THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: In the interest of abbreviation, give me your topics. What do you want to talk about today?
Q Are you going to release the video of the President's message to the World Cup Soccer --
MR. MCCURRY: We're going to try to do that. What else do you want to talk about. China. What else?
Q Will you try to do that today?
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe not today. What else have you got? (Laughter.)
Q I'm working for French Television --
MR. MCCURRY: Excellent. We'll talk about that, too. What else? (Laughter.)
Q The Iran situation -- apparently, the French Prime Minister spoke to the President about Iran --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Let me do a readout on the excellent meeting the President had today with the Prime Minister of France. This was the first opportunity President Clinton had to meet and exchange views with Prime Minister Jospin. They began immediately by going off the program and off the schedule because the President and Mrs. Clinton had the opportunity to host Prime Minister and Mrs. Jospin for coffee, and that extended into a long conversation, both couples clearly enjoying each other's company. The President conducted one of his patented tours of the White House, which always is an opportunity for him to demonstrate his love of the mansion and its history. And the Prime Minister seemed genuinely fascinated by that, or at least he put up a good pretense of doing that.
Q But what did they discuss about Iran?
Q Why won't you answer her question?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me -- I'm coming to that. I know you must be on deadline. (Laughter.) They discussed a range of issues -- I'm getting there -- they exchanged views on Iran. And the Prime Minister noted the importance of the speech given by Secretary Albright, noted the importance of the shift of tone of some statements that have been coming from Tehran.
The President shared the thinking of the United States government as it was articulated by the Secretary of State in her remarks last night. They agreed they would remain in close contact with each other as we see what develops from the new tone that has emanated on some issues from Tehran.
That said, the importance of the sanctions that are still in place, the U.S. law that applies, is important to the United States government. Our thinking on that does not change, as the Secretary indicated last night, but the importance of thinking about -- and thinking constructively about -- how this relationship might improve and the road map that might be available to demarcate that new pathway is something that clearly was of interest to the French Prime Minister, and they had a healthy exchange of views.
Other subjects they discussed -- the situation in the Asia economy, a fascinating discussion about globalization and its impact on domestic economies. There's a longstanding and vibrant exchange of views between France and the United States about the effects of globalization on our respective economies. And the President, having had numerous conversations with President Chirac on that topic, very much appreciated the opportunity to hear the Prime Minister's thinking and to learn more about his views of how global economies can balance the need for job creation with the provision of benefits that improve the quality of life for the citizens of these global economies.
Q And did the Prime Minister suggest that the road might be smoother if there were some way for the U.S. to ease the sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that they talked specifically about -- I didn't have anything reported to me that said that the Prime Minister gave advice to the President on how the United States ought to implement U.S. law. But certainly, the respective views of both countries about how to respond to the tone of President Khatami's regime and to acknowledge the shift in thinking that appears to be behind some of the more recent statements from Tehran is important to both the United States and to France. And that point was acknowledged by both.
Q Was there particular interest of what will happen on Sunday between the United States and Iran, this soccer game? Everyone is talking about that in France.
MR. MCCURRY: It is perhaps interesting, if not fortuitous, that the United States and Iran have an opportunity to compete in a healthy way that will be a source of joy for the people of both nations, as opposed to the kind of competition that is deadly and that has been troubling to this relationship. And I think the President recognizes that that athletic competition between the two countries is an opportunity to reflect on the different relationships that could exist between our people, something that President Khatami has himself acknowledged.
Hope I got it in under your deadline.
Q The Prime Minister outside said he supported the U.S. action on the yen. But in their discussions, did he have any suggestions of what Europe or France could do to help support the yen?
MR. MCCURRY: They discussed the mutual interests the European Union and France in particular have in a stronger performance by the Asian regional economies. I don't know that they necessarily agreed to any particular course of action; they did discuss the steps taken yesterday by the United States and the government of Japan. They talked generally about the Japanese economy and the importance now of Prime Minister Hashimoto's government moving forward with the structural reforms that have been placed before the Japanese people.
I think both the Prime Minister and the President agreed that that lent the opportunity for stabilization and future growth in the Japanese economy, which would be very important to all the economies of Asia and ultimately to all the economies of the industrialized world.
