THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon. Glad someone cleaned up this place after the raucous Friday afternoon.
I'm going to start with -- we, from time to time -- well, we very often get great e-mail messages here at the White House and I try to go through them from time to time to understand where the American public is and what they're thinking. And one that I was looking through was particularly interesting, so I thought I'd share it with you.
It came in a little while ago and it reads, "This careful reader of all transcript notes that one when briefing transcript is posted identifying Jim Steinberg as the guy who will come and brief later, then the following briefing is done by a `Senior Administration Official' on background, it's done less than anonymously. My advice" -- we're always open to advice -- "don't let people brief on background. In cyberspace, everyone will figure it out anyhow. (Do you guys really read these?)" And it's signed, Mike McCurry, Silver Spring. (Laughter.)
So, yes, we really read these and we're probably still going to do background briefings. But we appreciate his input here. (Laughter.) Honest to God, here it is. Here's his e-mail address -- (laughter) -- no, can't do that.
Q Can you give us that on background? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. As someone familiar with Mr. McCurry's thinking, his e-mail address is -- okay. Terry, why don't you ask me a question?
Q Joe, what did the President mean?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, he meant what he said. (Laughter.) Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Lori, do you have a question?
Q Joe, when is the budget summit going to be?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're looking to see if the leaders -- we made calls today to see if we can meet as early as tomorrow.
Q So what did they say?
MR. LOCKHART: We haven't heard -- I haven't heard back, by the time I came out, whether we've been able to schedule it, but we'd like to get going on this --
Q But have they accepted the invitation?
MR. LOCKHART: We're making the calls a couple hours ago. I haven't gotten a final answer on when --
Q Your budget assumptions rest in part on funding from a tobacco tax, on which there seems to have been little or no progress, and there appears to be little or no chance of passage --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me remind you on the tobacco tax that within the last year, a majority of both Houses voted for a tax that was twice as large as that on tobacco. So I think those who are opposed to this are speaking loudly about how dead it is, but Congress has been on record within the last year supporting a tax twice as large.
I think what the Republican majority has tried to do here is keep all the numbers spinning, and hoping that no one could count them all up at the end. But we're now coming to the end. The President wants to see, based on his desire to remain fiscally disciplined, where all the money is coming from. As he said this morning, the reality already is that they've spent the Social Security surplus based on their own CBO. And the President wants to sit down and say, if we want additional spending, it's got to be paid for.
Q Has there been any progress on that front? Any sign that they realize that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the way you make progress is you sit down and you talk. That's why the President -- the door has been open for several weeks. Now we've explicitly said, please come down and talk to us about this. We want to get something done. We want to see what the whole plan is. And, you know, we'll see how they react.
Q -- tax be a priority for the President when he does sit down with them?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly. I mean, the priority here is to maintain fiscal discipline while investing in our priorities. We don't want to shortchange class size, we need the 100,000 teachers. We don't want to shortchange law enforcement, we need the 50,000 additional cops. We don't want to shortchange our protection of the environment. This is a proven strategy that works. Look at the numbers that came out of the Justice Department over the weekend; crime rate is at a 32-year low. And this didn't happen by accident, it happened by making tough choices, taking on special interests, passing the Brady Bill, the Assault Weapons Ban, the COPS Program. And we need to keep moving forward.
Q This morning the President talked about other offsets. He's been suggesting that he had some other ones that he hasn't mentioned yet?
MR. LOCKHART: There are certainly other offsets that were included in our budget.
Q -- only talking about other ones other than tobacco, not a whole new set of one?
MR. LOCKHART: No, there are certainly offsets available to the Congress that we put forward in our budget. And we need to take a look at them. I think what the President's point was is we need to stop getting away from a rhetorical budget and into one that involves real numbers. The Republicans can stand there and say as many times as they want that they haven't spent the Social Security surplus in their appropriations bills, but the numbers don't lie.
