THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:06 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Let me read a statement here first. President Clinton will visit Istanbul, Turkey, from November 17th through 19th to attend the summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE Summit is an opportunity for leaders from 54 countries throughout the Euro-Atlantic region to focus on promoting democracy, human rights, security and stability among and within participating states.
Before attending the summit, the President will make state visits to Greece, from November 13th through 15th; and Turkey, from November 15th through 17th. After the summit, the President will travel to Florence to attend a conference hosted by Prime Minister D'Alema on progressive governance for the 21st century, from November 20th through November 21st. He will then travel to Bulgaria for a state visit from November 21st through November 23rd.
Q Didn't you announce all that last month?
MR. LOCKHART: Not the dates. And as I've been questioned closely in the last two briefings on the dates, I thought I'd get it out of the way at the top.
Also, as I promised this morning, we will have some of our distinguished Cabinet members here at about 2:15 p.m. I expect Secretary Riley, Secretary Babbitt, and Eric Holder to come and talk to us. I think we wanted to provide them an opportunity to discuss the importance of the priorities that the President's fighting for in the budget, and also to provide some detail on just how damaging the Republican approach for across-the-board spending cuts will be.
I think if you look at the testimony earlier today from General Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, it brings home the damaging results of the Republican approach. He called -- he testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning that going forward with this across-the-board spending cut would undo everything that we've just done in the defense appropriations, and the results for military readiness would be devastating.
I think that is equally the case if you look at other priorities -- education, law enforcement, the environment. These cuts, they certainly, at the level the Republicans are talking about, don't fill the Social Security hole they've created for themselves; they'll be much larger. But even at the levels that they have put out, these are devastating cuts. They abdicate their responsibility to making tough choices and priorities -- all at the same time calling for sacrifice when they have a quite large pay rise, which they're not willing to take another look at.
So I think it underlines, both on Capitol Hill with General Shelton and here in the briefing room with some of the Cabinet members today, just why we are opposed to this approach, why it is unacceptable, and why we will continue to push for the priorities the President has outlined -- putting more cops on the street, more teachers in the classroom, and protecting the environment.
Q Joe, your buddy Tom DeLay is having a field day right now, showing pictures of an $800 million tugboat that he says the Pentagon has lost, and saying that surely the Pentagon can find the one percent of waste, fraud and abuse to cut --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, with all due respect to Congressman DeLay, when it comes to military matters I'm going to trust General Shelton every single time. And he says this will be devastating to military readiness, and that's a point of view that I think all Americans should listen to.
Q Joe, last week everyone thought there would be some breakthrough by today. Do you think you've made any progress, or have you taken steps backward?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we've made some progress. You know, it is hard to talk about any kind of breakthrough when they still haven't gotten a Labor-H bill out of the House. I mean, the House floor has yet to deal with this issue. This is -- all parties, when it comes to rhetoric, agree that educating our children is their top priority. Well, we're now almost into November, 10 months into the calendar year, 13 months into the fiscal year, going into our 14th month of the fiscal year. And they can't get a bill done.
So we will continue working with them. Jack Lew is up on the Hill with his team today meeting with the appropriators. John Podesta, the Chief of Staff, is up meeting with Senate and House Democrats. We're going to continue to try to work with them. But at some point Republicans have to take responsibility. They are the majority party, and we need to get -- they need to get their work done.
Q Lew has been on the Hill for a week, now, almost every day, talking to these people. Can you point to one thing that has come out of these talks that would denote progress of any kind?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we've worked through some issues. But I can't point to an overwhelming sense of progress. Again, we're still in a position now where we still don't have a Labor-H bill, that is the largest of the remaining bills. They just haven't gotten their work done. I don't know the reason why they can't get a bill out and they can't get it voted on in the House. But this process is not going to move that much further forward until they get that done.
Q You said that they were going to focus on these riders first, the environmental riders. Have they succeeded in getting any of those off?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's been some recognition that these bills will not go forward until they've successfully addressed that. I can't tell you that they're all gone, though.