They also discussed Kosovo, obviously a significant amount of time on the work that the United States and France has done together in the Balkans, in Bosnia, and the work that we are now doing through our planning facilities at NATO on the question of NATO. On Kosovo, they discussed U.S.-European Union issues more broadly. And that was about it.
Q Will the President, in his greeting during the World Cup, will he announce another gesture towards Iran, like, say, expansion of cultural exchanges or --
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary of State in her remarks last night identified the specific concrete steps that we have taken and are taking. The speech itself is a significant gesture by the United States government, and the President reiterated that today. And we just have to see what kind of change of thinking and behavior that engenders in Tehran.
Q What specific steps is the President going to take now on tobacco?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first, there's been action today in Congress, as you know, and the President is supportive of the efforts the Democrats are making to resuscitate this bill. There's been some discussion, as the President mentioned earlier today, of creating some mechanical device to try to, we hope, resuscitate a legislation that is equal to, if not tougher, than the McCain bill itself. There's been some discussion of a task force of maybe four-on-four, or eight-on-eight, or twenty-on-twenty, or whatever the formula ends up being, that would try to breath new life into the McCain bill or an effort to pass legislation like that.
There have been discussions on the House side about ways in which we can now maybe move forward with the legislative vehicles that are similar to the McCain approach that have been pending action in the House. And, if necessary, the utility of trying to discharge some of that legislation, given the strong majority sentiment in both parties for this bill, is something that we think we should try to build on.
Q But what does the President think about the Republican leadership in the House -- discussions of a slimmed-down bill?
MR. MCCURRY: There is no such thing as a slimmed-down bill that protects kids from tobacco smoking. We know that you need to get the kind of price effect that deters smoking that was contained in the McCain bill, that's also in the Hansen -- what's the other bill -- Meehan bill. In short, you need to have that per-pack price increase of at least $1.10 -- I think the relevant measure in the House is $1.50 per-pack increase over three years -- that deters smoking, that reduces tobacco use by kids. That's a fundamental premise of the way in which you curb youth smoking, is to raise the price per pack of cigarettes.
There is no way you slim that down. And the Republicans are misleading the American people by saying that's a tax increase; it's not. It's public health policy. It is designed to deter smoking by raising the price, which is what the experts say is the most effective way of curbing tobacco use.
It then also brings on a revenue stream that can do the other things that puts in place the public health policies that will work to further curb tobacco use by kids and to deal with the companies that refuse to make the progress in curbing youth smoking that is part of the fundamental policy that we're trying to put in place.
Q Does that mean he'd reject a bill that didn't include a $1.10 increase?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no such thing as a slimmed-down bill. And the President and our allies in Congress who are working on this effort will make that abundantly clear in coming days, and will make it abundantly clear that those who are not in favor of a legitimate public health effort to protect America's kids are the allies of big tobacco and will be portrayed as such in the coming months.
Q How can you say it's not a tax increase, Mike? It's by definition a tax increase.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not by definition a tax increase. It's a price increase, first and foremost, and it generates revenue that is then used for other purposes.
Q It's an additional tax put on the price of a pack of cigarettes, though.
MR. MCCURRY: You can invoke the price increase in a lot of different ways and not necessarily through an excise tax.
Q When you say the bill will be portrayed as such in the coming months, how does the White House think that will play out? How does the President want to portray them as in the pockets of big tobacco --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that the Vice President did a good job today of countering what has been the misleading advertising that the industry bought and paid for. And in the coming months, as this debate -- if we can't get the legislation, to move the legislation, which would be -- first and foremost would be our objective -- if that can't happen, the venue for this debate then shifts to individual candidates who are making the case to voters who have to make a choice. And the odds are much more equal then when you're not facing a determined special interest that's willing to spend millions and millions of dollars to mislead, because then you have another side to the argument that voters can here.
Q Why do you have another side then and not now?
MR. MCCURRY: Because there's no one that had $40 million to counter the unprecedented advertising that was done by big tobacco.
Q How do you answer the argument, Mike, that the $1.10 increase would lead to a black market on cigarettes?
