THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I start today with a brief announcement, welcoming a new person to our ranks. Please welcome Hanna Rose Weissman, new daughter of our very own Baltimore Sun's Jonathan -- was born this morning at 2:30 a.m., weighing in at 5 pounds, 14 ounces. Congratulations. (Applause.)
Q Bloom has got a new daughter.
MR. LOCKHART: Really?
Q Yes, yesterday.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, where is my stuff? Where is my stuff? (Laughter.)
Q -- you have to do your intelligence work --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me just ask the NBC person at the briefing here. (Laughter.) Why didn't you tell me about David's -- the addition?
Q Paternity leave.
MR. LOCKHART: Really? Oh, that's good. Okay. Anyone from NBC, please report to the briefing room.
Let's go. What do you have? Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q A used copy of The New York Times sitting in for the NBC reporter.
MR. LOCKHART: There she is. Why don't we all wait for Claire.
Q Is the President on the job yet?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he's not come over yet, as of the last time I walked by. He should be over shortly.
Q Ava Bloom --
MR. LOCKHART: Ava Bloom --
Q Six pounds --
MR. LOCKHART: Six pounds --
Q Born Sunday.
MR. LOCKHART: Born Sunday.
Q Three girls.
MR. LOCKHART: Three girls now, twins and a one-day-old.
Q That's what you call a future nightmare.
Q Okay, you can go back to --
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, go ahead. Questions.
Q What's the situation with the Florida A&M? I understand the Justice Department will be looking at it as a hate crime.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me tell you what we've learned on that. The FBI, as you know, made an arrest in the bombings of Florida A&M. April, as you pointed out in your question on Friday, the university there had really gone through some trauma and fear through the bombings, and also the communications to the local television station by -- or from the person who is alleged to have committed these crimes. There was good cooperation between law enforcement and the community there in helping to identify a suspect in this case, and the Department of Justice is currently reviewing the evidence available to them with an eye towards seeing if there's been a violation of the federal hate crime laws.
Q Will the President be receiving any type of documentation from the Justice Department on this?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- he asked that we go back and prepare something for him on the facts of the case, on Friday. We've done that and he'll be reviewing it. I think we'll leave it to the Department of Justice, though, to actually go about their business as far as whether there's been a federal violation here.
Q But will his Office on Race deal with this at all, this kind of situation?
MR. LOCKHART: There is some possibility as far as any sort of work in the community, as far as dealing with the damage that's been done there. But I think as far as the investigation and the adjudication of the issue, that will be done at the Department of Justice.
Q Joe, was the President dismayed by the unanimous vote in the Senate to stop $500,000 in federal funding for the Brooklyn Art Museum? And does he agree with Mrs. Clinton that while the exhibit is offensive and she would never go to see it, that New York's Christian taxpayers should be forced to pay for excrement on a painting of the Virgin Mary?
MR. LOCKHART: He agrees with the First Lady's articulated views on this issue.
Q Bill Donahue, of the Catholic League, distributed vomit bags at the museum on Saturday and I know he'd like you to have one and I brought one for you, which I'm more than happy to give to you after this --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll be glad to take that, at which time I'll give you your ticket. (Laughter.)
Q Oh, good -- fill that bag for you. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Let's get serious here, please. Jim Angle, ask me a serious question so I can act like I'm serious.
Q Okay. What does the White House make of the increase in the number of uninsured and what does it suggest about the efforts in recent years to expand coverage?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's a couple things. I think you have to look at the overall numbers. The idea that there are more people who are uninsured now than last year represents the fact that we still have an ongoing challenge and we need -- a challenge that needs to be addressed.
I think there is some -- when you go down and look a little deeper at the numbers, there are some positive trends. I think if you look at people earning under $25,000 a year, the number of uninsured has actually fallen by almost a million. The problem area is mainly in people making over $50,000 who are working who have found that their companies have dropped their health coverage. And that's a real problem.
I think we continue to move forward, and I think we'll see some progress in next year's number from a number of fronts. In one area, you know that we put forward the CHIPS program for insuring uninsured children in this country, and with quite a bit of resources behind that. That only passed at the end of '97, and most of '98 states were going about putting together their program. So I think the CHIPS program is not really reflected as much as it could be in the 1998 numbers. We expect that it will be next year.
