THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY JAKE SIEWERT AND NSC DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY COLONEL PJ CROWLEY
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EDT
MR. SIEWERT: Good afternoon. I'll start with two quick announcements. Congratulations are in order to Mr. Ron Noble, former Clinton administration official, worked at the Treasury Department, oversaw our efforts there. He has been selected today as the first-ever Secretary General, I believe it is, of Interpol which, as you know, coordinates, serves as a hub for various police organizations around the world. They're instrumental in tracking down fugitives and counter-terrorism efforts. He was our nominee, first American ever and first person of color in that position.
Also Deputy Secretary Summers was voted on last night and the President will swear him in later this afternoon, in a private ceremony --
Q Actually, the Vice President will.
MR. SIEWERT: the Vice President will, okay, that's a change. (Laughter.)
Q The President can't swear him in.
Q He can't, legally he can't do it. I just want to help you. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: My first mistake. (Laughter.) He'll conduct that ceremony later this afternoon. I believe we're still working on the coverage, but at the very least we'll provide a White House photo. And that's it, if I could take your questions.
Q What are his plans for the weekend, celebrating the 4th of July?
MR. SIEWERT: At the moment, his plans are to spend the 4th of July weekend at the White House, and we will let you know if there is any change in that.
Q He's staying in --
MR. SIEWERT: In town, in Washington, D.C. And we'll let you know if there's any change.
Q What has been the feedback from Israel? We understand that they're very unhappy because the President indicated Palestinians could go back home.
MR. SIEWERT: I'll let Mr. Crowley answer that question, or we can wait and handle those questions later.
Q From the press conference remarks.
COLONEL CROWLEY: We obviously are aware of the comments that have been made, both in Israel and by various groups here in the United States. I think the most important thing to emphasize is that what the President said yesterday in no way represents a change in U.S. policy.
If you remember back to his comments, they were within the context clearly of a very difficult issue that has to be resolved as part of final status negotiations and a matter that has to be resolved by the parties, themselves.
Q You mean the U.S. doesn't have any role in any of this?
COLONEL CROWLEY: The U.S. will play -- we hope to play the same role we have always within the peace process. That's the reason why President Clinton and President Mubarak yesterday were so anxious to see the new Israeli government in place and the opportunity to make progress on the Palestinian track and the other tracks of the peace process.
Q When is the Israeli Prime Minister coming?
COLONEL CROWLEY: The President hopes to get together with him soon, once he has completed forming his government and is actually sworn is as Prime Minister.
Q Is there a date, though?
COLONEL CROWLEY: There's not a date, at this point.
Q Can you tell us what's on the agenda at the meeting between President Kim and President Clinton?
COLONEL CROWLEY: Obviously, it's a very important relationship for the United States and a very important time in that relationship. I think we will have a readout for you after -- you'll have the opportunity, those who are in the pool, to see the President and President Kim in the Oval later on this afternoon. We'll also have a readout for you afterwards, at roughly 4:30 p.m.
However, you know, it's a very important relationship, it's a very important time. I think the two Presidents will have the opportunity to talk about the Korean economy, global trade issues; obviously, regional security issues. I think the President will use the opportunity to congratulate President Kim on the status of economic reforms and restructuring that Korea has already undertaken.
There are some indications that Korea will actually achieve economic growth this year. They'll have a chance to talk about bilateral trade issues. And, of course, we support fully President Kim's engagement policy with the North. And they'll have the chance to talk about both President Kim's efforts, our efforts to see if we can't improve relations with North Korea.
Q And do you support President Kim's hope to develop a missile that will hit the North Korean capital?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think the two Presidents will have an opportunity to talk about both our efforts to cap the North Korean missile program and our work with South Korea on their missile program and its relationship to the missile test control regime.
Q Is that a yes?
COLONEL CROWLEY: They'll have a chance to talk about both missile programs today.
Q PJ, what can you tell us about the expulsion by Russia of the U.S. Military Attache to the U.S. Embassy there? Can you confirm that? And can you tell us why, what did he do?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think I'll defer to the State Department --
Q Which isn't giving any comment, as far as I know.
