THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT UNVEILING OF PORTRAIT OF TREASURY SECRETARY ROBERT RUBIN U.S. Department of the Treasury Washington, D.C.
10:54 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Secretary Summers, you pulled that off without a hitch. (Laughter.) If that won't keep interest rates down, I don't know what will. (Laughter.) In seven and a half years, that's the first public comment I ever made -- (laughter and applause) -- and I only did it to see which one of them would faint first. (Laughter.)
Let me say -- if I can't have a little fun now, when can I, right? (Laughter.) Judy and Gretchen, thank you for being here today. Secretary Daley, Jack Lew, Gene Sperling, all the members of the economic team in the White House and all of our former administration members who are here, including Mickey Kantor and your old buddy Ken Brody back there. Mr. Strauss, we're delighted to see you here today. We thank you for coming.
I'd like to acknowledge one person who can't be here today, who had a lot to do with our early days together, Bob, and that is your predecessor, Lloyd Bentsen. I'm glad that your portraits will hang together, because you certainly hung together in the early years of this administration and helped us get off to a good start.
I thought it was kind of cruel the way Larry made fun of Bob not knowing about "The X Files." (Laughter. ) "The X Files" -- Bob Rubin didn't know who B.B. King was. (Laughter.) He thought he made air guns. (Laughter.) He thought Jimmy Buffett was a caterer. (Laughter.) Really -- this man did not know who B.B. King and Jimmy Buffett were when he came to work for us. (Laughter.) And so, yes, he gave us a good economy, but we've broadened his horizons in return. (Laughter.)
Unlike me, Rubin got mostly good press here. (Laughter.) But he did get the occasional dire assessment. Listen to this headline by one prescient pundit -- no offense, Andrea. Listen to this: "Rubin is fading from power and will resign from fatigue. He won't be around past March of next year." That was written in December of 1993. (Laughter.)
MR. RUBIN: I think Judy wrote that. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. (Laughter and applause.) Actually, Judy didn't write it, but she does wish it had been true. (Laughter.) Well, anyway, you out-lasted that prediction by more than five years, through impossibly long hours, a terribly tough commute, almost seven years without a house and only a hotel room. We probably should hang a second portrait of you in the lobby of the Jefferson Hotel. (Laughter.) You certainly did a lot to make sure their cash flow was steady. (Laughter.)
You know, Bob joined our team in 1992, and I never will forget the first conversation I had with him in early '92, and the conversations since. And I want to say just a few serious words. Here was a guy who had done reasonably well on Wall Street. (Laughter.) I used to joke that Bob Rubin came to Washington to help me save the middle class, and by the time he left, he'd be one of them. (Laughter.) But he didn't think it was very funny. (Laughter.) The longer he stayed, the less money he got. (Laughter.)
But I wanted him because I knew he was committed at turning the economy around; I knew he wanted the economy to work for ordinary Americans; and I knew he cared very much about poor people in poor places that are too often forgotten here in Washington. You all know that he played a pivotal role in developing our initial economic strategy of fiscal discipline and expanded trade, and investment in our people and our future. Perhaps equally important, he made it possible to implement that strategy by putting together the National Economic Council, which we modeled on the National Security Council, and by being its first leader.
He had the skills to build a genuine team; to be an honest broker; to give every good idea, and not so good idea, a fair hearing; to bring out the best in other people and make them feel secure in stating their own opinions; and in every instance, to work for what was best for all the American people.
One measure of his success, I think, is it's so easy to forget now the feuds that divided previous administrations, the pitched, public battles that were once an inescapable part of making economic policy in Washington. But Bob changed all that. And that team produced the 1993 economic plan which was highly contentious but, clearly struck a major blow in bringing the deficit down and reversing the budgetary and fiscal fortunes of this government.
Five and a half years ago, I asked him to be Secretary of the Treasury, not only because he would be a worthy successor to Lloyd Bentsen, but because he would also be a worthy successor to Alexander Hamilton. I might say, his portrait is right back here. We walked out and I said, Bob, look at Hamilton. He was a fine looking fellow, wasn't he? He said, yes, but they wouldn't let me wear that outfit for my portrait. (Laughter.)