Q Joe, can you give us some idea of what's involved in the negotiations? Is it strictly over how to pay for the priorities, or are you adjusting both spending and cuts in the negotiations?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's a good bit of discussion about getting some of the unacceptable language out of the bills, the restrictions that are in. And they are very wide-ranging. There are language provisions that will not allow us to pay our U.N. arrears. It's a very small number of congressmen who have held that up over an extraneous issue. There are language issues as far as protecting our environment. There are language issues involving our foreign policy and the President's ability to conduct our foreign policy. So those are all under discussion and being worked on.
The Republicans have, even in the last week, created a bit of a moving target as far as how they plan to pay for the spending that they've put forward. Again, it comes up short in the context of looking at the Social Security surplus. And we are continuing to talk about what our priorities are. We've made them clear, as far as COPS, teachers, the environment. We have made them even more clear as we veto the bills. And now we've got to figure out how we're going to get to it.
The important element for this, as far as the fiscal discipline that we want Congress to show, is where we are looking for additional investments in -- if it be teachers or technology in the classroom, we will pay for that. We will find an acceptable pay-for, acceptable way to offset the expenditure, and we don't have a similar commitment from the other side. They've talked about doing a 1.5 percent, across-the-board spending cut, which we've heard, from the Pentagon, is unacceptable. You'll hear later from other agencies the problems that that will cause. But even that doesn't address the whole shortfall.
Q Joe, you said that Podesta and Lew have been on the Hill, but what is the President doing? Is he calling people on the Hill, or is he --
MR. LOCKHART: The President's been in touch with -- he talked to the Republican leaders last week when they were down here. He's been in touch, on and off, on the telephone with Democratic leaders through the week. I don't think he's done anything today specifically, nothing that's been reported to me or that I'm aware of. But he will remain engaged, and I think importantly, he's out there making the case. He made the case yesterday for why Commerce-State-Justice is unacceptable.
He has made the case repeatedly at the end of last week, as he will through this week, on teachers, on COPS, on the importance of Social Security and Medicare reform, and that's a case he'll continue to make.
Q Joe, but it sounds like the President's unwilling to compromise. He won't sign CJS without more cops, he won't sign Labor-HHS without more teachers. Where's the spirit of conciliation?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I mean, listen, there are areas to compromise and we'll work very closely with them on -- if there is additional spending needed to pay for that. But there are some bottom-line priorities the President has, and one of his bottom-line priorities is we're going to put more teachers in the classroom. We're going to reduce class size. That is a principle that the President believes very strongly in, and Congress is going to have come meet him on that.
On cops on the street, we have irrefutable evidence on the value and importance of community policing, and we don't want to undo the gains we've made in the last seven years, and protecting the environment is a bottom-line principle for the President.
Q Joe, this is sort of a simplistic question, but 1.5 percent across-the-board cut or whatever -- does that sort of jive with how much reduction is needed to make ends meet?
MR. LOCKHART: No, if you look at the CBO estimates, I mean, OMB looked at this -- in order to fill the hole, they would have to do a 9 percent across-the-board, which at some point, I think they'll have to face up to. But even at 1.5 percent, you're looking at, in the words of General Shelton, a devastating cut in military readiness. And you're looking at taking an indiscriminate hatchet approach to governing, to just cutting, because -- and saying we can't make these decisions, we are incapable of making these decisions, so we'll find a formula that will make them for ourselves.
And the President says that's not good enough, it's not good enough to do this. Governing is about making choices, investing in priorities, saving where you can. And that's the approach he's taken. And the approach they've taken -- and it just is, given -- I've heard all and seen all the members standing there, holding up their pennies -- well, when you call for sacrifice, you're not in a very good position when you're calling for it after you've taken a $4,600 a year pay raise. The American public knows. Americans, I think have a keen sense of justice, and this violates that.
Q Joe, with the administration and Congress now on the same page about where you have to get to in order to not be touching the Social Security surplus, I think they're saying that the number is something like $592 billion. And they've been accused before of using sort of creative accounting techniques, taking some CBO numbers, some OMB numbers. Is there an agreement now with them about where --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. We're still working through that. They have used very -- they've used creative accounting; they've used CBO numbers where those numbers are to their liking; they've used OMB numbers where those numbers are to their liking on outlays and spending; they've used emergency spending in a way that stretches the definition of an emergency in ways that have never been done before -- operations and maintenance, the basic running of military bases. Basic training is an emergency, the census is an emergency. So, no, I don't think we have an agreement on that, and we're going to continue to talk about it.
