subject the President will meet with several members of Congress about tonight.
MR. MCCURRY: We don't know yet. We've got some invitations out; we're kind of luring them in. We throw the bait out there and kind of lure them in and see who's in.
Q Are they Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: House Democrats, yes.
Q Undecided House Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: Some leaners, some undecideds, maybe some leaning against -- a mix, a healthy mix.
Q How many?
MR. MCCURRY: Half dozen or so.
Q Is the administration worried about mixing it up with France and the EU over this TOTAL oil deal in Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: No --
Q They've had several disagreements with the EU.
MR. MCCURRY: We amicably disagree with both the government of France and at times the European Union on the best way to achieve the change of behavior in Iran that we've wanted to see. We've never disputed their right to have a so-called critical dialogue with Iran, but we've often pointed out it has not yielded much result. It has maybe yielded some economic benefit for portions of Europe; it has not yielded any change in behavior in a regime that continues to sponsor terrorism and is responsible for specific efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction against the will of the international community.
Q Will the U.S. have to impose sanctions on TOTAL or other entities?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to look at the -- as I said yesterday, look very carefully at the terms of the contract, understand it better and apply the relevant U.S. export law.
Q Can you tell us definitively what the President's view is on this issue of apologizing for slavery or for Jim Crow laws? Does he have any inclination to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not -- he was making a point to several of us earlier today -- not in any of his discussion with community leaders has this subject emerged as something of urgent concern. It is not of urgent concern to the President. And I know of no plans at the moment to make that the centerpiece of any of the work we're doing on this race initiative.
We are looking forward to ways in which we can lift up people who have faced barriers of discrimination, find examples of how we can make Americans more excited about the idea of working together to overcome the prejudices of the past that do linger. And that's the focus of this work. The question is, frankly, a moot point, because it hasn't been part of the active dialogue that we've had with the community or with folks who are interested in the type of dialogue the President has suggested.
Q If it's a moot point, Mike, why do you say we have no plans to make it a centerpiece, which gives you some wiggle room? Why don't you just say --
MR. MCCURRY: We're just not dealing with it. Did it come up today?
Q But he's not going to apologize?
MR. MCCURRY: I have heard absolutely nothing that would indicate that that's part of the planning of this.
Q A couple of the commission members have discussed it when asked.
MR. MCCURRY: They've discussed it in a very oblique way, and usually when prompted by questions from all of you. It's just not been a subject that they're keen on, and certainly not something that is a focus of the President's work on the subject.
Q Speaker Gingrich just criticized the President's remarks on the IRS, suggesting that --
MR. MCCURRY: Is that what he was talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he was going on about error rates and harassment, subjects that he is very proficient in himself. (Laughter.) I thought I would just listen to a little bit of that. It was very entertaining.
Q But if there is a bipartisan or nonpartisan commission advisory panel to oversee the IRS, just as there are these kinds of advisory panels that oversee the intelligence community and other aspects --
MR. MCCURRY: We've got one already. The President established the IRS Modernization Management Board that's in place, is helping to turn the IRS in the right direction, as the Secretary has reported. The President also signed into law the Taxpayer Bill of Rights last year to protect the rights of taxpayers. It makes it easier for taxpayers to recover attorney's fees when they've been the subject of any improper action from the IRS. It gives taxpayers a longer grace period to make tax payments.
We've got, I think, a top-notch private sector manager, Mr. Rossotti, who has been nominated by the President to be the next commissioner of the IRS. Secretary Rubin has been working with members of Congress from the tax committees on IRS improvements. There's been good consultation on the Hill that -- look, this is about serious work of reforming government and reforming an agency that has had problems, as the President said today, and has, I think, lost a little bit of the trust that the American people need to have in the principal tax collection agency of government. And the President, as he said earlier today, would suggest that we need to get on with the serious business of doing the work of improving that agency. He's got the Vice President detailed, working as part of the performance review to improve that agency. This is the hard work of improving a government agency; it's not about the theater of sending letters and reading them.