There are some increases in numbers, although HHS numbers and the Census numbers aren't exactly in line on this as far as Medicaid, recipients to Medicaid. And I think the Census numbers say it's very difficult to draw conclusions from year to year on Medicaid. But we have, at the President's direction, launched a very aggressive outreach program to get people who are still eligible for Medicaid to stay in the program or to get in the program. Particularly as you move some people from welfare to work, there are some people who don't recognize that as they gain income they still have the ability to participate in the program. We've been doing that; we expect to see some results there.
Then there are a number of proposals, probably the most significant of which, which we push Congress on and we'll continue doing, with the proposal to do a Medicare buy-in for people from 55 to 64. That's really the most difficult group right now to deal with -- people who have lost coverage who are nearing retirement age, but are not ready yet for Medicare. And that's why the President believes for that group, they ought to be able to buy into the Medicare program.
Q Joe, this administration likes to remind us how many jobs have been created in the last three years, yet many of those jobs are in small businesses which don't provide health insurance for their employees. We're also reminded of how the welfare to work program has worked so well to get people off the welfare rolls, yet many of those people can't afford health insurance. So how do you reconcile those disparate thoughts, that you're trying to create jobs and you're trying to get people off welfare, yet most of those people can't take advantage of health insurance?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I wouldn't agree that most of those people -- it is not -- it is indisputable that we have witnessed and benefitted from an incredible economic engine in this country over the last seven years, and that the President's economic policies have played a direct role in that. We have success stories on the issues of jobs, on the issue of more money in people's pockets, on the issue of moving welfare to work.
On health care we have had success, as far as getting people on the rolls, getting the money for uninsured children. But we still have challenges and we're going to keep on working on this. It's as basic as the debate we've been trying to engage in all this year. When you look at the Medicare program -- I mean, the President put forward very specific ideas on Medicare and what we can do to extend the solvency of the program. We have yet to reach a positive conclusion with Congress, but we're going to keep working.
Q Yet, at the same time, there are almost 5 million more uninsured people in this country than there were five years ago.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's clearly a disturbing trend in companies dropping health coverage. And we have addressed that with providing -- I think it's $10 billion for children who are uninsured and trying to expand Medicare to reach the near seniors, at 55 to 64 -- we have not had success there with Congress -- as well as trying to do aggressive outreach on both Medicaid and Medicare.
We have done important work here, but there is still important work to be done. The Congress made a decision that comprehensive change was unacceptable and incremental change was the only change we could have. We've worked very hard as far as providing -- I think the Kennedy/Kassebaum bill on portability was an important step for many Americans. So there are real success stories here, but there are real challenges.
Q Joe, one of the things you said was that for the under $25,000 group, that the number of uninsured have actually decreased by a million. Yet, you said that money for CHIPS -- which is low income kids, they would fall into that category -- hasn't gone into effect yet. Then how do you explain the drop in the number of --
MR. LOCKHART: Some of it has. But I think we announced two weeks ago that the last two states came on board with their CHIPS plan. So we think we're going to find that in 1999, in 2000 the numbers for 1999, you're going to see even more and more dramatic progress on that front.
Q But are you saying that the decline in the number, the positive trend that you mentioned, the decline in the number of uninsured for the low income under $25,000, that's because of CHIPS?
MR. LOCKHART: There are some incremental benefits that because -- some states moved very quickly and established their plan and started insuring people right away . Other states took more time in developing their plan and have just recently -- as recently as two weeks ago, had their plan approved. And they are now moving forward and moving uninsured kids onto insurance rolls.
I think what you see from these numbers is that the biggest group we have to look at and the biggest challenge right now, because I think we have addressed a number of these areas, are people who are making -- who are middle class people who are making between $50,000 and $75,000, who face the situation of their company dropping their health care plans. Now, there are a number of things we're doing, including trying to expand the Medicare program with buy-in, and hopefully, maybe these numbers will cause some in Congress to take a second look.
