THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:18 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Hello, everybody. A couple of announcements to start. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. First, the schedule of the President and the Vice President's commencement addresses for this year. By tradition, the President always does a military academy, a private institution and a public institution. The President will deliver the commencement address May 22 at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. On June 5th, he will address commencement exercises at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On June 13th, he will speak at the Portland State University commencement exercises in Portland, Oregon.
The Vice President will give two commencement addresses, one on May 9th at South Carolina State University in Orange, South Carolina, and one on May 14th at NYU up in New York City -- New York University.
We'll have more to say on this at a future date, or else, actually, there will be a press release by the institution involved. But the President will be receiving an honorary doctor of philosophy degree from Hebrew University of Jerusalem on Monday --
Q Will he go there to get it?
MR. MCCURRY: -- on Monday, April 27th, in connection with the 50th anniversary of celebrations for the state of Israel. That will be here at the White House. And I believe that the American friends of the Hebrew University have got a press release that they're going to put out that will provide additional information on that. We've been getting some press calls on that, so I did want to confirm it.
Second, budget news.
Q Can I ask a question on this? May 22 is the referendum date in Ireland. Will the President be back then from Europe?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's current schedule would have him back here in the United States well before that date.
Q Has the idea for a stopover in Ireland after the G-7 or G-8 -- has that gone away now?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a subject of conversations that we are continuing to have with parties and with the two governments that sponsored the Stormont talks, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. I expect Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Steinberg to be over in that neighborhood beginning at the end of this week. He's going for a Sherpa's meeting for the Summit of the Eight, and while there he will take the opportunity to consult with both governments and with the parties. I expect him to drop by Belfast and Dublin as well. I don't imagine we'll make any decision about whether or not to add any stops on the President's European trip until Mr. Steinberg returns.
Q So the idea is technically still alive?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the idea is one that the President will continue to explore with his advisors and we will continue to explore with the parties and with other governments.
Q When does he come back -- Steinberg?
MR. MCCURRY: Sometime after the weekend, sometime in the middle of next week. The middle of next week.
Q But he wouldn't go unless everybody really wanted him to?
MR. MCCURRY: He would go if it would serve the interest of the peace process and the peace agreement that's been reached in Northern Ireland.
Q He does this from time to time --
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's the President. Mr. Steinberg has been -- he, Mr. Steinberg, has been over there before and has participated -- has taken the opportunity of some of the preparatory work for the Birmingham Summit of the Eight to consult with the parties.
Q What is the exact date for the European date -- 12 through 18?
MR. MCCURRY: Have we announced that for sure? The 12th through the 19th; 12th starting in Germany, going on to the Summit of the Eight over that weekend, and then concluding Monday, the 18th, with the US-EU Summit in London, given that the United Kingdom is currently the chair of the EU, holding the presidency of the EU.
Q Have you ruled out any other -- for a while, there was some -- Russia as floating around, golfing in Scotland. All those things are off the table?
MR. MCCURRY: Haven't heard of any additional stops beyond those that we've already detailed for you.
Q Just back on Northern Ireland, you heard what David Trimble had to say about it this weekend, and obviously he's an important --
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of parties that have a number of views about the utility of the President visiting either Ulster or the Republic of Ireland, and we will consult closely with the governments and the parties involved. There's clearly not a unanimous view on that subject.
Q Well, in the absence of a unanimous view, he probably wouldn't go, would he?
MR. MCCURRY: We would probably consult with the parties and make a reasoned assessment and a good decision.
Q Beyond the Berlin airlift, what kind of agenda is there in Germany?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not at a point where I can detail the itinerary for that trip.
Q Budget news?
MR. MCCURRY: Budget news.
Q Do you have the exact dates of the China trip? Do you have the exact dates of the China trip?
MR. MCCURRY: This is about the travel for the press, making their arrangements.
MR. LOCKHART: The travel channel.
MR. MCCURRY: Say again, Wolf? What was that?
Q The China trip. Do you know the dates of the China trip?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the end of June, coming back I think July 4th weekend. But that's tentative and you ought to regard that for planning purposes.
Q Some guess how long that trip is? Is it two weeks or less?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe it's two weeks long. We haven't put the dates of that out.
Q More like one?