Their own budget office, repeatedly now, has said they are spending the Social Security surplus. We think that they ought to make the tough decisions, they ought to take the remaining bills that are coming down here exempting some things like Agriculture, and say, show us the whole plan, show us how you're going to pay for it and work with us on if there is need, where there is a need for additional spending, offsetting that spending.
Q Does the President have any other ideas other than the ones they've already rejected?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know how they've rejected them. I mean, we need to sit across from a table and work this out. And they need -- again, what they're hoping to do is spend the Social Security surplus, go home and pretend that they didn't. That's not going to happen.
Q Joe, the New York Times --
Q You should have called on -- (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, I thought maybe I'd get another question like Terry's.
Q Joe, the New York Times quotes Mrs. Clinton as telling a New York news conference, "I don't think studying the minimum wage to death instead of raising it is fair to the working people." And my question is, does the President agree and, if so, how high does he believe the minimum wage should be? And I have one follow up.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the President supports the Bonior bill that would raise the minimum wage by a dollar over a two-year period.
Q Does the President believe in equal rights for women in our Armed Forces, including the equal right to be called up by Selective Service?
MR. LOCKHART: The President's views on this are well known, as articulated both by he and his spokesman --
Q Does he believe women should be drafted like men?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me look into that.
Q Joe, on the subject of rhetoric with the budget, the congressional leadership has said that while it might be amenable to meeting with the President to try to get this issue resolved, the President should have made this invitation privately, through telephone calls, and should not have done it through a photo op.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, I guess my argument to that is -- or my response to that is we ought to get past that. This isn't about personal feelings. This isn't about those who might feel slighted in some way. This is about getting the people's work done. We're past deadline here. We're well into overtime. It's about getting the people's work done.
Q You've got a calligrapher on the staff. I mean, you could send out some nice invitations on a moment's notice. (Laughter.)
Q But, Joe, it's all about getting the people's work done, but it's all about who comes out of this looking the best.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that may be the way the Republicans see it. And judging from some of the maneuvers and gimmicks we've seen, clearly, clearly they are highly sensitive to the fact and are working very hard to hide what they've done here. But the numbers -- again, the numbers paint the true picture. And the true picture is, they've passed a series of appropriations bills that dip into the Social Security surplus. There's no way around that.
Now, the President wants to work with them. He's invited them down here to work together to see if, in the areas where there's a need for more spending -- which there are areas where the President's priorities have not been funded -- to see if we can do that in a way where we pay for them.
Q You've been saying that the President's door is open, has been open. Have you issued specific invitations before --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Yes.
Q -- and they have been refused?
MR. LOCKHART: We made very clear, in our public and private comments, that we want to work with them. The President said, when he talked to you -- when he talked to you two weeks ago, said his door was open. Now, two weeks and one day -- two weeks and one day ago, the Chief of Staff here, speaking for the President, invited them and said, let's work together. Come down. Today --
Q Talked to specific people up there saying, come here --
MR. LOCKHART: No. He was on television. And I know they watch that, so --
Q That's different.
Q Wait. Is today the first day you made phone calls to these individual --
MR. LOCKHART: We have specifically invited them to come down. Again, let's be serious here. You know, I saw yesterday Republican leaders ruling out any discussion with the President. That's a ridiculous idea. We're going to move forward. We're going to get the people's business done. And, you know, I think it's very much in everyone's interest for the congressional leaders to work with the President.
Q Joe, the President also said this morning he would probably be willing to sign another short-term CR. By "short" are you limiting that to just one week extension or is the President willing to go in through November, if need be?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the way the President views this is days, as far as short.
Q Like the last CR?
Q Joe, I've just been told that the Republican leadership has agreed to come tomorrow. Can you confirm that? Can you have somebody double check?
MR. LOCKHART: Can someone go check that?
Q So is this the last CR that he'll sign before --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I said the President I think said pretty clearly -- we'll wait until this is done --
Q He'll sign days at a time or --
MR. LOCKHART: No, no, I'm talking about days, rather than weeks, as far as the length of the CR.