Q Joe, one of the arguments the health insurance industry makes against the patients' bill of rights is that it would increase costs and cause even more companies to dump people off of insurance. Do you think that would happen and is that what we're seeing here?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that argument is without merit and without evidence. I think if you look at the Congressional Budget Office estimates, they look at roughly $2 a month for rights that Americans are demanding. I think if you look at -- there was a story in a national paper last week that looked at states that had patients' bill of rights and they found no evidence of an explosion of lawsuits, no evidence of an explosion in costs. I think this is something that -- this is an argument that is a political argument by a special interest that wants to protect what they have and has nothing to do with the facts.
Q So enacting the patients' bill of rights would not have any impact in terms of throwing people off insurance?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think that the Congressional Budget Office has looked at the cost; the OMB has looked at the cost; the cost is minimal and we don't view providing the basic rights that a patients' bill of rights would do, which is access to emergency care, access to a specialist, continuity in care, the right of judicial redress -- will force anyone off the insurance rolls.
Q Joe, does the President view these numbers as a failure on the part of his administration to get his goal when he came into office?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. But I think he does -- it serves as a reminder that despite the economic success we've had in this country, which millions upon millions of people have benefitted from in all levels -- I think the poverty numbers from last week indicate the importance of people at all income levels beginning to take advantage of the economic recovery in this country -- I think it serves as a reminder of the challenges we still have. I mean, this is a President who, as I've said and I think he said, is not resting on any record of success. There is more to be done. This is a field where more needs to be done, and we have a variety of proposals that will address this. We've already enacted some, and we wish the Congress would get together with us, and maybe they'll look at these numbers and think it's important for them, too.
Q Would you concede that by and large this is a challenge that's going to have to be met by the next administration, whoever it is?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't concede that the next 14 or 15 months is a time where we rest and debate future policies. There are things that can be done now. This Congress now can do something on Medicare. This Congress now can do something on Social Security. This Congress now can take prudent economic steps, steps in the health care field, that will impact positively American lives. There's no reason to wait.
Q Joe, you talked about, or the White House talked last week about talks with Capitol Hill on Medicare reform. The President may even have alluded to that. Can you give us an update on where those stand and how you see that playing out this week?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President will find some time on his schedule tomorrow to meet with some people from the Finance Committee. They'll talk about Medicare. I'll get you the details of that meeting when I get it. I think the Finance Committee has indicated a willingness -- which we applaud -- to move forward and see what we can do on Medicare this year. And we look forward to working with them.
Q That means Roth and Moynihan --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll get you the details when I have them. I don't have them here.
Q On another issue that's going to come up this week, the supporters of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty have asked the President to go all out. Can you tell us what public and private things he has planned?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the Senate will take up a more important issue this year, as far as our national security and the safety of both Americans and the safety of free people around the world. The President will do everything he can -- I think you'll see him in an hour or so meeting with his team, and have a chance to question him on where he stands on CTBT. We will find a way to publicly address this, probably -- or almost every day between now and the vote. We'll find a way to find private time for the President to talk to senators individually and in small groups. This is very important, we have a lot of work to do.
It is highly unusual, the tactics that are being employed by the Senate Republican majority. This is a crucial piece of legislation, a crucial treaty that Presidents since Eisenhower have been trying to enact. The Presidents since Eisenhower on both sides of the political aisle have viewed in our national interest. And given all of that, and given the fact that for two years they couldn't find time to even mention this comprehensive test ban treaty, now they've decided to throw it on the floor, not have any hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee --
Q -- or in hearings --
MR. LOCKHART: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as far as I know, is being chaired by Senator Helms, and he's not holding hearings. Senator Warner is holding hearings, but treaties like this traditionally go through the Foreign Relations Committee -- I can read you the list again and bore you, those of you --
Q Is it a legitimate hearing if it's with the Armed Services?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm discussing what I think are highly unusual tactics. I cannot remember a significant arms control treaty or foreign policy treaty that the Senate Foreign Relations couldn't find time to debate.
Now, this tactic says we're going to go ahead and do this in nine days. We think that that's unusual and I can't explain -- but we're going to go ahead. And the President is going to do everything he can to make the case, to talk about how it's manifestly in our U.S. interests. I mean, this is a very simple equation. This is not something that you have to get into very specific -- throw weights and things that you have on some other, the sort of START I and START II about different limits. This is a situation where we don't test because we don't have to.