Q Joe, where's the money if you don't tap into Social Security?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we put -- first off, let me remind you -- let's remember where we started this. The President sent up a budget that invested in his priorities -- teachers, cops, protecting the environment, saving Social Security, Medicare, and he did it all in a way that was paid for and didn't touch the Social Security surplus. That's a proposal -- where did they start from? They started from a different position, which was, let's have an $800-billion tax cut.
Look at the gymnastics they're going through now. Imagine the position they would be in if, somehow, the President took the day off the day the tax bill got here and it became law? You would have an $800-billion hole to fill. So look at where we've started. One represents fiscal discipline; I think one represents fiscal irresponsibility.
But we are where we are now, and we have to look at, where we have priorities, how we will -- the President has put forward several ideas. One is making polluters pay for cleaning up Superfund sites. I think that's an idea worth considering. Another is, we talked about a 55-cent tax hike on cigarettes, which is good public health policy. Republicans have rejected that. We have been working with them on some ideas about penalties, the so-called "look-back" penalties on tobacco companies that don't meet youth smoking targets as a way of closing the hole. That's not a tax, that's going after their profits when they continue to not meet the acceptable targets with youth smoking. There are ways to do this.
There are ways to close corporate loopholes. There are $64 million in the Interior bill where they have refused to allow -- to force oil companies to pay the market rate when they pay royalties when they drill on federal lands. I mean, that is an example of corporate welfare. We can close those down. There are ways to do this. But you have to make tough choices. You have to do this in a straightforward way, not just say we'll declare everything an emergency or we'll just do an across-the-board cut, and we can hold up a penny and say we've solved our problem because we've got a penny in our hand.
Q Joe, on the tobacco tax offset, has anybody done a calculation to figure out how much more money you would need to appropriate and support tobacco farmers because of declining cigarette sales if that tax were to go into effect?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we're looking at -- there certainly was a lot of work done on that subject when we were looking at an overall tobacco settlement, and the President put on the table and insisted that there be some relief for tobacco farmers.
I think when you're looking at either the tobacco tax or the new -- the look-back provisions, that's something that will raise revenue and we'll look at what we need to do with farmers. But I think one of the obligations for those who killed this proposal on the overall tobacco settlement is for them to come forward with some ideas. We had a plan where I think we had a majority of members; certainly strong bipartisan support that was killed by the friends of the tobacco industry in Congress.
Q Has anybody done the calculation to find out if you would actually raise more revenue than you would have to appropriate to support farmers?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I don't think as this point you're talking about -- it's kind of apples and oranges --
Q Yes, but isn't it a calculation that you should do if you're counting on using that as an offset?
MR. SIEWERT: It was in the original plan and it's not even close.
MR. LOCKHART: Again, we're confident that by moving forward with the President's ideas on tobacco and revenue, that we'll be able to raise money which will help us invest in priorities and, two, will be good public health policy.
Q Has there been any progress on that? I mean, as we get closer to the end here with the budget negotiations, any sign of movement from the Republicans?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I mean, I don't know how we're going to be able to define the end when we don't even have all the bills done. But we're going to keep working, and I think -- again, as I've been talking about for several months, now, there's been an elaborate game of budgetary musical chairs being played by the Republicans, and the music's about to stop. When the Labor-H bill hits the floor and is passed, if they can do that, we'll know everything. And I think it might create a different kind of environment, as far as getting to the end.
Q I keep hearing you say, Joe, that you'll find acceptable ways of paying for the President's priorities. And yet I keep hearing the Republicans say they don't want the additional spending. Now, is it possible that you do disagree on the overall size you want to spend, and simply cannot come to an agreement, given the amount of money the Republicans want to spend?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me reject that argument, because they have certainly found a lot of spending that they want. We have boats, ships that the Pentagon didn't want. We have planes that the Pentagon didn't want. And go through all of the appropriations bills, and you'll find historically high levels of earmarked projects. And that's a nice way to say pork. So if they're worried about the overall spending levels, they ought to take a hard look at that.