MR. MCCURRY: More like one.
Q Is the President going to see Wang Dan?
MR. MCCURRY: Wang Dan is in the United States now and will be received by appropriate authorities at some point.
Q Have you got any budget news?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, Mr. Broder. Stunningly, over the last 12 months the federal government has run a double-digit surplus, $19.3 billion from April of last year through March of this year. Those are interesting numbers because they point to the possibility of a federal budget surplus for the current fiscal year, which would be truly a historic achievement. The deficit so far for this year is $41 billion lower than last year at this point. These numbers, provided to us courtesy of the United States Treasury Department. They will know more about the overall picture for the entire fiscal year obviously when they look at the next month's set of figures, because April being a month in which tax receipts accrue to the U.S. Treasury, they will know more at the end of this month.
Q Is this good news?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course. Good, steady, strong fiscal discipline that has kept this economy moving in the right direction and is good news in and of itself, but the fact that we might achieve a federal budget surplus for the first time in a generation is excellent news. Way excellent. Sam, way excellent.
Q What do you say to those who argue that it would even be better if the government weren't spending so much money?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would agree, because we are strongly in favor of fiscal discipline and continuing to move in the course of balanced budgets and surpluses as far as the eye can see.
Q Mike, last time you gave us a readout like this, you said, well, it's not a surplus because we haven't gotten to the end of the year yet. Is it a surplus now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if you look at the 12-month period from the end of -- from April last year through March of this year, it is a surplus. But that's a rolling calculation, and the one that's more significant is what you -- how you tote up the balance sheet at the end of the fiscal year.
Q Well, can you really have a surplus when you have a $5.5 trillion national debt?
MR. MCCURRY: You can have an annual budget surplus, of course, you can.
Q Mike, Frank Raines said last night that the annual budget surplus at the end of the fiscal year will be greater than $18 billion. Are you revising that number now in light of this number?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not in a position to revise it with any specificity, although we don't have any reason to quibble with the esteemed Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Q It doesn't change as a result of this --
MR. MCCURRY: It doesn't change as a result of this. They won't be in any good position to make estimations on the fiscal year deficit until after they look at the April numbers.
Q Mike, Speaker Gingrich said just a few minutes ago that the House will pass a tobacco bill this year and it will return any increase in tax revenue to the taxpayers in terms of tax cuts for health insurance. Is that a concept that the President could buy?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not exactly what he said, Scott. He said that they want to give a tax cut to Americans that they could use for whatever purpose they might want to use it for; presumably, some would buy health insurance, others might use it for other purposes. But the President favors --
Q But he specifically mentioned tax cuts for health insurance.
MR. MCCURRY: He said that they could spend it on anything they could spend it on, I think, which is how you -- that's the kind of tax cut they want. What we want is a good piece of comprehensive public health legislation that's now moving forward despite the isolated position that they House Republican leadership put themselves in today. I also heard Mr. DeLay say you're not going to stop kids from smoking, and we just strongly disagree. We think there's a bipartisan majority in Congress that wants to discourage kids from smoking and we know -- all the studies show us that the way you can do that is through the kind of comprehensive approach that the President has been leading and the Congress has been looking carefully at. Senator McCain is here right now meeting with Mr. Bowles and they're working on that kind of legislation. And, unfortunately, it doesn't look like the House Republicans want to be a part of that.
But we want to see a comprehensive legislation that will do the things that we know will discourage kids from taking up smoking -- increasing price, which is a very important element of discouraging tobacco use; increasing the penalties on the companies; restricting advertising; and then also developing ways in which we can discourage kids from smoking. Restricting access to tobacco products, and ultimately giving jurisdiction for the regulation of cigarettes to the Federal Drug Administration.
Q If I could follow up on that for just a moment, Mike --
Q But Mr. DeLay got downright nasty by just saying that the President wanted to stick needles in kids' arms.
MR. MCCURRY: He's -- they are in a world of hurt up there, and you could tell it today, because they elected to side with the tobacco industry and mimic the slogans of the industry that has now declared war on this comprehensive approach to protecting the public health of America's kids. And they're going to find that's a very uncomfortable position to be in. We intend to raise the cost of being in that position, as you saw today.