MR. MCCURRY: That has been answered over and over again. There were multiple hearings on that and it was specifically and substantively refuted by the research and the presentations make in the testimony provided by the Treasury Department. It couldn't have been clearer. There was no credible argument that you could not curb any illegitimate market effects that would come about because of the price increase.
Q Will the President make it a major bully pulpit issue? Will he target specific races where he thinks he can make a difference?
MR. MCCURRY: The President made very clear yesterday here that he would.
Q Your Ambassador, Richard Holbrooke, on behalf of President Clinton will be in Athens Monday -- do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything on his speech other than it was a previously scheduled arrangement. It will certainly be an opportunity for him to say some things that will reflect upon the work that he did on the Cyprus issue as he begins to think about transferring that portfolio to someone else.
Obviously, the significant work that Ambassador Holbrooke did to try to bring both sides together on the question of Cyprus is something that we will want to build on in coming months. We have not found the right formula yet to move forward in these negotiations, but the importance of doing so is something that we recognize, and I'm sure that Ambassador Holbrooke will reiterate that when he speaks.
Q In the last 24 hours, Turkish forces brutally -- are still violating the air space -- from Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, despite the existence of -- agreement -- the White House initiated via NATO. Any comment?
MR. MCCURRY: We are well aware of the concerns of both the government of Turkey and the government of Greece, the respective parties on Cyprus. We have, as we always do, encouraged both governments to limit the tensions and limit actions that the other side will see as provocations. We believe that these two close allies of ours that we work together in the context of our work together in NATO, can find ways in which they cooperate, work together to limit the tensions in the Aegean, and that we have always stressed that without taking sides in the respective debates between the two parties.
Q And the last one -- for the first time, I have to emphasize -- is talking today for contested islands in the Aegean Sea to be seized by Greece and Turkey. Since President Clinton proposed that only -- islands should be addressed with the -- could you please comment on this new dimension of contested islands in the Aegean?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that there is a new dimension. I think our thinking on those contested islands remains as it has been -- that is one that ought to be resolved in mediation and upon agreement between the two parties in action before the ICJ.
Q A lot of the tobacco bill money was supposed to be reserved -- the administration said it was set aside for child care, the new child care initiative, and also for new teachers. But when the President was asked and Erskine Bowles was asked about it, they seemed to divert the subject to another issue. Is there a sense of denial that that money is not around now, or what are the contingency plans --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no. I mean, the President's child care initiative, if I'm not mistaken, about one-third of the funding for the child care initiative came from the proceeds of the tobacco bill. And that money will not be there if we don't pass the bill, so we have to either adjust the initiative or find other sources of revenue. We acknowledged that. And in the President's broad-based education initiative, the class size reduction element was one that had -- in some ways was dependent on funding from the tobacco legislation. But many other aspects of the education initiative were financed through other aspects of the budget.
Now, all of the President's domestic agenda -- not only child care, education, health care, community empowerment, the things that we'll be fighting for -- shift, the action shifts now to the appropriations process and to the budget fights that we anticipate we'll be in for quite some time now. And on the two areas that depended on some way on tobacco funding, which is one-third of the funding from the child care initiative and the class size reduction proposal that the President made -- we'll have to think about other ways to find a financing mechanism for that. But it's not insurmountable and it won't be impossible for us to find ways in which we can finance that.
But, that said, there clearly will be vigorous debate in the Congress over those initiatives. There already has been vigorous debate.
Q Is someone here working on how to restructure those initiatives, or are you going to leave it up to the appropriating committees to just find the revenue or cut the program?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are working already on how we address the financing issue. We're not, by any means, suggesting that we don't think we're going to have some other opportunities to pass a legislative vehicle on tobacco. We think that, particularly if they begin moving in the direction of a discharge in the House, there's going to be significant political pressure to bear on those who have now aligned themselves with big tobacco to block this legislation.
They may have thought that they won a victory, but that might be a short-sighted point of view. They haven't faced the anger of an American public that had expected this Congress to, at the very least, protect children from tobacco addiction. And they will find very quickly, we believe, an American public that will be asking questions about why they haven't done that simple, basic, necessary thing to protect children.
