THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
9:49 A.M. EST
MR. McCURRY: Let me go through the schedule today. The President right now is meeting with 14 members of Congress, all Democrats, including Senator Lautenberg, Senator Dornan, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, Senator Levin, Congressman Gephardt, Congressman Bonior, Fazio -- basically a sampling of the leadership and Democrats who are very active on budget issues.
The President wanted this opportunity, as kind of a follow-up to the meeting he had right before Christmas with Senator Daschle and Congressman Gephardt, to talk about the things that the Democrats together are going to advance in the second session of the 105th Congress. And to talk a little more in detail about some of the things the President has laid out the several days.
Obviously the President will review what is going to be on his agenda, some of the things we've been talking about the last several days -- child care, medicare, some of those things. He will also look ahead to some of the issues we are going to have to deal with this year in terms of the budget, and longer term issues like Social Security.
I think the President wants to consult with this group about the question of long-term entitlement reform, how we ought to go about structuring the process that would lead to a bipartisan solution to the long-term problems of Social Security system faces. There was a little bit in the papers over the holidays about some of the White House thinking on these issues. The President thought it would be good to consult with our friends and allies on the Hill on those questions.
I think the President will also stress, and plans to stress in the meeting, the need to continue fiscal discipline. The White House is delighted to see the projections from the Congressional Budget Office today proving that, if anything, the Office of Management and Budget has been very prudent and conservative in its own estimation, since CBO came in with a deficit projection that is below the one that the President gave to you the other day.
The President will stress the importance of maintaining fiscal discipline as we look ahead, and structure efforts that can help the American people and keep the American economy strong. The work that we've been doing and laying out to you that will obviously lead up to the State of the Union is about maintaining fiscal discipline with a human face, addressing the human needs of the American people.
Q Will they talk about tobacco, Mike?
MR. McCURRY: They may very well talk about tobacco, the likelihood of moving forward on a bipartisan approach to the settlement. Some of the participants in the meeting have been active on that issue, as most of you know.
A couple of other things --
Q Is The Wall Street Journal on tobacco accurate today?
MR. McCURRY: It will be this time next month before I answer any questions on specifics in the budget, so I'm not going to comment on that.
Q Will he make comments on the way out?
MR. McCURRY: He will not, no.
Let me go through a couple of other items before we go to questions. We've just put out the President's 1998 awards for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He will bestow those medals on the morning of January 15. He will then later that day go to New York, where he will participate in the Wall Street Project Conference that the Rev. Jessie Jackson is organizing. That is a conference, three-day meeting in New York that is trying to bring together minority owned businesses and leaders on Wall Street.
The President, I think, will stress the importance of empowering minority communities and getting them actively involved, and the strong economy that is producing jobs and economic opportunities for the American People.
Q What is it called?
MR. McCURRY: It is called the Wall Street Project. The Rev. Jackson's office can tell you a lot more about the work that he's been doing.
Q Is that it, or there fundraisers also that day?
MR. McCURRY: That is the only thing I know of on that schedule. I don't know of any other -- it is a day trip, and I'm not aware that we've got anything else planned that day.
Q -- affirmative action?
MR. McCURRY: Well, I think in minority business opportunities and empowering minority communities as they become more direct participants in entrepreneurship has been an aspect with some of the discussions we've had connected to the President's race initiative. So in a way, I think you can see this as part of a continuum. It is a way in which the President is addressing issues that are important to minority communities, and building the concept of one America -- minority citizens sharing in the fruits of entrepreneurship and economic growth.
Q -- interview with President Khatemi?
MR. McCURRY: We have and the White House shares the views expressed last night by the State Department. And I think those views are ably reported today. We believe that President Khatemi made many positive remarks about the United States, and the President appreciates those positive remarks.
We welcome the fact that he wants to dialogue with the American people and between two great civilizations. That could be useful, but it's also important to stress that the best way for issues to be addressed is for governments to talk directly.
As for the scope of any such dialogue, our views on that, I believe, are very well known. But ultimately improvement in relations will depend upon not just what Iran says, but what Iran does.
Q Mike, where do you go from there? I mean, is the ball in the U.S. court, or in their court -- or who should make the next step now?
MR. McCURRY: I think it was useful to hear President Khatemi describe some of his thinking about issues that are important to the relationship, and our views as we have expressed them may be of interest in Iran.
Q It looks like the two governments are working each other and waiting from a gesture from the other. So is there any way the U.S. could make some kind of gesture to -- someone has got to do something if this dialogue has to start one day.
MR. McCURRY: That is an interesting analysis on your part. I don't think it is useful for me to try to flesh out the future. This is a discussion that is important in the international community. It directly relates to foreign policy concerns that we discuss frequently with our allies.
I'm sure that our views are well known in Tehran, and I'm sure that issues that were addressed by President Khatemi last night, that we have addressed in other contexts with other governments, will continue to be in focus as the year goes ahead.
Q Are we ready to send anyone to -- any of the intellectuals or whoever he wants to, to start this cultural exchanges and --
MR. McCURRY: I've just described some of those thoughts as being useful. How they might be pursued is not something I'm in a position to comment on.