We can maintain effective and strong deterrent without testing. There are people around the world -- whether it be Russia and China, India and Pakistan -- who can't say that. This is about keeping other people from testing. And I'll remind you, I stood here for the last year and many a day took a lot of questions from a lot of those who said they were concerned, in particular about China and their ability to modernize their nuclear arsenal.
If you go and you look at the Cox Report, the Cox Report is pretty clear that what can have the biggest impact on modernizing in China is if they resume testing. China has not tested since they signed in 1996. They and many other countries are looking to the United States to see whether we will ratify. We will live in a safer world if the Senate does the right thing and ratifies this treaty.
Q But you are going to cooperate, aren't you, with the hearings and send people up?
MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Q So it is a hearing and there will be three days --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think Senator Warner should be applauded for holding his hearings. I think a strong case will be made for passing this treaty. I think, as I said this morning, there is very little opposition on the substance of this. There are a few people here and there, but the majority, the vast majority of the foreign policy community -- whether it be the Joint Chiefs of Democrats and Republicans, whether it be former Secretaries of State, whether it be former National Security Advisors -- the scientific community, the arms control community is all solidly behind this treaty.
Q Why are you so worried that you can't get the two-thirds -- do you need two-thirds --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, right now, it's a matter of count. Clearly, Senator Lott and the Republican majority have decided to short circuit this, make it hit-and-run, rather than advise and consent, and try to get out before people have had a chance to really focus on it.
But we're going to, in the next week or so, make sure that people focus on this issue, they look at how it impacts them. I really don't think there's a constituency in this country for resuming nuclear testing.
Q Joe, the President has been asking them take this up for two years. Why weren't you ready with the votes?
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, let me bore you then. Let me go through what we've done in the past when it comes to important issues like this.
Q I'm just asking why you don't have the votes lined up since this isn't a surprise. I mean, you've been asking for this vote for so long, you'd think --
MR. LOCKHART: We've been asking the Senate to do their constitutional -- assume their constitutional responsibility on CTBT and take this up, hold hearings, allow those who are in support of this to make their case. And let me just give you some examples.
The ABM treaty in 1972, there were eight days of hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee, 18 days of Senate floor consideration. The intermediate nuclear forces treaty in 1988, there were 23 days of Foreign Relations Committee hearings and nine days of Senate floor consideration. The Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, there were five days of Foreign Relations committee hearings and two days on the floor.
START I, 19 days in Foreign Relations and 5 days on the floor. START II, 8 days in Foreign Relations committee and 3 days on the floor. Chemical weapons, 14 days in the committee, 3 days on the floor. And NATO enlargement, 7 days of committee hearings and 8 days on the floor.
These are serious issues; they should be treated seriously. And they should not be dealt with in a way that some senators can walk around and talk about how clever they are and how good their legislative tactics are.
Q Joe, one of the things you said was that the U.S. doesn't have to test. That is true because the U.S. has supercomputers and can simulate testing. The Russians have suggested that if they were to go along and ratify the treaty that they would also need supercomputers in order to simulate testing. Is the U.S. willing to supply them?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we are in discussions with them on this issue, but there's no suggestion that I know of changing our export technology policy.
Q -- CIA analysis yesterday, was that a Republican leak, and do you have any comment about that?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know where it came from. I can tell you that we don't have any data of any nuclear explosion in Russia. I can tell you that it's nothing new that on low-level nuclear tests, they are difficult to detect. That's been an old problem and something we've worked very hard on. But I can assure you that having CTBT in place helps to solve that problem. Having on-site inspection, having 300 monitoring stations in the world, having other countries in the world commit to not testing helps to deal with this problem. That story, wherever it came from, is a strong argument for ratifying the treaty.
Q Can you remind us that the India-Pakistan situation with regard to the treaty?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. India and Pakistan have indicated they want to sign. I think the Indian Foreign Ministry made a very positive statement yesterday; they said that they plan to sign the treaty when the new parliament is in place. I think that -- again, we spent some time surrounding -- in a time of crisis when India and Pakistan tested recently, and there was a lot of concern expressed from a lot of quarters. This addresses it directly. This is India and Pakistan agreeing that they will not test. And testing is, as the scientists know, the key to modernizing a nuclear arsenal. They have indicated they're willing to move forward and agree not to test.