Now, on the other hand, since I think the Speaker, last time I checked, is probably one institution in American political life less popular than the IRS -- (laughter) -- the more he wants to get up and talk, I guess the better off we are. So I would encourage him to continue to be out there and be the front man for the Republican Party on this issue as much as he wants to. But I think sooner or later you have to get back to the serious work we've been doing to fix the agency.
Q The Speaker is talking about moving forward with an IRS reform bill before the end of the session.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had good -- Secretary Rubin has been on the Hill and has been working that issue, so that's good.
Q Are you going to be working with this bill?
MR. MCCURRY: We've been consulting with Congress on an IRS improvement bill; that work's already going on. Going on -- we need to get serious about it.
Q On the substance of this proposal, Gene Sperling said yesterday there would be all of these conflicts of interest. Apparently, these outside commissioners would be subject to the same conflict of interest regulations that any other commissioners would be, and they would be appointed at the pleasure of the President; he could get rid of them if he didn't like them. What specifically do you think --
MR. MCCURRY: We've put forward very good ideas for IRS improvement and IRS reform. What we need to do is get out of the theater of the absurd and into the legislative chamber and write a serious bill and get on with it.
Q But could you just describe your specific criticisms of the --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. It would allow -- raise the possibility you have people who have significant interest in the outcome of tax regulatory matters being in the position of overseeing the work of the IRS, which is a prima facie opportunity for conflict. So if you can clear that matter up -- and there's probably no doubt ways to do that -- there might be a way to get around it.
Q -- part-time, right?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll come back.
Q What is it about the INS report that the President doesn't like? He doesn't want the breakup, is that right?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's principally concerned on that report with the proposal that they dismember the INS. It's not clear exactly how you would take the enormously important task of having safe, legal, orderly immigration efficiently administered, and then have that dispersed -- have those tasks dispersed around government. So we'll have to look at that more carefully as the President's statement says.
Q Why would they recommend such a thing?
MR. MCCURRY: I recall that some of the recommendations of the commission leaked out some time ago, and the rationale was that it's currently other agencies have got pieces of that jurisdiction, and they saw that there were ways that you could maybe reorder the administration of immigration law. But we would want to think long and hard about that.
Q If your main objection to the Cardin-Portman proposal is conflicts of interest, what body could be appointed where members wouldn't have any potential dealings with the IRS? I mean, who out there could not potentially --
MR. MCCURRY: Everyone has -- you pay taxes, I pay taxes, we all pay taxes, so everyone has some potential for that type of conflict. I think the concern raised about the draft legislation was you would conceivably have people in large economic enterprises that have got mammoth tax interests pending before the government that might be in that position.
Q And how is your alternative superior in terms of --
MR. MCCURRY: You can go to Treasury and they will tell you more about how exactly the modernization board is run and who are the people who are selected to be a part of that process. But there are people who have been part of the policy-making process and proficient and familiar.
Look, my point is this is not what this is about. You know it and I know it. It's not about sitting down and trying to find an orderly, rational way to improve the agency. This is about a political issue and some gamesmanship that we're seeing back and forth which we're happy to play, as I think I just ably demonstrated. But at some point we've got to get serious if we're going to try to fix an agency that needs some fixing and get on with it.
Q You want to continue? I've got a new subject.
MR. MCCURRY: Go on. I've done my bit on that.
Q Has the President decided whether to let HHS penalize those states which do not come up with a welfare plan by tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is there will be a long data collection period, because the reports come in and probably data from most of these states won't be assembled until November sometime. Correct? So the HHS has some time before they make any determinations about states that have not met the specific threshold tests in law, and there will be an adjudication process back and forth between the state welfare agencies and HHS before they get to that point. So states will have a reasonable opportunity to come and make a case about whatever their program is, how they're complying with terms of the act, what their own individual implementation plans call for and we'll be in a position to evaluate I think in a careful, disciplined way what each state's requirements will be.
