THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: I've got a couple of things before we get going to your questions. Let me just read a statement that I think we're about to put out or have just put out, a statement from the President on the situation in Armenia.
From the President: I am shocked and saddened by today's armed attacks in the Armenian Parliament. I condemn this senseless act against individuals actively engaged in building democracy in their country. The victims and their families are in our thoughts and prayers.
The United States has built strong ties with Armenia, focused on helping the Armenian people build a prosperous, secure, and democratic future. At this time of tragedy we renew our support for the Armenian people and their leaders as they continue to build on the principles that today's victims have so courageously embodied.
Q Do we know who is in charge there?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me come back to that. Let me get all of this. Tomorrow the President, October 28, 1999, as part of his official working visit, the President will hold a joint press conference with the Nigerian President. The press conference will be in Presidential Hall in the Old Executive Office Building at 3?20 p.m.
And there's a little note here saying, it is still called that, isn't it? Very helpful. Thank you.
Members of the press corps who wish to attend the press conference must reserve a seat by calling Jenni in upper press by 5:00 p.m. today.
Q Did you say 3:20 p.m.?
MR. LOCKHART: At 3:20 p.m. Tomorrow.
Q Who do we call?
MR. LOCKHART: Jenni.
Q What day? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Just goes to show you don't have to be here on time to not know what's going on. (Laughter.) Okay, now questions. Terry, you had a question for me.
Q Do you know what's going on, who is in charge?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's obviously, from what we can tell, a stand-off there. Our ambassador in Yerevan is working very hard to gather information, but information is difficult right now to get. As you know, Strobe Talbott was in Yerevan up until about an hour before the attack for his meetings with the Armenian leadership and the President of Azerbaijan. But I think at this point we, like most of you, are trying to get the information from the capital.
Q Do you think there's any connection between Talbott being there and this attack?
MR. LOCKHART: No, there's no reason to believe that.
Q Who do we believe is responsible?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we know going in that they talked about this being a coup attempt. But I don't know that we know definitely the group, nor their motivation at this point.
Q You say "definitively"?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Again, that's what I'm going to stick to -- what we know, rather than the piecemeal information that's been coming in.
Q Has the President made any phone calls about this?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Obviously, he was briefed on this. We've done this statement and I'll let you know if there's any further activity.
Q Has Strobe called back here to sort of give his analysis?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, he left, and I'm not sure exactly where he was going, but he's been in touch with the State Department on the situation. I know they were concerned when they saw the report about where he was, but he had left.
Q Was he off the ground by the time this happened?
MR. LOCKHART: I am told he had left an hour earlier, so I expect that he left the country.
Q -- confirm the welfare of the Prime Minister or anybody --
MR. LOCKHART: At this point, I cannot.
Q Joe, Mr. Prodi, right after he left the meeting with President Clinton, he said that although their agenda item was WTO, on the side they had a personal exchange on a variety of issues, and one of them was Turkey's nomination as a candidate for EU, and maybe Cyprus issue as well. Can you fill us in on that?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me give you a sense of what was discussed at the meeting, and this is certainly not exhaustive or complete. We will be doing a joint statement later in the day, which I think will cover most of the areas.
But the President and Mr. Prodi had a very positive, constructive hour-long meeting, confirmed the strong commonality of interest between the United States and the EU; agreed to work closely and in a collaborative way between now and Seattle to bridge differences between the U.S. and the EU.
I think there was a general sense from both of them and shared by everyone in the room that Seattle will, and must, be successful. And they discussed the importance of working together fully as far as issues relating to developing countries.
In conjunction with WTO, there was also a recognition from the EU and the U.S. that we have to consider both labor and environmental issues in the context of WTO. I think there were a series of other things that they touched on from agriculture as part of the WTO round, bananas and beef that we talked a little about this morning, biotech and some other trade issues. I think there was also some discussion on some of the security issues, but I expect that they will do this in more detail in the joint statement.
