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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release July 26, 2000
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                              JOE LOCKHART

                    The James S. Brady Briefing Room

2:45 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. I think for those of you who didn't get a chance to listen to the President's statement and lengthy Q and A, he covered most of the math, but if there are any other subjects, I will be glad to take them on.

Q Joe, one of the things the President did say was that individually some of the Republicans tax bills have a lot of appeal. We didn't follow up on it, but do any of them have enough appeal to pursue without a deal on prescription drugs individually?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I mean, if you look at some of the things -- if you could fix the targeting of the tax proposal so that it isn't so heavily weighted towards the wealthiest of Americans, there are good public policy reasons for parts of these tax. I mean, if you look at the pension bill, there is certainly -- it's a good public policy goal to try to enhance personal saving.

But you have to look at both how they do the individual bills and how they all add up. And the problem is, by and large, in almost every piece of tax legislation they say they're going to send down here it is poorly targeting, it provides a massive amount of tax relief for the top 1 percent of Americans and very little tax relief for the rest, the middle class, in this country.

And when you take them all as a whole it completely spends the surplus and leaves us in a position, having worked so hard to get to a position of surpluses and paying off the national debt, unable to meet that goal.

Q You must mentioned the pensions bill, is that one that -- pardon me, because I don't know enough about it -- but is it targeted enough to please you? I mean, does that work for you?

MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at that bill there are significant problems in how the targeting is constructed. But I think the President indicated he's willing to work with the Congress. We have a very robust tax cut program that provides tax relief, that is very well targeted and is affordable and allows us to provide for prescription drugs, make the investments we need to in education, and even provides some insurance against things that we can't expect at this point. That's the right way to do it. But we're willing to work with Congress if they want to come in an do this in a real way, as opposed to the way they've chose to move forward in this session.

Q Joe, if the President got an acceptable tax cut does he still need to see the whole picture of what the final end game will be before he can sign one? Or if he got a fairly substantial, say, marriage tax penalty cut, could he sign that without knowing everything that's going on in the budget picture?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think the president said that he was will to sign marriage tax if they could couple it with the prescription drugs. Because that way we could provide relief, although it isn't as targeted as well as it could be, but also move on a significant part of the President's agenda, which is prescription drugs within the medicare system.

But I think if these are going to continue to come down in the way that they are they don't have much chance of getting the President's approval for the very reason that we have no way of knowing how they all fit together and how they all add up.

Q I don't understand that answer completely. I mean, you said that that exchange that he offered with prescription drugs and marriage tax penalties, okay. But what I'm wondering is if there is an individual tax cut that he thinks is a good idea, would he sign that without seeing how everything adds up?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, he -- I think the President indicated that he's not interested in having a total tax cut plan that they put forward, both in the last two Congresses, come down piece by piece. Each of the pieces of legislation that they've passed are not acceptable, both for the overall drain on the surplus and because of the way they're constructed and the way they're targeted. If they have some different ideas the best thing for them to do would be to come down here, we can talk about them and move forward.

Q Joe, it seems like the President is sort of saying, to use the colloquial phrase, "my way or the highway," that he wants everything together, except if you won't give me that, I'll take marriage penalty along with prescription drugs, and I'll take emerging markets or new markets relief, as well, but just these ones I won't take and these ones -- do you think it's a consistent position the President is taking?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, the President -- Congress has taken the view that things don't have to add up, that they can just pass things one at a time, and hopefully it will all work out. The President doesn't have that luxury. The President is the one person who has to make sure that it does add up. And I'll harken back to recent history when other presidents didn't take that view and we had $5 trillion in national debt because of it.

This President has taken a different view, he's held the line against either -- whether it be risky tax cuts or spending that we can't afford, and we have trillions of dollars in surplus now projected to show for it. So I think you could reverse that question and say, why aren't the Republicans willing to come down and work with us, why is it their way or the highway. We're going to find out in the next couple of months whether they are willing to work with us to provide real tax relief, more on the lines that target it to the people in this country who deserve tax relief, and not target it to the top 1 percent of this country. We'll find out whether they're willing to do that.

Q Joe, other than the pensions bill, which of the other bills, the other individual tax bills do you think might be most amenable to renegotiation and, therefore, to an outcome that you might be able to accept?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we have our own marriage penalty proposal that we believe targets -- is affordable and is targeted to those who actually pay a marriage penalty. The Republican bill puts marriage penalty in the title so that they can disguise the fact that they're providing another tax break for not only people who pay the marriage penalty, but the people who actually get a marriage bonus. It's a disguised way of just playing around with the tax code. So we have our own proposal on that. We've sent up pension ideas that we think make more sense than what the Republican leadership has sent down, and there's a whole series of other -- I mean, look at the President's own tax proposal from the budget and from the State of the Union. There's targeted relief in there for a series of things: long-term care, college education -- these are things that we would like to work with Congress on to get passed.

Q Joe, do you want to go back to the math and how it all adds up? The President emphasized that if you take this year's plus last year's, it adds up to $1.8 trillion, and that's too much.