Q Mike, how does the rhetoric you just used help anyone get to bipartisan legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it helps us to do what the President is doing right now, to sit down and talk with Senator McCain, work on the kind of comprehensive approach that Senator McCain was able to get through the Senate committee. That's clearly the vehicle and the approach that's going to move through Congress with the kinds of strengthening elements that we favor, and with the kinds of discussions that we're having with the leaders.
If the House Republican leadership doesn't want to be a part of that, they're going to miss an opportunity to be on a truly historic side of a bipartisan bill that's going to get support.
Q How does that help with the House?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Senator McCain is not your problem; how does that help you with the House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the House Republican leadership is going to find themselves may be at odds with the majority of the members of the House. And that's certainly what we hope.
Q Well, would the President veto a bill that raised taxes on cigarettes and expanded FDA regulation?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is looking forward to signing a bill that offers the kind of comprehensive approach that I just outlined.
Q But would he veto something that was less than that?
MR. MCCURRY: We're in the position of talking the kind of bill we're going to sign, not the kind of bill that would have to be vetoed.
Q Mike, the President's bill earmarks that money. He has decided how he'd like to spend that money. Now Speaker Gingrich says a bill is possible if the money is given back to the taxpayers.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's exactly what we're going to do with it. Remember, we're going to give it back to the American people in the forms of protections for kids, the kinds of support for families, for public health programs that we've talked about for the kind of approach that we've outlined in the comprehensive tobacco legislation that's now under discussion. That is literally giving it back to the American people in the form that will help protect America's kids and will represent good public health policy.
Q So the President will not support a direct tax rebate?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not part of the McCain legislation and not part of the legislation that's moving through Congress, as I understand it.
Q Bruce Reed and others have said the President has general principles, but we're willing to have a debate about what you do with the revenue. So what has Gingrich done that puts him substantively at odds with the President? I mean, you're using all this really harsh rhetoric, but where is the actual policy difference with the President and the Speaker?
MR. MCCURRY: The Speaker didn't outline any significant policy position today. What he outlined was a political position. His political position now is in line with the tobacco industry which has announced that it's going to fight this legislation.
Q Frank Raines over the weekend said, we are open to how the money that would be raised from tobacco would be spent on tax cuts, new programs, whatever. Are you saying you're not open to the possibility --
MR. MCCURRY: No. I'm saying that that's -- that's what we're working on. What I'm saying is that the House Republican leadership adopted the posture today of being outside that discussion. They don't, apparently, want to be a part of that discussion.
Q Well, they just said they're going to pass a piece of tobacco legislation that raises taxes on tobacco --
MR. MCCURRY: They said they're going to raise price. That's not the same as a comprehensive approach to developing a public health program that will protect America's kids. We know what we need to do. The experts are clear, the studies are clear. We know what we need to do to discourage kids from smoking, and we don't adopt the attitude of Congressman DeLay and the other Republican leaders that spoke today that there's just nothing you can do about it and there's no way to stop kids from smoking. We just strongly disagree.
Q That's one of the President's principal elements, is raising price.
MR. MCCURRY: Raising price and the other things that I identified for you that go back to what the President's articulated principles are and that are reflected in the McCain bill. You wire those things together.
Q And we're asking you to say where is the difference between what Gingrich has said in terms of his principles and what the President has said.
MR. MCCURRY: The only thing I heard the Speaker say is that they would favor a price increase on tobacco. They have said nothing about curbing restrictions on access; they said nothing about advertising; they said nothing about FDA jurisdiction; they said nothing about the kind of penalties that would be imposed on the industry if they failed to meet the kind of targets --
Q He did talk about advertising -- excuse me -- he read a long column, the purpose of it, I take it, was to show it wasn't necessarily advertising, but it was Hollywood.
MR. MCCURRY: I think the purpose was to pay tribute to the First Lady who has been outspoken about some of the issues the Speaker cares about, too, which we're grateful for his acknowledgement of her leadership role.
Q -- it was Hollywood and other factors.
Q -- FDA regulation -- you're already doing it yourself, it's in the courts.
MR. MCCURRY: And the President said much the same, too.
