THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
12:07 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Sorry I was late. I was just busy in my office reading a very interesting content magazine article. Two announcements -- you'll see it -- that's a tease, big tease -- two announcements; one, in conjunction with the White House Correspondents' Association, we have an announcements to make. There are a number of pieces of clothing, particularly coats, that have been gathering over the last several years, both upstairs and downstairs in the Briefing Room. Anyone out there who listens, watches, reads the Internet, if they're yours, if you don't come and get them by Monday afternoon, they will be donated to an appropriate charity that was picked by the Correspondents' Association.
Q I actually left some money in the pocket.
MR. LOCKHART: Terry, I checked. None of them fit, and they're definitely in style rather than out of style.
Secondly, just so you think that comments like that don't reflect my deep and abiding love for the press and the institution of it and its important role in democracy, we will inaugurate our first edition of Friday afternoon happy hour here in the briefing room. If you would like to come and join us for a cocktail, you have to bring it yourself, though. (Laughter.)
Q What time will that be?
MR. LOCKHART: Four o'clock p.m. It's just another excuse for me and my staff to come down and have a good time at cocktail hour. You're welcome to come join us. We're going to have to see how this one goes. That's it as far as announcements. Can we go to the week ahead?
MR. LOCKHART: Really? then I can leave? Okay. No, then we won't do the week ahead, we'll wait until you've gone through all of your --
Q Joe, you were very careful this morning when you explicitly did not call for Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, to be returned to power. Why is that? Is that something the United States isn't seeking anymore?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've made very clear our displeasure and concern with the sequence of events that have gone forward. Our ambassador, William Milam, met with General Musharaf this morning, our time, expressed our concerns quite clearly, and was -- in response, I don't know that we got a clear view of what was going on, except that he would be making a statement this weekend. So we're going to watch, carefully, the events there.
We've made very clear that we oppose the extra-constitutional efforts to depose the democratically-elected Congress, and we're focusing now on impressing on the government of Pakistan the importance of moving quickly to the restoration of civilian and democratic rule.
Q But not Sharif's return?
MR. LOCKHART: We're pressing on them to return to civilian and democratic rule. I think, ultimately, how they -- the direction they take on that front when they move in that direction is an issue for the people of Pakistan.
Q But Joe, in the past when something similar to this has happened, you have called for the restoration of the democratically -elected government, but you're not making that call this time.
MR. LOCKHART: I think what we're doing here is calling for the restoration of democratic and civilian government, because we think that is in the best interest of our bilateral relations. We have made very clear how concerned we are, though, about what has transpired here over the last week.
Q Joe, doesn't that send a signal to the militaries everywhere that it's okay to depose somebody, so long as eventually you return to constitutional rule?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. Let me tell you that we will take the steps that are necessary. The President has asked his foreign policy and legal team to apply the Section 508 sanctions, because clearly, this is a situation where the military has engaged in a coup on a democratically-elected government, and we will take the steps available to us under Section 508. We have made very clear through our conversations and diplomatic exchanges with the military leadership there what our view of this is, and we think what's best now is to impress upon them in every way we can, whether it be in our diplomatic conversations or in our sanctions, and in stressing the importance of and the damage to our bilateral relations, how important it is to return to democratic and civilian rule.
Q Because they say to the military that they're free to pick and choose a -- democratically-elected leader?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think, again, this will be a question for the Pakistani people, to elect in a democratic and open way a civilian government.
Q Can you explain what 508 will deprive the Pakistanis of?
MR. LOCKHART: The lawyers are looking at this now. Obviously, as I mentioned this morning, in practical terms, there's already a wide range of sanctions applied against Pakistan, because in large part, due to the testing last year. But there are additional things that the lawyers are looking at, and as soon as that is worked out, we'll make an announcement.
Q Joe, you seem to have written off Nawaz Sharif. Is there something about his character that the U.S. finds distasteful? I mean, if you look at a comparative situation in Haiti, we nearly went to war to restore Aristide to power.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think if you look at the comments made in late September, we expressed very openly our concern and the fact that we were very disturbed about any efforts to depose a democratically elected government. We made that view known in late September; we've made that view known all this week. And this has, clearly, a negative impact on our bilateral relations with Pakistan.