Q Do you have any indication that the American public is reacting in any way?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm sure, antidotally, but I'm sure in coming days there will be people who will say, well, wait a minute, why are we not protecting kids, and to the degree that in coming months that people hear another side of this argument, I think there will be a considerable shift in public opinion.
Q The White House has reportedly signed off on legislation -- product liability legislation introduced by Rockefeller and Gorton that would cap punitive damages on small businesses. Two questions. One is, what's the justification, that is, do small businesses commit more crimes than big businesses?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have enough on that legislation to answer the question. And I'll take it and answer it tomorrow.
Q In the Iran framework, is there any unfinished business on the hostage taking incident of nearly 20 years ago, say, with respect to compensation for those who were taken hostage?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there is. I think there are unpaid claims that are still -- arise, and the asset seizure still has created a pool of money that has not been distributed, if I'm not mistaken. But the State Department and Justice Department can look into that. I recall having, from time to time, dealt with that issue when I was at State.
Q The administration's framework wouldn't look to give that up in any way as part of an agreement?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, no. We are -- let's take a step back and think about the Secretary's speech in the proper context. She is, on behalf of the administration and the President, acknowledging that there have been some important shifts of tone in some things that are said by the government of Iran. I would not leap to a conclusion that that can lead to wholesale changes in U.S. policy. We need to see how things develop. We need to see what things follow from the kinds of remarks the Secretary has made and what steps and gestures might be forthcoming from the government of Iran. But let's not rush to judgment that wholesale changes in our relations can occur. What the Secretary suggested is there a pathway to a brighter future in this relationship and a way in which we can develop the right road map that may include things like that down the way. But there's a lot of change that will have to occur before we get to that point.
Q With regard to China, with the President trip, can you say approximately how many people will be accompanying him on this trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Too many, but I can't give you an exact number.
Q More than the Africa trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably not, given the gigantic size of that delegation. It's a smaller group, but I don't have a delegation list yet.
Q What was the gigantic size of that delegation?
MR. MCCURRY: It was 100 plus -- right -- 100 something. MR. LOCKHART: -- everyone including security, about 600 or 700
including the press.
MR. MCCURRY: There were a lot of people. (Laughter.)
Q I don't know if you did this or not -- reaction to The New York Times story about the sale of this satellite.
MR. MCCURRY: React to what?
Q I mean, are you guys --
MR. MCCURRY: What does that story say? That story certainly doesn't say anything that's in the headline or the lead once you read it to the end. It's ridiculous.
Q Well, are you rethinking the sale --
MR. MCCURRY: No. In fact, the story, when you read the story, doesn't even say that. It's either sloppy editing or sloppy writing. What it says is -- first of all, let me -- a caveat here. I am prohibited from discussing company proprietary information, by law. Now, I can say that the company in this article indicated that they had secured a license waiver two years ago. If you read all the way to the end of that long article, you sort of say, well, they suddenly decided that, because of changes in technology, they might have an interest in launching a different satellite, and they then had to come back and apply for a new license. And exactly as the policy is supposed to, that allows the State Department, the Pentagon, and other affected agencies to review the application, exactly the way it's supposed to, because we put that mechanism in place. So the process is working exactly as it's supposed to. So where is the front page news there? I do not know.
Q Where are we in the process now?
MR. MCCURRY: They're reviewing the application. It hadn't been decided, as far as I know.
Q Any idea when it might be decided?
Q Mike, is the President --
MR. MCCURRY: They're reviewing the application that the company has indicated has been filed. That's the way I should say that.
Q Do you have any idea when that might be decided?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't tell you.
Q Why aren't you allowed to say --
MR. MCCURRY: Because proprietary information -- market proprietary information goes into these waiver applications, so you're not supposed to acknowledge them. The companies can say when they've done that, but it's commercial-sensitive information that's protected through the regulatory process.
Q Mike, is the list still open of the people the President is going to meet while in China -- some of those dissident groups?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any change from what Mr. Berger said yesterday on that.
Q Mike, is the President looking at what the Race Advisory Board is saying about possibly establishing a Council on Race once September 30th comes around, like he has the Councils of Fitness and Economic Advisors?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will look for ways to build on the work the Advisory Board has done. There will be a lot of consideration in the weeks ahead of the way in which the Advisory Board wraps up its work, and that thinking will then go into the final report the President will develop between now and the end of the year. I don't want to speculate on what direction the initiative might take.