Q Prodi basically said that there had really been no agreement on the EU either opening up European markets to crop and to foods grown with U.S. biotech crops, nor on easing restrictions on beef --
MR. LOCKHART: This wasn't a trade negotiating session. This was a chance for the two leaders, for the President to welcome Mr. Prodi to his new position, a very important position as the head of the EU, and to establish a cooperative atmosphere between the United States government and the EU. I think they've touched on a number of these issues, but we did not expect this to get into the details or negotiating or to reach any trade agreements in the Oval Office today.
Q You do want, of course, the EU to support the U.S. position on agriculture, which would be --
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly do and we certainly want to see progress on a number of areas. But, again, this was not the kind of session that was designed to work out any specific trade agreement.
Q Joe, talks just concluded in Geneva, trying to get the agenda of the WTO meeting, and apparently, there is wide disparity on what is going to be on the agenda there in Seattle. Is there going to be an active effort to have people meet and talk this through, work this out --
MR. LOCKHART: There is going to be a lot of work, obviously, that's done between now and when the leading nations get together for the WTO meetings in Seattle. I think the President has made it very clear how important it is to have a complete and active agenda, and launch a new trade round, and I expect that there will be a lot of discussions at various levels of our government with other governments between now and then.
Q Joe, what is the state of play on the budget talks? You'd be happy to know Tom DeLay says the tugboats have been found. Is there anything more than political theatre going on?
MR. LOCKHART: The tugboats were never actually lost, and I think Mr. DeLay, if he had checked, would have known that. But we did spend some time this morning, and in the spirit of occasionally having some show-and-tell, we were looking -- this morning we were saying we were looking for the Interior bill, nd here I have a schematic of the Capitol. And our focus is really centered on really the basement of the United States Capitol, and we also had credible reports that it might be in the O'Neill House Office Building. (Laughter.) It's very close to some transportation infrastructure, so that may be why it's there.
But in looking for this we found the tugboat, right there in the Reflecting Pool. (Laughter.) So we'd like them to send the Interior bill down because, if they find it -- and the President will veto it today if they find it.
But on the tugboat and on a serious point, it may make great rhetoric to attack the Pentagon, to go after and make statements like Mr. DeLay and Mr. Armey have made, but the reality is these were boats that were sold into surplus. And the GAO report was about accounting and about the way that they're improving their accounting system. As they've said over at the Pentagon, if you believe what Mr. DeLay has said, you won't be able to find your house if you can't find the deed. You may not know where the deed to your house is, but you know where your house is.
So I think it's time for them to get serious. They've got some fundamental choices to make now. They may finish the education bill today. And it's very clear now that the House Republicans face three choices. One is find a way, when you have investments you want to make, to pay for them. We've put forward a number of ideas, we keep putting them forward. We remain open to working with them.
Two, is to cut wasteful spending. And there's plenty of it in the budget. Or, three, is to go into the Social Security surplus. It's very clear, we can put the ads asides, we can put the press conferences aside, you don't need to hear from me on this anymore. They're going to have to make a choice in the coming days which of the three they chose.
Now, this morning, we talked a little about -- I think someone asked about is there anything in the budget that they could go back. They've now agreed to go back and look at some spending that they don't need to do, and that's very important. I asked OMB to look at this, and they came up with billions of dollars in a couple of hours by asking. They have the royalty give-away to the oil industry, which we've talked about before, which would raise $64 million. That's a provision in the law that says when you drill on federal land, you don't have to pay the market rate for the right to drill.
There's the now-famous LHD8 carrier that the Pentagon did not request, that would be built in Senator Lott's hometown. That's $375 million that could be saved. There's an OPIC shipping industry subsidy, which basically goes -- it's the equivalent to a private subsidy to the shipping industry, it doesn't build any ships -- that's $200 million.
There are 314 projects within EPA earmarks where members have told the EPA what they need to do with their budget -- that's $473 million. And there are transportation earmarks that exceed $2 billion. So there's plenty of things to do if they want to get back -- if they want to have discussions about tugboats and engage in rhetorical debate, that's one thing. If they want to be serious about going back and finding some savings in the bills, then this is a pretty good place to start.
