THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE DENNIS HASTERT, SENATOR TRENT LOTT, SENATOR TOM DASCHLE, AND REPRESENTATIVE DICK GEPHARDT IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY Cabinet Room
10:44 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say I am delighted to have the congressional leadership here today -- a good day for them to come, because today all of us as Americans celebrate the month where we mark the longest economic expansion in the history of the United States. It's an expansion that was earned by the American people through hard work, high technology, open markets, fiscal discipline, and one that I think we can be all justifiably proud of, but we ought to be determined to continue to deepen, to improve.
I also am looking forward to working in what will be a fast-paced congressional year, because of all the other things that are going on this year. But I think if we work together, we can get a lot done. And I am hoping that among other things, that the areas where there's already been some expressed interest in working together, like continuing to pay down the debt, working on bringing economic opportunities to our new markets, saving Social Security -- that these things will see some real progress.
As all of you know, we have some unfinished business that I'd like to see dealt with. I hope we can allocate the interest savings from debt reduction to lengthen the life of Social Security. I hope we can reach agreement on a Medicare reform package which includes prescription drugs, but also some reforms. I hope we can pass a patients' bill of rights, and see some action on the gun legislation and the minimum wage and a few other things.
But I think we can really get some things done. And I just want to say to all of you, I am committed to working with you in looking for positive avenues to cooperate, and I think we'll find some.
Q Mr. President --
SPEAKER HASTERT: Oh, I think there's --
THE PRESIDENT: We'll let them speak, and then we'll take your questions.
SPEAKER HASTERT: I think there's a lot of neutral ground that we can work with the President. We're looking forward to this legislative session. I think this is an important time, that we can really secure America's prosperity. And after all, that's probably the best thing that we can hand on, in this new decade and this new century, for our children and our grandchildren. So we're committed to doing that.
You know, I think that there's some things that the President spoke about that we can work together on. I think paying down the debt is very, very important, and we can do that. I'm not sure if we're going to do it in 13 years, or 12, or 14, or whatever that number is, but I think it can get done. I also believe that we need to make sure that we save Social Security, and we've taken the first step of doing that last year.
I think there are some other issues out there. We would like to spread the prosperity that most American workers and American people have shared this year. I know in our agricultural sector we need to do some important things. We have some trade agreements that are really important for that sector of the economy, and American workers, that we can move our products overseas. We'd like to see that legislation move this year; and basically to work together paying down the debt, as we said before; securing the Social Security for our future and our children's future; and make sure that we can probably turn some of that money back.
We talked to the President about the marriage penalty tax; that's an important thing that we think we can work on. And some, also, cooperative effort on community renewal, and the New Markets Initiative, however you want to call it, something I think we can work on, too. Matter of fact, we're beginning to work together right now.
So I think -- I'm looking forward. I'm enthusiastic about this session and look forward to working with the White House.
SENATOR LOTT: Mr. President, we thank you for inviting the bipartisan bicameral leadership to be here this morning. The American people expect us to work together to get some things done for our country and for our children's future. There will be distractions and there will be disagreements, but I think there are areas where we can continue to make progress.
You've both already referred to keeping a balanced budget, paying down the debt, protecting and saving Social Security. We need to do something to continue to help improve education in America. There are some health care areas where we've got to work together.
And one area where I think we really need to focus this year, because we're going to have to, is in the trade area. Trade is good for everybody involved. And we need to make sure that we address some of these trade bills, or African free trade and CBI parity, as well as the China trade issue.
So we'll work together with you on that. We hope to also find a way to return some of the surplus back to the people that paid it. But I believe, as I've looked at the agenda for this year, there are several areas where we can reach agreement. And I'll work in the Senate with Tom Daschle to try to make it happen.
SENATOR DASCHLE: Mr. President, this may be a first. I'm able to agree with every single word of both my Republican colleagues -- (laughter) -- as well as the President of the United States. And I appreciate, as Senator Lott has just noted, the opportunity for us to be with you.
Let me congratulate you on this 107-month expansion in our economy. As you said, this is unprecedented. This has never happened before. And it is no accident that it's happening now. It's the result of discipline. It's the result of real sound fiscal and monetary leadership, and we can take great pride in it.
The question now for us is, how do we continue to ensure that it will be with us for many, many months and years to come, and how do we ensure that everybody is enjoying the fruits and the benefits of this expansion. Today, I don't think we're able to say that. But if we do the kinds of things that you laid out in your State of the Union, which I thought was an extraordinary presentation, I think we're going to be in a much better position to do it.
But I share the priorities expressed by our two Republican leaders, that we pay off the public debt; that we show the kind of discipline in ensuring that we protect Social Security and Medicare; that we work on passing meaningful patients' bill of rights and minimum wage, and some of the unfinished business of last year; and add to it, I hope, the passage of a good prescription drug benefit this year.