Hamilton also insisted that the United States pay its debts and practice prudence. Bob Rubin has established, both as our National Economic Advisor and as a Secretary of Treasury, a standard of public service that is the envy of every American who loves his or her country and would like to serve.
I thank Larry Summers for carrying it on today and for the work that he did. Bob used to say that Larry thought up what they were going to do and Bob presented it better. But they were a great team. (Laughter.) And Larry does a pretty good job of presenting himself now.
We've had a wonderful run here because of your service. You know, yesterday we announced that the budget surplus this year was going to be $211 billion. When we leave office, we will have paid down nearly $400 billion of national debt. Over the next 10 years, we think the on-budget surplus will be $1.9 trillion and that we'll be debt-free by 2012, giving America, for a generation, lower interest rates, mortgage rates, college loan rates, more businesses and more jobs. It's a pretty good legacy, Mr. Secretary, and we thank you. (Applause.)
Now, before you come up, I just want to say one other thing. Larry said this, but it is true we were having this meeting about the Mexican debt crisis on your first night. And we had already checked Chairman Greenspan's temperature about this. (Laughter.) And so in comes Rubin with this, you know, gee, shucks, golly, I mean, what do I know, I just made a gazillion dollars on Wall Street and you were some governor of a small southern state; I mean, what do I know? (Laughter.) And, I mean, so what if it's 81-15 against us. You know, every know and then you've just got to step up.
Actually, it was a no-brainer. We made the decision collectively in about five minutes. And then we talked for another half hour to make it look good, so it would be respectable when we had to write about it later on in our memoirs. (Laughter.) But it worked out okay. And then we had, in a way, a more complex job when the financial contagion struck in Asia in '97 and '98. But you worked really hard to make that work right. And it did. So I'm very grateful for that, as well.
The last thing I'd like to say is, I think the important way we can honor you is not to squander, but to make the most of this moment. We didn't get here by accident. We got here, in no small measure, because of the strategy you devised. And I hope we can continue to honor it. I think we ought to take the Medicare taxes off budget, I think we ought to keep paying down the debt. I hope that we can make an agreement with the Congress now for a good prescription drug program and appropriate tax relief that leaves plenty of money left so they can debate it in this campaign, but nothing that will in any way affect our overall commitment to fiscal discipline and paying down the debt.
And you have left us a legacy, Bob, that keeps on giving -- just like you keep on giving. We all love you and we thank you. (Applause.)
SECRETARY RUBIN: I think I'll just stand here; it's kind of nice. (Laughter.)
Thank you, Mr. President. As I was standing up, it occurred to me that somebody might have referred to a comment I used to make from time to time, which is the markets go up and markets go down -- and then I was going to ask the Chairman if he'd give us a slight hint off the record -- (laughter) -- of which way he thinks they might move next.
In any event, I remember, Mr. President, when you used to tease me, outrageously, I thought, about not knowing all the picky minutiae of popular culture. And he used to ask me trick questions, and he suggested one of them a moment ago: Who was Jimmy Buffet. Any normal person would say Warren Buffet's son. (Laughter and applause.) Well, you laugh, you laugh, and I must say the President -- and this is not to his credit -- also laughed. (Laughter.) But I validated my view because I asked Alan Greenspan. (Laughter and applause.) And Alan said, it must be Warren's son. (Laughter.) So it just goes to show, Mr. President.
I must say, when I told the President that, he was not overwhelmingly impressed. (Laughter.) In fact, he said, that doesn't surprise me in the least. (Laughter.)
Having said that, let me, if I may, make a serious comment or two. I wanted to look like that fellow, by the way. (Laughter.) It's a little dour, but in any event -- I do think, as a matter of fact, Mr. President, if you think about him, you look at the universe of former Secretaries; by that standard, I am a new age figure. (Laughter and applause.) You might think about that a little bit. (Laughter.)
Let me also now take advantage of the opportunity, as the President did, to be serious for a moment or two. When I stepped down I had the opportunity to talk about my reactions, my feelings, my thoughts about the extraordinary opportunity of working for six and a half years in this administration. What I'd like to do today is not add to that, but simply to thank all of you for being here; and make a comment or two that have occurred to me since, as I look back on the time that I was here, now that I've been out about a year.
