THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF EDUCATION RICHARD RILEY, SECRETARY OF INTERIOR BRUCE BABBITT, AND DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER,
The Briefing Room
2:41 P.M. EDT
MR. TOIV: We've got CBS, we've got CNN; what else do we need? We've got Cox, we're doing great.
Good afternoon, everybody. As Joe told you earlier, we thought we would invite three Cabinet Secretaries -- deputy, in one case -- over here to talk about some of the most important issues that are remaining in the appropriations bills that are being worked on on the Hill. Their departments have some of the President's top priorities for the budget. They also can give you, on the other hand, an idea of the very real impact of the 1.4 percent or more across-the-board cut that the Republicans have proposed in budgets for Fiscal Year 2000.
So we have today Secretary of Education Dick Riley; Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.
SECRETARY RILEY: The Republican proposal in Congress for an across-the-board cut of 1.4 percent in federal investment in education is, to me, a short-sighted plan that would penalize our students and our schools.
Once again, the Republican leadership is trying to weaken public education, it seems. One day, it's vouchers, another day, it's an across-the-board cut. At at time when we ought to be preparing all our young people for the challenges of this education era, the most important thing happening as we go into the new millennium, this proposal would represent a signficant step in reverse.
Based on a 1.4 percent cut, the Republican plan slashes critical resources to schools below the President's request, including some $300 million less in funds to serve disabled youth in the learning of basic skils, over $300 million less in after-school program funds, to provide a safe haven for learning after the school doors close for young people; a $30-million cut from programs to help young children learn to read; and $13 million would be cut from the college work-study program.
In addition, the Republican majority in Congress would gut the President's class size reduction program. The Republican proposal breaks the bipartisan commitment, which was made last year, to lower class size to 18 in grades 1-3 by hiring an additional 100,000 qualified teachers -- teachers especially qualified in reading for those young years.
The Republican majority has also refused to fund the President's proposal for $200 million to increase accountability and to turn around low-performing schools. And the Republicans are trying to cut significantly the President's request for GEAR-UP, which gives disadvantaged students and their families pathways to college, connecting up colleges and universities with middle schools.
I ask you to look at what the President and I are fighting for within a fiscally responsibility budget. Our budget strengthens education by continuing towards our goal of hiring 100,000 qualified teachers to reduce class size, modernizing 6,000 schools across the nation, putting computers in our classrooms, investing in Head Start and after-school programs, and strengthening accountability in schools.
I would point out just one program, Title I, that I mentioned. The 1.4 percent cut alone would eliminate services for 168,000 students -- disadvantaged students in poor neighborhoods, to be helped with basic skills; 168,000 students would help with this budget method that they're using, without any priorities whatsoever.
SECRETARY BABBITT: I think I must start by pointing to the ritualistic nature of this exercise. Each year, in terms of my budget, I come to the end of the road to confront a Congress which is bent, once again, upon undermining and repealing the environmental laws that safeguard the landscape and the health of citizens, and the beauty and diversity of our landscape. I'm reluctant to -- it's almost as if we were sort of playing back the soundtrack from previous years.
The oil companies don't want to pay their fair share. They have established a collusive procedure for cheating the public of a fair return. They have persuaded their friends in Congress to stay any attempts to change this.
Well, all of the usual players are there. The timber barons are in, once again, trying to undermine and overturn the judge's orders out of Seattle and the Pacific forest plan. That's the seventh year in a row that the timber barons have been in to legislate on an appropriation package.
The mining companies are in with a novel proposition. They don't want to pay royalties, they don't want to reform the 1872 mining law, but they would like to expand their rights to allow them discretion to dump their toxic wastes at places of their choosing on the public lands.
Now, in addition to the riders -- this is really a disaster of a budget. I'd like to just briefly suggest one concrete example. I went up yesterday to northern New Jersey. I flew up to Newark and went out to a place called Deer Valley Ridge, which is on the northern New Jersey landscape. You look out across -- it's really a Thomas Cole -- landscape -- the trees turning across from the ridge, you can see 100 miles, all the way out to the Hudson River valley. The hawks are riding the thermals. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the American union. They are eager to protect this great, last remaining open space and landscape.
Present with me on that ridge were the officials from Rockaway Township, who have pledged tax money to help acquire this land. Also present were officials from Morris County, the county board of supervisors. They have put money into the cup. The Governor's representatives were there reminding me that the citizens of New Jersey have passed an open space bond issue of $2 billion, and they were putting up their share.