Q Will he, then, do anything to mark the day tomorrow and talk about welfare?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. We've got a new fiscal year beginning and I think the main thing we'll do is be signing something that will allow the funding for the government to continue and, oh, what a fortune it is to be in that position as opposed to be facing some kind of shutdown.
Q Mike, do you have any details about this town meeting he says he's going to do on December 2?
MR. MCCURRY: Not yet. We know only that we will have a series of these town halls in various places around the country. This one, I think, is going to be in the Midwest, but we've not chosen the venue for it. We've got a couple of different ideas as to format, as to sponsorship and as to how we can use it to create the type of dialogue the President foresees that we'll be announcing more details on that at a future point.
Q Mike, do you have a view and will the White House get involved in this extradition dispute with Israel over this alleged murder suspect from Maryland?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm told to be very circumspect on what we say about any pending extradition matter. The best thing for me to do is to refer you to the Justice Department -- and the State Department as to the question of what government-to-government contact we may or may not have already had.
Q Do you think we should get him back?
Q Well, why can't we get a definitive answer? Why do you have to be circumspect about what the United States is going to do?
MR. MCCURRY: Because extradition matters are covered by law and there are legal proceedings, and as you know, we don't normally comment on ongoing actions.
Q Is it being considered?
MR. MCCURRY: I refer you to Justice and State and they'll be able to help you.
Q Mike, getting back to the Race Advisory Board, a lot of people, including some White House staffers, are saying that the momentum as far as the dialogue has dropped, especially since it has not been targeted to white America -- one sole issue to be targeted to white America. Could this President's town hall meeting be placed in a predominantly white area where the President can talk to them --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we've had the same exchange when the President spoke down in Little Rock. We don't target messages to white America. We don't think in that paradigm, as the President suggested today. We need to think of ourselves as one America and recognize that our diversity is a source of strength, and that the things that we say to audiences of white Americans ought to resonate and be familiar in minority communities, and vice versa.
Will the President be speaking on these issues in front of audiences that are predominantly white? Of course, yes. Will the town hall be an opportunity to bring together people that represent diversity, to have an exchange of views? Of course, yes. But the notion of targeting messages to particular communities is not what this initiative is about. This initiative is about recognizing the things that unite Americans and bring us together.
Q Well, Mike, many are saying that you are singing -- the White House is singing to the choir.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard many say that. I've heard you say that, but I haven't heard many say it.
Q Why didn't he bring something more specific to say today at the event? It looked like everybody just kind of got together as if -- just sitting around the table saying, oh, what do we talk about.
MR. MCCURRY: He had some specific things about -- in one particular area about fair housing, which is an aspect of the initiative itself, how we can improve the tool of government and apply it to cases in which we know there is discrimination. That's in the providing of lending and in the administration of housing programs around the country. He had some very specific announcements about that.
But, remember, this is about a change of attitude and a change of heart, as the President said in Little Rock, as much as a change of policy. So the fact that the discussion has gotten the flavor of a dialogue and less policy speech or a state of the union should not be a surprise.
Q To follow up on what April was saying, the tone has been pretty non-confrontational, and the question -- does the White House worry that it is singing to the choir?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think if it's non-confrontational in the sense that people are finding some common ground in this dialogue and some areas of agreement, that's not a bad thing. And I think in finding and defining that common ground, you, in a way, are isolating those who are extreme in their views on race in America and who don't represent the way most Americans approach the question.
Q But, Mike, the only common ground that they've seemed to find is that it's a good thing to get dialogue going. I mean, mostly it was talking about talking.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not a bad thing in and of itself, I don't think.
Q With Dr. Franklin welcoming the HUD initiative today, do you see this as a signal for things to come -- to bill it as some sort of comprehensive economic strategy to narrow things like the income gap that was mentioned yesterday, and other things of that nature? Are we going to see a lot of that coming --
MR. MCCURRY: As you heard us when we unveiled the initiative in San Diego, there will be specific policy elements of this initiative as we go on through the course of the year that will bring -- come into play or come into focus as we continue this work. So, yes, there will be additional policy elements of this as we go along, and I think one thing that -- one possible outcome of this process is a more comprehensive structure is some of the things we do to address questions of race and inequality, sure.