Q But you're not saying let's return the government that you just threw out of power back into office?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying -- we are saying very clearly that it is in Pakistan's interest to return to a civilian and democratic government, and that should be done at the earliest possible date.
Q Does the fact you just used the word "coup" change or trigger anything in legal terms?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think there were people -- that using the term "coup" has a legal impact, and ramifications, as far as our sanctions policy. And I think, before moving in that direction, there was some information to be gathered about the facts on the ground. And we've now had a meeting with the ambassador and the military leadership. It's clear what the situation -- it's certainly much clearer what the situation is now, as far as what's gone on. It's not particularly clear on what will happen. But it's clear, in our view, that this is a military coup, and that the applicable sanctions will be applied.
Q Joe, you promised us a reading on the Vajpayee phone call?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. The President called him to congratulate him on his re-election. They discussed the situation in Pakistan. The President recognized the restraint India has shown to date in this situation, and discussed the need for an early restoration of civilian government.
Q What kind of assurances did he get that the restraint will continue?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'll leave it to the Indian government to talk about their -- the Prime Minister's comments. But the President did make the point, very clearly, that it's important not to escalate in any way tensions between the countries, and restraint is important.
Q You said this morning that the President wanted to discuss the nuclear issue with the Prime Minister of India. Has he done so? And if he has, has he got any assurances regarding a signing by India of your --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a detailed read on that. I'm certain that they did. And the President made the case that he made publicly yesterday, that the United States will continue to abide by our obligations under the treaty that the President signed. And it's our hope that other countries will move forward in a positive way on nonproliferation and on testing and that other countries will not misread the very misguided decision that the Republican majority in the Senate made.
Q Could you be more specific about what applicable sanctions will be applied?
MR. LOCKHART: There are sanctions that the legal team are looking at now; when those are completely sorted through we'll have more for you.
Q Do you think that will be later today?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.
Q Do the sanctions include having the U.S. pressure the international lending institutions, such as the IMF, withhold loans or restructure loans?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the IMF is currently withholding loans due to some other issues with Pakistan. So, obviously, that is not necessarily a salient point right now. If they get to the point where they come into compliance we'll take a look at whether the behavior of the military government there warrants the United States looking at blocking further loans. But at this point, it's a bit of a moot point because those loans are currently suspended because of other issues.
Q Joe, we've already got the screws down pretty tight on Pakistan, how much further can we go?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that we can look at what we can do under Section 508. We're already doing a lot because of the testing issue and other issues. I also think that the government of Pakistan and/or the Pakistani people value their relationship with the U.S. and we have made it very clear that this is -- that there will be no business as usual under the current situation.
Q -- gave no indications to the U.S. Ambassador that he was planning to hand power to a civilian government anytime soon.
MR. LOCKHART: I think what you should take from my tone is that he gave a clear indication that he planned to speak to the people this weekend -- Pakistan, where we will be watching that very closely.
Q Joe, on test ban, the President talked yesterday about the need, perhaps the possibility of attaching reservations and understandings to the treaty in order to make it more palatable to his opponents. What will the White House do in order to get that process going? Will the White House lead that process, can it lead that process? Does it have --
MR. LOCKHART: The President made very clear in his conversations with senators on Wednesday afternoon that, regardless of what they did with the vote, that they should do hearings, they show move forward. That is traditionally the area where senators have an opportunity to weigh their concerns, judge their concerns against the expert information that the labs can provide and the Pentagon can provide and the White House and others can provide.
So I think if the Republicans -- I mean, ultimately, this will be a bit of a test for them. If their public rhetoric is meaningful, they will move forward and want to look at this treaty, and want to look at the issues. If it is empty rhetoric, you will see no movement and you will find that what we believe and what the President articulated yesterday is true, that this was a partisan exercise that short-changed an important constitutional prerogative and responsibility of the Senate in order to demonstrate that they could defeat this treaty and ultimately put in the particular circumstance of the procedural vote, put party loyalty above our normally bipartisan national security interests.
Q Why would they want to take another look at it if they just repeated it?
MR. LOCKHART: Because many Republican senators talked about the need to look at safeguards and to look at things that -- to work through this issue. There were many of them who said, well, this isn't dead, we need to -- but the treaty, as written now, we can't vote for. They never really took a look at it, though. So we'll see if they come back to it.
