THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
3:07 P.M. EST
MR. FITZWATER: Well, good afternoon, everyone. Terry, you're late again. Will you please try to get into a seat. (Laughter.) We just wanted to take a few minutes, in view of the stock market and also -- (laughter) -- there seems to be a budget surplus and we definitely want to put in for that, and Newt Gingrich's new slimmer-down version.
The President has asked Jody and I to come over and see if we couldn't help install confidence in the Press Office. And so with that, Jody, you might want to describe kind of how this came about.
MR. POWELL: This was actually quite unusual. Late yesterday evening, I had a phone call and President Clinton and Marlin were on the line. The President said that, frankly, he'd been somewhat concerned that, even though Mike was only 43, there has been some signs of, shall we say, wear and tear. (Laughter.) That there had been the thing with the bag on the head -- (laughter.) I noted that I'd always kind of had this thing for Cybill Shepherd, too, but I'd never discussed it in a briefing. The President agreed that was a problem.
I gather, then the thing about the weather caster was apparently troubling. But I think the supposedly off-the-record comments yesterday evening about over evaluation in the market may have -- (laughter) -- sort of tipped the straw.
And so the President asked if we would come and try to be of some -- shall we say -- assistance around the edges in a marginal sort of basis.
MR. MCCURRY: You guys, anyone who wants to ask about the stock market? (Laughter.)
MR. FITZWATER: Happy birthday, Michael. (Applause.)
MR. POWELL: That is our real purpose here, and the second purpose is to thank the Lord that Mike has this job now and not us. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, guys.
MR. POWELL: Congratulations, good luck.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm as speechless as Bill Clinton is today. Of course, he's speechless because he was celebrating a birthday all weekend.
Q What about the stock market?
MR. MCCURRY: The stock market -- what do you want to know about it? It's not trading at the moment. The President has had a briefing from the Secretary of the Treasury on the procedures that are in place when they trip the one post-1987 circuit breaker that's now in effect. Our team has been monitoring the market developments during the day. There is a financial working group that consists of the SEC and the Fed and the Treasury and at working levels they have been in contact during the day today. But those procedures and those systems are working as they should, and the market trigger is working apparently as it should.
The President is mindful of the fact that the fundamentals in this economy are strong and that's what matters most. We were talking about the net positive impact of one of those fundamentals today in the deficit number that is at a historic low.
Q Does he regard this as a crisis? Does the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, that's about all I'm going to say. The market is still open and we are very cautious about talking about market fluctuations when the markets are open. But the President is confident that the fundamentals of the American economy are strong and can produce the sustained economic performance that the American people are enjoying.
Q Mike, one of the reasons the deficit is so low is because the market has been so high and a lot of people have been paying capital gains tax. What about if that reverses now? Does the deficit number go in the other direction?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate.
Q Mike, when the Treasury Department and the SEC and others are talking and consulting --
MR. MCCURRY: They do that just about every day --
Q What are the talking about different today?
MR. MCCURRY: There are systems that are in place to monitor market activity like this, and they would normally, on a day that's very volatile like this, have that kind of monitor.
Q So he's not so concerned?
Q The 1934 Securities Act gives the President, as I understand, the authority to step in and suspend trading if necessary. Is he looking at that option?
MR. MCCURRY: That would not be appropriate for me to comment on, and I doubt the SEC would either.
Q Part of this is because of the turmoil in the Asian markets, and yesterday Secretary Rubin said that the administration was working with the IMF and the World Bank to try to prepare some "response" to that that would lead to longer -- that would stabilize the situation. Is there an update on that? Will we hear anything?
MR. MCCURRY: There is no update from what the Secretary said yesterday. Those are long-term discussions about how to increase the stability and fiscal discipline that attends to some of those markets in Asia, but they will report as they have developments on the work we're doing with both the IMF and the World Bank.
Q Are they talking about a bail-out of some kind, along the line of Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: They would be the people best in a position to tell you what they're talking about, not here.