The question I got from county, township and state was: Where's the Congress? We're not asking them to do it all, but we'd like to see something resembling a partnership effort. Where's Congress? Zero. Congress did not appropriate one dime for the landscape of northern New Jersey.
Why is that? Well, you may recall that the President, in his State of the Union, proposed a lands legacy program to help cities, counties and states protect open space. Congress' response to that proposal was not a 1.5 percent reduction. It was zero, nothing. The state side of the Land-Water Fund was authorized 25 years ago. Congress responded this year with nothing. And you can't cut nothing by 1.5 percent.
The President's proposal for lands legacy was cut by a total of -- not a couple million dollars, not 1.5 percent -- but $374 million. That's inclusive of the zero that I just told you about for state and local governments.
We have a congressional leadership which preaches the glories of federalism, which is talking about devolving resources and authority to counties, cities and states. Well, ask the people out there on the northern New Jersey landscape about devolution, because there isn't any.
Ask the hundreds of local governments that are desperate to preserve and protect Civil War battlefields, which are being eaten up by sprawl and suburban develop. You can see it at Monocacy, you can see it at Manassas, at Chancellorsville. All across the landscape. Where's the money? Well, the way Congress is appropriating it, it will take 20 years to buy out existing Civil War battlefield inholdings. These are federal responsibilities. Congress has turned a deaf ear to these.
Well, I was reminded by my handlers over here that I had three minutes. So I will skip quickly across national parks. Congress -- the conference came in at $35 million below the President's request. They're saying, we're only cutting it 1.5 percent. They're cutting it 10 percent, plus 1.5 percent. That's about sewer systems that are out of compliance and overflowing in Yellowstone National Park, about meeting court orders for dilapidated facilities, and to provide a safe visit for the 300 million Americans who visit national parks every year
Lastly, we have a trust responsibility to Native Americans. Dick Riley's talked about education. There are two groups in this country who look to the federal government for 100 cents on the dollar for the education of their children -- a federal responsibility. One is the Armed Forces, and the second one is Native Americans.
What's happening in Native American reservations is below description. Collapsing facilities, 30- and 40-year-old trailers, unsanitary conditions. The President has put forward a program to deal with the infrastructure issue. This Congress responded by providing less than a third of this year's budget request. They chopped it by $6 million; now, they're saying we'd like to subtract 1.5 percent from that.
The remarkable thing that I hear from my constituents around this country is, they're saying, why? We are in a period of unparallelled prosperity, and isn't it time for us, together, to meet the most basic, bottom-line responsibilities of government to its citizens.
I promised the OMB people I wouldn't get carried away. Thank you.
MR. TOIV: Excellent. Three minutes. (Laughter.)
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: I guess I'll also promise not to get carried away. At the Justice Department, we want to continue a program that has proven to be extremely successful. We're dealing with a program that has resulted in the lowest crime rate since 1973, the lowest homicide rate since 1967. We've seen crime go down seven years in a row. We've seen juvenile crime, which we thought was kind of intractable, come down in the last three years. Firearms offenses are down 25 percent since 1993.
What we wanted to do was come up with ways in which we could continue the kinds of programs that have had those impressive results. We wanted to put 50,000 more police officers on the street. We wanted to hire 1,000 new prosecutors. We wanted to give new technology to our prosecutors and to our police officers so they could be even more efficient, be even more effective in what they're doing.
If you look at this 1.4 percent reduction and what it would do to the Justice Department, it has a ripple effect. Not only affecting us at the Justice Department, but our state and local partners as well. You're looking at a cut of about $260 billion, a quarter of a billion dollars from our budget.
We are an agency that is manpower-intense, and that would necessarily mean for us that we will have to cut people. We don't have huge numbers of programs, huge amounts of money invested in programs, we have people. Let me just go through what that would mean.
If you look at our lawyers, what would that mean? We're looking about a reduction of about $16.2 million, which would affect our U.S. attorneys and the attorneys we have at Main Justice. It would make it very difficult for us to do the kinds of things that the American people want us to do, which is to prosecute criminal activities, including violent crime, drug-related offenses, cyber crime. It would also affect our ability to prosecute civil rights offenses and the white collar crime.
I was in Philadelphia this morning where we have made pledges to our state and local partners to become more involved in the fight against health care fraud. That would be affected. The FBI, 1.4 percent decrease, would reduce the FBI budget by about $43 million. And we looked at what we would have to cut there. We would have to not implement a missing person DNA database that we think is extremely important. Our computer analysis response team would not be something that we would be able to do.