Q Is there grounds now for talks about talks, maybe through third parties or has it started yet?
MR. McCURRY: I think we've made clear the type of dialogue that we would wish to see -- an authorized dialogue that is acknowledged. And is one in which both sides can bring to the table the issues that are fundamentally important to both sides.
Q Has there be a high-level move triggered by these remarks, Mike -- by Sandy Berger or the State Department?
MR. McCURRY: I think the Secretary of State and Sandy Berger were certainly watching the interview last night.
Q When does the President go to Tehran? (Laughter)
Q For planning purposes only. (Laughter)
MR. McCURRY: I doubt in my lifetime here.
Q Is that true?
MR. McCURRY: In my lifetime "here."
Q Oh, I didn't get the end.
Q That could be next week. (Laughter.)
Q As the White House looks ahead to the fall, how important do you feel support of women is in Democratic efforts to regain control of the House or the Senate?
MR. McCURRY: I think that the support of women, like support of men, is important if you want to win 51 percent of the vote. I think the President has built a very strong record that has attracted support from women for reasons that are important to women in American, because of the issues he has pursued.
I think we will continue to pursue this year an agenda that we've already started talking about that has special resonance with female voters. And I think the President's continuing strong support from women is a result of the kinds of policies and priorities the President has articulated.
What comes first are the priorities and the policies that the President is pursuing. The fact that they general significant political support among women is welcome, and I guess that probably will be a factor in the fall of 1998.
Q Mike, can I just follow-up?
Did you get any consensus on that point with the leaders today in their meeting?
MR. McCURRY: The meeting is underway now, and this is not a meeting to discuss electoral strategy for the fall. I think it is a meeting more to talk about the work that Congress and the President are going to do in the immediate weeks ahead.
Q Mike, how does maintaining fiscal discipline with a human face, as you described it, translate to tax cut policy, tax policy, spending policy?
MR. McCURRY: Well if you heard us on that subject already, we've got within the context of an historic moment, which is a new environment in Washington predicated on balanced budgets. We have the opportunity to devote scarce federal resources to some of the human needs you've heard the President talk about.
But that is in the context of a balanced budget, and in the context of maintaining the kind of fiscal discipline that has been a fundamental source of the strength of the U.S. economy, which you see almost daily in the statistics.
We are not going to abrogate the fundamental bargain we've made with the American people -- a prudent, cautious use of federal resources targeted on very specific needs in a way that strengthens the U.S. economy. That's our approach to tax relief. We will have targeted tax relief in the President's budget that underpins the fundamentals of a very strong and growing U.S. economy.
Q Yes, Mike. I have a question about tobacco. Yesterday Shalala and Reed** both said that they felt there was a bipartisan consensus for tobacco legislation this year and that they were sure it was going to pass.
Since there is no legislation written and no Republicans have come forward in support of a specific legislation, where does this great optimism come from?
MR. McCURRY: There hasn't been specific legislation written, but there has been an enormous amount of work done on the issue. The committees that have been empowered by the congressional leadership to address the issue have been hard at work. We've been working closely with them. And I think our optimism is well founded.
Q Who are you working with?
MR. McCURRY: We're working with the task force. There is a tobacco task force in both the House and the Senate and we've been actively engaged with them. And we'll be even more so engaged with them as the second session of this Congress kicks in.
Q Can I just follow up a lose end on the Iranian situation? It sounds like you're trying to suggest that the private visits, cultural visits, et cetera, could be useful. Will you now encourage, or not oppose private American citizens from visiting Iran and private Iranian citizens from visiting the United States?
MR. McCURRY: We have visa restrictions that are in place. I'm not aware of any change in our policies at this point. That is a matter that would have to be addressed if there were to be any pursuit of this concept advanced last night. But to my knowledge, there have been no decisions reached on matters like that at this time.
Q Mike, has the President conferred with his advisors about the fresh concern among international economists that the Asian financial situation has moved into a second and worsening phase?
MR. McCURRY: I think it is safe to presume that the President consults almost daily with his advisors on the subject of the Asian economic situation.
Q But has it moved into a second phase?
MR. McCURRY: I'm not going to characterize that. It is a difficult moment for that regional economy and one that we have been addressing with great precision, working with other industrialized nations and working with international lending institutions.
Q In this meeting today does the President have anything concrete to propose in terms of the entitlements or looking into Social Security or is it all a very nebulous discussion?
MR. McCURRY: It will be a substantive discussion, but it is also, most importantly, an opportunity for the President to sound out the members present on their views on some of those issues.
Q Is it mostly about process, like how we should go about dealing with the problem, or is it about specific remedies to the problems?
MR. McCURRY: I imagine it will be, on the question of long-term entitlements, must about proces. But I don't rule out that some of the discussion going on right now is substantive in nature, too.
Q Do you think these new and improved budget figures might make it more likely that such targeted tax relief ideas as a marriage tax, or alternative minimum tax adjustments could be financed?
