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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 23, 1997
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                             BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:30 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Thanks to my colleagues for that briefing, and they can go back to the remainder of the Conference on Child Care now and I can do other subjects or avoid other subjects.

But first, you all noticed the Vice President's announcement on homeownership. Did we all write about that? (Laughter.) You're kidding me. That we have today announced that homeownership in the United States of America is at an all-time high, that 66 percent of American now own the homes that they live in, the highest level ever in American history -- a record 66.7 million American families now own their homes. That's big news, and you missed this.

Q What was it last year, 65?

MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that since Bill Clinton has been President, the number of homeowners in America has increased 5.8 million.

Q Who deserves the credit for that? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Susan, the credit goes to the American people, because they've worked hard, produced a growing, strong economy. They've benefitted from the smart economic policies of this President and the other things that affect the national economy, but it's mostly the hard work and good labor of the American people that's created a strong economy, that's helped keep interest rates low, that's created all of the indicators in the environment which people have the opportunity to own a home.

I think that's good news. That's why the Vice President went out there and took some credit for it, and properly so. (Laughter.) And since you didn't pay attention to it, worthwhile reminding you about it.

Other subjects. Good, we're done.

Q Mike, -- Fed nominees in the Senate -- is there anything you can do about that?

MR. MCCURRY: Probably not, but I didn't even know he was. I'd have to check into that. I'm not sure. He may have particular reasons why he has raised some questions. I'll have to look into it. He's quite outspoken on the subject of interest rate policy, as you know.

Q What degree are the President and his economic advisors monitoring the events in Hong Kong, the volatility of the markets there, fueled in part by skyrocketing interest rates in that country linked to the currency relationship with the U.S. dollar?

MR. MCCURRY: As you know, we generally don't comment on financial market developments. The Federal Reserve and the Treasury are carefully monitoring the situation in Hong Kong and throughout Asia. They have been in close contact with their counterparts in the region. Beyond that, I don't think there is additional comment that we would want to make from the White House.

Q Can you address the perception out there that this child care conference represents a return to policy-making for Mrs. Clinton?

MR. MCCURRY: She's addressed that herself and made it very clear that policy comes from the President, not from her. But as she frequently does, she helps shine a spotlight on issues that need to be more in focus, both for the President and for the American people generally. She's done that on a number of occasions -- the District of Columbia, other issues -- lending to help create business opportunities in inner-city areas, and she very frequently has got the capacity because of her intense interest in these issues to lift them up and bring greater public attention and focus on them, as she has in this case.

But she would be the first to say that the President is the one who is elected to make policy.

Q The President will soon be meeting with small farmers, in particular some of the black farmers that they're complaining about discrimination.

MR. MCCURRY: It's true that the President is looking forward to sharing with Secretary Glickman some thoughts about the work that the Secretary's small farm commission has been doing. They've been holding hearings around the country on issues that all small farmers face, but including those particular concerns that rural African American farmers have raised, and that commission will report soon to the Secretary. And I suspect the President will want to take the opportunity to learn more, although we have not announced a date for that meeting.

Q Mike, the Post poll the other day indicated that fixing Social Security is the number one topic that the public wants the government here to address, and in addition to that, there is supposed to be sometime a Medicare commission appointed. Could you let us know what is happening here on those two subjects, on Social Security in particular?

MR. MCCURRY: The question of entitlement reform has both a short-term and a long-term aspects. In the short-term, our immediate responsibility is to designate members of the Medicare Commission. I expect the President to be in a position to name his recommended appointees by some time in December, which I think is --

Q December?

MR. MCCURRY: Some time in December, which is the deadline under the statute. But the President has made it clear and has instructed his advisors to begin work also on the question of long-term entitlement questions. Those issues that we will face well into the next century as the baby boom begins to reach retirement age, and there is a good deal of hard thinking and hard work going on, on that subject that I suspect will lead to more things that the President will want to say on those issues as we go into next year.

Q The President's health care quality has reached agreement on some recommendations, they plan to report to the President around Thanksgiving. Is there any response?