But I think that we are in a completely different world if the Senate votes this down and undercuts our ability to make this case around the world. Look at the other -- look at what happened after we signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. Within a short time span, I think China, Russia, and India -- or one of -- three major countries came on board and signed shortly after.
The world is looking to us, and this is very important. This is something now for 30 or 40 years we have faced. We have faced the danger of modernizing nuclear arsenals. The world is looking for United States leadership, and the Senate is responsible for dealing with that.
Q Let's see if I have the China argument straight. You're essentially saying that people who scream the loudest about possible espionage by the Chinese, if they vote against this treaty are making it possible for the Chinese to utilize that information --
MR. LOCKHART: No. The argument I'm making is there are people who -- there was a lot of rhetoric and a lot of concern about China modernizing their nuclear arsenal. And that concern came from many places, but including from the Senate. I think this is a chance to do something about it.
Q Joe, on the --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me finish, please. This is a chance to do something about. If you read the Cox report, if you talk to scientists, you'll understand that testing is an absolute essential key to modernizing a nuclear arsenal. And I think opposition to this, for me, brings into question much of that concern that was expressed. I think there was a lot of real concern about dangers that were posed. Here's a chance to do something about it.
Q -- what the Chinese said about signing the treaty and ratifying it?
MR. LOCKHART: They have not tested since 1996. They have signed it, they still have to go through -- I'm not sure what their process is, but they have another step. I believe that China and other countries are probably waiting for a signal from the United States.
Q But, Joe, the argument has been made that until such time as your intelligence services can come up with a mechanism of verifying low level subcritical nuclear tests, why give up the stick of testing?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we have always had -- low level testing has always been a challenge. We are continuing, we believe, to meet that challenge. But it's like saying, you know, here is a tool to help solve your problem, but because you can't say that the tool is absolutely perfect, you don't want the tool. This tool will help deal with all levels of testing.
If there is some reason to believe that a country in engaged in low level testing or any kind of testing, you can demand an on site inspection. That is certainly better. And this idea that somehow countries will sign on and then they may cheat -- right now there is no international ban on testing. It is absolutely in our interest, given our capabilities and given the fact that we don't need, through our technology, to test, is absolutely in our interest to make sure that others don't. Because it is those who are developing a modern nuclear arsenal, those who are the emerging threats that it is most important to restrain and constrain their growth. And many of these countries are willing to sign on.
But I think this treaty just -- it absolutely does not go into effect if one of the main countries, like the United States, doesn't ratify it.
Q Joe, do you think that the Republicans are intentionally trying to do something injurious to the U.S. national security? Do you think that there's not legitimate grounds for --
MR. LOCKHART: I certainly -- there is a small minority in the arms control community that has argued against this -- and I emphasize it's a small minority. I don't believe that their argument can stand the test of the facts, but I have no doubt that these people believe in their heart what they've argued.
What is hard to understand and what's unusual is the tactic here. To sort of rush something to the floor and do it in a way --
Q Why do you think they did that?
MR. LOCKHART: You'll have to ask them.
Q No, they thought they had to deal with it, though.
MR. LOCKHART: But to do something in a way that has such profound implications for our future in such a way that does not do justice to the process.
Q Why did they all of a sudden -- what's the White House judgment on why, all of a sudden, Republicans said, okay, let's do it.
MR. LOCKHART: You will just have to ask them.
Q Well, do you think it was from outside pressure that they should?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. But I know that on some basic issues of running the Congress and their part in running the government, if you look at the budget mess, that they've fallen short; if you look at some other areas -- I mean, look at judicial nominations, we've got a backlog that we're only now beginning to hopefully find a way out of.
They've got important constitutional responsibilities and it's time for them to start doing their work and doing it responsibly.
Q Well, something pressured them to do it now.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen --
Q Why do you feel blindsided if you don't feel that something happened?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, again, I can't explain their motives. I can only describe for you how unusual these tactics are.
Q Can I go back to the uninsured numbers? You mentioned your Medicare expansion proposal as one thing you're doing to address this, but that's something that would add cost to Medicare at a time when we're talking about saving the Medicare system.