Q Mike, the HUD announcement today -- did that have anything to do with the Race Advisory Board?
MR. MCCURRY: It was Secretary Cuomo's thinking who kind of brought this to the attention of the White House that this is something that fits well within the parameters of what the President defined when he unveiled the initiative itself, which is find ways in which we use the tool of government along with the dialogue we are seeking to address questions related to discrimination.
Q That would have happened irregardless of this Race Advisory Board?
MR. MCCURRY: The work of government is going to continue and aspects of the work of government that relates to discrimination, breaking down barriers will continue and will, from time to time, intersect with the work of this advisory board, sure.
Q Mike, any particular reason why the President is choosing possibly the Midwest as the first site, and what is the rationale behind sort of regional selection of town halls?
MR. MCCURRY: I was not part of that discussion, so I'll have to check on that for you.
Q Just to finish up the question on HUD. Is the $15 million new money, or is that somehow at Cuomo's discretion to allot this, or is this all in the budget agreement?
MR. MCCURRY: It's part of HUD's appropriation under the HUD Interior bill, but these are the awarding of the grants. It's previously appropriated money.
Q Are these every year, these grants?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check and see. Secretary Cuomo is, I think, having a press conference shortly on that, so you may want to check with him; some of that may come up.
Q What is the President's reaction to some members of the Veterans Affairs Committee who want to form a panel to investigate the way VA handles sexual harassment complaints? Is the VA too lenient, and is the panel necessary?
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt that the President knows anything about it, but I'm sure that he would encourage the department to deal with questions of harassment or complaints that arise just as we did recently in dealing with similar issues with respect to the Pentagon.
Q Confirmation hearings for Mr. Gober have apparently been put on hold. Does he still have the President's confidence?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't know they were placed on hold, but of course he does, and he would be an excellent nominee and he has very strong support in the veterans community, among other places where he has earned support.
Q Does the President have an attitude on Promise Keepers?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard him say anything about it, no.
Q When the President was commenting on the IRS, he mentioned a staff-level review to compare IRS abuses before and after the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
MR. MCCURRY: That was to become more familiar with some of the stories that were presented dramatically during the hearings. The President had -- the first and obvious question is, did anything we did with the Taxpayer Bill of Rights address any of the concerns that were reflected in some of those individual stories that were presented. As the President suspected, we may have addressed some of those problems in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights that was signed last year, but --
Q When he says "staff," is he talking about --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, Sperling, and others.
Q On the Promise Keepers, Mike, any chance the President will stop by that rally?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard of any plans for that, no.
Q Mike, what's the status of this food safety announcement? Is that going to be Thursday, Friday --
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't said yet, but it was some time between Wednesday and Friday that it was looking likely.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, it may slide a little bit.
MR. MCCURRY: Toward the end of the week.
Q Do you have any more guidance on the tobacco meeting tomorrow and what it's going to be about or who's coming?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's more of an organizational effort. It's going to be a daunting task to deal with legislation that complex. I think there are something like five or six committees in the Senate and at least four in the House that are with some claim of jurisdiction for elements of the proposed settlement, and the President wanted to take the opportunity to meet with the leadership and with the committee heads that will be involved to get a better sense of what the timing will be and to certainly continue the momentum that exists for building on the work done by the parties and the attorneys general, and he'll take that opportunity tomorrow.
Q The leadership will be here tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: We've invited them and I think invited them if they can't attend to send representatives or designees, and we'll have to let you know tomorrow who is actually in a position to attend.
Q Mike, tomorrow the House Judiciary Committee is going to be taking up the issue of medical marijuana. Could you kind of refresh us on the administration's stands on the legality of that and --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything prepared on that, but General McCaffrey has testified on that in the past and I believe he's testifying tomorrow if I'm not mistaken, so I'll direct you over to his office; they've got good prior testimony that can help you on that.
