THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT ON FAST TRACK LEGISLATION
10:19 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Today really is a critical day because we are on the verge of a crucial vote on one of the key issues for America's prosperity in the years ahead. This meeting, obviously, is one to collect our forces before we go in masse to Capitol Hill and talk with individual members of the House about the meaning of this vote for our country. There is no partisanship involved here. This crosses party lines, and that is appropriate because it really affects the future of America.
You know, the best evidence of why this authority, this fast track authority for the President is needed, is the success in the economy right now. You are seeing continued strong economic growth, the creation of more jobs, more businesses, more small businesses particularly, at the same time that inflation is going down.
That is really a remarkable record that is different from what we used to experience, and there are three key reasons for it, all traced back to the economic policy we are following: fiscal responsibility, investment in key priorities, and opening of markets overseas so that we can sell our products to the overwhelming majority of the customers and consumers in the world that are outside our borders.
The fact that we have been able to negotiate 200 new trade agreements over the last five years and reduce tariffs overseas is responsible, in significant measure, for the economic success that we have been having. It fits like a hand in a glove with the other elements of this strategy and makes the overall policy work.
We are in a period right now when the world is kind of sorting itself out in the aftermath of the Cold War, just as in the late '40s after World War II we saw the creation of NATO and the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs and the World Bank and the UN and all the arrangements that have characterized the last 50 years of American progress in the world.
In the same way, after the Cold War there is a period of change with new arrangements being created, new trading agreements particularly; and it is unthinkable that the United States of America, looked to by every nation of the world as the leader of the world now, would not give its President the authority to sit down at the negotiating table to make our clear views known about how these new arrangements should be handled.
Of course, our tariffs are already way lower than those of practically any other country in the world, and so when we use this negotiating authority to tear down barriers overseas, it is always more to our advantage than to that of other countries. But it is what is called a win-win outcome. The world economy benefits, and when that happens, we benefit. But we benefit even more because we are getting access to markets that have been closed off to us, markets that other nations have had greater access to. So it is particularly important that we win this vote in the House of Representatives tomorrow.
Now, one final point and then we will take a couple of questions before we continue with the meeting here. This President has demonstrated that he knows how to use this authority to protect labor rights and protect the environment. He is not going to bring back an agreement that isn't adequate on those points. And so in a very basic sense, it is a question of whether or not we trust this President who has done such a spectacular job bringing America's economy back, solving America's problems, seizing the opportunities for our nation, to continue leading our nation toward the kind of prosperity that we have now. He has demonstrated he knows how to use the authority well and now is the time when he has to have it for the future.
So, we are going to go up and do our very best to lay that message in front of the members of Congress who are trying to make up their minds in the final moments of this debate, and we are very optimistic about the result -- a very tough, close, battle, but we are up to it, and we are on the way up to talk with them in the final hours.
I will be glad to take a couple of questions before we continue with the meeting.
Q Well, Mr. Vice President, do you detect a shift now to your side?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. Yes, I do. It is three yards and a cloud of dust. There are no long pass plays or double reverses. It's just grinding it out by asking members of Congress to be profiles in courage. There are a lot of members of Congress, and this is no secret in this town. There are a lot of members of Congress who know very well this is the right thing for our country, regardless of party. But they are under enormous pressure to go the other way and against their convictions.
Somebody who stands up to that kind of pressure and casts a vote that he or she knows is right in his heart is the very definition of a profile in courage. And at key moments in our nation's history, we have always seen that kind of courage -- again, across party lines -- and that's what it is going to come down to this time.
Q Are all the 21 people here with you at this table headed up to the Hill to help lobby for this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes. Nobody is admitting otherwise. (Laughter.) I believe that to be the case. I am. I know that.
Q You are. Well, that' 22 then. Do you have any special targets?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, we've got a list of them. Absolutely.
Q Can you give it to us?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, of course not. (Laughter.) They're not a big secret. I mean, I think both sides have pretty well zeroed in on the ones who haven't publicly declared themselves yet. But, no, we're not going to give you our targets, nor are we going to let you cover the meetings with them.
Q Mr. Vice President, is this an awkward time, though, for actually all of you, because one of the forces you're going against is organized labor?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No, it's not. We have strong views that we've had in this administration from the very beginning, and the record of success in the last five years, especially in the economy, has validated those views. The views of organized labor on labor rights and the environmental community, on environmental protection, are views that we respect very much and, in fact, we are incorporating those concerns in the approach that is being taken.
The package of measures announced by the President yesterday are extremely far reaching and impressive in dealing with some of the concerns that have been highlighted during this debate. And again, with the authority to negotiate, the President is going to take care of these concerns when he sits down at the table with these other countries. So we feel very strongly that this is the right thing for America and we are very optimistic about the result.
Q Just one question on Iraq, Mr. Vice President. Are you concerned that what Saddam Hussein is doing now might be giving him an opportunity to move weapons that he may be trying to hide?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the whole purpose of the UN inspection regime is to prevent him from developing weapons of mass destruction, and the location of the cameras and timing of the inspections and all of the other factors that are worked out laboriously by the United Nations inspection team are important. And Saddam must know that he has to comply with the will of the international community as expressed in these resolutions and as enforced by those, including us, who are undertaking to make sure that he complies. And we will make sure that he complies.
END 10:26 A.M. EST