THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF LABOR ALEXIS HERMAN, DOMESTIC POLICY ADVISOR BRUCE REED, AND GENE SPERLING, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL The Briefing Room
1:37 P.M. EST
MS. WEISS: Just moments ago, the President unveiled a three-part budget initiative to improve the economic opportunities for Americans with disabilities. To further outline this proposal, we have Bruce Reed, the President's chief Domestic Policy Advisor; Gene Sperling, the President's National Economic Council Advisor; and Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. We also have in the audience former Congressman Tony Coelho and Becky Ogle, who is the Executive Director of the task force.
SECRETARY HERMAN: Thank you very, very much, Amy. I would just like to briefly outline the mission and work of the task force that put forward the recommendations that resulted in the policy announcements that the President just unveiled in the East Room; and then, of course, ask my colleagues to join me for any questions and answers that you may have.
The recommendations that were put forward to the President were the result of a task force that was created by the President last March in an executive order on the employment of adults with disabilities. The specific mission of the task force was to have a coordinated federal policy to do all that was possible to remove the barriers to the employment of people with disabilities, and to do it in a way so that we would have a Cabinet-led, Cabinet-level task force that would engage in this work.
I've been pleased to have served as the chair of this task force. The vice-chair is with me, Tony Coelho, who is here today. And together we have worked at the direction of the President and the Vice President to work with our Cabinet colleagues to examine what we can do to remove those barriers.
This is an effort that is a four-year effort, that was commissioned in this executive order by the President. We made eight recommendations at the conclusion of last year; the announcements that the President made today included five of those recommendations. The highlight, of course, includes the fact that in these policy recommendations today, no longer will people with disabilities have to choose between work and their health care. Secondly, they will have the opportunity to receive a tax credit in order to get, oftentimes, the assistance that they need to go to work. That could involve everything from transportation to someone to assist them with dressing in the morning for work. And thirdly, the other aspect of this proposal, of course, is all of the increased funding that the President is proposing for new assistive technology in the workplace that can make a difference.
We are very excited by the fact that the President and the Vice President accepted all of the recommendations in this first interim report of the task force to the President, and we look forward to further action, to further work, in the months and the years ahead.
At this time I will be happy to entertain any questions that you have and ask the head of our Economic Council, Gene Sperling, and Bruce Reed, the leader of our domestic policy team, to please join me.
Q Do you expect this to go through, do you think it will pass?
SECRETARY HERMAN: I believe, with the strong bipartisan support that was announced this morning -- Moynihan and Roth, Senators Kennedy and Jeffords -- that the likelihood for passage is very strong. And I think, as we talk today about the fact that we don't have a single person to waste in this economy, that we need everyone, that certainly doing all that we can to give adults with disabilities the proper tools and skills they will need to become gainfully employed is in the nation's best interests.
Q And the insurance companies and so forth will go along with all of this?
SECRETARY HERMAN: I believe that once we have the opportunity to lay out our proposals, to make the case of why this is a benefit and why in the end this is really a significant return on investment, that we will have the support of the insurance industry as well.
Q Have you identified how you're going to pay for it?
SECRETARY HERMAN: That is something that obviously will be a part of the President's budget proposals, but I will certainly turn that, as well, to my colleague.
MR. SPERLING: The Kennedy/Jeffords/Moynihan/Roth portion will be within the budget paid for with other offsets on the mandatory side. On the tax cut that we have here, the tax credit for workers with disability will be part of an overall package we have and will give out the details of when we release our budget February 1st. What you'll see is a package of some of the tax credits we had last year with this and a few other new ones, and then there will be a package that will include various corporate loophole closers, corporate subsidies.
So you will see revenue offsets paying for this and other of the tax cuts so that the overall package is revenue-neutral, and the Kennedy/Jeffords/Moynihan/Roth portion will be paid for within the mandatory side of the budget.
Q Secretary Herman, have you undertaken any investigation about why it's the second time in just a few months the labor statistics were released a day earlier than they should have been?
SECRETARY HERMAN: Yes. As a matter of fact, we do have an ongoing investigation that is still tied to the first glitch that we uncovered in the system; we have now added to that the early release of the PPI date, and I expect to be briefed on that.
Q As far as you've been able to tell, what happened the last time?
SECRETARY HERMAN: As far as we've been able to tell, we do know that it was a computer glitch; it was not related to our Y2K effort. We're trying to ascertain at this point all of the facts related to just what was involved in the operations of that.
Q Do you have any expectation about when those results will be released or that report will be --
SECRETARY HERMAN: I've asked for that report within 30 days.
