THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: A couple of announcements to start today. Has anybody seen Jake's suit coat? (Laughter.) It's just been missing for a while, and we're looking for it.
Q That's not a suit. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. Let me go through the schedule today, since we didn't have a gaggle. And then I do have some travel announcements.
The President, as you know, did the World War II Memorial Reception this morning. He had a brief meeting, took a picture with Principal Frank DeAngelis of Columbine High School. He was here with four or five of his assistant principals and teachers and administrators from the school, in Washington. He and his colleagues have a standing invitation, which they exercised today, to come in and talk to the President, so they had a good meeting.
We did the announcement on the Secretary of Commerce. Later this afternoon, after the DNC Lunch, the President will take the official Cabinet photograph, and then do a Cabinet meeting. I expect that meeting to be a session where the Cabinet is brought up to date and exchanges the latest information on the appropriations process, the budget, our plans on prescription drugs for Medicare, and I also expect Secretary Albright will give a brief rundown on some foreign policy issues. I also expect that she'll have a chance, separately, to have a discussion with the President later today on her trip to the Middle East. The President then goes to a reception this evening, just before 8:00 p.m.
Q So is the DNC meeting at lunch -- is that a money event?
MR. LOCKHART: It is an organizing event. It's a lunch with I think about a dozen people who are working on some fundraisers that will come up later in the year. So it's not a fundraiser; it's more of a --
Q That's why it's not open?
MR. LOCKHART: Correct.
Q Will the President, at the Cabinet meeting, be discussing gas prices, as Americans head off on the 4th of July weekend, paying ever higher prices?
Q He will now. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that in the business that is before us, that is certainly an issue the President is spending time on, and they'll spend some time and hear from the appropriate Cabinet members on that subject.
Q Can you give us an update on what the President is learning?
MR. LOCKHART: Can I get through the schedule first, please?
Q Oh, sorry. Please.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you. Tomorrow, the President will travel to Philadelphia and to Bergen County, New Jersey, will depart the White House at 7:05 a.m. and address the American Federation of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, otherwise known as AFSCME, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Following those remarks, he will sign the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act; more commonly known as the Digital Signature Bill. This is a very important piece of legislation that will advance e-commerce in this country, it will provide the tools that e-commerce needs, while at the same time protecting consumers and giving them the same protections that they have in more traditional commerce.
Q Where does he do that?
MR. LOCKHART: In Philadelphia at Independence Hall. Pool press. He will then travel to Bergen County, New Jersey to attend a DSCC luncheon and arrive back to the White House about 5:00 p.m.
On July 6th, the President will travel to Columbia, Missouri, to discuss his push for -- prescription drugs?
MS. PALMIERI: Patients' bill of rights.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, patients' bill of rights, not prescription drugs. A push for patients' bill of rights. Let me do --
Q He might mention prescription drugs?
MR. LOCKHART: He might mention it, but the main focus that day will be patients' bill of rights.
Q He speaks at the University, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't know that we have a site yet, but we will be in Columbia. Let me spend --
Q It's the only place he's going that day, it's out and back?
MR. LOCKHART: Out and back. Let me spend a couple of minutes on prescription drugs, as I raised it, even if inadvertently. I think that you all know that the House passed a prescription drug program that the President addressed earlier today as one that is more empty promises and about political cover rather than prescription drug coverage.
Sometime soon, later on this afternoon, we'll provide you with a side-by-side, but let me give you some of the highlights of the differences in the programs, because I think if you looked at some of the reporting on this, there isn't -- I don't think there has been a real examination of exactly what the Republican plan covers, and I think that's important to seniors around this country.
If you look at the plan that the President has put forward on the subject of who is covered, it is very clear because it is in the Medicare system that all seniors and people with disabilities who lack drug coverage today, will get coverage.
If you look at the Republican plan, you will find that less than half of the seniors and people with disabilities who lack drug coverage today would join the plan. And that is a piece of information that is, I think, crucial to this debate, but was only made available by the CBO yesterday late in the day.
Q When you say would get covered, I mean, the Republicans say this covers everybody. So how do you --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the CBO -- and I'll quote the CBO here, which is the Congressional Budget Office, and this is a direct quote. "Of those who purchase Part B but do not have drug coverage, CBO assumes that 46 percent purchase a qualified drug plan." That leaves 54 percent who won't.