We think there are some bottom-line priorities that this Congress has to reach. And those bottom-line priorities go in education, teachers, after-school programs, cops on the street, protecting the environment. And if the Republicans aren't willing to work with us on this, and cut out some of their waste and abuse, then we'll find a way to pay for it. And we'll do it the fiscally responsibility way. That's what these discussions are going to be about.
Q Joe, will the President sign another CR, that expires on Friday? Or at some point will he just say no more?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he indicated yesterday that given the fact that they don't have the Labor-H bill done, if a CR comes down and it's an appropriate length, he will probably sign it. I don't know how long this goes on.
I think as the President indicated yesterday, there might be some advantage to keeping them here. They have found a way to stall and not move forward on other non-budgetary important items. I mean, we passed gun legislation, now, six months ago -- five, six months ago. And they can't find a way for the conferees to get together to do -- when it's some gimmick, like putting the President's taxes and fees on the floor, they can get that up in a day. That's not a problem. You know, they can find a way to get it through the Rules Committee and do the process.
But when it's about modest gun legislation that protects children -- six months, we can't find a solution to that. Patients' bill of rights -- we had patients' bill of rights passed in both houses. Strong support. It passed by 100 votes in the House. We just can't seem to find the time to get that done this year. We've got Medicare reform, prescription drugs -- doesn't seem to be the time.
So the longer we stay here, maybe we'll get something positive done on that. Minimum wage -- another example where there's strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. But we just can't seem to find the time to work that out. So we may be here for a while, because I think the President is adamant in his belief that these priorities need to be addressed, and the byproduct of that is, maybe we'll get some other good legislation done.
Q Does the President have support from all Democrats on the Hill to stay here as long as it takes? They were having a strategy session today to try to figure out how to go home.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Democrats on the Hill and the President are unified in the belief that it's worth staying around a few extra weeks to get more teachers in the classroom, to get more cops on the street, and to protect our environment.
Q Joe, the Russian Vice Defense Minister made a statement the other day rejecting possibilities for amending the ABM treaty, saying that if the U.S. goes for some kind of missile defense that they will -- and do other things to increase their firepower. If the Russians aren't prepared to talk on this, where do you go with it?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the Russians are prepared to talk about it. The President spoke to President Yeltsin in Cologne. That was followed up in Auckland in a meeting between the President and the Prime Minister. We are talking at a variety of levels. I think Mr. Holum from the State Department was in Russia -- last week? -- having discussions about ABM, about START III. So there are discussions going on at all levels.
I think the comments that were reported this morning missed the fundamental point. The limited national missile defense that we would deploy, if we deploy it, would be primarily -- or it would be developed and designed to deal with rogue states and the threat that they pose, not the kind of nuclear arsenal that Russia has.
So I think we're going to continue the discussions. Those discussions, I think, have been productive to date. President Yeltsin, President Clinton both expressed mutual concern in Cologne on the threat of rogue states. We're going to try to deepen our cooperation with Russia as we move to our decision on deployment. And if there are changes that need to be made in the ABM, we will work them through with the Russians.
Q Joe, whether they missed the fundamental point or not, they seem to be pretty hard-line comments, that the Russians would --
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I would dissuade you or discourage you from focusing on one comment here or there. We have had a series of conversations at the highest level of the Russian government, between the two Presidents, between the President and the Prime Minister. And those discussions are ongoing.
Q Has the President talked to President Yeltsin about this issue, since Russia started taking this hard-line stance?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I would discourage you -- you can take any view you want, but I would discourage you from jumping to the conclusion that a statement or two represents the Russian position. We are talking to them at the appropriate levels, and those conversations are ongoing.
Q But again, has he had that conversation since we started hearing this rhetoric?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, the President I don't think has talked to President Yeltsin in the last week or so, but I wouldn't put too much weight on any particular comment made or any rhetoric. This is an important issue. We will continue working with the Russians. We have dealt with them on a variety of levels and those conversations continue.
Q Did the Secretary of State bring it up with the Foreign Minister?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. You'd have to ask at the State Department.
Q Will he talk about it next week with Prime Minister --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that they'll meet.
Q On a separate issue, on 911, has he signed that legislation and what's his opinion on it?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he's come over yet, so I expect that that will be later this afternoon. And we'll put out a statement.
Q Did you find out if that had the locating provisions in it?