Q But he's open to signing more than one if necessary?
MR. LOCKHART: We're going to take this one at a time. They haven't even sent down one to extend it, but we do expect that this week.
Q Joe, how do you envision this budget summit unfolding? I mean, do you expect to go somewhere and stay for three days or do you expect --
MR. LOCKHART: That is impossible to anticipate beyond the fact that we expect the leadership to come down here. And we'll work out a framework for working through these budget issues.
Q So it'll happen here in one day?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I said it's --
Q It's not like enduros negations that they had on budget before --
MR. LOCKHART: I think you should wait to see how things unfold and not try to look at past negotiations for a model.
Q Well, that's why I'm trying to get some idea from you, what you expect.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, what I expect is that we'll have a good meeting with the leadership and work on a frame work for how we work through these issues. And I can't anticipate in what format that will happen.
Q Joe, the Republicans have resisted the word "summit" because they say in the past years when you got together for a summit you ended up spending a lot of money that they didn't really want to spend. So they're interested in a meeting but not a summit. Can you characterize the difference?
MR. LOCKHART: I think they're thinking too hard about this. If they really have -- if they held a meeting to decide whether you called it a "meeting" or a "summit," then it's no surprise that they haven't finished their work until now. They ought to stop having meetings about what you call your meeting, and start having meetings about being honest about the numbers, and getting their work done.
Q And I have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q What's different about this year than years past? I mean, we're going back -- this looks a lot like 1995, now. It doesn't look like the last three years. How has the landscape changed? What's behind it?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I don't think so. We have -- every year that I've been here, when you got to this part of October, and you were over the limit, and you had to pass a CR, the President has sat down with congressional leaders and worked through the budget issues --
Q But fundamentally the arguments, the dynamic, is different. A senior White House source said that he thought it was a little different this year.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, you'll have to talk to others to see how you think it's different. I'll tell you what's the same is the President is committed to investing in education. The President is committed to putting more police on the street. The President is committed to protecting our environment -- all at the same time while protecting our fiscal discipline, which is responsible for the strong economy we enjoy.
There are philosophical differences we share with Republicans. It's the President's job, it's the congressional leaders' job to bridge those differences and come out with a budget that works for America.
Q I know the President said he does not want another government shutdown. But if there is a government shutdown, does he think it is the Republicans who will get hurt?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not going to speculate and theorize about something that hasn't happened.
Q A question on the environment. You've listed education, environment, and --
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, hold on one second.
MR. SIEWERT: Larry talked to -- invited them, and we haven't heard back. We have no reason to think they won't come tomorrow.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. We're waiting to hear back, but we expect there will be a meeting tomorrow. Or a summit, or an event, or a tete-a-tete, or -- (laughter.)
Q An occasion.
MR. LOCKHART: An occasion, thank you.
Q On the environment. You've listed that a number of times as one of your top priorities. But the President, I believe, signed the appropriations with EPA -- that covers EPA. So what specifically --
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, there's a variety of things within the Interior Bill -- the President's land legacy, some of the environmental riders that are -- the language provisions that are within the Interior Bill. So there are a number of things that are listed in our statement to Congress.
Q Is the President open to a compromise that extends until next year this idea that you no longer will reach into the Social Security surplus?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think what the President would like to do is sit down and figure out how we pay for these things. They've already reached into the Social Security surplus, according to the CBO. I think one of the areas of discussion when they come down here is how can we go forward without doing that and how can we pay for the additional spending that they've put forward; how do we pay for the priorities that we've put forward. We have a plan, we sent forward a budget; we think we can do it. But we're going to have to sit across the table and try to work this out.
Q Does the President plan to veto the two new D.C. appropriations bills, the House and the Senate, the new versions that were passed last week?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we're going to have to take a look at that. No final decision has been passed on to me.