MR. MCCURRY: We have not received the final report of the commission. You saw some reporting today on the session that they had yesterday, but we are very much looking forward to getting the final report. It's going to be important to the health care and treatment of every America who has contact with our health care system to consider carefully the recommendations of the commission itself. We're encouraged. This is a very broad-based group that represents consumers, workers, employers, providers, insurers, and they have apparently been able to reach a consensus on quite a large number of issues.

Now, they still are working some outstanding issues, but we've been comfortable so far with what we've heard of some of their developing recommendations, particularly the idea of an external review process that would give individuals the ability to peel outside their own insurance arrangement if they feel like they've not been satisfied one way or another by the decisions that have been reached on reimbursement for treatment that they may get. And then we are comfortable so far with the recommendations they're making on patient access to information with respect to protecting the privacy of records. Beyond that, I think, we'll have to wait until the final report comes out.

Q One issue they haven't resolved yet is this idea of lifting the cap on catastrophic costs.

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. They have not -- by the way the commission functions, they have to reach unanimous recommendations, and they have not reached one in that case.

Q What is the administration's view on lifting that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have testified that on the past, but I think we would prefer to wait and see whether or not the commission reaches any consensus on that issue.

Q Back on child care, some of the ideas that the First Lady and others have brought up about limit on liability and the national registry of child care providers -- are those gone by the wayside now, and why, and might they come up again?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that they've gone by the wayside. Actually, the two briefers prior would have been in a better position to answer that. I think there are a lot of ideas that are going to continue to flow as a result of this conference and that we'll work into the initiative that the President has indicated he will announce in the State of the Union.

Q What do your White House polls indicate about where child care ranks as a concern? If you look at things like school uniforms, Social Security reform, some of the other indicators, where is this --

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen any data on that issue specifically any time recently. I mean, it's anecdotal. You can go out on the street yourself and ask anyone waking up and down what kind of concerns they have in their day to day lives, and you'll quickly learn that the ability to get quality day care and child care is something that affects millions of Americans at all walks of life, at all income levels. So it's an issue that is fairly salient. But I don't think you need a poll to tell you that.

Q Mike, the President of China is coming to Washington to visit with President Clinton and what he said before he came to Washington, he's warning Washington not to talk about Tiananmen Square and human rights and also --

MR. MCCURRY: President Jiang Zemin is a sophisticated leader of a sophisticated and great country, and he surely knows, based on the presentations made in advance of this summit meeting by other U.S. diplomats, how strong the President cares about those issues, and likelihood that the President will raise those issues.

Q Also, he said that he would not allow or there should not be any protests against him while he's in Washington.

MR. MCCURRY: We dealt with that issue yesterday and I think I made it quite clear our government's attitude.

Q What is the President going to say about China tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Berger will be here at 3:00 p.m., and his purpose to be here at 3:00 p.m. is to let you know. I can try, but he'll do better.

Q Do you have any comment on the status of the investigation against --


Q Did he pull out, Mike? Any regrets that the President accepted his gifts?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't looked into that matter.

Q Mike, there is quite a bit of discussion -- more and more discussion on the Hill, as rosier and rosier deficit projections come into the picture, of what to do with the surplus. I'm wondering, has the President laid down any markers for his budget team with regard to what his priorities would be? Do you draw down the debt? Do you have across-the-board tax cuts?

MR. MCCURRY: He has not given specific guidance but prudence and not profligacy will most likely be the rule.

Q But within that philosophic vagueness, has he indicated that -- in the balanced budget agreement, he was very much targeted relief and the Republicans want across-the-board stuff. Is that apt to continue?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President -- the principles that have guided the President's budget-making policies have always focused on fiscal discipline and on targeted tax relief in cases where it will help people who need relief and it will do good things for the macroeconomy, that will encourage people to get educational opportunities that will raise their income-earning potential, that will do things that will help grow the economy in the long-term.

I think those same principles are going to guide his budget-making policies, but it is far too early to predict what might happen depending on various scenarios that exist for out-year questions related to budget.