Based on their own looking at the private insurance model that --
Q Are you saying that they won't be able to afford it or they --
MR. LOCKHART: You'll have to ask CBO, but through a variety of assumptions based on what will be made available, what will be affordable, the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, says more than half will not be able to participate in this benefit.
Q What percentage would take the President's plan? Do you have an estimate of that? It would be available to everyone, but --
MR. LOCKHART: It will certainly be available and affordable to everyone. The problem with the Republican plan is, we don't know where it will be made available, the insurance companies have said it's unworkable. We don't really know what the premium will be, so we don't know that it will be a meaningful benefit to -- and the CBO, which took a look at this, said the 54 percent it won't be available to.
Q The President's is voluntary. So you're saying that anybody who wants it will be able to get it under his plan.
MR. LOCKHART: That's right.
Q But you're saying there will be people who will want it under the Republicans who won't be able to --
MR. LOCKHART: That's certainly what I think a fair reading of what the Congressional Budget Office is saying. On the issue of affordable and a workable prescription benefit, obviously, within the Medicare system, under the President's plan, this option would be available and it would be reliable, you would know you could get it anyplace, and you could get it at the same price.
Under the Republican plan, it's not clear who will get it, if anyone, because of the private insurance model.
Let me read you some quotes from some of the health insurance -- from the Health Insurance Association, calls the Republican plan "an empty promise that ignores the realities of the insurance market by promoting coverage that cannot succeed in the real world."
Now, from Blue Cross/Blue Shield: "Private, stand-alone prescription drug coverage will not work. To pass legislation to provide access to such coverage would constitute an empty promise to Medicare beneficiaries."
Now, the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations: "This legislation would not guarantee universal and affordable access to seniors, and creates inefficiencies, the ways benefits would be offered, all of which are at odds with the fundamental principles of any meaningful prescription drug bill."
On what you get as far as the two standing next to each other -- with the President's plan, there is no deductible, 50 percent co-insurance, up to $5,000 in cost when fully phased in. The Republican plan would vary from plan to plan. The standard option has a deductible of $250, and a 50 percent co-payment of up to $2,100 in costs. The out-of-pocket cost spending limits are $4,000 and $6,000.
The premium on the Democratic and the President's plan is $25 a month for all participants. Again, on the Republican plan, they would vary from plan to plan, but average somewhere around $39. And on the important issue of choice, the plan put forward by the President offers a choice for a fee-for-service, managed care, or retiree plan. You have choice on drugs, and you have choice on pharmacies where you buy your drugs.
On the Republican plans, you have choice as far as if private insurance plans participate, but you won't necessarily have a choice of the particular drugs that your doctor prescribes. If you look at the details of their plan, beneficiaries would only be able to access certain drugs by going through an appeals process. And finally, they might not have access to all pharmacies. Under their plan, there will be a limit to the number of pharmacies.
So although the rhetoric says that theirs is about choice and about one size doesn't fit all, the reality doesn't meet the rhetoric. So we'll make this available to you, but I think it's an important comparison, and I think it's why the President brought up the CBO study this morning, and the debate that we're having.
Q Joe, Republicans still contend that the President's plan is more generous than theirs. They say Mr. Clinton's plan is too expensive, and likely to become far more expensive as it collapses private health insurance plans and the people get into Medicare; that it amounts to another entitlement that we really can't afford without reforming Medicare.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the Republicans are trying to cover up the fact that their plan is about political cover, and not about providing prescription drugs. I don't think anyone can stand there with a straight face and say a Medicare beneficiary in the year 2000 says that it's a new entitlement to provide prescription drugs. I think only those maybe who are lost in 1965 can make that argument. The world of health care has changed in the last 35 years. To look at and have a real Medicare system, one that provides prescription drugs, you need there needs to be prescription drug benefits, so I don't think that that's somehow a new entitlement; it's a recognition of the reality of the world.
What the Republicans have said is, well, we don't believe that that's the case and we'll put together a plan that covers us politically, but as their CBO says, doesn't cover seniors.
Q Joe, it isn't an entitlement. You just think it's an entitlement --
Q Democrats on the Hill yesterday were saying you can't call it insurance, you have to call it a benefit, you have to call it an entitlement. Even Democrats on the Hill were saying that yesterday.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not arguing that this is not a benefit, but it is a benefit that recognizes the reality of health care in this country now, that very much -- that depends on prescription drugs, pharmaceutical advances; and if you look at the human genome announcement from earlier this year, this is only going to become a more important element in health care. And the Republican plan does not recognize that.