Q Is tomorrow the weathermen coming in?
MR. MCCURRY: Those who report on climate matters --
Q That's what I meant to say. Sorry, my mistake. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. They're going to be out there and some of them are actually be doing the weather from the lawn out there. We're very excited about this event. They've got a good -- do you want to know a little more?
Q Are they going to rate the possibility of greenhouse gases?
Q Yes, give us more.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, come on now, these are your colleagues. Tread carefully here. Those guys get a lot better ratings on some of their broadcasts than some of you in this room.
MR. MCCURRY: Am I right? Anyone want to dispute that? It's true. I'll tell you -- do you want to know a little bit about what they're going to be doing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: They spend most of their time -- there are about 100 from around the country that are going to be here. They're going to get -- most of their time is going to be over at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, talking with the experts and scientists over there. We were more interested in getting them good, hard, factual information before they got any kind of sales pitch from us, although we will, of course, take the opportunity to -- the President and the Vice President will take the opportunity to get their points in as well.
Dr. Daniel Albritton, who is Director of NOAA's aeronomy laboratory, will discuss the increased concentration of greenhouse gases. And the predictions -- the state of science regarding predictions about climatic effect of greenhouse gases and what we know measurably and quantifiably what the consensus is from that large intergovernmental group that has looked at the question -- Dr. Thomas Karl, Senior Scientist at NOAA's National Climate Data Center, will discuss how climate patterns have changed over time and present some of the data about precipitation and temperature patterns that are changing weather here in the United States and around the world. A subject that we know we'll be interested in.
There will be a presentation by Dr. Ansly Litma (phonetic), Director of the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA on El Nino, which has been much in the news recently and which many of these folks have to report on, and Professor William Easterling from Pennsylvania State University's Geography and Systems Science Department will discuss the societal impacts of climate change, some of the things about how it would affect life.
Q Are you hoping that you can get them to carry your argument in preparation for --
MR. MCCURRY: No. This is not about carrying arguments. These guys stand up and tell you when the fronts are coming and and things like that. But if they get interested and engaged in the subject of climate change, and can relate what they are telling their audiences about weather patterns that they see to what the scientists say -- and some of them I think are planning to do special reports about this subject for their audiences -- it's a chance for them to kind of showcase their reportorial abilities, too. So that's good.
Q But, Mike, why is it -- obviously, you hope that they go back and that there are broadcasts on local and network TV about global warming. Why is that so important to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: So people understand better the changes that are occurring that are sometimes imperceptible. You don't go out and say, hey, the global climate is changing today. But you do interact with the weather that you face and you see changes in weather patterns over time. So we want these folks to get the best education we can make available on the subject, hopefully report on it to their audience, hopefully get the American people more engaged by the topic. And if they kind of come back to the subject from time to time, that would be a good thing.
Q They will hear these difference scientists --
MR. MCCURRY: When they're here they will meet with the President, the Vice President, who will do their kind of pitch on what we need to do to meet up to our international obligations to begin searching for quantifiable, measurable reductions in the greenhouse gases that are producing these climate effects. And they'll hear a little bit more from us -- what we can tell them that the NOAA folks can't is here's our negotiating strategy for Kyoto such as we can share it publicly, and here's what we're doing to address some of the things you've heard from the experts about.
Q What do they have to do to qualify for this?
MR. MCCURRY: Be on any ADI ratings. That's right. As long as they've got an audience. These guys -- look, night after night, they get more air time than most of the people in this room. I hate to rub it in. (Laughter.) So, you know.
Q Are they going to go to the Heritage Foundation afterward for another point of view? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: We hope they do. We hope they do. Because there's not, among serious scientists and experts, not a lot of disagreement. So we hope they search out contrary information because it -- and test it. They should. Good journalists should test their information in their search for truth, and in doing so, they'll find out what a consensus there is on climate change.
