THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY BEFORE CABINET MEETING The Cabinet Room
3:05 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Is everyone in? Good. Well, as you can see, we're about to have a Cabinet meeting, the primary purpose of which is to discuss the budget negotiations that will be going on now until the end of Congress.
Two weeks ago, I met with congressional leaders in this room, and we pledged to use the short time left in the fiscal year to do some important things for the American people, to resolve our differences on a host of issue, to put progress over partisanship.
Since then, the Senate has passed normal trade relations with China legislation, and I applaud that. But beyond that, nothing has been done to finally raise the minimum wage, pass hate crimes legislation and a real patients' bill of rights, pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit for our seniors, to enact the New Markets legislation. The leadership promised action, but so far the results don't show it.
Now there are just two days to go in the fiscal year and only 2 of the 13 appropriations bills have passed that are so necessary to keep our government running. Still the Congress hasn't provided the funds to help build and modernize our schools, to continue to hire 100,000 new qualified teachers for smaller classes in the early grades, to improve teacher quality and strengthen accountability so that we can identify failing schools, turn them around, shut them down, or put them under new management. And nothing has been done to fund the largest gun enforcement initiative in history to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children, something that Republicans have said that we ought to do more of.
Right now another important decision is pending in Congress, even as we meet here. The Congress is choosing whether or not to lower the national drunk driving standard to .08 percent blood alcohol content, a move that we know from the experience of states that have already done it could save hundreds of lives every single year in the United States. I know that Congress is, as always, under a lot of interests group pressure not to do this, but I hope, for the sake of highway safety and human life, they will.
Later this week, Congress will send me a short-term budget resolution. I expect I'll sign it so that we can continue to meet our responsibilities to the American people. But I ask Congress to finish the work they were sent here to do. Let's sit down for serious negotiations on a budget that preserves fiscal discipline, invests in our people, and produces real results and real progress for America.
I'd also like to say a few words about our efforts to hold tobacco companies accountable. Today the court ruled that our case alleging the tobacco companies were engaged in fraud in marketing tobacco can go ahead, although not on the other counts. This remains a very important opportunity for the American people to have their day in court against big tobacco and its marketing practices. I urge Congress to provide the funding to allow the lawsuit to move forward, and not to shield the tobacco industry from the consequences of its actions.
Thank you very much.
Q Mr. President, the Republican leadership would like to attach certain provisions and amendments to the minimum wage bill which are opposed by organized labor. Would you sign the bill if it came to you with their additions to it?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't believe that we ought to lower the pay of many tens of thousands of Americans under present federal law to raise the pay of people who plainly deserve a minimum wage. I do not believe the minimum wage should be a vehicle to wreck fair labor standards that have been well established in our law and that could not be repealed on their own.
I think some tax relief for small business is appropriate. The initial package was more than three times as high as the one that Congress attached when we raised the minimum wage in 1996. And if we're going to have that much tax relief, then I want to talk about what it's going to be and who is going to benefit.
But this Congress has some interesting priorities. It didn't take them any time to repeal the estate tax or to pass other big tax cuts that benefitted people in very high income levels, but they can't seem to get around to raising the minimum wage. The last time we raised the minimum wage they said that it would hurt unemployment, hurt the economy, hurt the small businesses of the country. We set a new record for small business starts every year since. We've got a 30-year low in unemployment. This is just a simple question of whether we're going to give 10 million hardworking Americans a chance to have a decent life and to take care of their children in a decent way. And I hope they'll pass it.
Q Mr. President, if you're convinced, as you said a couple of minutes ago, that Yugoslav opposition has made a persuasive case that they've won the election outright, why have you not explicitly called for Mr. Milosevic to step down?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I thought we did say that. I think when the head of the Serb church says that he considers Mr. Milosevic's opponent to be the new President of Yugoslavia, I think it's -- and when the commission that is totally under the thumb of the government, without any outside observers, even they acknowledge that he won 49 to 39 or 38 percent -- and when they have evidence that by no means all the votes for the opposition candidate were counted, I think that's a pretty good case that it's time for democracy and for the voices of the people of Serbia to be heard. And that's what I think should happen.
And as I said, when that happens, I would strongly support immediate moves to lift the sanctions.
Q Mr. President, the abortion drug RU 486 was approved for sale today. Is that fight finally over? And why did it take so long?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, this administration treated that issue as purely one of science and medicine. And the decision to be made under our law is whether the drug should be approved by the FDA on the grounds of safety. And I think that they bent over backwards to do a lot of serious inquiries.
And Secretary Shalala can explain it in greater detail than me, but there's a long history here about why it took so long, but the FDA is basically is basically doing its job -- it's now done its job. And I regret that some members of the other party apparently have already tried to politicize it. I note Dr. Healey, who was the NIH Commissioner under President Bush, said that she agreed with the decision of the FDA. And I think it ought to be treated as the scientific and medical decision it was, and we should respect the fact that it was a non-political inquiry and that they took so long to try to make sure they were making a good decision.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you.
Q How do you think that affects the debate over abortion? And do you think a Bush administration will try to overturn it?
THE PRESIDENT: Why don't you ask him that question? You should ask him that question, not me. I think that's for the people that are out there running to answer.
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you very much. Thank you.
END 3:14 P.M. EDT