COLONEL CROWLEY: So I'll follow that very good lead.
Q PJ, do you have any comments on the Chinese and the Pakistani military developments and they're about to sign military deals, and also a superfighter plane jointly they're planning to build? And if the Prime Minister of Pakistan is
COLONEL CROWLEY: Say that again?
Q Super fighter plane -- China and Pakistan?
COLONEL CROWLEY: These are decisions -- there's a history in the military relationship between China and Pakistan. I don't know that we have a position with respect to a joint development such as that. I don't think there's anything that prohibits such a development of a system.
Q Is Pakistani Prime Minister coming to Washington after his visit to China?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I'm not aware of any such trip.
Q Any developments on the India-Pakistani -- conflict, any update?
COLONEL CROWLEY: There's nothing new. Obviously, we're still concerned about the fighting that is continuing in Kargil, and we've made it clear in a variety of contacts with both governments that we want to see respect for the line of control, we want to see an end to the fighting, we want to see a return to the bilateral dialogue that we think is vital to finding a solution to the problem of Kashmir.
Q Just to follow, President Clinton has spoken with the Prime Minister in -- he wrote letters and made plea to withdraw troops from Indian mountains. But rather than pulling troops, he's in China making military deals. So you think presidential diplomacy failed or --
COLONEL CROWLEY: My understanding is that Prime Minister Sharif has cut short his visit to China and I believe has returned to Pakistan.
Q A domestic question. What issues do the President and the First Lady disagree on, or have they disagreed on? (Laughter.)
COLONEL CROWLEY: I'm more than happy to return the podium to Jake. I do want to mention, right before the start of the Kim visit, the President did have a chance to briefly talk with the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, and he received an update today on the continuing talks that are going on in Belfast.
Obviously, there's still work to be done there. The President heard from Prime Minister Ahern on behalf of himself and Prime Minister Blair that the two parties are still hard at it, and the President volunteered to continue to stay in touch with the parties throughout the afternoon, and I think we'll probably have more to report to you later on in the day on that.
Q Any progress?
Q Is he optimistic?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think, as the President said yesterday, we're very satisfied that they have continued the negotiations. I think there is a determination there to try to achieve the breakthrough that we hope they can so that the Good Friday Accords can be fully implemented and they can work on the peace that obviously the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland both want.
Q PJ, any thought at all to sending President Clinton over, to the --
COLONEL CROWLEY: You asked him that question yesterday, Connie, and you got a very informative and authoritative answer to that.
Q He didn't answer that question, he ducked that question completely.
COLONEL CROWLEY: I know of no such plans.
Q PJ, back on what you said -- there would be more to report on today, more about his conversations?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I think you expect that the President, as these negotiations continue during the course of the afternoon, and may well have follow-up conversations with the parties.
Q Mr. Foley at the State Department indicated he didn't quite know where Secretary Albright was, whether she was in the country or out of the country. Her schedule listed her as -- indicated she was at work, but she's on personal leave at the moment. Do we know where Ms. Albright is at the moment?
COLONEL CROWLEY: I believe Mr. Al Kamen does know where the Secretary of State is. We, of course, do, and --
Q On vacation?
COLONEL CROWLEY: Yes, she's on vacation.
Q PJ, one more. The President is going to have decided that normal trade relations with China -- also setting up computers -- supercomputers to China -- have opened the doors.
COLONEL CROWLEY: Well, you had a very informative briefing on the export control issue yesterday. This is clearly about, in a very dynamic sector of our economy, keeping the American industry competitive with the rest of the world, and we continue to have very specific controls on the speed of various computers; we'll have access to different kinds of countries, and I'll defer back to the transcript from yesterday's briefing.
Q Jake, I know you want to continue with your debut. (Laughter.) Do you have any comment on the banking bill that was passed yesterday and what provisions would the administration like to see added or subtracted from it?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we support the House Banking Bill generally. We were disappointed that some of the anti-red-lining legislation that Barbara Lee had introduced was rejected by the House Leadership. In general, the House bill strikes the right balance, we think, as we need to move forward on making sure that our financial laws keep up with the reality of today's marketplace. It's far preferable to the Senate bill in that it strikes the right balance, we think, on providing community reinvestment, strong community reinvestment provisions. It also provides a measure of what the President requested in terms of financial privacy earlier this year.