Q They will be broadcasting from the lawn?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, some of them are going to be broadcasting from out here.
Q Usually when he does an interview with some of our colleagues we get a transcript. Will there be a transcript of his remarks?
MR. MCCURRY: Are we doing transcripts of remarks --
Q Do we get to cover the President addressing the weather people?
MR. MCCURRY: This doesn't say whether there is coverage of that. Is that open for some kind of coverage? There's some kind of coverage.
Q Mike, how do you expect them to take the information they get and use it on the air? I mean, the President has talked about all the midwest floods as being an example of global warming. Do you expect them to say, we've got huge rains coming and --
MR. MCCURRY: No, some -- our understanding from what I've heard anecdotally, some are actually planning to -- some are going to do their weather report from out here, but a lot of them are planning to do separate stories about the issue of climate change that will feed into their local news broadcasts.
Q I think it's pretty clear that we're just jealous about the face time with the President.
MR. MCCURRY: You're jealous because they're going to get a lot more air time on this issue than you've been able to so far. (Laughter.) But now you should go back and say, every one of our affiliates in the country are going to be having these guys that do the weather out there talking about this thing and you can't get me on for a minute, 30 on the network news? What's wrong with you people? What's wrong with you people in New York? Don't you listen to these guys? (Laughter.)
Q Have you been tapping our phone lines? (Laughter.)
Q What time are they coming here?
MR. MCCURRY: You know, tell them -- every single one of those network executives that you deal with, they go out to -- where -- Montauk and places like that that are going to be under water in the middle of the next century. (Laughter.) Try that on them. (Laughter.)
Q No network executive will last until he middle of the next century. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Plante, that was Mr. Bill Plante of CBS. (Laughter.) Bill Plante of CBS who made the good point that the -- (laughter) -- longevity of most of these network executives is about like that of a White House staffer. (Laughter.) I.E. we're all temp workers.
Q The former White House correspondent.
MR. MCCURRY: I could do the weather. I would enjoy doing the weather. That's a good job. (Laughter.) I listen to the NOAA weather. I got one of those little radios that tunes in. I like that stuff.
Q That's because you know which way the wind blows. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen of the CSPAN audience, we're killing time until the San Francisco Giants begin their game shortly.
Q What time do they come in?
MR. MCCURRY: What time? This is the third time Helen has -- what time are we doing this event tomorrow?
MR. TOIV: As of a couple days ago, 1:30 p.m.
MR. MCCURRY: As of a couple days ago, 1:30 p.m.
Q Any big-name weather people?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the Today Show is going to be doing the weather from out here. We're very excited about this.
What about your guy, Spice? What about Spiceland? What's the deal?
Q Valerie Voss?
MR. MCCURRY: It's probably -- you know, Rick Kaplan wouldn't let him come in because he was afraid that would show too close a tie to the Clinton administration or something.
Q What about Marv Albert?
MR. MCCURRY: Boy, I'm just going to get in trouble over and over -- the longer I'm out here, the more trouble -- Neikirk, haven't you given up yet? What do you want? (Laughter.)
Q I'm just wondering how you explain Clinton's passionate interest in weather change. Does he share something in common with the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no this is -- remember, this is something that goes back to commitments made by the United States at the time the Rio Treaty was promulgated, goes back to work that started under President Bush. And it really represents an obligation the United States government has under international treaty now to address the consequences of climate change. So it's not so much passion for the subject of weather -- although don't we all pay close attention to the weather -- it's more, this is something we're going to have to get serious about and deal with now because the consequences of waiting are going to be infinitely greater if we wait to the future.
Q A number of corporate executives and economists were up on the Hill today warning that high restrictions on the output of greenhouse gasses would have a very bad effect on the economy, in terms of job losses and rising energy costs and so forth. When do you think the United States will be announcing its negotiating position on the percentage cut?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, given that -- I mean, first of all, a large part of what -- I haven't studied that testimony, but a large part of that may in fact be true, and you've heard from our own -- the administration itself say that if you do this the wrong way, the economic consequences could be devastating. The cost that Americans would pay in increases for fuel would be extraordinary if you don't get the science right and you don't figure out what are the most efficient ways to get the reductions in gas emissions that you want. So we are very carefully looking at that.