Q Why wouldn't the White House lead that effort?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President indicated yesterday that he's going to continue to talk about this.
Q No, but I mean, why don't you lead the effort in sitting down with him and working out finding out exactly what their objections are and say here's what we could do --
MR. LOCKHART: Jim, I have to be candid here. We tried to do that last week. As I mentioned to some of you over the last couple of days, we tried to go up and brief senators. Senators refused. We heard from senators that there's just not enough time to do this. I'm not going to get into private conversations on who said exactly what. But we tried to go up and do briefings and figure out what the concerns were. And it all -- it was peeling back different layers of the onion to find that there was a partisan exercise going on, where the vote, or the treaty, was only allowed out of committee -- out of Senator Helms' committee -- once he knew he had enough votes to defeat it.
And when it came to -- as I read in the paper this morning -- 90 -- this is from a Republican aide, an anonymous Republican aide -- 90 out of 100 Senators wanted this vote delayed, and the reason it wasn't delayed was because a procedural vote on party loyalty was more important than what 90 percent of the Senate thought was in our national security interest.
Q Let me ask you just a question on the other side of that. I understand your point, the President's point, about the Republicans' role in this. Don't you also wonder if the White House did its homework properly? I mean, they offered you a take-it-or-leave-it deal, as the President put it. And you took the deal without knowing that you had the votes to pass it.
MR. LOCKHART: There was -- listen, you can look at this in a vacuum, or you can look at it in reality. This -- we've been trying to get this treaty up for two years. We -- there was no one who wanted this done in a week. But there was no sense that this treaty was ever going to come out of Senator Helms' committee.
Now, having looked at where we were several days into this, almost everybody with any sense in this town said, let's delay it. Let's put this off.
Q That's my point. Why did you take the deal?
MR. LOCKHART: Anyone -- there's -- sometimes you're given a choice that is really no choice at all.
Q So you're saying several days after that, you realized that it was a mistake, and that you wanted it --
MR. LOCKHART: That it would be a mistake to go forward and that -- what I'm telling you is that most people with sense in this town said we ought to delay this, it's in our national security interest to delay this. And from what I read in the newspaper today 90 out of 100 Senators, 90 percent of the United States Senate though the right thing to do was delay this vote. But we moved forward with this vote which has tremendous national security implication to this country because 10 percent -- let me finish -- 10 percent of the United States Senate thought we can't do this, and we can't do it.
There is a real ultimate irony in all of this which is that what this really reflects is this titanic debate that's gone on over the last several years within the Republican Party has finally been settled in favor of fortress America, isolationism. And the same week that the person who was pushing it, Pat Buchanan, is leaving the party. There is an irony in all this. But they have settled their issue, even though the vast majority of their party thought we ought to put this off.
Q You're saying the Republican Party leadership has adopted a Pat Buchanan foreign policy?
MR. LOCKHART: The vote that they took to move -- to not delay and to vote this test ban treaty down reflects some decision within their party that moves towards isolationism rather than engagement in the world.
Q Joe, you've been articulating the sense of frustration. The President obviously gave that impression yesterday during his news conference. I'm wondering if that signals any concern that major legislative accomplishments are becoming increasingly elusive as his term winds down.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President addressed that directly yesterday. We've got business to do in the next two weeks on the budget -- next week on the budget. And we don't have a choice. We're going to get this done. We are going to continue to invest in education, we are going to continue to put more cuts on the street, we are going to continue to invest in protecting our environment. It may take a little while for all of this to catch up --
Q That's not coiling for a fight over the budget, as some Republicans have said, looking to blame a shutdown on them?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President was clear on this yesterday. Our operating principle on CTBT was that the treaty was in our national security -- I have seen some of the strangest punditry over the last 24 hours about somehow, we wanted to lose this in order -- so we could have a fight or an issue. That is absurd, ridiculous. This is important for our national security. We have seen the partisan politics entering foreign policy in like no way, I think, in our history in the last few years. It's wrong, but the President wants to get things done. He is not someone who relishes confrontation, he relishes cooperation, and we're going to work with Congress. They've got -- on the budget, they've got to make a decision. They have yet to.