Q But is that feasible at all? Is it feasible?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a lot of different ideas under consideration.
Q Did you foresee some potential possibilities for working cooperation with China in terms of dealing with the current financial crisis, and do you care to comment about the Chinese -- are not evaluating the RMB, which is the Chinese currency?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, the last part of that question?
Q Would you care to comment about the Chinese insistence on not devaluating the Chinese RMB, of what role it has played in the --
MR. MCCURRY: The President himself has addressed the question of Chinese decision-making on its own currency. He has seen as a positive development that the Chinese government has not devalued currency, because that has lent more stability to the Asian regional economy as it weathers this current crisis.
Will the President and other officials, in preparation for the summit meeting in China, discuss the Asian regional economy general and the steps that have been taken to restore stability and health to Asian economies? Yes, of course. That's a significant part of the bilateral dialogue we have with the People's Republic and I'm certain that subject will arise.
Q Mike, did Japan pledge to take any specific steps in return for U.S. support of their proposals? Did they make any kind of limit on tax cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States government and the Japanese government work together with respect to currency questions, and the decision-making of the United States government was done in the context of decisions that Prime Minister Hashimoto outlined in some substantive detail in his public statement yesterday. Beyond that, I'm not going to characterize the private conversations that have occurred between our officials and their officials.
Q Mike, how concerned is the President by the General Motors strike? Is there anything he can do about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is quite concerned. We have been monitoring closely, through the Labor Department, the strike. We've been in contact with both sides. Secretary Herman has been getting almost constant information from her staff, and she's related a lot of that here to the White House so that we understand better what the issues are in the strike and what the economic impact could foreseeably be.
Q Mike, I thought you indicated a couple weeks ago that it was a matter of public record when a satellite waiver was granted. And also, what is the --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, when it's granted. In fact, that's another thing wrong about that story, is it said that we quietly approved this thing. It was publicly noticed when the waiver was granted two years ago. When it's under consideration, it is considered market sensitive, and the application process itself, when it's under review, is something that's not supposed to be discussed publicly.
Q If it's decided on the strike that there is considerable economic impact, is there something the President can do down the line?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate about the number of things that Presidents can do when there are strikes that have national economic impact, but I will refer you to the Labor Department, which has been monitoring the strike.
Q What is the President's attitude towards the strikers? Because the issue they're striking over is out-sourcing, which is a product of globalization, which is his economic policy.
MR. MCCURRY: The President's attitude is that it is proper for the Labor Department to be monitoring.
Q When the President was unable to get comprehensive health care reform, he reluctantly agreed to take an incremental approach. Why can't he do the same for tobacco legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we think there still is a strong possibility that this Congress will come to its senses and want to find a way to pass comprehensive legislation.
Q But why is $1.10 per pack a magic number?
MR. MCCURRY: Because that's the minimum price increase that public health experts indicate will produce the targeted reduction in youth smoking that is the public health goal that the President wants to achieve.
Q Mike, could you talk more broadly about, in light of tobacco, where you see the domestic agenda that the President had laid out at the start of the year?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q Do you see all these things now to be a matter of public conflict, or is there still some possibility of --
MR. MCCURRY: I said earlier that we've got a work to do now. The tobacco legislation was important, but it was by no means the only important domestic initiative that the President is pursuing. As I mentioned earlier, about one-third of his $20 billion child care initiative came through the tobacco legislation, and that was the contribution that was going to be made to the state-administered child care block grant and the menu of things that could be provided.
But the rest of the President's child care proposal, including tax credits for child care for 3 million families, doubling the number of children served by early Head Start, providing after-school for up to half a million children a year, providing new support to states for early learning programs -- that's funded through other offsets. And in the budgetary process now, the administration will go and make a case for that.
In education, as I mentioned, the class size reduction proposal was funded through tobacco funds, but his other education initiatives are funded entirely independent of tobacco legislation, including federal tax credits to build and renovate public schools, help school districts raise standards, help provide education opportunity zones in 50 high in poverty urban and rural communities, toughen accountability, end social promotions -- the guts of the President's education initiative, which we have fought for hard in this Congress in which the Republicans -- most Republicans -- so far have refused to come along. That's either going to be an issue that we make progress on in the budget context or that we fight out in the course of coming months leading up to November.