Q Why do you need Congress for the FDA regulation, you've already done it yourselves and it's in the courts now. Why do you need Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: Because as we've always said, it's far better -- we can do it through regulation, but that clearly now would be challenged by the industry in the courts --
Q So would Congress action on this --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, an act of Congress would have a different effect and could -- the challenge to an act of Congress would be different than a challenge to federal regulations.
Q You're saying it's preferable, but it's not the only way to do this.
MR. MCCURRY: We have always said, even at the point that we were promulgating the regulation, that we would prefer to have legislation.
Q Would it be possible to work with Speaker Gingrich on this issue given the differences that you're --
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect it will be because I think that we have created more heat that he will face as a result of this issue, and I think at some point he's going to want to get back to where we believe a majority of the Congress is and he will want to be back on the side of historic legislation that protects America's kids from tobacco addiction.
Q Was there something in particular that sparked this new, more critical tone by the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the announcement by the industry that they were pulling out of any positive discussion about how to do --
Q For Gingrich.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Gingrich clearly wanted to align himself with the industry that's been so supportive of so many of his members.
Q No, it's you want to align him with the industry. He has said he is going to pass a tough teen smoking bill --
MR. MCCURRY: You look at what the industry representatives have been saying the last couple of days and put that next to what the Speaker has been saying and you won't see much difference in what they're saying.
Q But the industry opposes the stripped-down House bill. If what you're saying is correct, they would be supporting --
MR. MCCURRY: The industry opposes the McCain legislation which is the vehicle now moving through Congress which is the same legislation that the Speaker and others announced their strong opposition to today.
Q They also opposed the notion that DeLay and Archer have come up with, the stripped-down --
MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge, they've not been very clear about what exactly they want to do other than to say they want to increase price.
Q One thing some Republicans say is that raising the price of cigarettes amounts to a regressive tax because low-income people are disproportionately likely to smoke, and that's one reason some Republicans say you need to give some tax break if you're going to raise the price of cigarettes. Does the White House think there's some merit in that argument?
MR. MCCURRY: There may be some economic merit to that argument, but the benefits of the legislation and the comprehensive approach that would be structured as a result would be progressive. The flip side would be true because the benefits then would accrue to those who would otherwise begin to smoke.
Q Mike, how many times have we heard the President get up and say, look, Washington needs to get passed the sort of polluted environment of debate and people need to have policy arguments rather than questioning each other's motives, and yet just because the Speaker has a somewhat different emphasis --
MR. MCCURRY: We're not questioning his motive.
Q The Vice President called him Joe Camel --
MR. MCCURRY: I think there was strong reaction to what the Speaker said last night and then again repeated today, which is that Joe Camel is not part of the problem, it is part of the problem. Journal of the American Medical Association just made it clear that of all the factors that encourage kids to smoke, the kind of concentrated advertising that we've seen from the industry has been the single most significant factor in encouraging young people to smoke.
Q That's why Mr. Gingrich read the First Lady's column.
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Gingrich is just wrong about that.
Q I mean, that's why he read the column, apparently, to try to say that, look, here is the First Lady even saying Hollywood's influence is a very large part of it.
MR. MCCURRY: Hollywood clearly is an influence, but of all of the influences that lead young people to smoke, as the Journal just reported, advertising is the single most important -- 34 percent of kids who take up smoking cite advertising like the Joe Camel advertising as being one of the inducements that led them to take up the habit.
Q Mike, the Speaker has said today, no liability protection for the tobacco companies. Is that where the President is?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no change in our view on that, and you've heard it often.
Q So you support the cap in the McCain bill, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: We've said that we prefer legislation that does not address any caps on liability, but if they were included as part of a comprehensive approach, we would take a look at those provisions as part of a comprehensive approach. And if it met our public health objectives, we surely would want -- the McCain legislation, with the caps they have, and we've said some things specifically about those caps, is not necessarily a deal-breaker.
Q The President addressed a little bit about the fact that cigar smoking -- but don't you think still even to have a cigar in his mouth and chew it sends a negative message to everyone?
MR. MCCURRY: He acknowledged as much earlier today and that's why he tries not to do it in public. (Laughter.)
Q Tries not to do it in public, right.
Q When was the last time we saw him --
MR. MCCURRY: If any of you want to talk to Senator McCain, you can -- I think that would be more newsworthy than what you're going to get here.