And, finally, it strikes the right balance on the op subs issue that is of concern to the White House and the Treasury Department. So, generally, as they go to conference, we're going to be pushing for some strengthening, perhaps, of some of the provisions on community reinvestment to make sure that they more closely match what the House did than what the Senate did.
Q If I can follow up on that, could the President sign the bill without the red-lining provisions in it?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not going to answer that right now. We're going to conference, we're going to work on that, and we'll do our best to make sure that it's a strong a bill as possible.
Q Jake, is the President's announcement that he wants publicly-held debt eliminated by 2015 -- is that predicated on the assumption that there won't be changes in the discretionary spending limits?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, not exactly. We have proposed a plan on the budget that presumes that after we resolve Social Security and Medicare that we make available a certain pot of money, roughly 10 or 11 percent, for discretionary spending. And that would, in essence, mean removing the budget caps. But not until after we've resolved Social Security and Medicare, and dedicated a huge portion of that surplus to paying down the debt and strengthening those two programs.
Q So the 2015 figure does contemplate using 10 percent of the surplus for --
MR. SIEWERT: Roughly 10 percent of the surplus for increased spending in education, and environment and other critical issues. But not until after we've resolved Social Security and Medicare. Until then, we've said, and we've made very clear, that we would like to reserve the entire surplus until we've taken some moves to strengthen Social Security and strengthen Medicare.
Q Jake, why wasn't the Vice President at today's high-profile environmental event?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not sure. He may have had another event. He may -- I understand he's going into --
Q He did not have another event.
MR. SIEWERT: I think he's spending some private time, with his family, over the next week or so, as you know.
MR. SIEWERT: He is expecting a grandchild soon, and I think that's occupying some of his time.
Q Jake, could you answer my question about disagreements that the invitation by the President --
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I assume you're referring to the reports on the Medicare meetings that happened here yesterday, and some of the comments they've made. I'm not aware of any other particular matters that have been reported yet, but --
Q Yet? (Laughter.)
Q They have to be reported?
MR. SIEWERT: Are you referring to something more specific? I'm not going to give an overview of their entire political philosophies today.
Q If they've had disagreements on issues in the past, can we hear what they are now, maybe, rather than later, when they could become more --
MR. SIEWERT: I'll let you ferret them out, and then we'll have a more broad-ranging discussion of those. (Laughter.) We're used to having a pretty free-wheeling debate around the White House. In the end, we make decisions that we think are in the best interests of the entire country.
Q Well, surely Mrs. Clinton may want to advocate moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, whereas the U.S. policy at the moment is that we'll let the parties do that. Is there that kind of difference? And --
MR. SIEWERT: On that one, I might refer to PJ -- (laughter) -- because I know he likes that issue.
On the Medicare issue, I think it's very straightforward. What's going on here is that the President put forward a Medicare plan. He said himself, yesterday, that there were legitimate concerns about how the balanced budget amendment of 1997 affects teaching hospitals, affects health care providers generally. And we're going to make sure that as we move forward, that we do everything we can to save costs in the Medicare plan without undermining quality. And that's something that he said is a legitimate concern.
We've been meeting with a host of providers over the last six months, really. If you watch TV, you can see their advertising about some of their claims. And we've listened to a host of people. It's perfectly appropriate for the hospitals to come in. That was a long-scheduled meeting, and we heard their views. But there are a lot of other views as we move forward.
Q Do the Clintons differ on the policy, though?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think so. I think that's a very clear -- the President himself has made provisions in this Medicare plan to address some of the quality concerns that teaching hospitals and others have been talking about since the balanced budget amendment was put in place in '97.
I would point out that in our own Medicare plan -- the one we proposed this week -- teaching hospitals, hospitals, health care providers, generally, will receive more money than under current law over the next four years. And then in 2003, when we extend the effect of the balanced budget amendment, we've set aside $7.5 billion to help smooth out the effects of the balanced budget amendment on health care.