In health, we did have some funded increases in research in public health as part of the tobacco bill, but we've got additional funding increases pending in Congress through the normal appropriations process for many of the President's core initiatives in health, including the Patient's Bill of Rights; expansion of access to health care coverage for Americans aged 55 to 65; increases in the Ryan White AIDS funding; the President's initiative to reduce racial health disparities, which has been fundamentally a part of the budget proposals the President laid before Congress and that we're continuing to work hard on as the appropriations process moves forward.
In the area of community empowerment and crime, all of the President's community empowerment agenda was financed outside of the tobacco legislation, including funding for the second round of empowerment zones, increasing the low-income --
Q Sorry I asked. (Laughter.)
Q Can I ask a follow-up?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not, because I'm going to -- you wanted to know what is the domestic agenda we're pursuing and this is it, and you're going to get it in detail, John. And I'm going to keep going. Increasing the low-income housing tax credit, expanding the community development financial institutions fund. Many of these things we are getting, and are getting a lot of them.
Q Most of those things you've not talked about --
MR. MCCURRY: A lot of them are funding and a lot of them are going to be contained -- as we go through the budget fights in the appropriations process, each and every one of these things in one way or another we're going to be fighting for. We're going to get some of it, we won't get others of it. We're going to fight over some of it in November. But it's important to remind everybody of all the stuff that we have laid out that we have been working on, so that you don't leap to the temptation to declare one single legislation the be all and the end all of the work we're doing here.
Funding 50,000 housing vouchers for families moving from welfare to work, all the welfare-to-work aspects of implementing that initiative, which are still hanging in the balance. The President's crime agenda, including comprehensive juvenile crime legislation; funding for the national drug control strategy, which clearly we're going to get a lot of, if not most of; continuing to put more police on the street -- the COPS program -- all of that was independent of tobacco. All of that is serious, substantive work that we have been doing all these many months. I know that many of you have not taken the time to check in and cover any of that, but we have been working on that during all this period and will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead.
Q Are you concerned, though, if the tobacco issue is one that you --
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you for the question, John. (Laughter.)
Q -- my pen ran out. (Laughter.)
Q But if the tobacco issue is one that you think resonated most strongly with the public, and the public was most solidly on your side, and still the Republicans wouldn't deal on it, isn't there concern about the rest of the program?
MR. MCCURRY: Is there concern that we have to fight a lot of these issues tooth and nail with this Republican Congress because we have a different set of priorities? Yes. I mean, we're going to have to go back and face them and challenge them, try to mobilize public support. But, look, we did this -- remember in 1996 when early in the year everything was declared dead as a doornail, we weren't going to get anything done? And then, low and behold, as the American people began to say to Congress, you all have not done much of anything. In this Congress, what have they done? They've renamed an airport. That is the only thing that this Congress has done.
Q And a lake.
MR. MCCURRY: Meanwhile, they have now killed the opportunity to protect kids from tobacco. They've killed a significant middle-income tax cut. They've killed a significant antidrug program. And all because of a misleading campaign launched by big tobacco. They've killed campaign finance reform.
Now, is there -- is it plausible that there is a connection between the fact that they're taking $42 million so far in tobacco contributions -- no, that's not right -- $4.2 million in tobacco contributions since the beginning of 1997. They kill campaign finance reform so they can continue to line their campaign coffers with money from big tobacco and then they do big tobacco's bidding by killing this bill. Is there a cause and effect there? You know, you guys spend a lot of time asking that question about us. And when are you going to turn that heat and that inquiry on to the Republicans and what they have just done on this bill, and on the campaign finance bill?
Q Is this an election year? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It sure is. And we can get -- as I just said about 1996, we got a lot done in 1996 when the American people finally said to the Congress, you guys are a joke, get something done, work together and get something done in the interest of the American people. And we passed the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill, we passed welfare reform, we passed the minimum wage increase. And I think there's a good strong possibility that as people begin to recognize that this Congress and this Republican leadership has delivered zero to the American people, that they might want to start asking, when are you guys going to get serious about addressing the needs of the American people. And I think we'll come back to it and we'll continue to press the case. And maybe, just as it was the case in 1996, we have a lot of late summer or early fall bill signings right out here at the Rose Garden.