Q What about the Republican argument that the plan would blow up the bureaucracy -- lead a return to big government?
MR. MCCURRY: That's just not true. I've outlined for you that this is not about big government, it's about smart government. It's about the federal -- Food and Drug Administration having the authority to regulate cigarettes as a delivery device for the addictive drug nicotine, it's about putting penalties on the industry for past practices and to create opportunities to correct those practices in the future by protecting kids, it's about restricting access to products, it's about restricting the kind of advertising that leads kids to take up this habit. That's not big government, that's just smart, sensible protections for the public health. And we believe in government that protects public health.
Q Mike, getting back to my original question, is the President possibly thinking about even stopping --
MR. MCCURRY: He talks about that with his family from time to time, yes.
Q Why did McCain come in? Was he trying to coordinate strategy?
MR. MCCURRY: We will be working throughout this week with those who are advancing the legislative prospects of a settlement on the Hill, and Senator McCain has been a leader in that effort, having achieved passage in the committee of his bill. And we will work with others who are interested in seeing if we can't get a comprehensive approach adopted by Congress.
Q Mike, do you see any realistic chance of this education infrastructure bill getting passed?
MR. MCCURRY: It doesn't -- we certainly hope so and we will continue to press the case for it, and we think there is strong public support for the measure. It's pretty clear what the vote count looks like in the Senate, but we don't necessarily think that's the end of the story. I think this is an issue upon which the American public feels strongly, they're interested in the quality of schools and the type of facilities that are available for young people to learn in, and we think there will be strong public support and we can build strong public support for the kind of approach that Democrats are going to be fighting for in the Senate today.
If it takes arguing this in the election in order to build the sufficient public support to pass these kinds of improvements for our schools, we would welcome that debate.
Q In the leadership meeting today, did the President have any kind of outlook on what is possible within the next five weeks?
MR. MCCURRY: They did. They had, in addition to education, which you heard them discuss, they talked about the prospects for the supplemental appropriations bill, which is so necessary to help those who have been victims of some of the natural disasters that have occurred recently. They talked about the highway bill, they talked about the prospects for expansion of NATO, they talked generally about the budget.
Q Will any of these go through?
MR. MCCURRY: We think many of them will. We certainly hope all -- in some fashion, we hope all of them can and all of them should, and many of them we think will. We talked about the tobacco bill, we talked about the Patient Bill of Rights, we talked about a minimum wage increase, talked about child care, talked about getting a discharge petition in the House for campaign finance reform, so there was good, productive discussion that shows you the range of opportunities that are there if Congress would just get on with its business and start addressing some of these issues.
Q Will all these be issues in the November election?
MR. MCCURRY: We would prefer to see them as legislation that we sign down here with representatives of both parties.
Q Did anything come out of the meeting this morning that you mentioned where the highway bill is going to be discussed, and what are Clinton's biggest problems?
MR. MCCURRY: The biggest problems, I mean, I'd refer you to our most recent statement of administration policy from the beginning of April because it outlined in substantive detail all of our concerns. But the principal concerns are those that the President identified that the overall price tag for that bill, which would crowd out necessary investments in other kinds of infrastructure. The President made a good point today -- investing in schools and campuses, that's a form of infrastructure as well, important to learning and that has got -- it's enormously important, both for economic reasons and for just the simple value of having better environments for kids to learn in. And that's an infrastructure investment itself. And you crowd out some of that if you pour all of the money into concrete for highways.
They talked about some of the specific restrictions in the bills and the earmarking, but there's clearly going to have to be a lot more work done on that bill. And the President cited, of course, the failure to act on the DUI provision that we think should be a substantial feature of a highway bill.
Q Mike, was there any discussion of the fact that Congress keeps referring to the fact that we don't have time to do that this year, we don't have time to -- they're going out of there --- only meeting between Tuesday afternoon and Thursday, and then they just go home and vacation for them every week.
MR. MCCURRY: Sarah, we have made the point that they have a limited quantity of time that they will be at work and that's why they need to get on with business and start passing some of these.
Q They'd have a lot more time at work if they would do it.
MR. MCCURRY: We're reluctant to be overly critical of members who want to be back in their districts listening to their citizens, because we think they will get a good dose of public opinion, which is in favor of many of these things that we've talked about. We just want them to come back here and work when they are working on passing some of this very critical legislation.
