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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 20, 2000
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                              JOE LOCKHART

                           The Briefing Room

12:40 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: The event that was scheduled to start at 1:00 p.m. will not start before, probably, 1:30 p.m. Senator Schumer, who is traveling today, is experiencing some of the down side of this beautiful winter weather that you can all see out the window. So I expect the event to start at 1:30 p.m. or shortly thereafter.

I think Gene and Secretary Riley gave you a good sense of this proposal to help provide middle-class tax relief, make college more affordable, and the President will do that at 1:30 p.m. now. So, questions.

Q Joe, can I just pick up, because Gene sort of echoed a point that you made in your gaggle this morning. Lott's office said that the Majority Leader didn't say that Congress should take the year off, that major things wouldn't get done, would have to wait -- because Lott's office is pretty much saying that Democrats had their chance with things like education, and now the Republican approach is going to have to be the way to go.

MR. LOCKHART: If the Republican approach is that a do-nothing Congress is a good Congress, then we reject that notion wholly. We seem to have a fundamental disagreement with the Republican leadership that this is a season where we can get things done. I think the public is demanding the kind of innovation that the President talked about today on education and college opportunity. They will demand action on patients' bill of rights, minimum wage, sensible gun control and gun safety legislation. They've sent their representative to Washington to do a job, they get a paycheck; they ought to earn it.

Q But they have, they're coming forward with proposals on -- you know, on health care and education, and even the patients' bill of rights sound like they're willing to --

MR. LOCKHART: The paper -- the newspaper quotes maybe took some out of context, but what you read is that they want to put things off. And if you want to get something new done, if you want to take innovative approaches to help middle-class and working families around this country, then you have to wait until 2001. And our view is that's an attitude that the American public will reject. They want their work done this year, and there is no reason why we can't work together to get it done.

Q Joe, you also suggested, I guess, sort of reading into the comments in that article about the Republican leadership -- that they want to take a year off, that this year is all about politics. Well, some Republicans are saying, well, the White House is playing politics, too, saying an event like today with the First Lady, a likely Senate candidate, an issue like higher education, how that might benefit her. How do you respond to that?

MR. LOCKHART: I think anyone who has followed the First Lady's career will know of her commitment that's spanned three decades to education. Just go back recently, since she's been First Lady, at her commencement addresses that have focused on improving access and making college more affordable. Look at the work she's done on standards, the work she did when she was in Arkansas.

So I think there's certainly no doubt that the public wants investment in education, they want innovation in education, and in this case, good policy is good politics, which is why I think we have some disagreement. I think the public is out there looking for things to get done. They want to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to us, and we think that moving forward with an aggressive agenda throughout this congressional year will be both good policy and good politics.

Q But she is running for office.

MR. LOCKHART: Certainly --

Q And she does benefit from the exposure to this idea, perhaps.

MR. LOCKHART: And there are certainly other people running for office --

Q But they're not going to be there today.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, there are certainly other people who come to events here that are running for office, that are up for reelection or are running for something else, there are other people in other forums. The bottom line is, we're talking about a policy here that will make education more affordable, more accessible to the middle class in this country, and that's something you're going to hear a lot about.

Q Joe, Tom DeLay made a speech today in which he said the White House has moved through the cherished institutions of our nation like a threshing machine. In the context of what we're talking about here of trying to get things done with the Republican-led Congress, what do you make of that?

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, you know, listen -- Congressman DeLay makes a lot of comments, and we'll all remember the comments about bringing the White House to its knees last year. That only reinforces our sense that we should get above this sort of personal politics that some practice, work with people who want to get done. I think there's a solid majority in the House of Representatives that don't think the way Congressman Delay things, that think about getting things done, going back to their constituents, making a strong case next November for their own reelection, and he has a lot to say, but we'll focus on those who want to work with us.

Q Joe, do you have any kind of a readout on Podesta's meeting with the --

MR. LOCKHART: The Chief of Staff had a meeting with some computer executives today as part of a regular process of consultation. The President dropped by, spent some time in the meeting. The President's main focus of his comments to the group was the importance of, early this year, getting NTR on China worked through, the importance not only to their particular businesses, which it clearly is important, but also to the American economy and to the idea that we can continue this prosperity, we can continue this economic expansion. So that's what he focused his attention on.

Q Anything on the export control --

MR. LOCKHART: Not so much from the President. There was some discussion with the Chief of Staff. I mean, we've moved from a 12-month to a 6-month review policy. This is part of the review, bringing groups like this in. And we'll have more to say on that soon.

Q Yesterday we heard the President give some credit to the Vice President for his proposals on health care. Did the Vice President have much to do with this education plan?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, the Vice President's been a partner from day one with the President on trying to improve education, whether it be standards, whether it be our push on K-12, or whether it be access and college affordability. So it is something that we have a seven-year record on, and the President and the Vice President can be proud of.

Q But these weren't primarily his ideas, like --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President -- listen, the President puts forward his ideas. It'll be his budget, his State of the Union. But I think anyone who has watched the partnership between the President and the Vice President over the last seven years understands that many of the positive ideas, positive achievements for the American public rest with the Vice President.