Q Are you saying the President is not concerned because the fundamentals are in place and he doesn't think --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying the President has watched and noted the developments of today as I reported to you, and that's all I'm saying on it at this moment. The market is still open.
Q Is there any chance that the President would speak about this today?
MR. MCCURRY: None.
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's not something that the President would likely address.
Q Is the President content to let the 550 circuit breaker come in if it gets to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's not speculate about where the market is going. The market is just reopening now. I'm not going to speculate which direction it's going to, up or down.
Q Mike, the groups that are monitoring the market and watching it -- to what end do they do that? I mean, is there something that the White House has in its quiver that it can do in cases like this?
MR. MCCURRY: To answer that would be to lead people unnecessarily to speculate about what might or might not be in the quiver. I'm not going to do that.
Q So there is a quiver? The quiver exists?
MR. MCCURRY: There is, after '87, a process that was put into place so that the government can monitor, just as the markets themselves, monitor the activity and fluctuations in the financial markets.
Q Monitor and act if it feels it has to?
MR. MCCURRY: It's to monitor and I'm not going to speculate on act. Please don't get me to do so.
Q What's he doing about his voice?
MR. MCCURRY: What's he doing about his voice? I'm happy to report he's going to rest it by not talking about the markets. (Laughter.)
Q What are these two gentlemen -- did they help you celebrate your birthday?
MR. MCCURRY: They're here to celebrate my birthday as a surprise.
Q Was it a surprise?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a big surprise to see two of my --
Q Did the President actually invite them here?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course he did. No, that's a lie. He may not even know they're here. (Laughter.) But we were together recently in a learned discussion in the art of press secretarying --(laughter) -- and they've so thrown me here that my skills are dismal. The President is going through an annual bout of sort of semi-laryngitis -- that's not the correct medical description, Dr. Mariano says. If you recall about this time last year he had a similar episode of temporary voice loss, and it happens connected to allergies, connected to overusing his voice, which he did this weekend. He's been doing a lot of celebrating and singing a lot of Happy Birthdays the last 48 hours, but they've given him some nasal spray. He has been treated for his allergies which they think is one of the complications for this, and told him not to stay up all night long yacking.
Q Mike, why are you so emphatic that the President would not say something about this? It's the first time since the crash in 1987 since this market mechanism has been triggered. Why wouldn't it be appropriate for the President to come out?
MR. MCCURRY: Because that would maybe lead people incorrectly to make assumptions and lead all of you to become breathless, and we want everyone just to take a deep breath and think about where we are. This is a market that has performed amazingly well in the last several years. It is at record levels. We've talked about a fluctuation in the market today that is a bare fraction of major breathtaking drops in the past, so let's just be calm and reasonable.
Q I don't know if it's a coincidence, Mike, but the market did start to tank badly when the President was speaking. When did he learn about the market's drop, and did he request the briefing from the Secretary --
MR. MCCURRY: I think if you would like to go invest in the market based on its going up or down when the President opens his mouth to speak, please be my guest. That would be an interesting way of -- a strategy.
Q When did he --
MR. MCCURRY: He had word that the circuit had tripped and wanted to learn more about it and asked to speak to the Treasury Secretary when he returned here.
Q By phone?
MR. MCCURRY: By phone.
Q On today's speech, does President Bush deserve any of the credit for deficit reduction in his 1990 tax increase?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, remember where we were. We projected a $297-billion a year deficit in 1993 when the President took office. And it would have been easier to sort of build on any -- if it had been true that the Republicans deserve some of that credit, Republicans no doubt would have stepped forward to assist in the deficit reduction plan that was put in place in 1993; they did not.
Q Well, Mike, what about the 1990 budget deal? He said today pretty emphatically this is a gift the Democrats gave to America.
MR. MCCURRY: He was speaking to the fact that in 1993 not a single Republican stepped forward to support the deficit reduction measure that has achieved 92 percent of the deficit reduction that we're talking about today.