We've got an example within the last day or so, which is they're looking at doing some of the Medicare give-backs on '97, and you ask them how they're going to pay for them, and they say, we're going to pay with the surplus. And you say, but you have seven other appropriation chairmen who are using the same surplus, saying they're going to pay for their spending. This is going to get serious at some point. Not yet. You know, we'll wait until the 11th hour, but we are going to get serious and we're going to get something done.
Q Based upon what you just said, that the politicization of the test ban treaty is simply wrong. What's your opinion of the Vice President now making it a campaign issue?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, the Senate has spoken. The Senate, very clearly spoken, said that they've defeated the treaty. This is now for the public. This is now in the public domain where the public will decide who has got the right view on this. So I think it's legitimate, it's a legitimate part of the political debate.
I'll be interested to see the ads of all the candidates who have taken the position that we shouldn't test, but we shouldn't have a treaty so others can test. That'll be an interesting ad.
Q The Senate Majority Leader said that it's absolutely the wrong thing to do for the Senate to vote based on public pressure.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that the Senate majority -- the Senate majority fixed the process so public pressure couldn't be brought to bear. So I think that that's somewhat of a disingenuous comment.
Q Joe, are you saying that --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, in the back, Bob.
Q Yes, on cooperation. Senator Lott said yesterday that up until a couple of days ago, he had not spoken to the President since the middle of July. I'm wondering, A, whether that's true; B, whether that's the way the President wants it to continue to be; and C, whether the President feels like it's important to have a personal relationship with the majority leadership.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President does. I think on a number of issues the President does have a positive relationship. I'll tell you something, the President went out two or three weeks ago and talked about how his door was open to work on the budget. The Chief of Staff here went in and said, they ought to come down and talk about this. And, you know, we just haven't heard anything. The President --
Q Did they specifically invite --
Q Has he actually invited them up here?
MR. LOCKHART: The President said his door's open, and he wants to talk to them.
Q Well, wait a minute. There's a difference between saying the door is open and picking up the phone and saying, Senator Lott, I'd like you to come up tomorrow.
MR. LOCKHART: I would refer you to the Chief of Staff's appearance on Wolf Blitzer, a week ago Sunday, when he issued an invitation, an open invitation.
Q Apart from any --
MR. LOCKHART: Let's stick with Bob.
Q Apart from invitations or not invitations, what is the President looking forward -- what kind of a personal relationship does he think is necessary with the leadership on the Hill to get some of these things done? Does he think it's necessary at all? Or can there continue to be this, we don't talk to each other, we just --
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I don't think it's a situation that we don't talk to each other. I mean, I don't think a day goes by where someone in this White House doesn't talk to Senator Lott, or Senator Lott's staff. The lines of communication are certainly open.
But let's not let that disguise the process we just went through. And we've probably talked too much about the process. Let's not disguise the consequences. You know, I read in the paper today that there are some expressing remorse that this process went this way, and they couldn't have delayed it. Well, guess what? They controlled the process, and there are consequences for their actions.
They have taken the action of voting this treaty down. And it's almost like they're surprised that we've been condemned around the world. Well, guess what? The rest of the world was watching. We said they'd be watching, and they were.
Q Is the President willing to risk shutting down some government services by vetoing individual spending bills? And if he is not, what other stick does he have to convince the Republicans on Capitol Hill to support some of his spending initiatives?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, first off, the President is not interested in shutting any of the government down. I think he made very clear when he signed the CR, now two weeks ago, how important it was for Congress to start facing these issues honestly, making the tough decisions and getting the American people's business done. We've really seen no evidence of that in the last two weeks. In fact, it's gotten considerably worse. We've gone from bad ideas to terrible ideas to hybrid, terrible, bad ideas. I mean, it's just everything you can think of in a head-spinning flurry of activity that still seeks to obscure the basic budget questions that we have to answer.
I think the President believes that they eventually will understand that the music has stopped on the shell game, they've got to come clean, be honest on the numbers, make the tough choices and, you know, if they come back and say they need another week to do that we're not going to be happy about that, but I don't think that we'll be in a position where this becomes -- it becomes impossible.
But I think, ultimately, what Congress needs to understand is the public is watching. They understand that in their roles -- if you're running your own business you don't get to put things off by three or four weeks, or create a thirteenth month or say that ordinary expenses are emergencies, and that ultimately there will be a sense that they've got to get their business done, they've got to work with us and, you know, whether that's by next Thursday or if they want to take longer, we'll see what happens.