We would not fill an estimated 520 agent positions at the FBI. If you look at the INS, the agency responsible for protecting our borders, 1.4 percent means a $40.4-million reduction and a reduction of about 562 positions -- largely border patrol agents, people who are on the border making sure that the progress that we've made since 1993 in reducing the number of illegal aliens who get across our border stays that way. We would have a very, very hard time maintaining the kinds of progress.
Another basic thing -- Bureau of Prisons. If we had a 1.4 percent reduction, that would mean a $43.6 million cut there. We would not be able to activate 3,000 beds that are on line to come on in Houston; in Brooklyn, New York; in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It would jeopardize our ability to accept 2,000 inmates that were supposed to take as part of the D.C. revitalization plan -- of prisoners here in the District of Columbia.
Also affect our ability to modernize and repair projects that we have at the Bureau of Prisons, something we found when we came into office where we had dilapidated facilities, facilities that were inadequate. We've made progress there, but we need to continue that progress.
I guess our plea would be, we have been adequately funded by Congress in the past, and with the monies that we have gotten we have made substantial progress. Now is not the time to become complacent and put the brakes on the great progress that we have made. The American people deserve more than that.
Q The $260 billion cut in the 1.4 reduction? I take it you meant million?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: I'm sorry -- $260 million, that's what I meant, yes.
Q Secretary Riley, when you talk about the reductions in funding for these programs, would any of these programs receive less funding than they now currently receive? Or would they be less than what the President proposed in terms of an increase?
SECRETARY RILEY: A number of them would receive less than they currently receive. For example, class size now receives $1.2 billion. And after the 1.4 percent cut, it would receive about $1.183 billion. In other words, it's -- a number of things were level-funded, and then when you take 1.4 percent away from them, it's level funding less 1.4 percent.
Q And will this require -- forgive me for asking this -- will this require that the Department of Education find 1.4 percent in cuts, or will each program across the board be cut? What I'm saying is, does it say to the Department of Education, you reduce your budget by 1.4 percent, and it's up to you to decide --
SECRETARY RILEY: No, no. It would cut all of these programs 1.4 percent. That's why I say, it is a cut of the programs, 1.4 percent. Our S&E budget that runs the department, is separate. These are programmatic items and they would receive the 1.4 percent each.
Q Secretary Riley, the Republicans have countered that they're actually offering more education money than your budget has asked for, although they're setting it aside as block grants and saying that the localities should be able to decide where that money goes. What's wrong with that approach?
SECRETARY RILEY: That's not exactly right, either. If you put the 1.4 percent cut in there, it's less than what we requested to start with. The other bugetary items -- you mentioned the block grant provisions -- now, we perceived it to be a commitment for class size to hire 100,000 teachers qualified to teach reading in grades 1 through 3 over a seven-year period.
Last year, we had 1.2 billion, which would hire 30,000 teachers; about 29,000 were hired, and now the proposal that is discussed -- and of course, it's a little confusing because you have the House, the Senate, and now the conferees' discussions which are not final, I don't think, but what we hear, then, you would have the option of putting those funds into Title 6, which is purely block grant or other options.
That takes your eye off the ball. Your focus on lowering class size is what the President wants to have the country move toward. We don't tell school districts who to hire and what teachers to hire and how to qualify them. But the national goal is to lower the class size.
Now, what that does, it's lowered it now like five -- from students less per class on an average than we had. No, five is where we want to come, and this is approximately 1.7 million children are benefitting from it. Anyhow, we think it's a great priority setting, and this then takes that priority off and puts -- you can go block grant or however, and then the 1.4 cuts all of that.
So we think the whole thing is getting away from priorities, getting away from good decision-making, getting away from having a national priority to lower class size. That's what the President and what research tells us works.
Q Gentlemen, don't you think the American people would find it unbelievable that the enormous bureaucracy that is the federal government couldn't do without 1.4 percent? And nobody's suggesting that you cut FBI agents. Why couldn't you cut office supplies, or car service, or things like that?