Q Today, or --
SECRETARY HERMAN: Thirty days today.
Q Mr. Sperling, can you address on a different issue what the White House is doing today in terms of the problems in Brazil, how you're trying to address them?
MR. SPERLING: Obviously, there has been a lot of activity monitoring this situation, particularly since yesterday evening. Secretary Rubin and others of us briefed the President this morning, around 9:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m., on this. The Treasury officials are in close contact with Brazilian authorities, with IMF authorities, as well as G-7 partners and, indeed, have also been in contact with other emerging markets.
At this point I would just say that we're monitoring it very closely. I would expect, within the next couple of hours, that Secretary Rubin will have a written statement that will be out. We're discussing at this moment. There is active efforts on all of those fronts. Obviously, we think it's important that Brazil implement strong policies and I'll leave it to the statement from Treasury that should be coming out shortly.
Q But, Gene, you say at this point it's just monitoring, there's no intervention contemplated or being --
MR. SPERLING: As I said, I believe we are going to have a statement out from the Secretary of Treasury, the Treasury Department, within the next couple of hours. So I think I'll let that be our next substantive statement.
Q Share with us your assessment of why it is that the $40-some billion bail out package that was put together just a few months ago wasn't able to do the job? What's your assessment?
MR. SPERLING: Again, this is obviously a sensitive time. I think the best thing for us to do right now is to be doing just what we are doing, which is to be gathering information on all fronts, looking at what the implications of their action concerning their currency has been. And at this point, I think the best thing to do would be to wait until we put together a more specific written statement, which, again, should be out within an hour or two.
Q Is there a Deputy G-7 Finance Ministers' meeting this Saturday on the subject in Frankfurt?
MR. SPERLING: I know that there have been G-7 calls and discussions going on today. I do not know whether a specific meeting on -- you mean on what's happened today or yesterday?
Q Perhaps on some other subject where this will come up.
MR. SPERLING: I'd have to get back to you.
Q Back on the budget, if I could. There was talk that the Clinton administration plans again to introduce a proposal of taxing cigarettes at between 50 cents and 75 cents a pack to provide some of the revenue for the 2000 spending. Could you or Bruce either address this issue directly?
MR. SPERLING: We're not going to comment a lot, but since it's really Bruce's area -- I'll let him not comment. (Laughter.)
MR. REED: Well, again, without answering the question -- (laughter) -- as the President said last fall when the states reached agreement on their settlement, we still believe that Congress needs to finish the job of passing legislation to reduce youth smoking; that will be one of our top priorities in the new Congress, and the President's budget that comes out February 1st will show some of the details.
Q Will he be mentioning this in the State of the Union as he normally tries to?
MR. REED: Yes, I suspect he will.
Q Can you tell us a little bit more about how you're going to close -- which corporate loopholes may be closed in the 2000 budget as part of sort of the revenue projections and revenue generation?
MR. REED: Quite specifically, the way that -- the process that we went through because we've had target attacks -- credits that we pay for -- is that we put forward some of the tax credits that we proposed last year that were not passed; most specifically, the school construction, which will be part of our new budget. We also then had processes where we developed some additional tax credits.
At the same time, we go through the list of offsets and do what any wise budgeting would do; see if the benefits of new proposals are worth the cost of the raisers. I think what you'll see is that you will see some measures that we tried last year that were not passed that we think we could still pass in the target tax credit. And I think there will be some new measures that we think fit the mode of being loophole close and reductions in corporate subsidies that we think are justified on economic basis in order to have some additional tax incentives that we're announcing today. And there will be another one that we'll be talking about concerning getting capital into underserved areas, that we'll be talking about on Friday, and a few others that we'll roll out between now and the budget.
Q If you can't be more specific, can you tell us what the sort of general size of the total --
MR. SPERLING: Again, this will be highly specific. It's just that we will put it out with the whole package. It will be mind-numbingly specific and you will see the exact package of tax cuts that we have, what the total cost of them are and then you will see what the loophole closers and revenue raisers we have. And you'll see that it will be a targeted tax cut package as we have that is fully offset with revenue raisers in areas that we feel are economically justifiable in the sense that they are closing what we think are unjustified subsidies or loopholes.
Q Any examples?
MR. SPERLING: Not at this point.
Q Gene, Social Security was at the cornerstone of the President's State of the Union address last January. How big of a part of this speech will it be? And would you raise or lower our expectations that the President would lay out some specific formula, guidelines or ideas about reforming Social Security in the State of the Union address?