First and foremost, as I said at the time, it really was an opportunity to work with a truly remarkable group of people -- in the White House, and then at Treasury and throughout the administration. And as I look back on it now, I have the feeling, from a slight remove, that this very special experience, with all of its ups and downs, would create a special set of ties amongst all of us, that will last us for the rest of our lives. I think in some measure that's probably true of people in every administration. If you read memoirs, it is a sense that you get from many of them.
But I think it's particularly true in this administration, because the President, from the very beginning, worked to make sure that we all worked together, in a sense of teamwork, in a sense of mutual support; and create an environment in which we related to each other in a very special way. It wasn't perfect. I can remember once wanting to throw Gene Sperling out the window -- (laughter) -- when he told me something I did wasn't consistent with putting people first.
Did you ever do putting people first, second, by the way, Gene? (Laughter.) I remember once we were in the Oval Office and the President looked at Gene and he said, where is putting people two? If you're too busy to do it, Gene, I'll do it. (Laughter.) In any event, it wasn't perfect -- I just thought I'd bring it up again, Gene -- (laughter) -- just to be -- try to be helpful to you for the next seven months. (Laughter.)
But it did work to a remarkable degree and it was a remarkable set of relationships we had with each other and I think we're part of it, all of us, for the rest of our lives.
As to the economy, the President said it far better than I, but I guess I would like to express two reactions. Number one, I do think, Mr. President, under your leadership, the leadership of a President who was deeply thoughtful and deeply knowledgeable with respect to economic issues, this administration made an enormous difference. And I hear it every day now when I deal with our clients here and abroad.
And, secondly, in a somewhat more subtle point, but I think that the President set an example for the future, because what he presented was not a set of individual programs, but rather a coherent strategy that was geared to the conditions of the time. And I think that that is a powerful example for future presidencies.
I think that all of us who had the opportunity to be part of that process were part of something very special. And that, too, I think, will be an experience that will be with us for the rest of our days.
Now that I'm back in the private sector, the financial world from whence I came -- and, by the way, Mr. President, I have addressed the issue of becoming part of the middle class -- (laughter) -- so not to worry. (Laughter.) In any event, now that I am back in the financial world, it is continually gratifying to see how extraordinarily well-respected Treasury is, both here and abroad.
I remember saying at the time that I would go to meeting after meeting at Treasury and be struck by the extraordinary quality of the people I dealt with and by the breadth of the mission of this institution and its importance to the problems of our world.
It is also absolutely terrific to watch Larry -- the most terrific thing, by the way, of being an ex-Secretary, is on those occasions when I speak to Larry, we speak for 10 or 15 minutes, and by the end of the conversation I can say, you know, Larry, that's a heck of a problem, I'm sure you'll deal with it very effectively. (Laughter.)
I've known Larry for over 15 years. I remember when he first wandered into our -- room with a friend of ours and told me about stock transfer taxes, or taxes we should have on the transfers of securities. In any event, who ever would have thought then that all of this would happen. But that's true for all of us. And it's been a wonderful thing, a wonderful thing for all of us. And in many respects, Mr. President, we owe it, this opportunity, to you.
Somebody at Treasury told me the other day that Larry likes being Secretary, which is a good thing, and that he's absolutely terrific at it. And I think that's exactly right. In think in Larry we have an absolutely outstanding Secretary of the Treasury.
Let me close by saying that some of you may be wondering as you get toward the end of this administration whether there will ever be a time again that is as exciting and fulfilling as this experience. Now that I've been out for just a touch short of a year, let me tell you, the world is a very exciting place. There is a lot going on. There are many ways to get involved. And there are many ways and activities that will provide you with the opportunity to invest yourself and to fulfill yourself.
I think that you can both look back and appreciate the extraordinary experience you've had and, at the same time, invest yourself in what you're going to do going forward and look to the future. So let me close by saying that it is an enormous honor to have my picture, hanging on the wall of the Treasury, next to my friend, Lloyd Bentsen; and also to know that someday Larry's picture will hang next to mine. In fact, his picture will push mine one space down the wall. (Laughter.) But such is life. (Laughter.) And there is nobody I'd rather be pushed down the wall by. Thank you very much for being here. (Applause.)
END 11:13 P.M. EDT