Q So you would sign another CR?
MR. LOCKHART: We're going to try to get everything we need to get done in the next week. If they don't come -- if they come back here and if they can make a credible case about why they need an extra week to finish the work -- listen, we're in a situation right now, at this moment where you have Republican members going around the country talking about how education is their top priority and they have yet to take an education bill to the floor of the House. We are now two weeks past the end of the fiscal year and it's -- nobody knows where it is.
Q Where does this go? If neither side wants to we are now two weeks past the end of the fiscal year and it's -- nobody knows where it is.
Q But where does this go? If neither side wants a government shutdown it sounds like we're going to just have CR after CR.
MR. LOCKHART: I doubt that will be the case. We're going to get to the point where I think they realize they need to work with us. We need to stop the gimmicks, start with honest decisions. They're tough. We know they're tough. We made them when we sent the budget up. And we'll see where it goes.
Q Things are coming down to an across-the-board cut of -- a fairly small amount, according to Senator Lott, or dipping into Social Security funds; which of those do you prefer?
MR. LOCKHART: First off, that's a false choice. It is not a small amount by -- if you use real numbers as opposed to directed scoring, even if you use CBO numbers that have some problems with it, you're looking at about a nine percent across the board cut.
Q Nine percent.
MR. LOCKHART: Nine percent.
Q He says less than one.
MR. LOCKHART: You know, they also say that there is a 13th month that they have yet to name. We're looking at about a nine percent cut. Let's think about this for a second. We're going to cut up to nine percent in education programs, in law enforcement, just right across the board. I think the President made clear yesterday that's not going to happen. He's not going to sign something.
Q Now the President, when he signed the balanced budget agreement, was contemplating even deeper cuts than that himself. And even under your new budget, you have 12 percent cuts as far as the eye can see in government programs.
MR. LOCKHART: And we've made honest decisions, tough choices about what our priorities are and how we need to invest in our future. They, on the other hand, the Republicans, having been unable to reconcile their own problems, having been unable to resist the urge to do things like building ships that the Pentagon hasn't asked for are in a box now. How are they going to get out of it? They want to use this formula that just says we'll just cut everything across the board. Well the President has made clear that's not the way to run the government, that's not the way we came in here in 1993 and turned our economic situation to what will be, if everything continues going well, the longest expansion our economy in history by February. The way you do it is you sit and you make tough decisions. You don't play games.
Q Joe, the Republicans have also made clear that they're not going to accept tobacco increases, they've marched out low income people that they say would be disproportionately affected by that -- not going to accept --
MR. LOCKHART: Were those people -- did those people get EITC?
Q I don't know, Joe; I wasn't there. They also said they opposed corporate loophole closures.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q So what is left, other than --
MR. LOCKHART: What is left? Listen, if they're not willing to accept some of the tough decisions, they've got to put some down on the table themselves. They can't have it both ways.
Q So you're saying here that at the eleventh hour if neither side can agree to what either side wants that you're not going to jointly agree to jump off the bridge and dip into Social Security?
MR. LOCKHART: What I'm saying is -- the basis of productive and constructive conversation and negotiations is for them to come clean about the numbers, we figure out where we are, we figure out how we pay for these things and we move forward. They have yet to take that important step yet.
Q Is that a yes or no to the question?
MR. LOCKHART: What was the question?
Q That at the eleventh hour, if neither side agrees to what the other side wants, you won't jointly agree to dip into --
MR. LOCKHART: I can't look into the future. The Republicans have to make a decision of whether they're going to come with us with $24 billion in emergency spending that includes things like the census, and the normal operation and maintenance at the Pentagon, and all sorts of other things. That's not the basis of us having a conversation about anything legitimate.
Q Joe, Hastert was saying yesterday that they're going to get you all the bills, or that's the priority, to get you all the bills, by Thursday, by the end of this CR. So why do you need another CR?
MR. LOCKHART: We may not need another CR.
Q Well, if they do that, you won't need another CR.
MR. LOCKHART: They certainly have enough veto threats to understand what bills we'll sign and what we won't sign. And I think the point the President made yesterday is important, which is: they have structured this in a way where they've sent down a bunch of bills that hide the problems. And then they'll say, hey, guess what, see this? in the last couple bills.