MR. SPERLING: It's certainly going to be an important part of his State of the Union, as it was last year. Truthfully, we are working, have been working and, in fact, have a meeting within the next day or two specifically to talk about what our strategy is for the State of the Union. I believe that as we have talked with people about what is the best way for the President to help lead in getting a partisan Social Security reform, we feel that he needs to continually make efforts to move the ball forward, but, on the other hand, that we need to make sure that we have a framework that we can work with members of Congress in looking for areas of consensus. So I would not expect a detailed, comprehensive plan or anything of that sort, but I think you can also expect that the President will address the issue in a serious way.
Q Why do you want Wall Street to get a bite of a program that's worked for so many years, especially considering what Wall Street is?
MR. SPERLING: What I said following the White House Social Security Conference is that one of the things the President was exploring is how Social Security could get some of the higher returns that virtually any pension or state pension plan does, and that means having a system that would allow for some form of investment in --
Q At a cost of stability that it's had?
MR. SPERLING: No, no. In fact, the President's principles are very clear, that one of this clear principles is that Social Security reform must have a clear guaranteed benefit that is not based on the ups and downs of the market.
Q Have you decided to include some form of individual retirement account -- whether it's voluntary or supplemental?
MR. SPERLING: I'll let the President speak on January 19th. I think there is obviously a question of how we move forward, how much we talk about in the State of the Union. Those are still issues that the President's working on and we're discussing right now, as -- over these next few days critically.
Q So you don't rule that out?
Q Just to be clear, when you said that you would not expect a detailed plan on Social Security, do you mean for the State of the Union, or you mean that there's been a fundamental decision that the President's not going to offer his own --
MR. SPERLING: He asked me, at the State of the Union. I was responding -- he asked what the expectation should be for the State of the Union. What the President has said is that he will do whatever he feels is most productive in leading to a bipartisan Social Security reform package. If at some point we feel that the President putting forward more details, more specific principles, guideposts, any of those things we feel are most helpful in moving the ball forward, and that is what we will do.
I do think that the broad number of members of Congress that we have talked to feel it's very important that the President take the time over the next couple of months to work closely with members to find out what their views are, what their concerns are, so that as he does go forward he has a strong sense of where the basis for support and, ultimately, bipartisan consensus can be.
Q Was there support for individual retirement accounts in the President's meeting today with labor union leaders?
MR. SPERLING: I'll let them express, but I think if anybody following the debate knows that their position --
Q You were there. Did it come up in the discussions between the labor union leaders?
MR. SPERLING: Yes, there was some -- it wasn't necessarily the predominant issue, but it was one of the major issues that was discussed there. And, again, the President is going to look at things that fit his five principles and is keeping an open mind. But as time goes by I think he will start to give more and more indication of what he thinks would be the best basis for having a strong Social Security reform that modernizes and protects the solvency of Social Security, but also ensures that the basic guarantee benefit that people have counted on is still a basic guaranteed benefit that is not contingent on the ups and downs or volatility of the market.
That does not mean one can close down the door in a safe and prudent and non-political way looking for Social Security to get some of the higher returns that virtually every pension plan in the United States is able to achieve.
Q What's impeachment going to do with the President's initiatives? Have you had any soundings on the Hill, because there are many statements made that your programs won't go anywhere as long as this prevails.
MR. SPERLING: If I've learned anything over the last year it's that I don't see why anybody has any confidence they can predict anything that's going to happen. And what that really means for us is that we just go forward with our policy proposals. There has always been serious interest in Social Security on both the Democrat and Republican side, and that's for a simple reason: Because our constituents, the people who elected the President and elected the members of Congress feel this is one of, if not the most critical, domestic issue facing this country over the next few decades, and I think there will be a strong demand for us to deal with this in a productive and comprehensive and bipartisan fashion.
Q As far as timing goes, would it be productive to introduce any details to a proposal prior to the ending of the Senate trial, or should something like that wait until the conclusion of the process?
MR. SPERLING: I really have nothing to add to what I've already said.
Q Gene, there's been articles recently that the President might favor using the surplus, tying the surplus directly to private savings accounts. How is that being viewed at this point?
MR. SPERLING: Again, I'm going to do what any good staffer should do, which is I'll let the President speak on the issue in the State of the Union on January 19th. I think what has been reported is that we are certainly looking comprehensively and certainly we have -- as we have always done for the last few years, are looking not only at Social Security reform, but ways to strengthen the other two legs of the retirement policy stool, which certainly include strengthening an increase of access of pensions and individual savings, but that has been a policy we have had for several years, just to look across the board. So there are a number of things that the President is reviewing now.
Q Thank you.
END 1:54 P.M. EST