Q One of the proposals you have is this look-back penalty. Do you have a ball park figure yet on how much --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the exact figure, but I know work is going on as we speak with members on the Hill. We've provided them with information on how we would construct it and the kind of revenue that would be raised. But that is another place to get revenue, to go after the profits of tobacco companies who do not meet the standards of reducing teen smoking. And it's something we should seriously consider. We certainly think it's better than the mindless, across-the-board cuts or dipping into Social Security.
Q Just to be clear, the third option you would, under no circumstances, accept going to the Social Security surplus at this point. Is that correct?
MR. LOCKHART: We have put forward a better way. We hope they'll consider it. We'll be here. They understand what our ideas are. As you asked me this morning -- in the education bill they've put forward now an offset that we proposed first. Perhaps that suggests a new seriousness on their tone there. We don't have to do this. We can make the investments we need in teachers, COPS, the environment without dipping into Social Security.
They now face a choice. I mean, there has been sort of a phony battle going on in this town for the last couple weeks, supported by paid advertisements that were designed to deceive; lots of back-and-forth on the talk shows. But now as we're ready to take -- they're ready to finish this education bill, they face a choice, and there is no place to hide anymore. There is no place to hide behind an ad or some sort of attack.
They will have to do one of three things when they send these bills, because only the majority in Congress can send down appropriations bills. And one of those three things will be either they'll have to go back and cut some of the wasteful spending; they'll have to find some way to pay for the investments they want -- we've certainly said we're going to pay for the ones we want -- or they're going to have to spend the Social Security surplus.
Q Joe, when the President writes the rules on medical privacy records, how is he going to strike the balance between the need for privacy and the need to make those available to the health care industry? And when do you plan to put them out?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we've been working on this for some time. The President, as you know, has been frustrated that Congress has refused to act on this subject. We will now act within the authority we were given in 1996 if Congress did not act. The President believes the medical privacy is very important to all Americans. The rule is -- the process is almost complete. I expect it to be completed in a matter of days, and when it's done, we will brief extensively on the provisions that are within the rule.
Q Can you give us any sense of how he's going to try to strike this balance? Has he made it so difficult to write these rules?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know how difficult it was. I mean, it's obviously a complicated process, but the President believes that an individual's right to privacy is very important and we'll have a lot more to say about it when the rule is complete.
Q -- go back on that issue -- I don't understand exactly -- he's also going to call for Congress to enact something related to this. What does he want Congress to do -- to enact his proposal, or is there some back-and-forth?
MR. LOCKHART: This would be preferable and easier to do if Congress moved on legislation. But we've waited several years now, they have not moved, so he will move using his executive authority.
Q Joe, just to get back to the budget for a minute, and the five items that you ticked off -- does this mean the administration would oppose the $2 billion in transportation earmarks?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think if they want to go back and start looking at money that's been spent, we've signed the transportation appropriation bill, although at the time we said there's an awful lot in there that's good, there's some in there that we don't really need. But if they want to go back now and look for wasteful spending because they don't want to spend the Social Security surplus, we'll be willing to work with them on that.
Q But you count that $2 billion in transportation spending as wasteful spending.
MR. LOCKHART: This is certainly a place to go where we think you would not impair our nation's transportation infrastructure and you could save some money.
Q Joe, on these three choices, are you saying that going into the Social Security trust fund is an acceptable choice? Because you don't list accounting techniques or spending gimmicks --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying, listen, it's up to them, it's up to the Republicans to decide what they think an acceptable choice is. We've made clear what we're going to do, what we need to see. And they now have to show how they're going to do this.
Q Why do you even list dipping into Social Security as a choice?
MR. LOCKHART: Because I'm talking about the choices that they are pondering now, and they clearly must be pondering this because you can just add the numbers up. And if you add the numbers up you see what they're doing.
Q And following up on that, how adamantly is Clinton opposed to dipping into Social Security? I mean, the latest surplus figures show that the government did have to dip into Social Security in order to keep the government in the black this last time.