Q Why do you think that the dynamics of the congressional election year will serve as the same kind of --
MR. MCCURRY: Because these guys have nothing to run on. The Republican Congress have given their candidates zero to run on -- zero achievement -- unless they want to do the Ronald Reagan Airport. That's about it.
Q So you'd be willing to hurt Democratic chances with a lot of late summer-early fall bill signings? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Look, Democratic incumbents would like to have something to run on, too. I think they would be proud to go out and run on a record that included protecting kids from tobacco, doing something to improve the quality of education, doing something to improve health care opportunities especially for aging Americans. I mean, look, most people like this -- most candidates that I've ever heard like to say, I'm going to run on my record. How many times have you heard political candidates say that? Well, members of this Congress don't have any record to run on right now. So between now and November they may want to stuff a few accomplishments in their pocket, along with their tobacco contributions.
Q Mike, one thing you didn't put on that voluminous list was the expansion of Medicare. Has the President dropped that?
MR. MCCURRY: No -- the age of 55 to 65, increases -- sure, that was on that list, too. (Laughter.) Did you need me to go back and repeat it, Mara?
Q Mike, for example, the expansion of Medicare -- I mean, that is dead. Or do you think it's still alive and you have a way to pull it out of the hat?
MR. MCCURRY: We think a lot of these things -- look, as you saw with the balanced budget agreement which was declared dead, dead, it's dead -- we came back, we worked with Congress, we kept coming back to them over and over and saying, look, it's in your interest and the interest of both parties, it's in the interest of the executive and legislative to work together and to deliver. And we got some things done. And I don't rule out the prospects that we could do that now.
MR. TOIV: Something else for the list. (Laughter.)
Q Is somebody back there keeping track?
MR. MCCURRY: My boss is starting to talk. Why don't you listen to him instead of listening to me.
Q What on that list do you think are the healthiest prospects?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to rank all these. We're obviously working on a lot of these now. Some of them are, obviously and as a practical matter, a lot of these things are not going to go anywhere between now and November, and we are going to have to have a debate about it in front of the voters in November and ask them to make some choices and sort some of this out. But a large part of that agenda is still in play as the appropriations process moves forward. The President by no means is going to get everything that he laid before the Congress in his State of the Union address, but we're going to get, as we have every single year, we're going to get a substantial part of that, and it will be a part of what we do together with this Congress to improve the lives of the American people.
Q Do you think the Republicans are misreading the public?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, significantly. Significantly. And they're going to get a good dose of their own medicine on this. The Vice President has spoke to it today; the President clearly is determined to do it. And I think it's entirely conceivable that they're going to want to reconsider some of this work stoppage.
Q Why don't we ever see any of them here? It's so rare now that you have any leaders here.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we had Democratic leaders down here from time to time. We have on occasion had the Republican leaders together. We had the Republican leadership, Democratic leadership and the President together recently to talk about to preserve retirement income security for elderly Americans. When they want to work together, they can work together. And usually, the American people say, hurrah, that's what you ought to do more of. And we think that they'll probably say that again.
Okay, that's enough for today. All right. One last one? I owe you an answer tomorrow.
Q Does the White House have any comment on Chairman Greenspan's criticism of the administration's merger enforcement policy?
MR. MCCURRY: When did Chairman Greenspan -- that's another -- you stumped me twice today. I haven't heard anything about that.
Q Anything for the schedule tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, that was during the testimony yesterday. Did Rubin not respond directly to that point during the testimony? Okay. We'll see if we've got anything to say.
Q Anything on the schedule tomorrow? On the week ahead there was nothing tomorrow.
MR. MCCURRY: We're doing something or other tomorrow.
Q Going to list the legislative agenda?
MR. MCCURRY: Hint? What are we doing? My ever efficient staff will post whatever we're doing tomorrow.
Q Stump the band.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Thanks.
END 3:05 P.M. EDT