Q Mike, the White House announced today the working visit of President Zedillo on the 14th. Is it going to be just the 14th for White House meetings?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it's an official working visit, just that day. I'm not aware of whether the President might have additional meetings while in town elsewhere around town, at State Department or Pentagon, but we'll let you know as we get closer to the visit.

Q But here at the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: Here it will be the 14th, yes.

Q Do you have any more on the presidential decision pending to ban sport assault weapons? This came up the other day and you didn't know. It's been reported widely.

MR. MCCURRY: It's been reported widely because I think one of my colleagues here has been doing an effective job of getting the story around, but we have not -- the President has not yet issued that directive and when he does I'm sure we will talk about with great fanfare.

Q But he's likely to, one assumes.

MR. MCCURRY: I sure hope so, given the plethora of coverage that we've witnessed.

Q Mike, on fast track, I understand the President is asking --

MR. MCCURRY: Call Rahmy. (Laughter.)

Q -- Bill Richardson to take a more active role in fighting for --

MR. MCCURRY: The President has high regard for Ambassador Richardson's skill as a diplomat but also remembers the effective role he played during the fight for NAFTA ratification in his role then as Democratic Deputy Whip in the House. And given the impact that the Ambassador has been able to see of trade policies and the impact they've had both in this hemisphere and around the world, and given his familiarity with members of Congress, I think it makes sense for him to help in the effort to make a persuasive argument up on the Hill, particularly with his former colleagues.

Now, he's also simultaneously managing some difficult issues at the United Nations -- the question of Iraqi sanctions. He's also, I think, probably going to be engaged soon in some diplomacy related to situations in Africa, so he'll have to work in the assignment that the President has given him related to fast track in connection with some of the other work he is doing as well.

Q He'll be doing shuttle diplomacy between New York and Washington?

MR. MCCURRY: Between many points on the globe and Washington, it sounds like.

Q Mike, the education event tomorrow, could you set it up and indicate whether or not the President's going to be shooting any salvos across the bough on his voluntary national tests or vouchers?

MR. MCCURRY: The President will continue to make the case for voluntary national testing and why we have to set world-class standards and reach out to meet them. I don't think this is a question of shooting salvos because it's not a question of politics. I think the President believes it ought to be a bipartisan effort to set standards and then do what we need to do to create an educational system that can meet those standards. And of course, he will repeat that. And anything specific on the event tomorrow -- do either of you know?

MR. LOCKHART: He'll also be talking about master teachers.

MR. MCCURRY: This is specifically some work we're doing as we do every year to acknowledge the important role that master teachers play in creating an invigorated sense of the importance of standards among the teacher corps.

Q Another budget surplus question. What is the White House response to the idea that any future budget surpluses should be set aside in some form of rainy day fund to help address the future insolvency question of the entitlement program?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm pretty sure I indicated earlier that it will be some time before we really deal directly with the question of what we anticipate might happen depending on various scenarios that you have if you look into out-years. I think again, the President will be guided by those same principles that he's always brought to budget-making -- fiscal prudence, targeted tax relief, trying to ease the burden on middle income Americans, but also maintaining the importance of deficit reduction and general overall fiscal discipline, because that's been of the elements of the strategy that's working to keep the American economy strong -- that and free trade, and making investments in our people are surely the hallmarks of President Clinton's approach to economic policy.

Q Did you have anything else to say today about the nuclear security issue, any further studies on that or whether any more money will be channeled in order to enhance --

MR. MCCURRY: Beyond some of the things we said yesterday with respect to critical infrastructure or --

Q Well, the fact that the Department of Energy is basically saying --

MR. MCCURRY: The DOE work that they've done yesterday -- I think they addressed that yesterday. I really didn't have anything additional to add today.

Q What?

MR. MCCURRY: We've got a piece of equipment we're going to replace at the end of the briefing. (Laughter.)

Q Mike, a couple, three years ago --

MR. MCCURRY: WHCA's had a rough day, okay? (Laughter.) But they did a great job and they always do a great job.