Q Joe, can you please give me an update on the situation in Pakistan? And also if the President has spoken with anybody in Pakistan? And, number two, according to this headline here, 50 years of democracy --
MR. LOCKHART: Wait, I can beat that headline. I brought my own today. (Laughter.) Everybody got that? Thank you.
Q -- 50 years of democracy and -- in India. And most of the 50 years military rules in Pakistan?
MR. LOCKHART: Why do I think this is a loaded question? (Laughter.) Is this a question of like, what bad can you say about Pakistan today from the podium. (Laughter.) Okay, question.
Q Don't you think that this is a -- it's time for the President to visit the world's largest democracy? And last time the U.S., first President was I think 20 years ago, President Carter. So what's holding him now, because last time he told me at the press conference that he's waiting now for the new government to come in India, because now time is not good for him to visit India.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President, as you well know, has long expressed an interest in traveling to the subcontinent and viewing that part of the world, expanding our relations there. There are a number of things as far as nonproliferation, and a number of areas where there are remaining concerns. And when we get to the point where we can schedule a trip we'll announce that.
Q Just to follow-up. How do you see the relations today with the U.S. and Pakistan?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's obviously not business as usual. We've made very clear that it will not be business as usual until a civilian and democratic government is restored. We looked at the statements made over the weekend with a mixed view because while there was a commitment made to the restoration of democracy and civilian rule, there was no clear time table and we were very disappointed in the fact that there wasn't a time table.
Q And the President has not spoken with anybody as --
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Could you explain what you mean by when you -- you and the President also said they've already reached into the Social Security surplus? I mean, as far as I know no money has been spent yet for FY 2000.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the Congressional Budget Office looked at the appropriations they've done -- they've clearly marked up and put to the floor spending in the other bills, and when you look at that all together they have spent tens of billions of dollars of the Social Security fund. I saw something in the paper today that put the number at $46 billion. I'm not quite sure where that comes from. They have not only reached in but they've also done a number of emergency designations and budget gimmicks that sort of put the spending off until next year.
I will remind you, anything you put off until next year you face an even bigger problem next year. This is not a matter that I don't think is any longer subject to debate. The Congressional Budget Office looked at the numbers, they looked at the appropriations bills on where they are, they've actually added spending since they looked at the numbers and they concluded that they spent the Social Security surplus.
Q If they had an across-the-board spending cut that would mitigate that, wouldn't it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at what the work the OMB has done on this, if they have across-the-board spending cuts, and they don't want to spend the Social Security surplus, and they want to exempt defense -- which I believe is what they've indicated they want to do -- you're looking at a 17 percent across-the-board cut in other spending.
Q One other question. Is it possible for the President to visit India and Bangladesh without necessarily also visiting Pakistan?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate on travel plans that we have not made nor announced.
Let me come back to the 17 percent across-the-board cut, though. That would be a devastating cut to hundreds of thousands of families around this country who rely on some of the educational programs, who rely on programs like WIC, to law enforcement agencies that will lose thousands of officers from their ranks on the federal level, whether they be in the FBI or whether they be border agents. And there's -- in every area of the government, you're looking at spending -- imagine how that would be for any household budget. Those would be real and painful, at a time when these are areas that we should be investing in.
Q When he sits down with the leaders, possibly tomorrow, is he going to insist that Social Security and Medicare be part of the budget discussions, that Medicare reform be part of that, is he going to put it on the table?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has always indicated that that's his preference. He will continue to make the case for the overall reforms and plans he's made. But we are going to have to deal with these appropriations issues and we are going to have to come to some solution because we can't continually put the deadline off.
Q I was watching Craig Thomas, the Senator from Wyoming, on the floor a little while ago expressing concern and a wariness about dealing with the White House right now, talking about the time that the government was shut down. He said, "Clinton shut down the government and we got blamed." Now, I know you may quibble with that, but that's at least his perception. And there is this perception in the Senate and in the House that they need to be extremely careful because they can come out on the losing end of this deal. How can you reassure them that the President is sincere and not out to gain political advantage?