MR. LOCKHART: No, no. We're talking about a voluntary buy-in, opt-in, where you pay a premium to, if you're 55 to 64, where you can pay a premium if you've lost insurance or lost your job, to make sure you have health insurance.
Q So it doesn't cost --
Q What else is the White House doing to try to expand coverage? That proposal, so far, has gone nowhere on Capitol Hill. What other initiatives do you have?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the CHIPS program is being --
Q That's not pending, that's done.
Q That's done, but that has shown no results in two years.
MR. LOCKHART: We have the Jeffords-Kennedy, that allows the disabled in this country to participate in Medicare, that's got a lot of bipartisan support. We wish it could come down here so we could sign it. I think what we're doing in Social Security and Medicare are very important, as far as dealing with health insurance. So there are a variety of efforts that are ongoing. We have made progress and we need Congress to work with us.
Q Wait, what about your Social Security and Medicare proposals will increase the numbers of the insured?
MR. LOCKHART: Overall, as far as health care and making sure that --
Q I thought the question was --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm answering the question in a more broad way than it was worded.
Q Wait a minute, that's an important question. I mean, what proposals do you have pending that would expand the --
MR. LOCKHART: I just went through them. Next question. We've done enough on this.
Q On Israel and also some of the Arab countries and Iran, what's their status on this nuclear test ban treaty? Have they said they would sign it?
MR. LOCKHART: We can distribute a list on where people are. I mean, there are a number of people who have signed the treaty, a number of people who have ratified it. Again, I think there are some countries that have looked to the United States for a signal before moving. I don't have any concrete evidence that can prove that, but I think it's obvious to many.
Q Joe, on the one hand you're calling for ratification of the CTBT, and then on the other hand , over the Pacific you're shooting missiles out of the sky, which some critics have said will stir the pot in the weapons race. So how do you have it both ways?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think it's a matter of having it both ways. I think what we're looking at here is looking at the feasibility cost, the viability of a missile defense. We have done this I think the proper way as far as seeing if it will work. There was an important test on Saturday, I believe, which the Pentagon reports was successful. We will make a decision on this next year. And to the extent that there are issues in the ABM treaty, we have already begun to work with the Russians directly on it.
We believe that there is a threat from rogue states, that it is in our national interest to examine the feasibility of a national defense, and that's what we've done.
Q But do you not believe that this will spur countries like Russia, like China, like North Korea and others to try to devise a system that will defeat the ABM?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so, and I think that the fact that countries are willing to abandon testing is a strong message about --
Q Then Reagan was right in proposing Star Wars --
MR. LOCKHART: Helen, hold on, stop. There is a whole -- there is a fundamental difference between what Ronald Reagan was talking about -- a space-based missile defense system -- and the limited national missile defense system that we're talking about, which is designed to deal with rogue states and not provide the kind of things that President Reagan was talking about.
Q Joe, Republicans have proposed -- would allow businesses to band together to provide health care and to provide tax credits, or -- would you be any more willing to consider those in light of today's numbers?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think most of the proposals I've seen, like the medical savings account, we have expressed our opinion, our negative opinion on because of what we think the negative effect they'll have on the insurance market. What most of these proposals go to we think will ultimately segregate the insurance market into two groups -- the healthy and the needy. And we think that will actually have the opposite effect and make more people uninsured. So we don't support those proposals.
Q Joe, was the President favorably impressed by Tony Coelho's activities in Portugal? And I have a follow-up.
MR. LOCKHART: The President indicated to the pool last night he had only seen a newspaper story on that, so therefore, had no comment.
Q Did the President order you, or did he just approve of your initiative in banishing Paul Sperry from all White House press parties, and your offering to pay my expenses if I would go to New York and stay?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure where he would be if I had talked to him about it, but I can tell you that those decisions were made by me and I consulted with no one but me. And I stand by the logic of saying that White House social functions are social functions and the minimum standard of civility needs to be met. And those who can't meet them are not welcome.
Q A very reliable source informs me that a lady in West Virginia saw you make this offer to me on television and she sent you a check for this purpose. And I'm wondering, when do I get her check and yours, Joe? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Lester, a very nice woman from West Virginia did see the briefing that day, did write me a letter about how she wanted you shipped someplace. (Laughter.) I have to tell you that her suggestion was out of the country and I'm not willing to pay for an international ticket. But she did send a check for $25 and I think I could probably find and make up the difference.
