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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 5, 1999
                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                        UPON DEPARTURE TO PENTAGON

South Portico

3:13 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I am delighted to be joined this afternoon by Secretary Shalala, Secretary Herman, and leaders of some of our nation's top health, consumer, and provider organizations, including Dr. Thomas Reardon of the American Medical Association; Beverly Malone, the President of American Nurses Association; Judy Lichtman, the President of the National Partnership for Women and Families; John Seffrin, the CEO of the American Cancer Society; and Ron Pollack, the President of Families USA.

Before I leave for the Pentagon to sign legislation to enhance our national security, I want to say a few words about legislation to enhance the security of patients and the health of our families.

Tomorrow the House is set to begin the long-awaited debate on the patients' bill of rights. We are here today to urge Congress to act responsibly and pass strong, enforceable, bipartisan legislation to protect working families with the real health care protections they sorely need.

We have had enough of tragic stories from every corner of our land -- families forced to switch doctors in the middle of pregnancy or cancer treatment; parents whose children had to bypass one or more emergency rooms before they received care; Americans who saw their loved ones die when their health plans overruled a doctor's urgent recommendations. The fact is Americans who are battling illness shouldn't have to also battle insurance companies for the coverage they need.

Our administration has done everything we could to protect patients. Through executive action, we've granted all the safeguards in the patients' bill of rights to more than 85 million Americans who get their health care through federal plans. This past week I announced we'll publish rules to extend similar patient protections to every child covered under the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Many states are also making progress. But no state law, no executive action, can do what Congress alone has the power to achieve. Only federal legislation can assure that all Americans, in all plans, get the patient protections they need and deserve.

Congressmen Charlie Norwood and John Dingell have a bill to do just that. It's a bipartisan patients' bill of rights that would guarantee Americans the right to see the medical specialist they need; the right to emergency care wherever and whenever a medical crisis arises; the right to stay with a health care provider throughout a program of treatment; the right to hold a health plan accountable for harmful decisions.

But before Americans can be assured these fundamental rights, the Norwood-Dingell bill must be assured a fundamental right of its own -- and that's the right to be offered on the House floor, with a straight up or down vote. No legislative poison pills. No weakening amendments. No parliamentary sleights of hand.

Let's be clear: This is about more than congressional rules or legislative prerogatives. It's about providing Americans basic rights. It's about making sure medical professionals are able to do their jobs; about providing families with the quality care they deserve; and above all, about putting patients' interests above special interests. That's what all of us standing here, and our allies in both parties in the House of Representatives, are committed to.

Now, I'm told this morning some Republican leaders sat down with insurance company lobbyists who are fighting to defeat a strong patients' bill of rights. On the eve of this vote, I'd like to ask them to think about sitting down with America's families instead.

This is not a partisan issue anywhere in the United States except Washington, D.C. The legislation that we endorse has the endorsement of more than 300 health care and consumer groups across America, including groups where I would imagine most of the members are in the Republican Party.

The support for this legislation across America is broad and deep. We cannot allow a small group in Congress, representing a large, well-financed special interest, to thwart the will of doctors, nurses, medical professionals and working families. We can't allow some parliamentary trick to litter this bill up like a Christmas tree and then have people vote for it to give people the impression, therefore, the patients' bill of rights, when they are, in fact, against it.

So again, I ask Republican leaders to be straight with the American people. Instead of watered-down provisions, just give the people an up or down vote. Let the will of the people prevail. Let them see where every member of the House stands on this profoundly important issue. Let's have a fair vote. If we have a fair vote, there will be a bipartisan majority for the patients' bill of rights in the House of Representatives that reflects the overwhelming bipartisan, even nonpartisan feeling for it out in the United States of America.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Q Mr. President, do you believe after meeting with Senator Roth today that you'll get a competent Medicare reform program this year? And where might you be willing to compromise to get that?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I had a very good meeting with him, and I'm going to put out a statement about it. We talked about Medicare reform. He and Senator Moynihan assured me they're still committed to that, and will work on it a timely fashion. They also talked to me about the need to restore some of the restrictions or cuts in funding from the '97 Balanced Budget Act to some of the medical providers. I strongly agree with that, and I think we should do it.