Q Does he think the '93 plan achieved 90 percent of it, or the '90 plan plus the '93 plan achieved --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he thinks a lot of things go into the strong economic performance and the deficit number today -- not only fiscal policy, but clearly monetary policy, clearly the hard work of the American people, who have been more productive over this four-and-a-half year period. So there are many causes --
Q And the 1990 budget, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: -- many causes, many reasons to celebrate. And a vote in 1993 that started the process of fiscal discipline under his presidency that has led to the result we celebrate today.
Q So, Mike, you're saying the 1990 budget deal is not part of it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think all the things that play in the national economy, as I just indicated, have an effect. And there are fiscal policies that existed prior to 1993 and fiscal policies that changed after 1993. But no one can doubt the fiscal discipline enacted in 1993 had a substantial, measurable impact in the deficit number announced today.
Q So where did that 92 percent number -- 92 percent deficit reduction -- is that a serious number?
MR. MCCURRY: That was a -- sure, it was a serious number. I got it right in one of my little papers.
Q What's the other 8 percent?
MR. MCCURRY: That was -- that the budget deficit is down 92 percent since 1992. In fiscal '92 the federal budget deficit was $290.4 billion, which was a record high; in '97, obviously down to $22.6 billion. So 92 percent of the way to the balanced budget from the 1992 budget deficit.
Q In his speech the President said he was going to announce some help for workers whose factories close or are displaced because of trade. Is that some new program that he's going to announce?
MR. MCCURRY: He's doing some work on how you compensate and adjust for the fluctuations that exist in trade. We've had a trade adjustment assistance program in place for a while. The President has been looking at that type of approach on some things that he might be able to do. He did not make any announcement related to that today.
Q Is that an expansion of the trade assistance program that Congress --
MR. MCCURRY: Right now, it's only an announcement by the President that he intends to announce something down the road.
Q A group of very prominent Republican senators are very much opposed to the transfer of nuclear technology. The President, does he have the power to make a deal without their consent?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has the capacity to negotiate on behalf of the United States government with foreign governments matters that are related to our export laws or that would affect how we administer export laws with respect to sensitive dual-use technologies. So the answer is, yes.
Q When it comes to fast track, the White House seems to be pretty short of Democratic votes in the House, and there is some talk that maybe you'd have a vote in the Senate this year, but you'd put off the vote in the House until next year. Is that something the White House has looked at?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House would prefer to get the President the fast track negotiating authority he would use to continue to open markets which would contribute to the fundamental strength of the American economy, which would contribute to the good news on things like the deficit we saw today.
Q So does that mean you might --
MR. MCCURRY: So we would rather have it sooner rather than later, and we'd like to have it this year.
Q Mike, as of a couple minutes ago, the Dow was down 437. You're sure --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not helping then. (Laughter.)
Q You're sure that the President is not going to talk about this today?
MR. MCCURRY: David, I just indicated to you what we're going to do, and obviously we'll continue to monitor the markets.
Q Mike, given the direction of the market, there is only one circuit breaker left. Is the administration working on any kind of a plan to follow up on the 550 breaker?
MR. MCCURRY: The market is open; I'm not going to speculate further. I'm not talking about the market further.
Any other questions?
Q Mike, is the President going to raise the issue of Charlie Trie with Jiang Zemin? And would you care to address the suggestion in the Wall Street Journal today that the Chinese has him over a barrel because of Charlie Trie?
MR. MCCURRY: The Wall Street Journal is wrong, and the Secretary of State answered the other question yesterday.
Q No, the Secretary of State sort of left it dangling.
MR. MCCURRY: She addressed exactly that question.
Q Secretary Slater is dealing with the Amtrak issue.
MR. MCCURRY: He is.