MR. LOCKHART: My first reaction to statements like that one, and many others that are made, is that their priorities are misplaced. This is not about gaining political advantage, it's not about who wins and loses this effort. It's about getting the job done and getting it done in a straightforward way. So I think they --
Q Do you acknowledge this wariness on the other side?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, they say it, so I'm not going to question nor spend a lot of time trying to understand their motives, beyond that I think that they're more concerned at this point with losing a political fight and less concerned with getting this done in a way that makes the right investments and guards our fiscal discipline.
Q What does the President do to allay those concerns?
MR. LOCKHART: He sits across the table and talks to them and tries to work this out in an honest, straightforward way. It's something we've been open to and trying to do for weeks now. Hopefully we can get this process started.
Q Joe, since this is the first time that he's met with them in a very long time, and since you expect it is going to come up tomorrow, what is the starting point? How does he open a meeting with his adversaries?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he reminds them where we are in this process, how late in the game it is and the work we have to do. There are four or five bills left in question and it's difficult to move forward on any of them without understanding the overall spending plan. And we're going to have to figure out with the leadership, what their plans are and how we're able to bridge the differences.
Q Well, isn't the atmosphere, though, kind of poisoned right now for this kind of meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the public expects and has a right that their political leaders will put their interests first and their personal feelings second. The President is certainly willing to do that. He made that quite clear today. He's going to do that. And we expect the Republicans will, too.
Q Joe, does the President believe that his friend, Kurt Schmoke, has been a good mayor of Baltimore? And I have one follow up.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q When an arrested drug-pushing robber grappled for a police officer's pistol, he was shot and killed. And Kweisi Mfume immediately called for federal intervention. Does the President believe this was needed in Mayor Schmoke's Baltimore?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't understand what this has to do with the first question --
Q Well, if he believes the mayor has done a good job as mayor, Kweisi Mfume, of the NAACP, immediately called for federal intervention, rather than relying on the mayor and his police department.
MR. LOCKHART: Does he believe he hasn't done a good job? Does he believe he hasn't done a good job?
Q No. All I'm saying is that when Kweisi calls for federal intervention immediately, what does it say about the mayor's police department?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know, but I will listen to your report this afternoon and find out what you think. (Laughter.)
Q It's at 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. tonight, 680 on your dial. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Not on my dial, but there you go. (Laughter.) In the back.
Q Can you comment on the seven year drop in crime, and are there proposals coming down the line to --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think the report that came out of the Justice Department over the weekend indicates how the President's strategy has worked. We've moved forward, as I said earlier, on some very tough votes, on things like the Brady Bill, the Brady law, the assault weapons ban, the COPS program, putting 100,000 cops on the street with community policing at its heart. This is a result of -- as well as a lot of hard work among law enforcement agencies, both at the federal, state and local level.
As far as things we can do, we're in a budget battle right now. The Republicans have sent down a bill, or are sending down a bill, that does not fund the extension of the COPS program. That's fundamentally wrong. This is a strategy that has worked. We need to build on it at a time when we shouldn't be complacent; we should be trying to get this crime rate down even lower, rather than trying to dismantle some of the critical elements of the strategy.
Q Well, Joe, I have another budget -- I have a budget question and another follow-up. It's actually related to the first question.
If you're saying that the Republicans already in their appropriations process have $46 billion they're using to dip into the Social Security surplus, and if they come down and neither side can agree on each other's proposals, then would the goal be to spend as little of the Social Security surplus as possible?
MR. LOCKHART: The goal is to maintain our fiscal discipline. And I think the President has made it very clear on why you want to wall off the Social Security surplus, for reasons he's articulated over the last year.
Again, it is not me, or someone here at the White House, or a Democrat, who says the Republicans have spent the Social Security surplus. It's their own Congressional Budget Office. You know, I can't argue with their numbers. They've looked very closely at the appropriations process, the bills that have come down. And I think what's important, and what the President wants to do, is move forward in a way that is fiscally disciplined, that looks at where you need to spend more and finding a way to pay for it.