Now, as to our negotiating posture, because it is an international negotiation, I doubt that we are ever going to come out and say, here's our negotiating posture, unless we do that in fact as part of our negotiating strategy to begin to move it. But it will be in the period as we work up to December in Kyoto. And I think that there have been -- there is kind of a staggered sequence of times in which the negotiators are going to be meeting in plenary sessions prior to Kyoto. I haven't checked to see when the next one is, but it comes up, I believe, sometime next month.
Q Who is going to head the delegation?
Q Is the President going?
MR. MCCURRY: At Kyoto, currently, the plan is for representation to be at the sub-minister level, and the United States delegation, at the moment, is structured to be led by Under Secretary of State Tim Wirth -- correct? That's correct.
Q Is there any chance the President would go?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any suggestion that the President would go, but, again, I think that's -- it will depend on what they are actually moving towards and whether they are successful in completing negotiations.
Q What about Vice President Gore?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think I can speculate on something that's in December. I have a hard enough time doing tomorrow and next week.
Q At the Press Club luncheon, Speaker Gingrich --
MR. MCCURRY: Is he done yet? He's probably still yacking. Keep him out there. Keep him going. (Laughter.) The more the better.
Q At the beginning of his speech, he said that Republicans do plan to forge ahead next year and call for a flat tax, a national sales tax, the White House should be prepared for that --
MR. MCCURRY: That's good. So all those tax increases they were --
Q Well, the question is, given the IRS hearings, do you think public shift, perhaps, public mood might be shifting toward a simplified tax --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that they will -- we'll need to test that proposition, whether the people of the United States want to go towards a new increase in tax on goods and services that they purchase day in and day out, adding to the federal tax -- excise tax at the cash register, or in some value-added form. Those who would advocate a national consumption tax would need to make that argument. But I think it is clear that it will have to be an argument in which we are included in the discussion, because at the end of the day, the President and the administration will have a lot to say about the outcome of any change in tax law.
Q Do you think the tax law needs to be radically restructured?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we kind of did this yesterday. I think that you need to know to what purpose are you proposing changes. We have a lot of things in the tax code now, as I said yesterday, that are designed to do things that most Americans want to have happen in their lives. They want to be able to own a home, and the home mortgage interest deduction helps make that more possible. Most Americans -- or many Americans like to support charities and their churches, and the charitable deductions helps make that more practical -- or helps make -- at least create incentives to do that. We just got done creating incentives that will help Americans get some help when they get a college education or go back to get additional skills and training so that they can earn more in the changing workplace of the future. That's a good thing.
Now, did that make the tax code more complicated? Of course, it did. We just expanded the IRA program, so that people can put more money into long-term savings and get a tax preference for those savings put aside so that they can pay for retirement, they can pay now for education and other things. Those are good, positive changes that have been made.
Now, the Speaker wants to clear all that off the board and wipe all those things out and try, in some ways, a radical, new tax proposal. He's going to have to make that case. We have not seen broad public support for that. If you say, let's bash the IRS. Oh, sure. That's my favorite. Let's do away with the IRS as we know it. That's good. Those are slogans. And we've been doing the hard work of changing that agency and trying to get it to perform up to the expectations of our most important customers, the taxpayers. And that's the work that we'll continue doing. And we'll let the Speaker give all the speeches he wants to on C-SPAN. As I said, the more he's out there, the better it is in the long run for us.
All right. On that happy note.
Q Mike, do you expect the President will sign the CR before 6:30 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't know. I think, John, it's going to depend on when it actually gets down here. Certainly before midnight. And depending on how late it is, we may just do a paper release and then a photo release or something. But we'll let you know as we go through the afternoon on the time.
END 1:51 P.M. EDT