SECRETARY RILEY: Let me speak to it, and then Eric, I'm sure, will. As I mentioned, the 1.4 percent of Title I -- it's not like looking at some cut of some bureaucrat. It cuts 168,000 students out of Title I services. If you look at after-school, it cuts 13,000 to 14,000 students out of after-school programs. Work-study, college work-study, 13,000 to 14,000 students. And the same with reading, kids who need help with reading. So it's not like some big magic way to pull in money. It cuts children out of these programs.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Yes. And the way the 1.4 percent is mandated is that you cut program by program. It's not, look at the Justice Department as a whole and say, 1.4 percent. It's, cut each of the allocations by 1.4 percent. And the notion that we could somehow come up with ways in which we could cut back on equipment purchases and things like that would put us right back to where we were in 1993 when we took office, where we had border patrol agents who did not have radios that allowed them to talk to one another, or we had other federal investigative agents who didn't have the ability, technology-wise or equipment-wise, to do the kind of job that they have been able to do, and that has resulted in the very substantial crime reductions that we've seen over the last six years.
Q You're talking about 1.4 percent. Most Americans, if asked to look at their household budgets and trim 1.4 percent, could find some way to do it without having a tremendous amount of pain in their family. Certainly the government could do the same thing, could it not?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: No. What I'm telling you is that under the way in which they've told us to make these 1.4 percent cuts, what we're going to have is pain inflicted on the Justice Department, and a resultant negative effect on the things we've had success in doing.
Q Eric, let me ask you this question. If instead, they said that the Justice Department budget overall had to be cut 1.4 percent, not program by program but said to you, cut your budget by 1.4 percent, could you do that?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Could we do it? Sure. Would we be as good a Justice Department as we are, and as we would be if the President's budget were passed? Certainly would not be.
Q So basically, the argument of the administration is, we should not reduce at all the size of the federal budget.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: That would certainly be the view -- I think that would be the view of the administration. That would certainly be the view of us at the Justice Department. We think that we have an adequate amount of money to do the kind of job that we have done, and that the American people expect us to do. And any further reductions, I think, are going to hamper that ability.
Q Mr. Holder, you said you wouldn't be able to fill -- I think you said 520 FBI agent slots. Would there be actual layoffs of personnel if a 1.4 percent approximate across-the-board cut was implemented?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: No. We've looked at that, and we've really tried not to have to do that. And what we'd have to do is not fill 520 vacancies that presently exist, and 629 support positions. And support positions are important. You should not think of them as only clerical people, although they are important as well. These are people who are analysts, crime analysts, people who are intelligence analysts. Those are the kinds of positions that we would not fill.
It would prevent us from doing the kinds of things that Louis Freeh wants to do to move the FBI into the 21st century, and do, really, kinds of things that we think put us on the cutting edge, with regard to, for instance, the DNA missing persons' database.
Q What about U.S. attorneys generally, or main Justice? Would there have to be layoffs there, or you would look for ways to do it without laying people off?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: As we look at the 1.4 percent, I'm not at all certain that we would have an ability to simply freeze things in the litigation -- what we call in our litigation activities, with regard to lawyers. So I think there we're looking at reductions of at least 220 people.
Q If Congress said to you, come up with a 1.4 percent cut, Eric, could you do it in such a way that it didn't impact the programs that you've been telling us about?
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: You know, we have very resourceful --
Q If they say, we don't care how you do it. Just cut 1.4 percent of the budget.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Well, we have very resourceful people in the Justice Department. I would hate to think that we wouldn't find a way, somehow, you know, with baling wire and bubble gum and all that kind of stuff. But I think it would put at real risk our ability to do what we have done.
We submitted a budget. We got less than we asked for. We've adjusted for that. To go even below that number, I think, would really hamper our ability to do what I think we have done, what we've proven we can do in the past, and what I think we can do in the future.
Q Secretary Babbitt, could you talk -- the administration's been telling us that a lot of the negotiations on the Hill have focused on some of these objectionable environmental riders. Can you tell us what, if any, progress has been made in either eliminating them or reducing them, and also, which ones have to go before the President would even consider signing an Interior appropriations bill?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, they should all go. Now, looking back at previous years, obviously about a dozen -- 12, 15 riders. Some are absolutely essential, some are less damaging. I would say that the resource riders are certainly on the list: Timber, mining, grazing, oil. The oil valuation rider is, in my judgment, a particularly flagrant abuse, directly tied to the lobbying power of the oil industry and Congress. There are two mining riders, one which stay our hand for yet another year -- one environmental regulation. That rider has been hanging around in various forms for two or three years. It's a stall. It is a stall at the request of the mining industry to see if they can push all reform off past the next presidential election.