Q But if you look at last year's, a big chunk of last year's is an across-the-board tax deduction of almost $500 billion. I don't hear anyone on the Hill talking about an across-the-board tax increase. So isn't it kind of disingenuous for him to take this year's and last year's and include items that are not even hot on the Hill right now?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. Listen, if we wanted to take a bigger number, we could take George W. Bush's tax cut, which is even bigger than this, even riskier and even less affordable. These are what they have put forward. And one of the things you've got to look at -- and we've talked about how it doesn't add up -- they've currently got several pieces of legislation that undercut each other in their Social Security tax repeal bill.

They talk about how they're going to put money back in Medicare because that money will be available, but if they pass all their tax cuts, that money wouldn't be available; so the money isn't there. That's why he's saying, let's take a step back, let's look at all of the bills together, let's look at a budget. I mean, what's going on in Appropriations should give everyone pause, because they're taking money and they're already playing the shell games that we saw from last year, where they're taking money out of other areas, but we don't know from what yet, and let's see how it all adds up and then we can provide tax relief.

Q But, Joe, isn't it a little misleading? I mean, the American people hear the number $1.8 trillion and, yet, that includes tax cuts that the Republicans have no intention of ever sending to them.

MR. LOCKHART: They've already sent it to us -- they passed this, and this is what they want. We happened to veto it.

Q They passed it, but it's not on the table this year. It includes billions of dollars, hundreds of billions of dollars that's just not on the table this year.

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think it's misleading. We're looking at what they've done in this Congress, and this is what they've said their priority is, and we're taking them at their word.

Q Yes, but, Joe, you can't veto a bill that isn't in existence, and you're including in this $1.8 trillion or whatever the amount is --

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we're including --

Q Isn't that playing politics, too? You are using a number that really does not exist in legislation.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's legislation that came down here that didn't become law because the President wouldn't let it happen.

Q From last year.

MR. LOCKHART: That is correct. And that's why we said, this Congress.

Q Also, the Treasury-Postal -- apparently there's some deal being struck to add the telephone excise tax repeal and minimum wage hike to that appropriations as a sweetener. Would the President consider signing such spending?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, we're going to have to see what deal they're thinking of cutting. But I'll tell you, like I said, it should give some pause. Because they're talking about adding a billion dollars or more to that. The question is, where is that going to come from in the end? Is that going to come out of cops money? Is that going to come out of school construction money? Is that going to come out of money that we use to protect the environment? We don't know that, and before -- until and unless we get answers to that, we can't make a decision.

Q Joe, the Republicans in Congress obviously think that the piecemeal approach, offering up these bite-size tax cuts -- for the estate taxes, the marriage penalty, the pension -- is good politics. Is the President confident that if the Republicans do send that stuff down here, he can win the political battle by --

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President's confident that the public understands the value of fiscal discipline, because they're reaping the benefit of it now in lower interest rates on their homes, on their cars; in strong economic growth, 21 million new jobs. And they recognize that because they'll be able to do the math. And our task here is to -- if the Republicans want to disguise the math, our job is to expose the math. And that's what the President was doing today, and that's what we'll continue to do.

Q A question on the ADA. Is the President in any way concerned about the way the law has been applied, or its impact on small businesses?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any concern on that particular front from the President.

Q There's a bill up on the Hill that would require people to give 90 days notice before filing a lawsuit. It's designed to combat people that have filed more than 100 lawsuits over signs and parking lots and things like that. Do you know if the administration supports that?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I can check on that.

Q Joe, the community reinvestment act, the version in the Senate, sponsored by Santorum and Lieberman, Sperling and Podesta yesterday said the clause in that regarding faith-based charities is a little too broad. Is there any specific, you know -- what specific part of that is too broad? What are you specifically worried about?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with the particulars within CRA, but I know we did a lot of work in a bill that the House passed yesterday on New Markets where we believe there is a limited role to pursue this policy with these kinds of groups. But that if it's not drawn in a very distinct way it raises constitutional questions. So I am certain that the work that needs to be done on that is along the same lines as New Markets.

Q And do you think you'll be able to accomplish that before --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we were certainly able to accomplish it to both our satisfaction and Congressional leaders in the House, as far as New Markets. So certainly that should serve as some kind of road map or guide map to doing it.

Q Back on the ABA, Clint Eastwood says that lawyers can too easily take advantage of a law saying, for example, that they can collect fees the day that suit is filed. Do you think the law can, or should be, amended to --

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we should look at legitimate complaints that are raised here. But I don't know on this particular legislation. I know that he was in town some months ago testifying on this. But I don't know exactly what form the legislation has taken, or where we are on that.

Q Joe, back on the CRA, you said you worked closely with the House on the specific part of the New Markets initiative. Do you anticipate that you will be able to work just as well with the Senate on this one, so that you can get it passed by the end of September?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, certainly, CRA is an important program that the President has staked a lot on in the past. So I expect we will work hard on that.

Thank you very much.

END 2:55 P.M. EDT