Q Two or three years ago after the Mexican peso crisis, there was a lot of initiative from this White House that then got translated into G-7 action at the Halifax Summit to create an international monitoring and surveillance system on global economies and global currency markets to avoid a repeat of this. In recent months, we have had monetary and currency shock, particularly in Southeast Asia. We now have Hong Kong. Is the President satisfied that all these efforts after the Mexican crisis resulted in the sufficiently adequate international monitoring surveillance system, or does he feel that more needs to be done?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is satisfied with the work that the G-7 has done on questions of global financial stabilization and harmonization when it comes to the work of international financial markets. With respect to market conditions that exist, say, in Asia, for example, I think I'd refer you to the Treasury Department, because the Treasury Department and the Secretary of the Treasury is the single authorized spokesman on currency related matters for the United States government.

Q I might have missed this in the last couple of days, but does the President have any feelings about the majority on Senator Thompson's committee telling the White House Communications Agency not to turn over logs of President Bush's fundraising related events?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that the President thinks that those who have suggested that those would be helpful in understanding what past practices are, particularly in light of charges that he somehow or other has done something different from other Presidents make a valid argument.

Q President Zedillo said yesterday that the U.S. should compensate Mexico for the damage done by drug trafficking, rather than continue to criticize it through the certification process. Any thoughts on that?

MR. MCCURRY: As I think President Zedillo knows, our views are that the international drug trade is a shared threat, it's not a problem that is unique to any one country. And when the Presidents meet on November 14th they will have another opportunity to discuss how cooperatively we can work together to fight what is a common problem that we both share -- drug use and the need to curb trafficking.

Q Any reaction to how the nomination hearing is going today on the IRS Commissioner --

MR. MCCURRY: How's it going?

Q I don't know, I haven't been able to reach anyone.

MR. LOCKHART: It's going great.

MR. MCCURRY: We think it's going great, assuming that no problems have developed. (Laughter.) We haven't heard of any problems. Given Mr. Rossotti's overall excellence, we had not anticipated any problems. And my assumption in not having heard otherwise is that he's doing exceedingly fine.

Q On global warming, could you reconcile Argentina's stand, given that you had the event Saturday at which they endorsed the White House stance and then yesterday were signatory to the Group of 77 statement that called for more ambitious --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, remember that they -- President Menem himself said that there would be expectations that the United States would have to assume a significantly larger proportion of responsibility in dealing with the problem. So it's not surprising that they have joined with governments that they have long worked with on those issues.

But the importance of the announcement that the two Presidents made is that they will actively cooperate with us in joint implementation, which is the singular feature that brings the developing world into an international regime of cooperation in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. And their pledge to do that really does open up the way for the developing world to become co-participants in an international effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That's very, very encourage, takes nothing away from what the two Presidents declared when we were in Argentina over the weekend.

But clearly their government, as President Menem indicated, has some stronger views of what they expect from the United States in terms of our responsibilities for emissions reductions. We take a somewhat different view. I think we feel, by and large, pretty good about where we came out. We're getting shot at from extremists on one side and extremists on the other side, and getting some support from others on both sides of this debate. So we know we've located a position that's right in the center of this debate, and that is going to be the place at which you can build some kind of international consensus, since the views of governments around the world range the spectrum when it comes to this issue.

Q Are the President and First Lady going to be on Oprah next week?

MR. MCCURRY: I hope not. Are they?

Q She is.

MR. MCCURRY: Maybe she is. The President is not. It's better to do a solo performance.

Q What is the purpose?

Q Why not?

MR. MCCURRY: She was on another show this morning. She's been talking about child care issues. I'm not even sure what she's been invited to discuss on that program. I imagine it may well be the effort to encourage Americans to think about child care and think about the responsibilities parents have and think about what we may be able to do collectively as one people to address the need for a more affordable, quality, accessible health care in America.

How about that? It's good enough for you? All right, we've got Berger at 3:00 p.m.

Q Are you going to the Rolling Stones concert?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I forgot to get tickets.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

      1:53 P.M. EDT