The President made clear that he's not interested in moving forward on any of these bills until he gets a sense of what their overall picture is, and how they're going to pay for things.
Q Right, but what my question really is, isn't the CR really just a chance -- gives you a chance to veto their bills? I mean, if they get their work done, then can't they -- if there was no CR, just, you know, blame you for vetoing their bills?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think we've made very clear what we need to see in this legislation before it comes down here. If they want to send bills down here that they know we'll veto, then they'll need to ask for another CR.
Q Well, Joe, they're saying that if they get the bills to you, which they say they will --
MR. LOCKHART: They said they would by October 1st, too, so there's some history here.
Q Well, never mind the exact day, but let's assume they are going to get a bunch of bills to you that cover the whole thing, some point soon.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes?
Q They are saying that in the event the President vetoes some of them, it will be necessary to dip into Social Security, and it will be on his head. Do you think that -- well, what's your response to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, let me just answer this -- we've done this over the last couple months. They can say whatever they want. You can decide whether you believe them or not, whether you think it's rhetoric or whether it's fact. And you don't need to listen to me. Leave here, after this briefing, get in a cab, go up and go sit in the office of the Director of the Congressional Budget Office and ask them a simple question: based on the appropriations bills to date that they've passed, have they spent the Social Security surplus, answer; and then put his answer on television or in your newspaper and you'll understand.
Q New subject?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q In Okinawa today, the legislature passed a resolution permitting the move of the Futenma Base, which has been so contentious in relation toward the United States, within the prefecture of Okinawa. This represents a change in policy. I'm wondering what the administration's reaction is.
MR. LOCKHART: We are which has been so contentious in relation to the United States, within the prefecture of Okinawa this represents a change in policy. I'm wondering what the administration's reaction is?
MR. LOCKHART: We are aware of the reports, I believe, but I haven't been given any guidance on any reaction to that. Why don't you come back to me later today and I'll get some for you.
Q What does the President think of the latest wholesale price numbers?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's important to, when you're looking at -- I'll tell you how the President looks at economic numbers. We look at long-term numbers in order to formulate what we think is the best policy for this government and for the American people. And I think we have a very strong track record on this.
The economic fundamentals in this country are sound. We have low unemployment, low inflation, strong job growth, low interest rates. While we monitor month-to-month economic reports closely in the business of developing overall economic policy, we look to longer-term indicators.
Q But if the Chairman of the Federal Reserve has been indicating that inflation is looming, is this an indication that it, in fact, has come home to roost?
MR. LOCKHART: I think as far as the Federal Reserve Chairman, he is properly independent, so I'm not going to comment on anything he may have said or not said. As far as inflation looming, I've answered that in the first answer.
Q What rate did the President get in his mortgage?
MR. LOCKHART: Seven-and-a-half.
Q Seven-and-a-half percent?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Joe, did you have a chance to look into the Medicare proposals that Thomas --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Obviously, on the Medicare proposals we've been saying since 1997 that some of the cuts, particularly to hospitals and nursing homes, went too far. And we've been looking at ways to rectify that problem.
We have talked to both the Senate and the House about the so-called balanced budget amendment give-backs, particularly to the areas that I mentioned. They have moved forward in a way that causes us some concern about how they're paid for. We believe that we should do this in a much broader context of Medicare reform. The President has put forward a detailed program on reforming the Medicare system, including providing prescription drug benefit. That's what we'd like them to do. We can't force them to do that. We'll do this, you know, big or small.
But they have to face the issue of how they'll pay for it. And the President, it is our belief that they can pay for it through modernization, using private sector practices for the Medicare system and HCFA, which will provide the cost savings to pay for the give-backs. We can't do this in a way where they say, well, we're just -- we're spending the on-budget surplus, because that was spent two or three months ago by other appropriators.
Q They're also, they're talking about some $10 billion to $15 billion in give-backs. How about the amounts that are in these bills? Is that sufficient, or too much?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I don't know that there's -- I don't know how far apart we are on the actual numbers. I think the real issue here is -- I mean, I think both sides recognize the problem. There's no dispute over what the problem is. But it's, how are we going to pay for it, and what a lost opportunity this will be if, in looking at this particular issue, we don't put it into the context of broader reform, and make some of the reforms we need to get savings in the system.