Q Is that one reason why the President is traveling so much, he wants to make this budget come from the people on the Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in part, we want to build support from the President's priorities and initiatives, but also because it's a good way to remind people what the costs are of not acting on some of this legislation.
Q The U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva today projected a U.S. proposal to maintain special scrutiny on Cuba. Does the White House plan to somehow appeal that decision or in any way push for more scrutiny?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are obviously disappointed with the outcome of today's vote, and we continue to believe that it's important to promote respect for human rights for all the people of Cuba. And we're going to continue our efforts to draw attention to the shortcomings of the Castro regime in Cuba and the denial of fundamental freedoms and basic human rights to the citizens of Cuba. And we're also going to continue to work in the international community to build pressure on the Cuban regime so that they will consider changing their policies and their practices. And the specific vote, while we regret the outcome, we will have to live with, and we'll see what opportunities arise in the international community and in international discussions of human rights issues to advance our concerns.
Q How strongly does the White House feel about allowing Secret Service agents and officers to testify if subpoenaed in connection with Ken Starr's investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as the one who is protected. along with his family, believes that is an issue that ought to be dealt with by the Secret Service, by the Treasury Department, with the Justice Department acting as the attorney for the Secret Service. We take no position on that issue.
Q But he is the one who is most involved and most concerned, it would seem to a lot of people, with the outcome of that.
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes for his sake and for the sake of future Presidents that this ought to be dealt with by the Treasury Department, the Secret Service, and argued by the Justice Department. And we've taken no position whatsoever on the matter.
Q But all those people work for him.
MR. MCCURRY: We've taken no position on the matter, not been part of the discussions that the Treasury Department has had with the Justice Department about the case that they will take.
Q -- trust the Secret Service and the people who protect him?
MR. MCCURRY: He believes that he is very well protected, and he has enormous respect for the law enforcement officers, the agents, and the uniformed division that do an excellent job protecting him and his family.
Q Yes, but would he want to be spied on by people protecting him?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President, whatever his views on that issue, I think he thinks it's appropriate for that issue to be dealt with by the Justice Department acting on behalf of the Treasury Department.
Q Mike, are you saying that only career Secret Service and career Treasury Department officials are making this decision and not political appointees of the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know who is making the decisions, on what case -- what positions they are arguing in court. It's my understanding from the Counsel's Office here that no one here has participated in the deliberation, nor have we seen the documents that have been filed under seal in court.
Q Congressman Archer today has sent a letter to Clinton asking that he support this idea of a bipartisan Social Security commission that his committee is going to vote on tomorrow. Do you have a response?
MR. MCCURRY: My response is already underway. We are hosting, through the efforts being made by the AARP and the Concord Coalition, a vibrant an good and healthy national debate on the future of Social Security. And that, I think, is a place where we will arrive at consensus on how to deal with long-term issues.
By the way, you should note that the Medicare actuary has announced today that because of some of the changes we've made in the structure of the Medicare program, the long-term actuarial deficit for the Medicare program is now half of what it was as a result of the changes made in the program and is part of the Balanced Budget Act.
Q Archer's office says that the President's process is an effort to make a partisan issue out of Social Security and that setting up this bipartisan commission is an effort to make it truly bipartisan.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the President's goal -- as it was clear from the recent forum -- is to create a bipartisan national consensus on how to proceed, and he has done everything he can to avoid making this a partisan discussion.
Q Mike, the President's Justice Department has filed a brief in the Burlington Industries case that says that there needn't be a show of tangible job detriment to prove sex harassment, a position that seems to be the opposite of that taken by the President's own lawyer in the Paula Jones case. Can you tell us whether the President supports the brief filed by the Solicitor General?
MR. MCCURRY: Your question is inaccurate. The action related to the President is immaterial because there is no consistency in the fact patterns in the two cases. But the Solicitor General has taken those views. I'm not aware that there was any discussion with the White House prior to the filing in that case, but I'm not aware that there is any opposition to the filing made by the Justice Department.
Q Just to follow up on Susan, does the White House have any problem with what Archer is doing?
MR. MCCURRY: With?
Q The commission, setting up the commission.