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at the way the surplus numbers -- they show a $124 billion, roughly, surplus in Social Security, a $1 billion deficit on on-budget. So $123 billion surplus in the unified budget. And I think that should underscore for all the people who ran around and said that somehow all the work was done, they were wrong. There is still a lot of work to do and it underlines the importance of moving forward in a way that is fiscally disciplined.
Q But they still had to dip into Social Security by $1 billion. In other words, the question is, how adamantly does --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, if you look at the budgets that Congress has produced over the last 15 or 20 years, they have every year dipped into that. I think what the President has said is, as we move, as our population ages, we really have to face important issues of Social Security and Medicare, and how we're going to deal with the baby boomer generation as they begin to retire. He put forward a budget that paid for our investments and did it in a way that didn't go into the Social Security surplus. The Republicans put forward an $800 billion tax cut. That's where we started this debate. And we're moving towards solving it in a way that we can protect Social Security.
Q Joe, is payment of the U.N. dues now a make or break issue for the President? Is he willing to say that he will veto bills that come down here that don't have --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we certainly, if we could ever find all of the things that are supposed to come down here, we could have a more intelligible conversation about which ones we haven't seen, and we haven't seen Interior, we haven't seen Labor/H. He's made very clear that we have an obligation to meet the commitments we've made to the U.N., and we ought to make it and the Congress ought to stop using extraneous issues to hold back the hundreds of millions of dollars we owe the U.N.
Q Just to follow up, the President has signed appropriations bills for budgets that didn't provide that funding. Has the dispute and the new isolationism on the CTBT issues, did that strengthen the resolve here that this is a message that needs to be sent by the U.S. and the world community?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, certainly, given the wrong signals that have been sent by our Congress, particularly the Senate recently, it makes it all the more important that we send a signal to the rest of the world that we will remain engaged, that the U.S. will continue its leadership role in the world, and one of the ways we can do that is by paying our U.N. dues.
Q Joe, last night the House passed a bill to stop so-called "cyber squatting" -- this is where people register trademark names. When the Senate passed a bill in August, you guys issued a veto threat.
MR. LOCKHART: We have concerns about the legislation. We think that there is a better way to do this. There is an organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers who are going through a process that are doing it on a global scale. I think we believe that fundamentally, we would be walking down the wrong road if we legislated a cyber squatting law, and then the 200 or so Internet countries around the world all started legislating their own rules and laws. I think the right way to do it is through this international process and we're working very hard to get that done.
Q But you're not actually issuing a veto threat on the House bill then?
MR. LOCKHART: We're going to take a look. We do have serious concerns, though, about the bill that they've passed.
Q If I could just -- a small thing, but the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, Susan Esserman, is quoted by the press of India saying explicitly on the record the President will go to India in February. Is that accurate?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no travel announcements to make for next year.
Q Sounds like a confirmation to me.
MR. LOCKHART: Sometimes, the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative knows more about the President's travel schedule than the White House Press Secretary -- sometimes.
Q Joe, this week the Congressional Black Caucus urged the President to use wholesale recess appointments to bypass the Senate on a host of appointments for the judiciary, for the military and for other posts. Given what the President sees as the recalcitrance up on the Hill, is he considering that option?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we're going to continue to work through the relevant committees to try to get movement on whether it's judicial appointments or ambassadors or any other appointments that seem to be stuck in the senate.
I think you can understand anyone's frustration -- the Black Caucus is the most recent to complain -- when you see the kind of behavior we've seen in the last couple days. Senator Helms is now -- in the Foreign Relations Committee -- has now said you must give us -- he's made a completely unreasonable and unmeetable demand for information by next Monday. He's looking for things like tax records for a bunch of people who may have worked on Senator Moseley-Braun's staff. Now, how that could be provided from the White House without an extraordinary abuse of the Internal Revenue Service is beyond me.
They ought to stop playing games, stop posturing, give those who we put before them a hearing; those who have had a hearing should get a vote.