We talked about some trade issues, the importance of the research and experimentation tax credit and a number of other issues that I think are quite important that affect all Americans. So we had a good meeting, and I prepared and signed off on a statement which goes into greater detail about it.

Q Mr. President, do you think you could try to postpone a vote on the treaty?

THE PRESIDENT: On the test ban treaty?

Q Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say this: I think for the Senate to reject it would send a terrible message. It would say to the whole world, look, America's not going to test, but if you want to test, go right ahead. We're not interested in leading the world toward nonproliferation anymore.

I'm going to have a dinner tonight and talk to a number of senators about it. I think a lot of thoughtful Republicans who normally support us in matters like this are, number one, under enormous political pressure not to do so; and, number two, have the legitimate feeling that this very important issue, which in previous Congresses would have received 8, 10, 12 days of hearings, a week or more of debate, is for some reason being rushed at an almost unprecedented pace.

So we're going to talk through this. I'm going to make the best case I can. I'm going to tell them why I think it's in the national interest. But I think it is a very curious position that some of the leaders of the opposite party are taking that they don't really want us to start testing again and they know we have the most sophisticated system in the world for maintaining our nuclear stockpile without testing -- but they don't want to vote for this treaty even if that says to Pakistan, to India, to China, to Russia, to Iran, to everybody else, you all go on and do whatever you want to do, but we're not going to do it. I think that's a very curious thing to do and would be very, very damaging to the interests of the United States and, even more important, to the safety of children in the 21st century all across the world.

We have been a leader for nonproliferation, including for the concept of the test ban treaty since the time of Dwight Eisenhower. He's the first person who recommended this. And before this Congress it would have been unthinkable that a treaty of this kind, with these protections -- particularly with the strengthening reservations that I have offered to work with Congress to put in -- it would have been unthinkable before this Congress that such a treaty would not pass. So I'm going to work and do the best I can, and we'll see what happens.

Q Sir, there seems to be the complaint it cannot be verified, and that the integrity of the arsenal cannot be maintained absolutely --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would like to respond to those two things. Number one, on the compliance issue. Keep in mind what the reports say -- that you cannot, with 100 percent certainty, detect small nuclear tests everywhere in the world. That's all they say. Our national security people, including all of our people at the Pentagon, say that any test of the magnitude that would present any sort of threat to the United States could, in fact, be detected, number one.

Number two, if we don't pass this treaty, such smaller tests will be even more likely to go undetected. Why? Because if the treaty goes into force, we'll have over 300 sophisticated sensors put out in places all across the world, and we'll have the right to on-site inspection, and we will also have the deterrent effect of people being found violating the treaty.

Now, if you don't put the treaty into force -- no sensors, no on-site inspections, no deterrent -- and if the United States walks away from it, the rest of the world will think they've been given a green light. So I think that argument has literally no merit, because nothing changes except our ability to increase our determination of such tests with the passage of the treaty.

Now, on the first argument -- the idea that, some say, we can't with absolute, 100 percent certainty, maintain the integrity of the stockpiles. That is not what the people who lead the energy labs say. That's not what the Joint Chiefs say. Some people disagree -- they do; they say they're not sure that forever and a day we'll be able to do that. I have offered the Senate a reservation to the treaty which makes it clear that if ever there comes a time we think we can't preserve the integrity of our nuclear stockpile, we can take appropriate steps to do so, number one.

Number two, we spend $4.5 billion a year, with by far the most sophisticated system in the world, to maintain that. Now, if all the -- this treaty doesn't go into effect unless all the nuclear powers and several dozen other countries agree to it -- 44 in total must agree. If they all agree, I'm sure that all the people who are making this argument would acknowledge that our system of maintaining the integrity of our stockpile without tests is far in advance of what anybody else has. So our relative security will be increased, regardless.

Final point I want to make: None of these people will stand up and say, let's start testing again. So what they're saying is, okay, America won't test, but if everybody else tests, well, so be it. I think it would be a big mistake.

END 3:30 P.M. EDT