Q But if you -- in that context of fiscal discipline, if you're able to at least get this cut down from $46 billion to a lower number, would that be an acceptable means, as long as you jointly agree to do it?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I don't want to go forward today, in advance of the meeting, and say this is exactly -- you have to hit this number or you have to hit that number. We're going to start this process when they sit across the table. And, again, you know, I'll tell you our overall goal is to find a way that maintains our fiscal discipline and makes a critical investment in teachers.
Q And my follow-up. When President Reagan was in office, he called for a budget summit that was precipitated by the stock market, Black October. If the stock market doesn't do all that well this week, do you think that might prompt some action on both sides to get together?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that would violate our rule on speaking about the stock market. So I think I'll take a pass on that.
Q Joe, has the White House had any contact from Mr. Starr's successor?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Joe, the one -- to the extent that the American people are paying any attention to these budget battle -- it might be not at all -- the one way where they do pay attention is if the government shuts down. That's what happened before.
Does the President believe that that is actually a possibility, or is he committed to doing whatever he needs to do to prevent that, in other words, signing CRs if they come to him?
MR. LOCKHART: The President is absolutely committed to doing everything that he can do to keep the government up and running. There is no scenario where we believe it's in anyone's interest to shut the government down.
Q So that's really highly unlikely. We're not talking about a government --
MR. LOCKHART: Highly unlikely.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, Lori? Sorry.
Q Thank you. Does the President think that the White House relationship with Jesse Helms has deteriorated?
Q What's the question?
MR. LOCKHART: "Does the President believe that the White House's relationship with Senator Helms is getting worse?"
Q How much worse -- (laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't disagree with Mara's helpful comment from the back. No, I think the President is quite concerned about how congressional ire manifests itself in nominations. We have a series of ambassador nominees, all well-qualified people that no one in the Senate argues with, that are on hold for another issue.
Q What about the --
MR. LOCKHART: We have judicial nominations that have languished for three or four years, with no stated reason. People who are never able to get either their day in a hearing, to make their case, or their day on the Senate floor, to have an up-or-down vote.
We have a judicial nominee -- a very distinguished member of the Supreme Court of Missouri -- who was voted down because there's one Senator who wants an issue in his reelection race. And for no other stated reason. We have the same nominee's record dangerously distorted by senators who I don't really think understood his record, but were playing politics. I think the President is disturbed. And to the extent that Senator Helms is at the center of some of this, he hopes he can put his partisan differences aside and get on to giving people a chance, who are nominated rightfully by the President, their chance to make their case and not just decide because they don't like them that they're not going anywhere.
Q -- Ronnie White, you guys marshaled some kind of statistics to show that if you're a female or a minority you --
MR. LOCKHART: It was the result of an independent study that --
Q But do you have any similar data about ambassadorial appointments? I mean are you willing to say that race might be involved in this one?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen anything on ambassador -- I think most of those have been caught up in extraneous policy debates. I mean, we all know about Ambassador Holbrooke, who was caught up in a series of issues, one having to do with some questions that were raised and then answered, but then a series of policy issues that really had nothing to do with him. You now have four ambassadors on hold.
Q But the Carol Moseley-Braun thing has nothing to do with race, as far as you're concerned?
MR. LOCKHART: You had Brian Atwood, who was clearly well qualified to go and be the Ambassador to Brazil and who was held up with things that had nothing to do with him. Again, I think it's best left for the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to discuss his opposition.
But if it is some sort of personal problem, he should put that aside. And if there are issues that he feels should be examined and discussed, it ought to go to a hearing. People should have the right -- I think Americans believe this in their core, to defend themselves. And there is just something wrong with a system where senators just arbitrarily, and without justification, hold up these nominations without those who are involved having the right to talk about the issues, to talk about those issue that senators have raised.