Q I have a follow-up on that. Then you're rejecting outright his demand about --
MR. LOCKHART: It wasn't a serious demand. I think anyone who looks at the demand will understand that.
Q And are you prepared to give a recess appointment then?
MR. LOCKHART: I think, again, we're going to continue to work with the committee and I'm not going to speculate about what we might or might not do after Congress goes home.
Q Joe, the House International Relations Committee yesterday passed the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act. Some of the things have been taken out -- I believe the call for TMDs is no longer there. In its present form, is that bill acceptable to the administration?
MR. LOCKHART: No, the bill is not acceptable. We believe the Taiwan Relations Act has worked, and worked effectively, over the last 30 years. We believe that elements of the Taiwan Security Enhancement bill would -- might destabilize the region and undermine our policy.
Q Joe, on the surplus, Chairman Archer puts out a statement that takes credit for the surplus and says, this is what happens when Republicans take care of the government checkbook and hold the line against tax hikes and more spending. Do you think that's a pretty fair assessment of how -- (laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Hold on a second. I just want to loosen up and make sure I've really got -- listen, I think Chairman Archer may have taken the day off in 1993 when we moved down this path to reduce the budget deficit. We would have been looking at, if the President and the Democrats -- not a single Republican was with us back then -- didn't change the way we manage our fiscal affairs in this country, we would have been looking at a $400 billion deficit this year alone, trillions of dollars extra in the national debt. It's just an extraordinary use of selective memory to go back and say that somehow the work that was done in 1993 isn't directly responsible.
We have worked at times together with Republicans on the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which is important. But none of this would have happened without the President's leadership, without the Democrats on the Hill who were willing to go out on the line, some of whom are not in Congress anymore and who believe that it was this vote that cost them their seat. I'll leave it to everyone else to finish the judgment.
Q So not the Reagan economy or -- (laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know, maybe they can just rename the economy. (Laughter.) Everything else is being renamed, so they can call it the Hoover GDP number or something.
Q Joe, on the surplus, what message does the White House want to send to Congress as it hammers out a budget -- these new surplus numbers -- what message?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the surplus numbers tell you what you can do when we make the tough choices and work on this, we use real budget numbers. They also should remind us of how much work is left to do. The President has put forward a plan that will make us debt-free for the first time since the early 1800s within the next 15 years. We can do this; this is within our reach. We have stopped their irresponsible tax cut, and we have a responsibility to move forward and try to take as much advantage as we can of this historic opportunity.
Q Joe, but don't these numbers just show how you and the Congress are in a straightjacket here, because if you take the Social Security surplus away, there was actually a deficit in the rest of the budget, and you're saying only that money can be worked with for the forthcoming --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the difficulty in the choices we face. But this is supposed to be about choices, and this is supposed to be about priorities, it's supposed to be about budgeting. I mean, anyone can take something and call it an emergency when it's not an emergency, anyone can do an across-the-board spending cut. I don't think that's why constituents send their leaders to Washington; they want them to make choices that they believe are in their interest, and that's what we've done.
Q Joe, is there any second-guessing among administration officials on the pharmaceutical factory bombing in Sudan?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the President's national security team felt very strongly at the time that there was a real and imminent threat to our national security interests; they believe the same today.
Q So you take issue with the Times story today?
MR. LOCKHART: I do. Those were involved -- the President received a unanimous recommendation from his national security team to move forward with this. He did, and that group of people believe very strongly that we took the right steps.
Q So the CIA -- you would disagree with the CIA's assessment that bin Laden was not connected with Sudan?
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't say that that was the CIA's assessment.
Q I don't quite understand your last statement.
MR. LOCKHART: I would point you to the Director's comments last week on what their assessment was.
Q Did the President tell Jiang Zemin that he was sending him a new proposal on China -- WTO deal during the phone call that they had?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the specific of either any call that may or may not have happened between the two presidents, or in the substantive negotiating position of the United States or China in the WTO discussions.
Q Thank you.
END 1:56 P.M. EDT #135-10/27