Q How do you like your job after one year? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: You know, how many places can you be in Los Angeles, stay up all night, come in to work, don't get home, change, and then face this? This is the greatest thing in the world. (Laughter.)
Q So you love it?
MR. LOCKHART: I do. At least for today. Ask me again tomorrow.
Q Two topics, quickly. Back on that art museum flap in New York, for the record, can you articulate the President's position on that, and also how he addresses concerns of citizens who genuinely are offended by seeing taxpayer money go --
MR. LOCKHART: The President has indicated that he supports the First Lady's position. My understanding of the First Lady's position is while she would find this objectionable, wouldn't see it, she doesn't think that -- she doesn't agree with the action that the Mayor has taken.
You know, I think that there are certainly in many fields of art, there are those who are offended. But we do have a grand tradition of freedom of expression in this country, and a rich cultural art and humanities history that I think should not become part of, or be attacked in the political context.
Q Secondly, on a different subject -- speaking of the First Lady, can you tell us a little bit about her trip and what the President hopes she'll be accomplishing in Europe?
MR. LOCKHART: I think she is -- I know she has another one of her Vital Voices conferences in Iceland. I think she's also traveling to Italy -- help me, I don't have -- Poland, and Slovakia, where she'll be continuing her work as an ambassador of the United States, of democracy in Europe, and the many programs that she's worked so hard on.
Q -- part of his bilateral talks with Prime Minister Cretien?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think certainly Prime Minister Cretien -- the Canadians have spoken on this issue, and I think --
Q -- ratify it --
MR. LOCKHART: And I think that Prime Minister Cretien and other leaders around the world are looking to the U.S. for leadership in getting this forward and, frankly, will look upon a negative vote with great dismay. And I think that's why the President's going to do the work that he needs to do over the next week. We're going to roll up our sleeves and talk to as many members as we can. The time is short and there's a lot of work to do.
Q Joe, when the President visits Canada at the end of the week, does he plan to meet with Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard, and does he share the concerns of some federal officials in Ottawa that such a meeting could boost the stature of the separatist government in Quebec?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that there's a meeting so I shouldn't address the second question.
Q Joe, can you respond to two allegations that were in an L.A. Times article yesterday about the White House and the Education Department? One was that the White House has appointed a number of unqualified people to positions at the Education Department, and the second one was that an unusual number of people have been detailed from the Education Department to the White House such that has impacted the Education Department's ability to operate.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure who they're talking about. I mean, that article talked about how Carol Rasco sits and goes and makes speeches because America Reads hasn't been funded. Well, go look at last year's budget and you'll find it's a $260-million program, it's a very important program, so I think if you look at the numbers, the Bush administration employed more Schedule C employees over there than this administration does.
But I'll tell you, this administration has made education a top priority, and we work very effectively with the Department of Education here at the White House and around the government, and we think that from the core workings of that department, we have a good story to sell. I mean, just look at the reduction in the default program on student loans, one of the biggest programs they run. We look at the direct student loan program that the President initiated and now saves taxpayers and students around the country money.
Look at an issue that all federal agencies look at, Y2K compliance. They have an A-plus rating, as high as any agency in the government. So I think the Education Department is doing very well, this administration is, as opposed to some previous ones, believes that we should use it effectively rather than abolish it, and I just don't believe that there is very much to that story.
MR. LOCKHART: We've got one more. One more.
Q On the budget, have any of the GOP leaders accepted the invitation to come on down and talk about the budget?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of. I think we'll be talking about Medicare reform with a bipartisan -- with at least some Republicans tomorrow. I think Mr. Podesta was very clear -- the door is open, come down when you want to talk. I think they've got some issues to resolve. You've got one senator calling to move Senator Lott aside because of what he's done. The House and the Governor of Texas seem to be at war now; who knows will win that. I think they've got to resolve some of those things. When they do, our door will be open.
Q And the six-month continuing resolution could be dead on arrival if that were --
MR. LOCKHART: I think a six-month resolution would violate every principle the President articulated when he stood here last Thursday. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:52 P.M. EDT