Q Will this additional education spending be paid for with surplus, or -- with the Social Security surplus, or the revenue offsets?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as the President said yesterday, we'll have a budget early in February that will maintain the fiscal discipline that has been the hallmark of this administration since 1993, that's taken us from an era of budget deficits and trillion-dollar debt, trillions of dollars of debt, to an era where we're going to pay off the debt and we have budget surpluses this year. So we will -- all of this will be clear early in February when the budget comes out.

Q Will you have to touch any of the Social Security surplus?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President made clear yesterday that we're going to move forward with a fiscally disciplined budget. We're going to set aside the Social Security surplus for Social Security. And you'll see how it all adds up in the budget.

Q Yesterday Gene made it clear that the health care money, at least, did not have offsets, and it would come out of the surplus. I'm just wondering, at some point some of these proposals are going to have to have offsets; how come you don't want to announce those along with the --

MR. LOCKHART: Because we have a process where we do the budget in February, and we've always done it that way and we're going to do it then. There's no reason now to get into all of the numbers adding up for a process that we will do the first week of February.

Q That's not because offsets are the least pleasant part of budget proposals?

MR. LOCKHART: No, it's because the State of the Union is an important speech; we'll have some travel just after that and then we'll have a week where we'll have the need to talk about something -- we'll talk about it then.

Q Joe, what's the purpose for this second meeting with the drug company executives today?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as we've talked about over the last few days, the pharmaceutical companies have signaled that they want to work cooperatively with the President as we review how we're going to modernize the Medicare system, particularly how we provide a real prescription drug benefit. So this is a meeting in the aftermath of a very strong signal from pharmaceutical companies that they want to work cooperatively.

So they're going to sit down with the Chief of Staff, with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and start the work of figuring out exactly how we move this kind of legislation through the Senate and the House, how we work with the Senate Finance Committee, which I think will go first, so that sometime later this year we can all walk away saying we've modernized Medicare, we've provided a prescription drug benefit.

Q These are just two executives today, correct?

MR. LOCKHART: To tell you the truth, I don't have the list and I forgot to get it. But we'll get it for you when they break up.

Q But you're convinced that the people coming in today speak for the entire industry?

MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard anything that would lead me to the contrary, that there's a minority view within the industry. I think the industry -- what we have seen is, in the last week to 10 days, speaking with one voice and in a cooperative voice.

Q Mrs. Clinton is going to announce her candidacy on February 6th. Will the President be there?

MR. LOCKHART: I would expect the President will be there and will attend.

Q Be where and --

MR. LOCKHART: The question was, Mrs. Clinton is announcing her candidacy in February; I expect the President will be there.

Q Joe, this meeting today, though, is a first -- or a second of a series. No resolution, you don't expect one today?

MR. LOCKHART: I think there's -- listen, a lot of work goes between coming to the idea that you want to work together and cooperatively and actually getting the job done. So I expect there will be consultations that will continue.

I remind you that even when we were diametrically opposed on this and we were quite critical of the industry for what we thought were misleading ads, that consultation continued. The lines of communication stayed open, so I expect that there will be a series of these meetings.

Q Joe, how will the White House measure success over the President's last year in office? And if some of these measures go nowhere in Congress, would the White House consider it a failure?

MR. LOCKHART: I think if, for some reason, Congress takes the decision that they don't want to get anything done, it will be a failure for the American people. The President has a very aggressive agenda that I think meets the needs and meets the challenges that average Americans face in their everyday life, whether it be getting health insurance, keeping health insurance, whether it be making college affordable for middle-class families.

That is something that they will measure in their way, and you know -- and I think it's what will provide a strong incentive to get things done, because all of those people who are living their lives have a chance in November to make a statement on their own representatives, on who the next President will be, and I think that is as strong a force that there exists in politics for getting things done.

Q In advance of the meeting with Chairman Arafat, how realistic -- you sort of addressed it earlier, but if you can again here -- how realistic does the administration think of the February 13th deadline? And also a separate question: What impact, if any, does the administration think the Israeli-Syrian slowdown will have on this?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me take the second part first, which is, I don't believe that that should have a negative impact. Obviously, there are important issues on the Israeli-Syria front that are being worked through. As the President said yesterday, he is encouraged that both parties, both leaders are still fundamentally committed to getting to a peace.

I think on the Palestinian-Israeli track, it's obvious how difficult the challenges they face. These are issues that are very difficult. Obviously, the hardest issues are left until last, but I think both of them have committed to trying to get this done on the timetable they've laid out with a framework by February, a final agreement later, and if both parties believe that they need extra time, I'm sure that we will work with them on that, but we're going to continue working with them with an eye toward meeting the deadline.

Q So, if they need extra time, that's -- you don't consider that a setback?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I mean, obviously these are complicated issues. But if both leaders believe that there is some advantage to taking a little bit of extra time, I don't know that it would be in our interest to stand in the way of that. But we are working in a process that's looking towards the middle of next month as a deadline for some sort of framework.

Q Joe, what message will the President have to Arafat about Arafat's desire to have a Palestinian state as soon as September?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's message will be the message that he has always repeated, which is, that is a final status issue and should be dealt with in the context of the overall agreement that they need to reach.

Are we done?

Q All right.

MR. LOCKHART: Good. Thank you.

END 12:55 P.M. EST