I didn't come here to do that, obviously. The so-called waste site rider, I think is unacceptable. I mean, it basically -- the reason that's so offensive is, Congress, for eight years, has been refusing to modernize the mining law. Now, they're proposing a change which actually widens the possibility for abuse. It doesn't reform anything; it takes a step back prior to 1872.
The specific rider that relates to the forest plan in the Northwest is an attempt to reverse Judge Dwyer's ruling of approximately a week ago. We have resisted those for eight years. The forest plan is working and it doesn't need to be undermined by this kind of legislation.
Lastly, let me just say on this 1.5 percent that in a way it obscures some very basic issues. My department has 10,000 fewer employees than it had 7 years ago. We've done a lot of cutting -- 10,000. We're down from approximately 80,000 to about 70,000. The budget of the Interior Department in real dollar terms is lower than it was in 1981 in inflation adjusted dollars.
There's a point, as Mr. Holder suggested, at which you can die of a thousand cuts. And I think that, indeed, there are some in Congress who would like to see that happen. There's not just 1.5 percent. The real damage was done as these bills went through the appropriations committees and into conference. The President's programs largely ignored, at least in my area in the way I have explained. So that's what's at stake from my perspective.
Q Sir, how do you wish they'd compromise? Would this all work if only Congress would accept the President's 55-cent a package tobacco tax, or is there another way to do it?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, that's above my pay grade, of course. The President has laid out a plan and he's advocating it and it is emenently doable in my judgment. There are many ways. Congress has done it before, but not recently.
Q Before you go, can I ask you one other thing about off-shore drilling, if you don't mind? Were you surprised that Vice President Al Gore announced that he would go further than the -- moratorium on off-shore drilling to include no drilling on existing leases?
SECRETARY BABBITT: No.
SECRETARY BABBITT: The people of California have made their view of this very, very clear. And Governor Davis emphasized that to me the last time I was in Sacramento a couple of weeks ago. The elections in California have been fought out on this issue. The people have said we do not want any more off-shore drilling.
Now, precisely how that takes place and is implemented is open to discussion. But that's the position. It's not a surprise. Now, in Florida, it's hardly a surprise, since I have yet to meet a citizen of Florida who is the least bit interested in off-shore drilling. In that state we've already bought back a lot of leases in Florida and I think there's a clear mandate to that effect.
Q Can I just say, based on your answers generally, is it your view that basically the cutting that has occurred over, say, the last 20 years since Reagan took office, there really, as a practical matter, is no more waste in government in your departments?
SECRETARY BABBITT: Well, it would take a magician to say that there was no waste in government. And we are constantly ferreting it out. But the answer, otherwise, is yes, you've got it exactly right. We started in 1993, cutting budgets in the most drastic manner. We came up here and we said we understand that it has to be done, and we've done it, and we've made some very difficult choices.
A lot of programs I've liked. I am most sensitive about the Indian programs, which in 1994 took a huge cut. And things are in bad shape out there. Law enforcement is another example. The highest crime rate in the nation is on Indian reservations, by a vast margin. There's no jail space. There are no police, inadequate numbers of police. The per capital police-to-citizen ratio in Indian country is something like 20 percent of the nationwide average.
Now, it's one thing to tolerate those kinds of cuts when there is this yawning deficit, and -- perhaps people have different priorities. But I believe that it is morally inexcusable not to deal with these issues when we have made this enormous progress on the budget, suffered these huge cuts, and now have an opportunity to look back and fill in some of these very basic gaps.
SECRETARY RILEY: Let me say something. I know we're leaving. The GAO did a study of my department, the Education Department, here recently, and came up with a number that well over 99 percent of the money we receive goes down to the state, the schools, the school districts. That money goes down to the children. So I think you can see there's not a whole lot of room to hunt for this -- 1.4 percent would be $460 million from my department. That money comes away from programs serving children, teaching poor children to read that can't read and should be able to read, poor children to do basic skills. Anyhow, it's not a bureaucratic thing, but it takes money away from children.
Q Do any of you know where this missing tugboat is?
SECRETARY RILEY: It's not in education.
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER: Nor in Justice. (Laughter.)
MR. TOIV: Thank you. I'm going to put my old OMB hat on and remind you all that discretionary spending, as a percentage of the economy, has been cut very, very substantially over the last seven years. You all are forgetting all the cutting that has been going on on the budget over the last seven years. I just want to remind you all of that.
Q Do you mean the percentages?
MR. TOIV: I'll get them.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:15 P.M. EDT