MR. LOCKHART: I did not. We'll work on that.
Q Are you going to put out a fact sheet on that when he signs it?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Anything on the President's trip to Greece and Turkey?
MR. LOCKHART: Just what I announced.
Q The Vogue Reception tonight, isn't it fairly unusual for a for-profit entity like Vogue Magazine to sponsor a reception at the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we do a variety of events with people. As Mark just pointed out, we did something with VH-1 --
Q That's a benefit for a charitable --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we think it's a cause that celebrates important work, whether it be an artist's photographs or a musician's songs. If we believe in something that we can get behind we're happy to do it.
Q Joe, some Democrats in the Senate reacted negatively to the President's Social Security proposal. They joined in a bipartisan letter to Lott on this. It would be John Breaux, Bob Kerrey and Charles Robb. Is the President concerned about this Democratic opposition?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is that the concern is that there are people who don't believe you can do this unless it's in a broader reform context. We would very much like to do it in a broader reform context, but Congress, in their wisdom, could not find the time, nor the will, this year to do a serious look at prescription drugs, a serious look at finding a real way to extend Social Security solvency. So we think, given the attitude of the majority party and where Congress is, this is the right way to move forward.
Q Is anybody looking for that tugboat that --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes -- I mean, it's probably the same team that's trying to find a place to put the ship from Mississippi that they don't know where to put. (Laughter.) We can call it even.
Q Although the President said yesterday there is some progress --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me make a serious point here. I think you can find, if you want to deal with things in a political and anecdotal way, you can look at any -- I could find probably equipment that has been lost by senators and congressmen. I don't think that would be too much of a stretch, that you can find in office or one sub-office that is not managed the best way it can. But I think when Republican leaders go out in a mean-spirited way to question the integrity of the leaders of the Pentagon, and then back that up with an across-the-board spending cut, you can understand why our men and women in service aren't certain that they have the political leaders' support.
I think Mr. Armey's comments were offensive from last week, and frankly, I find Mr. DeLay's approach here to be disingenuous and not productive.
Q How did they question the integrity of the military leadership?
MR. LOCKHART: I think going after them in a way that ridicules them and mocks them as far as how they do their jobs, and Mr. Armey's comments about you have two colonels who come up to hold paper when they come to Capitol Hill and now we'll only have to have a major -- I think it's pretty clear.
Q Is there, in fact, a tugboat missing, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. It's not in my backyard, as far as I can tell.
Q Do you know if President Clinton on his visit to Turkey he's going to meet also with the --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll have some more details as we get closer to the trip on the different meetings he'll have. I think he'll have a series of other meetings, but I don't want to get into all of them -- any one in particular until I have the whole schedule in front of me.
Q Any idea when?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, if I -- hypothetically, if he were to do that it would be on the trip. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, given that the President has made clear he wants more than appropriations done this year before Congress adjourns, isn't there an underlying disincentive on the part of the White House to reach agreement too soon?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think there's an underlying incentive to get the President's priorities enacted into law. That's what he wants and we're going to continue to move forward in a very straightforward way to get that done.
Q Joe, what will the President and Prodi discuss tomorrow during their meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: The former President of Italy has taken over the EU. He's done some fundamental reforms in the EU, so I think there's a wide range of issues -- U.S.-EU economic trade, security -- that will likely be on the agenda. I can get you more on that tomorrow morning.
Q Are there any birthday events for Mrs. Clinton that we might be privileged to attend?
MR. LOCKHART: No. There was one last night -- it was great.
Q What is the cause for that Vogue reception?
MR. LOCKHART: It's celebrating the work of a well-known photographer who has got an exhibit at the Corcoran Museum.
Q It was reported today in Athens that President Clinton asked Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to travel to Greece prior to his trip to discuss with the Greek government the prospect of a trilateral meeting among U.S., Greece and Turkey for a -- on the Cyprus and the --
MR. LOCKHART: That report is incorrect. I mean, I will say the President will deal directly with the situation in Cyprus on this trip. It's an important part of the agenda, important part of the trip. But Secretary Albright will not be traveling in advance.
Q Thank you.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you. I'm sorry, the briefing that I said was at 2:15 p.m. is now at 2:30 p.m, so go get some lunch.
END 1:40 P.M. EDT