Q What about on the broader question of foreign policy -- not just the nominations?
MR. LOCKHART: I think on the broader question of foreign policy, the President, each passing day, gets ample evidence of the dangerous turn toward isolationism within the Republican Party. You see in the Foreign Operations bill that the President vetoed today, we are not meeting the commitments that we've made, particularly in the Middle East, to a peace process that this country cares so much about. You saw in the CTBT vote a turn toward what we see as fortress America and going it alone.
The President believes strongly of the benefits of engaging around the world, of the U.S. demonstrating our leadership. And the Republicans seem to have taken a turn that's philosophically opposed with that view.
Q Joe, back on the budget, do you sense a certain cockiness among the Republicans in this budget process based upon their belief that they'll be in charge here 15 months from now? And does the President have to work extremely hard in the next few weeks to say, I'm still President, I still have my spending priorities and I'm going to win this battle?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I think we should spend a little less time handicapping the fight and looking at what the fight is about. The fight is about whether we're going to reduce class size, whether we're going to invest in technology and school, whether we're going to clean up the environment --
Q But do you sense that?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I always find that people who are shouting the loudest are the ones that would like to obscure the debate. I read every day and I see every day, coming from Capitol Hill, Republican after Republican saying, we're not spending Social Security surplus -- when the Budget Office says they are.
So I think that the President has made a strong case, he's made a case for how you pay for investments you make, and we'll see how the talks go.
Q But even he said this morning in his address in the Cabinet Room that this year is different, it's not '96, '97 or '98, when we worked together There's a different dynamic here.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think --
Q You think it's pre-election year dynamics?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think the question was --
Q So you disagree with the President's assessment? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the question was more, can we get -- you know, what keeps us from coming to an agreement in '96, '97, '98, we worked with Congress to come to an agreement. We fully expect that we can do that this year.
Q Also on the -- one more on the budget. You said on the CR that you wanted a few days. Did you mean short --
MR. LOCKHART: Days, yes.
Q Days, did you mean to shorten that from what you said previously of a week CR?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I said days, not weeks. That's --
Q Joe, did the President reach any position regarding the request by Colombia to help them reinforce their narco-traffic fight? The $1.5 billion requested by President Pastrana to President Clinton, has the White House reached any decision when they're going to announce, or why they are waiting so long to give an answer to Pastrana?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, when the President met with President Pastrana, they didn't get into numbers, as far as U.S. assistance. President Pastrana took a good bit of time to explain the new strategy that the Colombians were employing. We've been working with them and looking at this to see how best we can support that strategy, which we think is -- that they are moving forward in a positive way. When those deliberations are complete, we will detail how, and in what ways, we will work with the Colombians.
Q Does the President believe that Senator Byrd is an isolationist for not supporting the Test Ban Treaty?
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you'll go ask Senator Byrd, you'll find that his "present" vote was designed to indicate his problem with the process, not with the treaty.
Q -- I have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I obviously don't have an answer.
Q You talked today about that you expect a meeting, very hopeful, but every indication is that the Republicans don't want to meet at a budget summit. So what makes you think they will meet with the President tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Because there's two parts to this, and they -- the Congress has their part, the President has his part. I don't think there's anyone up in Congress who wants to be here at Christmas time. We've got to work this out.
Q Joe, isn't it a contradiction to say that --
MR. LOCKHART: Could be.
Q -- the President is absolutely --
MR. LOCKHART: Wouldn't be the first time. Q That the President is absolutely committed to keeping the
government from shutting down, yet limiting his willingness to sign CRs to --
MR. LOCKHART: No. No, I think that -- when someone is late with their project, the last thing you want to do is give them an unlimited extension. We ought to be able to get this done. We should have been able to get this done by this week. But, you know, for whatever reason, we didn't sit down and work through the differences; we're going to do that, and if it takes another week or so, then it's worth that investment in time.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EDT