MR. MCCURRY: He has set up that one be set up, but I think that it's far more useful to proceed with the kind of conversation the President has now generated and to proceed with the three remaining national forums we have, with the White House conference on Social Security that will occur later this year. That's the venue in which we believe we're going to arrive at long-term solutions for Social Security.
Q Couldn't you have both of those, Mike? If you had a commission, you'd have to stop those other things
MR. MCCURRY: No, but it's clear that you're going to get a lot farther down the road -- the President believes we'll get a lot farther down the road if we pursue some of the discussions that we already have underway.
Q Mike, it's been reported that two lawyers representing the victims of PanAm 103 have reached agreement with lawyers representing the two Libyans accused of the bombing, to set up a mechanism by which a Scottish judge using Scottish law would try the two of them in the Netherlands. Is that a kind of system that would be acceptable to the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: It would not be. The facts remain for us unchanged that Libya is obliged under Security Council resolutions to deliver the two Lockerbie suspects for trial in either the United States or the United Kingdom. The British family member who visited Libya is certainly entitled to his views, but our understanding is that they are not shared by the overwhelming majority of PanAm 103 family members, who themselves believe it's very important to follow the requirements of the relevant U.N. Security Council resolution.
The Security Council reaffirmed as recently as March 6 that Libya must surrender those two suspects to either U.S. or U.K. authorities for trial and pay the appropriate compensation and renounce and cease its support for international terrorism. Those have been our views, those will remain our views, and they are unchanged.
Q What's the President going to do at Harper's Ferry?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to celebrate the great out-of-doors and the significant contribution made by the environmental movement to the protection of this planet in the years since the original Earth Day, the anniversary of which is celebrated tomorrow in Harper's Ferry.
Q Does he have any specific things he's going to propose or talk about?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got -- there will be a shred of news associated with his journey to the great outdoors tomorrow.
Q Does it have to do with clean water or --
MR. MCCURRY: It would have to do with whatever they talk about tomorrow.
Q Mike, can you confirm a report that the President is considering holding a full-dress news conference in the next couple weeks?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q It's true?
MR. MCCURRY: Do I know whether it will happen or not? I don't.
Q Was your announcement about Medicare meant to say that the date by which Medicare goes into the red is now pushed back?
MR. MCCURRY: No. It means that the way in which they calculate the actuarial deficit, the rate that they use related to the payroll tax has been cut in half. The actuarial deficit is based on a projection of the payroll tax that's needed to pay for Medicare benefits. In this case, the actuarial deficit is projected to decline from 4.32 percent of taxable payroll to 2.24 percent.
Q But still runs out of money in --
MR. MCCURRY: That's over 75 years. No, this is not a short-term -- this is the actuarial deficit rate that is used to calculate the long-term cost of the program over 75-year actuarial deficit for Medicare.
Q At the press conference the President is considering, would he answer questions about the Monica Lewinsky --
MR. MCCURRY: He would no doubt be asked them, but I doubt he would answer them much beyond what he's already said.
Q Mike, I was a little unclear. In terms of that Justice Department brief in the Burlington case -- which says you needn't prove tangible job detriment to prove sex harassment -- does he support that position? You said, no objection, but that's not the same as supporting it.
MR. MCCURRY: We didn't participate in the deliberations that led the Solicitor to file that opinion, but there is no objection to it, and I haven't talked to the President personally about whether he is personally supportive of it. And I'd want to do that, given his interest in constitutional law.
Q Could you do that then, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll see if he has anything he wants to pass on.
Q General Abacha is apparently running unopposed in Nigeria in the fall. Does that represent a --
MR. MCCURRY: He's not even running. He's asking for a referendum, and that in no way constitutes a fair, open, and democratic election. And the United States government strongly objects to that form and is disappointed by the lack of democratic procedures in Nigeria.
Q Is an oil embargo going to be considered if he goes ahead with this plan?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in a position to speculate on that.
Q What difference would you say it made that the President did not have fast track authority last week in Chile?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that no doubt was addressed on the trip. I think it would have been better to have been in a position with the other leaders of the democratic nations of the hemisphere to have advanced that. But we've made it clear that we're going to continue to press for free and open trade, and that we can continue to promote free and open trade agreements, even absent fast track authority.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:54 P.M. EDT