Q Joe, the Speaker said he'd be glad to sit down and talk to the President. Any plans to meet with them and --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that there are any plans. The President made it clear that he's put forward a compromise offer that can move both marriage penalty and prescription drugs. I think it's unfortunate that there wasn't a real debate yesterday. An alternative that the President would like on the floor was kept from the floor. But if Speaker Hastert is willing to move forward on a real prescription drug benefit that has to do with providing services to seniors and not providing political cover to politicians here in Washington, the President's door is always open.
Q Joe, this is going back to political cover, but House Republicans say, look, they took a plan to the floor, they voted on a piece of legislation; Democrats walked out, and the alternative that they wanted to put forth was more than was budgeted for.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the Republicans passed the budget resolution, and the budget resolution was all about political cover. They wrote a bill, the sat with the drug companies and wrote their bill. I don't think there's anyone in there who would tell you -- there was a story about 10 days ago that Republicans openly said this bill was written with the drug companies and their focus groups in mind. They're worried about politics here, they're not worried about seniors and their prescription drugs.
And if they really thought this was a good program, and if they really thought that this was the best way to provide prescription drug benefits to seniors who need them, they would have said, this is the right way to do it, let's put up the Democratic alternative, we'll take a vote. They wouldn't do that, because they thought they would lose.
Q My question is probably based on my own ignorance, I'm a little confused about these numbers. On the one hand, I understand the concern that we don't know exactly what's in the Republican benefit plan, we're not sure exactly how it would be offered and how it would be paid for, but then on the flip side, we have these pretty detailed numbers. It would be $39 a month average, with -- where do those numbers come from?
MR. LOCKHART: Some of these numbers you take from just assuming that the numbers that they put out are the case. I think it's harder to assume that this actually will be a reliable and available benefit, because the insurance companies have stated very clearly they have no intention of offering this.
You can have an argument about whether there will be any benefit at all, but even taking their arguments and even taking their numbers, they're inadequate as in comparison to what the President has put forward.
Q And these are their numbers? This is what they're assuming would be --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, theirs or the CBO's.
Q Joe, has the President asked about gas prices? Does he plan to talk to the Cabinet about it? What information has he gotten from the --
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President talked at length about it yesterday. I don't think he's gotten anything overnight, but he's going to continue to monitor this and then watch it closely.
Q Do you think there is anything that he can do at this point?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President expressed very clearly at the press conference yesterday in several question that were put to him
Q That was yesterday.
MR. LOCKHART: If you need something new for today, I'm not going to provide it.
Q I see.
Q Back on the numbers, they say they would reach 39 million seniors. Is that a fair estimate?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think it's unclear whether they would reach any, but even the CBO, the Congressional Budget Office says they won't reach half. They won't reach half the seniors who need it, and I don't know where they get their 39 million number.
Q And how many would yours --
MR. LOCKHART: All who are looking for a prescription drug benefit. There is a fundamental difference here between the two plans, taking even the politics out, which is, the President's plan is a Medicare prescription drug benefit. The Republican plan is giving $40 billion to insurance companies to provide -- as a subsidy to provide some benefit which they have already said they won't do.
So it isn't a prescription drug benefit within the context of Medicare.
Q Joe, will Mr. Mineta divorce himself from any decisions affecting Lockheed Martin, a company which has been fined for satellite technology sales to China?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a good question. I don't know exactly what the rules are within the context of Commerce, but I'm certain that he will commit himself to following all of the rules here.
Q Joe, do you know, did the President examine -- in picking Mr. Mineta, did the President look at his corporate ties with this defense contractor?
MR. LOCKHART: The President looked at former Congressman Mineta's entire career and made the decision, and I think it's a good decision.
Q Was the Vice President involved in making that decision at all?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.
Q On patients' bill of rights, if conferees continue to fail to make any progress on this bill, administration officials have said that they are willing to look at alternative vehicles. Is that going to be part of the President's message next week?
MR. LOCKHART: I think certainly in the Senate, they'll look to see if there are any opportunities to get this passed. We're certainly -- came close in the one vote they took on this. But I think the message will be that the country deserves this and we're very close, and there is only one vote -- we're only one vote short in the Senate, we had 60 or 70 Republicans who voted for this bipartisan bill in the House. So we are very close, and what we need to do is just keep pushing, and keep pushing, and we're almost there.