So I think we've got a lot of opportunities to work together. And I'm encouraged by the comity and the real expressed, sincere desire on the part of all leaders to work together in this session.
THE PRESIDENT: Dick?
CONGRESSMAN GEPHARDT: Mr. President, I'm a little hoarse from the Super Bowl, but -- (laughter.)
SENATOR LOTT: Who won that game? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Congratulations, Dick.
CONGRESSMAN GEPHARDT: Thank you very much. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Did that guy really catch that pass?
CONGRESSMAN GEPHARDT: He did. (Laughter.) And the Titan did not get into the end zone, either. (Laughter.)
Let me say that no one predicted the Rams were going to win the Super Bowl, or even be in it, but I guess no one's predicting that we can work together to get things done. I think we can, and I'm optimistic about it.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
Q Mr. President, no one mentioned gun control -- 30,000 people are killed every year by guns --
THE PRESIDENT: I think I did mention that --
Q -- and even the safety locks on children -- what is this, that you can't get this through?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not sure we can't. It passed the Senate, and we've got it in the House, and I hope we can pass it. You can ask the House leaders more about that. But I intend -- I think I mentioned it. If I didn't, I certainly meant to mention it in my opening remarks. And I intend to work hard to try to pass it.
SENATOR LOTT: The Juvenile Justice bill is actually in conference between the House and Senate. And some of those provisions will at least be a part of the consideration of that legislation.
Q Are you predicting it will pass?
SENATOR LOTT: Oh, no, I'm not predicting. I'm stating --
Q Why not? (Laughter.)
SENATOR LOTT: Because it hasn't been completed yet. But it is in conference, and the conferees will be working on it.
Q Do you have any comment on the Alaska Airlines crash in California?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's a terrible, tragic thing, of course. But, you know, we have a real -- well-established procedure here for how these tragedies are handled, through the established authorities. And I think before I make any substantive comment, we have to let them do their job.
But it was a very sad thing. And I, like most Americans, I suppose, I was watching it on television, and the helicopters were out there soon after the tragedy occurred. It's a very sad thing.
Q Mr. President, you talked to Tony Blair about the difficulties in carrying out the Good Friday Accord. Could you describe what you two said, and what you think the U.S. can do? And secondly, what has India done to convince you to travel there, despite its lack of progress on nuclear proliferation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me answer the first question. I spoke to Tony Blair; I spoke to Gerry Adams. We've been in constant contact with the Irish and the British governments, and I had a good meeting with David Trimble a few days ago.
The thing is at such a point now that I think that any public comments I make on the merits at this moment might do more harm than good. We are heavily involved in trying to get the Good Friday Accords implemented and get the present process supported. It's working great; these joint institutions are working well. New investment is going into Northern Ireland. The people have voted for a peace process that united people with differences, believe it or not, more profound than the ones that are represented around this table. And it's working. And it would be a tragedy if it were derailed. But in order to keep it going, everybody's going to have to honor the terms of the agreement. And so we're working on that now, and I think that's all I should say now.
Q And on India?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm going because it's the biggest democracy in the world, and I think we haven't been working with them enough. Just as I believe we have to engage China that has a political system very different from ours, we have to engage India that makes decisions sometimes we don't agree with, but is a great democracy that has preserved their democracy, I must say, against enormous odds. And we have an enormous common interest in shaping the future with them, and I'm looking forward to it.
I think it's unfortunate that the United States has been estranged -- or, if not estranged, at least it's had a distant relationship with the Indians for too long.
Q Who's going to win the primaries?
Q What about the primary? What would you tell New Hampshire voters today?
Q Any predictions?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't need to tell them anything, because one of the things about New Hampshire voters is, they all make up their own mind after an exhaustive inquiry. If there's anyplace in the world where people are actually well-prepared to make their own decisions, it's there.
It's a wonderful place, you know. Of course, I love it. They've been very good to me. But it's a great system. I know some people say, well, it's not totally representative of the rest of the country. But, you know, I think people running for office -- the Speaker and I were talking about this at the beginning -- people running for offices like ours that have millions and millions of constituents shouldn't be able to get there just over, with all respect, television and the mass media. They ought to have to go out and sit down with people in their homes, in their coffee shops, in their places of business, and let them ask questions and talk to them, and be sized up.
I think it is a great exercise. And I've enjoyed watching it unfold for the first time in three elections where I'm not involved. But it's really been quite wonderful.
Q Who's going to win? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: They'll decide that tonight.
Q Did you talk to the Vice President? Did you talk to the Vice President?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't talked to him in the last 48 hours. But I talk to him, you know, frequently. I haven't talked to him in the last 48 hours. But I've talked to others associated with the campaign. They're all up there working hard. That's all you can do up there. Nobody knows how the people of New Hampshire are going to vote. You've just got to go up there and work your heart out, and hope it comes out.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:56 A.M. EST