Q Have you been updated on any activity today?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not aware of any update from them. They're continuing to work with the parties and with the mediation council and they have taken those steps that I mentioned earlier today to some of you regarding transit lines and principally in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Q Back on China. Chairman Shelby and Helms both said that this nuclear agreement is premature now and that you should --
MR. MCCURRY: Sure is, because the President hasn't announced it, so they're correct.
Q How about on Wednesday? Do you think it will be premature on Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it wouldn't be. It would be appropriate for the Presidents to announce whatever they have to announce at that time.
Q Does he have anything?
Q So are you not listening to their counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we always listen carefully to their counsel, but the President acts in the best interest of America's national security interests, and it would be manifestly in our interest to encourage the People's Republic to make important new commitments with respect to technology transfers, specifically in sensitive missile technology areas. That would be a step forward.
Q Still on China, could you say specifically, will he bring up individual cases of prisoners in China, individual human rights cases --
MR. MCCURRY: He will speak to human rights. And our government has often spoken very specifically about cases of concern to us, and we'll give you a readout after the meeting on Wednesday unless you know specifically how he addresses it.
Q On the $26.8-billion figure you don't explain how that was derived. Can you say how much of that was from better-than-expected Treasury receipts?
MR. MCCURRY: Of the portion of $22.6 -- what portion was accounted for in greater-than-anticipated revenues? I can't. I don't have a breakdown on that, but Treasury might. Treasury or OMB might be able to help on that.
Q Mike, Marlin's presence here has me thinking about your trip next week down to the Bush Library and Museum to open it up. Has the President given any thought to what the Bush legacy is, and do you have any thoughts on what he's thinking that he will say or what Bush should be remembered for?
MR. MCCURRY: He's given a lot of thought and spoken in part to that in the past. One thing I think -- I'm almost inclined to turn the podium over to someone who handles it well here, but one thing I know that the President has often talked about and has learned how to both appreciate and build upon is the extraordinary commitment President Bush had to volunteerism in America. And there was a while where there was some sense that somehow or other, the encouragement of Americans to volunteer and be a part of a commitment to communities and restoring them to better health was at odds with President Clinton's commitment to the concept of service.
I think one thing that President Clinton appreciates it the capacity he and President Bush have had to work together to marry these two concepts, to promote volunteerism and simultaneously to encourage service by all Americans and make that part of the ethic of restoring health to America's national life, to renew our communities, to get people to working together to solve problems as one America. I think that's something where President Clinton would quickly say he has built on the legacy of President Bush.
Now, there will be other things that the President will surely talk about next week, and chief among them is the legacy of a very strong presence in the Gulf region and the leadership that President Bush showed during the Persian Gulf War. But I don't want to preview that speech at this point, because the President is still thinking about it, working on it and has asked for some research for that speech.
Q Mike, in terms of trying to have the United States offer on its own help to Southeast Asia in terms of a "bailout," when we did the Mexico deal a couple of years ago, the administration insisted it was not to protect American companies that had millions or billions of dollars of risk, but rather, to protect the American economy. If our market is being adversely impacted by their crash, why wouldn't the United States, under similar rationale, step in?
MR. MCCURRY: What we would do would be to build on those things that, partly as a result of the peso crisis, we have begun to advance within the international community the capacity within the IMF and the World Bank and the international lending authorities to begin to craft the correct and proper responses to financial market situations as they develop in a region. That's, as you heard from the Treasury Secretary, exactly what they're doing in this case. There was some preference in the wake of the Mexican crisis not to go it alone when the United States enters into a response and that's certainly the way in which we have approached the questions related to markets in Southeast Asia.
Q Since you're taking market questions again, (laughter) -- was the President surprised to hear that the market had gone down that much?
MR. MCCURRY: He just wanted to know more about and asked for more information about it from the Treasury Secretary.
Q Did you hear the start of his speech today?
MR. MCCURRY: I did not --
Q It sounded like he was running against the Democratic Party -- he said all those false ideas in government involvement and so forth.
MR. MCCURRY: This President has substantially rewritten the ideology of the Democratic Party, and it's reflected in part by the concept of a new Democratic Party.