Q Joe, regarding 527's bill that passed the House and now the Senate. Would the President sign this piece of legislation --
MR. LOCKHART: The President supports what the House and Senate have done. I expect he'll sign the legislation when it comes down to him. This is an important step; it is relevant to the prescription drug debate we're having in this country right now. You have a group right now called Citizens for a Better Medicare, which I believe is primarily funded by the drug companies, opposing the President's plan. The public has a right to know who groups like this are, who funds them. This is a step in the right direction as far as campaign finance reform, but we have a lot more to do.
Q Will it have any impact this election cycle?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know, to tell you the truth, what the date this comes in. I don't know that it will have an impact in the debate we're having in the next two or three weeks. I just don't know on the legislation.
Q Now or November --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I don't know that it comes into force right away.
Q Have you heard anything about -- there's been some concern expressed on the Hill just stalling and sending this bill down here could have an impact on the election season, and the current debates that are going on.
MR. LOCKHART: Stalling the 527?
Q If it takes a long time for the bill to make the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, my understanding is that the bill that the House passed was sent to the Senate, and that bill was passed. They don't have to send it to conference; there's no reason in the world it can't come down here now, unless the leadership really isn't for forcing these groups to disclose. I mean, I've been around this town for a long time, and every Republican leader I've ever heard on this issue has always said that the greatest thing in the world to do on campaign finance is disclose. We've passed a vote for disclosure; I expect it will come down here soon.
Q And the President would sign it right away, as soon as he gets it down here?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll sign it as soon as we can find the appropriate time and venue to properly accord it the respect it deserves.
Q Joe, I'm still somewhat baffled about the President's views on the Boy Scouts. Despite a very incisive question yesterday -- (laughter) -- it wasn't clear to me whether the President backs, or does not, the Boy Scout policy of barring gays as Scout Master.
MR. LOCKHART: I think despite the very incisive question that was put to him yesterday, his answer focused more on the opinion, which was actually kind of a mixed opinion; it did not address, probably, the broader question of whether the Boy Scouts as a group can include gays. It only addressed whether people they present as leaders and spokespeople can.
I think the President's record and his attitudes toward discrimination are very clear. He opposes them, and has worked very hard to promote that kind of reconciliation and understanding in this country. So he does not agree with the Boy Scouts in their views expressed.
Now, on the narrow legal issue, this is a First Amendment issue that we chose not to file on, because it is essentially a private organization exercising their First Amendment rights.
Q Do you know if the President has expressed his views to Boy Scout leaders, in his role as honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that he's done it in a formal way, but I certainly think that if they were watching yesterday's press conference, they know what his views are.
Q But he said the Boy Scouts are a great group.
MR. LOCKHART: He thinks that the Boy Scouts do good work in this country.
Q Even though they discriminate?
MR. LOCKHART: He thinks they do good work in this country; he doesn't agree with this particular point of view that they express, and administer.
Q If I may be so bold, the other part of my colleague's incisive question -- (laughter) -- which the President did not answer had to do with the President's position as the honorary head of the Boy Scouts.
MR. LOCKHART: Right. What about it?
Q How can he continue in that role?
MR. LOCKHART: This is an honorary position that is accorded to the President of the United States. The President does not agree with this particular position, but believes the Boy Scouts do good other work, and I wouldn't read too much more into that.
Q To try and follow up Terry's incisive question -- (laughter) --
Q Which one was that?
MR. LOCKHART: We are long on incisive questions, short on incisive answers today.
Q Is it because of Mr. Mineta, who is head of the Easy-Pass section of Lockheed Martin, that the assumption is he might not have been involved in the satellite, or was --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not making any assumptions at all. I'm saying that the President looked at a distinguished career of a former member of Congress and said that he is the best person in this country to run the Commerce Department. If you have any specific allegations you want to raise, you ought to raise them.
Q No, I only have a specific question, which is whether he looked at that to see whether Mineta was involved?
MR. LOCKHART: And my statement is that the President looked at Mr. Mineta's entire distinguished career, and made the judgment that he is in a unique position, and a strong position to lead the Department of Commerce.