Q Many HMOs now say they're going to drop Medicare patients next year, charge higher premiums.
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we think that's unfortunate. I mean, obviously, beneficiaries will then have a choice about whether to stay with -- whether to move into fee for service. But that's precisely why we need a Medicare plan that's modernized and strengthened, that provides prescription drug coverage, and that allows us not to have to make these choices between a plan that has prescription drug coverage, as many Medicare HMO plans do today, and one that doesn't, like the traditional Medicare plan.
That's why we think we need to rationalize this and modernize this, so that people can make those choices in an informed way rather than some of the strange decisions that the market is forcing on people today.
Q It seems odd to me, though, that you would make the argument that this proves why the President's plan is a good idea. Because it seems to me, you could make the case that the President's plan subsidizes for wealthy older Americans who could otherwise afford drug coverage. It offers a subsidy. So it takes a pool of money, and it divides it up with part of the money going to people who can already afford it. Wouldn't it make more sense, if the problem is lack of access for poorer elder Americans to that care, if you take the pool of money and devote it all to that, rather than partially subsidizing --
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we think it's important that the benefit be universal. But what's leading to some of the problems today is that you have some HMOs that offer prescription drug coverage, and a traditional plan that does not. And we want to make sure that the basic benefit package includes an option to have prescription drugs, so that people can make a choice between traditional fee for service Medicare that includes some prescription drug benefits, and the HMOs -- today, many people choose HMOs because they have prescription drug coverage today.
As for the issue of lower income beneficiaries, we've done quite a bit in the plan to subsidize those lower-income families, so that they get a greater benefit than those who may be better off. And for a large part, their Medicare premiums are covered entirely by a subsidy.
Q Are you still planning to release the additional details on the plan today?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, I think you should check with Mr. Sperling's office, but it should be available shortly.
Q Could he come out and brief on it? (Laughter.)
Q Week ahead?
MR. SIEWERT: Week ahead, very quickly --
Q How about before --
Q How common is it for the First Lady to attend policy meetings of that sort these days?
MR. SIEWERT: I think you should probably refer that question to her office. I think -- as you know, she's had a long history of involvement on health care issues generally, and she's obviously been very instrumental in helping shape the President's thinking on health care.
Q -- West Wing meetings about the formation of the Medicare proposal?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know about her attendance at meetings. I ask you to -- refer you to her office. But I know that on bankruptcy, she's played a very critical role in helping form the policy there, in terms of how the new bankruptcy law that this Congress is considering treats deadbeat parents, and making sure that child support has top priority there. She's been involved in a host of other domestic issues over the last two and three years, and obviously over the last six and a half years.
Q Jake, can you explain on the Medicare plan -- I understand how it induces HMOs to try to offer a low cost option to beneficiaries. But what is there in the plan that would keep HMOs participating in the Medicare program, in light of what we're reading today about their exodus from it?
MR. SIEWERT: We think that actually it creates a system of competition that allows them to price more adequately, as Gene explained pretty thoroughly on Tuesday. It allows them some real competition between Medicare and -- between the HMO Medicare plans, and between the traditional fee for service.
Q Is there a week ahead?
MR. SIEWERT: The weekend, we expect him to be here. If there is any change, we'll let you know. They don't have any scheduled events Saturday or Sunday.
On Monday, the President leaves for Kentucky and the trip that Maria just outlined. On Friday he's down. And the radio address, which was taped today, is on the topic of food safety.
Q What's with the new White House intern passes in bright yellow?
MR. SIEWERT: I have absolutely no idea. (Laughter.)
Q Do you know when they were changed?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't. But I can check into that and get back to you.
Q Jake, is there anything -- regarding -- use of military jets during the campaign?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I mean those -- all of her travels, it has been reviewed and has been conducted appropriately. If you have any other questions, I refer you to Counsel or the First Lady's Office.
Q How did you arrange for Lester not to be here?
MR. SIEWERT: Just luck. Thank you.
Q Thank you.
END 1:50 P.M. EDT