Q Joe, Ken Starr's successor, who is under Starr's mandate, I guess, his decision to produce a report before the next election -- a report that Starr says will include work that the First Lady did in her law firm -- apparently got his first job, Bob Ray, from Rudy Giuliani. Do you have some concerns about this?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I mean, I've got no particular concern. I'm not familiar with the gentleman, but I'm not aware of any particular concerns.
I think the concern that I expressed this morning was that, you know, we have both articulated and obvious concerns about the open-ended nature of the independent counsel process, and the statute has now expired, so much of this problem has been addressed, but there are still some ongoing concerns. And you know, there is -- so there is a concern that we're continuing to keep going and keep going and people are moving up. It's sort of part of the process of getting ahead, and the independent counsel game is, you know, being involved in a series of these investigations. We think they ought to find a way to wrap this up.
Q So your concern is not that the guy came from the inside, just that it's continuing, period.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think again, there is nothing -- I don't know the gentleman so I don't -- and don't --
Q This morning you were saying it was dubious because he had worked for the -- Espy --
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's -- there is something dubious about taking -- promoting experience, both in this investigation and going to Espy, which I think was widely criticized by almost all sides for the length and cost and the results rather than finding a way to wrap this up.
Q Joe, aside from your institutional concerns, is there at least a sense that the President might get a slightly fairer treatment now that Ken Starr is stepping down? And I know that a lot of Democrats have said that he personally had a --
MR. LOCKHART: Like I said this morning, I think we'll all welcome the fact that we don't have to watch him take his garbage out every day. Beyond that, who knows.
Q Isn't there some deadline when this has to end since the statute has expired?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that was part of the problem with the Independent Counsel Statute.
Q And the radio tomorrow is what subject, please?
MR. LOCKHART: Radio tomorrow will be talking about how we can work together in a bipartisan fashion to address the problem that many disabled Americans face and how Senator Kennedy and Senator Jeffords are working on that and how the President will be using some other authority that he has in his role as President to address that situation.
Q The Week Ahead?
Q Joe, on Medicare --
MR. LOCKHART: Need to do last escort. I don't know what that means, but on Medicare.
Q Are you saying that if a bill comes to you and even though it has all the same components that the President wants, if it's surplus funded rather than modernization, efficiency --
MR. LOCKHART: The point is that there is no surplus for them to -- on budget surplus for them to spend because it's already been spent. So our point is you've got to tell us how you're going to pay for it. We -- our preference is you pay it through modernizing the system and deriving savings. They have not taken that step yet. They'll need to take that step.
Week ahead. The President's weekly Radio Address will be broadcast Saturday morning. Saturday night the President will address the National Italian-American Foundation dinner at the Washington Hilton; 8:15 p.m. open press.
Nothing on Sunday. Monday, the President will travel to Elizabeth, New Jersey to attend an event for the New Jersey Assembly Democratic candidates.
Q What time is that?
MR. LOCKHART: Depart the White House at 5:00 p.m. and should be back around 10:30 p.m. That is at a private residence so a print pooler will cover that event for the rest of you.
Q Why is he doing that? Isn't that relatively obscure for him -- New Jersey?
MR. LOCKHART: I think they actually raise a significant amount of money for the state -- for the candidates for state office in New Jersey.
Q Have he seen Elizabeth, New Jersey?
MR. LOCKHART: It's a great place. I've seen it. Tuesday, October 19th the President will join the Democratic Congressional leaders at a Voices Against Violence event in the Cannon Caucus room. Joining the leaders in this event will be hundreds of students from across the country. They're coming to DC to speak out against teen violence. The President will also be meeting with the Panamanian President and will attend a DCCC reception and DSCC dinner.
Wednesday, October 20th, the President and First Lady will host an event honoring the 5th anniversary of AmeriCorps, 2:00 p.m., South Lawn. Thursday, October 21st, the President will host the National Association of Police Organization for its annual Top Cops event, 2:00 p.m, Rose Garden. He will attend a reception for Senator Kennedy and a DNC dinner that evening.
On Friday, the President and First Lady will host the White House Conference on Philanthropy. And I can get you more on that. Friday evening, the President will attend an annual Virginia Kennedy-King Dinner at the Alexandria Hilton.
Thank you very much.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:55 P.M. EDT