Q Joe, following up on Terry's incisive question from yesterday -- (laughter) -- the Cuba issue. The President said yesterday that there was a -- he supported the general point of the Cuba legislation, but he had some concerns about the details. It has not yet been clear to us that the White House has engaged Congress in negotiations to try and hammer out those details. Are you at that process now?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me make two points on that. One is that we've certainly had discussions, and I think the more the details come out, the more complicated this gets. There is certainly evidence now that provisions within the Nethercutt Amendment move us backwards as far as our people-to-people contacts, and the more you look at the food and medicine part of that, the more difficult it is to examine or to assess whether real food or medicine will get to Cuba.
So I think we're still looking at that, but our concerns remain there as well as in some of the institutional issue.
But the second issue I think we're quite clear on is that because of those concerns, this should not be moved as part of the supplemental appropriations bill. And that's a message that I think we're trying to make clear.
There are a number of senators who have good-faith objections to the Nethercutt Amendment who will hold up the supplemental bill because of this. I think we have waited long enough. We've done good work and made progress in the last few days on this, the time has come to bring that down here. And I think in that spirit, the Nethercutt Amendment should not be part of the supplemental, the President believes that should be considered separately.
Q And are you working with him on trying to craft the Nethercutt language or recraft the Nethercutt language in a way that would be acceptable?
MR. LOCKHART: There certainly have been discussions as we try to understand the legislative meaning of what the Republican leadership and the House worked out, and I'm not sure that we have a clear view of that yet.
Q Joe, on the death penalty, the President said he was waiting for some information or a study of how the death penalty was being applied, requested and dealt with in the federal system. Is there any target date for when that study is supposed to be due back, and what about setting up procedures for dealing with clemency requests and so forth?
MR. LOCKHART: I think both of those are in sort of their final stages, and we'll see both of them soon. I think the answer is, weeks rather than months. I'm not absolutely certain on both. But I think there is a process that's been going on sometime to look at the guidelines for clemency. That will be complete sometime soon, and then there will obviously be a comment period. I would go to the Justice Department on exact timing, but I think they are nearing completion of their look at racial disparities.
Q Would either the racial disparity or the geographic disparity studies be an obstacle to the August 5th execution that's scheduled right now?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not certain of that. I certainly know that the clemency issue is something that has to be completed before we would move forward on any federal execution, because obviously, the guidelines have to be there, there has to be a procedure for an inmate on the equivalent of federal death row to apply for clemency.
Q Just to follow up on one other thing, when you said it has to go out for comment, is that through a formal comment process, or you just mean you want to get views of other people on the subject?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we'll have -- I don't know what the procedure is, how formal it will be, but there will be some time frame whereby interested parties can make comments before the guidelines become final.
Q And that could happen in roughly the 36 days between now and August 5th?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that the -- that entire process can be complete. I just don't know how long the comment period will be. But I understand that the process, as far as trying to craft the guidelines are almost complete.
Q Joe, when you said that Mr. Mineta would follow appropriate Commerce Department rules, is it safe to assume that there is some prohibition on any decision separating him from his former company?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's safe to assume that there is, but I don't know what the rules are, and I would send you to -- there's the Office of Government Ethics is quite a good resource on this.
Q Just following up on Josh, why not declare a moratorium, then, on any federal case? There's one obviously coming up on August 5th -- until all this clemency and racial --
MR. LOCKHART: I think part of what I'm trying to say here is that we're not going to move forward until at least the clemency guidelines process is complete.
Q Joe, on the World War II Memorial, there are still some groups that are vehemently opposed to this site there. Has the President spoken to them, or what's his message to them on his support of that site?
MR. LOCKHART: Colonel? Colonel Crowley fails us again. (Laughter.) Speaking of incisive questions, that was my favorite yesterday. Let me check on that. I just don't know what his contacts have been. I know he's had numerous conversations with former Senator Dole on this, but I don't know -- to the extent there is a dissonant group, that he has had contact with them.
Q Joe, the nomination of Mr. Mineta is historic in the sense that he is the first Asian American and the first Japanese American to become a Cabinet member. Does this signify any change in the administration's trade policy toward Asia and Japan?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I don't think that it signifies any change in our trade policy. Our trade policy has always been one that seeks to open markets to American products around the world, and that will continue. I think it does highlight an important American Dream story, that both the President and Mr. Mineta talked about today, that someone can come from the challenging beginnings, that former Congressman Mineta started, and end up one day as the Secretary of Commerce of the United States, and that's quite a good story.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EDT