MR. McCURRY: Targeted tax relief of the kind that I'm suggesting that the President wants to pursue is not at all like dealing with the marriage penalty, which is on an order of magnitude, something with as much fiscal consequence as the childcare initiative that the President outlined yesterday.
I think you've seen what the President's priorities are as we begin to address them. You'll see more as the President's budget message is unveiled. I think first and foremost the President wants to stress fiscal discipline.
He is not likely to be on the side of those who want to take whatever surplus projections develop, and use them and spend them in a way that is not consistent with the goals that he constantly articulates: maintaining fiscal discipline; maintaining prudent investments in the American people; and maintaining our commitments to a strong and growing economy.
Q He said he wasn't necessarily opposed to the philosophy of correcting that, but you just have to have money to pay for it.
MR. McCURRY: You've also heard a variety of people in the Administration stress the costs that would be involved with that measure. There are a number of things that we have done to provide tax relief to the American families. Go back and look at the EITC, the child tax credit which is not kicking in for millions of American families. We have taken substantial steps to provide tax relief to American families, especially lower income working families. And I think the President thinks that targeted approach has been very proper and very useful.
Q Does the President think the pressure to burst the bonds of fiscal discipline is coming from the Republicans or the Democrats, or does he think it comes from both sides, from both parties equally?
MR. McCURRY: I think the President has been greatly encouraged that members of his party in Congress have been supportive of the approach that he has been talking about in this new year, which is to target the use of federal resources in a prudent manner and avoiding any discussions of actions that would go right back to the days of the 1980s when we were blowing holes in the deficit on a year-by-year basis.
Q And he doesn't think the Republicans are fiscally disciplined anymore?
MR. McCURRY: I think he believes -- it is manifestly obviously to you -- that the Republicans are of a very mixed mind on most issues. They don't seem to have one approach. They have different views within their caucus.
I think the President's interest is in trying to work in a bipartisan fashion to advance the kind of agenda he has begun to lay out this year.
Q When do you guys have to leave for New York?
MR. McCURRY: Terry, when are you leaving for New York? We need to wrap soon. They are leaving at Andrews pretty soon, so I don't want to cheat them.
Q What time did the meeting start, 9:30?
MR. McCURRY: The President walked in the room probably around 9:20. It usually takes quite some time for the meeting to begin because he circles the room, so they probably began somewhere around 9:30.
Q Mike, let me try one more on Iran. You said in response to Wolf's question that there had been no decision on lifting visa restrictions. Are you now going to consider that?
MR. McCURRY: In the aftermath of President Khatemi's interview last night, any issues like that will be examined by the President's foreign policy advisors. It's way too soon to speculate on what if any action may results.
Q Mike, since there's no steno here, could you put out a list of the people who were in the meeting?
MR. McCURRY: Why don't I just give it to you for the record, and we are going to have a transcript of this. We are transcribing this.
Q Oh, you are? Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize that.
MR. McCURRY: Yes, we're feeding it over there. Thank you, stenos.
I'll give you the list, but make sure stenos --
Q Well, if there's a transcript, you don't have to bother. I just thought there was no steno here.
MR. McCURRY: Yes, let me read you the list, so you have it. It's Senator Lautenberg, Senator Dornan, Senator Moseley-Braun, Congressman Gephardt, Congressman Sandy Levin. I think I may have said earlier in the briefing Senator Levin; I'm sorry, I'll correct that -- it's Congressman Levin. Congressman Bonior, Fazio, Pomeroy, Dooley, Spratt, Delahunt, Davis and Tauscher.
Q Daschle, too?
MR. McCURRY: No, Senator Daschle is out of town. Congressman Rangel was expected to attend, but he's apparently fogged in in New York.
Q All Congress-- no --
MR. McCURRY: So there were 14 total.
Q The Washington Times reports this morning that basically Saddam Hussein came on top in the latest showdown with the U.S. Can you comment on that?
MR. McCURRY: Who?
Q Saddam came out on top.
Q It quotes an intelligence report.
MR. McCURRY: We don't talk about intelligence matters. But that would not be our assessment in any event. Saddam Hussein remains in a very tight box of economic sanctions and other restrictions, unanimously supported by the Security Council. It doesn't take intelligence to alert you to the fact that a principle goal of Saddam Hussein has been to achieve relaxing of current sanctions that are in place against him, imposed by the U.N. Security COuncil resolution. If anything, his actions have reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to keep those sanctions in place.
I'm not aware of the report that you're talking about, couldn't comment on it in any event. But it certainly doesn't reflect the thinking that I've heard here at the White House.
Q Mike, going back to the 15th, right after the President is going to be going to the Wall Street Project and doing the Presidential Medal of Freedom issues, will he at all deal with Dr. King in a very large observance?
MR. McCURRY: Well, it is obvious that the President wants, on Martin Luther King's actual birthday, which is January 15, to make a strong statement about minority economic empowerment, which is the purpose of his participation in the conference sponsored by Reverend Jackson. But we will have other ways, on the day of the official commemoration, that we will acknowledge Dr. King's contribution to our nation, as well.
Q Thank you.
10:11 A.M. EST