Q Well, he has split the party also, hasn't he? He doesn't identify.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think we were very split and less than unified as we successfully reelected a President last year.
Q Well, if that's true, why is he having such a hard time getting Democratic votes for fast track, which is the core of his forum and his economic --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think I would say that's the core. I mean, the core of his foreign policy is, one, fiscal discipline and right-sizing government, and recognizing the era of big government is over; two, investing in people so we have the right type of enhancements for the American work force as they meet the challenges of the post-Cold war economy and they increase their own skills; and three, opening markets overseas. We've always talked about those fundamentals.
Q In that order?
MR. MCCURRY: In any -- which order? They are all interrelated. So all those three things work together to create a strong economy. And it doesn't necessarily put him at odds with people in the Democratic Party who share that commitment to open markets.
Q Congressional Republicans say you have to get 70 Democratic votes for fast track and at the moment you've got 16. Are you going to be able to get the rest --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if you know exactly how many we have then you're doing a better job than some of our vote counters on the Hill.
Q Well, you've got 16 public votes. You may have more private ones.
MR. MCCURRY: We may have more than that, and we probably will have more than that at the end of the day. And we're working hard to get as many as we can get.
Q Back on the market, but not about the crash or whatever you want to call it -- (laughter.) You talked about the circuit breaker mechanisms. Does the White House believe that those are a good idea, that it's smart to have circuit breakers, as compared to just letting the market go --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the Treasury Department, the President concurred in the wake of 1987, it was right for various financial institutions to develop a capacity to market -- monitor market fluctuations, which is what they did.
Q I'm not talking about monitoring fluctuations, I'm saying some --
MR. MCCURRY: Monitor them and to --
Q -- critics say that there can be a built-up tension there. I'm saying, how does the White House view that?
MR. MCCURRY: We accept the provisions that were put in place post-1987 to try to bring more stabilization to markets.
Q Mike, we're about to hit uncharted territory again, the markets rapidly coming to the second and last circuit breaker --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, good, then I think that we should all get out of here and go -- we can all go watch the Dow together. I'm not going to say anything more. I can't speculate any further on market fluctuations. The market's open, the market's doing stuff that I don't know about because I've been standing here talking to all of you. I'm not going to talk about it anymore.
Q One interesting thing about the situation is that it's global, the decline in the markets. Has President Clinton been in touch with any foreign leaders, particularly other G-7 countries?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Mike, on the Amtrak situation, we understand that people from the White House were talking to DOT people until the late hours of the morning, early hours of the morning. Are you making any progress on that, and if there's a strike does the President get involved?
MR. MCCURRY: They are making some progress. I don't want to speculate. The parties have been working and we've been working with the parties to see if we can address some of the underlying concerns.
Q Progress in the sense that you think a strike is likely?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate.
Q Saturday night the President had a meeting with the Italian Vice Premier -- Italian communist leader. Do you have something to say about the items discussed?
MR. MCCURRY: Only to say that the encounter was brief, so they did not have an opportunity to review all of the matters that would go into our -- an assessment of our bilateral relationship, but the President is pleased by the Italian government's commitment to political stability and economic reform, and by the leadership role that's assumed, vis a vis the situation in Albania. He's congratulated the Deputy Prime Minister on both, expressed his confidence that U.S.-Italian relations would continue to be both beneficial and would continue to prosper given the close relationship both governments have.
Yes, one more try.
Q One more try. Did I understand from your previous answer that it is the administration's policy to leave the market hands-off and let it go where it wants to go?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the administration's policy to continue to use those mechanisms that exist to monitor developments in the markets. Beyond that, I'm not going to speculate what conclusions that monitoring might lead us to.
Q Can you try it again, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: No. (Laughter.) That's enough on that, and I would stay in touch with the Treasury Department to see if they had planned anything for later.
Q Does this all seem familiar to you?
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:31 P.M. EST