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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 16, 2000
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

The South Lawn

11:50 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I'd like to say just a few words before I go up to the Speaker's annual St. Patrick's Day luncheon about three issues.

Yesterday the House took a small, but significant step, down the long road toward common-sense gun safety legislation. House members from both parties have said it's time to get to work, after eight months and other senseless shootings; it's time for the House and Senate conference to resolve the differences between the two bills and send one to me.

The American people have spoken clearly and consistently about the need to protect our children from gun violence. The House is listening. I hope the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate will listen and get this conference underway.

Of course, a meeting is just a beginning. Congress should keep working until it sends me a bill I can sign that closes the gun show loophole, requires child safety locks with all new handguns, bans the importation of large-capacity ammunition clips. Again, I hope they will reconsider and restore the provision that hold adults responsible if they knowingly or recklessly let little children have access to guns.

A courageous, bipartisan majority in the House has now said no to the attack ads, no to the name-calling and no to the threats. They have stood up for the American people, but there are further tests ahead. The clock is ticking and America is waiting to see whether Congress can really produce a bill that responds to the interests of our children and not the intimidation of the NRA.

I'd also like to say a few words about the budget the House passed yesterday. It is more than a balance sheet; every budget is. It's a blueprint for our future. For seven years, our administration has worked to build a future based on fiscal discipline. The budget proposed by the Republican leadership would erode that discipline. It would weaken, not strengthen the foundation Americans have worked so hard to build for the future.

Before devoting a single dollar to pay down the debt, or extend the solvency of Social Security or Medicare, or provide a voluntary prescription drug benefit, or invest in our children's education, the majority's budget already spends almost half a trillion dollars in tax cuts -- almost half a trillion and, as the Republican budget makes clear, they're just getting started.

This is unrealistic, unwise. The risks it poses are unconscionable. It is as risky and costly as the budget they proposed last year that I vetoed. It would undermine our ability to make America debt-free by 2013; to strengthen Social Security and take it out beyond the life of the baby boom generation; to lengthen the life of Medicare and add a voluntary prescription drug benefit.

It would slash our most pressing priorities across the board, from education and the environment, from law enforcement to public health, from scientific research to basic nutrition. It would be impossible for them to follow the path that we have all agreed on to modernize our defense forces and improve the quality of life of our men and women in uniform.

This is the wrong path for America. The only way they could meet their spending priorities with this tax cut is to go back to huge deficits. I asked the leadership to change course, to go back and write a budget that maintains our fiscal discipline and meets our most pressing priorities.

Now, the third issue I would like to mention very briefly is that I have just met with the Secretary of Energy and his team and my economic team, and we have talked about the present difficulties that Americans are facing because of the price of gasoline and the high price of oil, and what our short- and longer-term options are. And we've been working very hard on this now for several weeks, and we hope to have some things to say about it over the next few days.

But this is -- I'm encouraged by a lot of the developments that are going on. I hope there will be some relief soon when the OPEC meeting occurs. But I do believe we need to do more on our own here in America to deal with some of the things we've learned, some of the pressure points we've learned are on our people in these last few months.

So I just want to notify you that we are working on this and we will have some more to say later, and I don't want to be late to the Speaker's St. Patrick's Day lunch.

Q Mr. President, on the question of gun control --

Q Mr. President, have you spoken in person to any of the leaders of the OPEC nations to increase --

THE PRESIDENT: Wait, wait. The answer is, we have made clear what my public position is. I've said no more to anybody privately than I've said in public. I think it is in the interest of the OPEC nations and in the interest of the consuming nations to have a stable price of oil that gives them a fair return on their oil, enables them to run their countries and finance their budgets, but is not so high that it runs the risk of promoting inflation or recession, which will reduce the demand for oil by cratering the economies of other countries and hurting ours, and hurting a lot of innocent people in the process.

So the trick is to find the right balance. Oil was way too low last year because they increased production right as demand dropped after the Asian financial crisis. Now, the price is too high because they cut production right as demand increased when Europe and Asia were growing more again.

So we've got to get this back into balance. That's what I want to do. I think it's very much in their interest, and I haven't said any more in private than I'm saying to you in public, but we are working that.

Q Mr. President, Wayne LaPierre, last night on the news, said the blood of Ricky Birdsong is on your hands. I was wondering if you would like to respond to that personally, sir, and also go to the underlying issue of enforcement? The NRA contends the administration has been lax up until very recently on the enforcement issue.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, most of those -- I think the television news, some of the reports answered the Birdsong case in great detail, and I don't have anything to add to that. And again, I will say, I don't think -- getting into a personal spat with Mr. LaPierre about tactics that I don't think any American appreciates and that all Americans can see through is not worth doing.

I think on the enforcement issue, if you just go back and look at the facts that were reported on the news last night in this case, I think it makes the case. The question is: What should the states do? What should the federal government do? What is the appropriate thing to do in the Brady cases? And I believe what we've tried to do is the right course.

I think the Attorney General has tried to increase federal gun prosecutions. We've asked for resources to do more. But we've also tried to do it in a sensible way that left a lot of the burden and the criminal law where it belongs, with the local prosecutors. And I think to try to take a case like that, where actually the Brady bill worked, and if we had more comprehensive checking so that no one could sell a gun without a Brady background check, we'd have an even safer society, is not a very good argument for the other side to make.

And I think it's truly ironic that the NRA is now criticizing us for not throwing everybody in jail that fails a Brady background check when they opposed the Brady Bill. If it had been up to them, we wouldn't be doing these background checks, and 500,000 more felons, fugitives and stalkers would have handguns, so --

Q Is there a break in the Irish impasse?

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. We're working it.

Q Can I follow up on that, sir? Mr. President, why do you think the NRA has chosen this particular moment, though, to attack you?

THE PRESIDENT: I have no idea. I really don't know. Must be a good fundraising tactic. I honestly don't know. I don't know.

Q Because they've had their way mostly on Capitol Hill, it seems, up to this point.

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. I think they know that the majority of the American people support us on this bill, and if they get the bill before the Congress, it will pass. So maybe it's some strategy to try to keep it from ever being in an acceptable form to be voted on one way or the other.

I don't know. You'll have to ask them. I can't figure it out. Thanks.

END 12:00 P.M. EST